Thug Meets Pug

Busy entrepreneur Fane Lozman just wanted to relax, but a North Bay Village big shot named Al Coletta had other ideas

There, he says, he discovered some peculiar real estate transactions involving Coletta and Dugger. According to those records, Dugger in 1998 conveyed ownership of his waterfront home to his daughter, Rachel Suarez, who used a $485,000 loan from a local bank to pay off the existing mortgage. In 2001 Suarez fell behind on her loan payments and was about to lose the property to foreclosure. Coletta loaned Suarez $200,000 (secured by the house) to pay off her bank loan. But Suarez fell behind in payments on the Coletta loan and in 2002 transferred the property to him. Dugger and his wife, also named Rachel, still live in that single-story house at 7401 Beach View Dr., which today would sell for $1.2 million, according to real estate brokers in the area. "Why would Dugger do that," Lozman speculates, "unless he was in some sort of financial trouble?"

Lozman also learned that similar serpentine transactions took place involving several residential properties the Duggers owned in Miami and Southwest Miami-Dade. Records show that last year the Duggers transferred ownership of the properties to Coletta after they fell behind in monthly payments and he threatened them with foreclosure.

Dugger initially agreed to be interviewed for this story but then changed his mind, referring all questions to his attorney, William Dean. "Bob Dugger," says Dean, "is one of the few good politicians in this town. He tries to do everything appropriately and by the book." According to Dean, his client fell behind on mortgage payments on his residence in North Bay Village and turned to Coletta. "The Duggers were on the verge of foreclosure and their friend, Mr. Coletta, stepped in to help out," he says. Dean will not describe the Duggers as Coletta's tenants, but that is the term Dugger himself used in a recent letter to the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. Dean would not comment on the other residential properties involving Coletta and the Duggers.

Steve Satterwhite

Deep in his sleuthing, Lozman found court records detailing Bob Dugger's financial woes. The IRS claims he owes the federal government roughly $100,000 in taxes, dating back to 1993. In 1998 the IRS filed tax liens against all of Dugger's properties in an effort to recover the money. In addition, since 1995 the state has filed 29 tax liens against Dugger's property management company, Timberlake Management, the latest issued just nine months ago. (Dave Bruns, spokesman for the Florida Department of Revenue, says his agency routinely files liens against individuals who fail to pay various state taxes. But 29 liens against one company, he notes, is unprecedented in his eight years on the job.)

Moreover, Lozman says, Dugger failed to list those liens in financial disclosure forms filed during his 1998, 2000, and 2002 campaigns, a felony under state law. "I'm sure my fellow residents would want to know their commissioner is a tax deadbeat," Lozman snipes. Attorney Dean says his client is working with the IRS and state tax officials to settle his debts. "As far as I know, Mr. Dugger has disclosed all the information he is required to under state law," he offers in reference to the commissioner's disclosure forms.

Lozman uncovered another financial connection. In 2001 the Bayshore condominium association hired Timberlake Management as the building's maintenance company, at $1760 a month, a contract that continues today. "I gave Dugger the job based on Coletta's referral," says association president Horace Fonseca. A referral from Coletta would carry some weight with Fonseca -- property records show that Coletta holds the mortgage on his condominium. Coletta's influence doesn't stop there. In 2001 he loaned the condo association $200,000 for needed maintenance and overdue bills.

With such personal and professional connections to Coletta, Lozman argues, Dugger should not have introduced the proposed ordinance back in April that would have rezoned Coletta's penthouse for commercial use. Considering that Dugger lives in a house now owned by Coletta, and that his company landed a contract through his friend's intervention, the conflict of interest should be obvious. "If he doesn't do what Coletta tells him to do," Lozman says, "Dugger may find himself without a job and without a home."

By springtime, the former Marine's detective work had escalated to a battle cry on the Internet. He launched a Website, www.dumpdugger.com, to encourage people to send him information regarding allegedly unethical or illegal conduct involving Dugger, his wife, and Coletta. "It's been great for obtaining information I wouldn't have gotten otherwise," he says. Among the submissions, most of them anonymous, was what purported to be a copy of Coletta's criminal record. According to the document, which law enforcement sources identify as a report from the FBI's National Crime Information Center, Coletta has been arrested several times over the years -- for allegedly trying to bribe a Miami police officer, assault and battery, and operating a brothel. (Attempts to independently confirm the arrest records were unsuccessful. Although Coletta's name appears on local criminal court databases, no additional information is available, including disposition of the cases. One possible explanation is that all records have been sealed. Ed Griffith, spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, was unable to verify whether that is the case.)

Lozman also received an e-mail informing him of a State Attorney's investigation in 2000 which found that Dugger, two other commission candidates, and a mayoral candidate in the 1998 election had received improper in-kind support from the nation's biggest radio conglomerate, Clear Channel Communications. According to a memo summarizing the investigation, a company subsidiary, Clear Results Marketing, provided the candidates with free advertising worth more than the $500 limit on individual contributions to local candidates, expenditures the candidates also failed to report. The investigators found the candidates were unaware the contributions exceeded the state limit and therefore had committed no wrongdoing. Clear Results, however, was forced to pay a $3000 fine.

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