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
On January 22, 2004, the day the demolition of the courthouse shell began with a public "unwrapping ceremony" complete with a line of dignitaries, McCarty swung a pickax at the walls. Masilotti was cracking away right alongside her.
As Masilotti and Oyer were posing together for photos at the old courthouse, holding flimsy mallets and pretending to whack away at its ugly concrete shell, they were also deeply engaged in another kind of shell game.
Masilotti had hired attorney Bill Boose to create a secret land trust, called the Crum Trust, whose beneficiary was Masilotti's wife, Susan. The trust concealed Masilotti's ownership stake in the Nine Gems property. Oyer, as the Lees' attorney, knew about the secret nature of the deal. The down payments Masilotti paid to the Lees had come from his own assets, but the final $98,000 check was written by Susan Masilotti from her personal account. Boose, who often lobbied the commission on land issues, had provided his legal services free.
Masilotti had a plan: He and the Lees were going to flip the property at a hefty profit to the South Florida Water Management District. And to get the Water District to purchase the land, Masilotti was going to lobby hard from his position as county commissioner. It was a clear breach of public trust — and Oyer knew all about it.
In July and August of 2003, Masilotti attended a series of commission and Water Management meetings where he voiced support for the Nine Gems sale without disclosing his own financial stake. But there was a hitch he hadn't foreseen. Just as the deal was about to go through, Masilotti learned that because the sale involved a public entity — the Water District — full ownership affidavits for the parcel were required. Those affidavits would uncover his ownership role and his conflict of interest.
In November 2003, apparently to hide Masilotti's interests, Oyer sent an email to the Water District, falsely stating that the Lees were the beneficiaries of the Crum Trust. But with years of subterfuge about to swirl down the drain, Masilotti concocted another plan. He and the Lees would make an exchange.
Four months later, Oyer, the Lees, Boose, and Masilotti got on an uncomfortable conference call. According to court records, Masilotti demanded that the Lee brothers trade him a parcel of 110 acres they owned in exchange for his interest in Nine Gems. The Lees were reluctant, but Masilotti agreed to sell them back their land at some future date. Still, Masilotti and Boose insisted that the Lees pay the closing costs on the exchange. They also stipulated that Masilotti would be able to hand-pick a prime piece of acreage to keep for himself when the Lees bought the land back from him.
It was petty blackmail. If the Lees didn't agree, Masilotti indicated he'd kill the Water District deal. The Lees agreed.
By April 2005, the deals had been finalized. Masilotti made a $1.7 million profit — in his wife's name. He and Susan split the money, and they divorced a few months later.
In 2006, then-Palm Beach Post reporter Tom Dubocq was leafing through Tony and Susan Masilotti's 2005 divorce settlement. Dubocq found mention of the "Crum Trust" among Susan's assets. None of the property held by Crum Trust was mentioned in Tony Masilotti's annual financial disclosures. Dubocq started digging, and the Post's investigation turned up evidence of the illegal deals.
The State Attorney's Office opened an investigation, and the FBI and IRS followed. Oyer, now at the zenith of his cultural, legal, and philanthropic work, was caught in the net.
To be fair, Oyer was only one of a half-dozen people Masilotti had ensnared in his shady land deals. The stain spread to Masilotti's ex-wife, Susan; his brother Paul; his lawyer, Boose; the Lees; developer Enrique Tomeau; and Wellington businessman Daniel Miteff, who was eventually named as a co-conspirator for a $50,000 bribe he'd paid the commissioner. Masilotti resigned from the commission in October 2006. In 2007, after more than a year of investigation, Miteff and Masilotti were each sentenced to five years in prison. Boose served 15 months and was released last June. The Lees received immunity for their cooperation. Paul Masilotti walked as a condition of his brother's plea deal.
Through it all, Oyer was never charged.
At Boose's sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Ryskamp publicly asked a question that many had wondered.
"For myself as a concerned citizen," Judge Ryskamp said, "it makes me wonder why nothing has been done with the Lees and Mr. Oyer." Federal prosecutors offered no answer.
Nor do they now. Department of Justice spokeswoman Alicia Valle declined to answer New Times' questions about why Oyer was never charged, saying simply that the office "does not comment on their charging decisions." A spokesperson for Ryskamp said the judge does not comment publicly on former cases. Prosecutor John Kastrenakes, now a Florida circuit court judge, also declined to comment.
Although he wasn't charged, Oyer resigned from Gunster Yoakley, where he'd been made partner three years earlier. Oyer had cooperated with the investigation, turning over reams of emails, faxes, and contracts. People said he'd fallen on his sword. Oyer bled profusely, but the wound wasn't fatal.