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Toxic chemicals aren’t the only ugly things surfacing during the ongoing $20 million cleanup of Fort Lauderdale’s notorious Wingate Superfund site. Critics of the cleanup have loudly insisted that the effort is grossly inadequate to protect residents of the area adjacent to the site. Now, in court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, and in interviews, Legal Aid Service of Broward County is alleging that top state officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush’s chief of environmental protection, sought to buy off allies of those critics. Legal Aid, which provides free legal services to the needy, contends that state officials even tried to buy its silence. In response, Bob Sparks, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), says Legal Aid is engaging in a “witch hunt. … A member of this department has been accused basically of bribery, and that’s outrageous.” In an effort to prove her allegations of chicanery, Legal Aid lawyer Sharon Bourassa, who represents a group of mostly black residents of Broward Gardens and Driftwood Terrace public housing projects adjacent to the old Wingate municipal dump, recently asked the state to turn over the fingerprints of DEP Secretary David B. Struhs and three of his subordinates. Struhs is the brother-in-law of Andrew Card, chief of staff for President George W. Bush. Bourassa, Legal Aid’s director of special projects, wants to see whether Struhs’ prints match latent fingerprints lifted from an unsigned letter she says was delivered to Fort Lauderdale businessman Carll Jacobs last spring. In court papers, she contends that a Struhs underling asked Jacobs, who owns a company that manufactures a spray-on polyurea sealant called TotalShield, to sign the letter in exchange for a promise that future state contracts would be steered Jacobs’ way. The letter, which Jacobs later said he didn’t write, was a disclaimer addressed to Struhs, indicating that he was no longer interested in selling TotalShield for use at the Wingate site. Bourassa and her public housing clients have gone to Miami federal court to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which are overseeing the cleanup to varying degrees, to require the use of TotalShield to seal off the 59-acre Wingate site at 1300 N.W. 31st Ave in Fort Lauderdale. They think TotalShield would do a better job of containing the poisons in the ground — and protecting local residents’ health — than the enormous plastic sheets that recently were installed there. But so far they haven’t succeeded. Early last month, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold in Miami dismissed the Wingate residents’ lawsuit challenging the use of the plastic sheeting. He ruled that the suit is premature because the cleanup is ongoing. Bourassa appealed the ruling, and also is considering filing litigation in state court. On May 9, Struhs and his department had been formally notified that the Wingate residents intended to sue them. But the letter to Struhs, dated May 11, indicated that Jacobs was no longer interested in using TotalShield at Wingate. Jacobs later told Bourassa and other people that he didn’t write the letter and he refused to sign it when DEP ombudsman Benjamin Brumberg delivered it to him. Bourassa contends that Jacobs was presented with a clear quid pro quo. “Simultaneously, [Brumberg] strongly implied that if Mr. Jacobs signed the letter, he could be awarded four other landfills in the state of Florida, and that polyurea or TotalShield would be authorized for use on those four landfills. Further, the governor and defendant Struhs would call Mr. Jacobs out of gratitude,” says Bourassa’s amended complaint. “If Struhs’ prints are there, it is evidence of a conspiracy,” Bourassa says in an interview. “Carll’s an important witness. They want him to go away. They’re trying to wipe out our lawsuit.” Bourassa’s request for the fingerprints of Struhs, waste management division director John Ruddell, engineer Richard Tedder and Brumberg was declined two weeks ago by DEP general counsel Teri L. Donaldson. Bourassa says she’ll soon seek a court order to have the prints surrendered. In an interview last week, DEP spokesman Sparks acknowledged that, at Struh’s direction, Brumberg met with Jacobs in May and brought with him the “draft” disclaimer letter. He said that the meeting was an effort by Struhs, who previously had refused the entreaties of Wingate’s neighbors to intervene, to be “helpful” in resolving the litigation. He says Struhs acted at the request of Fort Lauderdale NAACP president William McCormick. Sparks denies, however, that any quid pro quo was offered for Jacobs’ signature. He does acknowledge that Brumberg pointed out to Jacobs that TotalShield hadn’t proven itself for use at a highly polluted Superfund site, and that Jacobs might want to look at other, less toxic sites. “I don’t know if Mr. Brumberg showed that draft letter to Mr. Struhs,” Sparks says. “I do know he was authorized to see if he could find a nonlitigation solution to this. The accusation that [Brumberg] tried to bribe anyone is outrageous.” Why Struhs would intercede with Jacobs in an attempt to resolve the residents’ lawsuit is unclear. Jacobs is not a party to the suit. He is a witness with no control of the litigation. Meanwhile, Bourassa has learned she may have to proceed without Carll Jacobs’ cooperation. In early August, Jacobs’ attorney, Brigham A. McCown, at Winstead Sechrist & Minick in Dallas, sent a letter to Bourassa telling her not to talk to Jacobs anymore about Wingate or TotalShield. McCown was on President Bush’s team of Florida post-election recount lawyers last year. In an interview last week, the 69-year-old Jacobs said he’s “washing his hands” of the matter, selling his business and retiring. He declined to elaborate, except to say the buyer is NTI International LLC, a Tequesta, Fla., company controlled by his partner, Jack G. Wiersma. Wiersma is attorney McCown’s father-in-law. Why would Struhs want to undercut the Wingate residents’ lawsuit? Bourassa argues that Struhs was trying to protect the interests of Waste Management, the politically influential corporate titan that’s playing a central role in the cleanup. Waste Management was one of 36 companies and local governments that signed a consent decree agreeing to collectively pay $20 million to settle allegations that they disposed of hazardous substances at the Wingate landfill while it was open from the early 1950s until 1978. And according to Bourassa, Jacobs wasn’t the only person that Struhs sought to influence about Wingate. She says DEP ombudsman Brumberg tried to get her to quit the case, too, by promising to help her get state funding for an innovative Legal Aid program that offers jail inmates assistance in reintegrating into society. “He suggested he could help us take it national, but said, ‘You have to drop Wingate,’ ” says Bourassa. “ I said, ‘Why? I’m not going to sell out one set of clients for another.’ “ Brumberg did talk to Bourassa about the inmate program, Sparks says, “but now that’s being carried a step farther. [Brumberg] says that part’s absolutely false, and he’s tired of being slandered. There was no quid pro quo.”

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