Federal marshals stole city activist Fane Lozman's home yesterday.
In a true jack-booted thug moment, four armed marshals in black raided Lozman's houseboat at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina and towed it down to Miami, leaving Lozman homeless and without all his possessions. They also seized the former U.S. Marine pilot's three guns, which he owns legally.
Lozman's only crime: fighting city hall.
"I don't even have any clothes to wear, man," said Lozman, who has been paying rent to live at the city marina for three years. "All my clothes are on my homesteaded floating home. I'm just glad my dog wasn't on there."
The marshals seized the floating home just hours after the City of Riviera Beach filed a federal complaint against Lozman claiming his boat didn't legally belong at the marina. Before Lozman had any chance to answer the complaint -- in fact, before he was even served with the papers -- U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas signed an order to seize it. The same afternoon, the federal agents raided the home and took it away. The Palm Beach Post covered the basics in a story this morning.
The hasty action by Dimitrouleas is stunning -- and unconscionable. How, in this country, can a citizen's home be taken away without any due process, without even the chance to state his case?
Unfortunately, Dimitrouleas probably relied solely on the city's faulty complaint and didn't know the real story. The city, after all, has had a longstanding grudge with Lozman, who has been fighting the takeover of the historic city marina near Peanut Island by developers.
Then-Mayor Michael Brown, a ridiculously corrupt politico, was bent on giving the marina and a good part of the city to Viking Yacht Co. and Wayne Huizenga to turn it into a playground for the wealthy. To do that the city planned to use eminent domain to remove hundreds of residents from their homes. Lozman, a dogged activist if ever there was one, was one of those residents.
Lozman filed suit against the city and found a powerful ally in his fight, then-Gov. Jeb Bush. In the end, Lozman almost single-handedly killed the $2.4 billion plan (which likely would have been a disaster considering today's economy). And that apparently earned him the undying enmity of city officials.
In what can only be described as pure political retribution, city police began harassing Lozman and the city sued him for eviction. The city trumped up some ludicrous reasons to try to kick Lozman out of the marina (including the absurd allegation that his little dachsund, Lady, was a menace to society). It would have been funny if it wasn't such a raw abuse of public power.
Lozman represented himself in court on that case and, for the first time in my career, I voluntarily took the witness stand. I saw the harassment first-hand and, in fact, came under brief threat of
arrest myself simply for standing near the dock. It was pure vengeance on the part of the city.
Lozman, a 40-something millionaire who made his money in the stock market, put on a passionate case to save his home. This may sound maudlin, but I was never more proud to live in America on the day the jury found in Lozman's favor.
But the city wasn't done. The city and developer Viking were still planning a takeover of the marina and -- partly for revenge and partly just to make sure Lozman doesn't stop them again -- they still wanted Lozman out. So they came up with a new rule designed to get rid of him and other residents (all the live-aboards must go sooner or later to satisfy Viking's takeover plan). The city demanded that all boats in the marina have propulsion so that they can vacate in the event of an emergency. Lozman's boat, which is homesteaded, is a floating structure, a home on the water, not a vessel. It can't go anywhere on its own. Lozman refused to sign the agreement, saying he was grandfathered in and that it was just another unlawful attempt to take away his home (and the homes of other live-aboards at the marina).
And that refusal was the basis the city used yesterday to have the feds seize his home (the city also claimed Lozman had failed to pay rent, failing to mention that officials had mailed Lozman back his April rent payment).
Before Monday's dramatic development, the city had used another method to try to run off Lozman and a handful of other boaters who hadn't signed the B.S. agreement: It cut off power to their boats. "(Riviera Beach) officials should have given us notice," fellow live-aboard Vaughn Frye told the Palm Beach Post at the time. "I had no bathroom, no air-conditioning, no refrigeration. They told me I was in breach of contract."
On Friday, Judge Peter Evans, who oversaw Lozman's eviction trial, ruled that the city must restore power to the boats. That's when the city filed the federal complaint and Judge Dimitrouleas (who presided over the Ken Jenne case) instantaneously signed the order to seize Lozman's home. I am hoping that Dimitrouleas will research this matter, look at the state eviction case, reverse his action, and turn his attention to the city. As it stands, the judge's order is a travesty.
Lozman said last night that he'll fight the city to the end. He spent last night writing an emergency motion to dismiss the city's complaint and, as I press send on this post, was driving to federal court in Fort Lauderdale to file it.
"I am going to have to march back into court and try to talk [Judge Dimitrouleas] out of doing what he's doing," he said. "I just want to educate the court on the real facts of the situation. It's outrageous that this can happen in America."