By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Gaddis leased Accetturo a couple of Cadillacs and hired another convicted felon named Michael Spinelli to work at his cab company. Spinelli said he was Accetturo's cousin, but Gaddis says he doesn't believe Spinelli was really related to the mobster.
"I think he just did that as a kid, you know how kids like to make themselves look big," Gaddis says of Spinelli's boasts.
Spinelli, who is now an Orlando-based businessman and lobbyist, didn't return calls from New Times.
In 1976 the Gaddis brothers made a move to take over a taxi business in Philadelphia. A former Gaddis partner named David Bishop, who was once a Fort Lauderdale police lieutenant, told the Miami Herald in 1987 that it was Accetturo who cleared the deal through Angelo Bruno, the Mob boss of Philadelphia. "There's no question, no doubt whatsoever, that the Yellow Cab operation was a Mob operation," Bishop said of Gaddis' company.
Gaddis gives only a bitter laugh when Bishop's assertions are brought up. They aren't true, he says. He says the only Mob influence in his company in Philadelphia was that Bruno controlled the vending concessions in the Yellow Cab building.
"I think the Mafia runs a lot of vending business all over the place," Gaddis says. "That wasn't our doing."
In 1977 the FDLE investigated Gaddis' Mafia connections. According to FDLE reports obtained by New Times, Gaddis was investigated for "organized criminal activities (loansharking, extortion, etc.)." What exactly was investigated has never been disclosed, and the FDLE refused to release the file because, according to FDLE assistant general counsel Fern Rosenwasser, it was based primarily on information supplied by the FBI and therefore doesn't come under Florida's public-information laws.
Shortly after that mysterious investigation ended -- with no charge filed against Jesse Gaddis -- Donald Gaddis disappeared during the drug-smuggling venture, and another probe began.
In early 1982 Jack Pace and Albert Ponke, partners in a cab company, complained to the FDLE that Gaddis had, through a series of bogus lawsuits and coercive tactics, forced them out of business. "Mr. Pace, who is facing jail on civil contempt charges, has called me on two occasions to express fear for his life, as he is convinced that, if he goes to jail, Mr. Gaddis will make sure something happens to him," then-FDLE supervisor James Nursey wrote in an internal report.
Pace was never hurt, but the complaint illustrates the way some people within the taxicab industry viewed Gaddis: as a merciless businessman with unsavory connections to violent criminals.
Though Gaddis admits he associated with some reputed mobsters, he also says he wasn't in business with them. He says that he doubts that Anthony Accetturo was truly in the Mob.
"I think that was mainly a creation of the media," he says.
Accetturo was convicted in 1993 of extortion and murder. He flipped to the federal side and admitted that he was the New Jersey boss for the Lucchese crime family. Accetturo is currently out of prison, listing an address in North Carolina. He didn't returned phone messages left by New Times.
For the past decade, Gaddis has apparently managed to stay out of investigation's way. But headlines about his armed-robbery conviction, Mafia ties, alleged influence-peddling, and brother's dark murder were splashed across the Rocky Mountain News just five years ago, during his failed bid to buy a major taxi company in Denver.
"I've been controversial," Gaddis says. "But I don't have anything to be ashamed of, except that I made a mistake as a young man, and I don't know what I can do to change that."
Gaddis has steadily strengthened his ties to Jenne with numerous contributions to his campaigns. When Jenne was running for insurance commissioner ten years ago, a company in Tampa controlled by Gaddis gave Jenne campaign contributions in the form of advertising space on taxi signs. Jenne was criticized for it by the St. Petersburg Times -- he'd promised not to take contributions from the insurance industry, and Gaddis was the chief insurer of taxis in the nation.
At about the same time, Jenne and then-Gaddis partner Bill Bodenhamer -- who now owns USA Parking, a burgeoning parking lot company -- tried to purchase a taxi company which they planned to run with Gaddis. The deal fell through, but Bodenhamer and Jenne have remained very close friends. Bodenhamer threw a fundraiser this year for Jenne's campaign and contributed thousands of dollars himself.
"I would have liked to have gone into business with Ken Jenne," Gaddis says.
When it comes to his relationship with Jenne, Gaddis sees nothing peculiar about it and certainly nothing wrong with it.
"I couldn't do what [Jenne] does. At least I make money. I get a lot of abuse. He gets a lot of abuse, and he doesn't make a lot of money," says Gaddis. (Jenne actually made half a million dollars a year when he worked with Scherer.)
"Ken Jenne has never abused his power," Gaddis continues. "I'm a good citizen. I have met a lot of high public officials, and I don't consider them to be associating with a bad element, if you will. If people took the position that everyone who had done something wrong should be blacklisted, then we'd have a real problem."