By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
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Fane Lozman moved back to South Florida early this year to rock on a houseboat in the warm waters of Biscayne Bay and let the stress of his Chicago software business drift in and out with the tides. Unfortunately for him, he chose to moor his floating home along one of the docks in Adolph "Al" Coletta's North Bay Village marina, right behind the Bayshore Yacht and Tennis Club condominium high-rise. Since February, Lozman says, his life has been one turbulent sea, filled with lawsuits, threats, the echoes of bygone Mafia days, and an unfolding public-corruption scandal now being investigated by the State Attorney's Office. And Lozman, a former Marine aviator who moved back home to enjoy the invigorating salt air, is the soldier again, at war.
It all started because the 42-year-old chairman of ScanShift, a Chicago-based software firm, felt sorry for Clement Mikelis, one of his neighbors. Mikelis, an elderly widower in the houseboat next door, wanted wheelchair access from his dock to the marina parking lot. He also desired a designated handicapped parking spot in the lot. "Why not ask Coletta for a ramp?" thought Lozman. "What's the big deal?" He offered to accompany Mikelis to ask their landlord, and this is how he remembers the meeting.
"Fuck you guys!" Coletta yelled. "You're not touching my fucking dock."
"What do you mean we can't build a ramp?" Lozman shot back. "You can rip it out when Clement drops dead. What's the big fucking deal?"
"Do you know who the fuck I am?" Coletta bellowed. "I can fucking kill you! I can have my boys take care of you! You could be drifting in the bay one day! What are you gonna do? You're nobody in this town!"
"Oh yeah? Come on, tough guy! Let's go! I'm not afraid of you!"
"That's it! I want you off my fucking dock! I'm fucking evicting you!"
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" a bewildered Lozman responded. "You need help, man. They have medication for people like you."
Lozman is a tall, slender fellow with a deep voice and black curly hair that is receding from his brow. By day, from three IBM Thinkpads in his houseboat's upstairs bedroom, he runs ScanShift, a stock-quote display system based on the cockpit instrumentation technology he used as an aviator in the Marine Corps. The program -- which he began to envision during the fourteen years he worked as a floor trader in Chicago -- has made him a rich man who is often quoted as a market analyst in such papers as USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal. He grew up in Miami, attending the Catholic La Salle High School and the University of Miami, where he earned a math degree at the age of nineteen and covered his tuition with shrewd stock investments.
Tired of the harsh Chicago winters, he decided to return to Florida and landed in North Bay Village, a community known for welcoming houseboat enthusiasts. Coletta's marina is home to a half-dozen or so. "I came back to enjoy a simple lifestyle," Lozman says, gesturing out toward the bay from the second-floor balcony of his houseboat. "I didn't come back to have a politically connected wise guy threaten to kill me."
His nemesis, Al Coletta, is a 65-year-old real estate investor who sports a spectacular tan and neatly trimmed mustache. Though he lives in Hollywood, Coletta owns properties in Miami and North Bay Village, including the marina and ground-floor retail space at the Bayshore Yacht and Tennis Club, 7904 West Dr. He also owns several condominium units in the building, including the 6881-square-foot penthouse with its panoramic views atop the eleven-story tower. Since 1963 the property has been zoned both commercial (the south side facing the causeway) and residential (the north side). For several years Coletta has been trying to obtain full commercial zoning for the penthouse in order to convert it to a nightclub -- much to the chagrin of the condo owners. Two times the North Bay Village City Commission has denied his request. This past May his third attempt was tabled indefinitely, and he immediately sued the city. (Coletta declined comment for this story.)
A few days after their showdown over the access ramp, Lozman says, Coletta served him with an eviction notice. He moved his houseboat, a teal-toned, two-story structure that resembles a seaworthy mobile home, to the marina at the nearby Gator Racquet Club, but kept up his visits with his former neighbor. And that just made Coletta more hostile. The marina owner would snap photographs of him at night, Lozman claims, and on one occasion jumped in front of his motorcycle. "He was all crazy," he recounts, "egging me to run him over. Then he tried to shove me off my bike." In late March Lozman filed for a restraining order against Coletta but the request was denied. (Under Florida law, a victim must present evidence of two or more violent assaults or stalking incidents.)
In April Coletta ratcheted up the conflict by trying to legally prohibit Lozman from visiting Clement Mikelis. Coletta accused him of trespassing on private property and went to court to obtain an injunction that would bar him from the marina. Not one to be bullied, Lozman turned around and hired his own high-profile lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey (whose famous clients have included Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives and presidential candidate Al Gore). "Coletta has a history of filing lawsuits to scare people," Lozman says. "I have the money to hire a good attorney, and I wanted to send Coletta a message that he'd met his match." (Coletta's maneuver fizzled when the Bayshore condominium association board of directors learned that, without their knowledge or permission, he had sought the injunction in their name and had even engaged their attorneys in the effort. Association president Horace Fonseca instructed the lawyers to drop the case.)