By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Alex Daoud has never been one to sit still. At his prime the three-time Miami Beach city commissioner and three-time mayor was constantly in motion, always the center of attention. Tall and strong and handsome, he lusted for the action, the pop of the camera flash, the adulation heaped on him by all. But that was before federal investigators began to discover that something else lay behind Daoud's genial facade. In late 1992, Miami Beach's golden boy was convicted of bribery. The following year he pleaded guilty to other corruption charges and was hauled off to prison.
For a man like Daoud, a tougher punishment would have been difficult to imagine. There he was, locked away from the adoring crowds, left alone to contemplate his own fears and needs and hatreds. He was forgotten for the first time in his life.
Freed early in April 1995 after seventeen months in federal custody, Daoud tried to put his sordid past behind him and get on with his life. He found a job -- first working for a car-alarm company, then delivering flowers. He devoured medical textbooks with a dream of one day enrolling in medical school in the Caribbean. Once an avid amateur boxer and exercise enthusiast, he began visiting the gym again. And he continued with his political memoirs, which he had begun -- first as fiction, then as autobiography -- before entering prison. "I've changed a lot, haven't I?" he often asked me in the months after his release. "I'm not the same person I was before." He frequently said he wanted to live a clean, quiet life; in time, he said, he would ask a judge to release him from the balance of his three-year probation.
But so much prevented him from leaving the past behind and pushing ahead, not the least of which was his animosity toward those people he once considered friends but who, he claims, quickly abandoned him when he was clobbered by the federal government. After a little more than a year of simmering in his quiet, uncomfortable rage, Daoud was back at ringside and climbing through the ropes.
In June of this year, the 53-year-old Daoud steps back into public, controversial view. His girlfriend, Robyn Elliott, sues her former boss, Crescent Heights general manager Russell Galbut, accusing him of sexually harassing her for years and of unlawful retaliation under Florida's whistleblower statute. Two days later Galbut files a countersuit, alleging that Elliott has conspired with Daoud to extort $1.2 million from him. "War has been declared!" Daoud gamely announces to me.
The lawsuits are a bizarre mix of treacherous and salacious allegations, and as far as they pit Daoud against Galbut, they are a twisted reflection of a seemingly strong friendship that was so representative of Miami Beach's power structure in the Eighties. During most of those years, Daoud was an associate at Galbut's family law firm on Washington Avenue -- Galbut Galbut & Menin; Daoud nominated Galbut for the powerful Zoning Board of Adjustment, a seat the developer held for about a decade; the two could be found at all the right community and charitable functions, and they used only the kindest words to describe each other.
Their rises in fortune also occurred in tandem. As Daoud ascended toward the top of the Dade political firmament, Galbut was establishing, among other ventures, the largest condominium-conversion operation in the region, developing prominent beachfront buildings such as the Alexander, the Castle Beach Club, 100 Lincoln Road, the Shelbourne, and the Carriage House, among others.
Robyn Elliott, a jittery but good-natured woman, became Galbut's administrative assistant in 1990. The relationship fell apart this past December when Galbut fired Elliott because she "objected to or refused to participate in the unlawful activity and practices of Galbut," her suit alleges. Elliott filed her lawsuit in federal court and claimed, among other allegations, that
*Galbut implied to business associates on at least two occasions that Elliott would provide them with "sexual favors."
*Galbut had "a number of extramarital affairs" and would "describe to Elliott, using sexually explicit language, the various sexual relations and sexual practices he engaged in, or would like to engage in, with his female companions."
*Galbut requested Elliott to provide false testimony if she were subpoenaed in connection with a federal banking investigation of Capital Bank, of which Galbut is a shareholder and director.
*Galbut requested that Elliott prepare fraudulent insurance claims for Crescent Heights properties and Galbut's personal residence.
*Galbut required Elliott and other employees to make campaign contributions to specific local political candidates with the assurance that they would be reimbursed by Crescent Heights.
Galbut's attorney, Franklin Zemel, has answered the charges with a detailed dissection of Elliott's complaint, and he has asked a judge to throw out the case. The attorney contends that Elliott unilaterally left the company and describes her complaint as "a vast array of imaginative claims and a potpourri of innuendo-laden allegations." He adds: "When you look at it allegation by allegation, what you'll find is that she got a portion of the story and never got the whole story."
Galbut's countersuit -- which, oddly, doesn't name Daoud as a defendant -- is as inflammatory as Elliott's. The developer says he temporarily allowed the ex-mayor, after his release from prison, to stay in an apartment at the Aventura Beach Club condominium, which is owned by Crescent Heights. In addition, Galbut says he gave Daoud "hundreds of dollars in cash." But Daoud ran up a phone bill in excess of $1000 at the condominium that he never paid. Galbut further alleges that Daoud refused to move out of the unit more than five months later, even though Galbut wanted to sell it.