Liar, Liar

People often ask me: "Jim, is the county always going to be a mess? Are corruption and incompetence so pervasive that eliminating them is simply impossible?"

I'll grimace slightly in response, nod my head, and say, "I sure as shit hope so. Otherwise I'll be out of a job."

Lately, however, I've begun to wonder if the salad days of scandal really are behind us. I've found myself worrying that the county has turned the corner and actually begun to restore integrity to its operations. Sometimes I'll lie awake at night and ask myself: Where have all the villains gone?

Silly me. Just as I was about to lose hope and sign up for bartending school, along comes Teressa Cawley.

Who is Teressa Cawley?
Well, that depends on who you ask. According to folks in county government, Cawley is their guiding light in the world of high finance. As one of the county's financial advisors, Cawley is among a small handful of people whose judgment and expertise the mayor, the county commission, and the county manager rely upon when making deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. She evaluates complex business proposals, advises the county on the best time to sell bonds and the best price at which to offer them. It is not an exaggeration to say she is one of a very select group of people who hold the county's financial well-being in their hands. Cawley is someone the average person has never heard of but whose power and influence nonetheless are enormous.

But if you were to ask the Securities and Exchange Commission about Teressa Cawley, you'd learn that, in addition to being a financial adviser to Miami-Dade County, she is a lying, untrustworthy, and dishonest individual who represents "a clear and present danger to the investing community."

The SEC's views are contained in a blistering legal brief the agency submitted this past month as part of a disciplinary action it has initiated against Cawley. The allegations against Cawley date back to 1993 and 1994, when she was an assistant vice president with First Union Capital Markets Corp. At the time, according to the SEC, Cawley was "the young, hard-charging head of First Union's new South Florida public finance operation." It was Cawley's responsibility to solicit bond business from Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. In effect, her marching orders were to make First Union a serious player among local governments.

Her actions during that crucial two-year period are now getting her in trouble. The SEC accuses Cawley of entering into secret agreements with lobbyists to secure bond deals for First Union in South Florida. According to the SEC, Cawley "hired the most politically connected person she could find in each jurisdiction to assist First Union. In Miami-Dade County, that was Julio Gonzalez-Rebull, Jr., whose family and firm had been politically active for 40 years. In West Palm Beach, that was James Watt, a former city attorney, county commissioner, and state representative for West Palm Beach who had been the City of West Palm Beach's lobbyist since 1988. And in Broward County, that was Ron Book," whom the SEC describes as "South Florida lobbyist extraordinaire."

The bulk of Cawley's troubles stem from her alliance with Book, who helped First Union land the coveted position of financial adviser for Broward County in 1994. Under the agreement between Book and Cawley, Book received a $2000-per-month retainer for his services; plus he was promised twenty percent of all First Union profits resulting from county contracts he helped secure. SEC rules required First Union to disclose to Broward County officials its hiring of a lobbyist, but the financial institution never revealed the Book relationship.

Cawley attempted to defend her actions to the SEC by claiming that Book had nothing to do with the Broward deal. "Simply put," the SEC charges, "Cawley lied about everything."

Earlier this year a disciplinary hearing was held in Miami at which a number of people testified, including Ron Book, who acknowledged he did indeed help First Union in Broward. "Book's testimony eviscerates the heart of Cawley's defense -- her absurd claim that although she hired him to introduce her to elected officials in Miami-Dade County and to vouch for her there, she did not ask Book, the most connected lobbyist in South Florida and one with the deepest ties to Broward County government, to help her in Broward, where First Union secured its most significant business, by far, during Cawley's tenure," the SEC legal brief states. "Despite his close ties to Cawley and his obvious attempts to buttress her defense, including repeatedly volunteering testimony he admitted to be pure 'speculation,' Book could not help but utterly undercut Cawley on the central issue [of disclosure]."

A current vice president for First Union, Orlando Cruz, Jr., who took over for Cawley when she left First Union in 1994, testified that both Book and Cawley briefed him on the arrangement in Broward County.

Cawley herself testified and vehemently denied any wrongdoing with regard to disclosure of her business relationship with Book.

SEC attorneys, though, argue that they were able to catch her in numerous lies. "Cawley's testimony was truly stunning," SEC officials write. "It is simply amazing that a person of her evident intelligence and extensive experience in the securities industry would engage in such repeated and obvious myth-making. On every single issue and at every single critical juncture, Cawley simply made it up. Her testimony with respect to why she increased Book's compensation immediately after the first two Broward deals closed is representative. Including the explanation she offered under questioning by her own counsel, Cawley told at least five different stories on this score."

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