Gadfly Chaz Stevens brought down a couple Deerfield Beach politicians
When the City of Deerfield Beach imploded with the arrests of two-fifths of the city's ruling body — Mayor Al Capellini and Commissioner Steve Gonot — the city's reigning change agent gloated.
"I hereby, now and forever, proclaim the Eleventh of December as Chaz Stevens Day," Chaz Stevens wrote on his blog that day. "And what does that mean to you exactly? Beer, lobster, shots and hookers are on your tab all day long."
"You wanted change in Deerfield Beach. I just handed it to you. Now what are you going to do with it? PS. Try not to fuck it up like you usually do."
It's classic Stevens — and no matter what you or Capellini ("Fucktard," as Stevens routinely calls him) or Gonot ("Shitbird") think of him, he has made a historic mark on the city.
It was Stevens, after all, who filed complaints with the State Attorney's Office that led to the arrests of the mayor and the commissioner. If he hadn't done that, Deerfield Beach wouldn't have made news across the state these past few weeks. He's stunning proof that a regular guy (though nobody would ever call Stevens "regular") can beat City Hall.
But we shouldn't get carried away. Stevens was simply the messenger, after all, not the source. He used a New Times investigation as a basis for his complaint against Capellini ("Mayor Al Engineers Another Deal," June 8, 2006). To bring down Gonot, he used information he'd received from another political activist, the pro-Capellini Chris Tauber.
And he never could have pulled it off if Deerfield weren't a horribly dysfunctional city, even by South Florida standards. Capellini and Gonot were arch enemies, and perhaps still are, considering both have no plans to let their criminal charges stop their political careers.
The barrel-chested Stevens played both sides against the middle and wound up turning the City Commission upside down.
"I'm like roshambo, you know, from South Park — I'm kicking everybody in the nuts," he told me after the indictments came down. "It doesn't matter who you are; I'm kicking them in the nuts."
Yes, but who, really, is this nuts-kicker? He published a photo of himself on his blog that reveals a bald man who looks like a cross between Uncle Fester and Bruce Willis on a bad day. But few have ever actually laid eyes on Stevens; he's more an enigma than an activist.
Yet, if you read his blog, myactsofsedition.com, he seems to be everywhere.
After the December 16 City Commission meeting, for instance, he wrote that he was sitting just three feet from one of his political adversaries and had eavesdropped on the conversation.
But that wasn't true. The 44-year-old Stevens was actually in Orlando, where he has been living in a hotel and working as a software consultant. It was just a bit of misinformation to keep Deerfield on its toes. Or at least to keep the 50 or so hardcore readers of his blog — "whack jobs," as he calls them — on their toes.
He figures he has some serious enemies and wants to confuse them.
If you read his blog, you get the idea that he is an arrogant, highly intelligent, profane, misanthropic, resourceful, and nihilistic fellow with a twisted sense of humor.
In reality, he's all of those things, in addition to being a born-again "flaming liberal," atheist, and gun enthusiast (he has a concealed-weapon permit and says he often walks around armed). But Stevens insists he shouldn't be taken too seriously.
"If you really take the time to study my writing, you would see that I have a particular bent of political satire of Saturday Night Live," he says. "I've always had this thing for politics, and I've always wanted to write."
Hence his blog, which actually seems more in-your-face than tongue-in-cheek, more Friday Night Fights than Saturday Night Live.
"I am arrogant, and that's because I'm usually right," he says. "It's hard not to be arrogant when you are measured against what is believed to be the intellectual elite of Deerfield Beach. People say I ruin lives. You know what I say? Don't break the fucking law."
For all his braggadocio, Stevens is a relative newcomer to local politics. The son of a former administrator at Holy Cross Hospital, he graduated from Deerfield High in 1982. He got a degree in applied mathematics at Florida Tech and has been working mostly in the software business ever since.
He says that in 2003, he and his longtime on-again, off-again girlfriend separated, and, approaching 40, he moved back into his parents' home in Deerfield.
It was there, in 2004, that he cooked up his first act of sedition.
While watching a City Commission meeting on cable TV, he saw that former commissioner Peggy Nolan voted on a pension plan for the city's firefighters. He knew her husband was a firefighter who would benefit from the vote.
"I thought, 'Fuck me, is that not nepotism right there?' " he recalls. "I got pissed off. So I got liquored up online, and I made these signs that said 'Anybody But Peggy' with what was like a Ghostbusters' symbol on it. Then I put my website address right on the sign. Why? I didn't want to do this anonymously."
He went out and plastered his signs up and down the street.
"Then I get a knock on the door," he says. "It's a deputy. 'Can you just do me a favor?' he asks me. 'Can you take them down? No harm, no foul.' I said sure."
Stevens says that when he got back from taking down his signs, there were two sheriff's cruisers in the driveway. "It's a big issue now," he says. "They say, 'We need to do an investigation. What's your Social Security?' "
But it wasn't over yet. A big black sedan rolled up to his house next.
"This guy gets out, and he's fuming," Stevens recounts. "I was about to laugh. It looked like his blood vessels were about to burst. He looks at me and says, 'Did you put these signs up?' "
He asked the man who he was.
"I'm City Manager Larry Deetjen," was the reply.
"Well, I'm with the Peggy Sucks Campaign. Now why don't you get out of my yard."
He says Deetjen calmed down a bit when Stevens' father, Jim, came out, because Deetjen knew the longtime Deerfield resident. But he told Stevens that he was taking the signs to the Zoning Board and that it was a $50 fine for every one he put up.
That was Stevens' maiden voyage into Deerfield politics. Deetjen, who was allied with Capellini, resigned amid controversy in 2006 after a series of scandals capped off by a racist outburst at an airport. (After that, Stevens took to calling the black sedan "Racist One").
Now Stevens is celebrating the demise of Capellini, who is facing a felony unlawful-compensation charge. The corruption charge involves an office building deal that I first reported on in 2006.
The truth is that State Attorney Michael Satz usually won't investigate public corruption without a citizen's complaint. Stevens filled that role — and all he did was write a quick letter with a New Times article attached.
"My letter was a lot more powerful than my one vote," Stevens says. "I voted Al Capellini out of office."
When people question how much credit he deserves, Stevens, who says he has an IQ "north of 140," counters: "The novice copies; the genius steals."
He again employs this maxim when explaining his role in Commissioner Gonot's downfall, which is full of intrigue and secrecy.
You might think Stevens would have been an ally of Gonot's given that they shared a common enemy in Capellini. Not so. Stevens went after Gonot just as hard, goading him on his blog by, among other things, calling him Shitbird. Not the highest level of political discourse, but it had its desired effect: Gonot railed against Stevens, saying he was sure his antagonist was crazy and possibly dangerous.
The Gonot camp responded by spreading information about Stevens, some of which he felt was privileged, including the make of his car. It dawned on him one day that Gonot's campaign manager, Brad Chalker, a community service aide for the Coconut Creek Police Department, must have been pulling law enforcement information up on him.
So Stevens complained to Coconut Creek City Manager John Kelly, who began an investigation and learned that Chalker had indeed pulled up Stevens' driver's license info. In addition, it was learned that Chalker had engaged in sex-related communications on his computer that the city deemed inappropriate. He was fired.
Chalker defends looking up Stevens' info. "I was concerned this guy was going to show up somewhere or knock on my door. I wanted to see his picture to see what he looked like if I did run into him. I didn't know what he was capable of, and if he was around me, I wanted to know it."
After damaging the Gonot camp with the Chalker firing, Stevens teamed up with Tauber, the Capellini loyalist who had led a failed effort to have Gonot recalled from office.
Tauber, who has described Stevens as "radioactive," doesn't like to talk about his involvement with bringing down Gonot. But Stevens doesn't mind.
He says Tauber began to email him information about Gonot's bank account and said the information was coming from a good source: Gonot's wife, Debbie, with whom the commissioner was going through a divorce.
"Debbie Gonot was passing the information to Chris Tauber, and he was ultimately getting it to me," Stevens says. "I never saw the bank records. Tauber told me he had seen the bank records. It was a BankAtlantic account, a joint account between Gonot and Debbie."
While Capellini's crime is standard political profiteering, Gonot's fall has the touch of Greek tragedy. Gonot's downfall likely began when he became romantically involved with one of his married friends and political supporters, Gerry Brown. That relationship led to divorces in both families, which in the case of Gonot was more bitter than most.
Had those bank records not surfaced, it's a safe bet that Gonot never would have been booked into the Broward County Jail on December 10.
"If he was still married with Debbie, would this have gone down? I don't know, but it makes you wonder," says Gonot's good friend, Chalker.
The bank records showed a deposit of about $5,000 going into his account and a similar amount going out to his divorce attorney. At the same time, Gonot had written a $5,100 check to an old friend, Joe DePrimo, from his campaign account.
Stevens called Christopher Pate, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and told him about the campaign check and what he had learned about the bank account. Pate pulled the records, what Stevens told him checked out, and he worked up a grand theft and official misconduct case against Gonot.
Although Gonot won't discuss the case publicly, he maintains his innocence and tells me he is going to fight the charges.
Stevens, meanwhile, is on top of the world, blogging away about his victories and considering his next move. He initially thought of running for mayor himself but decided against it.
"I am sort of, oh, what is the word I'm thinking of? Unelectable," he says. "They don't like guys who make fun of religion and drop the f bomb."
He says his dad might run for mayor. He's also tepidly backing commission candidate Bill Ganz, a political novice running for Gonot's seat. And he's intimating that, after helping to clean out two-fifths of the City Commission, he might try a kinder, gentler approach.
"Now I am challenging myself," he wrote in a recent blog post. "My buddy told me, 'What good are Superpowers if you use them for evil?' Evil, to this person, would be my continued scathing satirical attacks on the remaining bit players here in town. Therefore, in the coming days, weeks, and months you will start to see my writing undergo a transformative process. Less biting and more substantive. I aim to help the City."
Nice words, but I'm betting that the man who changed Deerfield will find it a lot harder to change himself.
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