Complaint to Florida Accuses Wellington Councilman Of Being Paid By Sheriff’s Foundation with Money From Dressage Ground Opponents
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
John Greene, a Village of Wellington councilman, has been accused in a new filing with both the Florida and Palm Beach Ethics Commissions of accepting $50,000 in salary from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Foundation that was about the same amount donated to the group by two individuals opposed to the Global Dressage Festival grounds in Florida.
The complaint filed by Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of the group that owns the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center that encompasses the dressage complex, accused Greene of engaging in a “pattern of manipulating” the process to enable him to receive “compensation.”
John Greene did not reply to a request for comment.
William A. Granick, foundation manager, also did not reply to questions about the circumstances of the appointment of Greene.
The complaint is the latest filed against two of three councilmen elected to head up government of the community of 58,000 people that hosts the Winter Equestrian Festival that began three decades ago to become the world’s largest and longest running at 16 weeks of international jumping competition, The companion Global Dressage Festival is in its second year at the newly built multimillion dollar show grounds wih a calendar of five CDIs and $275,000 in prize money, among the largest in the world for dressage.
Three of the five councilmen that control the Village of Wellington were elected with funding that was extraordinarily large for a municipal elections from the Jacobs family with a farm near the dressage grounds plus contributions from Neil Hirsch, owner of the Players Club that adjoins the show grounds, and Victoria McCullough, also a vocal opponent.
Complaints have been filed with both the state of Florida and the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission against the mayor, Bob Margolis, and Greene. Florida state’s anticorruption laws are regarded as tough. The Palm Beach Ethics Commission has dismissed ccomplaints against them “based on information provided” by the councilmen.
A Circuit Court case filed by Bellissimo is also on the docket to reinstate decisions made by the previous governing council that approved the show grounds, a condominium hotel and a retail complex. The new council reversed those decisions.
The latest complaint against Greene involves the largest amount of money so far, $50,000.
Most of the previous filings have dealt with “gifts” or”contributions” of a few thousand dollars, an amount that if proven would violate Florida’s laws against accepting gifts. Among those complaints was that Greene was given housing and other favors by the Players Club’s Neil Hirsch.
The latest complaint involves the sheriff’s foundation, a non-profit entity set up to support Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office but is not part of the deparment, a highly respected law enforcement agency of 4,000 employees with jurisdiction over Florida’s largest county, about the same size as Delaware.
According to the complaint by Bellissimo, Greene sought clearance by the Palm Beach County ethics commission that taking the job with the sheriff’s foundation did not violate ethics laws.
But, the complaint said, he did not tell the commission that Neil Hirsch and Victoria McCullough were among the foundation’s largest donors.
Together, they contributed $50,000 to the foundation general fund.
Greene is paid at least $50,000 out of the foundation’s general fund.
Greene, he said, “failed to disclose that there were interested individuals on the Foundation Board. In particular he failed to disclose that Neil Hirsch and Victoria McCullough serve on the Foundation board.
“I believe, that there is an improper relationship between Mr. Hirsch and Councilman Greene and that they have conspired to use Councilman Greene’s position to advance Mr. Hirsch’s interests.”
His employment, the complaint alleges, “is an indirect way for him to receive compensation in exchange for votes favorable to Mr. Hirsch and Ms. McCullough on matters before the Wellington Council.
“I believe that Councilman Greene has shown a pattern of manipulating the process of obtaining an opinion from the County Commission. Clearly he knew that in seeking an ethics opinion it was important to provide information about the composition of the Board of Directors and failed to disclose two key individuals with financial interests in Councilman Greene’s votes on the Wellington Council. He made the same material omissions when he requested the opinion as to whether he could reside in Mr. Hirsch’s guest house.
“Additionally, I believe that Councilman Greene has vilated the State Ethics Code by using his official position for personal financial gain.”