The Dirty Dozen of 2007
You might lose a bet if you claimed there were more liars, cheats, hypocrites, and mackerel-reekin' wrongdoers in Broward and Palm Beach counties than in any other metropolitan area in the country — but not by much. We've got 'em big-time, and New Times lives to expose 'em. Part of the fun is that even run-of-the-mill scoundrels stand out around here, thanks to their always-fascinating sense of entitlement. It's the attitude that says "I can do no wrong, because — well, because it's me." It's so SoFla!
To make New Times' Annual Dirty Dozen, then, you have to be pretty special: real swell villains. This year's standouts include a national talk-show host, two well-known sports figures, a college president, a mayor, a couple of commissioners, a fallen sheriff, a city official, and our own three-judge kangaroo court. For your pleasure, we've also rated them on our special Dirt Meter from one to ten, from mere malefactor to monster.
Nick Saban — We can't lay all the blame on him for the Miami Dolphins' season, but Saban certainly gets a big share. He blew into town two and a half years ago as an anointed savior, then abruptly departed, leaving the once-hallowed football franchise in shambles. Saban repeatedly promised at the end of 2006 that he would return as head coach — presumably to right the ship he pushed off course — while denying claims that he'd leave to coach Alabama. Then, under the cover of night, he left to coach Alabama. Of course, if all Saban had done was wreck one of the winningest teams in history, maybe he wouldn't make this hall of shame. But in November, he added veterans and widows to the list of those he's insulted. After a loss to an unranked college, the first-year Crimson coach — who pulls in a cool $4 million a year — called the game a catastrophe. Then he reached for some comparisons. "Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event," he told reporters. "It may be 9/11, which sort of changed the spirit of America... Pearl Harbor got us ready for World War II or whatever, and that was a catastrophic event." DM reading: 6 (A mealy-mouthed coach reaching for excuses.)
Ray Ferrero Jr. — We send our young ones off to university in the hope that those institutions will help them build character by teaching them important life lessons. Maybe they'll come out with a sense of fairness and justice. But at Nova Southeastern University, the young'uns are learning about the bottom line and how to trample the weak on their way to the top. Apparently, saying union in Nova president Ferrero's presence is like shouting fire in a crowded theater. When janitorial workers at Nova embarked on a union drive, he coldly switched janitorial contractors. All right, so Nova don't like no unions. That's understood. But Ferrero could have saved the jobs of more than 100 low-wage workers who were pushed out during the switch, and he didn't. These were the people who emptied his garbage pails, swept his floors, even cleaned his toilets. To Ferrero, they were sort of like crumbs that fall on the floor, to be swept up and dropped in a trash bin somewhere. DM reading: 8 (Classic corporate suit.)
Jeffrey Loria — By the end of 2006, Loria had a team that a lot of franchise owners could only dream of. He had the National League manager of the year, Joe Girardi. He had a fiery, young left-hander, one of the most charismatic and feared pitchers in baseball, Dontrelle Willis. And he had Miguel Cabrera, possibly the best third baseman in the majors. The team, with All Star- and World Series-winning experience, was supposed to make another run at the championship. Best of all, they had all this potential combined with the lowest salary nut in the game: $15 million (which is about what A-Rod makes every six months). But since then, Loria and his minions sold off just about every valuable asset the Marlins had, casting championship pieces to the wind. Days before Girardi was announced as manager of the year, Loria fired him (apparently because Girardi asked his boss to stop screaming at umpires). Then the Marlins sent Willis and Cabrera to Detroit for prospects. The total salary for the team now is just $10 million. And once again Loria — who has now made this list three years in a row — has proved that the Marlins are just a farm system for the big boys. DM reading: 6 (Hey, he owns those guys.)
Ken Jenne — Tragic demise? Maybe. But former Broward County Sheriff Jenne should have known better. Jenne was recently sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for tax evasion and conspiring to commit mail fraud. Before that, by most accounts, he was the most powerful politician in Broward, and the details of his case show a familiar pattern of heedlessness at the top. As sheriff, Jenne accepted financial favors, covered up shady business dealings by using his secretary to front for him, and used his office to dig up business opportunities. He also raked in money that he never declared as income in tax filings. Maybe this is just business as usual, capitalism in action, and no big deal — but shouldn't the county's top law enforcement officer be held to a higher-than-usual ethical standard? "In a way, Jenne's long tenure as a public official and the familiarity that tenure gave him with the laws governing such officials makes his transgressions worse," said the prosecutor in his case. "As a longtime public official, Jenne of all people should know the importance of being above reproach.'' DM reading: 8 (Give him points for contrition.)
Jim Naugle — It was a year of rampant foot-in-mouthness for the longtime Fort Lauderdale mayor, beginning with wild charges about the city needing to protect itself against homosexual mashers who use public restrooms for trysts. The city needed a $250,000, sex-proof beach restroom, Naugle said. He went on to characterize homosexuals as not "gay" but "unhappy." Not satisfied with the stir that created, he called a news conference to make an apology — and promptly apologized for underestimating the severity of the problem of gays hooking up in public bathrooms, noting a growth of HIV infections in Broward County. The result was big demonstrations against Naugle at City Hall by irate gay groups and complaints from representatives of the tourism industry that he was alienating some of Fort Lauderdale's best-heeled visitors. DM reading: 6 (Neanderthal grandstander.)
Fitzroy Salesman — The Miramar commissioner got agitated in a local Winn Dixie in November and pulled out a .45, shouting, "Do you know who I am? I will shut this bitch down." Salesman is the Dirty Dozen's own Dirty Harry, a hard-living gunslinger who happens to be a real-life player in the South Florida political scene. He narrowly kept his seat on the Miramar commission when he was acquitted on a drunken-driving charge in 2006. He's also a chum of County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, who can count on Salesman to support marginally shady deals like a proposed Miramar contract with a waste management company for whom Eggelletion was a lobbyist. Salesman dutifully leaped to support that cause, even though the contract was voted down by the rest of the Miramar City Commission. You'd think that flashing a .45 in a supermarket might end a political career. That may happen now that the state attorney is bringing aggravated-assault charges against Salesman, with a possible mandatory three-year minimum jail sentence. DM reading: 7 (Take that gun away.)
Rush Limbaugh — He's bloviator numero uno, selected here not for his relentless drumming for the Bush party line but for the lies he spreads about global warming: It's all an invention of "environmental wackos," Limbaugh tells his 12 million weekly listeners, despite scientific proof to the contrary. When Charlee Lockwood, an 18-year-old Yup'ik Eskimo from Alaska, told a congressional committee that climate change had pushed moose far away northward, decimated fish at her family's fish camp, and reduced wild berries, Limbaugh said her account made him "really want to puke. I just want to throw up." Testimony like Lockwood's, he said, was just Democrats "exploiting a young child" in order to "grow the size of the government and increase their control over everyone." Lockwood, undismayed, said global warming threatened her and her people's traditional way of life. DM reading: 10 (Promoter of the big, dangerous lie.)
James Baker — Dania Beach water treatment plant supervisor James Baker almost single-handedly tried to resurrect Jim Crow rules in his city department, segregating black employees in a separate bathroom, relegating them to behind-the-building parking spots, and displaying a Confederate flag in his office. It was "you people" when he addressed black employees. Of course, Baker didn't get fired by the city for all of this. He got sensitivity training. DM reading: 7 (Where are his supervisors?)
Stacy Ritter — The two-headed political creature known as Ritter/Klenet — for County Commissioner Stacy Ritter and her husband, lobbyist Russ Klenet — is a force to contend with when vying for county business. It works something like this: As a commissioner, Ritter helps to steer public business to certain companies (and sometimes even votes for them); Klenet and/or his lobbying firm represent companies that profit from those contracts. Two companies that come to mind are URS Corp., the construction contractor overseeing projects at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, and Vista Health Plan, which provides health services to the county. Both had links to lobbying firms that Klenet worked for. Both were favored by Ritter for lucrative county contracts. But, hey, who's worried? This is Broward. DM reading: 9 (Shocking shenanigans.)
Michael Gates — He sent Donald Baker to jail in 2004 based largely on evidence from a jury-rigged video, purportedly showing Baker assaulting a deputy in a jailhouse incident in 2003. The video had mysterious lapses, Baker complained, so it failed to show how deputies were actually assaulting him. Circuit Court Judge Gates clucked his tongue, invited Baker to appeal, and then sent the hapless Hollywood man to cool his heels in jail for five years. Granted, this is what happens every day to defendants who can't afford a dream team at the defense table. But presented with evidence that stank to high heaven, Gates' indifference here is extraordinary. Oh yeah: Gates let Baker out in November, almost three years into his sentence, on the condition that Baker give up his right to appeal, among other things. True, the heartless system chews up hapless folks such as Baker and spits them out like used-up gum. But it's the Judge Gateses who keep the grinders grinding. DM reading: 8 (Unprotesting injustice cog.)
Larry Seidlin — For a few weeks last year, Seidlin controlled the fate of the corpse of Anna Nicole Smith, a situation that could move him to tears. But the sentimental judge apparently has a flipside: a lust for material things. And it gets ugly sometimes. New Times' Bob Norman revealed that Seidlin allegedly used his seat on the bench to extract gifts (including an expensive Louis Vuitton purse for Mrs. Seidlin) from at least one lawyer representing clients in his courtroom. He also allegedly wheedled big bucks out of an elderly widow in his Fort Lauderdale apartment building, including tuition payments for his daughter's private school and a discount on the price of an apartment the old lady owned. Seidlin retired from the bench last summer. Now he's supposedly up for one of those whimsical TV judge shows. He's also reportedly under investigation by the State Attorney's Office. DM reading: 7 (Just another petty chiseler.)
Cheryl Aleman — If you've read Alice in Wonderland, you'll recognize Broward Circuit Court Judge Aleman. She's the imperious Queen of Hearts who shouts "Off with her head!" Aleman apparently would love to lop the heads off many of the lawyers and defendants who come to her court. We've met her before, of course: In July 2003, she refused to give early release to a nonviolent drug offender who was dying of AIDS. A number of her decisions have been overturned by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, including one in which she ruled that children be removed from a low-income family after the parents came late to a hearing because they had to rely on unreliable public transportation. Aleman was recently summoned before the state Judicial Qualifications Commission after defense attorneys complained that she unfairly threatened to bring contempt charges against them and to jail them. DM reading: 9 (Way too biased to be a judge.)
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