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Car Dealer Rick Case Is Pressing Charges Against a TSA Officer Over a $450 Pen

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Shortly afterward, Puddie arrived for his part-time afternoon shift, parking at the top floor of the rental-car garage and taking the elevated walkway to the checkpoint. Already in uniform, he signed in on the clipboard near the office, checked his assignment for the day, and passed the next five hours without incident.

Five minutes before 6 o'clock, Puddie went to see his supervisor in the office for clearance to end his shift. Then he went to the sharp-objects cabinet, just outside the office door, next to the flagpole. On top of it was the sign-out clipboard — and The Pen.

He picked it up, feeling its weight in his hands, which are large and will dwarf the common throwaway Bic. It wasn't unusual for an officer to grab a writing implement and keep it with him, and usually nobody noticed. Usually the pens didn't cost more than a few cents. Puddie wrote the time on the sign-out sheet: "1800" in deep-blue numerals.

Then he twisted the pen closed and put it into his shirt pocket, right under his badge.


The Broward Sheriff's Office has put significant time and manpower into the case of Case's pen. After Raquel Case reported the loss to the BSO office at the airport, Det. Robert Lerner called her to hear the facts again. He obtained copies of written statements from five TSA employees (not including Puddie) about where and when they had seen the pen.

On June 14, nine days after the disappearance, a deputy interrogated Vaca, the officer who had first announced the pen over the intercom. He pressed Vaca to say that he had taken it. "We need to get the pen back," he said. "There is a lot of sentimental value to this pen. The guy who owns it could probably buy a thousand of these pens, OK, but there is a lot of sentimental value."

"I don't have it, sir," said Vaca, laughing incredulously.

Case and his family have contributed thousands of dollars to local and national political candidates, both Democratic and Republican — including a hefty sum toward the campaign funds of Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti. Rick and Rita case and their two children, Ryan and Raquel, each donated a maximum $500 to Lamberti in both the primary and the general-election campaigns in 2008. Employees of Rick Case Automotive Group donated even more, giving at least $10,500 to Lamberti's 2008 campaigns. Lamberti's 2012 reelection campaign has not yet filed any finance reports.

In June 2009, the sheriff's office held a news conference to show off its new, two-seat, European-made Smart cars, acquired for workers to zip around the Fort Lauderdale airport. The cars were purchased from Case's dealership.

At the time, Case chased off hints that the car purchase might be payback for his political contribution. He told New Times that he had met Lamberti at a fundraiser and that when the sheriff mentioned he was looking for small, efficient cars to use at the airport and port, "I said, 'You really ought to look at a Smart car.' " His own dealership in Weston was one of the first Smart dealers in South Florida.

At the time, Lamberti refused to answer questions about the deal with Case and declined to respond to criticism that other, non-Honda cars would have been cheaper, more fuel efficient, and easier to maintain than the Smart cars.

Case has also made many philanthropic contributions, hosting a fundraiser for Women in Distress of Broward County and giving away bicycles to children in need. He also has provided some quasi-governmental help.

In 2004, Case approached Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman about setting up a satellite clerk's office inside his six-story Davie dealership (which also houses a barbershop, café, and voting locations for two precincts). Case agreed to front the remodeling costs. Now, citizens head to the dealership to pay for traffic citations, get their licenses reinstated, and even get married at the on-site chapel.

Forman dismisses any suggestion that Case's offer was meant to gain political influence and says that the businessman, with his record of generosity, was simply trying to do a good thing for the community.

Vaca, the TSA officer who announced the pen over the intercom, was brought in for a polygraph test a week after his questioning. He said he did not take the pen, and passed. The following day, Andrew Amato, an officer who started work at 1 p.m. on the day of Case's flight, along with Puddie, also passed a polygraph test.

An hour later, deputies identified Puddie as the man putting The Pen into his shirt pocket on surveillance videotape. Puddie was working his usual shift that day — Wednesday, June 22 — when he was told to report to the BSO office in Terminal 2. He walked downstairs, along the sidewalk that borders the arrivals roadway, and into the office. A detective told him to take a seat and lectured him about the difference between accidentally taking something and knowingly stealing.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph