Nude photos of a South Florida city commissioner sent to an ex-con lover -- who is also her first cousin -- prompted prosecutors to investigate claims she was blackmailed by a lobbyist, as first reported by the Palm Beach Post.
Boynton Beach Commissioner Marlene Ross said she was bullied to change her votes by "sinister" former commissioner-turned-lobbyist David Katz for years, then felt particularly threatened during a September 4 commission meeting when Katz made a public reference to supposed investigations into the “transmittal of messages and pictures between elected officials and convicted felons."
There would be "consequences," Katz warned commissioners, for voting against a friend's appointment to a vacant commission seat. Click play to listen:
The Post reports Ross admitted sending compromising photos of herself by Facebook message in late 2010 or early 2011 to her cousin Rogelio Vera, who according to Gossip Extra has a lengthy rap sheet including multiple convictions for cocaine possession.
“You had some sort of relationship?” State Attorney’s Office Detective Robert Flechaus asked Ross in a Sept. 12 interview.
“Yes,” Ross said in audio supplied to The Post...“[Vera] started with the flirting,” she said. “I said, ‘Oh, c’mon. This is not right.’ He’s a first cousin. ‘This is not right. You’ve got to stop.’”
Ross said she ended her relationship a few months later. But in the meantime, she had sent Rogelio Vera the pictures.
Ross reportedly told investigators she began to fear Katz knew about the photos -- possibly through Vera's estranged wife -- and would use them to destroy her career if she didn't vote as he wished.
But "none of the scenarios described by Ms. Ross involved behavior that could be considered criminal extortion," assistant Palm Beach County state attorney Daniel Funk concluded in a Thursday memo, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Ross told the Sun Sentinel prosecutors couldn't bring charges only because she stopped cooperating with the investigation: "I am a victim of extortion," she insisted, refusing to step down Tuesday night even as the mayor read a statement calling her behavior a "scar" on Boynton Beach.
Though juicy and shockingly familial, Ross's scandal is only the freshest such blemish on Boynton Beach. Former Mayor Jose Rodriguez was arrested and then removed from office by Florida Governor Rick Scott in January, accused of using his office to stymie an investigation of child abuse.
The former director of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency is also suing Rodriguez, claiming she was fired in part because she refused his sexual advances.