It's been years since the television cameras stopped rolling, but Mike "Bogey" Boguslawski, the television icon who turned consumer reporting into performance art, is still plying his trade -- now in South Florida. A household name in Southern California, Bogey's gruff confrontational style endeared him to audiences in the late Nineties. Since Bogey first appeared on East Coast stations nearly a half-century ago, a generation of television news consumer reporters have mimicked his style. But none can match the original. Check out the first few minutes of this tape, from when Bogey was harassing California Gov. Gray Davis, a campaign that he says proved to be career suicide.
Bogey moved to Fort Lauderdale two months ago to be with an ailing relative. But he's much too restless to be a retiree. Last month he began working on his first big Florida project: building a new sanctuary for the New Covenant Church on the Lake in Pompano Beach.
After the jump, my conversation with Bogey and an interview with the bewildered pastor of New Covenant, who's still reeling from his encounter with the gravel-voiced Good Samaritan.
"I swear to God in heaven, now more than ever, Florida and this country need a Bogey," snarls the consumer watchdog. "Because people are getting ripped off in America."
By sheer coincidence, it seems, Bogey's landed in what feels like the nation's rip-off capital. From Bernie Madoff and all the mini-Madoffs to mortgage fraudsters and crooked politicians, he's got material galore.
Through a relative, Bogey learned of the financial troubles of New Covenant, the Presbyterian church which sustained some $2.5 million in damages from Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Rev. Jim Letizia says that it took 18 months and nearly all $1 million of insurance money to rebuild the school and Christian education center. But Wilma tore off the sanctuary's roof. "We've deconstructed what was damaged so that we could reconstruct it," says Letizia, "but we've run out of money." He estimates it will cost $2 million to improve the sanctuary.
Bogey to the rescue. He met with Letizia last month and, in his characteristically hard-charging way, volunteered to organize a concert series whose proceeds could go to pay for the sanctuary's construction bills.
"It seems -- um, I don't want to say 'Too good to be true,'" Letizia stammers. "But if his intentions are truly to help us and he doesn't have any personal gain, then it's wonderful."
Yes, around these parts, we're suspicious -- and justifiably so -- of good Samaritans.
But as anyone familiar with Bogey's oeuvre can testify, the deed is its own reward. I asked Bogey whether he expected anything in return for his help to New Covenant. "I ask only that people pray for my family and me, that I can continue to help people," he said.
A more cynical observer might say that Bogey's payoff is power: the satisfaction of humbling the rich and powerful for the sake of the poor and weak. As the people's champion, he got results because politicians and corporations dreaded being cast as the people's villain.
Of course, he took home a handsome salary from a major-market television station, CBS-2 in Los Angeles. But if money were his only motive, he would probably still be employed there. In 2001, Bogey went after Gov. Gray Davis, instigating on behalf of drivers drained by high gas prices and poor people who slipped through cracks of social welfare programs.
"At CBS I was doing my job too well, and I was stepping on toes," says Bogey. "There were sponsors who went to management and complained. They called me in and said, 'Bogey, you're stepping on toes.'
"I said, 'That's my job!' My life's dedicated to helping people." Stingy health care providers, Social Security bureaucrats slow to send payments to retired people, debt collection agencies: all the other forces that conspire against working people became targets of Bogey.
He thinks that Davis' office "made some calls" that led to his termination at CBS. The memory still stings. "They hurt me more than anything in the world," says Bogey. "It was like cutting my heart out, what CBS did to me. Instead of helping people, they were interested in the bottom line." That is, keeping advertisers happy.
Press accounts make no mention of Bogey's upsetting advertisers -- only that the station informed him that it was canning his "In Your Corner" segment and assigning him to a "neighborhood" reporting beat.
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If there were any doubt whether Bogey is genuine about being a brawler for the little guy, consider his post-CBS work in California's Apple Valley, where he was supposed to retire. Instead, Bogey's consumer reporting began appearing in a weekly column of the Daily Press two years ago. "People loved it," says editor Don Holland, adding that Bogey accepted all projects pro bono. The columns ended this year with Bogey's departure, but Holland says, "We still get letters and phone calls -- people who have a problem and can they talk to Bogey."
When he relocated to South Florida, Bogey hauled files full of California-based consumer complaints with him. He says he's been tackling those since his arrival, relying on his old contacts and tough-guy reputation in the Golden State. But the New Covenant project is the big local one. "I'm going to bring in a concert every month," he says. "I have a lot a friends from my time in Los Angeles. I have contacts with top country singers, and I'm calling them about having performances here."
Of course, that all assumes that New Covenant is going to accept the help of this generous, ultra-intense personality. This week, Letizia will make a presentation to his church's board.
"I want them to meet Bogey," says Letizia. "And that might be a scary thing."