The Avenging Angel of North Bay Village

Fane Lozman can't seem to stay away from trouble, and this time it involves the police chief

Meanwhile City Manager James Vardalis was developing his own suspicions. He won't discuss in detail what actions he took after Lozman brought him cartoon number two, but does acknowledge he consulted with the city attorney and subsequently decided to request that FDLE investigate and to place Heller on administrative leave.

Lozman says he wanted compelling evidence before publicly accusing the chief of being the culprit. As if in response, Lozman on February 12 received an e-mail from NBVPD@aol.com, the police department's general-information e-mail address. The message: "Heller printed both letters, and sent them to you."

The next day, Lozman claims, he received a call from assistant police chief Lonnie Cantor. "He had something to tell me," Lozman recounts, "but he wanted to do it in person." According to Lozman, Cantor met him in an unmarked police car on East Drive, near the marina where Lozman lives on a houseboat. He opened the passenger door and got in the car. Cantor, Lozman says, had with him a copy of the first cartoon and a brusque message: "I want you to know that Heller did do it." (Cantor declines to comment until the FDLE investigation is completed.)

Heller himself is indignant. "I don't care how closely it looks like my handwriting," he fumes. "I had nothing to do with those filthy drawings. Anyone who knows me knows I have more class than that. I really feel like I'm being set up here by someone."

He points to his 43 years of distinguished service with the Miami-Dade Police Department, where he rose through the ranks to finish his career in 2001 as an assistant director. Shortly thereafter Heller took the post in North Bay Village and has since received credit for turning around a department that for the past two decades has been wracked by scandal. Last year the county's largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, named Heller "Best Police Chief of the Year."

Despite his passionate denials, Heller says he is not conducting his own investigation to determine whether Cantor or anyone else under his command may be responsible for the cartoons. (Regarding Cantor, the chief is blunt: "He wants my job.") Heller explains that he is preoccupied with his wife's illness (she recently suffered a stroke) and has neither spoken to FDLE investigators nor confronted Cantor. He has, however, hired criminal defense attorney Steve Chaykin. And he's done something else -- he's attempted to contact Fane Lozman, with whom he once enjoyed cordial relations. "I've left messages on his cell phone but he never returns my calls," Heller laments. "I like Fane. He's done so much for the city, and I don't want to see the guy get hurt."

Back on his houseboat, Lozman dismisses Heller's denials and remains incensed. "When you have the police chief passing these letters around, who knows what could happen to me," he says. "I guess I'm a marked man in this town. But this ain't Chicago in the Twenties. This is sick behavior and I'm not going to tolerate it."

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