Ricardo Samitier, Sr., has a knack for winning attention. The wrong kind of attention. In 1986 Samitier, the former president of Commuter Airlines, was found guilty of defrauding Eastern Airlines and sent to prison. While incarcerated, he claims former business associates forged his signature to strip him of two airplanes valued at two million dollars. Since his release in 1988, the 59-year-old Cuban exile has portrayed himself as the victim of a widespread cover-up by government officials who refuse to investigate his claim.
When endless missives to state and federal authorities proved fruitless, the square-jawed Samitier went public with his crusade. In 1989 he stomped through downtown Miami wearing nothing but a wooden barrel. A year later he set up a barge in Blue Lagoon Lake opposite Miami International Airport with a banner decrying former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen for his role in the alleged cover-up. Traffic on 836 backed for miles, and he was forced to remove the sign. Later the Florida Highway Patrol impounded his boat. He was back on the lake a year later A this time with a pirate radio station. "Radio Samitier" broadcast just three days before the Federal Communications Commission slapped him with $16,000 in fines.
Two weeks ago Samitier was at it again. In the quiet of his carport he constructed five phony bombs using a cardboard fuselage, plywood tail fins, and a toilet-plunger warhead. A pack of Lifesavers served as the detonator. Hoping to publicize his plight, he then loaded the "bombs" with "explosive documents" and sent them via Federal Express to President Clinton, Larry King, the Washington Times, and the Washington Post.
The Post's package arrived on Friday, May 14. While adept at uncovering explosive political scandals, recognizing actual bombs is not the newspaper's strong suit. Apparently fearing an outbreak of Lifesaver-related terrorist violence, Post officials hastily summoned the police and evacuated the newsroom. As a hundred or so staffers milled about outside their building, bomb squadroons in futuristic garb gingerly deposited the "bomblike" object in a steel canister and shuttled it away.
Meanwhile the paper's computer geeks ran the name of the return addressee, Ricardo Samitier, through the paper's database. Alas, the only Samitier reference was a Miami doctor who specializes in a controversial procedure to enlarge penises.
The confusion was understandable: Ricardo Samitier, Sr., is the father of Ricardo Samitier, Jr., the infamous "Dr. Lips," whose forays into cosmetic surgery allegedly caused the May 1992 death of singer Claudio Martell. Samitier, Jr., who ran for mayor of Miami in 1988, is also under federal indictment for Medicare fraud.
Because of this bizarre connection, rumors soon began circulating in the Post newsroom that the conspicuously phallic-shaped "bomb" was actually a penis enlarger sent by the younger Samitier, along with documents disputing the federal charges against him.
Eventually the paper's astute reporters managed to track down the senior Ricardo Samitier, whose phone number is listed in the phone book. "I couldn't believe they thought my paper bomb was real," says Samitier, now an inventor who plans to make millions peddling his new product, the dry toilet. "When I took it to the Federal Express office, the lady asked me, 'What are you sending?' and I said, 'A bomb.' We both laughed about it."
The folks at the Post, he notes, were far less jocular: "They asked me all these funny questions. They wanted to know why I sent this. I said, 'I'm sick and tired of nothing happening with my case. I wanted to get your attention.' I wanted my documents passed on to Janet Reno." Samitier says he hoped someone at the Post would remember him from 1991, when he anchored his floating billboard on the Potomac River, right in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
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Now Samitier fears the paper will press charges against him for unwittingly sending staffers into a tizzy. "I called them [last week] to offer to send more papers explaining my case, but they told me they can't talk to me because they are pressing a charge," he says glumly. "They just said, 'Don't send us anything else!'" Born to tempt fate, the fervent ex-convict now plans to renew his amphibious protests, both on the lagoon opposite Miami International Airport, and on the Potomac.
This past week the bomb gossip was still flying heavy at the Post. "The rumor around here is that there was a contractual dispute between [the younger] Samitier and [executive editor] Len Downie, Jr., over some undisclosed medical procedure," says one newsroom staffer who insisted that he not be named. "I'm kidding! That was a joke! That is not a rumor! Len's dick is known to be four feet long."
Other Posties, however, seem unsure as to whether the suspect package was, in fact, an explosive device. Part of the reason for that uncertainty, perhaps, is the ominous silence in which Post honchos have cloaked the incident. The story was never reported in the Post, though Washington City Paper, the local alternative weekly, did run an item. Reporters have been instructed not to comment on the "bomb" scare and to refer all inquiries to the paper's public relations office. However, neither that office nor editor Downie returned phone calls seeking comment.
Samitier, on the other hand, has been more than happy to discuss the affair. He even brought a replica of his "truth bomb" to the New Times office for inspection. The staff was not evacuated.