ELVIS LIVES!

And South Florida's Tabloid Valley vanishes.

Leggett failed and was fired. One month later, after another Enquirer photographer was terminated, Calder called Leggett back. "Want to try again?" he asked.

Over the next 20 years, as a staffer or freelancer for the Enquirer and other tabloids, Leggett scaled a hotel wall in the Bahamas, tried to buy a submarine to obtain a photograph of Caroline Kennedy on a yacht in the Caribbean, and slept in the childhood beds of Michael J. Fox and Kirstie Alley.

"Here's a story for you," Leggett says as he grabs his whiskey. It was October 1988, and Leggett and Mike McDonough had both been canned at the Enquirer. They were now working for the competing Star in Curaçao, trying to track down Lisa Marie Presley and her new husband, bassist Danny Keough. The honeymooning couple, they discovered, was staying on a yacht docked at port. They cased the ship. That's when they saw a reporter from the Enquirer walking on deck. He'd somehow gotten aboard. They'd been scooped.

Colby Katz

But Leggett had an idea. He knew the reporter was undercover. He and McDonough approached the ship. "The captain comes out," Leggett remembers. "I say, 'Hi, I'm Jim from the Star. We'd like to do a story. '"

"No tabloid reporters allowed," Leggett remembers the captain telling him.

"Well, you've already got one aboard," he replied, pointing. "He's from the Enquirer."

Leggett walked away. A few minutes later, he remembers, the Enquirer reporter came walking down the plank. "Fuck you, you buggers!" he yelled at Leggett and McDonough.

"That's what it was like back then," Leggett says. "It was the swashbuckling days of journalism. You could take your stories seriously, but you couldn't take yourself seriously."

Just as Leggett says this, a balding, goateed man walks on stage. The lead singer of the band playing in the background announces to the crowd: "This one is for Robert. He just came back from The Price Is Right, where he won $20,000 and a new truck."

"See?" Leggett proclaims, slamming his hand down. "I've found more good stories in bars!"

COLUMNIST BOUGHT OFF?

Jose Lambiet is chatting on the phone at his desk at the Palm Beach Post when his cell phone suddenly rings. A 41-year-old, Belgian-born gossip columnist with a shaved scalp and the fast-talking cadence of a teenager drinking his fifth can of Mountain Dew, Lambiet takes the call. "Uh, well," he says, "how 'bout CityPlace?" He pauses. "Noon?" Pauses again. "OK, see you then."

The columnist picks up the other phone. "Nobody will have lunch with me on the island," he explains. "Nobody wants to be seen with me."

And for good reason. An up-in-your-business reporter who's never fit the ride-a-desk-and-report-the-commission-minutes style of daily newspapering, Lambiet chronicles the ups and downs of Palm Beach's wealthy socialites and celebrities in his column "Page Two." Often using unnamed sources, Lambiet can be mean if he dislikes you ("like most women in [Dan] Catalfumo's entourage, Rey also is blond and leggy," he recently reported of the infamous local developer's personal shopper) and downright fawning if you're on his good side ("so smooth, so diplomatic during her tenure," he wrote of former Palm Beach Mayor Lesly Smith).

Lambiet has attitude, so much personality that Sun-Sentinel editors in the late 1990s didn't know what to do with him. He wasn't the type of reporter who would be content covering cops. Instead, the newspaper gave him a column in which he probed and skewered South Florida personalities. One of them happened to be AMI chief David Pecker.

In February 2000, while writing his column for the Sun-Sentinel, Lambiet had heard that AMI employees were angry after the sale of the company and that one day someone had used a key to scratch the driver's-side door of Pecker's '99 black Corvette convertible. Lambiet discovered that Pecker ordered in-house security to investigate a few of his underlings. "David Pecker is set on making Boca Raton the scandal-sheet capital of the world -- but he's rubbing workers the wrong way," Lambiet wrote.

As the columnist tells it, after reading the piece, Pecker proclaimed: "Anyone who can dig up dirt like that should be working for me." Pecker offered Lambiet a lucrative three-year deal for the Sun-Sentinel scribe to become the Star's new gossip columnist. The exact terms are protected by a confidentiality agreement.

"That story says a lot about David Pecker," Lambiet says. "He didn't take my reporting personally. His goal was to go legitimate, and the hires he made were geared toward that. You hire reporters from the daily press, and you make them do tabloid stuff."

Other former AMI employees who asked not to be named claim Lambiet's contract was hush money. "Pecker didn't like what Jose was writing, so he shut him up," a former reporter for the Star contends.

When Lambiet joined the staff in early 2001, the Enquirer, Star, and Globe were still run by old British reporters with tendencies to imbibe and embellish. Pecker began to run many of them out. "A lot of these old guys were doing journalism from barstools," Lambiet recalls. "They were lazy bastards. They were taking the old publishers -- the Popes of the world -- for a ride."

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