Deep Inside the Scandal

Howard Gary discusses OPERATION GREENPALM, the ambitious corruption investigation rattled by mismanagement and blown apart by astonishing leaks of secret information

Warshaw's concerns about Operation Greenpalm escalated last June to the point that he hired his own attorney and went before U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Marcus. Federal prosecutors and investigators were livid and argued that Warshaw was interfering in how they conducted their investigation. The transcript of that proceeding, which was closed to the public, remains sealed.

"I did go to court to try and protect the City of Miami and its finances, particularly as it related to the finance director," Warshaw acknowledged last week. "I'd like to be able to clarify this more, but in light of the fact that it was a sealed proceeding, I'm not allowed to discuss it."

Though Warshaw wouldn't answer additional questions about the subject, other sources say that the chief wanted to memorialize his objections to the investigation in front of a judge; he wanted to create a permanent record of his concerns that the city's finances were under Surana's control. The chief also reportedly wanted assurances from the U.S. Attorney's Office that while Surana was working undercover the government would supervise him to ensure he didn't swindle the city any further.

Warshaw's assertion that his highly unusual legal maneuver was motivated by a desire to protect the city is dismissed by several federal officials, who believe the chief's real interest was protecting his boss and therefore his own future. Dealing with Warshaw, these officials say, was an annoying distraction.

Motives aside, the fact that the chief's conduct has become an issue of controversy is evidence enough that he should have divorced himself entirely from the proceedings. Because he did not, his actions have raised questions about the independence of both the investigation and his own department.

Within 48 hours of Howard Gary's agreeing to become a government informant, FBI agents were planting hidden microphones and video cameras in his Biscayne Boulevard office. His first priority was to help secure the case against Dawkins. Gary arranged for the Miami city commissioner to come to his office on July 5 to pick up his second Unisys payment -- $75,000. Dawkins stuffed $5000 into his pocket and told Gary to invest the remaining $70,000. From that moment, Dawkins's fate was sealed.

Now it was time for Gary to turn his attention to James Burke. The timing couldn't have been better. Less than a month before he was questioned by the FBI, Gary had met with Burke, Grigsby, and Hardemon in Orlando. Burke has previously told New Times that the purpose of the meeting was to convince Gary and Grigsby they should work together for the betterment of the black community. The two men had long been bitter rivals in the bond business, Burke explained, and it wasn't healthy for them to continue their feud. As a sign of their newfound good will, Burke added, Grigsby had agreed to include Gary's firm in a bond-refinancing deal for the county's waste-recycling plant.

Gary, however, contradicts that version of events. He claims Burke demanded a $100,000 kickback for arranging the deal with Grigsby, a form of retribution for Gary's having backed Burke's opponent Victor Curry in their 1993 commission race. "I supported Reverend Curry and Jimmy Burke won," Gary says. "And because I supported Curry, Burke said that I would have to pay to play. He said, 'I'm in power now and I've got the power to keep you from doing bond business in Dade County.'"

But why didn't Gary report Burke's extortion attempt in June? Why did he wait until he was caught up in the city's Unisys scandal before telling the FBI?"I had never been extorted before," he offers, "and when I was approached by Burke, I was stunned. I was faced with the prospect of being excluded from doing business and not being able to meet payroll and provide for my family if I called his bluff." He contends he was still trying to figure out what to do when he was questioned by the FBI. "Burke was elected to serve the needs of the black community and its businesses," Gary says, "but instead he's used his position to line his pockets."

Burke's attorney Fred Schwartz calls Gary's account fanciful. "I think the evidence, if this matter ever gets to a trial, will show that Howard Gary was not the extortee but the extorter," Schwartz says. "He is not someone who is the victim of illegal activities by Commissioner Burke and Calvin Grigsby or anyone else.

"Ask anyone and they will tell you that Gary has always acted as if he expected to be in virtually every bond deal in Dade County," he adds, "that he alone was the black representative in bonds."

Counters Gary: "If Commissioner Burke did not do anything wrong, then he doesn't have anything to worry about."

Given Gary's personality and background, it is difficult to imagine that he would be easily intimidated or bullied into breaking the law -- whether by Surana in the Unisys case or Burke in the recycling-plant bond deal.

Gary's life has been defined by unwavering independence and self-confidence. He boasts of drinking from a segregated "whites only" water fountain as a child. In 1983, while city manager, he branded president Ronald Reagan a racist, even though he knew it would infuriate Miami's Cuban community. In 1984 he telephoned Ken Harms, the city's chief of police, at 3:00 a.m. to fire him for insubordination. In 1994 he came to believe he had been cheated in a bond deal by the venerable Wall Street firm Smith Barney, so he took the company to court and won a million dollars. Along the way Gary earned a first-degree black belt in tae kwon do.

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