Politics & Government

Feds probing claim Florida officials stopped investigation

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating corruption allegations made by an indicted Fort Lauderdale insurance executive who, in a bid for a favorable plea deal, has named lawyers, lobbyists and fundraisers he claims plotted with him to thwart a state crackdown on him and his industry.

Justice officials have convened a federal grand jury to pursue the claims of former Mutual Benefits Corp. chief Joel Steinger. The wealthy businessman contends that he orchestrated a campaign to stifle a 1999-2000 statewide grand jury probe by attempting to improperly influence public officials, three knowledgeable sources have told The Miami Herald.

One of the officials Steinger named was lawyer Paul Huck Jr., a former deputy to state Attorney General Charlie Crist. But Huck confirmed that he was one of six public officials already cleared of any wrongdoing by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section. Huck said authorities have told him that he was ``a reputational victim of statements made by a third party.''

Others who remain under scrutiny: several prosecutors and officials who worked under Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth and his successor, Crist.

From outward appearances, Steinger's purported scheme wasn't successful: The statewide grand jury indicted Mutual Benefits for racketeering, filed 20 criminal cases involving the viatical industry, and issued a scathing report recommending reforms to the Florida Legislature and Department of Insurance.