Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ron Book's Dade County Commissioner patsy Jose "Pepe" Diaz BUSTED for DUI

This is Jose "Pepe" Diaz, and for years, he has been Ron Book's go-to lackey on the Dade County Commission. In fact, he is credited with writing the controversial "Lauren Book Child Safety Ordinance," the 2500 foor residency restriction law that led to the Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony, otherwise known as "Bookville." 

Actually, this is Pepe's MUGSHOT. You see, he was recently arrested for DUI. (HERE IS THE BODY CAM FOOTAGE if you want to see Pepe go full tilt, courtesy of the Miami Herald.) At this time there is no word if he will blame it on a brain tumor. In response Pepe said, "There goes my political career." We can only hope. 

Dade Commissioner 'Pepe' Diaz caught on camera: "There goes my political career"
Posted: Sep 20, 2015 10:10 AM EDT
Updated: Sep 22, 2015 11:14 AM EDT

MIAMI (WSVN) -- Dashcam video has been released showing the moment before Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz was arrested over the weekend after allegedly driving his motorcycle drunk in Key West.

Diaz, known to ride a motorcycle, was arrested Saturday night following the Key West Poker Run, a charity motorcycle event.

According to Key West Police, the commissioner was pulled over at around 7:45 p.m., on South Roosevelt Boulevard near Sea Side Drive, for going 74 mph in a 30 mph zone. Authorities said, during the traffic stop, Diaz failed to put his kickstand down, causing his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to fall to the ground. According to the police report, Diaz did not place his feet down on the ground to steady the motorcycle, causing him to fall over to his side. They also noticed that he had a slight slur, his eyes were bloodshot and watery. There was also a strong alcoholic odor from his breath. Police said that was when the DUI investigation began, and he was taken into custody.

Dashcam video showed Diaz as he attempted to walk a straight line, at times stumbling during the test. 

Key West Police bodycams and dashcams on the police car rolled throughout the traffic stop. According to the bodycams one Key West officer was wearing, when asked why Diaz was driving over the speed limit, Diaz apologized. "I'm Commissioner Diaz. I apologize," he said.

"You're who?" asked the officer

"Commissioner Diaz for Miami-Dade County," he responded, as he approached the officer.

"Stop right there."

That's when Diaz explained to police that he was trying to catch up to his friends. A few minutes later, he realized the severity of the stop and said, "There goes my political career."

"Sir," the officer said, "I don't make the decisions on whether you drink, you drive."

Diaz was asked to perform several sobriety tests and failed. He also refused a breathalyzer test. 

Commissioner Diaz appeared before a judge Sunday, and his bond was set at $1,000. 7News was the only station there as Diaz bonded out of the Monroe County Jail, just before noon Sunday, but he refused to comment.

Under legal council, he said he could not discuss any details following his arrest. He later released a statement Monday that reads, "Under advice of my legal counsel, I cannot discuss details at this time. However, I look forward to resolving this matter. In the meantime, I will continue to serve my community and the residents of District 12 as I have done for the last 24 years, and I humbly ask for your patience during this time."

Commissioner Diaz addressed the media from his home Monday evening. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry, once again. I am extremely sorry," he said. "This is a very difficult moment for me, for my family, for my friends, for my neighbors. Especially my neighbors that please, after this, let them come back to a normality of life. It's not been easy for them. I will tell you that I will follow the judicial system, as I believe in it, like I've always believed in it. I will go through this process like anybody else that's been in this situation."

7News requested information from the Governor's Office on what steps it might take following the charges. We were told that the legal team there are looking into this case.

Diaz has served on the commission since 2002 and was previously mayor of Sweetwater. The next commission meeting is Oct. 6.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Peter Schorsch is endorsing Lauren Book. Is the the guy you'd want endorsing you?

This is Peter Schorsch. Peter runs the "SaintPetersBlog," a Florida politically-focused blog. He is endorsing Lauren Book on his blog. Recently Peter published an article where he asked such "hard hitting" questions as:

So let’s ask the questions…

How will she keep a firewall between her two worlds? (i.e., as spokesperson for her charity and as someone running for office)

Can she be both a candidate and a foundation CEO?

And what about her salary?

And so we get this answer "State records show that as CEO of Lauren’s Kids, Lauren drew part of her salary from state dollars. Fine, there is absolutely not even a question about a CEO of a foundation drawing a salary. She was paid for work she was doing. But now that she is a candidate, Book says she will no longer derive any of her salary from state funding. Yes, you read that first here on Florida Politics.  Any funds that she draws down for her work with Lauren’s Kids will, going forward, come exclusively from private donations and not from tax dollars. 'This isn’t something we are required to do,' Book said, 'but it feels right and we are always going to bend over backwards to cross our Ts and dot our Is.'"

I guess we will have to see it to believe it. Most of Lauren's Kids money has come from taxpayer dollars, so to claim she will not derive a salary from the taxpayers is a bit ludicrous. Furthermore, we all know some of her "private funds" come from the for-profit GEO Group private prison. But I digress. 

At the least, Lauren Book should be screen her endorsements a little better. Lets look at Peter Schorsch's own record. 

Record cleared, consultant's back
A campaign consultant once banned from working in politics returns with a clean slate.

By JOSE CARDENAS, Times Staff Writer
Published September 9, 2007

Once a rising star in Tampa Bay area politics, Peter Schorsch appeared to be finished as a campaign consultant this spring.
In March, Schorsch pleaded no contest to two counts of grand theft and one count of scheming to defraud two candidates and the Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club.

Sentenced to house arrest, probation, community service and restitution, Schorsch was banned from working in politics while on probation. Soon he was accused of violating that, too.

But in a deal that wiped out his sentence, Schorsch last month was released from the conditions of his probation.

And he's back in business...

In 2006, Schorsch was charged with writing 16 worthless checks totalling more than $1,200 for cash at Publix. He pleaded guilty and was fined.

Schorsch told the Times that he wrote the checks to cover debts he incurred gambling on basketball games.

- - -

Then, in 2006, Schorsch was arrested on charges he stole nearly $10,000 from the Democratic club, and from Ed Helm and Eve Joy, who ran for mayor and a seat on the St. Petersburg City Council, respectively, in 2005.

Schorsch took their money and did no work.

After pleading no contest, he was sentenced to two years of house arrest and three years of probation, during which he was prohibited from working in campaigns.

He also was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and pay restitution.

But Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone agreed to withhold a formal finding of guilt for Schorsch, who had no other felonies, which meant he would no have a record as convicted felon.

In August, Schorsch appeared at Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court again: Authorities said he violated probation by not making restitution payments...

Prosecutors said they would forgive the house arrest portion of the sentence if Schorsch paid full restitution immediately instead of making payments over several years.

Even if Schorsch paid up, though, Assistant State Attorney Lalitha Alladi and Joy asked that Schorsch be kept on probation.

But Quesada offered to take Schorsch off of probation if he paid the restitution in full right away.

It was a way to encourage Schorsch to borrow money and pay the victims now rather than later, Quesada said...

"He's not a convicted felon," said Bartlett. But "I don't think he can avoid the fact that he has this on his record."

And that's not all of his trouble. Schorsch also still has not paid a $66,500 fine levied in 2006 by the Florida Elections Commission for unrelated election violations.


In Florida's power circles, politicos say dealing with well-connected blogger Peter Schorsch often comes down to the money.

Want to garner his favor or avoid his wrath? Buy an ad.

Want him to write a flattering story or remove a negative post he already wrote? Buy an ad.

According to five people active in politics, Schorsch, 37, has tried to pressure them for hundreds or thousands of dollars in exchange for good stories or the deletion of bad ones

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long and former state Rep. Frank Farkas are among those who say Schorsch tried to trade coverage for money. Three accusers provided documentation and one, Michael Pinson, offered a notarized contract signed by Schorsch.

Since the Tampa Bay Times started asking questions early this month, a 2½-year-old dormant criminal investigation into Schorsch based on some of these claims has been renewed, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri...

The reinvigorated criminal inquiry into Schorsch stems from accusations made by Pinson, a Republican activist who over the last three years Schorsch has frequently criticized and mocked online. Pinson supplied a contract to the Times that Schorsch had presented him in May 2012. In it, Schorsch requested that Pinson pay him $3,200 in order for the blogger to delete all references to Pinson from his websites — and to write nothing more about him for the following three years.

The contract called for a $1,000 bonus if anything Schorsch wrote about Pinson didn't appear in the first 30 online search results.

The contract is notarized and signed by Schorsch. The Times met with the notary, who confirmed its legitimacy...

Pinson, who was mentioned for an open Pinellas congressional seat, said he didn't pay Schorsch, and the attacks continued. Just three months later, in a Twitter exchange with someone Schorsch seemed to believe Pinson knew, Schorsch said this: "Tell Michael I said hi. Just think for 5K he could've made all of this go away. Wait till u see 'The Douchebag Returns' story."

Schorsch acknowledged the tweet but said the recipient was "a fake Twitter account established to harass my family."


To sum it up:

  • Arrested in 2006 for writing 16 worthless checks totaling more than $1,200 for cash at Publix. He pleaded guilty and was fined. 
  • Arrested in 2006 on charges he stole nearly $10,000 from the Democratic club, and from Ed Helm and Eve Joy, who ran for mayor and a seat on the St. Petersburg City Council, respectively, in 2005.After pleading no contest, he was sentenced to two years of house arrest and three years of probation, during which he was prohibited from working in campaigns.
  • Still had not paid a $66,500 fine levied in 2006 by the Florida Elections Commission for unrelated election violations over a year after the conviction. 
  • Under a 2 1/2 year long investigation for writing hit pieces against those who do not pay him and accepting bribes for favorable reporting. 
Once again we find a convicted criminal with close ties to Lauren Book. I know Lauren can't help being tied to her father Ron (also a convicted criminal), but having close ties with this guy isn't going to help her cause. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Florida gives $3.8 million to Lauren’s Kids charity after questionable poll on sex abuse

EVERY action of Lauren's Kids should be questioned, not just this one. This isn't the first time a supposed victims' rights group has been caught padding the stats.


JUNE 26, 2015 AT 9:40 AM
Florida gives $3.8 million to Lauren’s Kids charity after questionable poll on sex abuse

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org

On June 4, Lauren’s Kids, released the results of an Internet poll it commissioned that found more than one-third of female respondents and one-fifth of male respondents had admitted to being sexually abused as children.

The survey’s results came in just as legislators reconvened for a special session to decide the 2015-2016 budget, which included a $3.8 million grant for the Aventura-based charity that specializes in child sex abuse prevention education.

Founded by Lauren Book, the daughter of prominent Tallahassee lobbyist Ronald Book, Lauren’s Kids got the funding, even escaping Gov. Rick Scott’s dreaded veto axe. But the trustworthiness of the online survey – a method national polling experts warn often results in unreliable, inaccurate public opinion data – can’t be verified.

Sachs Media Group, the Tallahassee public relations firm that was paid an undisclosed sum by Lauren’s Kids to conduct the poll, declined to provide detailed information about how individuals were selected to participate in the invitation-only survey. A Sachs senior executive also would not say how many people received invitations, and cited privacy considerations in declining to provide a list of the 1,033 participating Florida adults and their responses.

“We use industry standard balancing and targeting techniques to ensure randomness [of the participants],” said Karen Cyphers, Sachs Media Vice-President for Research and Policy. “The survey was fully online, no person-to-person interviews were conducted. Of those who clicked on the initial invitation to participate, the completion rate was just over 75 percent.”

Cyphers did provide FloridaBulldog.org with the list of poll questions that led to some of the alarming conclusions in the Lauren’s Kids survey.

For instance, the first question asked, “Were you sexually abused prior to age 18?” According to the document provided by Cyphers, 21 percent responded “yes.”

The participants who answered “no,” “not sure,” or “don’t want to say” were then shown a list of acts that constitute child sexual abuse that included being forced to expose themselves to grown-ups and being forced to watch adults have sex, Cyphers explained.

They were then asked, “After seeing a list of what constitutes child sexual abuse, were you sexually abused prior to age 18?” Nine percent of those who had answered “no,” “not sure,” or “don’t want to say” changed their answer to “yes,” according to the poll questions document.


Russell Renka, a retired political science professor at Southeastern Missouri University who wrote a 2010 research paper on what makes a good and bad poll, told FloridaBulldog.org the Lauren’s Kids survey is an advocacy poll being used to promote a specific viewpoint, which raises questions about accuracy.

Renka said professional pollsters, like the Pew Research Center, regularly publish backup data with survey results so that observers can independently evaluate the information. He noted Lauren’s Kids has only posted on its website selected highlights of the poll instead of the entire survey with the full set of questions and a full explanation of the methodology.

“You are counting on them to assure that the results are accurate,” Renka said. “That is a slippery slope.”

Click here to see the Research Methodology sheet provided by Sachs Media and its unit, Breakthrough Research, for the Lauren’s Kids survey.

Heather Gray, executive director of Lauren’s Kids, defended the nonprofit’s poll, saying Internet surveys have overtaken telephone methods in reaching a diverse, representative sample of respondents while producing reliably comparable results.

“Internet surveys reduce interviewer bias, enabling respondents to share personal or undesirable opinions without fear of judgment by another person,” Gray said. “This is important, particularly for a topic as sensitive as this one.”

However, even some of the nation’s most respected numbers crunchers caution about the use of Internet-based surveys.

In an early June post on his blog FiveThirtyEight, stats wunderkind Nate Silver said web polls are a big part of gauging public opinion, but that some pollsters are abandoning scientific principles when conducting them.

“It’s fundamentally challenging to ‘ping’ a random voter on the Internet in the same way that you might by giving her an unsolicited call on her phone,” Silver writes. “Many pollsters that do Internet surveys eschew the concept of the random sample, instead recruiting panels that they claim are representative of the population.”

Silver points out that online surveys grossly miscalculated the results in last year’s mid-term elections, Israel’s general election in March, and the Parliament elections in the United Kingdom last month.

“The foundation of opinion research has historically been the ability to draw a random sample of the population,” Silver writes. “That’s become much harder to do.”

Cliff Zukin, a former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, wrote in the June 20 New York Times Sunday Review that there are major problems with Internet polls.


“First is what pollsters call ‘coverage error,’” Zukin wrote. “Not everybody is reachable online.”

A professor at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics and Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Zukin asserts that statisticians have not figured out how to draw a representative sample of Internet users.

“Almost all online election polling is done with nonprobability samples,” Zukin opines. “These are largely unproven methodologically…It is impossible to calculate a margin of error on such surveys.”

Also problematic are the conflicting interests involved when a company that conducts the survey, in this case Sachs Media, is paid to do so by another company with an interest in the outcome.

Cyphers insisted Sach’s Internet polls are scientifically sound. For the Lauren’s Kids poll, she said invitations were randomly sent to people who were identified as living in Florida. Those who responded that they resided out-of-state were dropped from the results.

Between 2011 and 2013, Lauren’s Kids paid Sachs a total of $1.6 million for producing webinars, program materials such as brochures, palm cards and a mobile app, and a 30-minute TV program that was aired on network affiliate television stations throughout Florida, among other media services.

The poll results came out at a crucial time for Lauren’s Kids, which has received nearly $7 million in state appropriations in previous years used to fund the non-profit’s programs that train kids, teachers, and child caretakers at the Pre-K to third grade level to recognize the signs of sexual abuse and report it to authorities.

With the $3.8 million Lauren’s Kids will receive this year, it plans to expand its curriculum at the fourth grade to high school level. During the teleconference with reporters on June 4, Lauren Book, who was sexually abused when she was a teen, said the Internet poll proved the reasons why her programs must continue.

“Clearly sexual abuse can happen in any family,” Book said, adding the poll “shines a light on how much work we have to do to report sexual abuse and to recognize the signs of sexual abuse.”

The appropriation for Lauren’s Kids was tucked in a $23.8 million pot for “school and instructional enhancements” that emerged unscathed when the governor finalized the budget earlier this week. Scott obliterated funding for 24 other special interest projects on the list, including $100,000 for youth summer job programs and $30,000 for a financial literacy pilot program in Broward County.

Gray said Lauren’s Kids was not given preferential treatment.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who sits on the appropriations committee, sponsored funding for Lauren’s Kids. Fresen did not respond to a request for comment, but Gray said he was required to submit the non-profit’s request before the entire committee for evaluation.

Gray said Lauren’s Kids was also vetted before the state senate appropriations committee.

“Chairman Don Gaetz [a Republican] and Vice Chairman Bill Montford [a Democrat] sent a joint letter to all organizations in the state budget who received funding in fiscal year 2014-15 and asked them to submit information for evaluation for fiscal year 2015-16,” Gray said. “We complied with the request and are pleased to have received bipartisan support from the committee upon completion of the submission and evaluation process.”

Conflict of interest shuts down lobbyist Ron Book’s work for bail industry

Ron Book has his crooked fingers in many aspects of the justice system.


Conflict of interest shuts down lobbyist Ron Book’s work for bail industry
MARCH 23, 2010 AT 5:12 AM
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Flagged by Broward officials for a conflict of interest, county lobbyist Ron Book has agreed to stop pushing for a new state law that county officials say would seriously undermine Broward’s pretrial intervention program and cost local taxpayers millions.

The new law is being sought by another of Book’s clients, the Florida bail bond industry. It would restrict access to county-run pretrial release programs by establishing new, statewide eligibility requirements for defendants seeking to get out of jail, forcing the county to spend more in keeping inmates behind bars.

County support for the pretrial program has wavered over the years; nevertheless, critics say Book should not be involved in representing the bail bond industry on the issue.

Broward County pays Book $53,000 a year plus $2,000 in expenses to lobby in Tallahassee.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Lois Wexler said that if passed the law would “decimate” local pretrial release programs and place huge financial burdens on counties across the state.

Wexler added that she wants her money’s worth from the lobbyist that many consider to be the most influential in Florida.

“I want Mr. Book on my team…I don’t want him neutral,” Wexler said.

 At Book’s urging, Broward commissioners passed an ordinance in January 2009 restricting access to the program run by the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The proposed change in state law would further tighten the bondsmen’s noose on the pretrial program.

“I guess the bail bond companies didn’t get richer or increase their bottom line enough by what we did a year and a half ago, so now they’re going in for the kill,” Wexler said in an interview.

“This bill makes money the determination of justice,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

Book declared a “potential conflict” in a March 8 letter to the county after a county official told him the county opposed the pretrial measure. He asked the county to waive its conflict rules to “allow me to continue my representation of the bail industry.”

Those rules recognize the potential for conflict of interest in dual representation, but only when the Legislature is in session as it is now.

Broward has yet to rule on that request, but the matter may now be moot. On Friday, Book agreed honor the demand of another client, Miami-Dade County, which decided it did not want Book lobbying on the pretrial detention issue.

“I am in the process of extricating myself from the issue,” he said.

Wexler said Book may be disingenuous when he says he’ll stop lobbying the issue.

“The word on the street is that he’s already secured the votes for them so he can now afford to be neutral,” said Wexler.

Book may be out of the legislative game on the pretrial detention bill, but his sympathies were clear in a parting shot Monday at Finkelstein — his chief Broward antagonist.

“Public policy is on our side. And contrary to what Howard Finkelstein thinks, nobody died and left him in charge of what’s right and wrong in this world,” said Book.

This isn’t the first time Book’s work for the bail industry has put him at odds with his clients at county hall.

The January 2009 vote was accompanied by intense behind the scenes lobbying and public controversy. And 11 years ago, Book apologized when Broward commissioners asked him to explain why he had pushed a bill that would have weakened the county’s pretrial detention program and cost the county millions.

“Hopefully, you don’t make the same mistake again,” Commissioner Ilene Lieberman said at the time, according to The Miami Herald.

Book said Pete Antonacci of the GrayRobinson law firm will now lead the lobbying effort. Antonacci said the next hearing is Friday in Tallahassee at the House criminal and civil justice committee.

“We have very good support in the House and Senate,” Antonacci said.

The House and Senate are considering two versions of the proposed law, HB445 and SB782. The sponsors are two powerful Republicans – Lake Mary Rep. Chris Dorworth, Speaker of the House designate for 2014-2016, and St. Augustine Sen. John Thrasher, the new chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

A staff analysis of the House bill reported pretrial program data collected from about a half-dozen counties, including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

Miami-Dade said approximately 55 percent of their current pretrial clients, nearly 7,300 people, would be ineligible based on the bill’s requirements. In Palm Beach, the rate of ineligibility would rise to 67 percent, or 3,400 people.

Broward was not included in that analysis. But at Tuesday’s hearing Wexler said 1,750 Broward defendants who now use the program would no longer qualify if the law passes.

A fiscal analysis sought to project how much it would cost to keep those extra people in jail for the average length of time it takes to get cases resolved in each county.

In Miami-Dade, where the per day cost to keep an inmate in jail is $134.27, that cost would be $1 million to $10 million depending on how many of those 7,300 extra inmates remained in jail until their cases were resolved. In Palm Beach, the range was $1.3 million to $12.8 million.

Those worrisome numbers are fueling opposition to the bill among the 28 counties that have pretrial programs.

But that’s a plus to Antonacci.

“In some ways it helps because I don’t think they have a particularly good track record in Tallahassee. Every time out they say the sky is falling and it doesn’t happen. People become a little numb,” he said.

Miami Herald: Politicians send millions to charity of lobbyist’s daughter

It pays (millions) to be the daughter of convicted criminal Ron Book.


 MAY 6, 2015
Politicians send millions to charity of lobbyist’s daughter


Over the last four years, Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit founded by the daughter of top Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, has become one of the Legislature’s favorite charities, raking in nearly $7 million in taxpayer funds. If and when legislators reconvene to pass a budget, that total is slated to rise to $10.8 million.

The mission of Lauren’s Kids is to raise awareness about child sexual abuse. At the same time, however, Lauren’s Kids has cultivated a symbiotic relationship with important political figures in the Capitol, led by Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

The politicians get feel-good publicity with photo ops. Lauren’s Kids gets state dollars, and plenty of them.

Legislative appropriation records show that of the 27 special-interest groups to be allocated funds from a $19 million pot earmarked this year for “school and instructional enhancements,” Lauren’s Kids will get the most, $3.8 million. More than two dozens youth organizations, including the Girl Scouts of Florida and the YMCA, are to receive less than $300,000 each.

Critics say Book’s political clout gives Lauren’s Kids an unfair advantage over hundreds of applicants vying for state discretionary funds.

“There are so many things this money could be used for,” said Vicky Henry, a national advocate against sexual offender registration laws. “Take some of that $3.8 million and give more to school districts or church and scout organizations.”

Lauren Book, chief executive of Lauren’s Kids, said her nonprofit is on the same playing field as others seeking state funds.

“I believe the process is highly competitive,” Book said in an email. “Projects receive intense scrutiny; first in budget subcommittees, then in full committees, on the floors of the chambers, and in joint budget conference committees. Following all of that, an appropriation is vetted by the governor’s staff, and must withstand the gubernatorial veto process.”

Book, who was sexually and physically abused by her nanny for six years starting at age 11, founded Lauren’s Kids in 2007. Her father, Ron Book — an attorney who counts the Miami Dolphins, the GEO Group prison company and dozens of cities and counties as clients — is the organization’s chairman. Last year, his firm collected $5 million in lobbying fees, state records show.


Grants aren’t the only way government helps fund Lauren’s Kids. Miami-Dade and Broward counties facilitate individual $1 donations by including a box for people to check on their car registration renewal forms. Lauren’s Kids also has its own state-approved specialty Florida license plate, from which it collects $25 from each sale, according to its website. Lauren’s Kids tax returns show that from 2011-2013 those $1 car registration renewal donations brought in more than $700,000. How much revenue has been generated by the specialty license tags, approved by the Legislature in 2013, was not available.

Lauren Book’s most publicized annual event is “Walk In My Shoes,” a 1,500-mile trek across Florida from Key West to the steps of the old state Capitol building. It’s also a favorite of elected officials.

Book completed her sixth walk on April 22. Joining her at the Capitol were dozens of child sex-abuse victims and their families, her father and a lineup of powerful Republicans and Democrats. They included Scott, Lopez-Cantera, Senate President Andy Gardiner, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and vice chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.


Lauren Book, who has hinted at a run for office, formed a political action committee last September called Leadership For Broward that has collected $525,257, mostly from her father’s clients, including $100,000 from the Miami Dolphins.

Lauren’s Kids’ most recent tax returns show it received government grants of $486,116 in 2011, $1.6 million in 2012, and $1.1 million in 2013. Most of the combined $2.8 million was from the state.

The organization has yet to file its tax return for 2014, but Book confirmed previous media reports that Lauren’s Kids received $3.8 million from the Legislature last year.

The 29-year-old Book’s annual salary is on a similar upward trajectory, rising from nearly $68,000 in 2011 to $95,000 in 2013.

From 2011-13, Lauren’s Kids collected $1.4 million in private contributions, more than half coming from the $1 donations via car registration renewals. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in other revenue has come through special events and the sale from books, including Lauren Book’s self-published memoir, It’s Ok to Tell.

Book says the bulk of Lauren’s Kids revenue has been used to create and maintain an educational program called “Safer, Smarter Kids” that trains public school teachers and child caretakers throughout the state on how to identify signs of sexual child abuse and how to report cases to authorities.

Originally targeted to children in pre-kindergarten to third grade, the program has expanded to educate kids in fourth and fifth grades, as well as adolescents in middle and high school. To implement the program, Lauren’s Kids hired Tallahassee advertising firm Sachs Media Group, which was paid a total of $1.6 million between 2011 and 2013. Sachs produces webinars, program materials such as brochures, palm cards and a mobile app, and a 30-minute TV program that was aired on network affiliate television stations throughout Florida, among other media services.

Lauren’s Kids also paid $219,000 to the Monique Burr Foundation in Jacksonville for acting as a go-between with schools participating in the Safer, Smarter Kids program. It paid another $142,000 to the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence for staffing a crisis hotline and developing training materials and conducting training sessions for 15 school districts.

As a result of her organization’s educational program, tens of thousands of Florida children now know to report incidents of sexual abuse, Book said.

Florida Bulldog is a not-for-profit news organization created to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. Contributions are tax-deductible. www.floridabulldog.org

Ron Book bashes Miami commissioner for 'despicable' behavior on homeless issue

Ron Book, as head of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, certainly spends a lot of his time doing everything but actually helping the homeless. He should have stepped down years ago. This make's Ron's rant rather ironic.


Super-lobbyist Ron Book bashes Miami commissioner for 'despicable' behavior on homeless issue (W/AUDIO)

The fierce debate over Miami’s sleeping-mat program for the homeless turned personal on Friday, as Miami-Dade Homeless Trust chairman Ron Book lashed out at city leaders — singling out one commissioner in particular.

Book took aim at Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who spearheaded the mat program. The two men have feuded over whether the county homeless agency should help fund 115 outdoor mats, which are part of a covered pavilion at the Camillus House shelter. Sarnoff says it’s only right that the county chip in; Book says outdoor mats encourage the homeless to stay on the street rather than seek social services, and his agency won’t fund something that’s counterproductive.

The mat program, started last year, runs out of money on Aug. 1.

On Friday, Book said Sarnoff has jumped into the homelessness issue without truly understanding it. And the city of Miami, he said, can’t be trusted.

“They’re never OK, they’re never satisfied, because Marc Sarnoff wants to be nothing but right, and he’s wrong about this, he’s wrong about it,” said Book, who in addition to leading the Homeless Trust is also one of Florida’s most powerful lobbyists.

Book’s angry comments, with his arm repeatedly banging on the table, came during a sit-down meeting with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The meeting, which was open to the public, was an attempt by Gimenez to broker a deal on the outdoor mat issue.

As Book ripped into Sarnoff — who wasn’t in attendance — Gimenez tried to calm him.

“He thinks he’s right, you think you’re right,” the mayor said.

“He’s no expert!” responded Book, his voice raised. “He parachutes in, he hasn’t done any research, he hasn’t gone to conferences, he doesn’t care, ’cause he wants to be right. ... His behavior is despicable.”


Ron Book should have stepped down long ago as head of the Miami Homeless Trust after he created the Julia Tuttle Causeway Sex Offender Camp, aka Bookville. The poop map should have the largest poop icon right over Ron Book's corporate office.



FRIDAY, MAY 15, 2015

A nasty dispute over the public-toilet needs of Miami's homeless population — and the question of who should pay for them — ramped up again yesterday. The Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the agency in charge of promoting Miami business, unveiled new evidence in its battle with another agency, the Homeless Trust, and its chairman, Ron Book, over public toilets: A "poop map." 

The map shows, with smiling brown emoticons, the locations throughout downtown Miami of 55 specimens of human feces that were catalogued within one recent eight-hour period. The highest concentration was found in the downtown core, around the intersections between Flagler Street and NE First Street with NE Second Avenue. There was also a cluster of the little brown guys in west downtown, at NW First Street and NW First Avenue.

As the Miami Herald points out, the release of the map was timed to coincide with a county commission vote on funding of a Camillus House shelter program; county commissioners later directed Book to study new programs. The move came after months of very public — and increasingly personal — squabbling between the two agencies over the issue of funding for downtown toilets.

In a statement yesterday, DDA executive director Alyce Robertson praised her agency's initiative on downtown homelessness and criticized the Homeless Trust, saying the agency "has resorted to passing the buck and ignoring the problem." In one email copied to city media outlets, Jose Goyanes, a board member of the DDA, said Book was "running the Trust like a third world dictator."

Earlier this week, incensed that Book opposed Homeless Trust funding for a $100,000 public-toilet pilot program, Goyanes also released a YouTube video with dozens of images of feces and urine. "This is a health crisis," Goyanes wrote in the email containing the video he sent to reporters. "And Ron Book, Victoria Mallette & The Miami Dade Homeless Trust with their $55 Million Dollar Budget won't do anything about it."

Book later told New Times he refused to even look at the video. “I'm sick of the personal attacks," he said, furious, after yesterday's meeting, the Herald reported. "Let someone else chair the thing."

But the megalobbyist later said he was caught up in the heat of the moment and isn't going anywhere.

"I will not be giving up my chairmanship or my seat on the board," he tells New Times. "They’ll have to carry me out first. I am not going to let these folks drive me out just so they can be right and get their way."

As for the homeless, any solution that would lead to more public-toilet options looks unlikely in the short term. Expect that poop map to expand.


Book replied to New Times' request for comment with the following response:

"I chose not to look at Mr. Goyanes’ video. Mr. Goyanes seems to believe that the Homeless Trust is responsible for anything and everything involving homeless individuals, and he is simply mistaken. We are not going to be putting toilets or showers in downtown Miami, which we believe serves to deter getting the chronic homeless, off the streets. We’ve looked at this several times over the last 10 to 12 years and we are just not doing it."


Still, while the Trust has reduced homeless over time to about 4,000 in Miami, there remain about 1,000 on the streets, with some 600 living in Miami boundaries. And while Book has dug in his heels, so too have Miami officials. James Bernat, the city’s police coordinator, staunchly defends the program, and Commissioner and DDA Chairman Marc Sarnoff is one of Camillus House’s biggest boosters and fundraisers.

“Where do 600 people go to the bathroom everyday? Well there’s a map to show you where 600 people go to the bathroom everyday,” said Sarnoff, who displayed the DDA’s map on television. “This is a countywide issue, as you’ll see.”


Methinks the apple hasn't fallen that far from the tree.




As she climbed the hill leading to Florida's State Capitol last spring, Lauren Book broke from a walk into a run. The 29-year-old blond with a pink ribbon wrapped around her ponytail raised both arms in triumph and flashed a huge smile as she crossed the finish line of the Walk in My Shoes charity event. Her father, Ron Book, perhaps the most influential lobbyist in Florida, trotted beside her in running shorts.

Lauren had walked 1,500 miles, having started in Key West 42 days earlier on a mission to bring attention to childhood sexual abuse. When she trekked through South Florida, Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra called her an "angel." When she was in Orlando, abuse survivors fought back tears as they joined her. During a postwalk news conference on the Capitol steps, Fort Walton Beach Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz bragged about freshly passed legal reforms that would crack down on sex offenders -- ideas "that were on Lauren's mind, that ended up on my legal pad, that are now in the laws of Florida." When it was Gov. Rick Scott's turn to speak, he called them laws "I had the honor to sign."

A year later, Nancy Smith, executive editor of the Sunshine State News, which covers Florida politics, remembers the spectacle. "Cabinet members don't get that kind of coverage, that kind of interest... I don't understand how in four or five years, one person gets to this level with a charity."

One reason: Lauren suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of her nanny during her teens. She parlayed her pain into advocacy by founding a nonprofit called Lauren's Kids that has brought much attention to the issue and achieved national press, including an appearance by Lauren on Katie Couric's show.

But this past November, she founded a political committee, suggesting to many -- including the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald -- that she's exploring a 2016 run for office. Speculation is that she's eyeing a state Senate seat, Florida's 33rd District -- which includes Davie, Plantation, Hollywood, Hallandale Beach, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, and Dania Beach. Incumbent Eleanor Sobel has served since 2008 and is reaching her term limit. So far, the committee has raised more than $400,000, as much as many active candidates garner in an entire election cycle.

"I have not made that decision," Lauren, now age 30, says via email. Despite requests over two weeks for an interview, she said she was too busy to sit down with New Times. The potential of her candidacy has at least three insiders contacted by this newspaper bristling. Already, the insiders allege, businesses and politicians funnel money to Lauren's Kids to gain points with her father's powerful political machine. It's no surprise that such an ambitious young woman would seek office, they say, but it's worth critiquing the forces that are propelling her.

"Any big corporation that needs good press can make a donation to curry favor with [Ron Book]," says Nancy Smith, the Sunshine State News editor. Companies donate "so that he will represent them at some point, so that he won't go against one of their projects."

"Nonsense," says Ron Book. Any allegations of quid pro quo are "outlandish -- and completely false -- claims."

"Political points?" Lauren asked incredulously. "I want to be clear about one thing. I was raped every day for six years, and they were the six most horrible and horrific years of my life. I felt guilty, ashamed, invisible, bad, dirty, hurt, and afraid every single day from the time that I was 11 until I was 16... Children in every community on the planet are also enduring the pain I suffered. I am trying to turn my personal pain into something positive and hopefully prevent this from happening to others."

Ron Book has represented some of Florida's richest companies -- the Miami Dolphins, AutoNation, and the GEO Group among them -- as well as scores of cities and towns. He also helps raise millions for candidates seeking office. His firm earned $5.6 million in fees in 2013. This, he has said, is because he's effective as hell. He works from 6:15 a.m. until 8 or 9 at night and jets between South Florida and Tallahassee more than most people go to the corner store. He has been described as both charming and dogged.

But his zeal has sometimes brought trouble: In late 1985, he came under investigation for allegedly helping to bribe an Opa-locka politician. The next year, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor in an insurance-fraud case. In the mid-1990s, he pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors after funneling more than $30,000 in illegal campaign contributions to politicians.

In her 2011 memoir, It's OK to Tell, Lauren explains that her father was frequently away on business and her mother in the throes of mental illness when she was young. So, beginning in 1997, Lauren, then a preteen, and her two younger siblings were left in the care of 30-year-old Waldina Flores. Lauren was shocked one night when Flores stuck her tongue in her mouth. Lauren, who had never even kissed a boy her own age, was confused and ashamed and accepted Flores' explanation that it was a sign of love.

The abuse escalated to sexual contact. Flores threatened that Ron Book's career would be tarnished if Lauren was outed as a "lezzy." When, at age 16, Book developed an age-appropriate relationship with a boy, Kris Lim, Flores retaliated by sodomizing her with a fork, she writes. Lim discovered the abuse and encouraged Lauren to tell. The nanny fled but was eventually caught, convicted of sexual battery and lewd and lascivious behavior, and sentenced to 15 years.

Lauren at 17 endured the additional trauma of testifying and having her name splashed in the news. The psychological toll was deep: Feeling guilty after seeing her former nanny in court, she wrote letters to Flores, who defied a judge's instructions and wrote back, earning ten more years tacked onto her sentence.

In 2004, Lauren would advocate for -- and the Legislature would pass -- the Lauren Book Protection Act, making it a felony for offenders to contact their victims.

Lauren married Lim, who had become a pro golfer, in 2008. It was a million-dollar affair that was filmed for a reality TV show, Platinum Weddings, and described in ads thusly: "Daddy's Princess gets every wedding wish she ever desired." The couple divorced in 2010. In her book, Lauren says Lim had "an affair with the roommate of one of my closest girlfriends... another betrayal."

Lauren went on to become the public face of childhood sex abuse. She founded Lauren's Kids in 2007. The charity has three prongs: education, awareness, and advocacy. She organized her annual walk, sent out millions of fliers, and partnered with the state on a campaign to teach adults the signs of abuse. She wrote a children's book called Lauren's Kingdom; her face was plastered on billboards across the state.

Lauren even designed an abuse prevention curriculum that will be implemented in all public kindergartens and some higher grades. At the end of January, Lauren led a teacher training in Tallahassee.

Ron Book serves as president of Lauren's Kids. As he announced at the Capitol last year, "I advocate for changes in laws, I advocate for funding, knowing full well that I can't really fix what happened to Lauren."

Lauren's Kids' nonprofit tax forms indicate that Ron Book spends 25 hours a week on the charity but does not draw a salary. He does not list Lauren's Kids as a client on lobbying disclosure forms, but he has been perhaps the state's most aggressive advocate for anti-sex-offender laws. Most famously, he pushed for legislation that restricted where registered offenders could live; in Miami, this inadvertently led to a colony of offenders collecting under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

Tax forms reveal how rapidly Lauren's Kids has grown. In 2007, gifts and grants were just $1,500. In 2012, that number was up to $2.5 million -- with $1.6 million coming from government grants. In 2009, Lauren, the vice president, was paid $14,000; in 2012, she made $85,250 as CEO.

Documents also show how the organization raises and spends its funds. A 2012 golf tournament had gross receipts of $224,605 but expenses of $192,998. The walk that year raised $396,015; expenses were $171,104. Lauren's Kids paid Ron Sachs, a communications firm that reps political insiders, $670,032. Sachs' firm won an Addy award for its design of a billboard that shows Lauren against a purple backdrop. "Lauren Book," it says. "Survivor. Educator. Advocate."

In the final days of the 2011 legislative session, Lauren's Kids was denied $3 million it had requested for a program but was then awarded $1.5 million that neither of the Books had requested. In 2014, an appropriations bill granted Lauren's Kids $3.8 million, far more than any of the 50-odd other similar beneficiaries; most received $100,000 to $500,000.

To some in Tallahassee, this is alarming. It amounts to taxpayers subsidizing publicity for Lauren, they say, which would come in handy if she were to run. "All they do is put Lauren's name and face on billboards," says one insider who has spent decades in Tallahassee. If elected, companies could hire her father and expect her vote in return.

Lauren insists that no billboards are funded with tax dollars and points to several Florida legislators who are related to lobbyists. If elected, she'd seek legal counsel on how to avoid any conflicts of interest. But she insists speculation is premature.

In 2010, Lauren considered candidacy for the Broward School Board but then opted not to run, saying, "I feel we can push the foundation into more of a nationwide presence over the next two years" but adding, "I will be looking at other offices."

This past November, Lauren opened a political committee called Leadership for Broward. It had raised $423,750 at last report -- much of that from Ron Book's past and present clients. The Miami Dolphins are the biggest donors, with $100,000. AutoNation gave ten grand; the GEO Group, a corrections provider, $25,000.

David L. Thompson, vice president of public policy for the National Council of Nonprofits, said any charitable nonprofit leader running for public elected office should consider stepping down from the nonprofit post to avoid the appearance of partisanship. "I guarantee that if Jerry Lewis was to run for office, his campaign materials would be amended to say 'formerly president of Jerry's Kids.' " He stated that the question of whether a nonprofit's existing advertisements could be considered improper, would have to be resolved by the IRS.

But unless someone were to lodge a formal complaint or a challenger were to arise, the younger Book is probably a shoo-in. Lauren, who lives in a $400,000 house in Plantation, doesn't have to file qualifying papers until June 2016 but has already scared off potential candidates seeking the Senate post, which currently pays $29, 697 annually.

Steve Geller, who served 20 years in the Legislature, was considering running for the District 33 seat but now says he won't bother. Lauren, he says, "is a very formidable candidate" who has "virtually unlimited funds -- in a primary. I don't know any people who'd want to run against millions in a primary." Even the best candidates could expect to raise only half a million, he says -- a figure Lauren has nearly met. "I think Lauren will have whatever it takes to win, whether it takes 2, 3, or 4 million dollars."

Lauren said she wished critics "would speak directly to me so I can show them the amazing work we are doing on behalf of children."

But the only people who seem willing to confront her are members of groups like Missouri-based Women Against the Registry, whose leader, Vicki Henry, says the backlash against sex offenders "has gone too far." She says that laws like the ones Lauren has pushed for prevent offenders from ever getting jobs or being productive members of society and that such demonization unfairly hurts their family members.

When Lauren busts into Tallahassee on April 22 during this year's Walk in My Shoes event, Henry and her cohorts intend to be near the finish line, protesting with signs. They'll probably be the only ones.


From 2011




In Broward and Tallahassee politics, influence peddling comes in countless forms. Here's one currently under investigation by the federal government:

A powerful lobbyist, seeking to curry favor with a state senator and benefit a major client, helps to secure the senator's boyfriend a job at the development firm the lobbyist represents. The boyfriend also happens to be a Housing Authority honcho who goes on to oversee two new multimillion-dollar publicly financed projects with the very developer who hired him.

This is one scenario that sources say the FBI is currently investigating as part of a major probe that involves recently convicted GOP fundraiser and lobbyist Alan Mendelsohn, who had deep ties to numerous politicians, including former Gov. Charlie Crist, former Senate President Ken Pruitt, embattled Congressman David Rivera, and state Sen. Eleanor Sobel. The same federal investigation also involves several figures from the massive Mutual Benefits Corp. Ponzi scheme, including MBC fraudster Joel Steinger, who is awaiting trial on federal charges himself.

Here are the players in the scenario:  

The lobbyist: Ron Book, who represents a host of governments, including Broward County, and private clients, including the Miami Dolphins, as perhaps the most powerful lobbyist in Florida.

The senator: Muriel "Mandy" Dawson, a controversial Democratic legislator who was term-limited from office in 2008. She has longstanding close ties to Book and was implicated in federal court records with having received $87,000 in secret payments from Mendelsohn through her former Senate aide, Veronica Blakely.

The boyfriend: Scott Strawbridge, director of development and facilities at the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority. Strawbridge began dating Dawson in 2006, and they have since broken up.

The firm: Miami-based Carlisle Development Group, which built the $16 million Housing Authority project at Dixie Court and is slated to demolish and redevelop Dr. Kennedy Homes, the historic public housing development on the south side of Broward Boulevard. That project calls for another $21 million in federal funds. Heading Carlisle is Lloyd Boggio, the former principal of the Cornerstone Group, another major player in the government-subsidized affordable housing industry.

Inside, see what Book and Strawbridge had to say about the allegations.

When Book was asked if he helped secure Dawson's boyfriend a job with any of his clients, the mega-lobbyist immediately denied it.

"I never hired the boyfriend, that would be a misstatement of any fact," he said.

When asked if he caused a client of his to hire Strawbridge, he answered: "No not ever. There was a time at which [Strawbridge] worked in the affordable housing world. It was a long time ago and he did work for someone that I represented but not through any involvement of me in any way, shape, or form."

Book claimed he couldn't even remember the name of the client that hired Strawbridge. Another allegation that has surfaced is that Book financed a home in Tallahassee for Dawson, an accusation Book flatly denies.

His close relationship with Dawson, however, is a matter of public record. In 2005 he was one of three lobbyists (including Mendelsohn) who ponied up $2,500 to help finance a trip for Dawson to South Africa via the Florida Caucus of Black State Legislators. The Senate reprimanded Dawson -- who was also charged criminally in 2002 for prescription pill fraud as a result of addiction -- and removed her from the Ethics and Elections Committee.

"Mandy had whatever personal issues and I knew Mandy before she was in the process," said Book. "I haven't talked to her and don't know where she is."

Public records indicate Dawson is now living with her parents in Daytona Beach. I was unable to contact her for this report.  

In the course of my investigation, I learned that the Book client that had hired Strawbridge was the Carlisle Development Group, which had hired the lobbyist to help it gain multi-million dollar public housing contracts with various governmental bodies, including the Broward County Housing Authority. Currently, Book's representation of the firm is a matter of great controversy in North Miami, where Carlisle is vying for a contract to redevelop Biscayne Landing. Book has been lobbying council members on behalf of the firm despite the fact that he's also the paid lobbyist for North Miami, the Miami Herald reported earlier this week.

When Strawbridge, , a former Fort Lauderdale contractor who has fought to preserve historic city sites like the Stranahan House, was questioned yesterday about his employment with Carlisle, he denied that Book got him the job. "I never got a job from Ron Book," Strawbridge said. "The FBI knows that and now you know that too. ... I never met Ron Book, I spoke with him once on the telephone."

Strawbridge said he doesn't remember what the two discussed on the phone, but acknowledged the phone introduction was made by Dawson, his girlfriend at the time.

He describes a tangled web of employment, admitting that there were concerns about a potential conflict of interest. He said he got the job with the Housing Authority before he began dating Dawson in 2006. After he and Dawson began dating, he got the job as a consultant for Carlisle Development Group and "worked with both entities helping them form a new business venture."

While Carlisle employed Strawbridge, the firm won two bids in competition with other firms worth roughly $40 million with the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority, at Dixie Court and Dr. Kennedy Homes. On its website, Carlisle touts its completed work at Dixie Court. The Dr. Kennedy Homes project -- which will replace 45 cottages with 132 apartment units -- has been met with controversy and has yet to break ground.

Strawbridge said that while he worked with Carlisle on Housing Authority project, he was also paid by the firm for consulting work on the Royalton Hotel renovation project in Miami. Carlisle transformed the Royalton into housing for low-income people and the recently homeless.

"It was kind of a simultaneous thing," Strawbridge said. "I was then working as an independent consultant with both [the Housing Authority and Carlisle]. I was acting as the owner's rep for the Housing Authority interfacing with Carlisle. I was acting in the interest of the Housing Authority. What happened is Carlisle needed my help and I ended up becoming engaged with them in a project called Royalton. We took a 1920s hotel and turned it into transition housing for homeless people."

He said that Housing Authority attorneys cleared him to work for Carlisle.

I went to the Housing Authority and said, 'I already pledged my allegiance, so how do we do this?'" he said. "They put together some kind of document that allowed it."

The matter was never brought to the attention of the Florida Commission on Ethics for an opinion, he said. While he alluded to communication with FBI agents, he refused to provide details. He said he and Dawson ended their romantic relationship in 2008 and that he never gave her anything of value connected to his job with Carlisle.

"I don't know what to say about these allegations except that they are astonishing to me," said Strawbridge. "All along, the reason I've been helping the Housing Authority is that I live in Fort Lauderdale and folks involved in running the agency happened to know that I was available. ... Did I make a mistake by knowing all these poeple at the same time? Yeah. But I was already engaged in that job before I ran into Mandy and she's my only connection to Ron Book."

The federal investigation, according to numerous sources, is continuing.

Ron Book discusses his criminal conviction for illegal campaign contributions to the New Times



Ron Book is facing the toughest lobbying campaign of his career, more challenging than anything he ever did for Wayne Huizenga or Ralph Sanchez or Metro-Dade County or any of his other prominent clients. Book must try to sell the public on his own integrity.

It's not the first time he has found himself scrambling to put the proper spin on his own image. But this is different. This is going to be far more difficult. Because now Ron Book is a convicted criminal.

In the past, he's simply been known as an influence peddler. Today, however, he is an attorney who knowingly violated Florida's campaign finance laws -- not once or twice, but on dozens of occasions over a number of years, in a systematic and willful manner.

Book's colleagues in the lobbying business were not shocked. Years ago they recognized a disturbing malady that would periodically overcome Book and others like him, a sudden collapse of the ethical standards upon which the lobbying profession is precariously balanced.

They called it the "Ronnie Book Syndrome."

People are said to suffer from the Ronnie Book Syndrome when their zeal overtakes them, when their frenetic lobbying leaves no room for sober reflection, when winning becomes so important that right and wrong lose their meaning. Arrogance, overconfidence, and a sense of infallibility are symptoms of the disease. And once infected, the victim will always carry the virus, forever susceptible to another outbreak. Like malaria, it becomes a permanent feature of the afflicted individual.

In Book's case, each time he fell prey to the syndrome he claimed he had learned a valuable lesson. But some would say those lessons were quickly forgotten. In late 1985, he came under investigation for allegedly helping to bribe an Opa-locka politician. Book had been caught on police surveillance tapes telling the official: "I'll see that you get paid for your time. . . . I'm there for you. I'm there for whatever you tell me I got to do. How more direct can I be?"

The next year Book was arrested for allegedly overstating (by nearly $10,000) the value of his car, which he said had been stolen. That insurance-fraud case dragged on for almost three years, and when it was finally settled -- with Book pleading no contest to a misdemeanor -- the judge withheld adjudication, which meant that Book Ended up with no criminal record.

But he has one now -- compelling evidence that the Ronnie Book Syndrome is tenacious. Having been scandalized in the Eighties, barely escaping the decade without a criminal conviction, and knowing that police and prosecutors were just waiting for him to trip up again, Ron Book chose to blatantly violate state law by funneling more than $30,000 in illegal campaign contributions to at least a dozen of his political cronies in state and county government. He did this not in a single campaign season, but year after year, over and over again.

This past September 21, Book pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges and was fined $2000. He also agreed to donate $40,000 to charity as an additional punishment. But rather than express remorse at having cynically subverted the public trust, Book asks for sympathy and says he should be given some credit for being man enough to plead guilty and admit his mistakes: "Anyone who says the decision to stand up and accept responsibility was an easy one, I tell them: 'Get in my shoes, get in my clothes and feel it.' I have been pained and I have been hurt. It hasn't been easy. Not at all."

The fact is that Book confessed to his crimes not as an act of contrition, not out of a sense of shame, and not because he understood that what he did was wrong. No, Ron Book confessed because the investigation into his criminal activities was about to be exposed in the media.

Even after being confronted with overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Book for months had attempted to manipulate the legal system to his advantage. Prosecutors say Book and his high-priced attorneys abandoned the effort only after they learned that a local television station was about to reveal that Book was under criminal investigation. "He was fighting two battles," says Dennis Bedard, the assistant state attorney who prosecuted Book. "First he was fighting a legal battle against us. But just as important to him, he was fighting a public-relations battle as well. Once this became public, if this had dragged out, it potentially could have destroyed his ability to work as an effective lobbyist."

The abrupt guilty plea and limited media coverage afterward seem to have left the 42-year-old Book intact. None of his clients have dropped him, although Dade County has yet to make a decision. "I don't have any problem with Ron Book as a person," says County Commission Chairman Art Teele. "I have found things that I admire about Ron Book and I find things, quite frankly, that I am embarrassed for about Ron Book. Like all of us, he has defects, and in his case that defect gets down to judgment. Ron Book processes more information and more transactions than the average ten people combined. And when you are processing that fast, you tend not to see things that people who are processing much slower would see. It gets down to a moral-compass issue."

But Teele, who was a partner with Book in the early and mid-Eighties at the law firm of Sparber Shevin Shapo Heilbronner & Book, says he believes Book is so "uniquely talented" that county residents should continue to enjoy the benefit of his lobbying skills. "Hiring him obviously raises the kind of ethical questions, or public-confidence questions, that you have to balance against Mr. Book's effectiveness," Teele explains. "Ron Book is by any standard a very effective lobbyist and advocate in Tallahassee. And it has been my hope that he could continue to work with Dade County."

So far only one county commissioner, Katy Sorenson, has spoken out publicly against retaining Book as the county's official lobbyist. "I keep hearing the argument that he is effective," Sorenson says. "But why is he effective? Because he spreads money all over the place. If we are ever going to stop governments from operating that way -- from working in a system where money and campaign contributions are traded for political favors and votes -- then we have to say no to this kind of behavior. We have to say this is not acceptable in general, and it is certainly not acceptable from the person we hire to represent us in Tallahassee."

Most politicians, however, have rallied to Book's defense. The mayor of North Miami, for example, labeled Book's crime a mere "technical violation" and scoffed at the notion that the Ronald L. Book Athletic Field in North Miami should be renamed. Others have criticized the campaign finance law Book admits he violated. "This is a bullshit law," declares Ralph Haben, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives who now works as a lobbyist. "I'm not saying it's okay to break the law, but to the people in the process, this is just not that serious an offense. Is it illegal? Yes. Is it wrong? I suppose it is, because it is illegal. But that whole law is ridiculous. Everybody in some way or another violates those laws, and most probably don't even realize they're breaking the law."

Dade Rep. John Cosgrove attributes the illegal campaign contributions not to criminal intent but to Book's near obsession with being helpful to people. "He has a very zealous attitude about pleasing everybody," notes Cosgrove. "I'm sure it was not an insidious or malicious effort on his part to avoid the law."

State Sen. Pat Thomas (D-Quincy), a long-time Book friend and former president of the Florida Senate, agrees with others that the lobbyist's reputation in Tallahassee will not be hurt in the least by this latest scandal. "It's hard to go through any campaign without committing some transgression," says Thomas. "It is sort of like stepping in quicksand."

Such laments are lost on prosecutor Dennis Bedard. "I expected that the public officials who deal with Book would downplay the significance of his conduct and try in some way to mitigate what he did," Bedard says. "But in a larger sense, it disheartens me because it perpetuates a cynicism that the public has about elected officials and lobbyists. There is a feeling among a very significant segment of the population that the members of the Florida state legislature, and elected officials in general, are, ethically speaking, only somewhat higher than the type of people you would find in a prison, but slightly below the folks you would see in a brothel. The reactions of politicians to this case do nothing but perpetuate that type of feeling by the public. And that is what is truly unfortunate about this matter."

During the annual 60-day legislative session in Tallahassee, Ron Book typically loses about twenty pounds -- not from anxiety or loss of appetite, but from running between committee hearings and meetings with lawmakers. "He's a blur," says fellow lobbyist Guy Spearman. "There isn't a wasted minute in Ron Book's life. He is always moving at breakneck speed."

The former high school track star carries at least two and sometimes three cellular telephones, as well as a digital pager. John Cosgrove says he has watched in amazement as Book, a cell phone in each hand, has held two separate but simultaneous conversations while at the same time trying to get the attention of another lawmaker passing by. "He is a very intense person," Cosgrove observes.

At the end of the day, while other lobbyists may adjourn to Clyde's, a bar near the capitol popular with legislators and reporters, Book retires to his hotel room to begin preparing for the next day. "I don't believe in going out drinking," Book remarks. "I don't believe in going out and partying. I don't entertain a whole lot of legislators at night. I get to the capitol first and I am basically the last guy out of there at night.

"I hate to lose," he continues. "I hate to lose. I learned that when I ran track. I will work as hard as a human being can work. I will work 24 hours a day to accomplish what I need to accomplish."

Book's attraction to politics began early. When he was just thirteen years old, upset that the park in his North Miami neighborhood was not lighted at night, he picketed the mayor's house. The park got lights. Flush from the success of that fight, he organized a teen group called "Youth for Progress," and became politically active in local races, handing out leaflets for a variety of candidates, including Gwen Margolis. "He loved politics," recalls Margolis, now a Dade County Commissioner. "He really enjoyed it. While he was in high school, he hung signs for me in my first statehouse race, and he has helped me in every campaign since."

He attended the University of Florida, where he continued his interest in running, a solitary, inwardly competitive sport well suited to his personality. When necessary, Book can work with other lobbyists as part of a team, but he prefers to operate alone. The message is clearer when one person delivers it, he says. And he never has to share the glory of winning.

Book received his bachelor's degree ultimately from Florida International University and a law degree in 1977 from Tulane in New Orleans. Returning to Florida, he immediately went to work for Alan Becker's 1978 campaign for state attorney general, but when Becker lost in the primary, Book joined up with Bob Graham, who was running for governor.

So persistent (some would say annoying) was Book that he quickly became one of Graham's top fundraisers, an accomplishment that greatly impressed the candidate and his staff, and when Graham won, Book was offered a job with the new administration.

He began as a special assistant for legislative and cabinet affairs, which had him lobbying the legislature in support of the governor's initiatives. Reporters dubbed the 25-year-old a whiz kid. Soon he was made director of the office, and eventually was given the senior title of special counsel to the governor. Observes veteran Sen. Pat Thomas: "In North Florida vernacular, Ron Book is as smart as a tree full of owls."

At the least Book was smart enough to realize that being a glorified bureaucrat had its limitations, especially given his experience and growing political contacts. So after less than four years with Governor Graham, Book opted for the private sector and landed at the fast-rising law firm of Sparber Shevin. He became an instant rainmaker as clients clamored for the boy wonder with the solid-gold connections. His name was added to the letterhead and his salary was reported to be $200,000 per year.

By 1985 he was married, and he and his wife Patricia already had the first of three children. Life couldn't get much better.

And it didn't.

In 1985 little was known publicly about Alberto San Pedro except that each year during the Christmas season he would host a lavish party at the Doral Hotel in Miami Beach in honor of Lazarus, his favorite Santeria saint. Politicians, judges, and law enforcement officers were among the multitudes who attended the annual bash. Details of San Pedro's life may have been sketchy, but he was generally understood to be a successful real estate developer who lived in a Hialeah mansion with eight bathrooms and bulletproof windows.

If that last detail didn't cause San Pedro's guests to wonder about the true nature of his business, apparently neither did his 1971 conviction on murder-conspiracy charges stemming from a plot to rip off a group of drug dealers who turned out to be undercover cops.

For Ron Book in 1985, Alberto San Pedro was merely another client. Book reportedly had been introduced to him by Donald Dugan, a local public relations man and San Pedro confidant. The ex-convict had for years been trying to have the murder-conspiracy conviction expunged from his record. He had already completed his sentence, but he still sought an ex post facto pardon just in case he might someday want to run for public office (the felony would have prevented that).

Both Dugan and San Pedro believed Book was the perfect advocate to bring the matter before the state's parole board and Book's old boss, Gov. Bob Graham. Indeed, San Pedro needed all the help he could get. In a report analyzing his request, the state's corrections department noted, "A highly sensitive police contact indicated that this individual is one of the top ten cocaine dealers in Dade County. He has his own organization and is known as El Padrino (the Godfather). He is very violent. Informants are afraid to talk about him because they know he will kill them."

As Book worked on the pardon, he, Dugan, and San Pedro crossed paths on another project. A company called Southern Combustion Technologies had hired Book to lobby the Opa-locka City Council for approval to construct a ten-million-dollar hazardous-waste recycling plant.

Donald Dugan was also apparently working on behalf of Southern Combustion, and in November 1985, he approached Opa-locka's vice mayor, Brian Hooten, and offered what Hooten believed was a bribe for his vote on the project. Hooten immediately reported the offer to police and agreed to wear a listening device. During his next meeting with Dugan, Hooten asked him how he had become involved with the Southern Combustion project. Dugan replied, "It's through an attorney, Ron Book."

On November 18, 1985, Dugan, Book, and Hooten met at a Denny's in Hialeah. After a few minutes, Book reportedly asked Dugan to leave the two of them alone. Book proceeded to tell Hooten how important the Southern Combustion project was to him. "There were innuendoes and secret words," Hooten recalled in a Miami Herald article describing that meeting.

Two days later, on November 20, Book himself approached Hooten in the parking lot of Opa-locka's city hall and asked if they might speak privately. Book invited Hooten to sit with him in his brand-new Mercedes.

The lobbyist, however, did not know that Hooten was still wearing a listening device and that members of the Metro-Dade Organized Crime Bureau were monitoring the conversation nearby.

Hooten told Book that if he voted for the unpopular project, it could cause him trouble in the next election, both in votes and campaign contributions. According to transcripts of that meeting, Book replied, "I don't want to cheat you. What do you want me to do?"

"I gotta take time off from my own business, my own people," Hooten said.

"I'll see that you get paid for your time," Book responded. "I call the shots for my client. He'll follow what I ask him. You need to tell me what I need to do. . . ."

Hooten continued to talk about his business until Book interrupted and said, "I'm willing to make a commitment."

"Yeah, I understand that," Hooten said.
"Do you hear me?" Book asked.
"Everybody is gonna want something," Hooten continued. "I'm not saying that you're going to have to give everybody something."

"I'm there for you," Book stressed. "I'm there for whatever you tell me I got to do. How more direct can I be?"

On November 22, Dugan, whose telephone lines had been tapped by investigators, talked to Alberto San Pedro and complained about how Book was handling Hooten, that he was being too cautious. Dugan said Book is "probably afraid to say anything" and that he has "just been talking, talking with no nothing."

The exact nature of San Pedro's involvement in the Southern Combustion project remains unclear, but according to the wiretaps, he told Dugan to take charge. "Don't let Book give him [Hooten] the money," San Pedro ordered. "You give him the money."

Two weeks later, on December 3, 1985, Dugan visited Hooten at the vice mayor's home and laid out $4000 cash in what police alleged was a bribe to secure Hooten's vote for Southern Combustion. Hooten was to keep $2000 for himself and pass along the remainder to another council member and certain city staffers. Dugan promised that after the vote Hooten would receive another $3000 in cash.

In the meantime, Alberto San Pedro's request for a pardon was moving ahead. During a telephone conversation between Dugan and a Tallahassee attorney who was also representing San Pedro before the parole board, the attorney said, "Apparently Ronnie has gotten Graham to come across. The way it was put to me, the only friend [San Pedro has on the parole board] is Graham, and apparently that's in deference to Ronnie."

At a December 1985 hearing, Graham did say he was inclined to grant San Pedro's request for a pardon. Parole board members postponed the hearing, however, and before it could be rescheduled, San Pedro was arrested under a sweeping indictment alleging drug trafficking and bribery of public officials.

In February 1986, the Miami Herald broke the story that Book and Dugan were under investigation for allegedly bribing members of the Opa-locka City Commission. Hooten told the Herald he had no doubt that Book knew what Dugan was doing when he delivered the $4000. (Nearly a decade later, Hooten remains firm in his belief. "Ron Book was the engine," he said in a recent interview. "Dugan was his gofer.")

On August 6, 1986, Dugan was arrested and charged with bribery. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years' probation and 500 hours of community service. Today he maintains that Book knew nothing about his attempts to bribe Hooten: "My problems were created by myself, period."

Book was never charged with any crime regarding Southern Combustion and the payoff to Hooten. That decision by then-State Attorney Janet Reno reportedly caused a major split in her office as several prosecutors involved in the investigation argued strongly that Book should have been criminally charged. Still, Book's connection to San Pedro would forever color the way police and prosecutors viewed him. And if there was suspicion during this period, it was only exacerbated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to a January 15, 1986, sworn statement by Metro-Dade Sgt. Thomas Tretola, FBI agents in Philadelphia had contacted Metro detectives to say that Book's name had surfaced in an investigation there. One of the FBI's informants was alleging "widespread corruption" within the Florida Department of Insurance, then headed by Bill Gunter. "The confidential source further alleged that Ronald Book was heavily involved in this corrupt activity and was one of the key people to be contacted for any potential bribery attempt concerning the Department of Insurance," Tretola wrote. Book and Gunter were long-time friends; the lobbyist had raised more than $100,000 for various Gunter campaigns over the years. At the time the report was made public, both Book and Gunter denied any wrongdoing, and no charges were brought against either man.

The peculiar events of late 1985 prompted investigators to take a special interest in Ron Book's affairs, including the reported theft of his brand-new Mercedes 500 SEL, stolen from a parking lot at Miami International Airport on December 10, 1985.

Book had owned the car -- the same one he and Brian Hooten sat in outside Opa-locka City Hall -- less than a month. It was a gift from Miami Grand Prix promoter Ralph Sanchez, who Book represented as an attorney and lobbyist. The Mercedes was a "gray market" car, meaning it had been manufactured for use outside the United States and required upgrades after being imported. Such modifications sometimes make it difficult to place a precise dollar value on a car.

But determining a price didn't seem to be a problem for the dealer, Rennsport Autohaus, a Coconut Grove dealership owned by Antonio Jose Garcia. In early November, Ralph Sanchez had reportedly called Garcia to tell him Book would be trading his current car for a new Mercedes and that Sanchez would pick up the difference between the trade-in and the new car.

A month later, after the Mercedes was stolen, Book submitted an insurance claim stating that the sale price was $53,000. Following a tip by Metro-Dade police that something odd may be occurring with Book's insurance claim, two investigators from the state Division of Insurance Fraud went to Rennsport and asked to see all documents relating to Book's Mercedes purchase. When a secretary approached with the paperwork, the investigators -- John Askins and Ed Dahl -- quickly snatched it, slapped a subpoena in her hands, and walked out with the file.

Inside they found the original invoice for the car, dated November 5, 1985, which stated its sale price as $44,000. They also discovered a letter dated December 26, 1985, from Book to Antonio Jose Garcia: "Please remember to send me the Bill of Sale we discussed." At the bottom of the letter, in Garcia's handwriting, was a note to one of his assistants: "We have to do new bill."

Next in the file, Askins and Dahl found a new invoice, backdated to November 5, 1985, stating the purchase price of the car as being $53,000. Book had submitted to his insurance company a copy of this inflated invoice as proof of how much he paid.

On May 23, 1986, Book was arrested at his law office in downtown Miami. The headline in the Herald the next morning read, "Noted Lawyer Arrested"; the article was accompanied by a photograph of Book being led away in handcuffs by Askins and Dahl. The lobbyist was charged with second-degree theft and three counts of filing a false and fraudulent insurance claim, each of which were third-degree felonies. Book was also charged with misdemeanor perjury for filing a sworn statement he knew to be false. The case was assigned to Assistant State Attorney Larry LaVecchio, the same prosecutor who at that time was handling the Opa-locka bribery investigation.

Book and his attorneys argued (and argue to this day) that there was never any fraud against Book's insurance company, and that the $53,000 figure more accurately reflected the replacement cost of the car. Book and his attorneys worked aggressively to have the case thrown out of court, and even tried to assign blame to others.

As a defense against the misdemeanor perjury charge, for instance, Book contended that his secretary had violated the rules governing her status as a notary public by failing to swear him in before he filled out and signed the claim. If he hadn't been duly sworn in, Book reasoned, he couldn't have committed perjury on the claim form. The judge agreed and dismissed that one misdemeanor charge.

The move infuriated investigators, who saw it as a cowardly attempt by Book to protect himself by endangering his secretary, who could have been criminally charged with misuse of a notary seal.

Instead of arresting the secretary, however, prosecutor LaVecchio filed a new charge against Book -- "uttering a forged instrument." In his hasty effort to avoid responsibility, prosecutors argued, Book had admitted he sent the insurance company an affidavit he knew hadn't been properly sworn. Moreover, the new charge wasn't a misdemeanor, it was a felony.

The legal wrangling continued for more than two years. Initially Dade Circuit Court Judge Ralph Person tossed out the entire case against Book because he agreed that the $53,000 figure represented the cost of replacing the Mercedes. The Third District Court of Appeals then overturned Person's ruling and reinstated the charges.

On December 5, 1988, Book finally pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor count of submitting a falsely notarized affidavit. Judge Person withheld formal adjudication, which meant Book would have no criminal record from the affair.
LaVecchio had urged Judge Person to declare Book guilty. "This crime is not a random or senseless act," LaVecchio told the court. "It was carefully planned." But Person refused, and even seemed to express sympathy for Book by stating that the prosecution had been a costly and embarrassing affair for Book to endure. "Mr. Book has been the subject of a great deal of punishment already," Person declared.

Book and his defense attorney, Donald Bierman, declared victory. "This plea is not an admission of guilt," Bierman announced. "The agreement was made to place this unfortunate matter behind Ron Book. He wants to continue life without a shadow."

By the time the insurance fraud case was settled, Book had already left the law firm of Sparber Shevin to open his own lobbying business, a one-man shop that would give him complete control over his future.

Despite several years of bad publicity, Book seemed poised for a comeback as the Eighties drew to a close. The swagger had returned to his walk. A self-assured cockiness once again infused his personality. In a 1987 Miami Review article entitled "The Persecution and Resurrection of Ronald Lee Book," the lobbyist cast himself in the role of victim. "The only thing I ever wanted to be is president," Book told the Review. "That's what this thing has cost me probably -- the ability to run for public office. It hurts because I've always wanted to serve. The truth is it makes me want to cry.

"I learned a lot from this experience, in spite of it," he continued. "From the beginning of this whole mess, people said two things: One, you learn who your friends are. Two, you learn a lot about life you thought you never needed to know."

Book certainly didn't lose many friends during this period, especially among politicians. And if there was a life lesson he learned, it very well could have been this: The road to redemption is paved with campaign contributions.

George Raisler knew he was in deep trouble. Across the table from him sat two investigators from the state's Division of Insurance Fraud. Officially they considered him a suspect, but unofficially they knew he was the operator of one of the largest insurance-fraud rings in South Florida history. By staging automobile accidents and filing false claims, Raisler's group allegedly had defrauded insurance companies of millions.

He'd been cooperating with state and federal agents for several months in hopes of lessening whatever charges might eventually be brought against him. And on this day in early September 1994, Raisler was once again grasping for any bit of information his interrogators might consider useful, and more importantly, redeeming.

After a long pause, Raisler admitted that he wasn't even sure if what he was about to tell them was illegal. It certainly didn't have anything to do with phony auto accidents. But it did seem suspicious to him. Raisler said that his partner, Greg Webb, was living with a woman, Debbie Stipp, who worked as a secretary for some bigshot attorney. The attorney had asked Stipp to write a bunch of checks to various political candidates, and then the attorney reimbursed her. Raisler knew this, he told investigators, because Greg Webb had told him.

He said the attorney's name was Ron Book.

As Raisler spoke Book's name, a broad smile spread across the face of John Askins, one of the two investigators questioning Raisler. "It was like deja vu," Askins recalls.

With his earlier investigation of Book for insurance fraud still clear in his mind, Askins immediately called the State Attorney's Office. Like Raisler, he wasn't entirely familiar with Florida's elections laws, but he quickly discovered there were two possible offenses. First, it is illegal to make a contribution through another person; and second, the maximum amount an individual can contribute to any candidate is $500 per election. Both offenses are misdemeanors.

On October 5, 1994, Greg Webb and Debbie Stipp were interviewed by Askins and two of his colleagues. Webb, too, had been cooperating with investigators in the staged-accident case, but now that the questions involved Ron Book, it was Debbie Stipp who did most of the talking.

She said she worked as an assistant manager for an Aventura company called Executive Acquisitions. The firm leased out office space and also provided secretarial and support services to a variety of clients, including Ron Book. Stipp confirmed what Raisler had told investigators earlier -- Book would ask her to write checks to various political candidates on her personal account and then reimburse her the same day.

She said Book had explained to her that this was necessary because he would often guarantee candidates a specific amount of money from friends and clients, sometimes as much as $5000 or $10,000. But from time to time, when the money was due, he wouldn't have collected the full amount. Rather than disappoint the candidate, Book personally would make up the difference and funnel the money through her.

As proof, she reached into her purse and handed investigators two checks Book had written her. One was reimbursement for a $500 contribution he had asked her to make to statehouse candidate Charlie Safdie; the other was to another statehouse candidate, Dana Maley, in the amount of $250. The checks from Book had been written September 23 and September 30, 1994, and she hadn't yet deposited them.

Stipp then showed investigators her personal checkbook, which included carbon-copy receipts of more than two dozen checks she had written to various candidates. The total amount came to more than $10,000. All the checks, she said, had been written at the behest of Ron Book. As for the candidates, most of them were unknown to her.

Stipp then told investigators this practice had been going on for years, and that she wasn't the only one Book had asked to write checks; she provided the names of five other secretaries in the office.

In return for Stipp's cooperation, investigator Askins promised to speak to prosecutors on her behalf regarding allegations that she played a minor role in the staged-accident ring. (She is not expected to be charged in connection with that case. To date no charges have been filed against George Raisler or Greg Webb, although investigators say they are imminent.)

Askins didn't hesitate in considering which prosecutor would be best suited to receive Debbie Stipp's information about Ron Book: He called Larry LaVecchio, the assistant state attorney who had been vexed by Book's conduct in both the Opa-locka bribery investigation and the stolen Mercedes insurance case. LaVecchio, in turn, recruited Dennis Bedard, another assistant state attorney from the office's organized crime unit. And with that, the latest criminal investigation of Ron Book was under way.

"It was the easiest case we ever worked," says Askins. "It was absolutely ironclad. We were sort of astonished at the irony of us having been the same agency that arrested Book previously, and now having apparently hit pay dirt once again. It's not like we targeted him. We were going after the staged-auto-accident ring and he just sort of fell into our laps."

It may have been an ironclad case, but a substantial amount of work still had to be done -- various bank records needed to be subpoenaed, politicians' campaign-finance statements required scrutiny, and Book's secretaries had to be interviewed. Even though the allegations had nothing to do with insurance fraud, the State Attorney's Office asked Askins and his colleagues to continue with the investigation. They had broken the case, and the principal witness, Debbie Stipp, was still providing them with information regarding the accident ring. To enhance the team's investigative power, agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) were also assigned to the case.

This past June investigators began serving subpoenas on other secretaries who had worked with Book, all of whom subsequently admitted their involvement in Book's scheme to subvert campaign finance laws.

From the outset, Book and his attorneys, Donald Bierman and Ted Klein, quietly tried to settle the case with the State Attorney's Office. "They wanted to resolve this civilly, with a civil fine, without any sort of a criminal case being filed against him," prosecutor Bedard recalls. "I disagreed with that and I told them very bluntly that as long as I was the prosecutor in the case, we were going to prosecute this criminally." (Bedard took control of the case after Larry LaVecchio left the State Attorney's Office to become a federal prosecutor.)

According to Bedard, Book and his attorneys responded by attempting to have him removed as the lead prosecutor. "They did not like the manner in which I was handling the case," says Bedard. "I didn't take it personally." They were in the process of appealing to Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle (a Democrat like Book) when, on September 20, they learned that WPLG-TV (Channel 10) was about to air a story on the Book investigation.

Other media outlets would be sure to follow, and would undoubtedly try to investigate more deeply. A prolonged period of bad publicity now seemed inevitable.

At 5:00 p.m., Bedard recalls, an hour before the story broke on Channel 10's evening newscast, Book's attorneys called to say he was prepared to plead guilty to criminal charges, just as Bedard had been proposing for months. Less than 24 hours later, Book appeared in court and pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors: two counts of making campaign contributions in excess of $500, and two counts of making a campaign contribution in the name of another person. Judge Catherine Pooler fined him $2000, and Book turned over another $40,000 to the State Attorney's Office to be distributed to various charities.

Book's dramatic change of strategy, and the speed with which he managed to get before a judge and enter a plea, caught some investigators by surprise. FDLE officials were upset because, they claim, they had not been properly notified in advance that a deal was being cut. If they had been notified, they would have objected to the charges and penalties as being too lenient. FDLE Commissioner Tim Moore says he has asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to review the evidence to determine if any federal charges might be applied.

According to law enforcement sources familiar with Book's case, the federal prosecutor who has been assigned to review the material is none other than Larry LaVecchio. (LaVecchio declined comment for this article.) Because some of the illegal campaign contributions were mailed to candidates, LaVecchio is believed to be examining the possibility of filing federal mail fraud charges against Book, charges already considered but discounted by Assistant State Attorney Dennis Bedard. (The Florida Bar is also reviewing Book's actions to determine if professional discipline is warranted.)

Bedard says he sympathizes with FDLE's frustrations. If he could have threatened Book with jail time, he would have pressed the case further. But he notes that the crimes are misdemeanors, and even though he might have been able to charge Book with more than 50 counts, jail time for a first offender would not have been realistic.

"In my own personal opinion, I think this should be a felony," Bedard adds. "It is a very serious offense for the following reasons: In the last 30 years in this country, money has played an increasingly important role in our political system. The influence of people who contribute money to politicians has increased enormously, to the detriment of the public. What these laws try to do is minimize the amount of influence these people have on the political process by preventing big contributors from donating large sums of money.

"And lets face it," he continues, "what Ron Book is trying to do here is to maximize the amount of political clout he can exercise over these politicians on behalf of his clients. And the way he does that is by contributing as much money as he possibly can -- legally or illegally -- to the campaigns of those candidates who, at a later time, will be asked to vote in a certain way that benefits his clients. He deliberately violated those laws for his own selfish good and for the good of his paying clients."

Not surprisingly, Ron Book's interpretation of events is considerably less harsh. "It's that rush to success," he ventures. "It's that drive to win, the drive to have that image of someone who meets his obligations and keeps his word. It wasn't as though I was trying to do something that was bad. I never thought about it being bad. I never thought about it being wrong. It was just easier, it was just quicker, it was more expeditious, it was sloppy, it was foolish, and it was a mistake.

"The bottom line is that sometimes you make commitments and the checks don't come in from clients and in the rush to keep my word that I would raise so much by such and such a date, I had people write checks."

But even in acknowledging his crime, Book has a way of making it seem almost noble. "I did it because I am a person of my word," he insists. "I think my word is important."

More important, evidently, than the law.

Now Book is left to ponder his future. "Integrity is important to me, in spite of the problem that just happened," he says. "Integrity means something to me. And I understand what the word means."

To demonstrate his understanding of integrity, Book points out that there are some clients he simply will not accept -- those, for example, who might use this phrase: We'll give you whatever you need to get there. "You say those words in my office, you're gone," Book says dramatically as he points toward his office door. "I'm not interested in representing you."

But how different are those words from the ones spoken by Book, and captured on police surveillance tapes, as he and former Opa-locka vice mayor Brian Hooten sat in the infamous Mercedes? "I'm there for you," Book told Hooten. "I'm there for whatever you tell me I got to do. How more direct can I be?