A developer shored up loans — including one for $95 million — just days after Plantation’s former mayor offered up a signed letter that had false information on it, Broward’s inspector general alleges in new documents released Tuesday.
The latest details about the allegations against former Mayor Lynn Stoner were released Tuesday by the Broward Office of the Inspector General, the county’s top ethics watchdog, as part of its final report into the matter.
Stoner was arrested in May, accused of trying to coerce Adnan “Danny” Ezzeddine, a former building official, to fraudulently sign off on development projects, and falsifying documents to help a developer get loans, including one for $95 million.
The office of Inspector General had sent its investigation that began in 2020 to prosecutors, and it made its report public Tuesday. Inspector General Carol Breece alleged “Stoner engaged in a pattern of criminal and ethical misconduct to benefit a private developer and its now deceased president.”
“Our investigation determined that Mayor Stoner persisted in a course of action intended to benefit the Developer or its President in their development of the Pixl Project,” the report reads. “The public expects a city’s mayor to act on behalf of residents and businesses to benefit them, but the acts we report here were outside the legal bounds of what the public, through its legislature, has deemed acceptable.”
Since her arrest, Stoner’s criminal defense attorney, Larry Davis, said that his client did nothing wrong.
“Mayor Stoner was doing her job as the CEO, pursuant to the Plantation city charter,” he said Tuesday. “The mayor was ensuring that a vital project in a blighted area was not scuttled by red tape and political agendas.”
According to the final investigative report:
The developer was building a multi-residential development within the city but an outstanding property lien stemming from an unresolved code enforcement case was complicating construction financing for the Pixl project.
Investigators allege in April 2020, Stoner asked the city’s then-building official to write a letter to the developer’s lender saying that the violation and fines were discharged “when she knew they were not.”
The building official refused to write the letter because the violation and fines were not discharged and the letter would be illegal, and so “Mayor Stoner said she would do it herself,” according to the investigation, “and then hung up on him.”
Investigators allege on that same day that the building official refused to write the letter she requested, Stoner used “city stationery or letterhead that falsely stated that the city had discharged the violation and waived the accrual of all fines, which by then had accumulated to approximately $181,500.”
The developer’s president “promptly sent that signed letter” to the private equity firm funding his companies’ loans and the title insurance company accepted the letter as proof that the property lien was removed.
Days later, the private equity firm and developer closed on two pending loans, including one for $95 million, according to the report.
“At the outset, it was evident to city staff that the developer’s president considered Mayor Stoner his ally in getting the city to do his bidding,” according to the report.
In another case, investigators said Stoner “continually attempted to improperly influence the building official to violate the Florida Building Code to help the developer.”
For example, she pushed to have him issue the developer a permit on the Pixl project — even though the developer had already started construction without a permit — or to allow the unpermitted construction to proceed despite the building official’s stop work order, investigators said.
On the evening of Aug. 14, 2020, Stoner called the building official at his home and “told him that she did not know he was going to shut down the developer’s job site and said that the developer’s president was going to call him,” according to the report.
They met at the site after the weekend even though “the Building Official discouraged her from being involved as she was the mayor,” according to the report.
When the building official and Stoner arrived at the job site that morning, they observed 25 to 27 workers working on the foundation and columns without authorization and without a permit.
“When the president arrived, he attempted to convince the Building Official to let him continue working without a permit. The Building Official pointed out that the workers had poured concrete for the foundation, which they would have to remove for inspection. Mayor Stoner responded that ‘we’ were not going to dig out the concrete,” according to the report.
When the building official authorized another stop-work order on the Pixl project as unpermitted construction continued, days later, Stoner fired him, investigators said.
“She had complained about the Building Official not doing things she wanted him to do,” according to the report.
The building official, Ezzeddine, could not be reached for comment at his home Tuesday. The Pixl project, 330 units, is still under construction at 4400 NW 8th Court. Construction is expected to be completed within 12 months.
The developer, Christopher Longsworth, CEO and founder of Plantation-based Invesca Development Group, died in December 2020 at age 36.
There was no answer at the business office of Invesca Development Group on Tuesday.
Stoner served on the Plantation City Council from 2011 to 2017 before being elected mayor in 2018. She lost her reelection campaign in November.
This is the second investigation by the inspector general’s office into Stoner’s alleged misconduct.
In 2020, authorities alleged in a 238-page report that Stoner frequently circumvented Florida’s Sunshine Law, which allows open access for board meetings and denied public-records requests to City Council members.
The inspector general said Stoner also was found to have “engaged in multiple violations of campaign finance law” during her mayoral campaign, including unlawfully overdrawing the campaign account and then making an illegal, post-election loan to cover the overdraft. She later filed false campaign treasurer reports to cover up the overdraft and illegal contribution, according to the inspector general’s report.
In response, earlier this year she paid a $1,200 penalty to the Florida Elections Commission after admitting to violating several state campaign finance laws during her 2018 mayoral campaign.
Stoner told the South Florida Sun Sentinel at the time it was “sloppy bookkeeping,” but there had been “no wrongdoing on my part.” She said at the time she was both working and running a campaign and had no intent to do anything wrong.
The case was forwarded to prosecutors. Still, it “is under review,” said Paula McMahon, spokeswoman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office, on Tuesday.
The Inspector General also said Tuesday it would also file its latest case, on the former mayor’s Pixl project involvement, with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
In Stoner’s pending criminal case, there is no trial date set. The charges — official misconduct, falsifying a record and influencing a building official — carry a maximum possible punishment of up to eight years in prison.
Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash