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The two insurance-fraud investigators had stopped by unannounced. It was just after 6:30 on the evening of January 12, 1995, and Steven Smith and Maureen Murphy had some questions for the petite woman with long, dark hair who answered the door wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "U.S. Attorney's Office."
The shirt was no bootleg knockoff, no thrift store hand-me-down. It was the genuine article. The woman, the investigators knew, was Susanna Timor, the 36-year-old assistant to Kendall Coffey, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida and the most powerful law enforcement officer in South Florida.
Timor agreed to talk with the pair for a few minutes and led them into the living room of her home, a spacious, two-story house in a quiet, upper-middle-class neighborhood of Miami Beach.
The investigation of Timor had begun with two anonymous handwritten letters the Florida Department of Insurance received in January 1993 and March 1994. The letters, seemingly written by the same person, alleged that Timor committed fraud by submitting inflated and altered receipts to State Farm for post-Hurricane Andrew repairs to a house she had owned in Coral Gables. The ensuing inquiry, launched last year, revealed that Timor had submitted a total of seven altered documents from five different companies and received $3847 to which she was not entitled, according to an affidavit filed by the Department of Insurance.
The dollar value of the alleged fraud was small by Hurricane Andrew standards and the case was "a routine ground ball," says Frank Doolittle, director of the Division of Insurance Fraud at the Department of Insurance. He figured the investigators would conduct the interview, wrap up the paperwork, and within several days forward the matter to the State Attorney's Office, which prosecutes such violations.
But when she was questioned at her house that day, Timor did something unexpected: She asserted her innocence.
Perhaps, she suggested, it was the contractors who were at fault. Maybe they fiddled with the receipts to avoid reporting the money she paid them. Toward the end of the interview, Timor sat up straight, glared at them, and defiantly declared, "I work for the U.S. Attorney's Office and I indict people for fraud, I don't do fraud."
Timor would eventually be arrested and charged with six felony counts: five counts of filing a false insurance claim and one count of grand theft.
But not for seven and a half months.
The protracted investigation prompted rampant speculation in South Florida's law-enforcement and legal communities. For months Timor and her supporters have accused state officials of mishandling the matter and victimizing her. The authorities, meanwhile, have maintained their secrecy, saying nothing.
Until now. Voluminous investigative files recently made public reveal how a straightforward phony-receipts case quickly ignited into something much more complex. After the January 12 interview with Timor, investigators delved further into her finances and discovered more alleged wrongdoing, involving not only Timor but her mother, Gaude Timor, and her boss, Kendall Coffey. The more they looked, the more suspicious they became.
Of interest to state officials was an array of financial transactions between Coffey and the Timors -- loans, gifts, and payments -- over a period of about fifteen months from 1991 to 1992, when Coffey was still in private practice and Timor was his paralegal. Investigators were particularly suspicious about several campaign-related payments Coffey made to Gaude (pronounced gow-day) Timor, who owns a printing shop, during his unsuccessful 1992 bid for the Florida Senate.
They also scrutinized a Coconut Grove Bank account Coffey opened in 1990 and later turned into a joint account with Timor. Though both had sworn in affidavits that Timor never used any money in that account for any purpose, among other transactions investigators found a $28,000 withdrawal, which Coffey later admitted he had loaned Timor to complete the purchase of a house -- thus raising the specter of perjury.
As investigators searched for a possible motive for the flow of money from Coffey to Timor and her mother, the personal relationship between Coffey and his assistant also came under scrutiny. Friends, neighbors, colleagues, even carpenters gave divergent answers when questioned about whether they believed the pair had ever been romantically involved. Though he was never asked about the purported affair, the U.S. attorney himself was summoned by state prosecutors to provide sworn testimony regarding his financial dealings with Susanna Timor and her mother. (Both Coffey and Susanna Timor refused to comment for this story.)
Eventually the clamor died down, and the matter was officially reduced to its original kernel: insurance-fraud charges against Susanna Timor. But not before it had been stoked into a political firestorm that blew as far as Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. And while investigators were probing various links between Timor and Coffey, the U.S. attorney retained legal counsel to protect his image against the onslaught. Numerous influential Florida Democrats also rallied to the support of the Clinton appointee. Because of the sensitivity of the case, few people will speak about it to the press even now. (To this day, both the Division of Insurance Fraud and the Dade State Attorney's Office categorically deny ever having officially opened an investigation involving Coffey.) Says a source familiar with the investigation: "There was enormous pressure to get [the State Attorney's Office and the Division of Insurance Fraud] off the case, and it damn near succeeded."