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Rise of the fraud culture

July 28, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

To the editor:

Recent news that National Swim Center Corporation leaders, Andy Sarwal and Fred Yeo, would plead guilty to bank fraud conspiracy charges re a $39 million development project loan should not be seen as a "we told you so" fiasco. It is, however, a testament to those council members were lauded in an article, "Five brave Cape Coral men," but still maligned by some as the Fab Five and RAGs. On April 26, 2010, they did due diligence for the City by vetting and ultimately rejecting a shaky project that would have cost taxpayers at least $27.3 million and a 171-acres land giveaway. The purported $250,000 NSCC "feasibility" study estimated The Concourse at the Cape project to cost $199.3 Million.

Can you say "Other People's Money and Land?" This was central to the con game being perpetrated, with a little help from their inside Cape friends. Hindsight re a string of failures makes the Sarwal-Yeo scheme clear. Was the Cape to be the big score?

The struggle between those for and against the project culminated that April 26 with the 5- 3 Council rejection of the Memorandum of Understanding that would have served as the basis for binding contract negotiations.

There were unaddressed questions and nagging concerns. Calls for NSCC to demonstrate credible financial support and capability to successfully undertake and complete the project were not satisfactorily answered. Red flags stuck out all over a "grandiose" project masked as a "needed," life-saving economic boon for the City.

Many had taken the bait and were bedazzled by visions of prestigious events; new business development; increased Cape tourism; an Olympic-size training facility for local swim clubs; creation of permanent jobs; and millions in revenues and profits. Wonderful things would emanate from the Swim Center -a dream too good to be true that was based on highly questionable underpinnings. Over time, others concluded the same, like Lee County, Corpus Christie, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Swim Center was championed by former Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini, followed by Councilman Marty McClain. Its supporters included former mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz; former Lee County Commissioner John Albion; Cindy McKay, with 3,586 petition signatures; David Mulicka; and those influential Council favorites Linda Prince, Betty Dill, Daryl Teblum and even Dave Montrose. Even children were pressed into service as pro Swim Center advocates.

Parks & Recreation Director Steve Pohlman and our trusty, beyond-reproach city staffers collaborated with Swim Center personnel to pitch the project to Council then made up of the Fab Five - Councilmen Pete Brandt, Bill Deile, Eric Kuehn, Chris Chulakas-Leetz and Mayor John Sullivan who did their own homework - and half of the current staff-worshippers, let's now call them the "Sagacious Six" - Councilmen McClain, Kevin McGrail and Derrick Donnell. Maybe that should politically be "McDonnell" instead.

The three joined-at-the-hip sages saw nothing with the Swim Center project - huge red flags notwithstanding - that prevented their voting to move forward to finalize a contract

Recently, Councilman McClain, in a July 12 article speaking on Sarwal and Yeo stated, "I don't think there was ever any intent to defraud anybody." "I think the economy became their enemy." WOW! Let's excuse all those that conspire to falsify financial information; hide financial information to misrepresent the budget; manipulate the LIBOR interest rate; give fraudulent, unqualified audit opinions; or falsify job qualification credentials. Hell! The economy made them do it!

Private and public sector financial corruption and fraud are running rampant. The rewards are high and accountability is low. In other words, crime is worth the risks, if we let them get away with it, without retribution.

Due diligence has been suppressed here in River City and the situation will worsen as staff leaders collude with the Sagacious Six to squeeze for more taxes, rates and fees to grow the unions, payrolls and pensions; pursue costly or pricey projects; build and plunder hidden, secret reserves; increase public debt; and pursue wish-list spending. There's yet more to come.

The pace and extent of the pillaging depends on active vigilance or lack thereof. Protection of the public interests depends on an engaged public.

What's needed? Just a few more brave good men and women.

Larry Barton

Cape Coral



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