Witness for the Intimidation

When I went to see Fane Lozman on his houseboat, I really didn't know what to expect.

I knew Lozman had tangled with officials in North Bay Village a couple of years ago. That ended with the indictment of a city councilman and the resignation of the town's police chief. The Miami New Times called Lozman, admiringly, an "avenging angel."

But he'd moved on from North Bay Village. Now he was mooring his rickety houseboat at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina. And once again, he was in the middle of some serious civic turmoil. Only the stakes were a whole lot higher than anything in North Bay Village.

The man is almost single-handedly blocking a $2.4 billion (yes, with a b) redevelopment plan on Riviera's waterfront. His new foes: Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown, developer and marina giant Bob Healy, and Wayne Huizenga's empire, which is heavily invested in the deal.

They're heavies. And Lozman may have found a way to beat them. He's suing the city for failing to give proper notice for a May 10 meeting during which Brown orchestrated a vote to approve the contract with Healy's Viking Harbor Inlet Properties, the "master developer" on the project.

Brown rushed the process because the following day, Gov. Jeb Bush was signing a new law forbidding cities from using eminent domain powers to benefit private developers. The entire redevelopment plan hinges on eminent domain.

Lozman found a solid loophole — and the governor is even in his corner. And Lozman is shaking things up in a big way. The headline of the June 25 story in the Palm Beach Post that mentioned Lozman's suit: "Riviera Redevelopment Effort Stunned."

But news coverage of Lozman himself has been sketchy at best. So when he called me out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, I drove up to the marina to see him.

Again, I really had no idea what to expect.

It was last Tuesday, the first day of August, a hot and sunny summer afternoon. The first thing I noticed as I drove into the city marina was that it was rundown. The city's Bicentennial Park, which is next door to the marina and has a little beach for swimming, is full of dead grass and junk. The beach itself is dominated by a large rusting hull of a junked dock that sits by the sand like a beached whale.

The place is in bad shape, Riviera Beach-style.

I found Lozman's two-story, 12-foot-wide boat on the north side of the dock. This was Old Florida living, a blast from the past, with the glistening ripples of the Intracoastal, and the human-scale boats (as opposed to megayachts). Half a century ago, it was a fishing village. Travis McGee would have felt right at home.

On Lozman's boat, a man was doing some repair work on the second floor, where a wall was exposed. He called for Lozman, who soon came to the door. There came the first surprise.

He is tall, a good six-foot-five, and was dressed in jeans, leather sandals, and a black T-shirt. Basically, he looked like a thinner and slightly cooler version of a young Chevy Chase. Didn't expect that.

He led me into the boat, which was cluttered with tools, a mountain bike, papers, coolers, and other stuff. He grabbed a stack of papers, and we went back out onto the dock, in the sunshine.

"You see that guy over there?"

I looked over and saw an older man with graying hair and a marina shirt who was sort of lurking by the dock.

"That's George Carter — he runs the whole marina," Lozman explained. "He's after me right now because of my lawsuit against the city. You ought to go over there and ask him some questions."

I wasn't really interested in Carter. I wanted to get into the stack of documents Lozman had under his right arm.

We walked over to the park area and sat on a bench. Lozman was totally preoccupied with Carter, who continued to roam nearby, occasionally talking into his cell phone.

"He doesn't want me doing work on my boat," Lozman told me. "But there's no rule against it. He's just going after me because of what I'm doing with the city. He's good friends with Mayor Brown. They've got him doing this to me."

Sort of interesting, but I still wanted to get into those documents.

Then a police officer appeared and joined Carter. They spoke for a minute or two before the cop called Lozman over to the shady area by the dock.

The officer, Raymond Sorrells, told Lozman that he needed to stop working on his boat. Lozman explained that people work on their boats all the time and that he was just changing out a door that had been damaged by Wilma. He pointed out that a storm was on its way. Sorrells countered by pointing at the dock master.

"This is George Carter," the officer said. "He runs this place. He's in charge of all this. What he says goes."

"That man can't produce an ordinance that I'm violating," Lozman argued in a smooth, low-key fashion.

"Do you know how long he's been running this marina?" Sorrells asked, clearly not expecting an answer. "He has delegated what can or can't be done in this marina... and he's given you an order."

"This man is wasting your time and everybody else's time," Lozman returned.

Sorrells, a bit frustrated, looked back at the marina chief.

"Mr. Carter, what's the rules?" he asked.

"We don't allow it," Carter said. "It's not a construction yard. No marina would let this be done."

I was open-minded at first, but now I was leaning toward Lozman. He was bothering no one; nobody had complained but Carter. It looked like good old-fashioned ball-busting.

"You're going to have trouble here," Sorrells told Lozman ominously.

Soon, Assistant Chief David Harris arrived. You could tell he wasn't a regular cop because he was wearing a comfortable golf shirt. A big man with a thick, reddish-brown mustache, Harris didn't waste time.

"I'm thinking of slapping the cuffs on you right now," he said.

"Let me explain," Lozman tried.

"Go ahead — I gotta hear this one."

Harris really said that.

Lozman went into his spiel about how there was no rule against it, how people work on their boats out there without harassment all the time, how Carter was wasting everyone's time.

"Sir, I know the chain of command," he told Harris, producing a U.S. Marine card from his wallet.

It's true. Lozman, who is 44 years old, was in the Marines as a fighter pilot for seven years. That was after he graduated from the University of Miami with a mathematics degree at age 19. One surprise after another, this guy.

Harris wasn't impressed.

"The guy told you that you can't do construction," said the assistant chief, looking again at Carter. "That's the guy that runs the marina."

It didn't look good. Lozman dialed his cell phone and handed it to me.

"Can you tell my girlfriend to bail me out?" he asks me. "Just leave a message for Darlene."

I left a message for Darlene. As soon as I was off the phone, Harris eyed me.

"Who are you?"

I told him I'm a reporter with New Times.

"You got any I.D. to prove that?"

Damn it. I always leave the house without business cards. I searched my wallet and came up empty.

"OK, you're going to have to stand over there while we do this," he said.

Sorrells walked over to escort me away.

"No way," I told Harris. "I'm not going anywhere. This is a free country."

I really said that last part. I'm not proud.

Harris considered things for a minute and — snap — his entire demeanor suddenly changed. He said he'd let me tag along and said to Lozman, "You need to get that work done today."

It looked better for Lozman. We all walked down the dock to his boat, and Harris inspected the work. The man was tough to read. He, Sorrells, and Carter all walked back to the park area and had a powwow.

While they spoke, a well-dressed black woman appeared. It was Riviera Beach Commissioner Liz Wade. I had no idea what she was doing there. Wade joined the powwow. Then Harris came back to address Lozman.

"OK, you have to finish this today," he said. "I'm allowing you to do this because the storm is coming. That's the only reason."

Lozman was in the clear.

Then Wade walked over to Lozman. They clearly knew each other. She said something about tickets.

"I'll go write a check," Lozman told the commissioner.

He came back with an old brown leather wallet, pulled out his checkbook, wrote a check for $1,500, and handed it to the commissioner.

"This is not a payoff," Wade told me, laughing.

No, he was buying ten $150 tickets for the County Caucus of Black Politicians' Black Tie Gala to be held August 25 at the Breakers Hotel. That was the reason for her visit to the marina, to pick up the money.

"He's a young man, he's got plenty of money, and he's got time on his hands," Wade said of Lozman. "I want him to be treated fairly."

It doesn't hurt either that Wade and Mayor Brown are longtime political foes. When Wade left, I asked Lozman what he does for a living. He sketched it out. Basically, the guy was a software and financial whiz kid who went up to Chicago, set up his own businesses, and made some serious coin in the financial markets.

"Fair to say you're a multimillionaire?" I asked.

He nodded. Then he told me that he was certain that if Wade and I weren't there, he'd have been put in jail. And he repeated his belief that Carter is only doing the bidding of City Hall.

"They're intimidating a plaintiff, point-blank," he said, referring to his lawsuit against the city.

I asked Carter about that. He said he's spoken to just about everyone at City Hall about Lozman, who has become famous quickly in Riviera Beach.

"I'll talk to the mayor about him occasionally, and he'll say, 'How's my friend Mr. Lozman doing?'" said Carter, who's actually quite personable when he's not trying to have someone arrested. "But the mayor has never said, 'Can you get him for me?' Absolutely not. He knows better than that."

Lozman knows how to push buttons — on people and entire towns — but he swore he didn't seek out this controversy.

"I came here because it was the only place I could put my fucking boat," he said. "I pay $1,200 a month. What about these mom-and-pop people who live here? They're going to turn this place into a giant megayacht marina for only the richest people. So I could have either thrown up my hands or fight a rotten group of corrupt assholes."

He chose to fight. I told him it was an interesting couple of hours I'd spent in the middle of it with him.

"Welcome to my life," he said, a smile barely forming on his lips.

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman