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
It's a stinker of a ruling if Tailpipe ever smelled one. Broward Commissioner John Rodstrom this month squeaked through a Florida Commission on Ethics investigation of his dealings. Fort Lauderdale resident Judy Sadlier had alleged that the millionaire politician benefited financially from his opposition to expansion at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport.
What was the commission thinking?
Sadlier's complaint against Mr. Never-Saw-a-Paycheck-I-Didn't-Love describes a deal that can only be termed a scam. Just as Rodstrom began in 2002 to oppose expansion of Broward's airport, he brokered a $299 million bond deal with Miami International Airport as part of his day job at CitiGroup. One small problem. The investor dossier listed expansion in Broward as a long-term threat to investors. The two airports, as the financially savvy Rodstrom well knows, compete against each other for airlines and passengers. A bigger facility in Broward means less potential business in Miami-Dade and, in turn, higher risks for Rodstrom's moneymen. So Commissioner Rodstrom's expansion opposition took on a more self-serving cast.
Yet the spineless board of politicians ruled that Rodstrom had done nothing wrong in opposing the Broward plan. You puttin' this blackened 'Pipe on? In 2002, Rodstrom earned $431,509 from his gig at CitiGroup. Of that, $320,000 came in the form of a year-end "discretionary bonus." That's corporatespeak for a commission, meaning the politician's wallet benefited directly from the bond deals he did, including the one at Miami International Airport.
Rodstrom's work in selling municipal bonds makes him the most conflicted county commissioner on the dais. He should have recused himself from all votes pertaining to the local airport. In November, voters will get a chance to recuse Rodstrom's oily presence altogether.
Spinners Arcade on Stirling Road in Hollywood is just a hop and a skip from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, where there's enough high-stakes gambling to keep every lonely, foolhardy player in the county busy for a lifetime. But Spinners, which offers only noncash prizes, still keeps packing them in. When Tailpipe dropped in on a Wednesday afternoon, about half of the 60 slots in the place had players in front of them, and the darkened room resounded with the whoosh you usually hear in old science fiction movies when people get beamed up or down.
Whoosh, whoosh, bing, bing. Push the button and start over again.
What's the attraction? The prizes (an assortment of clock radios, portable CD players, and coupons for use at Publix or Chili's)? Eddie, an 84-year-old retired New York cop who wouldn't give his last name, makes a face. "Nah, it's getting together with people you know," he says. "The camaraderie."
Eddie has been to Hard Rock and paid the price. "Here, you're playing with pennies," he says. "You lose maybe $10 or $20. There, you have to start with $20."
Spinners is a homey little place where oldsters can pass the time, chewing the fat, and watching brightly colored fruits and icons spin across a monitor. It's much like Spin City Arcade on Pembroke Road in unincorporated Broward, which officers from the Broward Sheriff's Office, after a seven-month undercover investigation, shut down recently. It figures that a place like this should be busted. Stomp 'em good and give the big guys over at the casino a leg up.
Investigators decided that Spin City -- no corporate relation to Spinners -- was violating state gambling law by using not coin-operated machines but ones that accepted $5 or $10 bills. And those gift certificates -- they were just a nefarious ruse to allow players to cash them in (as when you buy a pack of cigarettes at Publix and get change in cash for your $20 coupon).
Places like Spinners and Spin City operate under what industry insiders call "the Chuck E. Cheese exception." This was a 1996 amendment to the state gambling law designed to allow kids to play games for stuffed animal prizes. The measure requires that the machines be "coin-operated" games of "skill" (meaning that, instead of waiting for those spinning lines of fruits to come to rest on their own, the player can push buttons to stop them himself).
Michael Wolfe, an attorney who represents arcade operators, is advising his clients to rejigger their machines so they accept actual nickels or quarters and to have those coupon prizes stamped with an advisory that they're not redeemable for cash or alcoholic beverages.
All attorney Mark London knows is that his clients, Spin City owners Joseph Fiero and William Kent, a couple of businessmen who opened the place "on a lark," did so "based on seeing other game rooms operating in Broward County." BSO wouldn't comment on whether more than 40 other adult arcades in Broward and Palm Beach counties -- like Spinners, which is owned by a couple of other independents -- are under investigation. But of course they are.
Tailpipe thinks those undercover guys playing adult Whack-a-Mole should be put on stakeout in Pompano Beach to find the guys who burglarized more than 40 cars there last week.
Doin' What He Does, Again
There was something familiar about the little guy helping himself to the complimentary breakfast at Hampton Inn in Fort Lauderdale on Monday. General Manager David Berger finally placed him. The diner was Mark Wolfer, the 57-year-old scammer who graced a New Times cover in December. Seems Wolfer had been helping himself to amenities at the hotel for a week or so. Berger called the cops.
Since his last arrest in October, Lady Justice has passed Wolfer like an undigested cherry pit, and the Scheherazade of fraud has returned, again telling merchants that he owns a software company, though he's temporarily short on funds.
When Tailpipe arrived at the hotel around 10:30 a.m., the handcuffed Wolfer was telling arresting officers that he was a guest (false) and that he wasn't on probation (wrong again). He then handed over the key to a spanking-new, lust-red Mini Cooper S that was sitting in the parking garage. As an officer inventoried the car, the astounded Berger piped up: "Those are my razors" and "That's one of my pool towels." Wolfer also had toiletries from other hotels and a copy of The South Florida Home Book.
It turns out that even before coming to the hotel, Wolfer had talked himself into a posh downtown apartment. Employees at Styline Furniture say Wolfer had schmoozed with them while picking out $41,721 in furniture for his apartment and the mansion he said he was building on the beach. "Maybe I have three or four martinis invested in him," Styline owner Jeff Wasserman said. "Thank God nothing else." Wolfer was charged with trespassing and obstruction. He curtly declined to talk with the 'Pipe. "Don't even bother," he said.
-- As told to Edmund Newton