The Mayor's Strong Arm

This past March 30 Richard Sharpstein questioned Fred Baggett under oath. During the deposition -- which came as part of a civil lawsuit the state has filed against Sanz over his management of FESA -- Sharpstein asked Baggett if he had ever spoken to Sanz about Brian May's solicitation on behalf of the Penelas campaign. "I recall one instance that Mr. Sanz told me that he had had discussions about contributing to Alex Penelas's campaign, yes," Baggett replied.

"Was that with Brian May?" Sharpstein sought to confirm.
Attorneys for the Department of Insurance objected and ordered Baggett not to answer. Eventually, though, Sharpstein received the confirmation he needed. He asked Baggett if anyone "informed you that Brian May had solicited donations to the Penelas campaign?"

"Yes," Baggett responded.
"And who was that person?"
"David Sanz," Baggett said.

When Sharpstein pressed for details, attorneys for the insurance commissioner once again objected. Sharpstein says it is obvious that Nelson is trying to protect May. "I find it abhorrent and thoroughly offensive that Bill Nelson and the Department of Insurance do not want the public to know the truth about what happened," Sharpstein says. "Their refusal to let Baggett testify smacks of an agency that has something to hide."

Baggett did not return phone calls seeking his comment for this story. But Scott Keller, another Greenberg Traurig lobbyist hired by Sanz, says he doubts the truth of Sanz's allegations. "That is so far out of character for Brian," Keller says, who has known May for years. Despite Baggett's sworn deposition, Keller doesn't believe May would have contacted Sanz directly. "I'm pretty sure that didn't happen," he says.

Baggett wasn't the only person in whom Sanz confided regarding May's fundraising. Sanz also spoke to Miami attorney Michael Lozoff in 1996. "I got a call from David Sanz; he was very upset," Lozoff recalls. "He reported to me that he had received a call from Mr. May, and the way it was reported to me was that Mr. May hit him up for a significant contribution for Alex Penelas. It was $5000. I told him he shouldn't contribute and he said, 'You don't understand. Brian is putting me in a terrible spot. This guy is the assistant to the insurance commissioner and he could torpedo everything I've been doing.'

"He was very, very upset by this," Lozoff adds. "I said, 'David, you are absolutely right. It is totally inappropriate for him to call you and ask you for contributions under these circumstances. If I were you, I'd tell him to pound sand.' David continued to express his frustration and then that was it. We never talked about it again. I don't even know if he paid the money."

Since I began working on this story, a whisper campaign against Sanz has been launched by the mayor's office. Supporters of May and Penelas have been warned of this article's imminent publication and told that Sanz is a crook and a bit of a crackpot. Sanz's opponents claim that he is not respected in the insurance industry and that his allegations are not believable.

Of course, no one inside the Penelas camp was complaining about Sanz's character two years ago while they were cashing checks from him totaling $6000.

Sharpstein counters that Brian May has his own character flaws. After Penelas was elected, May resigned from the Department of Insurance to become the mayor's chief of staff. Sharpstein says that within the insurance industry, May's departure became known as the "Brian May double-fuck." The first bit of treachery, according to Sharpstein, came when May pressured lobbyists and executives in the insurance industry for contributions to Penelas's campaign and promised them they would always have a friend in the insurance commissioner's office. The second came when May left that office after Penelas's election.

So who is more believable, Sanz or May? The truth probably falls somewhere between Sanz's allegations and May's denials. Consider this scenario: May contacts Sanz and asks him to donate to the Penelas campaign. Whether he actually promises Sanz he would have FESA's assessment plan approved in return for the contribution or merely allows Sanz to jump to that conclusion will probably remain a mystery.

Either way, Sanz doesn't know what to do. He feels threatened and complains to Lozoff and Baggett. Eventually he decides he has no choice but to write checks for $6000. His lobbyists at Greenberg Traurig, as well as Michael Colodny, collect the checks and reap the credit for raising the funds.

Four months later, after Penelas is elected and May has left the insurance commissioner's office, the state rejects Sanz's recovery plan. What can Sanz do? He certainly can't complain to anyone that May promised to approve his proposal in return for the Penelas contribution; Sanz would be confessing to a criminal conspiracy. So instead he twists things into the story he's telling today: He gave the $6000 freely and then afterward May tries to extract an additional $20,000. He refuses, and the insurance commissioner's office punishes him by taking over FESA.

Who knows? Maybe it happened that way. One thing is clear: Something sleazy was going on. Perhaps an investigation will uncover it -- an investigation conducted at the appropriate time and by the appropriate agency. Whenever and whoever that is.

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