By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
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By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
Does Dade County's film czar talk in her sleep? If so, does her husband listen? These ostensibly private questions have become matters of public debate amid Miami's burgeoning production community. And in the halls of county government. And in the chambers of the Dade State Attorney's Office.
As director of the Miami-Dade Office of Film, Television & Print for the past two years, Deeny Kaplan's job has included luring production companies to do business in Dade and issuing permits for their use of county-owned property. Some people involved in the industry, though, are concerned that Kaplan's position might enable an unfair proportion of that business to go to her husband Ken Lorber, a minority partner in the Broward-based postproduction company Post Edge, Inc., which is building a studio on Miami Beach.
"Deeny Kaplan receives information about work that is coming into the area. And I don't want to have to rely on Deeny Kaplan's honesty to not talk to her husband before she would talk to the rest of the industry," complains Rick Legow, president and part-owner of Broadcast Video, Inc., a postproduction facility that competes with Lorber's company. "Part of Deeny's job is to wine and dine the clients while describing the great things about doing production in South Florida. Her husband has been taken along with her on those events, which definitely gives him a leg up. On top of that, she introduces him to people at industry parties. She gives her husband a tremendous advantage. I don't want to have to live with that."
Although he has no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, Legow feels the potential for a conflict of interest is intolerable. He wants Kaplan removed from her post unless Lorber severs his ties with Post Edge and stays away from all other South Florida film production companies.
Late last year Legow took his complaints about Kaplan to her boss, Parks and Recreation Department director Bill Bird. The three met, and the parks director gave Kaplan his hearty endorsement. "Deeny's very competent," Bird affirms curtly. "She's damn near doubled the film business [in Dade] in the last two years. And the people who are complaining? Their business is booming, too. The industry two-and-a-half years ago was a seasonal thing. Now it's a damn near year-round thing."
Kaplan herself can't supply figures to indicate exactly how much the industry has grown under her watch. Permits issued for use of county-owned land increased from 1600 to 2000 between 1991 and 1992; 1000 permits have been issued so far this year. Kaplan estimates that about a half-billion dollars were spent on production here last year; she has no calculations for the preceding years.
While she is quick to acknowledge that she's not solely responsible for Dade's increased film-friendliness, Kaplan does point out that she was picked from a pool of about 300 candidates for the $47,000-per-year county post, and that she brings with her a tremendous amount of experience in the field. "There is no one among my counterparts in other cities with the same experience as me," she boasts. "Most of the time they come from civil service, economic development, chamber of commerce. When I came into the position, I knew the business; I had to learn government."
The 41-year-old Kaplan says she began working in the industry at the age of twelve, performing on a television show called Bozo's Big Top, and has since done work in "every facet of the business." She and Lorber moved here from New York six years ago. Before she was named director of the film office in 1991, the couple ran a local public-relations firm.
During the meeting with Rick Legow and Bill Bird, Kaplan freely admitted that her husband went with her to business dinners and industry fetes. She also said that during a county-funded business trip to Los Angeles in early 1992, a representative from Post Edge had accompanied her on visits to several film production companies. Legow says that smacks of favoritism. Kaplan replies that her official business is governed by Florida's Sunshine Laws. "Any time I'm on a business trip somewhere, and someone says, 'I'd like to go on appointments with you,' I can't stop them. It's Government in the Sunshine." The trip in question, she adds, occurred nine months before the owners of Post Edge met her husband, much less invited him to become a partner. Lorber joined the company this past October.
Kaplan contends that she has nothing to do with who hires who, other than to distribute two privately printed directories of local production-related services, including postproduction facilities, equipment rental houses, camera operators, location managers, studios, and directors. Her schmoozing, she argues, is solely geared toward luring filmmakers to work in South Florida. "The Office of Film, Television & Print serves as a clearinghouse," she asserts. "We bring projects to the area. It's up to the individual companies to get the business. We never ever, ever, ever A and I'm really emphatic about this A recommend anyone or anything. What we do is Xerox [the directories] and say, 'Go to it!'" If anyone calls the office, Kaplan says, she is obligated under the Sunshine Laws to reveal which companies have expressed an interest in doing work in Dade.
After the meeting in Bird's office, Kaplan requested that the County Attorney's Office issue an opinion regarding Legow's conflict-of-interest allegation. The letter detailed her job description and her husband's employment situation; missing, however, was the crux of Legow's complaint: that Ken Lorber often accompanied Kaplan on business outings.
The response, issued in February, did little to appease Legow. Cynthia Johnson-Stacks, an assistant county attorney, limited her analysis to one question: whether it was proper for the film office to include Post Edge on its list of local entertainment-related services. Johnson-Stacks found the inclusion didn't constitute a conflict of interest.
Unsatisfied, Legow next complained to the County Manager's Office. Tony Ojeda, an assistant county manager, told Bill Bird that Kaplan was no longer permitted to take her husband with her when she attends business dinners, and left it at that.
The way Kaplan and Lorber see it, Legow's crusade stems from jealousy of Post Edge's success. In business in Miami for 25 years, the company is widely regarded as one of the leading video production facilities in South Florida. "I feel there are some desperate competitors," says Lorber. "These allegations are a pile of bullshit, to put it bluntly."
To which his wife adds: "To my knowledge, it's really just Rick Legow and Broadcast Video who are complaining."
Notwithstanding Kaplan's perspective, others in the production industry seem to side with Legow, although they are reluctant to voice their opinions. "It stinks to high heaven," asserts one production executive who, like several others interviewed for this story, requested anonymity for fear of repercussions. "Deeny is paid to be aware very early of work coming into town, so she is a gatekeeper of information. And no matter how professional the parties are, she and her husband sleep together at night. Deeny's a nice woman and seems to be a pro, but it's too cozy for me. You want someone who is well plugged-in, but friends are different from spouses. There's a difference between helping your friends pay their bills and helping yourself pay your own bills."
Assistant State Attorney Joe Centorino confirms that his office is reviewing the matter, but he refuses to furnish any information about the investigation. County Attorney Robert Ginsburg, too, is revisiting the issue. "I've been hearing rumors coming from the private industry," says Ginsburg. "People seem to be miffed and feel there's a problem there. I'm concerned enough about it to speak to the county manager about it. I think he should know what's going on.