Crazy Like a Henn | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Crazy Like a Henn

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"Then you sold it to someone else," Penny insists. "I even got the price."

Now Henn really laughs, his high-pitched, staccato bursts overcoming the chirping din of hundreds of caged parakeets for sale nearby.

"How much?" he asks.

"Twenty-two hundred," she says, giving him a leveling stare. "It's scaring people."

"Twenty-two hundred million?" he says, now soberly. "Good price."

"You're scaring people," Penny counters, sounding actually frightened.

"I never sell anything," Henn replies. "I am not interested in selling this."

"The rumor is flying this year," she says. "I've been coming here for 35 years. It's like my life."

Henn manages to calm her down, eventually convincing her that he isn't, "ak-choo-ah-lee" selling. She isn't the only vendor he will have to convince.

He seems to mean it, however, when he says that he expects nothing to change at the Swap Shop in his lifetime. "There's no more property to buy because I'm surrounded by the county park. The only option for me is exactly what I'm doing now, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. I'll be riding around on a golf cart until they carry me away in a stretcher."

It wasn't a stretcher they used to carry Henn away on May 20.

That day, for reasons that are still unclear, Henn tried to evict Swap Shop merchant Joel Leibovitch from the food stand he operated. Described as an easygoing, peaceful person by other vendors, Leibovitch and his family had been selling goods at the flea market for 20 years. But then, suddenly, Henn ordered him to leave and threatened to confiscate the equipment at his stall.

Leibovitch wouldn't budge, however, claiming that he'd done nothing wrong. He called the BSO.

"I guess that made Preston mad," BSO Officer Louis Bautista testified in a deposition after the event. Bautista worked off-duty as a security guard at the Swap Shop, and his daughter until recently operated an Italian ice stand at the market.

According to police reports, Henn reacted to Leibovitch's calling BSO by pushing him to the ground, injuring the vendor's head, neck, and back.

"Preston was completely out of control," Bautista testified. The cop had spoken with Ed Levrett, Henn's business lieutenant, who witnessed the confrontation and decided to quit — then and there — in protest of his boss' actions. "Levrett said that when Henn pushed Joel to the ground, [Levrett] wasn't going to have it any more... [Levrett] took his keys, his cell phone, put them on the table, called his wife, and left."

Levrett never came back, eventually leaving the state altogether. He could not be contacted for this article.

By the time BSO Deputy Robert Kelleher arrived, Henn was in a rage.

Kelleher, a rookie who had been on the force just a few weeks, arrived in time to see Henn reach into BSO Chief George Jarboe's patrol car and attack him while he was in the driver's seat talking on his cell phone.

"I saw that Mr. Henn was actually reaching into [Chief Jarboe's] car... and I saw his elbows going back and forth," Kelleher said in a deposition.

Kelleher and another deputy restrained the septuagenarian, handcuffing Henn for at least a few minutes, until Jarboe told them to remove the cuffs, because, according to Kelleher, "I guess he calmed down."

The calm was short-lived. Henn soon began yelling, and the cuffs went right back on.

That's when Bautista arrived.

Bautista has spent a lot of time at the Swap Shop. In his 26 years as a police officer, he has spent 12 years moonlighting as security for the flea market on weekends. It's not an unusual arrangement. Rather than call the BSO every time there's a disturbance — there were more than 1,000 incidents requiring police attention at the Swap Shop in the past two years alone, according to BSO documents — Henn pays the Sheriff's Office about $200,000 a year to supply him with off-duty officers to patrol his vast and bustling business.

It's not an easy detail. According to the deposition that Bautista gave in September, BSO officers call Swap Shop duty "blood money" because of the amount of actual crime fighting it requires.

"You have to run from call to call breaking up fights," Bautista said in his deposition. "It was definitely harder than my shift."

Bautista testified that he had a good relationship with Henn, who rented a prime Swap Shop space to Bautista's wife, Dana, for a beauty salon. When Bautista's daughter Jennifer needed a job while attending college, Henn rented her a spot so she could vend Italian ices.

Henn also allowed her use of equipment he had on hand to make the frozen confections, equipment that he had confiscated from a previous vendor he evicted.

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P.J. Tobia

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