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
At 2:10 a.m. on July 12, 1995, 24-year-old Lee Crompton's life changed forever and for the worse.
Crompton was riding in the back seat of a rented 1995 Ford Taurus that sailed through a line of flashing markers denoting a road-construction site and crashed into the rear of a parked flatbed truck. The impact propelled the truck's bed six feet into the passenger compartment of the Taurus, killing the two men in the front and leaving Crompton so severely injured doctors gave him a marginal chance of survival.
But he lived. After three weeks in intensive care and a year in the hospital, he returned home to a lifetime of around-the-clock care provided by his family. Crompton, who used to help his father with the family pool-construction business, was virtually immobilized and able to communicate only through eye blinks and hand signals.
Life would never be the same. But it would at least be bearable thanks to multimillion-dollar settlements from the rental company that owned the Taurus and the construction firm that was responsible for parking the truck on the roadway. There would be more than enough money for a van to transport him, a therapeutic pool to help him gain strength, and financial assistance for his father and stepmother. A year after the accident, Crompton's doctors had changed their tune about his prognosis -- he could easily live 40 years or more.
A Broward court assigned guardians to care for Lee Crompton's physical well-being and his considerable wealth. Lee's father, Peter Crompton, took charge of his son's day-to-day care; his mother, Linda Bourdet, who had moved to England after divorcing Peter, was also given a role. When the parents hired a lawyer to represent the guardianship, trouble revisited the Crompton house.
Not quite two years after Hollywood lawyer Gunnar Huber came on board, Lee Crompton's $3.16 million settlement had dwindled to $20,000 -- just enough to take care of him for about three months. Court investigators believe money was drained from the guardianship via a series of forged and fudged court orders, then used to finance sweetheart real-estate deals, to buy cars, and to pay off creditors. The investigators think Huber was behind it.
Unsurprisingly, many people involved in the guardianship aren't talking. Gunnar Huber quit his job, left his home, and is nowhere to be found. His ex-wife didn't respond to New Times' inquiries for this story. Neither did his ex-employer, his relatives, or his friends. No charges have been filed, though sources close to the investigation say the U.S. Attorney's Office is considering legal proceedings.
To piece together what happened to Lee Crompton and his money, one must plow through court records, lawsuits and police reports and speak with the people who plugged the leak, Broward County guardianship investigators. This small unit, attached to the county probate court, is unique in Florida. Its job is to research the backgrounds of guardians, perform random audits to check whether guardianships are complying with state laws, and probe allegations of fraud and abuse. With 5000-plus guardianships in Broward County, it has more work than its employees can handle. "I'm swamped," supervisor Robert Twomey says.
Robert Taft, one of the three full-time investigators in the county office, worked the Crompton case for more than a month. He still can't quite believe Huber's audacity. "I wanted nothing more at the end of this case than to sit down with him, have a beer, and just ask him "What the hell were you thinking?'"Lee Crompton couldn't have known how unlucky he was when he got into a green Ford Taurus that July night five years ago.
He had tickets to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at Sunrise Musical Theatre. Realizing he was likely to do some drinking, he opted not to take his own car. Instead he caught a ride with two acquaintances, David Dai, age 39, and Michael Watkins, 29, who were roommates.
After the show, at about 1 a.m., the three stopped at Brady's Irish Pub in Margate. Dai and Watkins each had a beer. Crompton had a cola. A bartender working that night recalled Dai asking several people for money. Bartender Mary Jane Hentz told investigators Dai said he needed cash for a hotel room because he couldn't go home. He didn't explain further. Hentz gave Dai $50 and took a necklace from him as collateral.
Dai, Watkins, and Crompton left Brady's at about 1:30 a.m. Police believe they stopped at another bar but aren't sure when or where.
Dai was at the wheel of the Taurus, Watkins rode shotgun, and Crompton sat in back. They drove north in the left lane of State Road 7, near the intersection at Aztec Boulevard in Margate, when Dai swerved into the center northbound lane. He ran through six signs posted to designate a closed lane. He neither touched the brakes nor turned to avoid the imminent crash. The speed limit on State Road 7 in this area is 45 miles per hour. Police estimate the Taurus' speed at between 45 and 60 miles per hour when it hit the back of the truck, which was parked beyond the warning signs.
The hood and roof of the Taurus were peeled off. Watkins died instantly, his head crushed by the truck's bumper. Dai's life ended on the way to North Broward Medical Center. Crompton was alive but unresponsive. Margate rescue workers had to rip apart the Taurus to free him. No one in the car had been wearing a seat belt.