Other People's Money

"Divorce is not pleasant," she explained over a plate of shrimp scampi at Jeffrey's in Miami Beach. "From that time to the present time there has been a healing process. Art and I get along fine now, but there was a strain." She claimed she filed the affidavit alleging nonsupport because she was angry that Teele wouldn't buy their son a new car when he turned sixteen. "I may have become upset, and it was selfish of me," she said.

"Art has never ever denied his son anything," she declared. "Art has never neglected his son in any way. Anything his son needed, he provided. Anything I needed, he provided." The $200,000 he owes her, she stressed, is from their divorce settlement, and includes Teele's commitment to pay for his son's college education and her ownership interest in Teele's parents' house in Tallahassee. None of it, she maintained, is owed her immediately.

In addition to fending off calls from reporters, Celestra Teele has been contacted by representatives of Alex Penelas's campaign, which is one of the reasons she decided to break her silence. "Wouldn't you be annoyed by that?" she complained. "Politicians should not interfere with the family. They are trying to open up old wounds that have healed, and that is not right."

She said she paid her own way to Miami and was not receiving money from Teele for speaking out. She also taped a commercial on her ex-husband's behalf, in case any of his rivals decide to use the divorce filings against him.

The fundamental issue, of course, is whether Teele's past financial problems should prevent him from being considered by voters on September 3. Teele contends that business, like life, is a series of successes and failures, and he has learned from each. It is better, he says, to have the next mayor of Dade County be someone who has lived in the real world of business and who has experienced both its successes and its failures. And he blasts members of Alex Penelas's campaign staff, who have been rummaging through his financial records and attacking him at every turn.

"I've owned newspapers and radio stations," he says. "I've created jobs and provided good wages for the people who worked for me. I know what it's like to worry about making my payroll. And the people who criticize me are really the slime buckets of Dade County, many of whom have never made an honest dollar, most of whom have never paid a person a decent wage or gainfully employed people. They've been lawyers, they've been parasites, they've been leeches."

Teele, though, has had his own experiences as a parasitic lawyer over the past few years. When he was elected to the commission, he was a partner in the law firm Adorno & Zeder, and his principal client was the health-maintenance organization CAC-Ramsay. Shortly after his election, Teele decided he would have to resign from the law firm because so many of Adorno & Zeder's clients did business with the county. He felt he would have to recuse himself from too many issues.

He did take one client with him when he started his own law practice, and that was CAC-Ramsay, one of several HMO providers covering county employees and under a contract worth tens of millions of dollars. Teele contends his role with CAC-Ramsay was to keep track of federal health-care regulations and to work with the company president on possible mergers with larger companies. Instead of a salary, Teele was awarded company stock options.

In 1991 he cashed in his first round of options for a profit of more than $92,000. (He was allowed to buy 5000 shares of stock from the company at $12.50 per share, then sold them for the market price of $31 per share.) In 1994, after CAC-Ramsay was acquired by health-care giant United Healthcare Corp. and the company's stock soared, Teele sold off another 5000 shares. His profit this time: $258,000.

During an interview two weeks ago, Teele claimed that he has never voted on a matter relating to CAC-Ramsay. But records show that on October 5, 1993, he did vote to extend the county's contract with CAC-Ramsay. When confronted with the disparity, Teele said he did not recall the vote. After reviewing the records, he noted that the action was part of the commission's "consent agenda" in which dozens of resolutions are taken up simultaneously; CAC-Ramsay's involvement escaped his notice. Teele, who no longer represents the company, also correctly pointed out that the vote was 9-0; his participation did not affect the outcome.

Another of Teele's major law clients is a French company called Air and Water Technologies. With Teele's help, a subsidiary, PSG, won the right to privatize the water and sewer departments in Opa-locka. Teele's involvement has prompted criticism from those who say the deal takes money away from county government, which used to provide those services for Opa-locka for a fee. "My loyalty is to the people, not the government," he responds. "And that deal makes the best sense for the people of Opa-locka.

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