Gadfly is like bee in bonnet for Riviera city officials
RIVIERA BEACH — As Fane Lozman talks, his dog, Lady, squirms in his arms while he stands near his houseboat docked at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina. The dachshund is harmless, said the 45-year-old self-proclaimed multimillionaire.
But Lozman and Lady must go, according to city
officials. A marina resident complained that Lady bit him on the ankle
and snapped at his 3-year-old son.
Nonsense, Lozman counters. The real reason he's being evicted, Lozman said, is that he stood up to Mayor Michael Brown and his ambitious $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment plan.
The effort, which calls for turning 400 acres of blight along the Intracoastal Waterway into a dazzling retail center, is supposed to rescue Rivera Beach from decades of crime and poverty. But Lozman sued to undo the deal because it calls for handing over his new home at the marina to developers and using eminent domain to take dozens of homes and businesses.
"I'm not going to be run out of this town because I stood up and did something positive," he said.
Lozman talks tough. But as in the case of his dog, people wonder whether his bark is worse than his bite.
Brown thinks so.
"I think any reasonable person who has observed his behavior" can question it, Brown said. "I think it's unfortunate that certain council members have given him a forum to defame me from that dais."
But his efforts also draw praise from supporters, such as Singer Island resident Diana DiMeo.
"I think he's a breath of fresh air," said DiMeo, who is a vocal critic of city's plan to redevelop Singer Island. "I think people are glad that he's bringing some of the issues to light that often get buried."
Meeting notice protested
Since arriving here in March, Lozman has become a fixture at city council meetings, where he's riled officials so much that he has been removed physically twice and arrested once.
His tall, slender build and boyish looks make him appear unassuming. But city officials have learned that he can be loud, brash and aggressive.
Some observers say he's arrogant because he regularly ignores the two-minute rule when addressing the council. And the night police ushered him out of the Nov. 15 council meeting in handcuffs, Lozman described his occupation as "multi-millionaire," according to the arrest report.
The former U.S. Marine Corps pilot made his fortune patenting a software that tracks stock market volatility. That money leaves Lozman free to snoop around the city, digging up dirt on his nemesis, the mayor.
Lozman said the war between the two began in June, after he filed suit against the city. Seizing on the fact that Brown called a special council meeting with only 24 hours' notice, Lozman claims the city violated Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law by rushing to sign an agreement with Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, the city's master developer, without giving the public proper notice.
If he prevails, the deal with Viking would be ruled illegal.
Lozman also has been on the attack in other areas of the city, such as criticizing the management of the marina. He's reached a conclusion: Riviera Beach is rife with corruption and he's the guy to shine a light on it.
He has taken some of what he's discovered to prosecutors, although state attorney's office representatives acknowledge only having spoken to him.
While the lawsuit and allegations of corruption drew the ire of Brown and the council, Lozman's relations with some of his marina neighbors weren't faring better.
He has stirred them up with criticism at council meetings about their failures to pay rent and utility bills. In return, they have circulated a petition, with 61 signatures, asking for Lozman's removal on grounds he's a "public nuisance."
None of this fazes Lozman. He pursues his target doggedly.
"I'm going to beat Brown," he said defiantly.
The fight bears a strong resemblance to one he mounted three years ago in the small island town of North Bay Village, which borders Miami Beach. There, Lozman irritated elected officials with his stinging accusations of public corruption, which also got him kicked out of commission meetings and arrested.
However, the Miami native didn't just rant. Lozman launched his own investigations.
Information aids arrests
The newly minted sleuth presented evidence to prosecutors that contributed to the arrests of the North Bay Village mayor and three commissioners.
"When he's motivated, he digs in," said Joe Centorino, chief of the public corruption division in the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office. "Some of the information he provided was certainly accurate and of benefit to our criminal investigation."
Lozman was blown out of North Bay Village by Hurricane Wilma, which damaged his houseboat and the marina where it docked.
Riviera Beach was ideal, he said, because its city-owned marina is one of a few in Florida where houseboat residents can live year around.
It's where Lozman welcomes anybody with any information on the mayor or council members. Lately, however, he's gotten signs that he's no longer welcome.
Last weekend, for example, someone slashed his power steering and air-conditioning hoses on his Dodge Ram 1500 truck, he said. Lozman complained to police and marina officials about the incident, which left him with a $760 repair bill.
The slashing incident is among several acts of retribution that Lozman claims have happened since he sued Riviera Beach. His theory is that Brown ordered marina director George Carter to find a way to kick him out of the marina. Lozman got the eviction notice Aug. 9 alleging that he failed to muzzle Lady.
Brown denies he had anything to do with the eviction. Lozman is fighting it in court.
Carter said his relationship with Lozman was cordial when he arrived in March. But things went downhill, he said, after he had to confront Lozman with complaints about his dog.
Since then, the two have battled back and forth, with each calling police on the other. Carter said the strife associated with Lozman was a factor in his recent decision to resign.
"I hate to give him that satisfaction," said Carter, 56, a city employee for 42 years who's going to work for Viking. "But he contributed to it."
Lozman maintains his tiny dog is no threat to anyone. Carter's request that he muzzle Lady, he said, is another absurd act of retaliation.
Tensions grow at meetings
Lozman has been through it all before. In North Bay Village, he didn't start out trying to catch crooks, but was trying to do a good deed.
His neighbor, 81-year-old Clement Mikelis, needed a wheelchair ramp to navigate to and from his houseboat. When Lozman and Mikelis approached the marina's landlord, Al Coletta, a North Bay Village real estate investor, he balked at the idea, said Miami attorney Matthew Dietz, who represents Mikelis.
A battle ensued between Lozman and Coletta. The first casualty was North Bay Village commissioner Bob Dugger. Lozman learned that Dugger and Coletta were friends and discovered some questionable land deals between the two.
Lozman didn't stop there. He set up a Web site and invited residents to send him information on the commissioner.
Dugger was arrested and charged with official misconduct, failure to comply with financial disclosure laws and conflict of interest for voting on issues where his buddy, Coletta, had an interest. He was removed from office and is on probation.
Lozman targeted Mayor Alan Dorne for having him removed from a commission meeting while speaking out against public corruption. Lozman launched another Web site attacking Dorne and started a recall effort.
That's when Lozman started getting hand-sketched, pornographic cartoons in the mail. He showed the drawings to various city workers who concluded that the handwriting was similar to that of Police Chief Irving Heller, a good friend of the mayor.
With drawings in hand, Lozman marched into the city manager's office. The city manager called in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Although the FDLE investigation showed that the police chief had crafted the cartoons, the probe concluded that no laws were violated. Heller, who eventually left the police department, denied any involvement in the matter.
Dorne, who was upset at the city manager for going to FDLE, was arrested for violating Florida's Sunshine Laws. He, along with two other commissioners, met secretly to conspire to fire the city manager, Centorino said.
Commissioner Amand Abecassis also was arrested in the scheme. He and Dorne resigned from the commission a day after their arrests. Both men reached plea deals that included probation. Prosecutors gave immunity to Vice Mayor George Kane for cooperating with authorities, Centorino said.
Kane, meanwhile, remained on the commission. He's still North Bay Village's vice mayor.
Whether Lozman single-handedly brought down the mayor and commissioners is debatable, Centorino said.
"I can't deny he was helpful," he said.
At Riviera Beach council meetings, the environment has gotten so hostile that Brown walks off the dais whenever Lozman comes to the podium to speak.
In his absence, Lozman leans his 6-foot-3-inch frame over the podium, puts his mouth inches away from the microphone and fills the council chambers with criticisms of Brown. His point of attack: That Brown, who also is an attorney, has profited from businesses moving to the city and diverts work to family members. Brown denies this.
On Nov. 15, Lozman made his way to the podium and was preparing to launch into another tirade on corruption. This time, however, Councilwoman Liz Wade stopped him in mid-sentence.
"I was just full and I lost it," Wade said. "You sit up there and you have to deal with this all of the time."
Wade called for police to escort Lozman out of the chambers. He kept talking as an officer slapped handcuffs on him and dragged Lozman from the room. He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
In hindsight, Wade said she may have overreacted. But she believes Lozman won't stop with just attacking Brown.
"If you're calling the people around me crooks, then you're aren't too far from calling me one," Wade said.
Brown has told City Manager Bill Wilkins and Police Chief Clarence Williams that he believes Lozman poses a threat to him and the other council members.
So far, the only visible step has been to have an officer stand near the lectern when Lozman speaks at council meetings.
Brown has nothing to fear, said Lozman, who contends that he is just exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. The mayor is fair game because he is a public official, he said.
Lozman said he would much rather dabble in the stock market than go after Riviera Beach officials. That's where the former floor trader made his money, although he declined to disclose how much he's worth, after patenting an idea to create software to track stock market volatility.
In the mid 1990s, Scanshift, a Chicago-based company was born. Lozman used his experience as an aviator to develop the software that mimics cockpit instrument panels, where quick scans of information are vital to landings.
Scanshift lets traders assess changes in the stock market immediately.
The company's success has gotten Lozman quoted in the national media.
It also has led to a high-stakes lawsuit with one of his former business partners, Gerald Putnam, president of NYSE Group. The lawsuit alleges that Putnam diverted business from Blue Water Partners, Scanshift's holding company owned by Lozman, to another one he later started called Archipelago Holding.
A jury ruled that Putnam breached his fiduciary responsibility to Lozman's holding company. The case is on appeal in Illinois.
Archipelago Holdings eventually attracted multi-million dollar investments from the likes of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. Putnam recently merged Archipelago Holdings with the New York Stock Exchange, forming NYSE Group.
In November, Lozman asked the Illinois Appellate court to add NYSE Group to his case against Putnam.
Mayoral run weighed
Despite the tensions in Riviera Beach, Lozman is content to stay on. He's even considering a run for mayor in March 2007.
Lozman argues that Brown's massive redevelopment plan is finished, doomed because a Florida law enacted in May no longer allows governments to take private land and give it to developers for economic purposes, he said.
The city's rush to approve the deal with Viking the day before Gov. Jeb Bush signed the reform bill into law was all for naught, he said. And the council said so last month when it passed a resolution agreeing not to use eminent domain for redevelopment purposes.
"The city threw in the towel," Lozman said. "We fought a noble fight and we won."