John Bertino's Key Idea | Tailpipe | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

John Bertino's Key Idea

Sometimes you get so gol-darned mad, you just go blind. The rage overtakes you, and there's nothing you can do except key somebody's car. Hey, we've all been there.

Except that you probably wouldn't consider it wise to scratch up someone's automobile in front of the plate-glass window of a crowded restaurant in broad daylight. And it wouldn't be too smart to pull the deed in front of witnesses who watch you do the damage, then climb into a car plastered with your name and the name of your business. And it goes without saying that when your photograph is on an advertisement next to the cash register at the restaurant, you'd do well to pick a better spot for your vandalism.

Dania Beach City Commissioner John Bertino (who is also an agent with A.J. Ryan Realty) apparently disregarded all three directives on the afternoon of Sunday, June 24. That's when he pulled up to Grampa's Bakery at the same time Ira and Debbie Fox arrived from picking up family members at the airport. A minor horn-honking disagreement ensued, but both parties parked and entered the restaurant, say the Foxes, without any hostile words.

After brunch, the Foxes left the restaurant and noticed the man driving away — and then spotted a big gouge in the side of Ira Fox's black 2004 Audi. As they stared in disbelief, a customer came out to tell the couple she'd witnessed the whole thing. "I had no idea who it was," says Florida State Attorney General Cindy Bruschi, who had a front-row seat for the keying. "It was an elderly gentleman." But restaurant employees quickly made the connection, since Bertino was a regular.

Talk about a credible witness. Iron-clad case, right?

Bertino didn't even deny it. "It's not a big deal," he commented to the press. Fox agrees the money isn't the issue; he's just stunned that an elected official vandalized his car in public over something so trivial. "This guy didn't think he was going to get caught doing something stupid, malicious, and childish. But he did get caught, and he's going to pay."

After three weeks, the Florida State Attorney's office has decided to charge Bertino with one count of misdemeanor first-degree criminal mischief. He won't be arrested, and the charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

Bertino has been involved in Dania politics since 1974 and hates term limits the way slugs shy from salt. "What must be inside him to do this?" Debbie Fox asks. "He must be very sour inside. And he's supposed to take care of a city?"

When the story showed up in papers and on the news, local paralegal and Dania Beach resident/politico Lisa Young thought it sounded strangely coincidental. After a March 2, 2005, meeting at Dania's City Hall, at which she and Bertino clashed over the term-limit issue, "my 2004 Mercedes was keyed in the parking lot," she says. "This is so embarrassing," she says of the public's perception of Dania politics. "It's stunning if he did do something like that."

If more than $1,000 in damage was done to Fox's Audi, Bertino would face a felony charge, which means Jeb Bush could bounce him from his commission seat. So far, Fox explains, BSO is estimating the damages at $500 and won't allow him to add the cost of a rental car while he gets the damage repaired.

Skins Game

Stadiums are like airports, concerts, and brothels: You walk in expecting to get screwed. Basic necessities such as bottled water, Twizzlers, and nachos cost several times what they would at even a convenience store. Fans accept this gouging, knowing deep down that without the tithe paid to the beer man, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria couldn't afford to field a team — even if he does pay his entire team less than what each of the 12 highest-paid major-league players will earn this season.

But on a recent trip to see the Marlins thump the visiting Red Sox, even Tailpipe sputtered at the price of a four-ounce tube of sunblock in a Dolphins Stadium gift shop. Fifteen stinkin' bucks. (An eight-ounce tube runs about $7 at your nearest drugstore.)

"It's almost a backbreaker," admits Bill Raymond, retail director for Boston Culinary Group, which runs the vending for Dolphins Stadium. Goods sold at the stadium are priced at triple their cost to his company, he says, leaving one-third to pay for the item and a third for the stadium.

Right now, the sunblock supplier charges $5.25 a tube. He says the price at the stadium shop is supposed to be $12, but he's looking to get it down to $10. "We're trying to make it so it's a little less taxing on the pocket," he says. "Ultimately, I totally agree with you. We need to take hits on it."

The 'Pipe would go further than simply dropping sunblock to $10 a tube. For years, the Marlins have moaned that they need a retractable-roof stadium to draw crowds (home attendance, at about 12,500 fans per game, is last in the majors). Not so. They need a team of fetching, strong-handed men and women to make the rounds, massaging free, coconut-scented sunblock into the arms, necks, and cheeks of anyone brave enough to sit in the subtropical sun for three hours. It would bring in fans in droves, and it sure would beat burning them at the register.

Where Your Premium Went

So it was all about amore. Kinda chokes you up.

Last fall, New Times published an exposé of the business practices of United Automobile Insurance Co. ("The Bad-Hands People," Wyatt Olson, September 15, 2005). Richard Parrillo, the Chicago native who owns most of the North Miami firm, has developed a unique and lucrative business plan: declare all insurance claims fraudulent to avoid paying claims. Critics describe the company's motto as "Deny, delay, don't pay." Some customers find themselves hounded by bill collectors or facing bankruptcy; many spend years in court trying to get their benefits.

In 2002, the company pulled in about $200 million in premiums, mostly by insuring low-income and hard-to-insure South Floridians — in other words, the most desperate of drivers.

Business must be good: Parrillo owns a 5,000-square-foot brick mansion in Chicago — complete with four fireplaces and four full baths — valued at $1.1 million, as well as an $800,000 condo in Aventura.

And now, it's clear why United Auto felt it had to stiff so many of its policyholders in their time of need. Parrillo, it turns out, was saving it up to build a real "love nest" for his wife, according to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Stella Foster.

"Folks have been wondering who is building that 27,000-square-foot mansion stretching over seven huge lots on North Burling in the Lincoln Park area," Foster wrote recently. "Well, here's the scoop: Insurance billionaire Richard "Dickie" Parrillo is spending over $40 million on this dream home for his wife, Michaela."

Believed to be the largest residential home ever built in the Windy City, Parrillo is overlooking no detail. He's imported "master carvers" from France and the Czech Republic to work their magic on the five-bedroom, 13-bath manor. There's even a built-in puppy wash.

Well, the 'Pipe sure hopes that as Parrillo settles in, he'll remember all the little people who sacrificed so greatly to help build his dream. They'll certainly never forget him. — As told to Tony Ortega

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