The Rielle Deal

How local scandal begets national scandal in the charged world of Fort Lauderdale politics and business

Druck bought Kirsch out of his shares — and ripped him off in the process, says one former close associate, who spoke about the matter on condition of anonymity.

"Druck took advantage of Richard and got Richard's share of the building," said the source, also an accomplished local attorney.

While it may seem incomprehensible that a lawyer of Kirsch's caliber could be hoodwinked, the man had an all-too-apparent Achilles' heel: For years, he was an alcoholic who drank vodka martinis from noon to night, his former friends say.

"He didn't know what was going on," the source said. "And Druck, if you had to pick a word, was amoral. He didn't have professional standards. I flat didn't like him."

Professional standards or not, Druck acquired all the trappings of success: a big house in the Woodlands in Tamarac, nice cars, and membership in the local country club.

The marriage, however, tottered on the brink of destruction for years. The source says that at one point Druck left his family and took up with a young, beautiful receptionist in an apartment near the courthouse. Eventually, that relationship soured, and he returned to his family.

Another former partner, Jim Norman, who is now with Holland & Knight, confirmed that the marriage had its difficulties, but hastened to add that Druck was far from alone on that score.

"Was he absolutely faithful to his wife? No, but that didn't put him in a small category at the time," Norman said. "That was the morality of the time and of the Fort Lauderdale community."

As the Kirsch split indicated, though, Druck's cheating at times extended to his professional life. After he split with Kirsch, Druck stayed in the Blackstone Building and built a large firm with new partners. One of them was William Scherer, a young lawyer from Indiana.

Druck also began dabbling with horses in Ocala, where he did some legal work. The firm had an airplane, and Druck took flying lessons to quicken the traveling time to Ocala.

Scherer says he looked up to Druck as an older role model — until he and another partner, Thomas Grimmett, discovered that Druck had cheated a client.

Druck represented businessman Bob Williamson in a real estate purchase, but improperly maintained secret ties with the seller, Scherer said. Scherer said he didn't remember the exact amount of money that Druck had swindled, but that it was in the $20,000 range.

The firm's partners confronted Druck and told him to leave town, Scherer said. Druck tried to pay Williamson back on the pretense that it was all a mistake, Scherer added, but Williamson, who died last year, threw Druck out of his office. (Scherer says that the firm subsequently reimbursed Williamson). The confidential source says the partner actually gave Druck a choice that sounds like something out of the Old West: Either Druck left town for good or they would turn him over to State Attorney Michael Satz for prosecution.

Scherer says he doesn't recall the part about the state attorney, but he confirmed the rest of the story. He said that once Druck was gone, there was no veteran attorney in the firm. Scherer says he called Rex Conrad and asked him to be the "gray-hair" in the firm. That's how Conrad & Scherer, now one of the largest law firms in Broward County, was born.

Druck, meanwhile, uprooted his family to Ocala. He bought a horse farm, and Hunter attended high school in Ocala. Her senior year culminated in two personal tragedies — the killing of her horse and the divorce of her parents.

Burns, the horse hit man, testified that it was Druck who personally instructed him on how to electrocute the horse with a split extension cord and alligator clips, one attached to the horse's nose, the other to his anus. Burns told federal investigators that when the cord was plugged in, the horse dropped immediately.

Hunter, who was with a boyfriend when Burns killed the animal, saw the horse dead on the stable floor. McInerney fictionalized the account in his 1988 book, The Story Of My Life. The character based on Hunter, named Allison Poole, recounts that she was so distraught by the killing of the horse (named "Dangerous Dan" in the book) that she had to be kept on tranquilizers for a week.

"A few months later," Poole says in the book, "Dad came into my room one night. I was like, uh-oh, not this again. He buried his face in my shoulder. His cheek was wet and he smelled of booze. I'm sorry about Dangerous Dan, he said. Tell me you forgive me. He muttered something about the business."

The book was published before the Edwards scandal broke (and the Poole character would also be included in American Psycho, a bestselling novel by Bret Easton Ellis). James Druck died in 1990 of lung cancer before he could be brought to justice on the insurance fraud charge.

The rest of the story, quite literally, is history.

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