Former Deerfield Beach commissioner Steve Gonot convicted

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Larry Barszewski

Published May 14, 2011


Former Deerfield Beach Commissioner Steve Gonot was convicted Tuesday of stealing campaign funds, falsifying his campaign treasurer's report and official misconduct.

The three-woman, three-man jury took just under an hour before returning the guilty verdicts, following a one-week trial.

Broward County Circuit Court Judge Barbara McCarthy agreed to allow Gonot to remain free on bail pending sentencing June 20, but ordered him to surrender his passport.

The felony grand theft and misconduct convictions each carry a penalty of up to five years in prison. Defense attorney Jeffrey Harris said he would press for probation for Gonot, 54, who served on the Deerfield Beach Commission from 2001 until he resigned in 2008 after being charged with the crimes.

The case was the first to go to trial in the recent wave of corruption and misconduct charges filed by state prosecutors against local elected officials.

"Public corruption erodes the community's trust and confidence in public officials," State Attorney Mike Satz said. "I am pleased that the jury held the defendant accountable for his misdeeds."

Gonot's conviction could have an impact on his retirement benefits. Gonot, who was part of the Florida Retirement System as a former Florida Department of Transportation employee and from being a city commissioner, was eligible for a $2,152 monthly benefit at retirement based on calculations done last year, the state's Department of Management Services reported.

A legal hold was placed on the account because of the charges, department spokeswoman Lauren Engel said. A final decision, subject to appeal, will be made once the department receives information about the conviction, she said.

During closing arguments on Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney David Schulson depicted Gonot's actions as a "series of cover-ups," while Harris derided those claims, saying it would have to have been the "mother of all conspiracies" if the prosecution's case was to be believed.

Gonot was convicted of stealing from his mayoral campaign account in October 2007. He was going through a divorce at the time and wrote a questionable $5,135 campaign check just weeks after his estranged wife emptied out a joint banking account without his knowledge. 

Schulson said there was ample proof to show the expense was not what Gonot had described in the campaign report. The report called it a reimbursement to longtime friend Joe DePrimo for supplies and equipment for the campaign.

"He had not spent a nickel on anything," Schulson told jurors. "That campaign is out $5,135. It's just walking around in Joe DePrimo's pocket."

Harris said Gonot gave DePrimo the money to pay for used office equipment, to buy two high-end computers and to pay for planned printed campaign materials. The equipment showed up and the computers were purchased after investigators began looking into the expenditure in February 2008. Gonot testified the delay was because the campaign was put on hold because of the failing health of Gonot's mother and stepfather.

His mother died in February 2008, just before Gonot's first meeting with investigators, and his stepfather died in April 2008.