Operation Baghdad

Our man in Baghdad has made his mark on Iraq. And that is to be expected, since Andy Martin always makes his mark -- even if sometimes he's the only one who can see it.

Martin, a U.S. Senate candidate who calls Fort Lauderdale home, claims he has all but found Saddam Hussein. During three visits to Iraq, the 57-year-old Martin says he searched city streets, bomb craters, and the countryside for the fallen dictator. He was a one-man task force, though he had the help of a couple of feral Iraqi dogs that he tamed and trained while staying at the Palestine Hotel.

He says he's determined Hussein's location with 90 percent certainty (he has already made a claim for the $25 million reward on the dictator's head), and he expects the Bush administration to finally take heed of his efforts. "I went through the whole city and down as far as Najaf and Karbala," says Martin, an unorthodox Republican running for the seat held by presidential candidate Bob Graham. "I sniffed a little bit in the Sunni triangle [between Baghdad and Tikrit], but I didn't think he was there. Saddam is in Baghdad, I'm convinced of that fact."

After a few weeks in the country during his most recent trip, the graying but game Martin left Baghdad, traversed the Highway of Death to Amman, and, before flying home to South Florida, stopped in Israel to give a rousing speech. "Tear down this wall, Mr. Sharon!" he said at a largely unattended July 3 press conference near a checkpoint as Israeli bulldozers powered up behind him.

As if that weren't enough, Martin produced local headlines at the same time. The Florida Elections Commission ruled that Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty had broken laws in her unseemly bid to unseat three Florida Supreme Court justices who voted to allow a vote recount in the 2000 presidential election. McCarty, a rabid Republican, could be fined as much as $450,000 for her transgressions.

The man who dug up the facts and filed the original complaint against McCarty: Andy Martin.

And there you have it. Our man in Baghdad is an American hero. How many of you have left your living rooms to personally search for Saddam? Or made a courageous political statement on the world's stage? Or fought political corruption in your own party?

Ah, but there is a dark cast to the brilliance. Martin, of course, is mad. Quite mad. He's an enigma wrapped in a riddle who probably should be wrapped in a straitjacket. The would-be senator is one of the most prolific and compulsive lawsuit filers in the United States, a first-class shadow-dwelling fugitive from justice, and a perennial also-ran political candidate whose stance on the issues has changed about as often as Michael Jackson's proboscis.

So he fits right into the South Florida political scene, where he's been a phantom presence for about 20 years.

We begin his story with the great film director David Lean, naturally. Remember Lawrence of Arabia? Well, Martin claims his English grandfather fought with T.E. Lawrence against the Turks before joining a British military intelligence unit and disappearing for good. Should you believe that? Probably not, but I do.

Martin himself was born in 1945 in Connecticut to mother Helen, a college English teacher, and Ralph, an absentee father. He doesn't talk much about his late father, but Martin, whose actual name is Anthony Robert Martin-Trigona, is very close to his now-retired mother. While she taught at the University of Illinois, he attended the school and graduated from its law school in 1970.

The Illinois Supreme Court, however, refused to admit him to the bar, pointing to a military psychiatric exam that allegedly found him to have personality defects that include delusions involving both paranoia and grandeur. The test results sound about right, but the snubbing by the state court does seem a bit overboard. Martin, in his grandiloquent fashion, insists the exam was all trumped-up nonsense created by judges and lawyers whom he was exposing as corrupt bribe-takers.

"I helped start Operation Greylord," he explains, referring to the landmark federal corruption case in Chicago that netted some 13 judges and 51 attorneys in the 1980s.

Cast out of the legal community, Martin began filing lawsuits -- and he has yet to stop. He's responsible for hundreds of them during the past three decades, against governmental entities, companies, and personal enemies. Many are true public interest lawsuits, but others are for just plain revenge (he once filed court papers to try to be appointed legal guardian of the children of a judge he was feuding with).

Numerous courts have sanctioned Martin for his efforts, including the Florida Supreme Court, which called him one of Florida's most "active, as well as abusive," litigants. He often responds to sanctions by filing suits against the judges who rule against him.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman