Scalded

A long-time aide. A few thousand dollars' worth of dubious insurance receipts. A cauldron of allegations. U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey has been . . . scalded

"We will continue to guard these secrets as we have done now for a long time! [We] sincerely hope that you will see fit to evaluate her case in a fair and just manner and do not allow not others to involve you in a self-serving political game."

(Rundle forwarded the letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement [FDLE], which investigated the allegations against her and found no evidence of wrongdoing.)

It was amid this flurry of phone calls and correspondence that John Askins composed his controversial June 13 e-mail regarding the concerns of Frank Doolittle, his boss at the Division of Insurance Fraud.

Doolittle recalls having spoken with Askins about ensuring that his investigators confined their probe to insurance-fraud matters. "I think I said something to the effect, 'You've been in this business long enough A as have I A to know that working outside your jurisdiction could ruin people's careers both up and down the line,'" Doolittle says. But he says he never received any political pressure to drop the case or spoke about the matter with anyone who wasn't directly involved in the investigation.

State Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson says he hasn't seen the controversial e-mail but recalls having two conversations about the Timor investigation with people outside the investigative agencies directly involved. Both conversations were with fourth-term State Rep. Steven Geller, a Hallandale Democrat who is a member of the legislative oversight committee for the Department of Insurance. Nelson says Geller called him earlier this year (he doesn't remember the date) to raise a concern. "The question was, Were our agents operating outside of their scope as Department of Insurance agents?" Nelson remembers. He says he consulted with a subordinate in the Division of Insurance Fraud who told him the investigators were, indeed, staying within their jurisdiction.

Geller called back two days later with more specific information: "He indicated that somebody had told him that our investigators were asking about campaign contributions, indicating that they were going outside their lines of authority," Nelson recounts. "I told him I'd check that out and get right back to him." The director says he was again satisfied by the explanation from his subordinates.

Geller explains that he was moved to call Nelson after he and his brother Joseph Geller, who is chairman of the Dade Democratic Party, discussed the May 18 New Times article. "It appeared that the Department of Insurance investigators were investigating things that had nothing to do with insurance. Sometimes you have people in any department who act beyond their authority," the legislator says. "I thought this was something the commissioner should be aware of." (Geller admits he and his brother have been friends of Coffey since childhood. But, he adds, he never had a discussion with the U.S. attorney about the Timor investigation.)

By the second week of June, the temperature within the investigative circle of the Timor case was torrid. On June 14 Katherine Fernandez Rundle wrote to Gov. Lawton Chiles. She had a problem. During the course of the Timor investigation, the Dade State Attorney stated, "Various additional allegations have arisen concerning her [Timor] and another member of the United States Attorney's Office.

"My office has worked closely with the United States Attorney's Office in the past and continues to do so . . . ," Rundle wrote. "[T]hese spin-off allegations in particular create a conflict and the necessity for an executive assignment [to another state attorney]." Rundle didn't name the subject of the new allegations and still refuses to identify Coffey as the staffer mentioned in the letter. "I'll let you draw that conclusion," she demurs curtly.

A day later Chiles reassigned the case to Jerry Hill, state attorney for the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Florida, which covers the Central Florida counties of Polk, Highlands, and Hardee. (Like Chiles, Rundle, and Coffey, Hill is a Democrat.) With the assistance of an FDLE investigator, Hill picked up the insurance-fraud investigation of Timor. In addition to several tangential allegations they would look into and soon dismiss, Hill and his prosecutors also opened an investigation into whether Timor and Coffey had committed perjury back in 1993.

During the next two months, the team interviewed at least fifteen witnesses, including Timor, Coffey, and a few people in Columbia, South Carolina, where Timor had lived briefly in the fall of 1993. The insurance-fraud investigators from Miami, Steven Smith and Maureen Murphy, also remained on the case.

On August 24, a judge signed a warrant for Susanna Timor's arrest on the insurance-fraud charges. Four days later the paralegal surrendered in court alongside her two new defense attorneys, Stephen Bronis and former federal judge Thomas Scott. Timor pleaded not guilty and was suspended from her job without pay. Simultaneously, Hill closed his investigation of Coffey.

Frank Doolittle, director of the Division of Insurance Fraud, blames John Thornton, Jr., for initially prolonging the insurance-fraud case against Susanna Timor. "It's been represented to me by my office [in Miami] that right away Thornton goes in and wants to proffer testimony to Mary Cagle," Doolittle explains. "There would have been virtually no delay in charging Timor had not Thornton entered into those activities. And frankly, if there had been no delay, I don't think there would have been a Kendall Coffey issue at all."

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