By Michael E. Miller
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Perez wanted an opportunity to snap digital pictures of Dugger as he emerged from the building in handcuffs. She got two shots of Dugger being escorted by his attorney and state investigators into the Miami-Dade County Pretrial Detention Center. "After four years of torture, it was a pleasure to see him go down," Perez gloats, a week after Dugger's arrest. "That was the best Thanksgiving I ever had." She has also e-mailed Gov. Jeb Bush demanding Dugger be suspended from office immediately. (A spokeswoman for the governor declined to say when Bush will make his decision.)
Perez is among dozens of homeowners throughout Miami-Dade County who accuse Dugger, a state-licensed property manager, of repeatedly violating state laws regulating condominium and townhouse associations. Although the criminal charges against Dugger are unrelated to his business, Perez hopes the commissioner's bust will prompt the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to revoke his license to manage community associations. In September state regulators began investigating homeowner complaints about Dugger ("Thug Meets Pug, Part 3," October 30). "He's been getting away with all kinds of BS for too long," says Perez, who owns a townhouse in Miramar Gardens, a government-subsidized residential development she claims has been mismanaged by Dugger since 1998.
According to his arrest affidavit, Dugger committed a misdemeanor by failing to mention several debts on his financial disclosure forms for 2001 prior to the city's elections last year, including a $404,427 balance on a $1.1 million court judgment the commissioner owes International Finance Bank of Miami. Dugger also failed to disclose "substantial indebtedness" to Coletta. Specifically Coletta assumed the mortgage on one of Dugger's investment properties and paid off the mortgage on another property. Dugger and his family also transferred ownership of their waterfront home to Coletta when the Duggers fell behind on a $200,000 loan they owed their family friend. Coletta had loaned the Duggers the money so they could pay off their previous mortgage and not lose their home. Dugger's attorney, William Dean, told New Times in September that his client pays Coletta $3500 a month to remain in the spacious single-story house at 7401 Beach View Dr.
However, the charge did not include Dugger's failure to disclose at least $360,000 in back taxes he owes Uncle Sam. Under state law, Dugger was not required to disclose his tax debts unless the IRS had sought a court judgment to collect the money.
According to prosecutors, the deceit did not end there. Dugger's arrest affidavit states the commissioner, despite having a conflict of interest, voted six times in favor of changing the zoning on Coletta's most prized property in North Bay Village: the penthouse on the top floor of the Bayshore Yacht and Tennis Club. Coletta wants the city commission to designate the penthouse as a commercial space so he can open a nightclub.
Each of the six questionable votes counts as one of the misdemeanor charges. Coletta, Dugger, and their attorneys declined comment for this story. Dugger, however, maintains that he is going to beat the rap. Dean recently told the Miami Herald that his client, who is out on bond, will plead not guilty at his arraignment on December 17. The State Attorney's Office won't comment on whether the investigation is finished, but a law enforcement source familiar with the criminal probe says it is far from over. The source, who asked to remain anonymous, indicated that the state is investigating other leads involving Coletta.
In the months leading up to his arrest, Coletta and Dugger allies have attempted to deflect attention by attacking North Bay Village Mayor Alan Dorne, the other three commissioners, city manager James Vardalis, and police Chief Irving Heller. A group calling itself "Save North Bay Village" launched a Website under the same name and circulated a letter that details alleged shenanigans involving elected city officials, the manager, and the police chief selling out to developers. (The site's Webmaster did not respond to e-mails requesting comment. Its proxy is an offshore company specializing in anonymous domain registries.)
The letter was signed by Oscar Alfonso, a former city commissioner and Coletta crony. Coletta's attorney, Ronald Isriel, recently paid the city an $8200 fine on behalf of Alfonso, who was cited for building an illegal addition to his property at 7520 Treasure Dr.
Alfonso is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city that seeks to remove Vardalis as manager. In addition, he led a petition drive collecting 1035 signatures from residents expressing a vote of no confidence in Vardalis and a vote of confidence for Dugger, who had been trying to have the manager and the police chief fired prior to his arrest. Alfonso's petition, though, is not the only one in town. An earlier petition signed by 25 North Bay Village police officers demands that Dugger resign from office.
At the November 25 city commission meeting, Alfonso, Coletta, and their hired legal guns, who were there to speak on the lawsuit and the petition, were effectively silenced by Mayor Dorne and the commissioners. Along the way, the mayor and Chief Heller violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, claims Alfonso's attorney, Kent Harrison Robbins. The Miami Beach-based lawyer alleges that after Dorne cut off his presentation, police officers demanded that he leave the meeting or he would be arrested. "Whatever happened with Coletta and Dugger has nothing to do with the suspension of the Constitution that evening," Robbins grouses. "There was no justification."
Dorne says Robbins, along with his client and other Dugger supporters, were being disruptive. "We knew that people were coming to stir up havoc for us," Dorne explains. "From the get-go, we were not going to tolerate any nonsense." Another person who was thrown out was Evelio Medina, a boisterous former Hialeah councilman who worked on Dugger's and Alfonso's election campaigns. Medina was booted because he kept interrupting and heckling the mayor and commissioners. "He's another troublemaker," Dorne says. "We didn't want any part of him."
Some residents are exasperated with the turmoil that has engulfed their bayside community. "I'm very embarrassed to live in this city," Miriam Giraldez said at the meeting. "What is going on here is discrediting all the hard-working people who live in North Bay Village."
Dugger's problems began in February, when Coletta evicted a houseboat tenant from his marina behind the Bayshore condo. That tenant, Fane Lozman, a software entrepreneur and former Marine, alleges that Coletta threatened to kill him during an argument in which Coletta refused to install a handicap access ramp at the marina for Lozman's neighbor, Clement Mikelis, a disabled World War II veteran. Lozman responded by going after Coletta ("Thug Meets Pug," October 2). He provided the State Attorney with information on Coletta and Dugger that subsequently led to the investigation. "It was in the process of learning more about Coletta that I stumbled upon his relationship with Dugger," Lozman says. "It certainly took long enough for him to get arrested. But I think the job is only half-done."