By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Also lurking behind the scenes, Hawkins asserts, was his old nemesis Dusty Melton. The day Hawkins was sworn in as a county commissioner, he told his staff that Melton was never to be permitted inside his office. Melton had supported incumbent Clara Oesterle during that first race in 1988, but more importantly, Hawkins says, Melton had a reputation for controlling various commissioners and dictating how they voted. Over the years, Hawkins claims, Melton's influence has waned.
Hawkins believes Melton, in bitter retaliation for the decline of his practice, somehow manipulated DiFede into lying about him, and that after she and Nudelman gave their damaging statements, Melton provided Centorino with the now-infamous "mystery list" of five additional women who were supposedly harassed by Hawkins. (Three of those women once worked for various county commissioners; the other two -- Jacquee Petchel and Kathleen Krog -- wrote for the Herald. Petchel is no longer with the paper.) "If you go down and give [Centorino] information and it's false and it's malicious, then you're a rat," Hawkins charges, "and Dusty Melton is a rat."
In addition, Hawkins suspects Melton was actually paying DiFede's legal costs. "You realize what he is saying?" asks a bemused Arturo Alvarez, DiFede's attorney. "He's saying that there was a criminal conspiracy to hurt Larry Hawkins. That people got together and decided to commit perjury, and risk going to jail, just to hurt Larry Hawkins. What is the up side for Mary to make up all of this? She's not suing him; she's not looking to get any money out of him." As for his fees, Alvarez says, "I haven't been paid anything by anyone. I've never met Dusty Melton; I don't even know who Dusty Melton is." Alvarez explains that he agreed to represent DiFede free of charge. "If you want to know the truth," he says, "I have three daughters, and I'd like them to live in a world where this stuff doesn't happen. This is my contribution to the good fight."
Dusty Melton says he is not aware of any "grand conspiracy" to damage Hawkins, and he denies manipulating DiFede in any way. But New Times has determined that Melton passed the names of the additional women allegedly harassed by Hawkins to a former Metro-Dade police officer, who in turn contacted the State Attorney's Office. Prosecutor Centorino later forwarded the names to the ethics commission. While Melton will not confirm the details of his role, he does say, "I have no regrets at having facilitated a comprehensive and thoughtful investigation.
As these women have expressed in their own words, Commissioner Hawkins apparently exhibited a pattern of behavior that they found to be objectionable. I believe their own testimony speaks volumes about Commissioner Hawkins, and their testimony is wholly independent of me."
Centorino's own motives are suspect, according to Hawkins: "The thing that struck me terribly -- and this is kind of a subplot -- is that the man is a part-time state attorney." Hawkins is correct. In addition to his work as an assistant state attorney in the public corruption/organized crime unit, Centorino maintains a private law practice with his wife in Fort Lauderdale -- Centorino & Waterous. Prosecutors admit it is extremely rare that an assistant state attorney is also allowed to practice law privately. "This was a four-and-a-half-year investigation done by a part-time guy," Hawkins fumes. If the investigation was so important, he argues, then it should have been conducted by someone who could devote all his energies to it. Furthermore, Hawkins claims, Centorino's outside interests compromise his entire investigation, including his complaint to the ethics commission. "I have been an elected official for sixteen years," he says, "and I don't care who [Centorino's] private clients are, I've probably somewhere in that time voted against them. I'm not making any accusation that he did anything wrong. I'm just saying the appearance and the possible abuse of a part-time state attorney looking into elected officials who vote on things in which you may have clients is an apparent conflict. That is something no one has ever written about or wants to talk about."
Centorino says the protracted nature of the Hawkins investigation was not the result of his part-time status, but rather because new allegations kept cropping up. "We tried to be careful and thorough," he states, adding that suggestions of a conflict of interest are ludicrous. "There was no reason for me not to handle this investigation," he asserts. "I did not know Larry Hawkins before I was assigned the investigation. I have no personal animosity toward him." (State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has no problem with Centorino's actions in the case. "I have total confidence in Joe," she says.)
Hawkins is equally suspicious of the Herald's coverage of the sexual harassment controversy, as well as other issues, and he points to a story published this past June 3 as evidence. In that article, staff writers Steve Bousquet and Peter Slevin reported that "the Herald" had learned only three days earlier that Jacquee Petchel and Kathleen Krog were part of the "mystery list" of women supposedly harassed by Hawkins.