After police dogged him for months, after the city tried to kick him out of his home, and after he was arrested for simply speaking at a commission meeting, local activist Fane Lozman thought the City of Riviera Beach just might be out to get him. Now, thanks to the release of a previously secret city transcript, he knows city officials were out to get him.
The transcript — of a closed-door meeting of city leaders known as an "executive session" — shows that the commission planned to, as the officials themselves put it, "intimidate" and "shadow" the wealthy stock trader.
Lozman had made it his business to root corruption out of Riviera, where he lives on a houseboat. Since that meeting last June, held in private because it involved a lawsuit against the city, Lozman has been harassed by the city on a continual basis. And it hasn't stopped. There was more drama and a dubious arrest just last week.
The 40-year-old math whiz and former U.S. Marine pilot first riled officials in May of last year, when he filed a lawsuit alleging that the city had violated the state's Sunshine Laws when it approved its massive $2.4 billion development plan. He objected to the plan, in part because he feared the redevelopment would run him out of his slip at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina. And he had a powerful ally in then-Gov. Jeb Bush, whom he has never met.
Bush didn't like the fact that the redevelopment plan hinged on using eminent domain powers to take citizens' homes for the benefit of private developers (including Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga). The governor even had the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate the matter, interviewing city officials.
So when city leaders met to strategize about Lozman's lawsuit on June 28, they were agitated. During the meeting, then-Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown addressed Don Stephens, the city's outside counsel, and suggested that he "spend some money to do some background investigation on Lozman" and to find out whether he was in cahoots with Bush.
"I think a private investigator can find those things that you are talking about," Stephens told the mayor.
"Let's find out who they are," Brown continued. "I suspect [Lozman and Bush] are working together. Find out if [Lozman] is a pawn. Somebody is funding him."
City Attorney Pamela Ryan didn't seem to like the direction the meeting was going. "That's fine, but how is that relevant to the lawsuit?" she asked.
"We need to understand that they are attacking us," Brown said. "They are trying to destroy everything we have worked on.... We need to use every reasonable tool that we have to find out who they are, what we are up against, so that we can map our strategy out."
Commissioner Liz Wade, who was voted out of office in March and is now running for a seat on the Palm Beach County Commission, upped the stakes even further, suggesting that action be taken to frighten Lozman into backing off.
"I think it will help to intimidate, the same way as FDLE is coming to my house," she said. "I am wondering if my lines are tapped or whatever. I think they should be questioned by some of our people on a legitimate pay scale basis, so that they can feel the same kind of unwarranted heat that we are feeling.... You got FDLE knocking on my door."
"He called my name, buddy," interjected Brown. "The governor called my name. This is the Alamo, as far as I'm concerned, and this is very serious stuff."
Then Commissioner Norma Duncombe jumped into the bunker with them, saying the city should pay to "shadow" Lozman and others involved in the lawsuit.
"I would like to offer a consensus that we spend whatever," said Duncombe, who still sits on the commission and refused a request for comment. "If you need a private investigator, whatever you need... If you need somebody to shadow every name that's on this document, I ask that we spend these dollars and get it done so we send one message: This is our house and we are going to stay and there ain't none of them going to run us away."
Soon thereafter Commissioner Jim Jackson, who is also still in office, gave his support. "We have to beat this thing, and whatever it takes, I think we should do it."
Lozman's lawyer, Jon Kaney, says he's never seen anything like the contents of the transcript in his 39 years of practicing as a First Amendment attorney. He says it shows a clear intent to violate Lozman's rights to privacy and due process.
"It's an outrage," said Kaney, who serves as general counsel for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Florida's First Amendment Foundation. "Not only have I never seen it, if they had tried to do what they said, it would have been a serious violation of Fane Lozman's rights. What these people were doing, they used the term 'intimidate,' they wanted to dig up something on him to intimidate him to make him go away. It's dreadfully wrong."
Randall Marshall, legal director of the ACLU of Florida, shares Kaney's outrage. "It smacks of an inappropriate use of city resources that will have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech," he said.
During the weeks and months following that meeting, there was a clear strategy of intimidation against Lozman. In fact, he was an easy target, because he pays rent to the city marina. When I went to interview Lozman there on August 1, 2006, then-marina Director George Carter called the police on him. The supposed crime: Lozman was replacing double doors on his boat before a hurricane was expected to hit the coast. Carter said it wasn't allowed without permission. And he wasn't giving his permission.
"He's after me right now because of my lawsuit against the city," Lozman told me at the time. "... He's good friends with Mayor Brown. They've got him doing this to me."
The police arrived, including Assistant Chief David Harris, who one might imagine had more important things to do than deal with a guy fixing his boat. "I oughtta slap the cuffs on you now," Harris told Lozman menacingly.
I believe that had I not been there, notebook in hand, Lozman would have been arrested. But Harris ultimately let him go. The column I wrote about it was headlined, "Witness for the Intimidation."
"Suddenly, I was being watched by marina employees and the cops," Lozman says. "Before I filed the lawsuit, I had a lot of privacy, but that was gone."
It was just the beginning. Lozman has since been thrown out of City Commission meetings on five occasions. During one of them, last November, Commissioner Wade ordered him out of City Hall after he had begun (very calmly) addressing the commission. Police handcuffed him at the podium and later charged him with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The charges, not surprisingly, were dropped by prosecutors.
The city also ordered Lozman's eviction from the marina, saying that he refused to muzzle a dangerous dog. The canine in question: A 10-pound dachshund named Lady, who has never bitten anyone. Lozman fought the eviction in court. Although he represented himself at trial against a pair of well-paid veteran city-hired lawyers, the jury determined that the eviction was a retaliatory action by the city and sided with the activist, who still calls the marina home.
In March, most of the commission was voted out of office, including Brown and Wade. I interviewed Wade about the transcript last week. She was unapologetic. She said Lozman was "agitating" and "aggravating" and that she, indeed, wanted him out of her city.
"The aggravation of him meeting with citizens, he had something to say about everything we did," said Wade, who is challenging County Commissioner Addie Greene for her seat. "He got in my face about things. So if the rest of the commission felt that way, I would not object. Stop this idiot any way you can. That's the way it is."
She said she felt Lozman was rude and unfair, especially since, she says, she's not corrupt.
"The day you see me leave here and buy a private island? That's the day you need to question me if I got paid," she said.
Bafflingly, she claimed Lozman wasn't a citizen of Riviera, because he didn't own a house and lived on the water.
"I told him, 'Mr. Lozman, you are not really a stakeholder here, you pay no property taxes,'" she said. "Yet he rants and raves as a taxpayer."
Her dislike of Lozman remains palpable.
"I can't stand to see that man walk through the door, because of his tactics and the way he does people," she said. "I'm not afraid of Fane Lozman, period. I don't believe he can outthink me, and I don't believe he can whoop my behind. I told him that I would put my foot so far up his behind he would think my toe is his tonsil. I ain't going to pay nobody to kill him. But if he gets into my face, I will get him out of it."
Lozman says he's gotten several death threats. He said that a former commissioner and city insider named Sylvia Blue told him repeatedly that someday he would be found dead under his houseboat.
"They aren't going to run me out of this town," Lozman says now. "This is where I live. No one is going to intimidate me. And if you keep fucking with me, then I'm going to fight back."
He got another taste of what he believes was intimidation last Wednesday evening. This time a friend was arrested after a protest at City Hall instead of Lozman. After the activist and several other marina denizens protested racism at the marina at a commission meeting, a friend and hired hand of Lozman's named John Logan was apprehended by police at a nearby convenience store.
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Logan, who is black, a product of the rough streets of Riviera, had gone to the convenience store to buy cigarettes before he planned to address the commission. He says that outside the store, a female police officer named J. Thornton accused him of loitering.
"She said she had been watching me cause trouble for 19 minutes at City Hall," the 40-year-old Logan told me later. "Then a friend of mine became a little belligerent with her, and she put handcuffs on us."
The officer searched his pockets and claimed she found a small amount of marijuana on him. Logan disputes that the marijuana was his, but either way, the arrest for marijuana possession and trespassing seems to fit the pattern of harassment that has been plaguing Lozman for the past 18 months.
And now we know the city means it.