Broward Developers Facing Extortion Charges: We Told Truth About Land Contamination

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When the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) arrested father-and-son developers Bruce and Shawn Chait last year on extortion charges, state police portrayed the collar as an open-and-shut case.

The pair stands accused of extorting a Broward County home builder, based on a false claim that there were dangerous levels of contamination on two Tamarac golf courses that have since been converted to townhomes.

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“These criminals were on a path to destroy the victim’s reputation as well as his business by spreading lies about the land and the victim’s development,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a news release at the time.

A year later, Bruce Chait, 73, and Shawn Chait, 49, are fighting the charges. In court filings, the pair argues that the criminal case is based on a flawed premise – they weren’t lying about the site being polluted. The Tamarac land was in fact contaminated with arsenic, the Chaits’ legal team argued in an 87-page rebuttal filed this month in Broward County Circuit Court.

In the extortion case, the FDLE accuses the team of racketeering and fraud for trying to extort payments from 13th Floor Investments owner Arnaud Karsenti. The firm, 13th Floor, built Central Parc, a project with 253 townhomes, on the Tamarac site. 

The Chaits’ rebuttal said that of 58 soil samples taken at the former golf courses in 2013, most showed arsenic above allowable levels.

“Test results revealed arsenic contaminations ranging from 10 times to 24 times greater than the 2.1mg/kg State of Florida-mandated cleanup levels,” the court filing says.

The Chaits are developers with a checkered past. In an earlier brush with the law, they were accused of bribing public officials to convert the two Tamarac golf courses into townhomes. In 2010, the pair admitted to making tens thousands of dollars in unlawful compensation to local politicians. They pleaded guilty to unlawful compensation and were sentenced to four years of probation.

In the latest legal entanglement, the Chaits argue in their court filing that 13th Floor didn’t properly clean up the contamination. Karsenti’s company denies the Chaits’ assertions.

“Unlike the Chaits, 13th Floor has a long history of compliance with the law and development regulations,” Karsenti said in a statement to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “13th Floor performed a multimillion-dollar remediation project over several years that adhered to strict quality control and regulatory guidelines. This process was managed by an independent environmental engineering firm that provided frequent reporting and was closely monitored by the Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department of Broward County.”

The Chaits were arrested in March 2021 and pleaded not guilty. The next hearing in the matter is scheduled for April.

Jeff Ostrowski can be reached at jostrowski@commercialobserver.com.