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To represent him, Fadgen hired yet another lawyer, Mark Herron, of Tallahassee. Herron represents more politicians before the commission than any other attorney. As a former ethics commissioner himself, Herron knows the territory.
After the closed-door hearing was called to order and the case was announced, Herron assured the commissioners: "No compensation was paid, absolutely none" to Fadgen, and therefore it wasn't a contractual relationship. Fadgen, in fact, didn't receive any money for serving as personal representative of the estate -- he'd waived it after the ethics complaint was filed. Fadgen made his money from the corporation as an accountant for the estate, as he admitted to Malone.
Herron portrayed Fadgen as Fadgen portrays himself: a man who made a sacrifice to help his dying friend. After Herron's presentation, one commissioner asked: "[Fadgen] never received any compensation? Period?"
Herron responded that Fadgen had been paid only as an accountant. Herron didn't know how much. Another commissioner wondered out loud if Fadgen wasn't "mixing up money" between the job titles to get off on a technicality. Another commissioner pointed out that Fadgen had written in his request to the commission for an opinion, back in 1997, that he would be compensated as a personal representative. Commissioners wondered aloud if he'd waived those fees only to ward off punishment.
So, for a minute there, things didn't seem to be going well for Fadgen. The commissioners seemed skeptical of his story. William Donegan, a Republican commissioner from the Orlando area, says he sat there thinking, Gee, this doesn't sound right.
But then Peter Prieto, a Miami Republican lawyer and recent Bush appointee, suddenly made a motion: Find probable cause that Fadgen was guilty of a conflict of interest, but take no action against him because of the fact that he was helping a dying friend and didn't accept money for his work. It was a classic political do-nothing move -- and the commission immediately concurred. They didn't fine him. They didn't even censure him or verbally reprimand him. They just dropped the case.
Did Prieto do a fellow South Florida Republican a favor? He says he didn't even know who Fadgen was until the hearing.
The commission's press release came out a week after the decision: "Noting the unusual and altruistic circumstances of the deathbed request under which Fadgen had come to be the estate's personal representative and that he had received no compensation for his service, the Commission felt that the public interest would not be served by proceeding with the complaint."
And that's about all the public heard. The Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel both ran this quote from Fadgen without challenge: "I know in my heart I did nothing wrong. I did my best to honor my promise to a dying friend and in doing so may have committed a technical error." The Herald also reported that Fadgen received "no compensation from the corporation" -- which is flatly untrue. The two newspapers cited different reasons for why Fadgen didn't resign in 1997, when he said he would. In The Herald, Fadgen is quoted as saying his lawyer "thought the conflict of interest no longer existed." In the Sun-Sentinel, however, Fadgen repeated the bogus story he'd told Malone, saying he didn't follow through on his promise to resign because the court wouldn't allow him to withdraw. Apparently Fadgen couldn't keep his own stories straight.
Today Fadgen still spends every Wednesday night presiding over the city at council meetings. During the day he can be found at the strip mall, working in his cluttered accounting office.
Nobody seems to notice when he parks his green Mercury Tracer along a curb at the strip mall every day. The parking spot is unauthorized by the city. Fadgen and a few other business owners park there to make room for customers. The lack of spaces at the plaza -- which is 23 spaces short of the 63 city law demands -- is yet another code violation. A few years ago, in fact, the city dubbed the parking shortage a "priority" in order to force the strip mall to add additional spots.
That, of course, was before Jerry Fadgen took over the plaza. In more recent days, Vanella Enterprises dispatched lobbyist Allsworth to ask city officials at a Plan Adjustment Committee to forgive the strip for its parking shortage. Allsworth explained that there were usually plenty of empty spots there. Nobody mentioned the illegal parking.
City officials obliged, and Fadgen has kept his parking spot.
Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org