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To passersby, it might have looked like just another traffic altercation, the sort of roadside scuffling that has made Miami a famously dangerous place to drive. But the incident staged this past Wednesday morning on a rain-slicked Interstate 95, in which two motorists allegedly came to blows, was no random flareup. For one thing, the two combatants, Vicente Valls and Heidi Kronberger, were no strangers; they had worked side by side in the law office of attorney James F. Dougherty II.
The subject of a recent New Times cover story ("Winning Wasn't Everything," April 21), Dougherty is under federal investigation for allegedly overbilling by $2.5 million his clients at Lloyd's of London. Federal authorities also want to know how Dougherty spent the nine million dollars disbursed to him by Lloyd's. This past November the Florida Bar found probable cause to uphold the charge that Dougherty overcharged his clients.
Valls, an investigator who traveled extensively with Dougherty, is a key witness in the federal probe. It was Valls and Richard Lehrman, a lawyer in Dougherty's firm, who first alerted Lloyd's officials to the Miami Beach attorney's alleged overbilling in 1992. Soon after, both men left Dougherty's employ. Heidi Kronberger, by contrast, has remained with Dougherty's firm, as an assistant. That Valls and Kronberger would end up at each other's throats comes as no surprise to former Dougherty employees.
But certainly the venue -- in the middle of a clogged highway -- was a shocker.
Valls blames the confrontation on Kronberger. His version of the event: He was driving south on I-95 in stop-and-go traffic when he noticed Kronberger driving the car next to his. She veered into his lane, threw her Nissan sports car into reverse, and bumped his Buick Regal. Then she got out of her car, marched over to his, and attempted to pummel him through the driver's-side window. "She was yelling obscenities and saying that I shouldn't have told anyone that they [Dougherty and Kronberger] paid off witnesses," Valls asserts. "She went for my eyes."
According to Valls, Kronberger eventually calmed down and a Florida Highway Patrol officer arrived on the scene to take an accident report. Both protagonists in the minidrama gave statements to the officer, Sgt. Al Reyes, who did not issue a ticket to either party but did file an incident report with FHP. Kronberger subsequently filed a report with City of Miami police claiming Valls had assaulted her.
Reached by phone at Dougherty's offices on Dade Boulevard, Kronberger declined to comment about the altercation. "You want to know what happened, you go speak to that scumbag [Valls] and ask him what happened," she snapped. "And don't call here aggravating me, because I will come after you, too. Leave me the fuck alone!"
While Kronberger refused to discuss specifics, another party who was present after the tiff suggests Valls was not purely a victim: "They looked like they'd been through a war. He had cuts on his face, and she had some cuts and welts around her throat and neck, like someone had grabbed her. Also, her blouse was dirty and sort of disheveled."
Valls vehemently denies he ever left his car. He claims Kronberger retreated to her car and inflicted the injuries upon herself.
The James Dougherty investigation, meanwhile, continues. Just this past week John Blackwell and Robert Bosshard, the two Lloyd's of London officials who dealt most frequently with Dougherty, were in town, reportedly to offer testimony before a federal grand jury.