The Amazing Crespo!

Whether agitating on behalf of Florida's film industry or aiming cruel barbs at state officials, ex-con activist Al Crespo is a gadfly with an attitude

Perhaps if the note had been unsigned and composed of letters cut from a magazine, he may have felt even more threatened. As it was, the scribbled message, which had slipped out of a fax machine in John Reitzammer's Jacksonville office sometime during the early morning hours of May 12, was enough to ruin his day and make him realize, for the first time since he had become a government official, exactly what it meant to be "in the public eye." "It's over, John," began the chilling, handwritten missive. "From here on in I'm really going to inflict real problems on your friends. It's time you come forward and ended this."

Reitzammer, then Florida's first Commissioner of Film and Television, a volunteer post, didn't need to look at the signature to know who his correspondent was. The dispatch was only the most recent -- but clearly the most hostile -- of an expanding opus of faxes emanating from the Miami Shores home of Al Crespo, an often-unemployed jack-of-all-production-trades in the South Florida film industry.

For five months Crespo, a self-proclaimed industry spokesman, had pummeled Reitzammer and other state officials with a one-man campaign of facsimile propaganda criticizing their efforts to rebuild Florida's film marketing and promotion apparatus. To the average citizen, this issue might seem too arcane to bother about, but then again, no one ever accused Al Crespo of being an average citizen.

The official plan called for the replacement of the nineteen-year-old Florida Film Bureau, a government body that marketed Florida as a filmmaking destination, with a new public/private film promotion organization, the Florida Entertainment Commission, led by governor-appointed industry representatives. Reitzammer was responsible for overseeing the transfer of the old guard to the new and was considered a likely candidate to serve as the new commission's executive director. Crespo had maintained that political cronyism, conflicts of interest, and assorted violations of the state's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law had corrupted the commission's formation. In addition, he had argued in his fax assault that the new state film organization favored the large Orlando studios -- Universal and Disney -- while shutting out smaller, independent producers.

In Reitzammer's mind, though, Crespo's campaign had only one purpose: to run him out of office. The film commissioner's nemesis had demonstrated a remarkable tenaciousness, launching fax after critical fax and copying them to hundreds of people throughout government and the Florida film industry, hounding him from public meeting to public meeting, week after week, month after month. And Reitzammer knew there was even more to this super gadfly than met the eye: The guy was an ex-con, a former bank robber, a real live gun-toting, mask-wearing, give-me-all-your-money-or-I'll-blow-your-goddamn-brains-out bandit. But while previous missives had been typewritten, the most recent, Reitzammer noted uncomfortably, was scrawled in pen. The crabbed markings seeming somehow more ominous and, yes, more crazy than his usual typed jeremiads; Crespo's strategy of facsimile propaganda had apparently taken a sudden and sinister turn to facsimile terrorism.

Reitzammer immediately called the governor's office and spoke with Chiles's chief of staff, who then contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Investigators assigned to the case told Reitzammer they were going to pay his foe a visit. "I asked them not to: I didn't want to provoke anything," the 48-year-old Reitzammer recalls. "But they said, 'We're going to go take a good, solid look at him and let him know that we know.'" Reitzammer even had what he terms "a home security conversation" with his wife: both their phone number and address were listed. And, after all, they had the children's safety to worry about.

The following morning an agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement woke Crespo with a phone call. Would he mind if an investigator paid him a visit? A short while later, at about 9:30 a.m., two female FDLE agents arrived at his Miami Shores home, a modest two-bedroom condo owned by his mother. One agent explained that they had come to investigate "allegations of a possible threat."

"This is a very long story," Crespo told the agents in a calm, firm, tone. "I will provide you with all the documentation." With that, he launched into a seamless, twenty-minute explanation -- largely uninterrupted -- of his fight against Reitzammer and the formation of the Florida Entertainment Commission. The handwritten missive, he continued, was just a warning to Reitzammer that Crespo had evidence of wrongdoing and was considering legal action against state officials, including Governor Chiles. "These people have done wrong," Crespo said, according to a tape-recording he made of the conversation. "You all don't know anything about this."

"The only thing we know about, sir," replied one agent, "is that a possible threat has been initiated." Their goal, the agent explained, was "to make sure that by exercising your First Amendment rights you don't go any further and actually cause this individual any bodily harm, that you are not some wacko who's going to go out and bomb this guy's car." The FDLE later reported that Crespo was an "articulate, worldly fellow, unlikely to resort to violence."

The idea that he has generated so much fear sends Crespo into a convulsion of laughter. It's a powerful laugh, garbled with coughs and a snort here and there. "Those fucks!" he exclaims in an edgy Key West twang, his perpetually rose-colored face, encircled by a bright white beard, heating to crimson. "I've been out of prison for nine years and I haven't robbed a bank in eighteen! And there's poor little Reitzammer thinking: 'The big, bad, boogie man's going to get me!' If I wanted to whip his little ass I wouldn't have spent all this time doing all this stuff!"

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