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Teele also borrowed $380,000 from a German tycoon, Hans Kugler, to invest in AETC. As New Times first reported three years ago, Teele and Kugler met on a Concorde flight from Paris to New York. In the case of both Patch and Kugler, Teele had to personally guarantee the loans if AETC failed.
In its heyday, Teele says, AETC employed 200 people and brought in revenues in excess of ten million dollars in 1986. But by the late Eighties competition from both home and abroad sent the company tumbling to financial ruin; in 1989 AETC, which was more than two million dollars in debt, filed for bankruptcy protection. More than 100 creditors lined up -- including Patch, Kugler, and the Internal Revenue Service, which was due $400,000 in taxes.
AETC was not Teele's only business venture following his stint in the Reagan Administration. He invested in one firm that made jewelry from conch shells and another that disposed of medical waste. From 1984 to 1989, he was also president of the National Business League, a group designed to promote business opportunities among blacks. The league ran into serious trouble with government auditors in 1988 and was forced to repay $72,000 in federal grants.
But it is the fallout from AETC that continues to dog Teele. In 1990, the same year he was first elected to the county commission, his plan for reorganizing AETC was approved by a federal judge. At that time, Teele predicted he would be able to revive AETC and pay off all of his creditors within six years. "I'm a tough administrator," he said. "I'll turn the company around."
Six years later Teele has in fact paid most of his creditors, but not without continued legal wrangling. Kugler, for instance, sued Teele in 1993 for failing to keep up his loan payments. (The timing of Kugler's lawsuit appeared to be designed to embarrass Teele, who was running for re-election when it was filed.) Earlier this year, Teele says, he made his final payment to Kugler. He has also paid all the money AETC owed to the IRS. The one debt that hasn't been satisfied is the money still due to retired Gen. William Patch, which with interest now amounts to $229,000.
"This was not a traditional debt," Teele argues. Because of their long-standing friendship, he claims Patch is not pressuring him to repay the money. Patch could not be reached for comment, but his former Miami attorney, Patricia Thompson, disputed Teele's assertion. She has not spoken to Patch in several years, but in the early Nineties, she says, "he paid me good money to try and recover whatever I could, so I don't think he takes this lightly." Teele insists Patch will eventually get his money. "I have paid back every other person I've ever entered into business with."
One name worth noting on Teele's financial disclosure forms is Claude Douyon, whom Teele owes $240,000. The two met in 1983 while Teele worked for Reagan and Douyon was a member of Jean-Claude Duvalier's government in Haiti. "Mr. Douyon was a diplomat in Washington and I came into frequent contact with him," Teele notes. "He's a friend. He's a business partner. He is a person who knows me, knows my family. I have Christmas or New Year's dinner with him every year."
Over the past thirteen years, Teele says, Douyon has loaned him $1.5 million. According to Teele, Douyon would provide financial assistance whenever it was needed -- in blocks of $100,000 or $200,000 -- and Teele would repay it when he could. During AETC's more prosperous period, the daily operations of the company were being managed by a group of Haitians recommended to Teele by Douyon. Teele's current debt to Douyon came about in 1993, when he borrowed the $240,000 from him, for what Teele describes as "cash flow" reasons.
Teele is understandably defensive when discussing Douyon, a member of Haiti's ruling class, which for decades ruthlessly exploited the country's people and assets. "He is certainly what you would call part of the elite business class," Teele admits. "He was never associated with oppression. There was never any charge against him on any matter involving abuse."
Following Duvalier's ouster, Douyon and others were sued in New York, accused of plundering Haiti's wealth. The case against Douyon, Teele says, was dismissed in 1989.
Teele's relationship with the current, democratically elected government of Haiti is also very strong, he asserts. He has represented Haiti free of charge on economic development issues, and he boasts, "I have every reason to believe that I could request and receive a letter of endorsement from former president Aristide for my candidacy for mayor based upon many of the things that I did during his tenure as president."
The former commission chairman is also working to defuse another potentially tricky situation -- this one involving his first wife, Celestra Patton Teele, whom he owes $200,000. Married in 1972, they divorced twelve years later. A licensed nurse anesthetist, she now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with the couple's one child, Arthur, who recently turned eighteen and is starting college this month.
In 1993 Celestra Teele filed an affidavit with the Alabama courts claiming that Teele was not providing adequate financial support for their son. This past weekend Celestra Teele flew to Miami, and with her ex-husband by her side met with reporters who had been trying to interview her about her allegations.