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Facing the prospect of a statewide grand jury, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie contacted witnesses in a criminal case to prepare for his testimony, then he lied about it under oath when asked, prosecutors say.
The superintendent took the steps just two days before appearing before the grand jury but then testified that he hadn’t, prosecutors said.
Runcie’s statements led the grand jury to indict him last week on one count of perjury, but the specific allegation against him had not been revealed until filed in court Monday.
Broward Schools General Counsel Barbara Myrick also was charged with disclosing the grand jury’s top secret proceedings.
Both charges stem from the indictment of former Broward Schools technology chief Tony Hunter, who was charged in January with rigging contracts for technology equipment for the district, as well as accepting illegal compensation from a vendor.
Gov. Ron DeSantis empaneled the grand jury in 2019 to focus on school safety issues after the Parkland shooting. However, the three arrests so far have been related to the questionable technology purchase uncovered by the South Florida Sun Sentinel in April 2020.
According to the prosecutors, Runcie got ahold of witnesses in Hunter’s case to prepare for his own testimony. Myrick also contacted witnesses and discussed them with Runcie before he testified, Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Richard Mantei wrote.
When asked about his preparation, Runcie said he went by his memory from a workshop on the schools’ $800 million bond issue several years ago.
“Did you talk to anybody who would have information about the Hunter situation?” Runcie was asked.
“No, not that, not that I’m aware of,” he replied.
“What about contracting issues? ... No prep on that?”
“No,” Runcie answered. “Other than having a copy of the audit report.”
“Phone calls? Emails? Text messages? Smoke signals?”
“No, not that — I am trying — no. No, I haven’t talked to anyone specifically about that.”
In the document released Monday, prosecutors laid into Runcie’s answers.
“Each and every one of the defendant’s statements is false,” Mantei wrote.
Not only did Runcie consult with witnesses in the Hunter case, Mantei alleged, but he did it on March 29, just two days before he testified.
The statewide prosecutor’s office released the details after Runcie filed a court motion last week demanding specifics about the charge against him. Mantei said Runcie’s indictment didn’t detail the allegations because it was handed up while the grand jury was still in session
Mantei hinted that the state’s case could include additional allegations. “It would contain at least some of the following information (and possibly more),” he wrote.
“Others may be willing to simply overlook multiple barefaced falsehoods and obstructive statements under oath by Defendant; the Twentieth Statewide Grand Jury was not,” the document concluded.
The document does not go into direct detail about what Myrick did that would be considered illegal. “Myrick contacted one or more listed Hunter witnesses,” Mantei wrote. “Myrick stated she was not supposed to disclose the fact, but she was assisting [Runcie’s] attorney” to prepare his testimony.
Phone records substantiated calls between Myrick and Runcie’s attorney on the evening of March 31 and the morning of April 1 — the dates when Runcie was testifying, Mantei said. Further, Runcie stated that Myrick had disclosed to him other witnesses who had been summoned, Mantei wrote.
David Bogenschutz, the lawyer representing Myrick, still wants more information. “I’m somewhat perplexed about where the beef is,” he said, noting that he will file his own demand for specifics later this week.
Both Runcie and Myrick are due in court May 12.
Attorneys for Runcie did not return a request for comment after receiving the state’s response late Monday.
In Hunter’s case, the Sun Sentinel reported that the district awarded $17 million in contracts for Recordex interactive flat panel TV’s to a friend of Hunter’s without seeking competitive bids. Hunter bought a house in Georgia at a large discount and two cars from this vendor, David Allen, the Sun Sentinel discovered.
Prosecutors also say Allen hired Hunter’s son for a job at one of his companies while doing business with the school district. Hunter left the district in 2019 to become vice president of a company owned by Allen, who died of COVID-19 in January.
The school district used questionable bidding practices, such as splitting a nearly $1 million purchase into two contracts just under $500,000, the maximum allowed under district policy without School Board approval. Hunter denies the allegations and has pleaded not guilty.
The grand jury first learned of the purchase in late 2019 after the Sun Sentinel shared its findings of its investigation with the district’s communications staff and School Board members. Then-board member Robin Bartleman turned the findings over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is working with the grand jury, while then-School Board Chairwoman Heather Brinkworth ordered Runcie to conduct an audit.
Although the audit cited numerous problems with the district’s policies and internal controls, Runcie falsely said in a news conference in May 2020 that the audit “clearly indicated that the district’s protocols and procedures were followed.”