The day after my column about Riviera Beach political activist Fane Lozman hit the streets, the city sent him an eviction letter.
Maybe, but whether it was tied to my report doesn't change the fact that the City of Riviera Beach is engaging in a shameless game of retaliation against a man who is challenging its $2.4 billion redevelopment plan.
Since Lozman filed a lawsuit to stop the city's plan to use eminent domain to displace thousands of residents for the benefit of private developers, the city has been harassing him. The city's point man is George Carter, director of the city marina, where Lozman lives in his houseboat at Slip 452.
Carter has called the police on Lozman at least a half-dozen times in the past month. I was there when police came close to arresting him for the crime of... fixing his houseboat [see "Witness for the Intimidation," August 10 issue, which appeared in street boxes on August 8].
The marina director finally lowered the boom on August 9, notifying Lozman that he had until the end of the month to leave the marina.
Yes, this appears to be shameless political retaliation of the worst kind, but it's not without a dose of comic relief. The reason cited for the eviction from the marina, and the cause of several calls to police, is the activist's dangerous dog.
It's not a pit bull or a German shepherd. It's not a Doberman or a rottweiler. So what is Lozman's four-legged menace to society?
A ten-pound dachshund you know, a wiener dog.
Lozman rescued the dog, which he named Lady, after Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida. He says he was in Miami after the storm and saw the stubby-legged canine, which had apparently recently had puppies, outside a storefront.
"The dog was near a puddle, and it had no collar, and its milk sac was touching the ground," he explains. "These kids were throwing rocks at it, trying to hit the milk sac, so I took her in."
I met the dog a couple of weeks ago, and I can attest that it's rather feisty. Carter says two people complained that the dog lunged at them while on the leash last month, prompting him to write a letter to Lozman on July 25.
"[I]f your dog was to bite someone the liability may be a problem for the marina," Carter wrote.
He demanded in the letter that the dog be muzzled while outside or, he informed Lozman, "the city must ask you to vacate the marina at the end of this month."
That gave Lozman six days to comply. Instead, he kept the dog out of sight. "It's 110 degrees heat out here, and this dog has a black coat, and she has to pant when it's hot," he explains of his civil disobedience. "She would drop dead of a heat stroke."
There have been no complaints since the first letter was written. The dog has never bitten anyone.
"They would take the dog away if it was really dangerous," he says. "But they keep threatening to arrest me because I refused to put a muzzle on the dog. I live in a ZIP code that has one of the highest crime rates in the state, and they're wasting their time with a female dachshund. What a waste of police manpower to come running over here every time this man [Carter] snaps his finger."
Then came the eviction letter.
"On August 9, 2006 you blatantly violated the cities written demand," Carter wrote, referring to his own rather arbitrary letter, "and knowingly put the City of Riviera Beach in a defenseless position if your dog was to bite someone."
Carter then outlines his policy of a preemptive strike against the possible vagaries of Lady: "Mr. Lozman, we both know it's not if, but when the dog bites someone."
It was time for regime change at Slip 452.
"Failure to vacate by August 31, 2006 will result in legal action being filed against you and your boat being towed, stored, and secured. Please govern yourself accordingly," Carter concludes.
But Lozman says he has no intention of leaving the marina. If the city goes forward with legal action to evict him, he says, he will sue the city for retaliatory eviction.
"That would buy me a few months' time," says Lozman, who seems to view the imbroglio with equal parts frustration and bemusement. "We're not leaving. The city may wake up and realize it's retaliation and drop it."
But what if he's forced to give up his dockage?
"I'll anchor the boat out in the water, and I'll keep working to get the mayor [Michael Brown] arrested for corruption, and then when a new mayor comes in, he'll invite me back into the marina."
I think he's serious.
While authorities dog Lozman, psychic scammer and published author Gina Marie Marks has managed to skate.
Plantation police Det. Joe Quaregna is investigating the complaint of a Miami woman who detailed how Marks, who published her book Miami Psychic under the fake name Regina Milbourne, wrung $3,200 out of her after convincing her that she had a curse on her family [see "Psych Job," July 13, and "Psych Job, Part 2," August 3].
Once Quaregna got involved, so did Marks' lawyer, Jim Lewis. The two parties signed an agreement last week in which Marks promised to repay the woman the $3,200 (another $450 given to Marks by the woman's mother-in-law wasn't included). Included in the agreement is a promise from the victim that she'll drop the criminal case.
The woman is happy to be getting her money back and credits New Times with making it possible. The downside is that Marks remains free to bilk more "clients."
"We have no charges, but I'm going to drop by Marks' house and let her know that we're watching her," Quaregna says. "We don't want her doing this any more in our city."
There may still, however, be trouble in the future for the author, whose sham book was published by HarperCollins, a giant New York publishing house that continues to market Miami Psychic as "non-fiction." The Hollywood Police Department is seeking a warrant for her arrest on a jewelry theft charge. It sent a request for the warrant to the State Attorney's Office in January. Our prosecutors, as they always do, have sat on the case for months, though SAO spokesman Ron Ishoy claims his agency is "actively investigating" the case.
Speaking of the listless State Attorney's Office, I got a call from corruption prosecutor John Hanlon last week. Out of respect for an ongoing criminal investigation, I'm not going to go into detail on the call, but suffice it to say it concerned Dorsey Miller, the former North Broward Hospital District commissioner.
I wrote an investigative article two years ago about Miller's acceptance of more than $100,000 from a Miami company called American Medical Depot. At the same time that Miller was receiving checks from AMD, he was steering multimillion-dollar hospital district contracts to the firm.
In Florida, that kind of thing is called unlawful compensation, and it's a third-degree felony. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that all that is needed to prosecute such cases is circumstantial evidence to show that a "meeting of minds" was made between Miller and AMD that he would drum up business for the company at the district.
Hanlon has been "investigating" the case for more than two years. More like sitting on it. In that time, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed Miller, has already removed him from the NBHD board as a result of the newspaper's findings. But don't expect Hanlon to file any charges when he's finished. And that's the fault of Hanlon as much as it is State Attorney Michael Satz, who has made a long and successful career in Broward County as a staunch defender of the powerful and shameless exploiter of the powerless.
Satz has an abysmal record in prosecuting public corruption and is probably as responsible as anyone for the area's reputation as a sleazy backwater full of politicians on the take. Hanlon, a former FBI agent, simply follows Satz's lead, I'm afraid.
I've criticized both men in print before, a fact Hanlon told me rather pointedly that he hasn't forgotten.
"I have Irish Alzheimer's," he told me. "I only remember my grudges."
But he says he puts the criticism in perspective.
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"I've had a guy stand over me trying to shoot my balls off," he said. "So I've dealt with worse."
That's a reference to the infamous FBI shootout with two heavily armed bank robbers near the Suniland shopping center in Miami back in 1986. Two agents, Jerry Dove and Ben Grogan, were killed. Hanlon was one of five agents who was injured during the shootout.
I have a lot of respect for Hanlon for his FBI service and believe his actions that day made him a bona fide American hero.
But I still wish his boss, Satz, had some balls when it comes to prosecuting public corruption.