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By offering Coffey and others as character witnesses, Thornton did open new avenues of inquiry. At the very least, prosecutors would have wanted to investigate the relationship between Timor and the person most likely to provide the strongest testimony in her support: the U.S. attorney. Moreover, the best counterattack to a powerful witness is to impeach him. (Assistant State Attorney Mary Cagle refuses to comment on the nature of Thornton's involvement in the case or on the evolution of the Timor investigation. Officials from the office of Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill also refuse to comment on the specifics of the Timor investigation because it is a pending criminal matter.)
The association between Susanna Timor, who is now 37 years old, and the 42-year-old Kendall Coffey began more than a decade ago, when he hired her to work for him at the law firm Greenberg Traurig. When Coffey and fellow Greenberg Traurig partner Robert Burlington decided to launch their own firm in 1988, they brought along Timor. Both men interceded on her behalf during her protracted divorce and child-custody battles. (Burlington handled most of the legal work, but Coffey made numerous appearances in court and filed pleadings, at no charge.)
Coffey has since helped Timor deal with other legal matters. In February 1993, for instance, he filed suit on her behalf against Synergy, a company that supplies natural gas for home use. He also wrote a letter of complaint to Catalina Pools, the firm that built a swimming pool and deck for Timor. Later he paid a personal visit to Richard Jones, the owner of Catalina Pools, to discuss a settlement of the dispute.
"Oftentimes the cost of retaining legal assistance is prohibitive for the staff in a law office, so the lawyers try to help out," Coffey told New Times earlier this year. "I would venture to say the practice is so far from unusual as to be routine."
After he assumed the post of U.S. attorney in October 1993, Coffey hired Timor to handle his appointment scheduling and to help out with event planning. In her $46,985-per-year post, she also worked as a paralegal on civil cases, including a few that involved health-care fraud.
Coffey and Timor have both maintained during the past year that they are very close friends. "We consider Kendall like family," Gaude Timor, Susanna's mother, told investigators at one point.
But the public record makes it obvious that investigators and prosecutors were interested in finding out whether the U.S. attorney and his assistant were ever romantically involved; various people were questioned about the nature of the pair's friendship. Jim Dorn, a carpenter who did some work for Timor, told an FDLE investigator about the first time he encountered Coffey at her house. "I was talking with Susanna and ready to build the cabinet, putting it in the kitchen," Dorn said. "And he walked in the house, took off his jacket, and I thought it was her husband." Dorn told the investigator he remembered seeing Coffey at Timor's "once or twice."
The FDLE investigator probed further: "During the couple of times that you did see him there, was it pretty much in the same manner or just kind of very casual and, yet, as you described it, almost 'at home'?"
"Yeah," Dorn replied.
The same investigator asked Timor's ex-husband Ricardo Ferreira whether he suspected his ex-wife had "an affair" with Coffey. "I suspected it," he replied. "Yes." Ferreira admitted he had no "actual evidence" but said he had learned from Timor's neighbors that after the couple's separation, Coffey visited Timor's house regularly. "[The neighbors] . . . told me, 'We thought this man, Mr. Coffey, was the little girl's father because he would come by here, like, almost every night. Take her out for walks. Take her out in the car.'" (According to several sources, Timor had a running feud with those neighbors.)
Polk County Assistant State Attorney Cass Castillo quizzed Robert Burlington, Timor's friend and Coffey's former law partner, about the relationship between the U.S. attorney and his aide. "Are you aware of any type of relationship of a romantic nature between Susanna Timor and Kendall Coffey?" Castillo asked.
"No," Burlington replied.
"Have you suspected that perhaps one existed?" the prosecutor persisted.
"Yes, I have," the attorney responded. Burlington, though, added that after discussing the matter with his wife, they concluded that Coffey and Timor did not have a romantic relationship.
Several other witnesses interviewed in the course of the investigations -- including Gaude Timor and Nancy Calderone, a friend of Timor who was once a secretary for Coffey A said they didn't suspect Timor and Coffey had ever had a romantic relationship. Timor's former live-in housekeeper, Idalia Mendez, described Coffey and Timor's relationship as "work-related," and, in answer to a prosecutor's question, said Coffey never spent the night at Timor's house.
"We felt it appropriate that we investigate the entire relationship between Coffey and the Timor family," Polk County Assistant State Attorney Chip Thullbery asserts. "Had we concluded that there was misdoing [by Coffey] A which we did not A it would've been important to establish some reason for the misdoing." In other words, as they investigated the financial transactions between Coffey and the Timors, investigators were considering the possibility that the flow of money had something to do with a romantic relationship. The nature of that relationship became irrelevant when the Polk County team decided Coffey had done no wrong.