Teele, Toil, and Trouble

And fail it did.
The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 1990, but that did not prevent Patch and Kugler from hiring attorneys to go after Teele to recover their money. In early 1993 Kugler sued the county commissioner. That same year Teele's first wife Celestra filed an affidavit with the Alabama courts claiming that Teele was not providing adequate financial support for their son. Celestra also claimed that Teele still owed her more than $200,000 from their 1984 divorce settlement.

This financial pressure led Teele to look for a quick infusion of cash. According to sources familiar with the current case, Teele spoke to several people in 1993 about his need for a loan, including Lunetta and an attorney by the name of John LaCapra, who represents the Florida Ports Council, among other maritime clients.

Lunetta is alleged to have arranged for Fiscal Operations to transfer $85,000 from one of its seaport accounts to a law firm in Puerto Rico, which in turn sent the money to Teele in Miami. Sources familiar with the case say that in order to hide the unsavory nature of this transaction, the money was disguised as a loan, with LaCapra serving as trustee for an unnamed lender. LaCapra's attorney has said he did this as a favor to Lunetta, whom he has known for years.

LaCapra, who has also known Teele for more than ten years, has been cooperating with federal agents in building the indictment against his old friends, filling in the blanks from the incomplete trail of bank records and wire transfers. But even with his help, the most difficult aspect of the case will be proving who knew what when.

It is entirely possible, sources familiar with the case say, that Teele did not know the money was coming from Fiscal Operations and Calvin Grigsby. It is also possible, they contend, that Grigsby had no idea the money Lunetta asked him to send to Puerto Rico was going to wind up in Teele's hands.

And for anyone who has watched Teele and Grigsby over the years, the possibility that each was unaware of the other's involvement actually makes sense. The men were often adversaries, and on several occasions Teele, as county commission chairman, attempted to scuttle projects Grigsby brought before the commission. In fact, one of the reasons Grigsby allegedly began bribing Burke was to gain an ally to counter Teele's evident animus.

It is hard to imagine that Grigsby would ever knowingly do a favor for Teele, or that Teele would place himself in the position of being beholden to Grigsby. Even LaCapra's attorney has said that although his client acted as the loan's front man, he didn't know it was coming from Grigsby.

The only person who indisputably had complete knowledge of all aspects of the transaction was Carmen Lunetta, who built a fiefdom at the Port of Miami based on his willingness to do favors for powerful people. Such favors included soliciting campaign contributions on behalf of elected officials, finding jobs at the port for their relatives, and funneling money to their pet projects and charities. In return Lunetta wanted just one thing -- to be left alone to run the port as he saw fit, without supervision or oversight.

Teele is expected to defend himself by arguing that if he didn't know the money was coming from Grigsby and Fiscal Operations, it was impossible for him to know he was doing anything improper or illegal. That defense might work on a basic count of wire fraud. But other charges are possible that would not hinge on proving Teele knew the exact source of the money.

For instance, former federal prosecutors say that a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud does not require all participants in the conspiracy to know all the details. A jury would merely have to believe that the various players were acting as part of a scheme to acquire money through false pretenses.

Another wire fraud count in an indictment could arise from Teele having filed false financial disclosure forms in Tallahassee. In his 1994 disclosure forms, Teele did not separately list the loan in which LaCapra was acting as a trustee. Teele may try to counter the accusation that he did not report the loan by contending he believed the source of the $90,000 he received was a long-time Haitian friend named Claude Douyon, who had often loaned him money in the past. Rather than listing the $90,000 loan as distinct from the other Douyon loans that were still outstanding, Teele could argue, he lumped them all together. In 1994 he listed total debts to Douyon of $170,000.

But a jury may find this argument difficult to believe. They may wonder why Teele would negotiate one $90,000 loan from Douyon using LaCapra as a trustee when he'd never handled any of Douyon's other loans that way. (In 1996 Teele told me that during the previous thirteen years Douyon had loaned him approximately $1.5 million. According to Teele, Douyon, a former member of the Jean-Claude Duvalier government, would provide financial assistance to him whenever it was needed -- in blocks of $100,000 or $200,000.)

After receiving the $90,000 in May 1993, Teele signed a document agreeing to repay the loan within six months. Five years later he still hasn't paid back the money. Taken by itself, this might be damning evidence, as it could lead the jury to suspect it wasn't a loan at all but rather a direct payoff. Teele, however, has a history of not paying back his loans on time. As Teele noted to me in 1996, he has always been late in paying his debts -- but he does pay them.

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