By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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For Bythwood in particular the charge was a supreme affront. At age 27 he had never been in trouble with the law. Growing up in Palm Beach County's Belle Glade, he had played piano for the church choir and joined the army when he was eighteen to later receive the financial assistance to attend college. Bythwood spent his five years in the service as a military police officer stationed in Germany and then Washington, D.C., where he rose to the equivalent rank of plainclothes detective, responsible for investigating felonies committed by soldiers. After the army, he attended the University of Miami, where as a walk-on, he made the Hurricane football team and was part of 1991's national championship squad.
At six foot, three inches, and weighing 240 pounds, Bythwood has not given up hope of playing professional football. In fact, he has been invited to try out this summer with both the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars. He and his girlfriend are expecting their first child in a few weeks, and the one thing he didn't want hanging over his head was a felony charge.
Reluctantly, Bythwood recalls, he contacted his father about a week after his arrest. "When my son called and told me what happened, I believed him," says Dan Bythwood, who is a Belle Glade city commissioner. "Dinavon has never been in trouble before. He was a military police officer, he knows right from wrong. When he told me the way he had been treated, I was very upset and I jumped on it quick."
In fact, Bythwood decided to make a federal case out of his son's predicament -- literally. He called his congressman. As fate would have it, that congressman is Alcee Hastings, whose tenure as a federal judge ended in impeachment and disgrace, but who was politically reborn in 1992 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Dan Bythwood says he is "very good friends" with Hastings, and that the congressman immediately agreed to help. Hastings called Dinavon the next day, and as a result of their conversation, the congressman asked the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate the incident.
Hastings's interest in the case grew appreciably when Dinavon informed him that the Miccosukees are represented by Dexter Lehtinen. "I know they knew each other and that there is some bad blood between them," Bythwood says. "I got the impression that that might have given Alcee some motivation in this case."
Bythwood may be understating it when he says there is some bad blood between Hastings and Lehtinen. The two men have been adversaries for several years. Following his impeachment from the bench, but prior to his run for Congress, Hastings represented religious cult leader Yahweh Ben Yahweh after Lehtinen's office indicted him on charges of murder conspiracy, extortion, arson, and racketeering. Hastings also defended Circuit Court Judge Phillip Davis in the notorious Court Broom corruption scandal prosecuted by the Lehtinen's office. Hastings lost the Yahweh case, but he won an acquittal for Davis.
Coming to the aid of Bythwood, however, didn't even require Hastings to spend a single day in court. "I don't know who he talked to," Bythwood says. "I don't know what happened. But somebody got some heat from somewhere and my charges were significantly reduced." Rather than face a felony, Bythwood's charges were changed to misdemeanor trespassing. Because he had never been arrested, prosecutors agreed in January to place him in a diversion program involving 35 hours of community service, after which the charge would be removed from his record. (Hastings could not be reached for comment.)
"If I had been able to afford an attorney, I would have fought the trespassing charge," Bythwood now says. "But I shouldn't complain. I basically came out of this unscathed compared to William."
The fortuitous involvement of Hastings had no effect on Negron's case, and the charges against him spelled trouble, particularly because of his now-precarious financial situation. Without his truck, his files, and his repossessor's license, Negron was forced to lay off Dinavon, as well as his secretary. He had recently leased a storefront office, but had to abandon that, as well. Long-standing clients began hiring other repossessors. "I lost a lot of business," Negron recalls. "I worked hard to build this up and in one day all my hard work was nearly destroyed."
To make matters worse, his lack of income prevented him from hiring two attorneys A one to defend against the criminal charges and another to challenge the forfeiture action. So he decided to act as his own attorney in the battle over the truck.
On December 2, as part of his criminal case, Negron persuaded a Dade circuit court judge to sign an order demanding that the Miccosukee police release his truck and personal property. Fearing the possible consequences of returning to the reservation, Negron requested and received the escort services of two Metro-Dade police officers to deliver the court order. That same Friday afternoon Negron watched as the officers served the order on Officer P.K. O'Neill.
O'Neill explained that an order from a state circuit judge had no effect on the reservation. The truck was staying put. However, O'Neill did agree to return Bythwood's personal property, but not Negron's.