By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Imagine you own a waterfront mansion that needs some fixing up. One day a friendly fellow knocks on the door and says he wants to rent your house for the summer. He promises to finish repairing the kitchen and build a brand-new garage while you go away on vacation. It seems like a great deal.
The friendly fellow puts his wife's name on the lease, not his. He doesn't pay the rent or the water bills, and you discover he owes a lot of money to the government in back taxes. He builds the garage -- your garage -- but then he uses it as collateral to get a big loan from a bank. He raises even more money by selling your house to some investors. Naturally the investors are furious when they realize they don't actually own a thing. Finally, your tenant declares bankruptcy and drags you into court with him.
Would you evict this friendly fellow?
No. Not if you're Dade County. Not if the tenant's name is David E. Graham and your waterfront mansion is Black Point Park and Marina in South Dade.
How this tenant moved into your house and made it a money magnet takes some explaining.
During the Seventies the concavity in South Dade's coastline known as Black Point was little more than a Friday-night anchorage for sailors tacking toward Key West, and an occasional port of call for drug smugglers. In 1972 a countywide referendum established the isolated site as the future home of a public marina, but it took eleven years to get the necessary permits and approval from state and federal governments.
Another vote, this time by county commissioners, turned the operation of much of Black Point Park and Marina over to a company called Marine Management, Inc. (MMI), on July 5, 1988. The county lease, which was to run for fifteen years with two five-year renewal options, gave MMI exclusive rights to operate a fuel dock, a bait and tackle shop, and a dry storage barn for 300 power boats. It also allowed the company to rent fishing skiffs and houseboats, run a scuba-diving concession, and provide food and beverage service. (The county continued to manage the marina's 217 wet slips by itself.)
In return, MMI agreed to build most of the marina facilities at its own expense on what was still comparatively vacant land. The company also agreed to pay the county $8000 per month rent, plus five percent of its gross revenues, a nickel for every gallon of fuel it sold, and a commission from vending machines it installed and on any sales of boats or engines.
On the face of it, the deal was a sweet one for MMI. Black Point is the biggest public marina in South Dade, the natural jumping-off spot for middle-class suburbanites who want to fish in the Gulf Stream or cruise the Keys. The boat barn, in particular, seemed to promise a cash bonanza, being the only enclosed dry storage boat rack between Maule Lake in North Dade and Tavernier, south of Key Largo.
The county was keenly aware of the economic value that control of the marina represented -- and the potentially damaging ways in which that value could be used. The lease reads: "Unapproved assignment, subletting, mortgaging, pledging or encumbering [of the lease] shall be grounds for immediate termination of this agreement."
Hurricane Andrew destroyed the marina in August 1992. The insurance money MMI received after the storm had to be used to pay back the company's original construction loan, according to county records. The owners of MMI apparently decided they didn't want to be involved in the lengthy rebuilding project and sold their stock to new owners on October 23, 1993. The old owners of MMI included Glenn Wright Jr. and Sr., a father-and-son team with a long history in the construction business in Broward. The new owner was a 42-year-old former typist and flea market manager named Tamea Behrendt.
In the coming years county administrators would sometimes wonder what role Behrendt actually played at Black Point. When they sent correspondence to her, it was answered by an attorney named David E. Graham. He sometimes seemed like a mystery too.
"We have received two written communications from Mr. David E. Graham related to our notices of default dated November 3, 1995," a county official wrote to Behrendt. "Although we are aware that Mr. Graham is a consultant to Marine Management, Inc., we are not aware that he represents Marine Management, Inc., in any manner. Please advise us as to the official role of Mr. Graham."
Sometimes Graham identified himself as general counsel for the corporation, occasionally as a vice president, documents show. "Because of his vast experience in assembling a creative and professional management team to promote and build marine activities, Mr. Graham has been selected to steer the efforts of Marine Management at Black Point," his resume states. Eventually county administrators became aware that the stocky, gregarious Graham was also Behrendt's husband.
Glenn Wright, Jr., one of the original owners of MMI, says he met Graham in the spring or summer of 1993: "He was acting as my attorney on some things at the time and he had a marina of his own that he was operating in Dania."