Tamarac City Manager Michael Cernech is facing racketeering charges after being accused of participating in a scheme to threaten a landowner into paying millions of dollars.
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office announced the charges Friday after an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
“The defendant conspired with convicted felons, using his position of authority to relay false information to the highest levels of city government to further this multimillion-dollar extortion scheme — disgraceful,” Moody said of Cernech.
“My statewide prosecutors, working with FDLE investigators, have exposed the corruption and now the defendant and his co-conspirators will have to answer for their crimes.”
Prosecutors say Cernech worked with real estate developers Bruce and Shawn Chait, along with several other individuals. The Chaits are already facing charges of attempting to extort rival developer Arnaud Karsenti.
The new charges tie Cernech into that alleged scheme. According to the release from Moody’s office, Karsenti’s company, 13th Floor Investments, acquired a Tamarac property more than a decade ago after the Chaits defaulted on a loan.
Prosecutors say Cernech helped the Chaits manufacture false claims that soil on the property was contaminated.
“The Chaits and co-conspirators did this by filing lawsuits using straw plaintiffs as puppets for the sole purpose of getting the victim to pay,” read a release from Moody’s office. “The Chaits used this false claim as leverage knowing that the victim would not want to have his reputation tarnished — even through false accusations and bogus threats of lawsuits.”
Prosecutors say Karsenti was pressured to pay $3.4 million in total. Cernech’s bond has been set at $200,000.
“The victim in this case was constantly harassed and his business and livelihood threatened by the Chaits and their accomplice Michael Cernech,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen.
“Their actions were both frightening and appalling. I appreciate the dedication of our FDLE agents in Miami and the Office of Statewide Prosecution in unraveling this brazen fraud.”
Cernech served as Tamarac City Manager for more than a decade after being appointed to that position in January 2011. He has worked with the city since 2001.