Sex in the CRA | Bob Norman | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Sex in the CRA

When the man in the City of Hollywood golf shirt walked into Harrison's Wine Bar late last year, the place already had some experience with sexual peccadilloes.

That August, a group of swingers got a little out of hand during a private birthday party at the downtown bar. Hollywood detectives raided the place and charged the owner, Richard Duncan, with several sex-related misdemeanors (for his patrons' actions). Duncan ultimately had to pay about $1,500 in fines and lost his after-hours license.

The man in the Hollywood golf shirt, Neil Fritz, must have known about that bust. Fritz is executive director of Hollywood's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). Being up on all things downtown is part of his job. He helps decide how millions of dollars in public grant and loan money are spent. When he enters a downtown business, folks pay attention.

Duncan was behind his bar the night Fritz walked in. Fritz was noticeably "intoxed," Duncan says, and ordered a martini. Then Fritz said, "I heard this was a sex bar." Duncan says he told him it wasn't.

Later that night, a downtown foot-patrol cop, Deborah Ramsey, was doing a routine check of Harrison's. She discovered Fritz, who is openly gay, on a dimly lit back patio, witnesses say, engaging in sexual activity with another man.

The officer led the two men out of the bar and to the sidewalk. A witness says she made a call on her radio. That's when Fritz told Ramsey that he worked for the city, the witness says, and Fritz asked, "Do I get any courtesy?"

Ramsey let Fritz and the other man walk away without so much as a citation — say, for lewd and lascivious behavior. She filed no report.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Hollywood. When private citizens have sexual adventures at a private party, the city works overtime to catch them, and a bar owner gets punished. When a city official messes around while the bar is open to the public, he's quietly given a pass.

"That's what you need to know about Hollywood," says a witness from that night, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation from the city: "It's not what you know but who you know. They take care of each other."

Hollywood Police Capt. Tony Rode said he'd heard talk about an incident involving Fritz. "I heard the same rumor," he said. "And I can tell you there were no charges. If it happened, it was about a year ago. I'm definitely not saying it didn't happen. Did someone cover it up? I don't know."

I e-mailed Hollywood's outgoing police chief, James Scarberry, to see if he was informed of Fritz's alleged escapade. "I was not," Scarberry wrote back.

When I called Ramsey, who has since retired from Hollywood Police, she said, "I can't talk about that right now." Ramsey confirmed that she led Fritz and another man out of Harrison's that night but said she could not recall whether she ran Fritz's name through dispatch.

Did she talk to any higher-ups before letting Fritz go?

"No," she said.

When I asked whether Fritz was given special treatment because of his job, the phone went dead. I called Ramsey back later and, again, she clicked off the phone.

Sources say there was a follow-up investigation by high-ranking police officials, but the department says there are no records of the incident.

Fritz did not respond to my detailed messages asking for comment. His reputation for drinking and sex-baiting in the downtown district he oversees, however, seems to speak for him.

Former Hollywood bartender Alex Borgos, who has worked at several downtown establishments, says he's seen Fritz misbehave on numerous occasions while serving him.

"Sober, he's all right, but a couple of drinks and the other side comes out," says Borgos, who used to run the tiki bar at the Ramada Inn across the street from Harrison's. "Often, he'd come in with other members of the CRA and they would leave and he'd stay and drink himself into oblivion. Then the advances come hot and heavy from him."

Borgos says he had to ward off sexual advances from Fritz on at least five occasions. "I tell him, 'Live your life, that's great, but it's not me.' But he wouldn't take no. He's got a serious problem with that."

Fritz's behavior, which clearly compromised his position as CRA director, isn't really that surprising. We're talking about Hollywood, after all — a city that's recently seen one of its commissioners convicted of corruption and four of its cops sentenced for selling their badges to what they thought was the Mafia.

On top of that, Hollywood suffers from general incompetence. And nowhere is that more evident than at the CRA, the agency Fritz has run since 2005.

The CRA, which collects tax dollars from businesses for redevelopment, is overseen by Hollywood's City Commission. It's a wasteful, debt-ridden agency, and it's been hit by one disaster after another. Here's a partial list:

• After receiving a $150,000 grant from the CRA, the supposedly popular Michael's Kitchen left Hollywood. Fritz and other officials are trying to get some of that money back. Owner Michael Blum says it's been spent.

• A CRA-backed Holocaust museum says it can't repay a $500,000 city loan. In October, the city decided to forgive the loan and relabel it a grant.

• A $300,000 loan to Alberto Rubin, who owns the La Piazza Pasta Café, also is delinquent. In July, as hope faded for the city to ever see that money again, the commission agreed to give Rubin until 2018 to pay it back.

• Millions of dollars have been wasted in a poorly planned partnership with failed developer Gary Posner.

It wouldn't be fair to place the blame for all this solely on Fritz, who has worked for the city since 2003. As the CRA's overseer, the commission has been derelict too, with Mayor Mara Giulianti, Fritz's long-time champion, playing a front-and-center role. And Fritz's predecessor, Jim Edwards, made the initial decisions that led to the wasted millions before he jumped ship to work for Hollywood developer Equity One.

Still, Fritz has done little to give the CRA the solid direction it so badly needs. Instead, he's largely been a partisan yes man for the well-lobbied commission. But don't expect Fritz — or anyone else — to be held accountable for the CRA's mistakes.

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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

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