By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
North Bay Village Commissioner Bob Dugger must dream of a day when he won't be hounded by criminal investigators, state regulators, the Internal Revenue Service, irate business clients, and his own police department. Not only is the State Attorney's Office investigating Dugger for possible violations of public-corruption laws, but his private business is being scrutinized by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The IRS is after him for at least $360,000 in back taxes, and two weeks ago, following publication of a New Times story detailing Dugger's questionable conduct as a public official ("Thug Meets Pug," October 2), 25 North Bay Village police officers signed a petition demanding that he resign from the city commission.
Now come new charges, many in response to "Thug Meets Pug," alleging that Dugger's business operation, Timberlake Management (also known as the Timberlake Group), has mismanaged numerous condominium associations throughout Miami-Dade County. In addition several people who've had business dealings with Dugger are providing more evidence that, in his role as a city commissioner, he has a conflict of interest arising from his friendship with Adolph "Al" Coletta, a real estate investor who owns several properties in North Bay Village, including a penthouse atop the Bayshore Yacht and Tennis Club condominium.
The public-corruption unit of the State Attorney's Office is investigating whether Dugger, in exchange for financial assistance, sold his city commission vote to Coletta, who wants to change the zoning on his penthouse in order to open a nightclub. (Such a quid pro quo is a third-degree felony.) Prosecutors are also weighing charges against Dugger for allegedly lying on the financial-disclosure forms required of all elected officials, a felony under state law.
Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, in response to complaints from local condominium owners, is trying to determine whether Dugger violated state law in managing the Highlands of Kendale and the Peppermill condominiums in Kendall, the Kennedy House condominium in North Bay Village, and several other condo associations in Miami-Dade. (Four earlier state investigations were closed owing to insufficient evidence, but in 2001 Dugger was fined $1000 for withholding documents from homeowners and "committing acts of gross misconduct.")
A spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation would not comment on the pending investigation, but Dugger's condominium-association clients, current and former, are eager to share their horror stories about the property-manager-turned-politician and his wife Rachel, who works closely with her husband. "If Dugger had the best interest of our community in mind, our community would be bright and clean," says Gabriel Collazo, a 52-year-old condo owner at the Highlands of Kendale, a 200-unit condominium complex. "Our community has been rundown for quite a long time."
A recent tour of the complex reveals patches of dead grass in common areas, mildew streaks marring the exterior walls of several dozen units, rotting wood fences, and other signs of poor maintenance. In five years, Collazo charges, Dugger has never provided a financial statement or a budget for the Highlands: "Every time we request documentation, it falls on deaf ears. They try to keep us in the dark as much as possible."
According to Collazo, he and three neighbors have been frustrated in their efforts to win seats on their condo association's board of directors. He blames the Duggers and their involvement in the election process. "We don't know what else to do," Collazo says.
One option: They could file a lawsuit against their own association to rid themselves of Timberlake. That's what other condominium associations fed up with the Duggers have done. In the case of Peppermill, a 236-unit condominium building, 27 homeowners last year successfully sued their board to wrest financial control from Timberlake Management. As a result of the lawsuit, the homeowners were able to elect a new board that fired the company. Prior to the lawsuit, Peppermill's predominantly Hispanic board was heavily influenced by Cuban-born Rachel Dugger, says condo owner Thomas Shaffer, who led the fight to oust the company but was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "She called the shots," he says, "and she drove us into the ground."
Shaffer, who is being sued for libel by members of Peppermill's previous board, asserts that Rachel Dugger, who managed day-to-day affairs, routinely harassed residents by threatening liens and foreclosures. Over two days in June 2002, court records show, she had the association's attorney, Eric Glazer, file 28 liens against Peppermill homeowners who purportedly owed money to the association.The homeowners' lawsuit alleged that Timberlake interfered with board elections, bounced 23 checks in one month, and allowed the condo association's property and flood insurance to lapse, among other apparent violations of state law. "You look at these circumstances," says Shaffer, "and you wonder how state regulators allow [the Duggers] to stay in business."
Al Coletta's sudden involvement in Peppermill's financial affairs also disturbed Shaffer. According to several homeowners, two years ago Peppermill was unable to secure a bank loan for building repairs, so Bob Dugger and attorney Glazer introduced Coletta to the board as an "angel investor." Public records indicate that in June 2002 Coletta loaned the association $250,000 at twelve-percent interest with a two-year balloon payment -- terms the lawsuit claimed were significantly higher than prevailing rates.