ID 52136246 © Ivansmuk |

Former custodial supervisor in Broward County (Fla.) district pleads guilty to taking bribes

July 23, 2020
The FBI says Richard Ellis accepted kickbacks from a painting subcontractor for the district.

A former custodial and grounds supervisor in the Broward County (Fla.) school district has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in connection with a probe into the district’s troubled maintenance department.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that Richard Ellis, 50, had been charged with four counts of bribery and four counts of extortion in December. As part of a plea deal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the extortion charges.

In addition, a subcontractor doing business for the district has pleaded guilty to witness tampering,

Alan Johnson, 53, a painting subcontractor for Pence Sealcoating, made $6,189 in payments to Ellis, while secretly assisting the FBI. Johnson pleaded guilty to witness tampering in a separate case involving the school district.

Pence has received about $10 million in district business in the past seven years. It had a contract to handle the repairs of traffic signs, paint striping, asphalt sealcoating, and work on driveways and athletic facilities.

The FBI started investigating the school district in 2017, after an internal audit concluded Broward schools grossly overpaid for asphalt services. At the time, Pence was the only vendor for that kind of work.

[FROM JANUARY 2020: Broward County (Fla.) board demands immediate improvements in its maintenance department]

Ellis was unaware of the FBI investigation in August 2018 when he started accepting kickbacks from Johnson, prosecutors say. Hoping for leniency on his own case, Johnson agreed to wear a recording device while making cash payments to Ellis.

The guilty pleas come amid growing concerns over how the district handles maintenance and construction.

Last fall, a scathing review by the Council of Great City Schools found exorbitantly high costs for groundskeeping in Broward schools, particularly when performed by outside contractors. The review found Broward spent $6,189 per acre for this work, compared with an average in Florida of $694 per acre and a national average of $1,353.

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