OIG & Elliot Cohen–The Investigation

Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics: (A Joke Commission)

A complaint with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics (COE) was filed on Sept. 23,2015 against Communication Director Elliot Cohen for violation of 2-443(d) of the Palm Beach County Code of Ethics “by entering into a prohibited contractual relationship with a vendor of the City of West Palm Beach”

Note: The company Mr. Cohen supposedly did business with was namely Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) run by Kim Briesmeister, who headed the CRA from 2004 until Aug. 2013 when her bid to take over WPB CRA with a budget of 28 Million dollars was approved by the city.
A note of interest:
Mr. Cohen left the City of WPB for employment in the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and when his employment was terminated he returned to the City of WPB and his application for employment named Kim Briesmeister as a reference. Cohen & Briesmeister have years of history. Coincidence? I don’t believe in them.

On April 7, 2015 the COE went through the steps and conducted a hearing and reviewed the Memorandum of Inquiry, Report of Investigation, and Probable Cause Determination, and came to the conclusion “Public Report Finding No Probable Cause and Order of Dismissal.” One page report sent to the city.

This finding by the COE should be no surprise to anyone following politics in PB County. It rubber stamps most complaints against elected officials and employees such as Elliot Cohen. The COE members are appointed by the very people they may be called upon to investigate. It is my opinion the COE is as helpful in ending corruption as an astray on a motorcycle or a screen door on a submarine. It just don’t work.

Office of the Inspector General: (Only hope residents have for clean Government)

What you are about to read are the first two pages from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report on Elliot Cohen former Communication Director for the City of West Palm Beach.

On September 18, 2015 the office of Inspector General received complaints involving the City of West Palm Beach Director of Communications, Elliot Cohen.

The complaints alleged that (1) Mr. Cohen disclosed “classified and confidential information” relating to the City Police Department and other local and federal agencies to the public. The complaints also alleged that (2) Mr. Cohen used his position at the City, as well as, City time and resources to conduct his private business (Cohen Publicity). The complaints further alleged that (3) Mr. Cohen had a “side job” with City contractor Redevelopment Management Associates.(RMA) After requesting and receiving further information from the City regarding the first two of these allegations, the OIG initiated an investigation.

As to the allegations 1,2,and 3 the information obtained and reviewed by the OIG supports the allegations. The OIG found that Mr. Cohen disclosed “exempt” and “confidential and exempt information”. We concluded that Mr. Cohen had an obligation to ensure that “exempt” and “confidential and exempt information” was redacted before he disclosed the records. In addition, Mr. Cohen should have done an analysis of exempt information regarding criminal investigations to determine whether disclosure would have impeded an ongoing investigation or allowed a suspect to avoid apprehension or escape detention or put police/informants in danger. Additionally, we found that Mr. Cohen did use his position, government assigned office space, desk, computer, desk phone, and cell phone to conduct his Cohen Publicity business.
Finally, we found that Mr. Cohen, doing business as Cohen Publicity, had a contract with City contractor RMA before, during, and after the City let RFQL 12-13-407 and awarded the contract to RMA.

Information obtained regarding allegation 3 as it relates to F.S.112.313(7)(a) was referred to the State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Commission on Ethics for any actions they deem appropriate (as well as any other matters of interest within this report). The Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics dismissed a (C15-021) complaint against Mr. Cohen on April 7,2016 after concluding that no probable cause existed to believe that Mr. Cohen had a relationship with RMA that violated SS 2-443(d) of the PBC Code of Ethics.

Based on the information obtained during this investigation, the OIG developed three additional allegations.

Allegation 4 that Mr. Cohen misused his official public office or employment to solicit business for Cohen Publicity.

Allegation 5 that RMA did not properly disclose its business relationship with Mr. Cohen (Cohen Publicity) to the City during the procurement process for RFQL 12-13-407.

Allegation 6 that RMA did not properly disclose it was employing Mr. Cohen (Cohen Publicity) after it was awarded the above contract by the City.

As to allegation 4, it was referred to the PBC COE, the State Attorney’s Office, and the Florida State Commission on Ethics for any actions they deem appropriate.

As to allegation 5 and 6 the information obtained and reviewed by the OIG supports the allegations. The OIG found that RMA had a contract with Mr. Cohen (Cohen Publicity) that began prior to RFQL 12-13-407 being let and the contract with Mr. Cohen (Cohen Publicity) continued for over eight months after RMA was awarded the contract for RFQL12-13-407. We also found that RMA failed to properly disclose its contractual relationship with Mr.
Cohen (Cohen Publicity) both during the proposal period after being awarded the contract as required.

Based on our supported findings in allegations 3,5 and 6, and particularly that RMA did not disclose its business relationship with Mr. Cohen (Cohen Publicity) as required, we consider that the entire amount the City has spent to date on the RMA contract, $3,205,611.78 to be questioned cost.

The OIG recommends that the City:

1. Take appropriate personnel actions.
2. Take appropriate action to ensure that City employees adhere to General Administration, Chapter 1 Policy 1-2, Public Records Request.
3. Revise written policies and procedures on outside employment requiring employees to obtain approval for leave or work schedule adjustments prior to performing outside employment during the official business day. They should be clearly communicated to city employees and documented.
4. Establish internal controls that accurately represent actual hours worked by exempt City employees.
5. Review the city’s contract with RMA in light of the findings and information provided within this report and take appropriate action.

The responses to this report from the City, Mr. Cohen, and RMA are attached. A summary of these responses with our related comments begin on page 33.

The report from the OIG is 100 pages long and can be read in it’s entirety. Go to the website of the OIG and search Recent Reports.It will be found under
9-28-16 West Palm Beach Public Records 2016-002.

Mr. Cohen had the run of City Hall before he resigned before the OIG report was made public. He was well protected by Mayor Muoio who was told constantly of his discretion’s and attitude towards City employees and residents. He allowed Mayor Muoio to “protect” him, and she did an excellent job of it. She could have been loyal to Mr. Cohen or the folks who voted her into office. I’m sorry she chose him.

The City Commissioners sit as the CRA board and oversee Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) and they should take another look and fix the situation they created years ago. The fix was in then and if they couldn’t see it they have no right to sit as a commissioner. Commissioners Neering and Ryan were not City Commissioners at the time, and could lead the charge on the miscarriage of justice forced on residents.

One more food for thought. Under the guidance of former City Attorney Claudia McKenna the City sued the OIG over payment, basically crippling their budget and slowing investigations such as the one above. After she retired she received a contract from the City for “consultation”. Her contract calls for $4800.00/month and has been in effect since May 13,2014. So far she has received $139,200.00. One more joke played on the taxpayers. Remember this when you are asked to approve the 1 cent sales tax, as this is a reason the City needs extra funds.

Unhappy with this story? Tell the mayor or commissioners.