Robert Runcie

Grand Jury Took Path From School Safety to Bid Tampering, Perjury, Leak

Unable to fire Broward's schools superintendent, Florida's governor ordered up a grand jury that has indicted three district leaders

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A statewide grand jury that was first looking into Florida school safety and how money meant to protect schools was being spent has now indicted the Broward school district's chief executive, top attorney and former chief information officer.

The charges involve a range of alleged crimes, from bribery and bid tampering to lying and leaking.

The latest and most prominent indictment came Wednesday, when Superintendent Robert Runcie was arrested and charged with perjury for allegedly lying to the grand jury during testimony three weeks ago.

The investigation has its roots in the Feb. 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Soon after their lives were shattered by the killing of 17 that day, some Parkland parents began calling for Runcie’s firing.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis couldn’t do that, but one year after the tragedy he ordered up a statewide grand jury charged with looking into school safety issues, including how money meant to protect schools was being spent.

"This is looking at a whole host of issues," DeSantis said then, flanked by Parkland parents. "I think they're going to have a very broad mandate."

Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie was arrested on a perjury charge Wednesday. NBC 6's Ari Odzer reports

Some of the parents at the announcement predicted at the time how broad its work might get.

Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed at the school, said the grand jury could "possibly uncover some criminality with a lot of aspects of what’s going on."

Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter Alaina, said, "I wouldn’t be surprised to see indictments."

On Wednesday, Broward school board members sure were.

"I was shocked and I was surprised," said board member Rosalind Osgood. "We all participated in a grand jury investigation where the grand jury looked at our safety measures, how we use safety dollars and the bond issue."

The 18-member panel has given special attention to districts which, like Broward, oversee their own construction. That "makes it incredibly easy for school officials to hide deficiencies (and) leave these construction projects ripe for fraud and other criminal misconduct,” the jury wrote in a report issued in December.

The next month, the public learned the grand jury found evidence of crimes, indicting Broward’s former chief information officer Anthony "Tony" Hunter for allegedly tampering with a sole-source $17 million contract for Recordex classroom flat screens.

The indictment said the company's chief executive provided Hunter unlawful compensation, including one or more of the following: cars, jobs for Hunter and family members, or a discount on a house in Georgia.

Email seeking comment Wednesday from the company CEO and from Hunter's attorney were not answered.

In a statement, Runcie's attorneys said he will plead not guilty to the charge.

"It is a sad day in Broward County and across Florida when politics become more important than the interests of our students. Superintendent Runcie has fully cooperated with law enforcement throughout this statewide grand jury process. This morning, we received a copy of an indictment that does not shed any light on what false statement is alleged to have been made. He will continue to be transparent with the Board, the parents and the public with any new information he receives," the statement read. "We are confident that he will be exonerated and he intends to continue to carry out his responsibilities with the highest level of integrity and moral standards, as he has done for nearly ten years in his role as Superintendent."

It is unknown whether Runcie is accused of lying about that alleged corruption or something else because statewide grand jury proceedings are, by law, secret.

That is why the school board’s general counsel, Barbara Myrick, was also arrested Wednesday, charged with unlawful disclosure of the proceedings or people referred to or being investigated by the grand jury.

So, for now, the grand jury has issued three indictments naming Broward's chief executive, chief lawyer and former chief information officer.

In December the panel revealed it had “seen examples of apparent efforts to secure large-scale projects for preferred vendors,” though it did not say in which county it had found such evidence.

 More indictments could be coming.

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