By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The disappearance obviously caused great concern for his father, Arthur Santucci, the highest-ranking civilian employee at the Broward Sheriff's Office and a member of Sheriff Al Lamberti's command staff. BSO set out to find Michael Santucci. Taking the lead in the investigation was Lamberti's chief executive officer, Lt. David Benjamin, according to multiple sources at the agency.
Benjamin was recently transferred out of Lamberti's command staff as revelations about his relationship with Ponzi schemer Rothstein have surfaced. But at the time of Michael Santucci's disappearance, he was practically running the agency — acting as a proxy for the sheriff and running the internal affairs division.
Benjamin reportedly ran a check and found that Michael Santucci had used his credit card in Pompano Beach, according to sources. Santucci was believed to be in a silver Mazda owned by his wife's parents in Doral.
That evening, April 10, members of BSO's Regional Anti-Crime Squad came across a silver Mazda in an empty lot in Pompano Beach, according to BSO reports. Four detectives were also present.
Kennerly and Polomny led the detectives to an apartment, where they found Michael Santucci and a fourth person who remains unidentified. Sources say there was drug paraphernalia in the apartment.
Santucci was transported to the district office in Pompano, sources say. Someone contacted Benjamin, who responded to the district office and took Santucci away. The Mazda belonging to Santucci's in-laws wasn't impounded.
Only Kennerly was arrested. He was charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia. Kennerly would later plead guilty to the first count and was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered into drug rehabilitation.
In arrest and incident reports, written by BSO Det. Sean Andrews, there is no mention of Michael Santucci. The only official evidence that he was involved are mentions of the Mazda. Its license plate number, V081ZG, is easily traced to Santucci's in-laws (they have since sold the car).
BSO is mum about the incident. Last week, sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal said he would look into it. But last Thursday afternoon, Leljedal told New Times: "I can't discuss it."
Leljedal answers to Arthur Santucci, who is executive director of external affairs. Calls left with Arthur and Michael Santucci as well as Benjamin went unreturned.
Di Perna, the former deputy, says he learned of the case from fellow deputy John Bailin, a union representative. He said Det. Meghan Brooks went to Bailin about the incident after deputies in Pompano came to her with concerns about the Santucci incident. Bailin refused to comment on the case.
Di Perna says he tried to expose Benjamin's actions, as did Bailin.
A couple of weeks before last year's sheriff's election, Benjamin contacted Bailin and threatened him in an expletive-laced phone message. The message was recorded and was recently played in an arbitration case involving another deputy, making it a public record. New Times was able to hear a copy of the recording, which Benjamin left about 12:35 a.m. October 19, 2008, a Sunday morning. In it, Benjamin says, "You better keep your fucking mouth shut," before hanging up the phone.
Di Perna says Bailin took the recording to his supervisors and that nobody did anything about it or the allegations regarding the Santucci incident.
"Until this day, nothing has been done," Di Perna says. "Why is this guy [Benjamin] still active? Why is he still working?"
Benjamin is still employed, but he has been rocked by the Rothstein implosion. The lieutenant escorted Rothstein to his jet when the lawyer fled the country for Morocco (with about $500,000 in stolen money). Rothstein also helped Benjamin set up a consulting company that he apparently didn't report to superiors. Rothstein funded his company with $30,000, according to a source.
In light of those revelations, Benjamin was first taken from his role of running internal affairs at the department. BSO is also investigating his consulting business, and on December 2, he was transferred out of central command and into youth services, a huge step down.
Di Perna was fired September 29 after Benjamin worked an internal affairs case against him that Di Perna claims came in retaliation for speaking out about the Santucci case, among other things. Bailin has also been disciplined and is on administrative desk duty.
It's clear that a long-belated investigation of the Santucci incident must be conducted, preferably by an agency other than BSO, which has proven itself unable or unwilling to police itself. The details are still murky, but there is possible official misconduct and obstruction. All communications made by Benjamin and other participants from that night need to be examined, and some questions need to be answered:
Those are questions that won't be answered until there's a legitimate investigation.
Read Bob Norman's column on the Daily Pulp blog.