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Letters for February 7, 2002

WorldWide response: Bob Norman's January 24 column on "Betty" the whistleblower and her accusations against WorldWide Security ignored most of my comments to your reporter and leaves a distorted picture of the situation.

Allow me to reiterate the key points that your reporter conveniently omitted. The article omits my statements that WorldWide has done nothing wrong, welcomes a review of these unfounded allegations, and is cooperating fully. No one ordered "Betty" to sign off on incomplete checks as being completed, and at the end of the investigation, the authorities will conclude that no evidence exists to bring any charges against WorldWide.

"Betty" was fired not because of the dismissed misdemeanor domestic assault mentioned in the story but because her criminal background check revealed a separate 1998 conviction for disorderly conduct. A week after she was fired, she told authorities she falsified forms and made other alarming accusations against the company.

We don't blame authorities for taking any falsification allegation seriously. Airport security is an extremely serious matter, and that is why we are pleased to cooperate and resolve this matter. Nevertheless, your reporter's conclusion that WorldWide should be "put out of the airport security business" based on the allegations of a single disgruntled ex-employee who was fired because she concealed her criminal record is totally irresponsible and contrary to every notion of fair journalism.

Martin R. Raskin
Counsel for WorldWide Security
Miami

An attorney wronged: The headline of Ashley Fantz's January 10 story, "Drug Holiday," asked whether Gary Steinsmith, hospitalized and ill for depression, might have had people taking advantage of him. The truth is that, in fact, he was on the verge of having people take extraordinary advantage of him, and as his friend and colleague, for almost 15 years, I stepped in and put an abrupt end to it.

I don't need any rewards for doing what I was paid to do as a professional or obligated to do as a friend. I don't need to be made a hero. But I have been wrongly castigated, criticized, and humiliated, when I should have been appreciated, congratulated, and thanked. Gary knows the truth. Gary has done the latter. And it was to him I owed a duty and service, not your newspaper.

First and foremost, I met or spoke with doctors at psychiatric and psychological facilities to determine if there was long or short-term care available. I talked with clinicians at CenterOne, Broward House, and numerous AIDS support facilities. I spoke with the hospital administrators at Fort Lauderdale Hospital, Drs. Beniak and Sladkin, even my brother, a psychologist for 20 years.

I also contacted private units that could cater residentially to high-end clients and spoke with representatives at Atlantic Shores Hospital, the Retreat, High Point, the Beachcomber, and other locales that might service Gary and dual-diagnostic patients. I advised County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren of the paucity of service agencies treating the mentally ill as compared to those with drug-dependency problems. We also sought out-of-state long-term care for Gary upon his release.

I contacted Gary's private counselor for the past four years, who was unaware that Gary was hospitalized, and hired him to see Gary in the hospital and prepare a report for the court about his condition.

I reported all this to Judge Lerner-Wren in open court, and I sought and retrieved a court order allowing me to enter Gary's home to recover the gun he might have stored there. For a while, I was doing so much for Gary that Judge Lerner-Wren even chastised me for meddling and trying to get too many doctors and treatment professionals involved. "Let the system work," she admonished me. "We are experienced at this." Indeed, she taught me much about our community's mental health needs. For a person to be involuntarily committed, he or she has to be evaluated by three psychiatrists, and a petition has to be filed, usually by a family member. Therefore, I met with Gary's mother and had her speak to two attorneys, one of whom was particularly respected in the field of guardianship, a former judicial candidate, Alice Reiter Feld. Another was a female attorney who does probate. I did not act alone in the dark of night. I sought out counsel to resolve a crisis.

Toward ending that process, at Gary's request, I went to his home and retrieved his bills, which he had let linger, to put it mildly. There were abusive credit-card charges on a number of accounts, and Gary further advised that he had lost over $10,000 worth of jewelry and his credit cards in a Yellow Cab.

With the aid of attorney Dean Trantalis, I recovered the jewelry, which Gary never should have bought in the first place. But we never recovered the credit cards. So I methodically wrote to each of the credit-card companies and asked that all his charges following November 1, the date of his first Fort Lauderdale arrest, be reviewed, redacted, or declined. Some of those companies had even written to Gary expressing their concern over irrational billings. He had not responded to any of those letters. Someone had to.

 

While in the hospital, Gary agreed that it would be a wise step to have someone help him, and he authored a document naming Dean Trantalis and me as co-power of attorney for him. I thought it wise to have another attorney, one whom Gary had a previous relationship with, on board, monitoring each step I took for Gary, just to cover myself each step of the way.

I did everything right by Gary from the start. I protected his assets and took steps to preserve his health. My reward was to read a story that crudely intimates and falsely implies that from the outset, my aim was to screw him and take advantage of him. That makes your story's tenor totally untrue, wholly unfair, and unequivocally unacceptable.

Norm Kent
Fort Lauderdale

Editor's note: Following publication of "Drug Holiday," Kent -- who had declined to speak with New Times previously because of attorney-client privilege -- clarified how $25,000 of Steinsmith's money was spent. According to a breakdown provided by Kent and confirmed by canceled checks, Kent used the money to pay for utilities, credit-card bills, and other costs. More than $7000 was returned to Steinsmith. New Times withdraws any implication that Kent took advantage of Steinsmith in the matter and regrets the error.

Tabloid tales: In regard to Ashley Fantz's January 10 story, "Drug Holiday": I have been a friend and fellow political and AIDS activist with Gary Steinsmith for at least 11 years. In 1991, when Gary was suffering from a "nervous condition," I (at Gary's request) joined Steven Halpern in a major campaign that led to saving CenterOne. Neither Steven nor I would have given so very much time, effort, or assets had we not been inspired by our small-statured giant -- Gary Steinsmith. This is but one of many, many examples of heroic leadership efforts generated by the charismatic, intelligent gentleman.

That "Fell from Grace Long Ago" front-page drivel is naturally not attributed. I guess it is what you call a teaser, right up there with other meaningless tabloid headlines touting sex with aliens, sex with Elvis, and/or sex with an alien Elvis! It is blatantly untrue and, since unattributed, difficult to defend. It reminds me of that poor guy who said, "Where do I go to get my reputation back?"

Never did Gary fall from grace! At a point in time, Gary and his doctors determined that his efforts on behalf of AIDS causes, Democratic politics, and the GLBT community's civil rights were detrimental to his health. At that time, Gary gracefully bowed out of his leadership roles yet continued to be available for advice and support as needed by his community.

I have lost perhaps 20-plus good friends to early death via AIDS or its precursor, suicide. Who prepared anyone of my generation or the next to begin burying friends in their 20s or 30s? Of course, most if not all of us who cared now suffer significant mental health problems including major depression and anxiety. Why should we expect Gary, a leader of many, to be immune? Why do his current problems justify news stories and headlines demeaning both the man and his accomplishments?

Headlines should be reserved for real scandals, e.g. "Governor Bush Slashes Services for Homebound People with AIDS." Last year, Jeb cut $5 million in services for the sickest of the sick. He cut such things as home pest control, housekeeping, physical therapy, and food! Before Jeb's cut, end-stage AIDS patients received cooked meals seven days per week; under his new plan, meals are provided only six days a week! I often imagine an emaciated AIDS patient with roaches crawling over his dinner plate six days a week and, on the seventh, only roaches on his plate!

Forcing the dying from the dignity of their own homes and the company of their loved ones into sterile and much more expensive hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes does not save taxpayers money. It is a $5 million fraud, a "false economy." Were Gary Steinsmith able, this is the sort of headline he would want to get out to the public; this is the area where he would encourage activism. He would sound the clarion call, encouraging his friends and others to rush to join PWAC, ACT-UP, and the Democratic Party in their efforts to not only preserve current levels of funding in the next state budget but to restore these hideous cuts from last year.

 

Please, Gary Steinsmith did not fall from grace long ago. Nor has he fallen from grace now. He is a wounded combatant in the war against AIDS and AIDS apathy -- deserving of, at least, the Purple Heart!

Gretchen L. Hasselkus
Fort Lauderdale

Lovin' Gary: I'm so sad to read of the hell that the wonderful Gary Steinsmith has been through. Those of us in the HIV/AIDS-infected community know all too well, after years of putting thousands of closely time-monitored pills into our bodies day after day, how tiresome and discouraging it becomes. I know many people who have taken breaks from their meds, including antidepressants that have been prescribed for chemical imbalances caused by the overwhelming side effects the meds cause to our systems. Often, the "cure" is worse than the virus.

I am so dismayed at the way that CenterOne and Broward House handled his case but not at all surprised. CenterOne has gone from being a grassroots-oriented social service to a poorly run business. Programs and services have been slashed while the folks running it make tidy salaries. Gone are the activist days when Gary spearheaded the "Love Campaign" for CenterOne, collecting money and handing out heart stickers at gay bars and events. Gone is the covert disbursing of black-market antivirals to people with no income or insurance. And gone are the pats on the back to our long-time leaders in the fight against AIDS.

Gary, there are lots of us who remember what you've done for us and are eternally grateful. And love you very much.

Name withheld by request
via the Internet


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