By Ryan Yousefi
A father and son developer team with a long history of allegations of corruption and bribery scandals involving Broward County politicians has been arrested for and charged with numerous racketeering and extortion charges.
Bruce and Shawn Chait were arrested on March 9 after an undercover investigation revealed the pair were threatening and extorting Arnaud Karsenti, owner of 13th Floor Investments, out of millions of dollars in return for not ruining his business with false lawsuits. The company has built several communities in Tamarac and is in negotiations to buy the Woodlands golf courses.
In the late 2000s, the Chait’s owned Prestige Homes of South Florida and were accused of bribing local officials to gain the approval of a development on a Tamarac golf course. In both 2011 and 2014, Gov. Rick Scott suspended Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco after being charged with unlawful compensation, bribery, official misconduct, and conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation connection with the Chait’s. She was found not guilty by a jury.
In 2010, Tamarac Commissioner Patte Atkins-Grad was arrested for not reporting payments from Chaits to lease a BMW and pay for her election victory party and not disclose them. She was found not guilty by a jury, with a defense that she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong. The community formed a recall group and went through the steps to have her legally removed from office. However, she stepped down before a recall election could take place.
Former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion served 2 years in prison after admitting to accepting $28,200 in bribes from the Chaits and voting to support their proposed residential development. This included a $3,200 membership to the Parkland Golf and County Club.
The Chaits opened up a can of worms about various politicians in Broward County, including a school board member in exchange for only serving four months probation.
The Chait’s had escaped the consequences of their past actions until this month when their luck ran out, and authorities busted them for their most current scheme.
According to documents, Karsenti and Chait’s had a history of doing business. In 2010, the Karsenti engaged in negotiations with the Chait’s to acquire golf courses in the City of Tamarac to turn them into plots for residential homes.
The dealings never materialized. The bank that held the note for one of the golf courses contacted Karsenti to offer him the land after the Chait’s failed to pay property taxes. Karsenti purchased the land and eventually made a deal with the Chait’s to purchase the adjoining golf course at a much-discounted price, angering the Chait’s who soon sought revenge for the dealings.
Over the next several years, Karsenti claimed he was harassed, extorted, and threatened by the Chait’s and their associates, who were bitter about how the deal had gone down.
In 2012, an attorney for the Chait’s threatened to file a civil lawsuit against Karsenti that claimed the land he purchased from the Chait’s was environmentally hazardous. The Chait’s offered to “go away and never be heard from again” if Karsenti paid them $1 million.
In 2013, a fake consulting contract was written, and Karsenti paid the Chait family the $1 million ransom. The agreement included language stating the Chait’s never actually had evidence of their environmental concern claims. After being paid, the Chait’s continued their claims and threats to destroy Karsenti and his businesses.
In 2015, immediately following the final payment to the Chait’s, an associate of theirs filed a lawsuit against Karsenti, claiming the land his development sat on contained an extreme amount of arsenic. In 2016, Karsenti and the Chait’s met again. There, the Chait’s offered to cease their claims about his land once again if he paid them $8 million. Karsenti declined the offer.
In 2019, an associate of the Chait’s filed a lawsuit against Karsenti, claiming his property contained environmental hazards. The man also threatened to send a letter to every homeowner’s association claiming the soil their homes sat on contained high levels of arsenic. This lawsuit is still pending.
The Chait’s continued to contact Karsenti, and in January of 2021, once again met with him. This time, private investigators listened in as the Chait’s once again attempted to extort him. In this meeting, the Chait’s demanded $3 million, or else the letter from their associate alleging the land was contaminated by arsenic would be sent to the homeowners.
In February and March of 2021, authorities listened in on additional meetings that Karsenti and his associates had with the Chait’s in which the pair made multiple corrupt offers and extortion attempts.
After collecting enough evidence of their crimes, the Chait’s were arrested and charged with racketeering, organized fraud, and extortion. Bond for Shawn Chait was set at $10.25 million, while Bruce Chait’s bond was $10.5 million.
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