South Florida Corruption Scandal Grows

The sister of South Fla. union boss Walter Browne was suspended without pay May 17 from her new job at the Broward (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office amid allegations she embezzled more than $100,000 from her old job at the union. Patty Browne Devaney joined the sheriff’s staff on Mar. 6, about the same time she was fired as administrative assistant for the Nat’l Fed’n of Public & Private Employees which represents nearly all of the sheriff’s correctional officers and many municipal workers in Broward and is controlled by her brother. Walter Browne said he told second-in-command Dan Reynolds to fire Devaney after an internal audit discovered that well over $100,000 was missing.

The union filed a criminal complaint with the Plantation Police Dep’t, but she was reportedly still on the union payroll for a few weeks after joining the sheriff’s department. Sheriff’s officials said they found out about the union problems only after Devaney was hired for the $49,529-a-year job as a “research and development coordinator.” The allegations, coupled with uncertainty surrounding a federal inquiry of Walter Browne and the union, reportedly led to the suspension.

The federal probe seems to be directed at Browne, an ex-commissioner on the defunct Port Everglades Authority, according to his lawyer and federal officials. Hvide Marine Inc., a company for which he worked as a consultant, was charged May 15 with making an illegal payment of $60,000 to Browne. It is illegal for companies to pay money to union bosses who have the power to organize workers. A federal grand jury has issued dozens of subpoenas to his friends and for his business dealings with the School Board and the County Commission. Reynolds was subpoenaed to a federal grand jury about six weeks ago, but refused to testify.   “I didn’t answer any questions on the advice of my attorney (Fred Haddad) because it looked like they were on a fishing expedition,” Reynolds said.

Devaney assured Browne that she’d done nothing “stupid,” he said, but he still ordered Reynolds to look “at everything she ever touched.” Browne said his sister wrote checks on union accounts and was able to avoid detection by the union’s auditors. “The auditors said it was very, very creative. It didn’t send any red flags up,” Browne said. Reynolds said the union’s insurance company will probably cover the loss. [Sun-Sent. (Ft. Lauderdale) 5/18/00]