Chaz Stevens is not a professional investigator, yet his digging has led to several Deerfield Beach officials facing corruption charges.Prosecutors secretly admire him. Defense attorneys openly loathe him. And followers of Broward politics can’t seem to get enough of him.Still, it’s hard to know what to make of Chaz Stevens, the rabblerousing activist who wields email blasts and a website — myactsofsedition.com — like a bludgeon, heaping scorn and ridicule upon, and leveling criminal complaints against his hometown public officials.Since launching his tech-savvy anti-corruption crusade in 2007, Stevens’ tips to the State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have led to the arrests of three Deerfield Beach politicians for corruption, including ex-Mayor Al Capellini and former commissioners Stephen Gonot and Sylvia Poitier.It’s a track record that might earn Stevens a great deal of respect and admiration — if only he didn’t take such conspicuous pleasure in degrading his targets with equal amounts of scurrilous name-calling, innuendo and condescension, delivered with a generous helping of narcissism.“I have only one thing to declare,’’ Stevens blogged this week after a Broward jury convicted Gonot. “My genius.’’Indeed, Stevens filed the initial complaint that led to an FDLE investigation of Gonot in 2008, then followed up with leads for investigators and prosecutors, including an email he sent last week to Assistant State Attorney David Schulson, the prosecutor, who had already rested his case but reopened it to share the new evidence with the jury.Stevens’ tip to Schulson: that Gonot had flown to Las Vegas to participate in a poker tournament the morning after his best friend had cashed a $5,100 campaign check at the center of the state’s theft and misconduct charges.The evidence provided a plausible motive for Gonot’s theft, and undermined the defendant’s claims that he was overwhelmed at the time with a divorce and the failing health of his parents.It is unknown whether the revelation swayed the jury’s verdict, but Gonot’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Harris, attempted to discredit Stevens early in the trial, accusing the activist of trafficking in “rumor and innuendo,’’ and questioning why state investigators would take seriously complaints from such a source.Stevens wears Harris’s remarks as a badge now, and makes no apologies for his clearly biased reporting on Deerfield Beach and on Gonot’s trial, from which he posted exclusive videos of the defendant testifying and provided running color commentary.“People don’t like me because I am who I am,’’ Stevens acknowledges. “I wish people were smarter to see the message. They get so hung up on the messenger. It’s disappointing.’’He began his civic activism by ridiculing city politicians with doctored photos and outrageous claims posted on his blog.An expert in Photoshop, Stevens recalled one occasion where he took a screen grab from TV of Gonot, and edited the photo to look like it was taken from a surveillance camera. Then he alleged the image came from cameras Gonot had surreptitiously planted in city hall.Stevens shivers as he recalls the “buzz’’ his post created.“I got calls from city employees,’’ he said, laughing. “The police came and did a sweep of city hall. They didn’t find anything.’’By 2008, Stevens was looking to take his watch dogging game to another level. He learned to cull public records for the types of facts that could stand up as evidence in a criminal complaint and, eventually, a court of law.It was a turning point for Stevens’ activism. While his complaints against Gonot and Capellini were based on the investigative legwork of the alternative newspaper New Times and others, Stevens’ complaint against Poitier was the first to originate from his own exhaustive review of meeting minutes, financial reports and other documents.Stevens launched his crusade against Poitier in 2009, brazenly taking on a matriarch of Broward politics first elected to the Deerfield Beach commission 37 years ago and who also had served on the Broward County Commission from 1985 to 1998.By his count, Stevens filed 23 criminal complaints against Poitier. But what really seemed to push the 75-year-old politician to the point of exasperation was the incessant taunting and vilifying on Stevens’ blog, in email blasts, on T-shirts and in doctored photographs that he posted online.In March, Stevens posted a video on YouTube of Poitier on the Deerfield Beach commission dais, threatening to sue the activist for libeling her reputation and calling for “a showdown.’’He made much hay of this on his website, and even threatened to sue Poitier for defaming his character.And then the roof caved in for Poitier.On April 12, state prosecutors charged Poitier with five misdemeanor counts of falsifying records, based on an investigation launched by Stevens’ original complaint. (She has plead not guilty.)Stevens was overjoyed.“It’s a glorious day,’’ he crowed in an email blast addressed to the press. Contained in the same email was an example of Stevens’ unflagging activism — a criminal complaint he had filed with FDLE in March, alleging the Deerfield Beach Housing Authority had violated state laws on public bids.Tom Connick, a Deerfield Beach attorney who represents housing authority director Pam Davis, said Stevens is “flat out wrong’’ about the agency. And though he gives Stevens credit for rooting out corruption among city officials, he takes issue with the manner in which Stevens works.“There are some things which he has brought to light that appropriately should have been brought to light,’’ Connick said. “There are other things that he claims are problems or issues, and he’s just flat out wrong. They’re not. ... I think the tragedy of Stevens is that he appears to be essentially someone who gets his self esteem by destroying instead of being constructive.’’Stevens said he piles on the insults and attitude for effect, and suggests it is a strategy.“It irritates,’’ he said. “It draws attention. ... I’m kind of an attention whore.’’Connick said Stevens abuses public records laws by issuing broad requests that require hours of manual labor and reams of printed materials. He accused him of making unfounded accusations and degrading women.But what bothers Connick most is Stevens’ in-your-face style.“His destructiveness is so overpowering and inextricably woven into his personality,’’ Connick said, “that he’s really a negative factor.’’To be sure, Stevens’ over-the-top manner has earned him enemies.He believes someone poisoned his dog, and said he sometimes fears for his personal safety.Physical threats, though, don’t seem to get under Stevens’ skin like the anonymous comments about him posted online at various local news websites and ridiculing his living arrangements, love life, weight and employment status.It’s the two-way rule of the Internet, giving equal platform to anyone with a keyboard, a computer and something to say.Stevens, 46, says such comments used to bother him, but that he’s “grown a thicker skin’’ about the personal attacks.“It doesn’t matter where I live,’’ he says. “It doesn’t matter if I have a girlfriend or not.’’For the record, Stevens lives with his parents in Deerfield Beach.“I travel a lot,’’ he said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to have a house.’’He works as a freelance software designer and website developer, and estimates that he devotes about 60 percent of his free time to activism.And though he doesn’t get paid for his work, Stevens does enjoy some fringe benefits — namely the attention, but lately something closer to fulfillment.“Now it has meaning,’’ he said of his activism. “Now it serves a purpose. It serves a public good.’’This is not Stevens’ narcissism talking.In April, on the same day that Poitier was charged, Kessler International, a forensic accounting and investigative firm that has audited Deerfield Beach’s community development division and civic festivals, announced it had created a new award called “The Chaz.”Michael Kessler, chief executive of the firm, said the award will be bestowed annually to an activist with a proven track record of exposing government corruption.He credited Stevens for reaching out to his financial investigators with leads, which ultimately led to an audit by the U.S. Housing and Urban and Development’s Office of Inspector General, which ordered the city to repay $224,000 in grants after finding that Poitier and another commissioner, Gloria Battle, had violated federal regulations intended to curb special interests.“He supplied us with a tremendous wealth of information at the onset,’’ Kessler said of Stevens. “If you followed his blog, there were always tidbits of information.’’And while Kessler also noticed the heavy doses of scorn, ridicule and name calling on the website, he is willing to indulge Stevens’ personality based on his track record.“You have to take the whole enchilada,’’ he said, “but I think it brings levity to a very serious situation. That levity sometimes can be detrimental, but ... I don’t think I’ve ever seen an email that he’s written that when we went back and looked at the documentation, that the documentation was false.’’Stevens points out that he’s not a professional journalist or corruption investigator and has no credo he must follow.“Who cares if you have to put up with my stupid foibles?’’ Stevens said of his brand of activism. “It’s a little greedy that you want a corruption fighter and a grown up.’’
Subject: DBHA BSC: The Institute for the Advancement of Political CorruptionIf you have the misfortune opportunity to have listened to Anus T. Connick's rave review of Deerfield Beach Housing Authority Executive Director Pamela Davis*, you'd not ever want to second guess her credentials. However, according to the published Roles and Responsibilities of the Board Commissioners, doing just that is at the top of their to-do list.So being that the existing BOC won't allow you and I (mostly me) a chance at that discussion, let's take a moment this morning to discuss an issue regarding Davis' performance and you decide for yourself if she makes the grade.Speaking of which, we are *not* grading on a curve.