By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
"The police had reported some break-ins in the neighborhood," Claudia Gonzalez recalls. "Something triggered in my brain that these might be some sick people looking to rob us."
Rudy Gonzalez sprang into action: He burst through the French doors to his back yard and confronted the interlopers, who had made their way onto the Gonzalez compound via the golf course. "I told them to get the hell off my property," Gonzalez says. "That's when the one holding the machete raised it in the air and told me they did not need to leave because they were on golf course business."
Re-enacting the tense scene by the pool, where he says he stood his ground, Gonzalez placed his right hand on his shorts' back pocket as if he were reaching for a pistol. "Just so you know," Gonzalez explains, "I was bluffing. I wanted to make them think they had brought a knife to a gunfight."
Gonzalez warned the intruders he would certainly defend himself if they tried to use the machete on him. "They scaled the fence and scurried off back onto the golf course," Gonzalez says. "But that's not the end of it."
He called 911, and two Miami Beach Police officers arrived. The cops caught up to the three men and questioned them. It turned out they were La Gorce employees who had been instructed by their country club bosses to mark the spot where La Gorce was planning to erect a black wrought-iron fence along the perimeter of the golf course.
"The officers told me these guys were just doing their jobs," Gonzalez grouses. "Doing your job does not give you the right to enter my property, brandishing a weapon and making threats. One of the officers told me he could arrest me because I exercised my right to stand and defend myself on my private property."
Still, Gonzalez relates, the real insult came later in the afternoon, when he met Sanchez. "He started off nice," Gonzalez says. "He apologized for the workers' behavior." Gonzalez informed Sanchez he did not want country club employees on his two properties.
Gonzalez also took the time to ask Sanchez about the country club's offer to lease golf course land to the homeowners at $70 a square foot. "I asked him: If the land is worth that much money, then why is the country club's tax assessment only 23 cents a square foot?" Gonzalez recalls, pointing out the county assessed the country club's property at $1.6 million in 2004, about fifteen percent of what the clubhouse and the rolling green are actually worth. "Why are they paying less taxes than I am on my two houses?" Gonzalez says he queried Sanchez.
Sure enough, Sanchez dropped the apologetic good-boy act and got testy with Gonzalez. "He made it abundantly clear that if I did not stop causing him problems," Gonzalez alleges, "my attempts to get renovation permits for my two properties would meet with difficulty at both the planning board and the board of adjustment, where his 22-year-old son is a board member."
Such a threat could be construed as an abuse of his official position, and Sanchez could face a criminal inquiry if Gonzalez were to file a complaint with prosecutors. I would have pulled off my white glove, slapped Sanchez across the cheek with it, and challenged him to a sudden-death golf game at dawn. Gonzalez, on the other hand, joined his fellow neighbors in a class-action lawsuit against the country club, claiming their property rights have been violated.
"It's not about the fence anymore," Gonzalez attests. "It's about the principle. I'm not going to let that guy bully me or abuse his power the way he did."
Unfortunately Sanchez doesn't seem interested in answering questions about his alleged boorish behavior. He did not return repeated phone calls I made from the afterlife. And his secretary told me he ripped up the letters I sent him requesting his audience before me, even denying my offer to buy him several rounds of scotch -- how I love scotch, scotch, scotch -- at the country club bar. "He doesn't wish to speak to you," she said.
So to get a sense of what drives this man to build a fence on my precious golf course, I turned to some people who know Sanchez. "Sanchez is really a nice guy," offered La Gorce board member Eiber. "But he's doing his job. We've been doing this song and dance for years. We sued and won. Now the homeowners are suing us, and we'll beat them again."
Whether Sanchez is being abrasive or intimidating is not the issue, Eiber said. "We own the property people are on," Eiber said. "We want to be good neighbors, but if you built a pool on our property, then we have a problem."
The country club bent over backward for the neighbors, Eiber grumbled. "You're probably hearing how we're a bunch of jerks," he said. "But it's not our fault people built on our property."
Besides, Eiber notes, 2005 is a much more litigious world than 1927, when I opened the golf course. "We have to secure our property," Eiber said. "If someone drowns in one of our lakes, we have legal responsibility."