The man accused of trying to extort nearly $1 million from former Palm Beach County schools chief Wayne Gent says he believes he believes he’s the victim of a political prosecution and wants the local State Attorney’s office disqualified from his case.
Jury selection is expected to begin Friday in the trial for Clarence Shahid Freeman, who is accused of using an anonymous letter accusing Gent of having sexual liasons with school employees to try to get Gent to to allocate more than $895,000 in school dollars to Freeman’s after-school reading program.
But on Monday, defense attorney Charles White filed a request for Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley to force Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office to step down from the case.
Freeman said that although he helped Aronberg get elected nearly four years ago, other political motivations – specifically a high-ranking Palm Beach County Sheriff’s official’s dislike of Freeman – prompted the investigation where Freeman was heard in recorded audio brokering a deal to hand over the letter to Gent.
In a hearing on the matter Monday, Assistant State Attorney Marci Rex told Kelley she wanted to make it clear that prosecutors didn’t initiate any investigation against Freeman but merely responded to a complaint from a school board official.
The case is three years old and it’s not like Mr. Aronberg just got elected. It’s disingenuous to file it now,” Rex said.
Monday’s pretrial hearing, which will continue Wednesday, will also offer a glimpse into Freeman’s defense strategy. White told Kelley Monday that he would argue that Freeman’s intent was not to blackmail Gent, but to actually bring to public view the alleged wrongdoings.
“He was going to expose it because that’s just the kind of guy he is,” White said.
Kelley will finish hearing arguments on several pretrial motions in the case Wednesday.