To The Governor And To The Media
Pembroke Pines, December 8, 2007
Since Val Lucier couldn't make it to the Condo Ombudsman Round-Up on December 8, 2007, because of health problems, this letter was read to the panel by a condo-owner from the Playa Del Mar!
My name is Val Lucier.
I was Dr. Virgil Rizzo’s Chief Election Monitor for 15 months and the author of a new book Condo Board Election Revolt which documents that 15-month experience.
My comments are directed to Mike Cochran.
Mike, I’ve waited a long time to tell you face-to-face what I have to say.
The following actions of yours led to serious accusations that contributed to Dr. Rizzo’s termination and put our integrity in question:
Led to serious accusations that
contributed to Dr. Rizzo’s termination and put our integrity in
You were lying to GovernorJeb Bush and to the media, when you, Secretary Simone Masteller, Ron Russo (the Inspector General) and Meg Shannon (the DBPR Secretary spokesperson) accused Dr. Rizzo of:
I have a 9-page report that I wish included in the minutes of these proceedings that provides the proof that top DBPR officials lied to Governor Jeb Bush and to the media. I have spare copies for anyone interested.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to finally set the record straight.
By: Valmore R. Lucier
Chief Election Monitor For The Condominium Ombudsman under Dr. V. Rizzo
And Author of a new 2007 book “Condo Board Election Revolt!
In the Daily Business Review Monday, June 26, 2006 Simone Marstiller, then DBPR Secretary was quoted as saying: “Marstiller and her staff question about election monitoring program payments, Checking Mailing to post office – untimely compliance with record request.”
Ron Russo, - Inspector General was quoted as saying: "His [Dr. Rizzo] failure to provide regulators and the public with documents about his office ensure his dismissal' and “Rizzo’s access to the funds. Particularly noting an invoice to Play Del Mar raised questions about payment for condo elections monitoring fees and the existence of a post office box with authorized access by Dr. Rizzo for collecting of election monitor fees would appear raising concerns regarding a potential conflict of interest between the ombudsman and the ombudsman appointed election monitor”
Meg Shannon, – DBPR Spokesperson When asked after Rizzo’s dismissal whether he was under investigation for financial misconduct "not at this time" she replied, casting an unfounded shadow of doubt. She was also quoted in the Miami Herald stating that one of the reasons for Dr. Rizzo’s dismissal was “because he had opened a checking account to pay the monitors”.
As the Chief Election Monitor,I knew ALL these charges were false and slanderous and I took it upon myself to set the record straight so I wrote a book. I dedicated a full chapter providing proof that these accusations were false.
book “Condo Board Election
Representative Robaina, at a meeting with Governor Crist and Lt.
Governor Kottkamp, provided each of them a copy of my book. Later
Robaina also provided copies to key Senators and Members of the House of
Representatives. In addition
Jan Bergemann President of Cyber Citizen For Justice, Inc. (CCFJ) made
several copies available to news media reporters and the new Ombudsman. To
date I’ve not received a single inquiry or book review, except for a
Representative Robaina said, “
In any event I was surprised after my book having been published and distributed for over a month that nothing had surfaced, so I decided I was going to do a follow-up. I was prevented from doing so at the time because I came down with a serious illness and it hasn’t been until now that I could get back to doing it. “Better late than never,” as they say especially when an individual’s reputation is at stake. There is no knowing what role these serious false statements played in Dr. Rizzo’s dismissal, but there is no doubt of what impact they have had on our reputation. I believe these officials acted irresponsibly without due diligence.
Rizzo was not guilty of:
I know because, as you will see, I was intimately involved in these activities. In fact, these are all activities that I performed.
accusation # 1: Not
complying with records request in a timely manner.
It all started with the request for all of our 2005 election records, 2424 pages. The Division expected the Ombudsman to cough up all his election records for a whole year on short notice while he was out on sick leave. By the way, the Division has no provision for recognizing sick leave as a valid reason for non-compliance. Perhaps this works for a 144-person organization, but hardly for The Lone Ranger. There should have been some leeway, but there was none afforded.
On February 11, 2006 the Ombudsman 2005 year-end report was published. The election monitor section of the report stated that the office had validated 52 petitions and conducted 43 elections in the first year of operation.
On February 22, 2006 we received a request from Donna Berger, Attorney for the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, requesting copies of all 43 elections conducted during 2005!
This was a new experience to say the least, so Dr. Rizzo requested information on the procedure. He was informed the normal process for obtaining public records from the Division was that an individual makes a request. The affected office is notified and asked to provide information on the cost. The applicant is so informed. When the check is received, it is deposited in the fund and the office involved is notified when the check has cleared and then has ten days to provide the records. Usually it's one or two reports requested. If it's a large number, you have more time to respond. How much is large? Who knows? How much longer do you have to fill the order? Who knows?
That was not clarified. Probably because it is not often that
someone requests a whole department’s operating records for a whole year
Keep in mind that at this time Dr. Rizzo was in and out of back surgeries and was convalescing at home. All the election records were in boxes around the wall of his bedroom. Office file cabinets had not yet arrived. In fact, they came in while I was in the middle of this project and I helped the secretary unpack and set them up at the office and I would eventually help her set up the election files in these cabinets before retiring.
The first order of business was to determine the page count
involved and establish the cost to let the requester know to submit the
check in order for us to fill the order. Again, we had to get Division
guidance to establish the proper cost for the effort.
On days that Dr. Rizzo felt well enough I would drive up to his condo. With Dr. Rizzo’s assistance I first separated the 2005 election records from the 2006 election records. We already had conducted many 2006 elections. I had to do this over several sessions, because Dr. Rizzo would tire and I would come back to continue. Once we had all 43 elections in one group the next task was to do a page count. We came up with 2424 pages. There was no specified time limit on this phase of the record request. Remember all of this was going on while our regular election workload was not letting up.
On March 22 Dr. Rizzo drafted the long awaited reply to the February 22nd request. (See below.) The check was lost causing delays. A fax copy of the check was provided, but you can't cash a fax. First Mike Cochran said, "We have the check." Then Mike said, "No, you have the check." Then He admitted the check was lost, but instructed Dr. Rizzo to fill the order anyway!
It is possible that her check was lost at the
On April 14, 2006 Mike Cochran, contrary to the DBPR record request rule, ordered Dr. Rizzo to complete the order even though the check had not been processed.
Why? I suspect it was because of who the requestor was, or because of the impact such a huge request would make on the strained resources, or because Dr. Rizzo was on his back and could not do it. Answer: Probably all of the above.
As you can imagine, Dr. Rizzo was furious and shot back a response to the Division Director that also found its way into the media without the supporting background information thus portraying Dr. Rizzo in a bad light. What appeared in the newsprint was as follows:
The condo division’s Cochran ordered Rizzo to comply, but Rizzo sent a tartly worded response saying the division director overstepped his authority. Cochran’s order “definitely demonstrates that you and your superiors either advocate her political agenda or are intimidated by her rhetoric,” Rizzo wrote in April. “I realize you are a pawn in the department’s scheme to obstruct and interfere with this office and it’s election monitor process. This conduct is appalling and undermines the department’s internal integrity by promoting the agenda of a political activist lobby.” (Source: Daily Business Review Monday, June 26, 2006.
I don’t know
if the check was ever found, if a new check was provided, or if
On the day the materials were shipped, within hours after the mailing, Becker & Poliakoff filed a lawsuit against the Division and the Ombudsman for failing to provide the requested documents.
Later Becker & Poliakoff announced “it would drop its public-records lawsuit shortly after Rizzo’s dismissal to give Carroll a clear field”. Another Lie.
When Donna Berger received her requested documents the day after she filed the lawsuit, she no longer had grounds for a lawsuit and cancelled it while Dr. Rizzo was still in office. Mike Cochran informed Dr. Rizzo that Becker & Poliakoff's legal fees were going to be paid from Dr. Rizzo’s budget! Guess what? Now the Division attorneys needed a copy of these same 2424 pages! Deja vu all over again. Dr. Rizzo asked me to come out of retirement to help the secretary fill a second order for the same records. This time it was for Josefina Tamayo – General Counsel for the Division. The secretary and I went through the exercise all over again and I shipped and paid for that mailing also. The 2424 pages were mailed out at 11:53 AM on May 10, 2006 (US MAIL #7005 1820 0007 4445 1776) and the cost was $29.55.
Then on May 24, 2006 the General Counsel received a complaint from the Berger office that they could only find 37 of the 43 elections! They were all there. Remember the very early elections were conducted by Dr. Rizzo and consisted of single-page reports. The system had not yet been developed. There were also some folders for a single association that had more than one election like the Heron at the Hammocks that covered three different elections.
Nonetheless, it did not prevent Donna Berger from claiming in the same article mentioned earlier: “The records she received weren’t extensive enough to justify claims of 43 monitored elections.”
That statement was also incorrect. Records for all 43 elections conducted in 2005 were included. They included the validated petition, the Ombudsman notice of election, the election monitor invoice, the property appraiser list, the Ombudsman copy of the actual election worksheets, the original ballot and any association provided election materials, and the election report. By the way, all election reports were filed within 24 hours even though we had 14 days to file. I did them immediately because if I didn’t, I probably would not have had time to come back to them.
Then came the last bureaucratic straw:
A memo from the Division in
Mike Cochran knew fully well that he had ordered Dr. Rizzo to fill the record request order before the Division record request requirements were satisfied, because the Division had lost the check and yet the job had been completed in four days. Since Mike Cochran was at center of the whole affair there was no way that the Secretary and the IG would not have know of what actually went on and that Dr. Rizzo had indeed complied with the record request. Yet the IG publicly stuck to his guns stating: "His (Dr. Rizzo) failure to provide regulators and the public with documents about his office ensure his dismissal’ There you have it. You decide if the DBPR’s accusation that Dr. Rizzo “Did not comply with records request in a timely manner” was justified.
DBPR accusations 2 and 3:
2.Setting up a
checking account to pay monitors
3.Opening a P.O. Box
to receive payments from associations
Both of these accusations have to be address together because they stem from the same incident. In this case, the players were again Mike Cochran the Div. Director and the firm of Becker & Poliakoff. This time the attorney was Robert Rubinstein.
We had a validated petition election to conduct at an association called Playa del Mar. When the association received the notice, the association attorney had the board post this notice on the association bulletin board:
"The state has been asked to run the election. Three people were selected to do so. However, the association's new attorney is waiting for the resume of the 3 people to ensure that they are certified and qualified. If the credentials are not established by the time of the annual election, the association's attorney will run the meeting and the 3 individuals from the state will attend as observers."
As soon as we were informed, Dr. Rizzo notified Representative
Robaina. He immediately met with the DBPR Secretary Simone Marstiller.
Even the Secretary considered this demand a violation of the
Florida statutes and wrote to Division Chief Michael Cochran (quote): "I
concur. There is no mechanism for the assn to place additional
requirements on the monitor once a monitor has been requested as provided
Obviously, Mike Cochran's failed to "educate" Robert Rubinstein, because when we arrived for the election we were escorted out of the election room under guard and locked out of the facility until the attorney arrived while the association accountant and his son handled ballots unsupervised for over an hour! Eventually, we were allowed to conduct the election.
It appears that when Mike Cochran and Robert Rubinstein had their discussion, they both were much more interested in my invoice. Mike Cochran was provided a copy of that invoice and he ran with it. The invoice was no different than any of the other fifty or sixty invoices sent to other associations, but Mike Cochran did not see it this way and managed to convince the Secretary and the IG. That is where the serious false accusations that Dr. Rizzo had opened a checking account to pay monitors and a P.O. Box to receive payments from associations got their roots.
Now let’s look at the facts. First, we have to address the section of the Florida Administration Code itself. 61B-23.00215 Ombudsman; Election Monitoring; Monitor’s Role; Scope and Extent (9) Where a monitor is appointed who is not a division employee, the division will not enforce the billing and collection of amounts owed to the monitor. Nothing in the rule prohibits a private monitor from requiring the association to pre-pay all or part of the reasonable fees and costs of the monitor.
So you can see why the monitor invoice was submitted at the same time the petition election notice went out. The reasonable standard fee schedule had been established and followed.
Below is a copy of the invoice that was provided by the Becker
& Poliakoff Attorney to Mike Cochran that led the DBPR Officials to
falsely accuse Dr. Rizzo of opening a bank account to pay monitors and a
P.O. Box to receive those payments. A
copy of my County and City Licenses, my Business Card and a
sample Election Monitor Check are also provided.
OF FLORIDA LAND SALES, CONDOMINIUMS, AND MOBILE HOMES
OF BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL REGULATION
OFFICE OF THE STATE
OMBUDSMAN VIRGIL RIZZO
.0. Box 22520
Lauderdale, Florida 33335
Election Monitor Service Invoice
Del Mar Association, Inc.
GaIt Ocean Dr.
Lauderdale FI. 33308
of Invoice: January 20, 2006
a service request made of this office under FS 718.5012(9) for
Tuesday February 21,2006 at 7:00 p.m., in the Ocean Lounge
hours of Chief Election Monitor services @ $80.00/hr
hours of Assistant Monitor #1 services @ $50.00/hr
hours of Assistant Monitor # 1 services @ $50.00/hr
Travel Cost: 20miles @ .50/mi
hours travel time cost at $25.00/hr
Validation Administrative Cost:
Total Service Charge $570.00
make check payable to: Condominium Election Monitor
provided by Florida Administrative Code (FAC) 61B-23.00215(9)
IS REQUIRED 5 days
before the scheduled election
mail payment to:
Pompano FI. 33066-6870
If the election exceeds the estimated time additional cost will be
INVOICE TO BE POSTED WITH NOTICE OF ELECTION MONITOR
There are three more relevant pieces of information to properly assess this issue and those are my licenses, my business card and my Election Monitor Checking Account.
You will notice that my
My second personal checking
account had the pseudo-name of Condominium Election Monitor. Dr.
Rizzo never had access to my personal checkbook, he never wrote checks to
pay monitors from that account, and never received bank statements from
that account. Therefore, Dr.
Rizzo never opened an account to pay monitors.
Now let’s look at the Playa del Mar Invoice instructions:
1.“Please make check payable to: Condominium Election Monitor” - That’s ME
2.”Please mail payment to: PO Box 666870” – That’s MY post office box
Have I made my case? When I say these top state officials lied when they accused Dr. Rizzo of setting up a checking account to pay monitors and a post office box to receive association payments. Let’s not forget failing to respond to a record request? These serious accusations cost a man his job, and tarnished his reputation when they were reported to Governor Jeb Bush. Since the Secretary, the IG, the Div. Director, and the Official Spokesperson were all making the same claim, I can understand why the Governor would have been inclined to believe them. What I don’t understand, however, is why the Governor did not give Dr. Rizzo an opportunity to refute the charges made against him.
It is not surprising that it happened that way. When
the governor appointed Dr. Rizzo back in 2004, he never met with him. When
Dr. Rizzo was complaining of this very problem “the rules of
engagement”, the governor did not meet with him despite the fact that he
was meeting regularly with the DBPR Secretary, thus hearing her views. So
it’s not surprising that he would not meet with Dr. Rizzo to give him
the opportunity to defend himself against these bogus charges. Instead
he chose to have a staff member go to Dr. Rizzo’s house, post a notice
on the front door of his condo and sent him a phone text message letting
him know he was fired. The
governor then had the lock changed on Dr. Rizzo’s office door and his
state Internet online access disconnected. A
real class act on the governor’s part. It
was a real show of gratitude for Dr. Rizzo’s untiring commitment to the
At this point you may be wondering why you should believe me instead of all the state officials that are all telling the same story? The answer is simple: I’m telling the truth and I provided the proof.
Earlier I stated that I had been sidetracked by a serious illness. Last April I was diagnosed with cancer. I underwent a mastectomy and I’m currently undergoing chemotherapy. It is now the first time that I’ve been able to refocus my attention on this important effort that I had to set aside last April.
Some of you may think that I’m trying to get rich plugging my book. That’s not it either, because I donated all proceeds to CCFJ’s Legislative Fund to help level the playing field between owners and those with deep pockets. It is my last volunteer effort to help my fellow Floridians.