No Safe Harbor

Daniel Budin owns one of the most famous ships on Earth. Not surprisingly, that didn't stop the Miami police from messing with him.

"It doesn't really make sense what [the police] did to Daniel," Salem muses. "It seems like they did it because they could. I mean, they tore his car apart and said we're going to tow your car away without charging him with anything. An expired tag is a $52 ticket but it's not a towable offense. What they've done is not right."

Lt. Richard Walterman, commander of the Miami Police Department's traffic-enforcement detail, advises that officers have the right to search someone during a traffic stop only if "we see something that leads us to believe the person is armed or we saw a hand-to-hand [drug] transaction. Absent probable cause we don't have the right." Inside the car, Walterman adds, the only area officers are allowed to search without probable cause is the "wingspan" -- the space in front covered by the driver's reach.

As for the tickets and towing of Budin's car, another officer might have decided to go easy on the obviously drug-free Frenchman; in general such calls are at the discretion of the officer. Yet another cop might have arrested Budin. An "international driver license" (available at passport offices and consulates) is technically required to drive outside the home country, according to Walterman, but few of the many of thousands of tourists in South Florida even know about them. Thus, Walterman allows, he would not be inclined to ticket someone who shows a valid foreign driver license.

In the last days of 1999, Budin moved from Bayside's marina to a rent-free area of Biscayne Bay near Miami Beach
Steve Satterwhite
In the last days of 1999, Budin moved from Bayside's marina to a rent-free area of Biscayne Bay near Miami Beach
Boat captain Steve Salem paid to reclaim Budin's old Taurus from the impound lot, so Budin gave him the car
Steve Satterwhite
Boat captain Steve Salem paid to reclaim Budin's old Taurus from the impound lot, so Budin gave him the car

But Florida law does require anyone "gainfully employed" in the state to obtain a Florida license within 30 days of arriving; putting a boat up for sale is, Walterman believes, a form of employment. And the lieutenant agrees that an insurance receipt isn't a reliable proof of insurance; it might mean only that a binder has been issued, not an actual policy. Towing isn't mandatory for an expired registration, and some officers would be disposed to issuing Budin a citation or two and letting him drive the few hundred feet home. "But they were furious with me," Budin says, adding with a restrained bit of sarcasm: "I had hidden the drugs so well they couldn't find them, and they had to make me pay for that."

Two days after the incident Budin attended a Christmas party given by his friends Edouard and Nina Duval-Carrié. (Edouard is a prominent Haitian painter who lives in Miami Beach.) "When Daniel came over," remembers Nina, a fashion consultant, "that's all he was talking about, and then consequently everyone else at the party was talking about it, too. Personally I think the story is pretty strange; maybe there's some problem we don't know about; he hadn't had the car too long, and perhaps there was something the police knew [about a previous owner] when they stopped him. But I don't think there's any doubt the police acted badly."

The consensus at the party, and at subsequent dinners and gatherings, seemed to be that Budin should just try to put the experience behind him. The usual first step after a disputed police incident is to file a complaint with the department's internal affairs office, but Budin says his friends emphatically advised against any action that formal. It would be the word of Budin, a French citizen here on a temporary visa, against several sworn law-enforcement officers. Litigators, however, assert that a lack of supporting witnesses wouldn't necessarily deter them from taking such a case. "Everyone said if you do anything it's going to come back against you," Budin remembers. "They said you're going to be in big trouble."

Budin also sought advice from an official at the French consulate here, who gave him a list of attorneys he might consider consulting. Budin says he called several but became discouraged when they demanded big up-front fees. Only one lawyer, according to Budin, seemed seriously interested in taking his case. "He guaranteed me I could get $50,000," he asserts. "But then he told me: 'It's going to take two or three years -- are you ready to spend some money?' I said of course not."

One of Budin's best friends in Miami is Christian Lionet, the Latin-American correspondent for Libèration, a Paris newspaper. "The day after the incident," Lionet recalls, "I met Daniel on the boat, and he told the story many times. He was really shocked, very depressed by it, and he asked not only me but everyone else what he should do about it. The first thing I told him: 'Daniel, write your story for yourself immediately while your memory is good with all the details; afterward you can decide what to do.' I'm a journalist, and I know you will forget things afterward. I also told him I think it was a bad idea to speak to a lawyer; it would be better to talk to a reporter."

Budin was asking $650,000 for Souqui, and on South Beach and in South Florida there surely is enough wealth and extravagance to make such an exceptional vessel marketable. But Budin probably overestimated Miami's capacity to appreciate something as aesthetically arcane as Souqui. Whatever the reason she didn't sell, her owner concluded several months ago that London was the place to go. A friend has secured a space for Souqui in a fashionable new dock area, and Budin thinks the environment will be more welcoming there. Europe, after all, is where Souqui has achieved some media attention and where his other antique houseboat, Hendrika Johanna, sits sumptuously on the Seine for all of Paris to view.

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