Apathy. Can you hear it? The silence that hovers from the beaches to the swamps. The lethargy that keeps people from standing up and fighting back. The malaise that makes South Florida so seedy, so corrupt, so chock-full of criminals who want nothing more from you than everything you own.
With all of its scandals, scams, sleazebags, and world-class debauchery, this beautiful, infected tip of the country has more bad guys per square mile than anywhere else in America. That's because, by and large, people in South Florida just don't give a shit. We see crime. We see corruption. We see avarice and evil done to people we don't know, and we wonder what's for dinner. We become ostriches.
But that won't solve our many, many problems. We need a little righteous indignation. So to that end, we've assembled our annual Dirty Dozen list, a collection of local individuals so bad that you fear for the fate of humanity. If these men and women don't get your ire up, nothing will.
Of course, in a place like South Florida, it takes an incredibly wicked résumé to make the cut. After all, this is the home of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Dexter. This year, we have quite a maddening lineup: In addition to the usual sleazy politicians, it includes a hypocritical homophobe caught in the act, a baseball executive caught lying, a talk-show host whose mouth is bigger than her brain, and a man whose girlfriends keep turning up dead.
For your convenience, we've rated the bad guys from one to ten (with ten being the worst) on our special Dirt Meter, distinguishing mere scamp from pure unadulterated scoundrel.
For decades, George Alan Rekers has been a general in the culture wars and a staunch advocate against gay rights. In 1983, he and James Dobson, America's best-known homophobe, formed the Family Research Council, a D.C.-based, rabidly Christian, and vehemently antigay lobbying group that has become a standard-bearer of the nation's extreme right wing. Rekers has also served in advisory roles for Congress, the White House, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and he's testified as a state's witness in favor of Florida's ban on gay people adopting.
Which makes it even more hilarious that he was caught on a European tour with a male prostitute he met on the website rentboy.com. Rekers, who has long trumpeted his ability to "cure" young gay men of their homosexuality by preaching Christian values, initially claimed that he'd hired the young man to carry his luggage (a photo from the airport actually shows Rekers lifting the luggage) and that he didn't know the guy was a gay prostitute.
And that's funny, because the rentboy.com profile by which Rekers apparently chose the male prostitute shows pictures of a shirtless young man with delicate features, guileless eyes, and sun-kissed, hairless skin. The profile touts his "smooth, sweet, tight ass" and "perfectly built 8 inch cock (uncut)" and explains that he is "sensual," "wild," and "up for anything."
Dirt Meter: 10 (Rekers is not just a hypocrite; he's a dangerous hypocrite.)
This 38-year-old wealthy socialite had not one but two beautiful young women die in his beachfront Fort Lauderdale condo, just four months apart. Brianna Negron and Casey DiStefano were both in their early 20s. They both liked Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, small dogs and trendy nightclubs. Both had an eye for designer purses and a taste for tony restaurants. Both died under similar circumstances, with similar chemical combinations found in their bodies. And both girls dated Richard Lippner. Through his attorney, Lippner says this is all one big coincidence, but the police — and some of his acquaintances — paint a different picture.
He dated Brianna for nearly three years, fighting and making up constantly. After she died in January, he started dating Casey — an aspiring model nearly 18 years his junior. He plied both girls with expensive gifts, regular shopping sprees, trips on private planes and yachts, and all the frills of VIP living. But acquaintances from the nightlife scene say that he was known to carry cocaine and that he provided the girls with various prescription pills. Though police say that the deaths are suspicious and that Lippner is a "person of interest," no charges have been filed. So while friends and family of both young women have struggled for nearly a year to deal with their tragic losses, Lippner has been free to roam the nightclubs and VIP rooms of South Florida.
Dirt Meter: 8 (Karma, as they say, is a bitch.)
When she took office 12 years ago, Stephanie Kraft touted herself as a minivan-driving, concerned mom out to clean up the Broward School Board. When her run ended this year, she was in handcuffs, facing the possibility of more than a decade in prison. Kraft and her husband, Mitch, were arrested on a slew of felony corruption charges in October.
Prosecutors allege that crooked real estate developers Bruce and Shawn Chait of Prestige Homes paid Mitch $10,000 to help their company get a $500,000 discount on a $1.7 million fee owed to the school district. Public records indicate that Mitch had Stephanie skirt the rules and rush the issue onto the School Board's "consent agenda," where it was approved without discussion, thereby shortchanging area students. And did she ever file a conflict disclosure form, as Florida law requires? Of course not.
There are so many corrupt local politicians that investigators can pick and choose whom to investigate. This year, they chose Stephanie Kraft. The bigger culture of corruption, this notion that elected officials — the very people charged with the public's trust — would trade so much of the public's money for a few bucks of their own leads to the general cynicism eating away at our society.
Dirt Meter: 6 (Sure, Stephanie Kraft is gross — but she's just one in a long string of corrupt local officials.)
There are plenty of people who'd put David Samson — the neurotic, paranoid, smooth-talking president of the beleaguered Florida Marlins — in the same evil category as massive Ponzi schemers Bernie Madoff and Scott Rothstein. And though the team trails both the Dolphins and Heat in popularity and has seemingly made it a policy to trade away its best and best-liked players after every season, much of the recent hate stems from the new stadium deal.
When it came time to talk about a new ballpark for the team, Samson told local politicians that his poor franchise was struggling to break even financially. He dangled the idea of moving the Marlins out of Florida if the team didn't receive gigantic sums of taxpayer money. He essentially held the region hostage for a ransom some estimate to be in the billions. Samson managed to swing a deal in which his team will pay less than a third of the total bill for a new stadium but maintain every possible stream of revenue.
But Samson's deceit was made clear when Deadspin.com released leaked financial statements that show the Marlins take in a healthy chunk of league-distributed money that could go toward the ballpark. The documents indicated that the team concealed nearly $50 million over two years and could have paid for a significantly larger portion — if not all — of the new stadium. After they came out, Samson called the leaking of the documents "a crime," but the true crime might be the fact that despite the new revelation, the original deal is nonnegotiable.
Dirt Meter: 7 (The Marlins aren't the first to pull this scam on the public, but that doesn't make it all right.)
Joyce Kaufman isn't all bad. This tough-talking, camouflage-rocking, heat-packing talk-show host is a regular churchgoer. She also helps out in a prison outreach program. She's clever, with a biting sense of humor that keeps her loyal listeners laughing as much as fuming. She isn't on this list for her regular habit of dispensing incendiary rhetoric that borders on hate speech. (In July, she famously told a crowd of Tea Partiers that "if ballots don't work, bullets will" and has in the past suggested that illegal immigrants should be publicly hanged) or the fact that she is openly hostile toward liberals, poor people, Muslims, Spanish speakers, and anyone who suggests the environment should be a priority.
No, the shrewd Kaufman is here because she used her show as a 15-hour-a-week campaign commercial for former Lt. Col. Allen West, an anti-Islam buddy of Sarah Palin's who left the military after he was accused of torturing a civilian Iraqi police officer in 2003. Then, once West was elected to the U.S. Congress with promises of smaller government, Kaufman immediately accepted a job as his taxpayer-funded chief of staff. She even promised to continue her show, broadcasting from her new office in the nation's capital.
But alas, the Joyce Goes to Washington show was not meant to be. Within 24 hours, Kaufman changed her mind and officially declined the chief of staff position. She said it was because of all the publicity surrounding her appointment, but there's a better chance it had more to do with West's camp not wanting to kick off his first term with a blatant ethics violation.
Dirt Meter: 4 (She's probably a little proud to be on this list.)
This billionaire turned senatorial candidate has had an interesting few years. While the rest of the country sank into the deepest economic slump since the Depression, Jeff Greene went from rich to richer by trading in credit default swaps, one of the activities that caused the economy to slide so far so fast since 2008.
Then he used his vast wealth to run for office. He barely appeared in public or spoke to the media, and when he did, he rarely said anything of substance. (He promised he'd donate his salary to the taxpayers.) With his mother as his chief spokesperson, he was little more than a mysterious gazillionaire with an awkward side-mouthed grin. In America, that gave him a chance at winning.
His prospects were shot, however, once the public heard about his great seaward adventures. First, his luxury yacht Summerwind — on which he's hosted everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Mike Tyson — damaged a coral reef off the coast of Belize. Then former crew members began coming forward, describing the sinful goings-on aboard what seemed to be some sort of floating den of iniquity. There were claims of cocaine and strippers and boxers getting blowjobs, and, worst of all, serious mistreatment of the crew. Several former employees claim Greene berated them mercilessly (often while inebriated) and eventually stiffed them on paychecks. Just the kind of behavior we want from a politician.
Dirt Meter: 6 (That he ever was a serious contender in the first place is a sad commentary on the modern political system.)
Before voters threw him out of office in November, it seemed like Ken Keechl, the recently ousted mayor of Broward County, had every political advantage possible. He had the power of incumbency and more than half a million dollars in campaign funds. He was a Democrat and the first openly gay county commissioner in a heavily Democratic district that includes the entire city of Wilton Manors. But his spending was extravagant, he used campaign money for a number of questionable expenditures, and he ran one of the dirtiest races local politics has seen in some time.
Keechl championed ethics reforms and transparency for commissioners' dealings with lobbyists. But during his year with the ceremonial "mayor" title (a different commissioner serves as "mayor" each year), he hosted a gala attended by dozens of lobbyists and people with business before the commission. He asked fellow commissioners to declare it an official Broward County event so the new transparency law did not apply. He let members of the media attend the fundraiser, but only if they agreed not to photograph or interview anyone inside.
He also regularly spent campaign funds on things like wine, food, and travel and to pay the mortgage on a building he and his domestic partner own. He also paid for a deluge of ads and mailers, labeling his opponent, Chris LaMarca, a "convicted criminal" for a college-age DUI charge. Keechl outspent his opponent by $440,000, but LaMarca won the election, and Keechl's time on the commission screeched to a halt after just one term.
Dirt Meter: 5 (In the end, voters just couldn't trust Mayor Ken.)
There was a time when the Mango Festival was one of the biggest events of the year in Deerfield Beach. At its pinnacle in 2005, performers like R&B legend Keith Sweat graced the stage and a whopping 60,000 attendees strolled through the gates. This year, though — the 25th-anniversary edition — the event was a total disaster. And the brunt of the responsibility probably belongs to Deerfield Beach Commissioner Sylvia Poitier.
Poitier championed the festival, assuming an informal position as a leader of its nonprofit committee and encouraging the City Commission to put up $25,000 of taxpayer money. There were early warning signs. Organizers told food vendors there would be 40,000 people but told security to expect about 3,500.
In the end, only a few dozen people showed up to the first day of the event. Checks from the organizers bounced, the sound system failed, the few people who did buy tickets felt incredibly ripped off, and vendors who paid hundreds of dollars for booths ended up throwing away most of their food and threatening a class-action lawsuit.
Poitier blamed the festival's failure on poor planning by the city's parks department and the city manager. She asked that the commission atone for the city's failures by granting the festival a second chance this summer. When another commissioner dared to point out that anyone who thought it'd be a good idea to try that whole thing again is either completely clueless or utterly corrupt, Poitier called her detractors racist.
Dirt Meter: 6 (Where did all that money go, Sylvia?)
Donald Bradford is president of Primate Products, a South Florida-based research facility that imports monkeys from around the world and sells them to animal research labs. Some of the monkeys end up in controversial "vivisection" experiments. Bradford's clandestine, warehouse-esque facility has long been a target of animal-rights activists.
A series of photos leaked from inside the facility earlier this year warns of a disturbing reality inside the industrial walls. The photos show several monkeys with severe — possibly fatal — head injuries, deep gashes into their skulls and faces. In the pictures, the animals are still and lifeless on tables next to numbered cards.
The company confirmed that the photos are real and were taken inside the facility earlier this year. Several institutions — including Nova Southeastern University — immediately announced they would stop doing business with Primate Products. The USDA opened an investigation.
But when reporters asked about the monkeys, Bradford, who, with his receding hairline, pastel polo shirts, and big cigars, bears a resemblance to Rush Limbaugh, eschewed any concern for the animals that have helped him afford the massive mansion he owns in Pembroke Pines. In a statement, he dismissed activist accusations of animal cruelty, saying, "They are completely healthy, healed, beautiful animals."
Dirt Meter: 6 (If more people saw these pictures, there would be a louder outcry against animal experimentation.)
If you aren't a rich, white, heterosexual CEO with excellent health care, you probably won't like certain aspects of living in Rick Scott's Florida. That's because the governor-elect is against most gay-rights issues; his policies favor funneling money to the richest tax bracket; he's opposed to health-care reform; and he's said that he'd favor Arizona-style immigration laws, which call for police to stop anyone they suspect may be in this country illegally (especially if they speak Spanish).
In many ways, Scott epitomizes the filthy corporate executives responsible for so many of the problems in our country — the businessmen who've amassed such wealth that they can virtually purchase public office. Before he went into politics, Scott was chairman and CEO of Columbia/HCA, the nation's largest for-profit health-care corporation, during the time the company was responsible for the largest Medicare fraud case of all time. The corporation admitted to 14 felonies and agreed to pay more than $2 billion in settlements. Scott had to resign, but he didn't leave empty-handed: No, for leading the company during a time of such profitable fraud, he was rewarded with a parting gift of $300 million.
This year, he spent more than $70 million of his own money to become governor (and $20 million more on campaigns opposing health-care reform), appealing to frightened, angry Tea Partiers with populist issues and persuading tens of thousands of nonmillionaires to vote against their own best interests. But there's good news: At least ridiculously rich white businessmen finally have some representation in politics.
Dirt Meter: 9 (He also looks like Skeletor.)
Polo fans adore John Goodman because he put millions of dollars of his family's money into a posh local polo club popular among A-list celebrities like Madonna and Tommy Lee Jones. But until this year, few people outside of the polo community had ever heard of the Texas-born trust-fund heir credited with rescuing the "sport of kings" in Wellington. That all changed in February.
Goodman was driving his black Bentley convertible home from the bar around 1 a.m. when, police say, he ran a stop sign. He collided with a small Hyundai driven by 23-year-old engineering student Scott Wilson. The impact flipped the Hyundai out of the intersection and into the nearby canal. Goodman stumbled out of his car and began walking to a nearby farm. Meanwhile, the mangled Hyundai lay capsized in a drainage ditch, with Wilson still strapped in the driver's seat, drowning.
The polo mogul, who's been described in court documents as a coke addict and an alcoholic, didn't want to get in trouble. According to sheriff's investigators, Goodman "made no attempts to flag down any vehicles for help." He didn't call 911 until 54 minutes after the first witness reported the crash. By then, it was too late. Scott Wilson, who did not drink alcohol and often served as designated driver for his friends, was dead. Three hours later, Goodman's blood-alcohol level was still a hefty 0.177 percent.
Three months later, when Goodman was finally arrested (at the ritzy Four Seasons Hotel in Miami Beach), he was charged with DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and failure to render aid. But he spent only a few hours in jail. He hired defense attorney Roy Black, famous for getting William Kennedy Smith acquitted of rape and Rush Limbaugh acquitted on charges of doctor-shopping for Oxycontin. Within hours, Black had Goodman released on bond. He pleaded not guilty, and his case is pending trial. If convicted, he could face 30 years in prison, but for the meantime, he's free to frequent swanky restaurants, spend his time in luxury hotels, fly back to Houston to see his family, and even see the occasional Miami Heat game.
Dirt Meter: 7 (Spoiled, decadent behavior turns lethal.)
David J. Stern
David J. Stern might very well be the poster boy for the entire foreclosure quagmire in this country. In 2009 alone, Stern's eponymous law firm, based in Plantation, handled more than 70,000 foreclosure proceedings on behalf of major lenders like Bank of America, JP Morgan, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Operations like Stern's process foreclosure cases on behalf of banks by moving the paperwork through as quickly as possible, leading some to call them "foreclosure mills." Firms have pioneered practices like "robo-signing" — whereby employees process thousands of court documents without ever actually reviewing them, a violation of law. The expedited process means Stern may be responsible for unfairly forcing thousands of struggling Americans from their homes.
And while the evicted residents are forced to fight a system that favors powerful banks and lawyers, Stern has compiled a disgusting amount of wealth: He owns two waterfront mansions in Broward County, each worth well over $10 million, and a 9,000-square-foot apartment at the Ritz-Carlton worth $8 million. He has two more houses in Colorado worth $20 million. His car collection, which includes a million-dollar-plus Bugatti sports car and multiple Ferraris, is said to be worth more than $3 million. And of course, he has a yacht, a 130-foot ode to the most warped, vile ostentation. He named it Su Casa Es Mi Casa. Spanish for "Your House Is My House."
Dirt Meter: 10 (If Americans ever do take to the streets in violent revolt, it's people like Stern who will be hunted.)