Winning Wasn't Everything

Jim Dougherty exposed insurance fraud for Lloyd's of London -- until they concluded the Miami Beach lawyer had overbilled them by millions. Now the U.S. attorney is involved and things have turned very ugly, indeed.

Far more valuable were the tomes of data A compiled at considerable expense to his clients at the Sturge syndicate -- Dougherty supplied to journalists free of charge. As Beaty and Gwynne gratefully acknowledge in their book, Dougherty gave them his entire database pertaining to BCCI, neatly stored on computer disks.

To reporters, Dougherty's cooperation appeared to be fueled both by egomania and by an honest desire to swap information. More telling was his need to produce concrete results for Lloyd's, if not in the courtroom, then at least in the media. Articles published about Lloyd's pursuit of Bilbeisi, he argued to underwriters, helped garner publicity and deter future frauds.

No single event snared more coverage than Dougherty's appearance before Sen. John Kerry's subcommittee in October 1991, a performance that marked the ultimate affirmation of his labors. But the nagging question for Richard Lehrman is how his former boss landed the spot. "I worked for six years on Capitol Hill and I still can't figure it out," Lehrman muses.

One possible explanation, says a source familiar with the case, was Dougherty's decision to retain Jack Blum to assist in the Sturge case. A prominent Washington lawyer and former Senate special counsel, Blum was a ravenous and long-time investigator of BCCI. He was also a trusted advisor to Kerry and spoke with the Senator and his staff throughout the planning of the BCCI hearings. During this same period, from June to September of 1991, Blum's firm billed Dougherty more than $80,000, legal fees absorbed by Sturge.

Blum refuses to discuss the work his firm did for Dougherty but insists it had no bearing on the litigator's appearance before the Kerry subcommittee. "The work we did was totally unrelated to those hearings," Blum says. "That I can promise you." Kerry staffer Jonathan Winer, who helped coordinate the BCCI hearings, says he can no longer remember how he recruited Dougherty.

What those on hand during Dougherty's shining moment do clearly recall is embarrassment. "The guy was incoherent," offers one Senate aide. "He had good information but he couldn't focus. It was the kitchen-sink approach to testimony." Throughout Dougherty's discursive opening remarks, Blum passed notes to him via Lehrman -- notes urging Dougherty to stick to his scripted statement.

The hearing nonetheless went a long way toward justifying Dougherty's already exorbitant bills. "Lloyd's has, as I said at the outset, expended six million dollars to pursue and produce the evidence you have shared with us," Kerry told Dougherty in closing. "And we are very grateful."

Of all the national reporters who courted Dougherty during his heyday, none so far have seen fit to update his story. Most seem vague as to what has transpired. "Jim pressed me to write stories that highlighted the dispute between him and Lloyd's," notes Richard Duncan of the Financial Times. "Ones that put him in a favorable light, obviously. But I never did. He may not have thought too carefully about how he spent money," Duncan adds. "But he worked hard and he cared deeply about the things happening with BCCI. His heart was in the right place."

Ironically, several reporters who worked closely with Dougherty and went on to write books about BCCI published those volumes after Dougherty's dismissal. Lehrman and investigator Vicente Valls say they met with Sam Gwynne, co-author of Outlaw Bank, to personally apprise him of Dougherty's alleged misconduct. Evidently neither he nor Jonathan Beaty felt it necessary to modify the portion of their book devoted to Dougherty's heroics. In fact, both sent letters of support to the Florida Bar in August 1993.

"Dougherty contributed significantly to the ability of law enforcement, and the press, to pursue leads [by] providing expense money for shadowy sources without asking for documented receipts," Beaty notes in his three-page missive. "One of his main weapons was his use A often inventive A of money. There is little doubt that Dougherty risked his own life, as well as his reputation, because of his efforts to expose BCCI/Bilbeisi." Beaty, who won several major awards with Gwynne for his BCCI reporting, did not return a half-dozen phone messages left by New Times.

Louis Altemar surveys the expanse of his white-tile living room, a room virtually devoid of furniture, and sighs self-pityingly. "Mr. Jim make nine million dollar from Lloyd's and look at my living condition," the 50-year-old father of three says in a thick Haitian patois. "I got no kitchen. No TV. No VCR. Now the bank want to take away my home."

There was a time not long ago when Altemar was hailed as the key figure in Dougherty's crusade, the man with the inside skinny on Munther Bilbeisi. These days he casts himself as an unsung victim of Dougherty's profligacy, a humble servant of justice hung out to dry, a poor black man hoodwinked by rich white ones.

More than anything, though, Altemar embodies the manner in which Dougherty's operation came to resemble that of his nemesis. Like Munther Bilbeisi, Dougherty spent lavishly. He surrounded himself with shadowy characters (many of them former Bilbeisi cohorts). He engaged in the dangerous game of meddling in foreign affairs. And like Bilbeisi, he played Altemar for a fool and now has reason to regret it.

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