By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Terrence McCoy
By Jeff Weinberger
By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
The lobbyist, however, did not know that Hooten was still wearing a listening device and that members of the Metro-Dade Organized Crime Bureau were monitoring the conversation nearby.
Hooten told Book that if he voted for the unpopular project, it could cause him trouble in the next election, both in votes and campaign contributions. According to transcripts of that meeting, Book replied, "I don't want to cheat you. What do you want me to do?"
"I gotta take time off from my own business, my own people," Hooten said.
"I'll see that you get paid for your time," Book responded. "I call the shots for my client. He'll follow what I ask him. You need to tell me what I need to do. . . ."
Hooten continued to talk about his business until Book interrupted and said, "I'm willing to make a commitment."
"Yeah, I understand that," Hooten said.
"Do you hear me?" Book asked.
"Everybody is gonna want something," Hooten continued. "I'm not saying that you're going to have to give everybody something."
"I'm there for you," Book stressed. "I'm there for whatever you tell me I got to do. How more direct can I be?"
On November 22, Dugan, whose telephone lines had been tapped by investigators, talked to Alberto San Pedro and complained about how Book was handling Hooten, that he was being too cautious. Dugan said Book is "probably afraid to say anything" and that he has "just been talking, talking with no nothing."
The exact nature of San Pedro's involvement in the Southern Combustion project remains unclear, but according to the wiretaps, he told Dugan to take charge. "Don't let Book give him [Hooten] the money," San Pedro ordered. "You give him the money."
Two weeks later, on December 3, 1985, Dugan visited Hooten at the vice mayor's home and laid out $4000 cash in what police alleged was a bribe to secure Hooten's vote for Southern Combustion. Hooten was to keep $2000 for himself and pass along the remainder to another council member and certain city staffers. Dugan promised that after the vote Hooten would receive another $3000 in cash.
In the meantime, Alberto San Pedro's request for a pardon was moving ahead. During a telephone conversation between Dugan and a Tallahassee attorney who was also representing San Pedro before the parole board, the attorney said, "Apparently Ronnie has gotten Graham to come across. The way it was put to me, the only friend [San Pedro has on the parole board] is Graham, and apparently that's in deference to Ronnie."
At a December 1985 hearing, Graham did say he was inclined to grant San Pedro's request for a pardon. Parole board members postponed the hearing, however, and before it could be rescheduled, San Pedro was arrested under a sweeping indictment alleging drug trafficking and bribery of public officials.
In February 1986, the Miami Herald broke the story that Book and Dugan were under investigation for allegedly bribing members of the Opa-locka City Commission. Hooten told the Herald he had no doubt that Book knew what Dugan was doing when he delivered the $4000. (Nearly a decade later, Hooten remains firm in his belief. "Ron Book was the engine," he said in a recent interview. "Dugan was his gofer.")
On August 6, 1986, Dugan was arrested and charged with bribery. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years' probation and 500 hours of community service. Today he maintains that Book knew nothing about his attempts to bribe Hooten: "My problems were created by myself, period."
Book was never charged with any crime regarding Southern Combustion and the payoff to Hooten. That decision by then-State Attorney Janet Reno reportedly caused a major split in her office as several prosecutors involved in the investigation argued strongly that Book should have been criminally charged. Still, Book's connection to San Pedro would forever color the way police and prosecutors viewed him. And if there was suspicion during this period, it was only exacerbated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to a January 15, 1986, sworn statement by Metro-Dade Sgt. Thomas Tretola, FBI agents in Philadelphia had contacted Metro detectives to say that Book's name had surfaced in an investigation there. One of the FBI's informants was alleging "widespread corruption" within the Florida Department of Insurance, then headed by Bill Gunter. "The confidential source further alleged that Ronald Book was heavily involved in this corrupt activity and was one of the key people to be contacted for any potential bribery attempt concerning the Department of Insurance," Tretola wrote. Book and Gunter were long-time friends; the lobbyist had raised more than $100,000 for various Gunter campaigns over the years. At the time the report was made public, both Book and Gunter denied any wrongdoing, and no charges were brought against either man.
The peculiar events of late 1985 prompted investigators to take a special interest in Ron Book's affairs, including the reported theft of his brand-new Mercedes 500 SEL, stolen from a parking lot at Miami International Airport on December 10, 1985.
Book had owned the car -- the same one he and Brian Hooten sat in outside Opa-locka City Hall -- less than a month. It was a gift from Miami Grand Prix promoter Ralph Sanchez, who Book represented as an attorney and lobbyist. The Mercedes was a "gray market" car, meaning it had been manufactured for use outside the United States and required upgrades after being imported. Such modifications sometimes make it difficult to place a precise dollar value on a car.