By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Larry Hawkins's mouth has gotten him into a lot of trouble lately, and the timing couldn't be worse. He's up for re-election this fall, and with two weeks left before the close of the filing period, he's already drawn two opponents: PTA activist Katy Sorenson and former state legislator Richard Renick. In addition, he's facing three serious charges that he may have violated state ethics codes (see sidebar, below), any one of which could lead the Florida Commission on Ethics to impose penalties ranging from a reprimand to a recommendation that the governor remove him from office.
But it is the subject of sexual harassment that has captured most people's attention in South Florida. While investigating Hawkins with regard to the three ethics charges, Dade Assistant State Attorney Joe Centorino questioned current and former members of Hawkins's staff. During the course of the sworn depositions, two former secretaries -- Mary DiFede and Rashel "Shelly" Nudelman -- told Centorino they were no longer working for Hawkins because he had sexually harassed them. Centorino then expanded his investigation to include the harassment allegations. After more than four years spent pursuing the accusations against Hawkins, Centorino declined to bring charges against him and instead forwarded his research to the state ethics commission in the form of a complaint. To date, the commission has interviewed at least three women who claim they were harassed by Hawkins -- DiFede, Nudelman, and another former secretary, Marcia Fernandez -- and has found probable cause to believe their claims are true.
In the past month, New Times reviewed all available records regarding the various Hawkins investigations -- the two dozen depositions taken by Centorino; a report prepared by Florida Commission on Ethics investigator Larry Hill; and Hill's tape-recorded sessions with all potential witnesses -- more than ten hours of interviews. The paper also examined a portion of a polygraph test Hawkins has boasted will exonerate him. Also, in the course of interviews with more than 60 people, New Times discovered another half-dozen women who described a pattern of behavior by Hawkins that could be considered inappropriate, if not sexually harassing.
But nothing proved to be as revealing as time spent with Hawkins himself. "I welcome this opportunity," Hawkins said during the first of several interviews. "I haven't done this with anyone else in town. I haven't ever really tried to tell the entire story, to put it in context. The thing that has frustrated me the most is -- I'm innocent, damn it. I'm innocent, damn it!"
Throughout that initial interview, Hawkins, who is 51 years old, portrayed himself as the victim. "I've become a marked man," he argued. "I'm not saying that as someone who has never done anything wrong. But there seems to be a feeding frenzy. That's what one of the people in the press called it, a person who works over at One Herald Plaza. They said, 'There seems to be this feeding frenzy on you right now. You're news, and if you're not, we're going to make you news.'"
Getting to the truth, Hawkins insisted, was a simple matter of applying perspective. "What you need to do is look at the whole person," he advised. "What makes Larry Hawkins, Larry Hawkins? What are his values? What does he care about? What are his life experiences?"
His earliest experiences are drawn from suburban Detroit, where he was born and raised, and where his father, Roy, was an engineer for the telephone company. His mother, Carolyn, was a homemaker who on occasion worked as a secretary. In addition to Larry, their oldest child, the couple raised two daughters. Growing up in the innocence of the Eisenhower era, Hawkins enjoyed a carefree middle-class life -- he attended public schools, worked a few odd jobs during the summers, and was, in the words of his mother, "a really nice boy."
In high school, Hawkins's interests seemed more directed toward girls and sports than to his studies. "He was always being chased by the girls," recalls his mother. "They were always very attracted to him. He was a very good athlete -- not such a good student -- but he was always a good athlete." At Farmington High, Hawkins participated in basketball, track, and wrestling, though football was his specialty. With speed and agility, he was a terror on the field -- averaging nearly six yards per carry, a school record.
Hawkins then attended Eastern Michigan University, where, in 1966, he earned a degree in political science. Then it was on to law school at Wayne State University, but his first year was interrupted by the war in Vietnam. In 1967, on the day he graduated from officer candidate school, 2d Lt. Larry Hawkins married long-time girlfriend Mary Jean Beals in the chapel at Fort Benning, Georgia. His subsequent assignment to Southeast Asia was made all the more trying by late news that his young bride was pregnant and that he probably wouldn't be home before their child was born.
Tragically, he was wrong. Hawkins was in Vietnam only a few months before he was shipped out on a stretcher, his life forever changed. "I was injured during the Tet offensive of 1968," Hawkins says, "by any account the most brutal time of the Vietnam War, in what they call a very hot fire area around Tuy Hoa during the retaking of an airbase. I was by myself on a sand dune directing artillery fire, mortar fire, and air strikes. When I was hit, I felt my back open up. I thought I would never see my son, who hadn't been born yet, and that this was a hell of a place to die."