When Vicki Met Syl, Part Two

Accused of bribery and public corruption, this power pair finds that love and justice prevail

Molloy, the government's point man in the courtroom, has a colorful professional history that includes time as a statewide drug prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office and a stint as a screenwriter. In Fort Myers he's known by the nickname "Wyatt Earp," and he keeps a marquee poster from the movie Reservoir Dogs on his office wall. His desire to weave a dramatic story line was well served by the testimony of Lynn Marie Lane.

A former secretary to Vicki Lopez-Wolfe, Lane described how lobbyist Lukis sent roses to the commissioner, and how the commissioner hoped Lukis's connections in Washington might further her political ambitions. She also described writing an untruthful memo to Lee County State Attorney's Office investigator Brian Kelly explaining why Vicki Lopez-Wolfe's appointment calendar and telephone message pads had disappeared. Lane claimed in the memo that she was in the habit of "recycling" these official documents.

Q: This memo isn't true, is it?
A: No.
Q: Who told you to write this memo?
A: Ms. Lopez-Wolfe.
Q: Why did she tell you to write it?

A: Basically, as I remember, it was because the message pads had in fact been taken from the office.

Q: Who took them from the office?
A: Ms. Lopez-Wolfe.
Q: What did she tell you she did with the message pads from 1991 that Mr. Kelly was looking for?

A: They were going to her father's incinerator.
Two common-sense questions cropped up repeatedly in the conversations among spectators at the trial (a dozen print and TV reporters, three sketch artists, and a score of inquisitive civilians). Why would Lopez-Wolfe sell her vote for a puny $5000 (the amount she received from Lukis)? And why would Lukis write checks for a bribe? That is, why leave a paper trail?

Molloy claimed that while $5000 may seem like a relatively small sum, Lopez-Wolfe was broke -- a fact she kept "secret" from the public. But in fact she had disclosed her net worth before her election, and the information had been published in the local newspaper. Moreover, she earned a salary of $45,000 per year after she took office.

And although Lukis may have mailed checks to Lopez-Wolfe through a third party, a man of his sophistication would know that while this artifice might stop nosy reporters, it wouldn't stop investigators with subpoenas and arrest power.

The money transfers were clearly established by prosecutors, but the question of whether they constituted bribery seemed squishy. Time and again, Green returned to the question of intent, and he focused on Lopez-Wolfe's official actions. Had her votes benefited her husband's clients? Had she in fact been corrupted?

Molloy claimed that Lopez-Wolfe had flip-flopped in her opposition to the incinerator in order to benefit Lukis's clients. Actually, Green pointed out, she was fulfilling her campaign promise to oppose a costly, poorly planned incinerator. Realizing the county could be sued for millions of dollars if it breached its contract with Ogden Martin and simply dumped the incinerator plan, Lopez-Wolfe urged further study of the mammoth project -- before she ever met Lukis.

Ultimately Lopez-Wolfe and other politicians voted to scale back the size of the incinerator by one-third and to institute costly emission controls to mitigate pollution. She also voted to delay the groundbreaking of the incinerator by several months. None of these actions could be construed as favorable to Lukis's client, Ogden Martin.

While it's true that Goldman, Sachs prospered in Lee County in 1991 and 1992, how much did Lopez-Wolfe have to do with that enrichment? She lobbied for the creation of a bond selection committee in order to give county commissioners more control over the selection of underwriters. But on July 23, 1991, she resigned from the committee without ever having voted as a member. Later she voted to kill the costly City-County Complex, a project that would have benefited Goldman, Sachs. And she never had any official link to the Port Authority bond selection committee, which picked Lukis's client to help issue $32 million in airport bonds.

In examining the tawdry relationship between Lukis and Lopez-Wolfe, Green argued that the devil lay not in the details, but in the risky tendency of prosecutors -- and the public -- not to look closely enough at the details, and instead to draw conclusions from a broad and sloppy view of the facts. "The charges in this case revolve around one core proposition. [Vicki Lopez-Lukis] is not charged with videotaping. She's not charged with extortion. She's not charged with blackmail. She's not charged with any other thing that Mr. Molloy or the government may suggest. She's only charged with accepting these few gifts and being influenced by them in her official actions."

On Monday, April 14, the prosecution and defense completed their closing arguments. Charles Wilson, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, was among the spectators. Judge Gagliardi spent an hour or so instructing the jury on its responsibilities.

The waiting began. At first, Vicki and Sylvester Lukis were hopeful that they would be summoned back into the courtroom within a matter of hours. A quick return of the jury, they believed, would signal acquittal.

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