By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Michael E. Miller
But determining a price didn't seem to be a problem for the dealer, Rennsport Autohaus, a Coconut Grove dealership owned by Antonio Jose Garcia. In early November, Ralph Sanchez had reportedly called Garcia to tell him Book would be trading his current car for a new Mercedes and that Sanchez would pick up the difference between the trade-in and the new car.
A month later, after the Mercedes was stolen, Book submitted an insurance claim stating that the sale price was $53,000. Following a tip by Metro-Dade police that something odd may be occurring with Book's insurance claim, two investigators from the state Division of Insurance Fraud went to Rennsport and asked to see all documents relating to Book's Mercedes purchase. When a secretary approached with the paperwork, the investigators -- John Askins and Ed Dahl -- quickly snatched it, slapped a subpoena in her hands, and walked out with the file.
Inside they found the original invoice for the car, dated November 5, 1985, which stated its sale price as $44,000. They also discovered a letter dated December 26, 1985, from Book to Antonio Jose Garcia: "Please remember to send me the Bill of Sale we discussed." At the bottom of the letter, in Garcia's handwriting, was a note to one of his assistants: "We have to do new bill."
Next in the file, Askins and Dahl found a new invoice, backdated to November 5, 1985, stating the purchase price of the car as being $53,000. Book had submitted to his insurance company a copy of this inflated invoice as proof of how much he paid.
On May 23, 1986, Book was arrested at his law office in downtown Miami. The headline in the Herald the next morning read, "Noted Lawyer Arrested"; the article was accompanied by a photograph of Book being led away in handcuffs by Askins and Dahl. The lobbyist was charged with second-degree theft and three counts of filing a false and fraudulent insurance claim, each of which were third-degree felonies. Book was also charged with misdemeanor perjury for filing a sworn statement he knew to be false. The case was assigned to Assistant State Attorney Larry LaVecchio, the same prosecutor who at that time was handling the Opa-locka bribery investigation.
Book and his attorneys argued (and argue to this day) that there was never any fraud against Book's insurance company, and that the $53,000 figure more accurately reflected the replacement cost of the car. Book and his attorneys worked aggressively to have the case thrown out of court, and even tried to assign blame to others.
As a defense against the misdemeanor perjury charge, for instance, Book contended that his secretary had violated the rules governing her status as a notary public by failing to swear him in before he filled out and signed the claim. If he hadn't been duly sworn in, Book reasoned, he couldn't have committed perjury on the claim form. The judge agreed and dismissed that one misdemeanor charge.
The move infuriated investigators, who saw it as a cowardly attempt by Book to protect himself by endangering his secretary, who could have been criminally charged with misuse of a notary seal.
Instead of arresting the secretary, however, prosecutor LaVecchio filed a new charge against Book -- "uttering a forged instrument." In his hasty effort to avoid responsibility, prosecutors argued, Book had admitted he sent the insurance company an affidavit he knew hadn't been properly sworn. Moreover, the new charge wasn't a misdemeanor, it was a felony.
The legal wrangling continued for more than two years. Initially Dade Circuit Court Judge Ralph Person tossed out the entire case against Book because he agreed that the $53,000 figure represented the cost of replacing the Mercedes. The Third District Court of Appeals then overturned Person's ruling and reinstated the charges.
On December 5, 1988, Book finally pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor count of submitting a falsely notarized affidavit. Judge Person withheld formal adjudication, which meant Book would have no criminal record from the affair.
LaVecchio had urged Judge Person to declare Book guilty. "This crime is not a random or senseless act," LaVecchio told the court. "It was carefully planned." But Person refused, and even seemed to express sympathy for Book by stating that the prosecution had been a costly and embarrassing affair for Book to endure. "Mr. Book has been the subject of a great deal of punishment already," Person declared.
Book and his defense attorney, Donald Bierman, declared victory. "This plea is not an admission of guilt," Bierman announced. "The agreement was made to place this unfortunate matter behind Ron Book. He wants to continue life without a shadow."
By the time the insurance fraud case was settled, Book had already left the law firm of Sparber Shevin to open his own lobbying business, a one-man shop that would give him complete control over his future.
Despite several years of bad publicity, Book seemed poised for a comeback as the Eighties drew to a close. The swagger had returned to his walk. A self-assured cockiness once again infused his personality. In a 1987 Miami Review article entitled "The Persecution and Resurrection of Ronald Lee Book," the lobbyist cast himself in the role of victim. "The only thing I ever wanted to be is president," Book told the Review. "That's what this thing has cost me probably -- the ability to run for public office. It hurts because I've always wanted to serve. The truth is it makes me want to cry.