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A few years ago a political consultant told me, "Jim, write down the following letters: N-T-B-K. Stick that right next to your computer and keep it there."
"Okay," I said, "but what's it stand for? Something new on the menu at Burger King?"
"N-T-B-K: Never trust Bruce Kaplan," he replied. "As long as you follow that advice, you'll never get burned by him."
While rummaging around my desk the other day, I came across that slip of paper and it made me chuckle. Nostradamus couldn't have foretold the future any better. Since taking office as a Dade County commissioner, Bruce Kaplan has proven himself about as upright as a Kissimmee trailer park. This past December I wrote a story chronicling some of Kaplan's misadventures -- from his sleazy campaign against Conchy Bretos to allegations that he was part of a ring trying to smuggle computers into Peru without paying necessary tariffs to his work promoting phone-sex franchises throughout Latin America.
The article also revealed that he was under criminal investigation for allegedly providing false information on a mortgage application he used to buy his home in Miami Beach. Citing sources familiar with the case, I reported that there were "discrepancies" between his application and the financial disclosure forms he files each year as a county commissioner. Kaplan denied he had done anything wrong.
After the story ran, several people said the alleged criminal conduct seemed like pretty trivial stuff. So Kaplan may have fudged a little on his mortgage application, they argued. Who among us isn't above tweaking a few numbers to give ourselves the best possible chance of getting our dream home? Some even suggested that the State Attorney's Office was being vindictive and was simply out to get Kaplan. I actually began feeling a bit sorry for the man.
Then I came across that note with the letters N-T-B-K.
Last week I obtained copies of several sworn statements given to prosecutors as part of their ongoing criminal investigation of Kaplan. These documents show that Kaplan's alleged efforts to mislead his mortgage company were far more nefarious than fudging a few numbers or telling a couple of little white lies to lending company officials. According to the testimony, Kaplan engaged in a systematic campaign of deceit worthy of Humberto Hernandez.
Key to the government's investigation are certain documents the commissioner submitted with his mortgage application that relate to his work for Mark Bradbury, a millionaire businessman whose various companies include Caribbean Telephone and Topaz Capital. Kaplan's main duties with Caribbean Telephone involved persuading government officials in Panama, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia to allow the company to develop phone-sex operations in their countries.
Under his agreement with Bradbury, Kaplan would be paid a commission for the services he helped initiate. According to the sworn statements taken in the criminal investigation, however, Kaplan wasn't very successful, his income far from secure.
Mortgage companies are reluctant to loan money to people whose earnings are unpredictable, which may be why, in 1994, Kaplan allegedly went to great lengths to hide the fact that he was not receiving a regular paycheck when he asked to borrow $330,000 from Margaretten & Co., Inc.
Kaplan's loan application included a letter dated September 29, 1994. Addressed to Margaretten, it advised the lender that since 1991 Kaplan had participated in "an executive deferred income plan" through a firm called Topaz Capital Company. The letter stated that Kaplan recently withdrew $27,000 from the plan. Prior to the withdrawal, his account balance was $82,000. The letter was signed "Brad Bargman, plan administrator."
Prosecutors subpoenaed Bargman and provided him immunity from prosecution. In a sworn statement taken February 21, 1997, Bargman, who was employed by Mark Bradbury as a company vice president, told Assistant State Attorney Joe Centorino that Kaplan himself had prepared the letter.
Q: What was the executive deferred income plan that he was referring to here that you signed?
A: I'm not sure. Mr. Bradbury said I could sign whatever [Kaplan] gave me. I didn't know what understandings the two of them had so I just went ahead and signed it.
Q: You in fact had no knowledge of any executive deferred income plan?
Q: You had no knowledge that he had withdrawn $27,000 from such a plan?
Q: You had no knowledge of any account balance that Mr. Kaplan had within such a plan?
A: No plan. No.
Q: Were you the plan administrator?
Q: Were you the administrator of any plan?
Q: Did you question at this time when you saw that you were signing as a plan administrator a plan that you knew didn't exist, that you had no reason to know existed? Did you question Mr. Bradbury about that, say why am I signing that as plan administrator, I don't know of any plan?
A: I just trusted the both of them. I work with Mr. Bradbury, Mr. Kaplan, the lawyer of the firm. I just trusted the two of them that whatever I would be signing would be legitimate.
Mark Bradbury was also granted immunity from prosecution and was questioned by investigators. On March 20, 1997, Centorino showed Bradbury a copy of Bargman's letter to the mortgage company.