FT. LAUDERDALE (CBS4) - Deerfield Beach City Commissioner Sylvia Poitier smiled as she turned herself in to authorities at the Broward jail to face public corruption charges.
"Presumption of innocence," she told the gathering of reporters.
Poitier was charged with five counts of falsifying public records.
"She's not guilty until proven guilty, she's presumed innocent," Poitier's attorney Johnny McCray said.
The charges stem from information submitted on conflict of interest forms the 75-year old life long Deerfield Beach resident filed with the city in 2009 concerning her vote for a $30 thousand grant to the Westside Deerfield Businessman Association. According to investigators, the association owed Poitier's brother, Lionel Ferguson, $46 thousand plus interest on a loan he had made to the group at Poitier's request.
The grant was not awarded, but Poitier's vote was a potential conflict of interest. According to the arrest affidavit, Poitier failed to properly disclose to her fellow commissioner's and the public that a financial relationship existed between the WDBA and Lionel Ferguson. This disclosure should have taken place, and the proper paperwork filed, each time the WDBA was a topic to be voted on by the city of Deerfield Beach Commission.
Poitier worked for the WDBA before her 2005 election to the commission and still serves as a volunteer. Her daughter, Felicia, was vice president and now serves as the WDBA president.
"Three weeks ago Sylvia Poitier said she was going to sue me for libel, now she's arrested, the truth is the ultimate defense" said blogger Chaz Stevens, a long time critic of Poitier.
He said her arrest sends a message to all those in Broward who hold office.
"The message is there are people out there who care and there are people out there who are paying attention, so mind you 'p's and q's'," said Stevens.
A long time fixture in Broward politics, Poitier first served on the city's commission from 1973 to 1985. Over the following years, she was the city's Mayor and Vice Mayor and was even appointed to the County Commission in 1986 by former Governor Bob Graham. In a landslide victory, she returned to the city commission in 2005.
Poitier has been released on bond. Her five charges fall under Florida's "Falsifying Records" statute, which is a misdemeanor. Each count is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
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