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."