Bust Me if You Can
Besides his stellar career as South Florida's premier cardiologist, Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah moonlights as a bigtime Republican fundraiser. He sits on a slew of corporate and government boards. He has campaigned for three different Bushes. He has eaten dinner at the White House and loaned his private jet to Governor Crist. Reports estimate that over the years Dr. Zachariah has raised nearly $20 million for various candidates. One associate describes him as a "political animal." Presumably it takes a lot to impress such a man.
One March day in 2007, Dr. Zachariah entered the Wellness Pavilion at Holy Cross Hospital, where he serves as director of cardiology. The luxury gym and fitness facility was named after his family, which donated $3.1 million to build it. Inside the doctor noticed a young gentleman, about six foot two with dirty blond hair, wearing a Harvard shirt — and a Harvard class ring to match. Since Zachariah's own son was considering going to school there, the doctor struck up a conversation.
According to his lawyer, Dr. Zachariah was wowed by the young man's knowledge of land use and zoning. He was amazed by his grasp of local politics. Whatever the exact details of their conversation, Dr. Zachariah walked away with the impression that Robert Charles Jones Brady, known as Chas, had graduated from Harvard Law, an alumnus of the most prestigious school in the country.
Shortly thereafter Brady, then 26, became a regular guest of the doctor's. The two traveled together to New York. They socialized on Dr. Zachariah's yacht. Zachariah introduced his young protegé to his friends — successful businessmen and political notables. In November of 2007, when Dr. Zachariah hosted a $2,300-a-head political fundraiser at his Fort Lauderdale mansion, he proudly presented Brady to presidential candidate Fred Thompson.
A few weeks later, Brady landed in a cell at a Broward County jail, the subject of six criminal complaints, at least three civil lawsuits, and five investigations by the Florida Bar. Authorities would later describe him as a curious con man, blessed with intellectual gifts and cursed with psychological troubles. They compared Brady's story to Hollywood movies like Six Degrees of Separation or Catch Me If You Can, both featuring clean-cut imposters who knew how to push the right buttons to finagle their way into influential circles.
Said prosecutor David Schulson, "Brady's a poor man's Leonardo DiCaprio."
Brady's case has inspired a host of emotions: anger, sympathy, bewilderment. With his cultured manner and polished public persona, Brady never looked like much of a criminal. Even in his mug shot, he smiles broadly like the boy next door.
In the days before his arrest last fall, Brady seemed to have ended up where he always wanted to be: in the company of the rich and well-connected. But what leaps had he taken to get there? And how many influential people would he embarrass along the way? Most important, as far as the criminal justice system was concerned, was he really guilty of any serious wrongdoing? Or was he having the book thrown at him because he had embarrassed a bunch of muckety-mucks. It'll all come out in the wash, lawyers say. According to one who has represented Brady, the young Ivy Leaguer-manqué cleverly bulletproofed himself against would-be legal complications. Brady shouldn't have to do serious time, defense attorney Lawrence Livoti says.
"The law imposes no obligation to dispel a misunderstanding," Livoti argued in court (before withdrawing from the case because Brady couldn't afford his services). "Saying you are a Harvard law graduate is not holding yourself out to practice law. Nobody testified that he was a member of the Florida Bar. Nobody stated that."
Was it Brady's fault if Dr. Zachariah — as well as a lot of other Broward County movers and shakers — was a sucker?
Chas Brady's stepfather James Eddy is now in his late 70s. His associates report that Eddy is winding down his law practice in Oakland Park — perhaps because of his age, perhaps because of his troubles. From 1963 to 1968, Eddy served in the state House of Representatives. By all accounts, the elder man had carved out an admirable career and enjoyed the respect of his peers.
Chas Brady assisted his stepfather in his law practice. Many clients believed that Brady was a lawyer too — a Harvard-educated one. Brady now maintains that he was only an assistant, a consultant, a paralegal, and a lobbyist — jobs that don't require special training or advanced degrees.
But his future — and possibly his stepfather's — hinges on whether he engaged in the illegal practice of law, which is a felony. Brady also faces charges of grand theft, forgery, and organized fraud. If convicted on all of the 14 counts against him, Brady could face a maximum sentence of more than 75 years in prison, his public defender says.
With his fate in the balance, seemingly minute details have assumed unforeseen importance. Take Brady's business cards. An associate says they included his name and contact information, but not a title. Documents show that Brady set up, and was sometimes paid through, a business called Crimson Consulting. (Crimson is the school color of Harvard.) At some point, Eddy's law firm made a distinction on its letterhead: Next to Brady's name, there was an asterisk; at the bottom of the page, a disclaimer read, "Not a member of the Florida Bar."
But multiple people, including state prosecutors, say that, technicalities aside, Brady represented himself as a lawyer and that his betrayal cost friends and clients thousands if not millions of dollars. And not least of all, in the behind-the-scenes confines of the South Florida power structure, it left them with a fair amount of egg on the face.
In police reports, one alleged victim, a businessman named Brent Fardette, claims that Brady introduced himself as an attorney when the two met at a political fundraiser in 2004. Shortly thereafter, the pair began planning a business deal. Brady told Fardette he knew of a shopping plaza for sale in Pompano Beach. If Fardette bought it — for $19.5 million — they could flip it and resell at a steep profit. In fact, Brady advised, he already had buyers in mind. They were people he knew through his stepdad's law firm: major condo developer Jean Francois Roy of Ocean Land Investments (famous for an unsuccessful bid to buy the town of Briny Breezes in 2006 for $510 million) and State Senator Steven Geller.
In June of 2005, Brady presented Fardette with documents to back up the deal: a contract supposedly signed by the seller and a letter of intent to buy, supposedly signed by buyers Geller and Roy. Fardette gave Brady a $100,000 deposit.
Meanwhile, Fardette's friend Frank DiMaria — the owner of Frank's Restaurant in Pompano Beach — came calling to see if Brady could help him too. DiMaria hoped to open a juice bar on Pompano Beach, but first he needed to obtain a variance from the City Commission. Between October 2004 and April 2005, police reports say, DiMaria gave Brady $25,000 in retainer fees.
Cash was rolling in. At the end of the summer, Brady apparently thought about rewarding himself. He showed up on the tony Isle of Venice in downtown Fort Lauderdale to look at a three-story waterfront townhouse for sale.
Pleased with the property, Brady agreed on the $1.5 million purchase price and produced a check for $199,000 as a deposit. The check was drawn on the SunTrust bank account of his stepfather's law practice. With it, a police report says, Brady presented a letter purportedly signed by his stepfather's law partner, Donald Corbin, assuring that funds were available in escrow to cover the check.
A witness says that Brady wore a suit and spoke with confidence that August day: "His whole demeanor was like a cocky young gun." According to the witness, he remarked that the attached boat slip would make a perfect home for his yacht.
Prosecutors would later say, forget Harvard Law School — Chas Brady never even graduated from college.
He did, however, attend Fort Lauderdale High, an academically rigorous public school in an urban neighborhood. A former classmate named Sara remembers Brady. He was one of "the waspy kids that came from money (or faked it)," she says.
Another alumna, Jessica, knew Brady from ROTC. "Only his close friends called him 'Chas,'" she says. "Most of us weren't in that category, usually by choice, so we called him 'Cheese.'"
Brady wasn't a horrible person, Jessica says, but he came off as arrogant, and maybe a bit of a fibber. "He liked to brag about things that just seemed so unrealistic for a 15-year-old."
Post high school, while his peers were off attending football games and pledging fraternities, Chas Brady was contending with his own youthful troubles near home. Over the course of three years, cops busted him for speeding, detained him for trespassing, and arrested him for driving with a suspended license. In other areas of his life, though, he appeared to be hardworking and ambitious beyond his years. He busied himself with grown-up pursuits that might put lesser intellects to sleep. He learned about zoning laws. He joined city advisory boards. He started lobbying.
Sometime around 2002, when Brady would have been 21, he lobbied on behalf of the City of Wilton Manors, eventually helping secure $1 million in grant money for a historical park. Mayor Scott Newton remembers hiring Eddy's firm but doesn't remember whether Brady specifically claimed to be a lawyer. "We didn't have much good or bad to say about him," Newton says. "The stepfather's firm did what we asked of him."
That same year, the youthful Brady announced that he was going to run for the District 1 seat (representing northeast Fort Lauderdale) on the Fort Lauderdale City Commission — a position that was eventually won by Christine Teel.
Teel only remembers seeing Brady once during the lead-up to the election. "He was well-spoken and nice looking. Tall, neat, and clean."
A Sun-Sentinel article from this period quotes Chas Brady as saying, "People would say, 'Oh, you're just young. You don't know what's going on.' But I would say I have two bachelor's degrees and I'm a lobbyist. I think I know a little."
It was a rare instance of Brady stepping into the spotlight — his modus operandi was usually to keep to the sidelines — and he apparently quickly reconsidered. The bold claim about his academic bona fides was published without challenge in the press, but there was barely any mention of him in subsequent news clips about the race. Teel believes Brady never filed the paperwork to complete his run. As something of a consolation prize, Teel says, her predecessor Gloria Katz appointed Brady to the Community Services Advisory Board. "He eventually ended up being chair of that," Teel says. "But I had to ask him to resign." Teel could not remember precisely why, just "something to do with him misrepresenting himself." (Brady's resignation letter, on file with the city, states that he left because "personal activities are becoming a burden on my time and commitment to the city.")
John Rayson served in the state legislature in the late 1990s. He was a self-described "liberal Democrat" but decided to run for the non-partisan position of mayor of Pompano Beach in a 2004 election. Rayson was happy when a smart and friendly young man showed up to volunteer for the campaign. "Chas would walk door to door," Rayson recalls now. "He was a good campaigner. I thought he was a whiz kid — that's how he comes off. "
Minutes from the City of Fort Lauderdale's Nuisance Abatement Board meeting from February 10, 2005, show that "Charles Brady, Esquire, introduced himself as new counsel for" a landowner who'd been renting rooms by the hour. The vice unit had made six arrests for prostitution at the building. Brady advised the board that the owner would come into compliance, but was selling the property anyway. "Mr. Brady acknowledged that he was also representing the seller in the real estate transaction and a contract had been executed," the minutes say.
Four months later, Brady popped up in the Tallahassee Democrat. In April 2005, an article says, the Florida Senate fined Brady $2,500 and banned him from lobbying through the end of the 2006 session. The rebuke was based on Brady's actions in 2004, when he lobbied various legislators — without being registered as a lobbyist, as required.
One day in 2005, Brent Fardette's other lawyer started looking into this $19 million plaza that Fardette stood poised to buy. Court documents suggest that with the deal stalled, the attorney decided to bypass Chas Brady and call the seller's attorney directly. Apparently, that conversation ended with a shock. The supposed seller had no idea what was happening. The building wasn't even for sale — and never had been.
Here's where the avowed bulletproofing that Brady's lawyer talks about apparently started exhibiting flaws. Brady, police investigators allege, had forged most of the signatures on the drafts of the contracts, including that of State Senator Steven Geller.
"As far as we can tell, he just cut and pasted," Geller says now, his voice still resounding with disbelief. Geller, an attorney as well as an elected official, knew that Brady was Jim Eddy's stepson and that he worked at the law firm. Brady had access to Geller's signature through documents in Eddy's office.
"Jim was the former minority leader of the House of Representatives," Geller says. "He was highly credible and I'm assuming his son would be too."
There's no taped conversation to prove it, but Geller could have sworn Brady said he was a student at Harvard Law. Brady spoke like a lawyer and was certainly smart enough. Geller even thought about inviting the kid to join his firm after he got his degree.
Geller can't recall exactly when he learned that Brady wasn't actually in law school — but he remembers being surprised. Now, in the wake of the criminal accusations against Brady, Geller says sadly, "Charles is the biggest waste of potential I've ever met."
Judging from court documents, Brent Fardette had little interest in seeing Brady get slammed by the law. He just wanted his $100,000 back. Brady agreed in writing to make repayments, but the two checks he eventually wrote — one for $50,000 and another for $5,000 — bounced.
Meanwhile Frank DiMaria heard about Fardette's troubles. He wondered why there hadn't been any progress on his own case — getting the variance to open the juice bar. DiMaria demanded his money back too. Brady signed a promissory note and promised to pay the 25 grand by January 2006. Checks that he wrote to DiMaria also bounced.
As for that waterfront townhome that Brady expressed an interest in: The lady who was selling it tried to cash Brady's deposit check, only to have it returned, stamped "Refer to Maker." She was shocked, since the lawyer working as escrow agent had vouched for the funds, and messing with money held in escrow is a state offense. The woman contacted Donald Corbin, who in turn gave a sworn statement saying that he never wrote any such letter. Stationery had been stolen from his and Eddy's law office, he insisted, and his signature forged. There was little the seller could do besides move on and find a new buyer. And file a report with the Broward Sheriff's Office.
In the fall of 2006, Charles Brady actually did sign up to take classes at Harvard. Not Harvard College but the Harvard Extension School.
Of course, Harvard University is a massive, sprawling corporation whose holdings include a law school, a divinity school, a research facility in Italy, and a forest in Petersham, Massachussetts. Harvard College is the exclusive liberal arts institution at the university 's core — elite, prestigious, and perpetually ranked number one. The college accepts only 2,100 incoming students per year. For anyone outside the Ivy League, the distinction is easy to miss.
The Extension School is part of the university, but it requires no transcripts, no undergraduate degree. There's little to the application process: Just sign up and pay. Current Harvard College student Jeffrey Kwong puts it this way: "Anyone can get in to the extension school. They advertise on buses. It's like the DeVry University of Harvard. Like, Hilary Duff went to Harvard Extension School."
Kwong is Vice-President of Harvard Right to Life and President of the Harvard Republican Club. He remembers Chas Brady showing up at a number of meetings in Cambridge beginning that fall semester.
"He seemed very personable,very sincere," Kwong says. "He had that Southern charm."
Kwong says Brady told members of the club that he'd graduated from Harvard Law School but had yet to find his passion in life, so he had returned to pursue a master's degree in economics.
The story seemed plausible enough — for anyone who could afford it. And Brady seemed able to. He took the group out in a limousine, students say. He bought one girl an expensive camera. He donated $250 to the Right to Life cause. During one group outing — to a conservative political action conference in Washington, D.C. — Brady promised the group he'd introduce them to a congressman friend, but when it didn't pan out, he apologized by buying everyone dinner.
One young woman in the group says Brady seemed gentlemanly, opening doors and minding his manners. He dropped vague references to flying airplanes and being an escort for cotillion dances. "He said it in an unassuming way, not in a boastful way — which made it even more believable."
One student considered going into a business venture with Brady but felt compelled to look into his claims before laying any money on the line. Soon, "we had our alarms up, " says Kwong. A member of the group checked out the law school and found no record of Brady ever attending. Another discovered that Harvard didn't even offer a master's program in economics.
Collectively, the group felt some sympathy for Brady. They knew the pressures that came with the Harvard label, and they figured he exaggerated just to fit in with the high achievers around him. To spare him embarrassment, the group refrained from confronting him. But, says Kwong, "everyone whispered." Then, in March or April of last year, "he kind of disappeared."
Right about then, Brady was bumping into Dr. Zachariah at the Wellness Center.
By this time, official complaints were piling up in the offices of the Florida Bar. But the Bar's power was limited: Chas Brady didn't have a license it could revoke. Officials began to think this was a matter best handled by law enforcement.
On June 11, 2007, based on the Fardette and DiMaria matters, Brady was arrested on charges of grand theft and unlicensed practice of law, both felonies. He posted bond.
A month later, Steve Kafin — a real estate investor and owner of APG Meridian, Inc. — was working on a big real estate deal. Before the matter could be completed, Kafin needed to settle a lien issue with the City of Pompano Beach. He'd met Chas Brady and Jim Eddy at a closing a year earlier, where according to court documents, "Brady was introduced to Kafin as Eddy's law partner."
Kafin paid Eddy's firm $14,000 to take care of the lien. Brady simply faxed over a Satisfaction of Lien to the title company that was holding the funds. The only problem? As Pompano's Special Magistrate Clerk would soon discover, the document was forged. Police reports say the fake resulted in the cancellation of a $2.9 million real estate deal.
Brady was arrested again, this time on charges of "uttering a forged instrument." For the second time, he was released on bond.
Although bond requirements often require defendants to remain in the county, Judge Andrew Siegel kindly modified conditions for Brady. An order he signed says the defendant could "attend school in Boston temporarily." Although paperwork submitted to the court shows that Brady began the online registration process for Harvard Extension School's Fall 2007 semester, it's unclear whether he actually paid and attended.
As the investigation proceeded, detectives found more people who'd crossed Brady's path and fallen for his line of hype. Police reports show that James Holton, a Jeb Bush appointee to the Florida Transportation Commission, thought Brady was an attorney and met with him and Eddy in Washington, D.C., to discuss a lobbying project. Two partners of a global corporation called General Crane "retained Eddy and Brady as co-counsel" and were set to pay the firm $450,000. In an incident similar to the Fardette deal, Brady allegedly enticed a client, Bernard Paul Hus (proprietor of Hypower, Inc.), to buy an $800,000 property with the intention of flipping it quickly; in an affidavit, Brady admitted forging documents to make it look like there was a buyer lined up.
In the fall of 2007, Brady was socializing on Dr. Zachariah's yacht, where he was introduced to affluent mortgage broker Naveen Saddi. Somehow, during the conversation, Saddi agreed to obtain an exclusive Black American Express credit card, linked to his account but bearing Brady's name. When the card came in the mail, it said "Charles Brady, Esq." From September 13 through October 28, 2007, Brady racked up $18,450.18 in charges. He started to repay Saddi — but that November, before he could finish, Broward Sheriff's investigators arrested him a third time. This time his bond was revoked.
In addition to the criminal complaints in Broward County Court — there were now six — several of Brady's alleged victims filed civil lawsuits against him and his stepfather. At last count, the Florida Bar was also investigating five complaints lodged against Eddy, who did have a license to revoke.
"I don't have anything against his father," former Pompano mayor John Rayson says. "I guess he had a soft spot for his son, which is understandable. I feel bad for Jim Eddy."
"The shame of it all," says Senator Geller with a sigh, "is that this kid is a likable kid, and if he'd just done things honestly, he'd have a brilliant career in front of him." Geller says his trust may be irretrievably broken. "If Chas said it was daylight outside, you'd have to go outside and check."
According to Detective John Calabro, an economic crimes investigator with the Broward Sheriff's Office, Brady's deception was not limited to business associates. Even Brady's girlfriend thought he was a Harvard Law grad.
During Calabro's testimony at a hearing to revoke Brady's bond, Calabro said that the young woman attended functions, both locally and in New York, with Brady and Dr. Zachariah. When she learned of his arrest, "she was distraught and destroyed," Calabro said.
Dr. Glen Caddy, a professor in clinical psychology, had counseled Brady since 2004. He too testified at the hearing. He tried to cull sympathy for the defendant. Brady's natural father was abusive, Caddy said, and addicted to alcohol. Young Chas grew up in this environment, at times having to protect his own sister. As a result, he suffered from depression and a personality disorder.
"At about age 13, Mr. Brady made certain decisions about how he was going to live his life." Caddy said. He "determined that he was never going to not have money in his pocket, and he was never going to have a lack of status. " His "fantasies about practicing law" were developed so he'd feel more important. "Because, fundamentally, he has a very limited sense of his own intrinsic worth."
"I think," Dr. Caddy said, "that his time in detention, and the reality of the forces that he now has to face, have actually been beneficial to him, because I think they have provided him with an ultimate reality check."
Prosecutor David Schulson asked perhaps the most obvious question: "he has the intellectual ability, so why didn't he go through college, and go through law school?"
"Because," Caddy replied, "He believed he knew everything there was to know without going to college."
Schulson conceded that Brady's crime wasn't nearly as bad as aggravated battery or armed robbery — but "emotionally, people are humiliated, depressed, distraught by what he has done to them."
Brady's defense lawyer had an interesting comeback.
"He was leading people to believe he was an attorney," Lawrence Livoti said. "That's not the same as practicing law, Judge."
Pointing out that Brady is facing a massive prison sentence for a nonviolent crime, Livoti now says that the charges are a clear instance of "overprosecution, period." Hanging in the air was the question of whether the state is being aggressive because of the high-powered nature of the victims involved.
"It is illogical to prosecute somebody and expect restitution if you want that person to go to prison," Livoti says. "It is the equivalent of needing a quart of milk and sending the cow to the slaughterhouse."
Livoti believes the state has a weak case. In the hearing, he pointed out the fine print on some of the documents associated with the deals Brady made. On contracts and invoices, Eddy was paid legal fees, but at least in some cases, Brady's charges were specifically for line items like "land use fee" or "lobbying" or "consulting."
Brady's current public defender, Bernard Bober, said, "In a majority of instances he did not actually tell people he was a lawyer, but people assumed he was because of the way he behaved. He certainly didn't do anything to dissuade them."
Bober says Brady has owned up to some of the charges — like forgery— which gives him "a certain degree of credibility." Bober is confident that the prosecution will work with him to give Brady a reasonable plea deal — that doesn't carry a riduculous sentence.
Otherwise, Brady's guilt or innocence might depend on a jury's interpretation of the illegal practice of law. Florida statutes say that anyone who "holds himself or herself out to the public as qualified to practice law... or willfully takes or uses any name, title, addition, or description implying that he or she is qualified" commits a third-degree felony.
So long as he didn't accept fees for a lawyer's work or claim to be a member of the Bar, Livoti argued, Brady wasn't a criminal.
"Was he introduced to Fred Thompson?" Livoti asked rhetorically. "Maybe. So what?" Zachariah never claimed to lose any money to Brady. "Dr. Zachariah's trust was betrayed. My client is profoundly sorry for that. But it's not a crime."
And what kind of dummy just puts somebody on their American Express card? "There's a lot of rich people who, I'd like for me to get on their credit cards!" Livoti cried. Brady did reimburse Saddi for many of the charges and would have repaid every nickel if he hadn't been thrown in jail, Livoti claimed.
As for posing as a successful professional trying to impress a lady, Livoti pointed out, "It happens every Friday and Saturday night at the Blue Martini, every bar, and every gin joint in every town in all the world. That's not a crime."
Still, the judge ruled that Brady was enough of a menace to have his bond revoked. The 27-year-old went back into a holding cell in Pompano Beach.
Interestingly, Brady's girlfriend, a tall, thin blond, continues to visit him there. Despite prosecutors' attempts to use her as ammunition, she remains Brady's strong supporter. Without divulging too much, she shakes her head and reports that he is a kindhearted person caught in the middle of a giant misunderstanding — and that the slate of criminal cases doesn't accurately reflect upon the guy. She did have the impression he was a Harvard-educated lawyer, she admits, but that's not why she dates him.
"He's a great person. He's amazing," she says. She adds that Brady's family, including Eddy, stands steadfastly behind him and that Brady is busy and thriving in jail, helping inmates with less education to understand certain Bible readings and work toward their GEDs.
In February, Livoti withdrew as counsel for Brady — because Brady could no longer afford him — and a public defender was appointed to handle the criminal cases.
A flip through the file for one civil case filed in Miami reveals documents that Brady has submitted to the court himself. They are written in professional language; the author seems fluent in legalese. The pages stand out, however, because they are written in ballpoint pen on lined notebook paper and have been mailed from a jail cell.
In paperwork in the file, Brady is identified as a pro se litigant. In other words, he's acting as a lawyer — representing himself. And that is perfectly legal.
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