Lecher's Little Helper
Attorney Mark Boyd got the call late on a Monday night a little more than a year ago. The pained voice on the other end of the line delivered distressing news. "Mark, I think I'm being blackmailed," said Michael Creedon. "They're asking for three hundred grand." According to court documents, Creedon explained how a man purporting to be a private investigator had scaled the fence surrounding his waterfront property, bypassed his snarling German shepherd, and interrupted his meat loaf dinner.
"Mike, there's a man at the door," Kristina Lewis, Creedon's buxom dinner companion, told him. Creedon eased from his favorite perch in front of the large-screen TV in the living room and hobbled to the door. A man stood there in the shadows like some cloak-and-dagger figure. "You're going to want to take a look at this," he said, handing him a slim typewritten packet. "I know the sheriff's office and the state attorney will be interested." Creedon leafed through the material. Laid out in professional prose under the heading "Investigation Summary" were all sorts of lurid allegations.
"The target of this investigation is Mr. Michael J. Creedon, a white male, approximately 60 years of age," he read. "The objective of the investigation is to ascertain the validity of allegations made, by concerned parties, regarding deviant sexual behavior and the illegal dispensing of controlled substances by Mr. Creedon." Creedon read on. Over nine pages of "findings," the report explained how he had purchased cocaine from a 26-year-old exotic dancer, how a 23-year-old married woman from Miami referred to him as "her sugar daddy," how he'd "on at least three separate occasions" had "sexual contact" with one 15-year-old girl, and how he'd paid another 15-year-old to expose herself. Creedon steadied himself. "What do you want?" he asked of the big man with the dirty-blond mustache who stood in the doorway.
"I think $350,000 might do the trick," the man said.
Mike Creedon had had trouble like this before. But the last time the Palm Beach Gardens resident was a victim of what might be called "legal extortion." Three years earlier a young woman who'd helped the old man around the house filed suit for sexual harassment. Creedon's attorney, Mark Boyd, was still fighting her off. Now Kristina Lewis had turned on him. Though she expressed concern after the mystery man had gone, Creedon saw right through it. Lewis had never been much of a liar. In any case the information in the report was far too accurate to have come from anywhere else. Lewis and the PI were trying to squeeze him.
Kristy Lewis and Mike Creedon had been an item off and on for almost three years. They'd met at Rick's Sports Bar in Jensen Beach, a raucous place where Lewis was a bartender. Creedon offered the 30-year-old mother of seven $10 an hour to come work for him helping out around the house and a great deal more money for "other services." She took him up on his offer.
Now, almost five years later, Creedon and Lewis are no longer on speaking terms. In the last two months, Lewis, her husband, and the phony PI have all pleaded guilty to charges they attempted to extort $300,000 from Michael Creedon and failed to report child abuse to the proper authorities. They got six months' probation and a bundle of legal fees for their trouble. Creedon too copped a plea, on felony charges he fondled a minor, but after a few months' legal supervision, he may have his record cleansed. The sexual shenanigans and botched extortion that landed them all in a legal pickle form the backdrop for a tale of sleaze and greed that cuts across class lines. Only Creedon and Paul Bellefeuille, the phony PI, would talk about the case. Despite guilty pleas both claim they are innocent. Bellefeuille claims legal fees inspired his plea. "I pled because I couldn't afford to fight it," he says. Creedon claims the extortion collapsed because it was baseless. "They had nothing to blackmail me with," he says. "Nothing happened."
Stacks of legal documents released to New Times tell a different story. They expose an immoral world in which a wealthy retiree wielded sympathy and cash to elicit sexual favors from low-income women hired as home health aides or housekeepers only to find himself the victim of a complex scheme to use the misfortunes of teenage girls for monetary gain.
The main characters in this story, Lewis and Creedon, could scarcely have come from more different worlds. Creedon is a retired entrepreneur who lives quietly at the far end of a dead-end street beyond a nautically themed gate draped in fishnets and guarded by pillars shaped like lighthouses. The lonely, divorced former IBM executive from Connecticut branched out on his own in the '70s and made a bundle with his company, PCL Financial, by anticipating the need for leased computers. He had a big house in Greenwich, belonged to the Stanwich Club, an exclusive Greenwich country club, and hung out with lawyers and businessmen.
Lewis is poorly educated and financially unstable. The working mother shares with five of her seven kids (the two oldest live with her first husband in Colorado) a drab, cream-colored house in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Jupiter, a place of crossing guards, basketball hoops in driveways, and careening kids on dirt bikes. Since moving to South Florida from Iowa in 1989, she's been a bartender and a waitress, sold hot dogs in a bikini by the side of the road, served drinks at seedy West Palm Beach strip clubs, even done secretarial work at a local law firm. Court documents reveal a woman hungry for opportunity -- drawn to South Florida by the abundance of new wealth. With so much money around, economic salvation always seemed right around the corner.
Creedon too came to Florida seeking salvation. A 1992 stroke partially paralyzed the left side of his body. He thought that South Florida would be the ideal place to recover from his ailments and have a little fun at the same time. But unlike so many of the area's gaudy nouveau riche, Creedon didn't believe living well in South Florida meant acquiring fancy cars and extravagant homes. In the last seven years, he's lived in three modest waterfront homes, favoring golf courses and guard gates over stuffed-shirt opulence.
Creedon's vices are mostly carnal. In his sexual pursuits, he's enjoyed slumming it, frequenting bars and strip clubs -- places like T's Lounge in West Palm Beach -- where he could find desperate, financially needy women like Kristina Lewis, who might be susceptible to his monetary charms. Surrounded by mirrors and red neon, Creedon enjoyed stuffing tens and twenties in the garters of naked young women who ground their knees into his groin and thrust their breasts in his face. He'd worked hard all his life -- didn't he deserve to have fun?
When Lewis met Creedon in the summer of 1995, her second marriage was on the rocks, and her financial situation was tenuous at best. At first she worked mornings, helping him start his day before heading out to work at the sports bar. Lewis would assist with mundane tasks his stroke had made difficult. She steadied him as he got into his bath, scrubbed his back, tied his shoelaces, helped him into his underwear. A number of young women performed similar chores for Creedon throughout the day. One was Nicole, a Jamaican woman he'd met at the Hooters near his house. The two of them would sometimes disappear into his bedroom for hours at a time. In a sworn statement, Creedon later explained how he'd pay her extra cash for manual and oral stimulation. And there was Anne Marie Hanson, a recent transplant from Canada he'd met at a West Palm Beach Kawasaki dealership when he was looking into a boat purchase. The 23-year-old told him she was a lingerie model trying to scrape together enough money to attend college in Miami. All she really wanted was to be a doctor. Creedon said he could help. Hanson's private "lingerie shows" became a frequent thrill.
For a while Creedon tried to keep his sexual escapades from Lewis, but he was growing steadily more comfortable around her. One day he volunteered a story. "This bitch is trying to get at my money," he said in frustration, explaining how Elizabeth Camacho, a community college student who once held the same position as Lewis, had a few years earlier filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. Among the litany of charges in Camacho's lawsuit was a claim that she'd contracted genital warts while in his employ from washing his soiled sheets. "That's ridiculous," Lewis told Creedon. Shortly thereafter Lewis began performing in lesbian sex shows for Creedon in the discreet privacy of his home. Not long after that Creedon and Lewis became considerably more intimate.
Although Lewis later reconciled with her husband, Matt, a hospital maintenance worker, she continued to see Creedon on a regular basis and even held her daughter's birthday party on the boat that's now moored outside his modest Palm Beach Gardens home. Against her better judgment, she seemed to be getting attached to the old guy or at least to his money, and she was growing increasingly frustrated by the parade of young women who passed through the house. In a deposition she explained how Creedon had promised to take care of her. "He told me he was going to pay my house off," she said. "Told me he was going to buy me a condo in Miami. Michael doesn't always live up to his end of the bargain." Instead, she said, he wasted money on other women. In the summer of 1996, hurt and angry, she phoned Joseph Manikko, Elizabeth Camacho's attorney in Stuart. "You're suing Michael Creedon, right?" she asked. "You want the real dirt on him? I'll give you what you're looking for."
When Creedon heard Lewis was trying to turn the tables on him, he approached her. "What's the problem, sweetie?" he asked, his voice tinged with reconciliation and regret. When he wasn't reaching for a breast or exposing his privates, Creedon could be a charming guy. Even more charming was his checkbook. "Why don't you go do that deposition and just tell them what a great guy I am," he said. "Be good and you'll get a nice Christmas present this year."
At the deposition on July 19, Lewis grew flustered, offering no incriminating information even when pressed by a visibly confused Manikko.
"So you don't have any information about this case?" he asked.
"I am not sure what information you are looking for," said Lewis.
"I asked you whether or not [Creedon] had any meetings with women that you were aware of," said Manikko.
"I don't know," she replied. "I am confused.... I don't know what happened because I wasn't there."
Christmas came early for Kristina Lewis that year. A few days after the deposition was concluded, she claims to have received in the mail a nice fat check for $5000. The money became the down payment on a new set of breasts.
The extortion seed was planted almost a year later, in the spring of 1997. A teenage couple from Lewis' neighborhood had come over to her house -- the guy lived across the street, the young girl baby-sat for Lewis sometimes. "You guys interested in making some extra money?" she asked. "There's this guy I work for, he's always looking for help around the house. He's got a big house and a boat, and he pays real well. The only thing is he's sometimes a little flirtatious."
The pair, referred to here as John and Jill to protect their innocence, signed on. John worked in the yard while Jill worked inside, cleaning around the house and clothing, feeding, and dispensing medication to Creedon. The first time Jill, age 15, showed up for work, Creedon seemed overjoyed to see her. In a bold welcome gesture, he planted a big, wet kiss on her cheek. Sometimes when she'd pass by, he'd pat her on the tush. One time, Jill explained to investigators, he offered her a few hundred dollars to shoot a porno movie with her boyfriend. On some occasions he'd offer her marijuana or cocaine, drugs she says he kept locked in a drawer in his bedroom. Jill said that, on the day she walked out for good, in late fall of 1997, Creedon cornered her while she was cleaning his boat and tried to yank off her pants.
Around the same time Jill was fighting off Creedon's advances, another 15-year-old from Lewis' neighborhood, Karla, started working for Michael Creedon. Karla had first met the man when she went over with Lewis to help clean out his garage. Karla had been thinking of getting a summer job at Wal-Mart or Walgreens. Lewis told her she could make more money if she went to work for Creedon. Karla was the bait. With a second young victim, prosecutors believe, Lewis hoped to raise the stakes on the extortion scheme that was already starting to take shape.
Karla started coming by after school, vacuuming and cooking and letting the dog out. She doled out a daily dose of pills from Creedon's box of medications, sometimes helped him put on his shoes. One time she brought him tea in bed. He was lying there, in frumpy shorts and a T-shirt, watching TV. "Why don't you sit a while and watch TV with me?" he asked. Karla sat on the end of the bed. Creedon reached in his pants and started moving his hand up and down. He took Karla's hand, and before she knew it, she was stroking him. This went on for a while and then abruptly stopped. At the end of the night, Creedon kissed Karla goodbye and gave her an extra $100. She took the money and never came back.
News of Creedon's advances sent Karla's mother into a rage. "I'll kill the son of a bitch," she told Lewis. "We've got to report him to the police." Lewis and her husband, Matt, tried to talk her down. "Don't worry, we've got a guy who's been collecting dirt on this guy," Lewis told her. "Why go to the police? Then your daughter's name will be in all of the papers. And with the lawyers he can afford, he'll get off anyway. Let's do this quietly. Let's hit him where it really hurts, in the wallet."
A few days later, Lewis went over to Jill's house. "I need you to write a statement explaining everything that happened at Michael's," she said. Jill's handwritten statement, in dry and unemotional prose, provides a teen's view of what took place at Creedon's house in the summer of 1997. "When I was putting sheets on the bed he asked me to show him my ass," she writes. "I finished that day, got paid, [was] offered cocaine and pills. I said no. He kissed me and I left." On another day, she writes, "he grabbed my ass and told me he wanted me to give him head. I said no, got paid, and said goodbye."
That statement, and a similar one composed by Karla, became the basis for the "investigation summary" delivered to Creedon's door on December 8.
Not long ago Paul Malcolm Bellefeuille, the stocky man with the big beer gut who lingered in the shadows on Creedon's doorstep, leaned back on a wooden bench outside Cloudancers, the pilot's shop he operates at Lantana Airport. "This whole thing's been blown out of proportion," he said, defending his actions. "There was no extortion. We had decided to turn him in but to do it anonymously. That's why we did up the report. This was just a case of a bunch of people trying to do the right thing the wrong way."
Bellefeuille, an aerial cowboy who flew loads of marijuana out of Jamaica in the early '80s and served three years in prison on drug-smuggling charges, seems hardly the do-gooder he pretends to be. The pilot befriended Lewis and her husband a few years ago after Bellefeuille's ex-girlfriend introduced them. They often played cards at each other's home. It was during one such card game that Lewis told Bellefeuille about the lecherous old man who'd been fondling neighborhood teens. Bellefeuille remembered he had an old report stashed in a drawer somewhere that might help them nail the guy. He fished out the document, an "investigation summary" prepared by a private investigator hired years ago by the second of Bellefeuille's four wives around the time of their divorce. Bellefeuille decided to use the report as the model for the document that would soon make them all rich. "You drink a couple of beers, this makes sense," he later explained, claiming the report, rather than being an extortion tool, was merely a means of spooking the old man.
Bellefeuille sat down at the computer and, with Lewis looking over his shoulder, went to work. In the report Bellefeuille claimed to have video surveillance and photographs of Creedon in the act. (He had neither.) He wrote about Nicole, and Anne Marie Hanson, and, for good measure, Kristina Lewis. He claimed to have observed Karla and Jill entering and leaving the property. The last page of the report listed the addresses of the state attorney's office, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, TV and newspaper reporters, and management at the Stanwich Club and a country club in Palm Beach Gardens. The message was clear.
Lewis and Bellefeuille agreed they had to get the girls and their parents involved in order for the scheme to work. They met Karla's mother at a restaurant in Juno Beach. They said lawyers on both sides were talking, that they were working to get her some money, that none of this would have to go to court. Karla and her mother, it was agreed, would get $25,000. No mention was made of the $350,000 total. Prosecutors later informed Karla's mother that Lewis had intended to get three times more than that for herself and that Bellefeuille and Dominick Amento, a lawyer friend of his who'd gotten involved, would get far more than that.
"In other words my daughter and I have been scammed?" she asked the investigator from the state attorney's office shortly after the whole scheme had unraveled. "Scammed and promised money so that your daughter wouldn't report the fact that she'd been sexually abused by a man who was, in a way, also set up," came the reply. "They were throwing you dog bones."
Jill too was approached. Initially Lewis told her they could leave her dad out of it. If she kept it real quiet, she could walk away with $500 or $1000. That number increased dramatically, to $15,000, after Lewis decided it would be a better idea to get Jill's father involved. Investigators believe neither family had any idea what was really going on. "This whole thing was presented as a sort of package deal," says Palm Beach County Chief Assistant State Attorney Paul Zacks. "They were told to sign at the X and they'd get a certain amount of money. They were convinced it was the only option."
In the end the numbers bandied about amounted to little more than false promises. The scheme came apart as quickly as it had come together. Lewis and Bellefeuille vastly underestimated the man who seemed so clearly in their sights. Rather than pay to bury the whole sordid affair, Creedon, within hours of realizing he was being blackmailed, phoned his attorney. Mark Boyd contacted a colleague, prominent Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney David Bogenschutz, who called an old friend, Chief Assistant State Attorney Paul Zacks, who told him he could work some sort of deal if Creedon came clean. "I really, really screwed up by underestimating this son of a bitch," Bellefeuille later told investigators.
On Christmas Eve it became clear that Mike Creedon was not playing around. Someone from the Florida Department of Children and Family Services came to Lewis' home and threatened to take away her children. An anonymous caller had reported her children were abused and neglected. Lewis was able to stave off the investigator, though not long after that Lewis, her husband, Bellefeuille, and Amento, were all arrested, charged with attempted extortion and failure to report child abuse. Creedon too was taken into custody. All five posted bail, and in the end only Amento decided to fight the charges. Though none of his accomplices wound up getting any jail time, a guilty plea would mean disbarment. His trial is expected to begin in May. "There were at least six people who could have gone to the police about Creedon," says Zacks. "The irony is that nothing came out until Creedon himself came forward."
For his part Creedon says he's disappointed his tormenters got off so easy. Reached by telephone late last month at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, he expressed relief that the whole thing is finally over. Pressed to explain himself, Creedon claimed he never fondled Jill or Karla, though he told investigators a very different story when questioned in December 1997.
"Did anything occur with either one of these two girls of a sexual nature?" he had been asked.
"Yeah, with [Karla] it did," he replied. "One morning I got up 'cause she was helping me get dressed for the day, and I got an erection and I asked her to play with me." Creedon also told investigators Jill had offered to make love with her boyfriend and let him watch.
"And did they do that?" the investigator asked.
"No, no.... I wasn't interested in that..., but Kristina said that she would do a girl-on-girl show with [Jill]."
"And did that occur?"
"Yeah, that occurred."
Creedon still has a staff of four or five who attend to him in his waking hours. "I'm much more careful who I deal with now," he said, explaining how he has had his lawyers run background checks on all of the women in his employ. "That whole thing was a scary experience," he said. "I never would have paid them, though. If you pay once, you wind up paying for the rest of your life."
Contact Jay Cheshes at his e-mail address: Jay_Cheshes@newtimesbpb.com
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