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Nancy Smith

Powerful Judge Maker Gets in on Palm Beach Corruption Act

November 2, 2012 - 7:00pm

The sheer unscrupulousness afoot in Palm Beach County never ceases to amaze, but now it's even attracted the governor's attention.

That's right. Anthony Pugliese has Gov. Rick Scott shaking his head.

Bad enough that the rest of the state is holding its breath, waiting to find out if the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections can get through Tuesday without inciting a riot. Along comes Pugliese -- potentially a black mark the size of a coal pit for "Corruption County."

A Delray Beach developer, Pugliese was arrested last week on money laundering, fraud conspiracy and grand theft charges. According to arrest reports, he bilkedFred DeLuca, founder of the Subway sandwich franchise, out of more than $1.2 million. He did it by submitting fake invoices for work never performed on a 41,000-acre development planned in Yeehaw Junction, a little whistle stop south of Orlando.

Why, you ask, would Gov. Rick Scott care about the arrest of another morally bankrupt sleaze from the Land of Polo and Plenty? Because this isn't any old sleaze.

Pugliese has a hand in appointing judges.

That's right.Former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Puglieseto the 15th Circuits powerful Judicial Nominating Commission, where he serves to this day.

It's right there in the Florida Constitution: The governor is required at least to consider the 65-year-old developer's suspension "upon the commission of felonies" because he is a state officer. The Palm Beach Post has reported that such suspensions are not unusual. Thisyear alone the governor "suspended at least four state-appointed officers after their arrests for crimes ranging from grand theft to battery."

The governor's office confirmed that Scott is considering suspension.

He should bring his suspension total to five. And quickly.

Pugliese is a player. A power broker. He gets the big party invitations in the Palm Beaches, knows the "best" people (wink, wink). He's donated tens of thousands of dollars to national, state and local campaigns, including Palm Beach County state attorney candidate Dave Aronberg's while Aronberg was a state senator.

Campaign finance records show that also in 2008, Pugliese donated $10,000 in soft money to the RPOF and made $15,400 in contributions to the Republican National Committee, and contributed to the campaigns of then-Sen. Jeff Atwater and then-state House member Adam Hasner.

Pugliese plays "strategy games" with attorneys like they're tin soldiers. Anna Louise Phillips, a former employee, told me that the developer routinely uses a cadre of lawyers "to intimidate his prey." "He comes up with some heavy duty legal firepower," she said. "Men like (former Attorney General) Bob Butterworth. He just stands in the middle of his enemies and they melt into the woodwork. It's quite something to see."

Poor Palm Beach County.

I suspect the happiest resident of this county to read the Pugliese headlines is Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher -- the most accident-prone supervisor in Florida or the most flagrantly, devotedly partisan one (I left out the word "criminally," but I didn't want to). Time will tell. In the meantime, Pugliese is absorbing some of the heat she's been taking for two major ballot-printing "snafus" in Election 2012.

Good idea for Rick Scott to wade into the muck and extract Pugliese. He can make a more deserving appointment for the people of the 15th Circuit.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

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