Daud Descending

With prison just around the corner, Miami Beach's former golden boy looks back at the gravity of his corruption and broods on the sorrow of his fate

Had his charmed life endured, 50-year-old Alex Daoud might still be mayor of Miami Beach, spending this late-summer evening holding forth at some high-society cocktail party, toasting the fabulous recovery of his city. Conceivably he might pick such a moment to announce his intention to seek yet another mayoral term this fall or, his political aspiration knowing no bounds, maybe to drop a serious hint about running for something loftier, something in Washington, perhaps. Later he might turn up on South Beach, schmoozing up and down the glittering guest list at the opening of a new nightclub, he being the tall, charismatic king-of-the-jungle-gym in this nightlife playground, after all.

That, though, is fiction.
Fact is, Daoud is alone at the end of this muggy day, straightening plastic deck chairs beside the swimming pool in the courtyard of a modest apartment building on a Miami Beach back street. A few months ago the chore was part of his duties as the building's manager, in exchange for which he lived rent-free. These days Daoud is helping out the new manager and trying his best to keep busy.

Dressed in a T-shirt, flip-flops, and Mount Sinai Hospital scrubs, he lumbers unsmiling around the pool deck. There's no reason he should feel buoyed this evening, of course. In a few weeks he'll be sentenced in federal court for bribery, money laundering, tax fraud, and obstruction of justice. He faces four to five years in prison for his crimes, committed during the Eighties, amid the steep upward swoop of a political career that seemed to hold unlimited promise.

Daoud is courteous, if a little startled by my appearance on his doorstep. He doesn't want to talk, not to a journalist at any rate; his attorney has advised him to withhold comment until after the sentencing. But I stick around, anyway. Reticence was never Daoud's strong suit. As mayor, he never withheld comment.

I try to explain that I want to write a story about what he's been up to since he left office two years ago. "How tall are you?" he asks suddenly. "You look like you work out. How much do you weigh?" Placing a hand on his slightly bulging stomach, he laments how he abandoned exercise for too long and allowed himself to balloon from his 220-pound "fighting" weight to a high of 285. At one time an avid amateur boxer, the six-foot, four-inch Daoud could often be found hitting the heavy bag at the storied Fifth Street Gym. While he no longer laces on the gloves, he tells me, he has recently begun visiting a local gym for the treadmill and weights and has dropped fifteen pounds. We exchange trivialities about the importance of exercise and the demise of the Fifth Street Gym, then I steer the talk back to how I want to find out what has happened to him. "You've been very considerate," he says after some pause. "Come on upstairs and we'll talk for awhile."

I follow him into his dimly lit one-bedroom apartment, accidentally kicking a toy gun, the kind that fires darts with suction cup tips. The floor is scattered with what appears to be the entire contents of a child's toy chest, not to mention the odd dirty sock, shoe, and towel. Laundry is piled high on an old couch. A large table pushed into a corner of the living room is buried beneath a heap of old newspapers, books, mail, and more toys.

Pushing aside some motley furniture to make a path through the clutter, Daoud invites me to sit on a well-worn, high-backed swivel chair ("The best seat in the house," he says) and offers a perfunctory apology for the mess: His four-year-old son had visited and he hadn't got around to cleaning up. "Would you like something to drink?" he asks, shuffling into the kitchen, where I can see a sink piled with dirty dishes. He returns with water in a Burger King-issue Aladdin cup for me, a Mickey Mouse glass for him.

"You don't know what it's like to take on the federal government," he remarks, as he slips a cassette into a small tape player. Repetitive, quasi-melodic synthesizer sounds permeate the room. "Subliminal music -- it helps me relax," he explains. He slumps into a chair against a bare wall; all the walls in the place are unadorned. "I've never read it in a book," he continues, his deep voice dropping to a near murmur. "I've never seen it in a movie or on television. No one can possibly know what it's like to go through a federal criminal trial. The moment you start that indictment, your life is unalterably changed."

He tells me how, in order to pay his legal fees, he was forced to sell his pricey Corvette and his $485,000 home in the exclusive Miami Beach enclave of Sunset Island. I comment on the contents of several tall bookshelves around the perimeter of the room, packed floor to ceiling with scores of hefty black binders. These contain documents Daoud used in his defense. Photocopying cost: $40,000, he says. He got rid of most of his belongings and furniture ("I don't need the memories"), keeping only a few mementos: figurines from the Far East that belonged to his mother, some photographs, a fragment of a Scud missile he found during the Gulf War on one of his frequent visits to Israel. The only items of any monetary value in the apartment appear to be a bicycle and a laptop computer. On closer inspection the latter proves to be a cheapo clone, brand name Delite.

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