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In the Name of Mr. Burns

Any similarities or likenesses are purely coincidental.

Hamilton Forman is Fort Lauderdale's equivalent to Mr. Burns on The Simpsons: a multimillionaire with so much power and wealth that he sometimes seems to believe he owns his fair city. Forman bought Broward County land early and often, from downtown Fort Lauderdale to the western cities; he is the patriarch of the county's premier land-owning aristocracy.

He's also an elder who started a religious school at the First Christian Church of Fort Lauderdale at 201 SE 13th St. At the September 20 meeting of Fort Lauderdale's Planning and Right of Way Committee, Forman demanded approval to turn part of the median outside the church into a parking lot. He even offered to pay to do it.

Forman had for years been using the green space as an illegal parking lot. Despite no-parking signs and two wooden barriers intended to keep cars out, ol' Mr. Burns found a way. He even admits it.

Forman simply destroyed the attractive barriers to make way for his fellow churchgoers, he told the committee. "The first time [the city] put some in front of the church, I went out and got a sledgehammer and knocked 'em down."

It's right there on tape: Mr. Burns admitting to willfully and maliciously destroying municipal property. Yikes!

"Can you imagine what would happen if you or I destroyed city property?" asks Cal Deal, a former Sun-Sentinel editor who lives in the neighborhood and opposed Forman's new parking lot.

Tailpipe certainly can imagine: fines, criminal charges, maybe even a nasty phone call from Mr. Nice Guy -- Mayor Jim Naugle. But Forman went unpunished.

In the end, with his parking lot already under construction and permits unlikely to be revoked, Mr. Burns walked out of City Hall, satisfied and influential.

"God was on his side, I guess," Deal said.

Bush-Colored Glasses

The strangest moment of last week's presidential debate at the University of Miami came when George W. Bush told a disjointed tale about Missy, the wife of a dead soldier who visited him at the White House. "You know, it's hard work to try to love her the best I can, knowing full well that the decision I made caused her loved one to be in harm's way," the president uttered.

Now, that's what you call making a play for the women's vote. And the unsettling Freudian slip actually fit in nicely with the rest of Dubya's eye-batting, scowling, stammering, smirking, embattled, half-paranoid, and all-around weird performance. Bush managed to freak out the voters, 70 percent of whom declared John Kerry the winner in Internet polls (including one in the Sun-Sentinel). Even the right-wing demagogues at Fox and conservative Joe Scarborough of MSNBC had to admit Bush seemed a thimbleful of anthrax short of a WMD.

But you wouldn't have known it if you relied on Friday's coverage in our esteemed local newspapers. The political experts at the corporate ink dungeons of the Miami Herald and the Sentinel were blissfully unaware of our president's skittish demeanor.

"If the [debate] accomplished one thing, it was to dispel hopes from either camp for a clear victory," wrote Herald staffer Frank Davies, who must have drunk from the same punch bowl as Bush. The Sentinel wasn't much better, with its description of two equally "resolute and determined" opponents. Maybe the Herald was relying too much on the panel of "undecided" voters it had assembled with WFOR-TV (Channel 4). Among this clear-eyed group was Ted Lyons, a 56-year-old Republican. He listened to 90 minutes of Bush-Kerry exchanges, then opined that the Democrat sounded like "an idiot." Bush would be his man, he decided. "You don't change horses in the middle of a stream," Lyons said.

Tailpipe then skimmed down to the end of the Herald story, to a list of the members' names and professions. Who's Lyons? A "political consultant." Say what? If Lyons' inclusion wasn't an ingredient in a pro-Bush stew, then Tailpipe ain't blowin' high-grade carbon monoxide.

Cop-to-pus

Tailpipe loves the Broward Sheriff's Office. Those white, green, and gold cruisers spit some of the best exhaust this side of a ten-ton diesel tanker.

And the 'Pipe admires Alan Silva, the former Fort Lauderdale city manager who volunteered for the unpleasant job of running Broward County's most poorly run city.

But the plan that Silva presented last month to La-de-da commissioners to hand over police services to BSO is crap, crap, crap, crap. The drawing (below, left) of Silva in bed with Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne that was displayed outside the meeting may be a little puerile. But it was hard on -- um, make that right on.

Oh, yeah. Silva called the BSO deal "a journey of a thousand miles [that starts] with but a single step" in his September 21 memo to commissioners. That's damn poetic. And he did some pretty fancy math to back up his claim.

 

But, let's remember, the state attorney is investigating BSO for fixing its crime numbers -- likely in an effort to impress the public. And there have been other scandals, from coerced confessions to DNA madness.

There's another numbers scandal that troubles this tube. BSO, "the nation's largest accredited Sheriff's Department," according to its website, has been "merging" with city police forces since 1977. Parkland and Cooper City are the latest two to be picked up this year. Overall, BSO has taken over 13 cities.

Take a close look at the BSO budget, which breaks out the costs for various cities, and you see that some pay a lot more than others. North Lauderdale, Southwest Ranches, and Dania Beach shell out the most per FTE -- BSO's "full-time equivalent" of a city cop -- $90,000 to $95,000 per year. The cheapest is Deerfield Beach at $51,000 per FTE.

"It's all about politics," Dania Commissioner Bob Mikes says. He notes that both that city's mayor, Bob Anton, and its manager, Ivan Pato, are former BSO employees. "Things are stacked so that we don't get the best deal."

Only on Sun-Days

Speaking of BSO, the deaths of a Boynton Beach couple on September 25 as Hurricane Jeanne loomed off the Treasure Coast left some big questions. What caused Donald and Leaber Hamlet Rogers' SUV to veer off Sawgrass Expressway in Coconut Creek and into the murky canal waters that drowned them? We'll probably never know. But then there's this: Why did the BSO wait until the next morning to send in a dive team to look for survivors?

BSO spokesman Hugh Graf told the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald that weather conditions were too hazardous late Saturday afternoon -- as the winds of Hurricane Jeanne blew through -- for the dive team (or presumably any other investigators) to search the area. But the 'cane only grazed Broward County, and the worst of it hit hours after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper discovered the skid marks left by the SUV. Indeed, the National Weather Service's Pompano Beach monitoring station, the closest to Coconut Creek, reported sustained winds of only 32 mph and gusts up to 39 mph at 6 p.m. -- hardly the kind of severe conditions that should keep experienced rescuers from doing their jobs. Those readings didn't change much until past 11 p.m. In the wake of Jeanne, the Sentinel reported that Coconut Creek had no "major damage or debris reported."

Graf refused to elaborate for the 'Pipe on how BSO decided not to respond, nor would he explain its policy in such cases. He referred all questions to the Florida Highway Patrol. Lt. Pat Santangelo of the troopers checked the tapes. BSO told the Highway Patrol that it didn't have divers available and that, besides, the Medical Examiner's Office was closed, so there was no place to take bodies, Santangelo says.

Tailpipe feels plenty protected and served by BSO as long as the sun is shining. If some wind and rain pops up? All bets are off.

Business Grind

Tailpipe got the e-mail a few weeks ago. Michael Curran, an Irishman living in Merida, Mexico, set up a website (www.espressoitalia.org) claiming that Boynton Beach company Espresso Italia was a...

"Fraud!, Fraud!, Fraud!, Fraud!, Fraud!, Fraud!, Fraud!"

Espresso Italia sells coffee distributorships that include ten to 12 self-contained espresso machines and exclusive market rights for roughly $20,000. The distributors then place the machines in hotel lobbies and other high-traffic areas where they can reap the profits. Currently, the company has about 1,500 distributors. In 2002, it made $2.2 million in sales and turned a profit of roughly $500,000, according to court records.

Last September, Curran paid the initial $20,000 and became the company's first distributor in Mexico. "They said I could make a lot of money," Curran says. He never made a peso.

The South Florida company reneged on its agreement to pay the $4,000 Mexican import taxes, Curran claims, and also failed to provide a certificate of origin for the coffee. Finally, the Mexican government sent back the coffeemakers. After Curran asked for a refund, he recalls being told by a company official: "I know other people that have invested more money, and they lost everything."

Sour grapes over a failed business opportunity? Maybe. But Espresso Italia has been in trouble in the past.

The Federal Trade Commission in 2002 filed a lawsuit alleging that the company violated U.S. franchise rules by not providing documentary support for the enormous profits it advertised. Espresso Italia claimed that 40 of the machines generated more than $100,000 per year, according to the government complaint. The FTC eventually settled the suit after Espresso Italia agreed to be nice and play by the rules. Six months later, the State of Washington issued a cease-and-desist order after finding that the firm violated that state's laws by not providing financial information to potential distributors.

 

Of course, not every Espresso Italia distributor has complaints. "Personally speaking, I have no issues with the company," says Linda Reissman, who operates 30 profitable espresso machines in New York City.

Espresso Italia officials wouldn't comment to the 'Pipe about Curran's claims or previous legal troubles. Managing director Richard Sciacchetano said a company lawyer would fax a comment. It never came. Sciacchetano was hardly pleased by the 'Pipe's questions. "I think we advertise in your paper," he offered. "Be careful what you write."

-- As told to Edmund Newton


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