Attention, fellow animal lovers: With our unelected president pushing for more tax cuts, even in the face of $1.3 trillion in deficits projected between 2002 and 2012 (call it Reaganomics 2: Electric Boogaloo), we should all take a moment to thank the powers that be for maintaining the federal government's price supports for the sugar industry. Just think, if we didn't give Big Sugar so much hard-earned money, then Jose "Pepe" Fanjul, heir to the Flo-Sun sugar empire, might never find his lost dog.
The five-year-old black Labrador, George, has been missing since February 11, when a dog walker took him from the Fanjuls' Fifth Avenue digs in New York City and returned empty-leashed. George is one of three Labradors and one cat owned by the Palm Beach-based Fanjul and his wife, Emilia. (According to the New York Observer, Emilia so dotes on her pets that she was once seen feeding a bone-shaped blini with caviar to another of their dogs.) Fanjul wasted no time putting his stockpiled corporate welfare to work: He has hired a publicist, a private investigator, and a pet-recovery service to track down the pooch and has posted a $5000 reward.
Undercurrents joins with all South Florida residents in wishing for the safe return of the constant companion of one of our leading citizens. And we can take comfort in the fact that, in some small way, we are aiding in the effort: After all, the inflated sugar prices set by the federal government cost consumers $1.9 billion in 1998. That'll buy plenty of pet detectives -- and bone-shaped blinis.
Tim Ferneding, Broward County's spiderman, gets no respect. Cops have arrested him twice for climbing the 1049-foot Trinity Broadcasting tower, once for smashing a Breathalyzer, and 17 other times for sundry minor infractions. Broward County has assessed him $449,750 in fines because he has refused to clean up his property. And, heck, the Sun-Sentinel can't even spell his name right.
Ferneding and his girlfriend, Theresa Mancini Jackson, who live just west of Davie Boulevard and State Road 7, have quite a yard. When Undercurrents visited last week, we found two carved eagles; at least four vehicles, including a 1987 limousine, a truck, and a for-sale 1985 van; lots of furniture -- both indoor and outdoor -- piled near the front door; and a weathered, three-headed gumball machine.
The inside was stuffed with mountains of interesting gewgaws and about 30 birds. "Welcome to Parrot Jungle," was how Theresa greeted us.
Ferneding, a muscular, 48-year-old Vietnam vet, is scheduled to face one county judge Thursday about his yard and another next Tuesday over a trespassing rap that traces to his second climb of the Trinity tower in February 2001. He's not fazed: "Give me liberty or else," he says.
His career as a daredevil and justice-seeker started when he began climbing trees at age 19. Then he bungee-jumped off the Ohio bridge near Cincinnati at 20.
A tree-trimmer by trade, he first climbed the Trinity tower in 1991 during the Gulf War. He and two friends carried a 50-foot-long American flag; Ferneding climbed much of the way up but not to the top. Though he was arrested that time, charges were dropped. "The judge said any fine is too much for hanging an American flag," he recalls.
It wasn't long after that that he began living with Jackson. You may have heard of her. She appeared on Donahue, A Current Affair, and Geraldo (twice) after her daughter, an exotic dancer, committed suicide in Coral Springs in 1986.
In the mid-'90s, Ferneding was arrested for many things, mostly traffic-related. But he recalls breaking a Breathalyzer, a police car's windshield, and a radio after he was stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence. The officers wouldn't tell him the reading, and also forced his girlfriend at the time (not Jackson) to walk up I-95 to seek help. "Only God can judge man," he says. Charges, he adds, were later dropped.
On October 23, 1996, county zoning authorities inspected his property as well as a lot next door and left a letter ordering cleanup, says Broward County code enforcement supervisor Rainelle Doyon. On February 26, 1997, when the place remained a mess, the county cited Ferneding and began fining him $250 per day, "because he didn't want to talk to us or anything," Doyon says. That total has been increasing ever since.
When 2000's presidential election was disputed, a friend urged Ferneding to try the tower again. The aim: to publicize a license plate that Ferneding hoped the state would sell to raise money for new voting machines. Jackson bought him $15 worth of jerky and candy bars so he could stay for seven days. When he began the ascent on February 23, 2001, he was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of a "Count My Vote" license plate. "If your vote don't count, your freedom don't count," he comments.
After he reached the top and unfurled the flag, several news helicopters showed up. Authorities were forced to stop broadcasting from the tower for an hour, he says. After seven-and-a-half hours, a friend, William Hart, talked Ferneding down by cell phone, saying they had drawn sufficient publicity to their cause. Ferneding was charged with trespassing and felony criminal mischief. The Sun-Sentinel published an 11-paragraph story on the feat, spelling his name Fernding.
Ferneding has been fighting the charges related to the Trinity climb ever since. He defended himself without an attorney. On February 26, a jury found him not guilty of criminal mischief but guilty of trespassing. He could spend as much as 60 days in jail after next week's sentencing.
As for the mess in the yard, Jackson says the citation relates to the property next door, which is in Ferneding's name only. And she doesn't like authorities' tactics. She contends that ski-masked police officers carrying guns came to post a notice recently. (Doyon says there were no ski masks but that three officers came along for security.)
This week, they're preparing defense in both cases. "I'm going to defend my property," she says. "He's going to defend himself.... They chose the wrong address to invade."
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Fort Lauderdale lawyer Norm Kent has agreed to surrender his law license for 90 days. Alvin Entin, Kent's attorney, tells Undercurrents that Kent will admit his own negligence this week to Palm Beach County Judge Charles Burton, who is reviewing the Florida bar's findings that Kent mismanaged the trust account of a Fort Lauderdale cancer victim several years ago.
On October 29, 2001, the bar determined that Kent, also the publisher of a gay-oriented weekly newspaper, The Express, had commingled funds from his law-firm account with the estate trust of Robert Patterson, who died in 1994. The probe began in 1999 when Patterson's widow, Catherine, complained that Kent had sold estate-owned jewelry to a pawn shop without her knowledge; she also accused him of selling her husband's truck at a reduced price, as well as profiting from the sale of two BMW motorcycles. Proceeds of those sales, she said, were deposited in Kent's law-firm account.
The bar concluded that Kent had "failed to place certain funds into an estate account. Instead, he placed said funds into his own trust account." Kent told the bar during an April 2001 hearing that he had written "numerous personal checks from the trust account including paying personal bills, buying tickets to sports teams, and writing checks to cash."
Kent blamed "actual shortages" the bar found in his law-firm account on "sloppy bookkeeping" and what he characterized as his "hedonistic spending habits." In a letter to Express readers in December, Kent addressed the complaint but did not detail the bar's findings. He wrote that he was "negligent in the administration of record-keeping" and that "no client lost money and no allegation of theft was raised" in Patterson's complaint.