Paradise Lost

For many residents, the luster of Williams Island is long gone

In January 2006 an anonymous complaint was filed against Tower to the Department of Children and Families alleging he was exploiting his wife. When police showed up unannounced, she told them "a jealous person is making these claims" and that she "does not feel that Tower is exploiting her," according to the police report. The complaint was deemed unfounded. In October 2006 police reports from the Aventura Police Department showed Tower reported anonymous death threats left on his answering machine.

The attacks soon spread to Tower's associates. Brooks filed a complaint against Tower's lawyer, Philip Vova, alleging Vova harassed Brooks by threatening to issue a summons to him at the condo association's holiday party. The complaint was dismissed by the Florida Bar. Brooks also filed a complaint about Vova's wife, Mindy Gross, a detective with the Miami-Dade Public Schools Police Department. Brooks claimed Gross used her position as a police officer to gain background information about him and harass him. This complaint was deemed unfounded as well. Last week, after being interviewed by New Times, Brooks filed a motion to have Vova removed as Tower's attorney.

Logs kept by security personnel indicate that the general manager of the POA, Brian Reich, asked employees to keep track of Tower's movements leading up to the 2006 board elections. In October 2005 a safety supervisor wrote, "In reference to a memo that was delivered on the previous night, Supervisor Soto reviewed video as per management request. At approximately 2 a.m. resident of [Tower's apartment number] was seen with memos in hand southside."

During the course of the lawsuits, Tower and his lawyer subpoenaed the contents of a POA computer that belonged to the association's general manager. Its hard drive revealed the existence of a clique that would put any suburban high school to shame.

A forensic computer investigator uncovered most of the e-mails and documents on the manager's hard drive, including "The Morning News," a daily e-mail written by resident Ellen Renck to a small group of recipients that included Rod White, Jan Brooks, and Reich (technically an employee of Tower, and of every other resident who paid maintenance fees). It defined itself in opposition to Tower, who was featured prominently in a picture on the masthead. Renck updated the e-mail with statistics monitoring the number of comments on (sometimes called the "Babble of Tower"), and included a section reserved for caustic gossip called "Heard on the Street." ("A little bird whispered in my ear yesterday that the hookers are not brought to Med Village as earlier alleged, but rather to a rusting old tub anchored in the marina " said one.) There was also the occasional racist rant. "I want to go home to Savannah and not hear a word of Spanish and look only at blond, blue-eyed Americans and hear Travis Tritt and Faith Hill instead of looking at any more platanos y meduros [sic] y churrasco y churros and black hair and eyes," she wrote in November 2005.

Renck, by no means an untalented writer, even included a "First Psalm of Williams Island" that referenced Tower:

Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of [George] Tower, we shall fear no weevil: for Jonathan [Evans] art with us. Thy Rod [White] and thy Jan [Brooks], their victories comfort we. He prepareth a Thai House table before us, not in the presence of nine "enemies." He annointeth our heads with lemongrass. My cup better runneth over with green apple martini.

"That was personal and private communication between friends," said Renck when contacted by telephone. "This is a perfectly lovely place to live and there are very few dissatisfied people."

It is hard to imagine that the amenities Williams Island residents pay an extra $180 a month — on top of a $1400 annual maintenance fee — to receive are worth the money. The restaurant has a cruise-ship feel to it. Food is laid out buffet-style, at a cost of fourteen dollars for lunch and up to $39 for dinner. Slabs of meat sit under heat lamps at carving stations manned by an employee costumed in a chef's hat, wielding a carving knife and fork. On a recent visit around noon the cafe was nearly empty.

The sixteen tennis courts are beautiful, but on two separate visits they appeared to be underutilized (a recent POA estimate determined about 250 residents — a little more than ten percent — use the courts). The Island Club, an event space and bar, is still under construction. Its kitchen, once occupied by catering company Barton G., is unused. The rest is covered in plastic sheets and paint dust. The health club and spa, where a membership costs $1300 a year, is run-of-the-mill, offering nothing one wouldn't find at a gym half that price.

When he ran for the POA board, Harvey Houtkin was the victim of an anonymous letter campaign documenting his run-ins with the SEC. (In 2001, as CEO of day trading firm All-Tech Direct, Houtkin and his company paid $525,000 to settle SEC charges of improper margin lending and misleading advertising). Houtkin won anyway.

"My run-ins were based on restructuring Wall Street, not taking little old ladies' life savings and selling them crap," he says, perhaps referring to his earlier characterization of Rod White's "moral turpitude."

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