Shara Esposito, a former employee who toppled the top administrator, once professed to be ’best friends forever’ with his wife.
WEST PALM BEACH — At city hall Shara Esposito analyzed liability claims.
After hours she partied with West Palm Beach’s top brass.
The party ended on both counts Oct. 4, when, shown the door, she set in motion a scandal that would rock the city for months to come.
On her way out, she took down two influential former friends with whom she’d partied, accusing both of sexual misbehavior: the city’s top executive and a security contractor so ensconced with city management that his company had just won a multimillion-dollar contract without being bothered to compete for it.
The first resigned. The second lost the contract, which is being put out for bid.
Agencies from the state government on down have been asked to investigate.
Who is Shara Esposito?
Through a lawyer, Esposito declined to comment for this story, which relies on public records and interviews with public officials, co-workers and others who know her.
The woman who shook up city hall has a record of reprimands at work and a history of high-placed friends to help her.
In June, when Esposito’s supervisor tried to fire her, City Administrator Jeff Green stepped in and Esposito was transferred instead, Green and Mayor Keith James confirmed.
A decade ago she dated and participated in real estate investments with then-City Commissioner Bill Moss, former colleagues of both said, a relationship of which the city administrator at the time, Ed Mitchell, was well aware.
Mitchell recalled Moss, who died in 2012, had pressed him for raises and promotions for Esposito. “I told him that was an issue with her and her supervisors, and he was not to intercede,” Mitchell said.
In 2011 Esposito made headlines in The Palm Beach Post. After she received a jaywalking ticket, she accused the ticketing officer of retaliating for having reported him a few days earlier for speeding.
On the advice of Moss, she went to Police Chief Delsa Bush, who voided the ticket.
That prompted an internal investigation of Bush for allegedly failing to follow procedure. Bush was exonerated, but Esposito ended up paying the $64.50 fine.
Bigger bills went unpaid.
County records show she suffered a bigger loss in 2012, a $180,000 foreclosure judgment over a small house she owned in Lake Worth. She lost another $244,000 foreclosure in 2014; another in 2016 with a judgment of $280,000; and a $298,000 final judgment in January 2019.
Though Moss wasn’t able to help her with a raise, her salary more than doubled over her 19 years with the city, rising to nearly $74,000 from just over $33,000.
That didn’t mean supervisors loved her.
Good evaluations, lots of discipline
Esposito received positive annual evaluations over her 19 years but her personnel record also documents reprimands, cautions and suspensions.
Supervisors were aware she had high-ranking friends. One Risk Management supervisor, it was noted in a memo, feared disciplining Esposito because of those connections.
Another, who asked not to be identified, blamed her own firing on having tried to discipline Esposito.
Esposito’s record included a note last December from her supervisor, Danielle Mancuso, which said: “It is alleged that Shara Esposito shared pictures with some staff of the Risk Management Division that have been described as offensive and unacceptable in nature. One of the pictures shown included Shara and other individuals, including other staff from the city at a social event during a costume party and the second picture included Shara and another individual at a beach.
“The apparent relationship/friendship of her with another city employee has created an uncomfortable working environment in the Risk Management Division. This is affecting the performance of the risk manager, Shara’s direct supervisor, who feels intimidated and afraid of losing her job.”
The disciplinary records go as far back as November 2007, when she was reprimanded for asking a safety officer for help getting a $27 parking ticket voided. “This violation is a serious breach of the city of West Palm Beach ethics policy,” a supervisor noted in her file.
Five months later, she got in a verbal fight with a Risk Management co-worker and was “abusive and belligerent.” Finance Director Randy Sherman issued a written reprimand and required she participate in a “Respect Training” session. “Your misconduct is unacceptable in the workplace,” he wrote, warning that if it happened again, she could be fired.
On May 12, 2009, she got a written reprimand for “loss of license, off-the-job conduct, conduct not becoming.” She’d been arrested on charges of driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, having a license plate that wasn’t assigned to her car, failing to register the car and failing to submit to a blood alcohol test. Having a driver’s license was a requirement of the job, her city file noted.
A police affidavit stated that she told the officer arresting her on the DUI charge, “You’re a f---ing dick.”
She was found guilty and was sentenced to six to 12 months probation.
On Nov. 5, 2013, came another written reprimand, for “failing to perform assigned duties.” A supervisor said she failed to draft a memo he requested.
This May, Human Resources Director Jose Luis Rodrigues notified her of an investigation and disciplinary hearing for sharing the “offensive” and “inappropriate” photos of herself and unnamed other city employees, in alleged violation of the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy.
“In addition, it is alleged that on May 17, 2019, you were insubordinate and antagonistic towards your supervisor when you told her, ‘I hate you and you hate me’ or words to that effect, among other inappropriate comments, continuously interrupted a conversation she was having with another employee, and repeatedly refused to leave the room when asked. It has also been alleged by other work colleagues that you have intermittently exhibited unprofessional, disruptive behavior towards your supervisor and co-workers over an extended period of time, interfering with their ability to concentrate and/or perform work,” Rodrigues wrote.
On June 4, she received a one-day suspension and was issued a personal improvement plan to abide by, for “insubordination, inappropriate conduct, violation of Equal Employment Opportunity policy.”
That was followed by a five-day suspension, about two weeks later, the file showed and a transfer and demotion to neighborhood coordinator.
Gone from working at city hall
Booted from city hall, she’d now be stationed a few miles away at Vickers House, a resource center for the homeless.
But before long, her time with the city was up. Told she was going to be fired, she called years-long friend Jeff Green, the city administrator, for help but this time got none.
Despite her low spot on the city worker totem pole, at Rosemary Square’s Blue Martini bar and elsewhere, she had brought cheer for years to outings that frequently included top West Palm Beach officials. She socialized with department directors, city commissioners and Rosemary Square’s then-head of security, Willie Perez, and most of all, Green.
She was “best friends forever” with Green’s wife, Barbara Bachman, and was close with Green’s sister-in-law, Kelly Jamison.
Green, who became city administrator six years ago, formerly served as finance director. He and Barb, as she goes by, met Shara at an employees happy hour at the now-closed Wine Dive on Clematis Street, shortly after the Greens moved to West Palm, he said.
She was Barb’s first friend in the city, Green and his wife said.
She came to the Greens’ for Thanksgiving a couple of times, Green said. They cruised to Cuba together, played in Las Vegas, partied in Key West and vacationed at Disney World, happy times documented with photos and Facebook posts.
“She kind of latched onto Jeff and I because we’re so family-oriented,” Bachman added. Bachman and Green have a blended family with eight kids, and Esposito, who is in her 50s and does not have children, became part of their scene.
“’You’re the best friend I ever had.’ She said that to me,” Bachman recalled. “It’s on her Facebook page: ’BFF through thick and thin.’ We take care of people, that’s just who we are.”
Esposito was always the life of the party, or made sure she was, Bachman said. “If she’s not the life of the party, she will do something so that attention is drawn to her,” she said. “One night she grabbed a glass and threw it at somebody.” Another time, she got mad and hurled a phone across a restaurant, Jamison recalled.
Despite moments like that, “We considered her part of the family,” Green said.
So in October, when word came down that she was about to be fired, she texted Green. There was nothing he could do, he said he told her.
A handwritten report by Esposito’s supervisor, Jennifer Ferriol, director of Housing and Community Development, said she told Esposito she was being terminated. Esposito threatened to share information about her “personal relationships” to The Palm Beach Post, including details that would “expose” Green, the note said.
Esposito scrolled through text messages from Perez “and revealed a picture of someone’s penis,” Ferriol wrote.
Esposito cited friends on the city commission and the police force and said she was going to expose details “and get her job back,” Ferriol wrote.
The graphic text
Later that day, Mayor James said, he learned a city employee had received a “graphic text photo” that “implicated” Perez and then-City Administrator Green.
More allegations followed in the days to come.
In a letter to city commissioners, Esposito’s attorney, Isidro Garcia, alleged Green plied her with alcohol and forced her to have sexual intercourse in a city hall conference room in May. It also alleges that Green repeatedly tried to get her to participate in a menage-a-trois with him and his wife.
Green allegedly sent the employee salacious texts as well and did nothing when security exec Perez texted her a photo of an erect penis — allegedly to lure her to Green’s house for sex with Perez, Garcia said.
Green insisted he never had sex with her, never sought a menage-a-trois and didn’t allow Perez to come over with Esposito. He conceded to exchanging raunchy texts with her but said that was banter between years-long friends.
When Perez sent the penis email, Green deleted it from his phone immediately and forgot about it, the former city administrator said. He considered it flirting between two of his best friends and told Perez not to send him stuff like that anymore, Green said.
Perez, who oversaw security for Rosemary Square and the Downtown Development Authority, wasn’t a city employee at that point, Green added, so what was Green supposed to do?
Perez has declined to comment. Senior regional director for Professional Security Consultants (PSC), he was removed from supervising security at Rosemary Square, whose management subsequently replaced PSC altogether.
The mayor announced he would rescind a $7.9 million, no-bid contract he’d just recommended awarding to PSC for citywide security in September. The firm continues in place while the city issues a request for proposals to award the contract anew, this time competitively.
Though the initial allegations sounded like Esposito was accusing Green of rape, Garcia said they’re not alleging rape. They are calling it sexual assault, the lawyer said, because in case law the issue isn't whether the sex was voluntary, it's that any sex they had is “unwelcome” because of the power Green had over Esposito as her boss.
James pressed the city commission to OK a $180,000 pre-lawsuit settlement with Esposito, saying failure to settle could result in a much higher judgment and legal fees if she sued.
On Nov. 18 the commission refused, citing the administration’s lack of effort to verify her allegations before forking over the money.
State Rep. Matt Willhite, (D-Wellington), whose district includes parts of West Palm Beach, wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis, urging him to assign someone to investigate “for the trust of the citizens.”
Willhite said he was shocked at the city administration’s push for a settlement without checking the veracity of the sex allegations and at the initial attempt to have the commission approve the deal without discussion. That “made the request sound more like a ‘hush money’ payment than a legal settlement,” he wrote.
James promised an independent city investigation and reached out to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office about the possibility of launching a criminal probe and to the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General for further review.
“Additionally, we have engaged independent counsel to conduct additional training for our senior staff on workplace harassment,” James wrote the governor, offering to cooperate with any requests for information. “We have reminded employees of the city’s workplace harassment and violence prevention policies and engaged the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to conduct training for them.”
As for Green, “it was very poor judgment for me to be that close to a city employee,” he conceded. “But in my defense, she’s my wife’s best friend. In hindsight I would never do it again and probably will never get to do it again.”
It didn’t turn out well for him: He lost his $240,000 job and the city has refused him the 15 weeks of separation pay he is due, he said. He has hired a civil lawyer.
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