By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Edwards pleaded no contest to the auto-theft charge last October, and adjudication was withheld. But his troubles only worsened.
When Buettner was hospitalized in January 2001, a nurse at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale had overheard Edwards demanding that Buettner sign her name to documents. The nurse had called the elderly-abuse hotline, and the state Department of Children and Families initiated an investigation. The cops obtained a warrant for Edwards in March of this year on third-degree felony charges of exploiting the elderly. The warrant was based on $10,000-$15,000 in illicit credit-card charges, a Fort Lauderdale detective says.
Recently, an FBI agent told the Buettners and a Fort Lauderdale police investigator that he wanted to speak to Edwards as a favor to the Czech government -- something about an investment fraud case in the Czech Republic.
Paul Joseph Edwards/Pavel Josef Placek
lawyer, Edwards's ex-wife
Heinrich's ex-girlfriend and mother of his three daughters
Authorities have not been able to locate Edwards, though New Timeshas obtained correspondence listing his current address as 503 NE 18th St. in Boca Raton.
In July 2001, Cerny filed the much-discussed settlement agreement in Broward County Circuit Court. It was purportedly signed by Luise Buettner on January 30, the day after the elderly woman had lapsed into a diabetic coma. Cerny says that she signed it January 30 and that Edwards returned it to her with Buettner's signature in the weeks after his release from jail. The document awards Cerny $650,000 to settle the child-support claim she filed against Heinrich in 1993 (the same amount Edwards had mentioned on the recorded tape). Buettner says she never signed such a settlement.
In December, Buettner went to court without an attorney to tell Judge J. Leonard Fleet that the document was forged. Despite her protests, Fleet ruled in Cerny's favor. On January 31, 2002, the Broward Sheriff's Office slapped a notice on the motel, seizing it to pay the $650,000 debt.
Although Fort Lauderdale attorney Eric Stettin managed to persuade Judge Fleet to stay the order, Buettner is still fighting to prove that the signature on the document is not hers. Indeed, two handwriting experts -- from Florida Handwriting Consultant and Boca Handwriting Experts Inc. -- back up Buettner's claim.
The companies compared Luise Buettner's signature on canceled checks to the one on the agreement. Anthony McAloney of Florida Handwriting Consultant says the signature on the settlement was probably written by the same person who signed Luise Buettner's name on a check dated January 9, 2001, to Florida Power & Light. At the time, Paul Edwards was signing Luise Buettner's name on checks, the Buettners say. One hint the settlement was forged: The clumsy attempt to duplicate the way Luise Buettner makes the r in her last name. The forger signed Buettner with an American-style r and then added another r more like the German r that Buettner uses to sign her name. "Obviously, they were trying to correct a mistake," McAloney says.
Cerny believes she will ultimately prove that Buettner signed the settlement. She thinks Buettner is retreating under pressure from Heinrich. Buettner points to the document as one more example of Edwards's handiwork. "He thought I was going to die," Buettner says, shaking her head at the thought of what might have happened if she weren't around to dispute the signature. "Well, I surprised him, didn't I?"