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Captains Outrageous

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Three days later Tate grilled Marine Patrol officers Dave Bingham and Kevin McClure at Port Everglades. On November 7 the Office of Internal Investigations officially closed its inquiry into Bingham's and McClure's actions, concluding that "[T]here has been no testimonial or physical evidence provided to indicate either Bingham or McClure conspired with anyone to fraudulently cite Halprin for a marine violation."

Tate added: "Whether or not someone actually boarded Halprin's vessel and moved the valve into the open position is a question which cannot be answered inside the scope of this investigation."

A tape recording of Marine Patrol dispatch traffic confirms that the agency was tipped off by an anonymous caller. Tate describes in his report how "Halprin said his wife called the Florida Marine Patrol office in Miami and inquired as to how news of the citation made the Sun-Sentinel. She was told the newspaper called on the afternoon the citation was issued and asked about it. She then called the newspaper office and asked how they found out. She was told several messages had been left with the editor, but they would not disclose who called."

Hours after the story rolled off the presses, Halprin's customers' cars were leafleted with fliers bearing a photocopy of the news report and the slogan "Polluting Pompano's Reef Systems Should Not Be Supported by Anyone." Later in the day, yet another round of fliers appeared advertising three of Halprin's competitors -- the Miss Conduct, Under Pressure, and Total X-Es.

Five weeks earlier Barbara Halprin had written to Pompano Beach code enforcement officials complaining that the same three boats were parked on waterways behind private homes not owned by the commercial operators themselves and that the boats were picking up their customers at a public boat ramp near the Fourteenth Street Causeway.

"These three people mentioned -- along with several others -- have been physically threatening and harassing us over the past six weeks," Barbara Halprin wrote. "I believe that the city is enabling these 'thugs' by providing them the ability to virtually operate expense free."

The Halprins also wrote to the Federal Communications Commission and complained that a "gang" of half a dozen six-pack operators were hogging airtime on marine-band radio channel 18, normally reserved for commercial shipping dialogue.

"Their conversations rarely concern business and mainly address their past, present, and future alcohol and/or sexual binges," the letter claimed. "[W]e have attempted on numerous occasions to request their conversation move from channel 18 to a noncommercial channel. The result has been a series of both life and property damage threats...."

A review of several hours of tape-recorded radio traffic confirms the tenor of the conversations. Burns, the operator of the Diversity, acknowledges as much but downplays the significance. Captains have a lot of time to kill while their divers are in the water, he says.

"Stupid jokes, talking about blondes; it's talking shit, I admit," Burns notes. "Talking about, well, nothing. But Halprin started hearing references to himself in everything. The next thing I know, I get the tapes in the mail. Other things, too. After the Dolphins-Bills game, I got arrested for not paying a taxi driver. Big deal. But then somebody starts faxing the arrest report to all the dive shops."

When Joseph Fitzpatrick, a Pompano Beach police sergeant, suggested the Halprins install a tracing device on their home telephone, they did. They provided him a phone number from which an obscene call had been made, and Fitzpatrick says it led back to Randy Whitneck's cell phone.

"I called back and got him on the phone and talked to him about it," Fitzpatrick says. "He said he couldn't account for his cell phone at all times. How convenient.

"He said it got passed around at the Buccaneer Lounge one night, and some of the dive-boat captains might have used it. All the players were there. I tried to reach out to these guys and talk to them, because I thought we could handle it that way. Obviously it hasn't worked, and it's continued to escalate from there.

"As for Mike Halprin, he feels like he's being backed into a corner," Fitzpatrick adds. "When someone calls your wife and makes obscene comments, you can lose your objectivity. But you don't settle this like it's the O.K. Corral."

Halprin partisan and veteran diver Pico Cassada chalks up the feud to differing environmental philosophies -- and Halprin's stubborn temperament. "Most of these guys are just in it to make a living. Mike's in it to make a living, no question, but he has a totally different approach to the environment. And it's so far out from what most of these guys think -- primarily Randy Whitneck and Dave Earp. They just want to kill as many fish and lobsters as they can. Mike thinks they're raping the environment."

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Sean Rowe

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