A Bettor Way of Buying
The City of Coconut Creek has battled the Seminole Tribe of Florida for months now, trying to gain some semblance of control over the tribe's planned gambling house before it's built in the fair and tidy little suburb.
But if the politicians of Coconut Creek really fear poorly regulated gambling, they'd do well to look within.
While city officials have haggled with and strategized against the tribe, a Broward-based police task force investigating the Mafia is eyeing one of the city's own as part of its investigation into an alleged Mob-controlled sports gambling ring.
In the sights of the Metropolitan Organized Crime Intelligence Unit (MIU) is Wayne Herring, city supervisor of the property maintenance division. Herring oversees 17 workers and a budget of nearly $1 million. It's his responsibility to keep Coconut Creek's parks, medians, and other public lands clean and trimmed.
Herring is being investigated, according to MIU reports, for his wheelings and dealings -- some of them on the taxpayers' bill -- with Dennis "Mickey" Befumo, a bookmaker with connections to reputed mobsters.
The investigation has already revealed that Herring went on gambling vacations with Befumo, made regular, and quite illegal, sports bets with him, and hired Befumo to supply chemicals to the city, according to MIU reports.
The Brooklyn-born Befumo is a man of many trades, including but not limited to butcher, stockbroker, handyman, racehorse owner, pet-shop owner, and chemical supplier. He was also a bookmaker of almost incomprehensible magnitude: The MIU estimates that he handled a total of about $10.5 million in sports bets per year. His reported take was 4.5 percent of that, or nearly $500,000 annually.
With so much illicit cash, investigators allege in court documents that Befumo was laundering it in all kinds of places, from a Smith Barney account (a stockbroker who lost some $15,000 to Befumo deposited a portion of the debt into the account) to a bowling league checking account to horse purchases at Pompano Park Racing.
Befumo, who couldn't be reached for comment, was indicted with 16 others in January on charges of racketeering and gambling. In April, MIU agents tacked on two more racketeering counts and 26 counts of money laundering. The indictments were a result of the MIU investigation of the Genovese crime-family dealings in Broward County. (See "The Miniacis and the Mafiosi," New Times, July 2.) Among those arrested was 65-year-old Vinnie Romano, a reputed Genovese soldier who allegedly oversaw Befumo's sports gambling racket.
Investigators found that everywhere Befumo went in his flashy cars (he preferred Mercedes, Lexus, and Cadillac models), gambling junkies weren't far away. If he didn't meet them, he'd talk to them on his omnipresent cell phone.
Befumo recently built a $320,000 house in Coral Springs and seemed always to have tens of thousands of dollars cash at his disposal, often paying construction subcontractors right out of his pocket. Using receipts taken during a search of his Coral Springs home, investigators deduced that he'd spent $184,855 in cash alone in 1997.
To get the evidence on the 48-year-old Befumo, detectives tapped the many phones in his Coral Springs home/bookmaking boiler room. It was a harrowing task considering that more than 14,000 calls were made in one particularly busy six-week period last summer.
From December 1996 through August 2, 1997, a total of 151 calls made to Befumo were traced to Herring's home phone or the cellular phone supplied to him by the City of Coconut Creek, according to MIU reports, which are now a part of the prosecution's case.
Detectives decided to pay city hall a visit on September 8, 1997. They subpoenaed all city records regarding Befumo and his chemical company and had a sit-down with Herring. The city supervisor promptly admitted that he had a gambling habit. He claimed he bet between $50 to $75 a month with the bookie. He added that he had to pay $5 extra to make a bet, a surcharge Befumo called "the juice."
Making bets with a bookie is a crime, though Herring hasn't been charged with one. When asked about Herring, MIU supervisor Ken Staab would say only that the matter is still under investigation.
Agents seemed more interested in the fact that Herring was buying lawn chemicals from Befumo's company, D & B Chemical Supply, with the city's checkbook. Between January 28 and September 16 last year, Herring spent $18,890.48 in public money for Befumo's chemicals.
Usually the purchases were less than $1000 each, so Herring didn't have to go through the tedious process of bidding. Many of the purchase orders curiously happened to be just under $1000 -- $998.75 (for fire ant killer) here, $975.80 (for five-pound packages of Daconil) there. In all, only two orders were over $1000. In those cases the purchases were put out for bid and D & B Chemical Supply came in with the lowest price.
Herring's purchases from D & B -- which, Herring told investigators, were delivered by Befumo's wife in a Jeep -- weren't supervised.
The MIU subpoenaed from the city all records regarding D & B Chemical Supply, which are now part of the ongoing investigation. The burning question is whether Herring gave Befumo city business to help settle gambling debts. Was it a little quid pro quo to help pay the juice?
"I had no debts with him," says Herring, who refused to discuss how much he lost or won in his gambling ventures with the bookie.
Herring, who declined to talk in-depth about his dealings with Befumo, classified his gambling with Befumo as simply "recreational." He called Befumo's work for the city "acceptable."
City officials, until contacted by a reporter, had no idea that Befumo was an indicted bookie or that Herring was implicated in a criminal investigation, said city purchasing agent Sheila McGann.
"The investigators wouldn't tell us anything," McGann says. "And we tried [to find out]."
When told of the MIU investigation, John Kelly, the city manager, said he was "disgusted." He said he's calling in the Coconut Creek police department to investigate and will review the way money is spent by supervisors in the city.
"This should not be possible," Kelly says of Herring's unsupervised city dealings with Befumo. "I need to research it. I'm disappointed with the association."
Befumo and Herring struck up a friendship as neighbors back in 1983 and liked to bowl together in the Businessmen's Bowling League. Always looking for ways to clean his vast amounts of cash, Befumo, who was treasurer for the league, laundered gambling profits through the league's bank account, according to court documents.
Herring took casino gambling trips to the Bahamas and Las Vegas with Befumo, according to MIU reports. Herring also went to the Pompano racetrack with Befumo, and the city supervisor wound up buying a racehorse. He even listed Befumo as a reference when he applied for the job with Coconut Creek in 1993.
Herring also hired Befumo to perform work at the Samuel and Helene Soref Jewish Community Center in Plantation, where Herring moonlighted as chief groundskeeper. Herring told detectives that Befumo supplied chemicals and did maintenance work at the center through another Befumo company, Befumo Services, which has been identified in court papers as an entity through which the bookie laundered cash.
MIU agents visited the center and walked its nicely manicured grounds. They also questioned three maintenance workers who had worked under Herring.
"None of the three could identify Befumo as ever being seen doing maintenance work at [the] JCC," detectives wrote in reports. "After describing work projects [that] had been invoiced and supposedly performed by Befumo, all of the maintenance employees state that either they did the type of work described or Herring performed the work or supervised the JCC employees on how to do the job."
When told of this, Herring said that Befumo -- the big-spending, luxury-car driving bookie with cash to burn -- would come out and do work on the center's roofs and lawns on nights and weekends. That's the reason, he said, that no one recognized Befumo's photograph.
"I haven't done anything wrong," Herring says, adding that he no longer associates with his old pal Befumo and had no idea that Befumo was associating with reputed mobsters.
Herring says he's hired an attorney as a result of the MIU investigation. Despite these problems, Herring has gotten "outstanding" evaluations from the city and is generally regarded as a highly competent and hard-working supervisor.
"The city's parks and medians are kept beautifully," McGann said. "And that's his responsibility. He is the reason everything looks so nice.
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