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
In the house, FBI agents found casino membership cards bound together in a stack that also included the Margate cop's Police Benevolent Association card, according to court records. On the table next to the stack was a check Clay had written to his girlfriend for $15,000. An FBI agent, skeptical of a small-town police officer's ability to have so much cash available, then commented: "Is there anything else here I'm not supposed to see?"
Indeed there was. Inside Clay's police cruiser, authorities found letters from Hilton Casino Resort and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, as well as a Miami Heraldbusiness section with a hand-written note that read, "WAGERWEB.COM," followed by the Internet casino's toll-free number.
No doubt about it: Clay was an avid gambler. But that was the least of his concerns. When informed that he was being arrested on federal charges related to Scarola, Clay lied, denying that he knew the Fort Lauderdale bookie. He then resigned from the Margate police to fight the federal charges.
In 2002, Clay and Scarola received temporary reprieves when federal prosecutors dropped charges against them in the Trafficante indictment. But that was merely tactical. The government believed it had a stronger case against both men by indicting them in March of that year with 27 Bonanno wise guys, including consiglieri Anthony "T.G." Graziano and Torres.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William T. Shockley argued that Clay's tip to Scarola proved that he was associated with the Italian Mafia's gambling operation. "Clay surely realized that if Scarola should be arrested," Shockley wrote, "there was a greater likelihood his own involvement in the gambling operation might be revealed." And so Clay informed Scarola of the ongoing FBI sting, the government alleged.
But Clay's defense attorney, Richard A. Hamar, who was paid in part by the Police Benevolent Association, argued that Clay wasn't a dirty cop so much as a drunken buffoon with loose lips and a bartender friend. Scarola "found out about the stop [of the FBI agent] from a bartender, and he was boasting when he told [the mafioso] that the source of this information was a friend with the Margate police," Hamar argued.
The case came down to the intercepted words of Scarola, a Mob associate who received 41 months in prison after pleading guilty to the 2002 RICO charge, against the account of Clay, a 24-year veteran of the Margate police with a penchant for gambling. In the end, a 12-member jury acquitted the ex-cop in 2002, believing that he was guilty only of blabbing to the Bobby Rubino's bartender in a drunken stupor. However inappropriate for a law enforcement officer his behavior may have been, it wasn't a federal crime.
Clay leans back in a chair during his interview with New Times. He opens the right side of his suit jacket and pulls out a copy of the acquittal. "I was a customer in a restaurant, and I wind up in an indictment," he says. "I was charged with crimes I never committed, and a federal jury saw that." He then changes the subject abruptly: "That bank robbery speaks volumes for my credibility," he says, pointing to a seven-year-old news report of his heroic action. "I'm alone. I chase down three bad guys, wound one and arrest another, recover $167,000 in cash. And the thought never entered my mind to take a five-dollar bill for myself."
And the gambling problem? "That was [the government's] allegation," he responds. "They took a handful of mud, threw it on the wall, and hoped that it would stick. And it didn't stick. I don't have a gambling problem."
Clay doesn't think his contentious past should become a campaign issue this year. He'd rather talk about his will to oust 16-year Margate City Commissioner Arthur Bross from office. Bross is "in favor of helping big business, big developers, and special-interest groups," Clay alleges.
The candidate rises from the table, straightening his jacket. "I am intent on winning this election," he says. "I am focused on bringing positive changes. If I don't win this year, I'll be back next year to run again. I'll be out running every year until I win in Margate." He walks toward the door, then turns to make one last one comment.
"Don't crucify me."