Fort Lauderdale city attorney George Castrataro is fuming over the recent arrest and prosecution of his partner on criminal charges relating to his management of a local funeral parlor, Kalis-McIntee Funeral and Cremation Center.
Castrataro’s partner, Anthony Jason Cook, was originally charged on March 1, 2018 with one count of allegedly, falsely negotiating a check of $6,000 belonging to his then employer.
Subsequent to his arrest, the funeral home complained of other alleged improprieties purportedly engaged in by Cook. Leading an investigation into the accusations, Wilton Manors Detective Bonnie Owens said she found many of them felonious. She subsequently arrested Cook a second time last July, charging him with a total of 10 additional counts of financial misconduct related to his actions while working at the funeral home.
Cook has pled not guilty to all the charges, and the case has been moving through the Broward County courts, assigned to Circuit Court Judge Edward Merrigan.
Last week, however, Detective Owens informed Cook’s lawyer, Fort Lauderdale attorney Russell Cormican, of an additional charge relating to a new claim that he allegedly ordered memorial products using an online customer account belonging to McIntee.
Cook was then informed he would have to surrender and post a bond on the new charges. Castrataro concluded the charges were specious and without merit. He accused the city of “overkill,” firing off a blistering letter to the entire City Commission. The correspondence, addressed to Detective Owens, accused her of “torturing his partner, Jason Cook, falsifying records, threatening witnesses, and slandering me and my firm.”
Castrataro’s correspondence stated that the new allegations “are entirely unsupported and lack probable cause.” He accused Detective Owens of “vindictive conduct” and personal bias on behalf of her friends, Marsha McIntee and Bernie McIntee, who own the funeral home.
Declaring he has had enough, Castrataro warned Detective Owens that her conduct would not be tolerated: “Let me be vividly clear. If you pursue this arrest and the state declines to prosecute this case, it is my intention to immediately file suit against you and the city.”
Further, Castrataro concluded, “your intentions are wrong and unfounded and yet continue to pursue them. You are a tragic disgrace to the badge you wear.”
Nevertheless, Cook was arrested last Wednesday, taken into custody after a minor scuffle at the police station. While Cook stated he was there to surrender himself, Detective Owens stated that he fled the scene after being told he was under arrest. He has since posted a new bond of $7,500 and faces an additional charge of resisting arrest for trying to flee.
With the notice of threat to sue having been filed against the city, no city officials are allowed to comment publicly on Castrataro’s complaint. Justin Flippen, the mayor, has confirmed that the matter has been referred to the island city’s legal counsel.
While Detective Owens may have conducted the investigation and arrested Cook on the new allegations of financial improprieties, it will be up to the Economic Crimes Division of the Broward County State Attorney’s Office to make the final determination on whether to proceed with the case. Assistant state attorney Kathy Heaven is handling the prosecution.
The various counts Cook has been charged with already allege mismanagement and conversion of funds that purportedly belonged to the funeral home. Amongst the allegations is a singular count that he failed to turn over a decedent’s intended $1,000 donation to the Pride Center at Equality Park.
Stated his attorney, Russell Cormican, “At the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum we will dispute these charges and demonstrate that they have more to do with a civil disagreement between former business associates who are now competitors, than they do with any type of criminal conduct.”
Cormican’s claim is based on the fact that Cook had eventually hoped not only to manage the funeral home, but purchase it and incorporate a business he was going to run there, called “Castrataro’s Celebrations of Life.”
On the other side, the state accuses Cook of engineering and scheming to systematically defraud the funeral home of its lawful proceeds.
The next docket call before the court is in June, which is likely to be continued, while the defense conducts depositions, interviews witnesses and investigates the state’s charges.