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.

Altemar came to the States from Haiti in 1957. He boxed professionally under the name "Tiger Jones" before joining the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a translator. In 1976 Bilbeisi hired Altemar as a driver. He later became the coordinator of Bilbeisi's coffee-import business and helped his boss broker the helicopter deal in Guatemala. He left Bilbeisi's employ in 1988 in a dispute over his pay. Soon after that, Dougherty came calling. "Jim told me Lloyd's would take care of me if I gave an affidavit and helped him with witnesses," says Altemar. "He said I would never have to work again in my life."

The terms of the agreement, according to courtroom testimony later provided by Dougherty, were specified in 1989. He verbally pledged to compensate Altemar $50 per hour for his services, settle a $35,000 credit card debt Altemar had amassed, and pay a bonus A as soon as the Bilbeisi cases were resolved. Altemar was soon driving from his home in Delray Beach to Miami Beach five days a week. When he wasn't reviewing documents, he served Dougherty in much the same capacity he had Bilbeisi, as a chauffeur and factotum.

When Altemar complained about his mounting bills, Dougherty sometimes gave him small payments; he also bought Altemar a truck. More often the lawyer told him it would be against the law to pay a witness until the case was over. If he pressed the issue, Altemar says, Dougherty threatened him: "He told me he would have the Miami Beach police put my black butt in jail. He also said that he had [federal prosecutor] Andres Rivero in his coat pocket." The invocation of law enforcement tended to silence Altemar, who was under investigation for tax evasion as one of Bilbeisi's associates. (He later pleaded guilty and was placed on probation.)

While he was begging for scraps, Altemar claims, Dougherty lavished thousands on his alleged mistress, Korina Bretado, a.k.a. Cecilia Ramirez. "He bought that woman four cars in one year," Altemar fumes. "One Monday morning, I never forget, Jim called me in and gave me his wife's phone number. He told me his girlfriend showed up in front of his in-laws' house and made a big fight. Jim said, 'Here. You call up my wife and tell her that Cecilia is your girlfriend.' From that time I could tell Jim's wife lost respect for me." (Lucia Dougherty did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.) Another time, Altemar says, Dougherty put a gun to his head and ordered him to sign an affidavit he knew to be false.

By 1992 Altemar had lost his patience. He had seen Dougherty's bills to Lloyd's A he had even made copies of them A and was determined to secure his share of the riches. On March 8 of that year, he sent a letter to Lloyd's officials pleading his case. "I ask Mr. Jim to please take care of his promise with me now he won his case, but Mr. Jim fight with me," Altemar wrote. "He said I am a no-good nigger and he don't have to pay nobody." When he received no reply, Altemar took the fateful step: He pulled aside Richard Lehrman to show him the quarterly statement.

In the days after Dougherty's firing, the attorney cut Altemar three checks totaling $135,000. That money is long gone, along with Altemar's wife, who divorced him in 1991. Altemar says he was never paid the $50 per hour Dougherty promised him. He figures he lost a small fortune. Now he works as a chauffeur to make ends meet.

"You see how I live," Altemar scoffs. "I have nothing here. My kids want their daddy to cook for them and I can't. I buy food from McDonald's." He walks to a refrigerator in the corner of the living room, the only appliance in sight besides a coffee machine on the floor. To underscore his plight, he begins dumping rotten food into a garbage can. "You see this cake?" he asks, holding aloft a pink-and-white monstrosity. "It was for my daughter's birthday, three weeks ago. Her mother told me to shove it. But I don't want to throw it away until she sees it because it cost me $40." After a brief and dramatic pause, into the trash it goes.

He sits at the only table in the room, crushes out a cigarette. "Sometimes when I drive the limo, I start to laugh and cry at the same time," he says in a reedy tenor that makes him sound like a little old lady, an eerie contrast to his hulking frame.

Altemar marches to the bedroom, down a hallway draped with photos from a more prosperous past. One depicts him in his pugilistic prime A young, sweaty, and as pretty as Muhammad Ali. He searches his closet for the latest letter from the bank, which promises foreclosure on his home, and he plops onto an unmade bed. "The kitchen," he decides at last. "You must see the kitchen."

Past a row of empty rooms he ambles, stumbling on his slippers as he enters the kitchen, a room that appears closer to demolition than refurbishment. Live wires sprout from the walls. Detritus blankets the concrete floor. A dingy tarp lies fallen from the doorless doorway. Altemar sizes up the mess with a martyr's perverse satisfaction. "I got a name for your article," he announces. "'A Haitian Man Taken for Granted by Jim Dougherty.' The black people will love it."

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