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.

"He gave me a box of Cuban cigars, an automatic pistol, and $10,000 in small bills," recalls Daoud, who is serving five years in the federal prison at Estill, South Carolina, having pleaded guilty in 1993 to charges of bribery and money laundering. "Dougherty wanted me to push [City Attorney] Arnold Weiner to give him work. After I took the $10,000, he began making veiled threats that all of this was going to come out. He was basically trying to extort an extortionist. I mean, that's pretty bad."

And apparently pretty effective. Court records show that Dougherty's firm handled some 40 cases for the city from 1985 to 1987. By 1988, though, Weiner had begun farming out cases to other attorneys. Despite Daoud's lobbying, he argued that Dougherty already had the lion's share of cases and that department heads were complaining he was difficult to work with. Dougherty reacted strongly: "He calls me up and tells me he wants me to get Weiner on a three-way call so he can hear for himself that I'm going to bat for him," Daoud remembers. "So I call Weiner and as I'm talking to him Dougherty suddenly starts yelling. So then Weiner starts in, and suddenly I've got these two fat old men screaming about how they're going to punch each other out. Weiner tells me, 'I'll go to war with you over Dougherty.' That's when I realized I had to get rid of Weiner. Dougherty was the principal motivator in that decision." (Weiner declined to comment about Daoud's account; Daoud says he would be happy to offer his testimony under oath and to take a polygraph test.)

Within a year Weiner was gone, and soon thereafter Laurence Feingold's name was put forward as a successor. "Once Feingold's name is out there, Dougherty visits me again," Daoud recalls. "He tells me that he can work with Feingold and he promises me a third of any revenues he gets from city cases if I help make sure Feingold gets selected. I thought that was nice."

Daoud says that deal never came to pass. But Feingold's ascendance did prove profitable to Dougherty. The new city attorney fired Bruce Simberg, who had handled several personal-injury cases, after complaints from Risk Manager Ted Baldassarre, and reassigned the bulk of his cases to Dougherty. City records reflect that the city paid Dougherty's firm $259,000 from 1990 to 1993. "Sure, I put Dougherty's name back in the rotation, as I would any qualified attorney who requested city work," Feingold says, pointing out that the vast majority of the cases for which Dougherty has been paid were assigned by Feingold's predecessor.

Dougherty has proudly trumpeted his affiliation with the City of Miami Beach and Lloyd's of London, his other big-name client. In the annual Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, for instance, he continues to list Lloyd's as one of his clients A two years after the insurance group discharged him. (The directory also credits Dougherty as having received an undergraduate, master's, and advanced law degree from Notre Dame. University officials say their records show only a law degree in 1966.)

This tendency to self-aggrandize might also explain an October 1990 letter to Dougherty from City Attorney Feingold and then-city manager Rob Parkins. "It has come to our attention from members of the Miami Beach Police Department that an unintentional miscommunication may have resulted such that these officers, while operating radar traffic devices, believed you were the City Attorney," the missive begins. "In your best interests, therefore, we are asking for a photograph of yourself and your vehicle so that we may circulate them to every member of the Police Department."

In the case of officer Charles Seraydar, that measure would not have been necessary. A twenty-year veteran of the Beach police force, Seraydar worked off-duty as an investigator for Dougherty beginning in 1986. And as frustrated city officials would later discover, Seraydar shared Dougherty's penchant for zealous investigation.

In June 1990 Dougherty received an anonymous tip that a Greek immigrant named John Ladikos was helping Munther Bilbeisi perpetrate his bogus burglary-insurance claim by hiding the allegedly stolen property in his Hallandale home. The attorney turned to Seraydar for help. Seraydar obtained a credit report on Ladikos and ran his license plate number through a police computer. Seraydar then visited Ladikos at his home on a Sunday morning, accompanied by his friend Peter Glezelis, a Greek. Accounts of what took place, drawn from a police department internal affairs investigation of the incident, vary dramatically.

Seraydar's version was that Glezelis explained in Greek that he and Seraydar, who was in plain clothes, were investigating an anonymous tip that he was in possession of property stolen from Bilbeisi. Ladikos, Seraydar contended, admitted he knew Bilbeisi but said he had no knowledge of the stolen items and insisted Seraydar search his home. Seraydar claimed he did not inform Ladikos that he was a police officer until after the search. Glezelis offered roughly the same account.

Ladikos's version, as recounted in the internal affairs report, was that Seraydar flashed his police badge and identified himself as a Miami Beach officer immediately, then demanded through his translator that he be permitted to search the house, or else he would arrest Ladikos. A fearful Ladikos complied.

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