Tamarac city manager arrested for attempting to extort $3.4M from developer, prosecutors say

Tamarac City Manager Michael Cernech was arrested on Friday after he was accused of trying to extort $3.4 million from a developer with false claims about the presence of dangerous levels of soil contamination on a property, prosecutors said.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents in Miami reported text messages showed Cernech’s co-conspirators in the extortion scheme described him as a “total game-changer,” “amazing” and “a magician.”

“The defendant conspired with convicted felons, using his position of authority to relay false information to the highest levels of city government to further this multimillion-dollar extortion scheme,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement.

State prosecutors identified the victim as the 13th Floor Investments d/b/a SPL Holdings and Cernech’s co-conspirators as father-and-son duo Bruce and Shawn Chait, John Colonel, and Harris Shapiro.

“The victim, in this case, was constantly harassed and his business and livelihood threatened … Their actions were both frightening and appalling,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement.

Agents said the Chaits were vengeful. They had threatened the victim over property acquired after they defaulted on a loan more than a decade ago. The victim’s business had since developed the land for residential housing.

State prosecutors said the Chaits and co-conspirators used Cernech’s alleged misinformation to file lawsuits using “straw plaintiffs” as “puppets” and sent anonymous letters to officials. Agents also have recordings with the Chaits’ admitting to orchestrating the attacks to get the victim to pay so it would all go away.

Cernech is facing a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering. His bond is set at $200,000.

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