Former Pride South Florida Director under Criminal Inquiry For Misappropriation of Funds

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department Economic Crimes Unit has opened an investigation into the theft of funds from Pride South Florida by one of its former officers and directors.

Mike Cruz, PSF’s former treasurer, who served on the board from 2003 until his removal by acclamation in May of 2009, is the target of the police department inquiry. The alleged theft or misappropriation of funds is potentially in excess of $40,000.

The allegations of purported misconduct were first uncovered last May, after Pridefest 2009. The disclosure of the alleged impropriety came from a former PSF treasurer who worked at the banking institution in Sunrise where PSF housed its account. He contacted then board members Roger Handevidt and Laurie Whittaker, indicating that there were “dubious and suspicious” cash transactions involving Cruz and PSF funds.

Whittaker, a prominent North Miami Beach attorney, who is also a partner in Sidelines Sports Bar, and Handevidt, a hotelier who has served as President of the Rainbow Alliance, became alarmed and immediately contacted City of Sunrise law enforcement authorities.

After satisfying themselves that the activities they uncovered were improper, Handevidt and Whittaker confided in the PSF board, who then summarily removed Cruz both as a signatory to the account and as a board member.

At the same time, a former board member sought to confront Cruz about his conduct, but discovered he had been hospitalized, and was unconscious at Broward General, in what that source told SFGN could only be described as an “apparent suicide attempt.”

After months of research to acquire the records and documentation sufficient to satisfy their inquiry, the Sunrise Police Department, for jurisdictional reasons, has now had to turn the case over to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department Economic Crimes Unit. It has been determined that the alleged misconduct occurred within Fort Lauderdale city limits.

The present inquiry is currently being handled by Detective April Reddish, and is presently an ‘open’ investigation, which inhibits the police department from officially speaking about the case in any way. However, Detective Reddish is in the process of taking sworn statements from present and past board members of Pride South Florida. She hopes to complete her investigation within a couple of months.

Commented Marc Lyons, a criminal defense lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, “These delays are not unusual. Economic frauds involving banking institutions are very time consuming to unravel. Detectives have to amass multiple documents from a variety of sources to shore up their cases before presenting it to the State Attorney. In Fort Lauderdale, some of these frauds involve millions of dollars, not just thousands.” Lyons himself was once a prosecutor in the Economic Crimes division of the Broward County State Attorney’s office.

The present Board of Directors of Pride South Florida is also inhibited from speaking publicly about the allegations of the purported theft and ongoing investigation. All the board members have cooperated and are still cooperating with the authorities. As noted, Whittaker and Handevidt were instrumental in advising the authorities of the alleged improprieties.

None of the allegations in any way involve any of the present members of the Pride South Florida board, all of whom are new members. Arguably, in the aftermath of the revelations concerning Cruz, their efforts this year in all likelihood saved Pridefest.

The present board members are employing significant fiscal oversight to insure the management of funds for this year’s Pridefest, including utilizing a former banking professional, Joel Slotnick, as their treasurer. Additional accounting procedures have been set in place to insure all the funds are properly channeled and processed.

The Board stated to SFGN that their goal is to “run and manage an untainted Pridefest, which insures the complete integrity of the fiscal process and protects all the funds of the community and the PSF benefactors.”

Pridefest is a not for profit corporation, under the umbrella of Pride One of Broward County, Inc.

Presently, the board includes Jacqui Charvet as Chair and President, Marc Hansen as Vice President, Joel Slotnick as Secretary/Treasurer, and board members Sonia Mitchell and Shawn Manning. Miss Vicky Keller also serves as a Board Member Emeritus.

The complete investigation and story will appear in next week’s March 1, 2010 print edition of the