Jose Rodriguez, Ex-Boynton Beach mayor, pleads not guilty to a new corruption charge

1st charged under Code of Ethics statute

  Former Boynton Beach Mayor Jose Rodriguez, through his attorney, pleaded not guilty on Monday to a fourth corruption charge added to three charges he already faces.

The new criminal charge, filed by the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office on Thursday, accuses Rodriguez of misusing his official position to attempt to benefit himself in violation of Florida statutes and Palm Beach County's Code of Ethics.

Rodriguez is the first person to be charged under the county's Code of Ethics statute. His attorney, Jason Weiss, who was out of town when the charge was filed, asked the judge for more time to review it.

"Being the guinea pig for the statute, we're going to need to look into it and see what needs to be challenged regarding that particular charge," Weiss said after Monday's hearing.

Weiss also entered a motion requesting more information about the state's second charge, which accuses Rodriguez of solicitation to commit unlawful disclosure of confidential criminal information while Rodriguez was the subject of a criminal investigation by local and state agencies.

Rodriguez is also charged with accepting unlawful compensation for official behavior as mayor and with resisting arrest without violence.

Weiss told Palm Beach Conty Circuit Court Judge Charles Burton that the prosecution had insufficiently explained what confidential criminal information Rodriguez allegedly solicited.

"I want to know what info they claim he was seeking," he said.

Burton granted Weiss' request, giving the state 10 days to clarify the second charge.

"That is the essence of the crime," Burton said of the information Rodriguez allegedly solicited. "So if the detective can't tell him what it is, somebody ought to tell him."

The bulk of the charges were filed against Rodriguez on Jan. 26, and were filed in reference to Rodriguez's alleged attempts to interfere with investigations into claims made by his estranged wife, Sarah Marquez.

According to Rodriguez's arrest report, Marquez contacted Boyton Beach Police Chief Matt Immler on Aug. 8, and told him she feared for the safety of herself and her daughter, who is Rodriguez's stepdaughter. In a recorded interview, Marquez told two Boyton Beach police officers that Rodriguez and his son had hit her daughter and Rodriguez had made an inappropriate sexual comment to her daughter, the report says.

Rodriguez later became the subject of investigations by the Boynton Beach Police Department and the Department on Children and Families, although the arrest report says that the investigations were closed less than a month later because Marquez was uncooperative.

Immler said in a sworn and recorded interview that on Nov. 16, Rodriguez called Immler at his work phone and asked why police detectives were trying to contact his wife but hung up before Immler could finish his response.

The next day, Immler said, Rodriguez called him on his work cell phone and "invoked his status as the mayor and told the chief to stop pursuing the criminal investigation and to stop trying to contact his wife," according to the arrest report.

Interim City Manager Lori LaVerriere said in a sworn and recorded interview that on Dec. 1 she had a two-hour meeting with Rodriguez at his request. Rodriguez, she said, told LaVerriere that he had "problems" with her performance and needed her to ask more questions of the police.

According to the arrest report, Rodriguez had a list of questions about the then-active investigation into him but did not want to ask the questions directly.

Later that day, LaVerriere said, Rodriguez told her in a vacant office, "It is your job to protect the mayor and [city] commission, and I'm not feeling protected." He offered "protection" to LaVerriere "in return" for her "protection" of him, according to the arrest report.

On Jan. 26, Rodriguez surrendered to the Palm Beach Sherriff's Office and was later released on bail. The following day, Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order suspending the mayor from office without pay.

Rodriguez's trial remains set to start July 27.

Assistant State Attorney Daniel Funk could not be reached for comment despite a call to his office.

 

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