No one may be happier to see this year come to a close than Calvin Grigsby. In January the San Francisco-based bond dealer and businessman was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly offering bribes to former county Commissioner James Burke for a piece of Miami-Dade's lucrative bond business. Four months later that same grand jury indicted Grigsby again, this time charging him and former seaport director Carmen Lunetta with embezzling and misspending $1.5 million of public money at the Port of Miami.
Since his indictments, Grigsby has taken full advantage of his constitutional right to remain silent. Other co-defendants, such as Burke and Burke's former chief of staff Billy Hardemon, have used the media to declare their innocence and brand the government's case a racist pack of lies. Grigsby, however, has remained mute. All of that will soon change.
In a series of motions and hearings in federal court over the past two weeks, Grigsby, through his attorney, has announced that he will take the stand and be the star witness in his own defense against both indictments. This stunning development has prompted a dramatic change in the trial schedule. The trial of Grigsby, Burke, and Hardemon, in the so-called bond case was supposed to begin January 18. That trial has now been postponed until at least August.
And the "seaport case," featuring defendants Grigsby, Lunetta, and Miami businessman Neal Harrington, which wasn't supposed to commence until September, has been moved up. Jury selection is now slated to begin April 19. In effect the two cases swapped positions on the court calendar, a change that was due entirely to Grigsby's decision to testify in his own defense.
Why? Defense attorneys believe the seaport case is much weaker than the bond case, which is bolstered by an abundance of damning FBI wiretaps and videotapes. By contrast the seaport case will require jurors to follow a voluminous paper trail of contracts, billing invoices, and receipts -- a journey that is likely to be both confusing and tedious.
If the bond case had gone to trial first, defense attorneys assert, Grigsby would have been placed at a disadvantage because prosecutors would have had a chance to question him about his dealings at the seaport. That would have allowed them an advance look at Grigsby's anticipated testimony in the seaport trial and given them a chance to strengthen their case against him. In addition a conviction in the bond case could be used to discredit Grigsby's testimony in a subsequent seaport trial.
Albert Krieger, one of Grigsby's defense attorneys, argued in court that his client shouldn't have to face such obstacles because of his willingness to testify in his own defense. In a major victory for the defense, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davis, who will hear the bond case, agreed, and in consultation with Judge Donald Middlebrooks, who is assigned the seaport case, flipped the two trials over the objections of prosecutors.
Defense attorneys hope that when he does testify, Grigsby will cut a striking figure for jurors: articulate, self-assured, handsome. In the seaport case he is expected to offer what his attorneys hope will be a credible explanation of the financial relationship between the Port of Miami and his company, Fiscal Operations, which for years has managed the port's gantry cranes.
In the bond case Grigsby's testimony will be far riskier. He is expected to take jurors on a behind-the-scenes tour of Miami-Dade County's bond business, claiming that for the last decade it has been awash in corruption and controlled by crooked politicians. The only way for him to work in Miami-Dade County, Grigsby will assert, was to play along, albeit reluctantly.
As New Times first reported several weeks ago, the defense will maintain that in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the county's bond business was dominated by former county Commissioner Joe Gersten and one of Grigsby's rivals, Howard Gary. Under this arrangement, Gersten would force other bond companies to hire Gary's firm, and in turn Gary would pay off Gersten.
Grigsby is expected to contend that he refused to go along with this arrangement and privately complained to Steve Clark, who was then the county's mayor. Clark helped set up a meeting between Grigsby and an FBI agent, and Grigsby agreed to cooperate in an investigation of Gersten and Gary.
Court records recently obtained by New Times confirm that the FBI opened an investigation in the early Nineties into whether there was a corrupt relationship between Gersten and Gary. (Gary denies it; Gersten remains a fugitive in Australia.) The documents acknowledge that "Grigsby participated [in the investigation] by providing background information and making recorded telephone conversations." But according to the court records, the investigation failed to produce "sufficient evidence" to charge either Gersten or Gary.
Grigsby will claim that this experience affected his future relations with Gary. Believing Gary was beyond the reach of the law, Grigsby will say he felt powerless in 1996 when Gary demanded to be included in a multimillion-dollar deal to refinance bonds at the county's recycling plant.
Even though Gary's protector, Gersten, was by this time no longer on the county commission, Grigsby is expected to allege that Gary threatened to use his close ties to another commissioner, Art Teele, to block the recycling plant deal from going through unless Gary was included. To counter Gary's supposed allegiance with Teele, Grigsby will say he sought the assistance and support of Commissioner Burke. Ultimately, though, Grigsby agreed to Gary's demand and included him in the recycling plant deal.
The genesis of this arrangement would have remained secret if the FBI, a few weeks later, had not caught Gary in a kickback scheme at the City of Miami. A trapped Gary then led prosecutors to Grigsby and the recycling plant deal at county hall. Gary agreed to wear a wire and help set up Grigsby, Burke, and Hardemon.
Grigsby will try to convince the jury that Gary is the real criminal.
There are, of course, numerous holes in Grigsby's scenario, not the least of which is the apparent lack of explanation for his having allegedly wired $50,000 to an off-shore bank account in Burke's name. Furthermore, Grigsby's attempt to portray himself as an otherwise honest and ethical businessman swept into the sewer of Miami-Dade County politics doesn't comport with his history of dealings elsewhere in the nation. Finally, the image of this California millionaire as a hapless victim succumbing to the evil advances of Howard Gary suggests a personal frailty on Grigsby's part that is difficult to fathom.
One story from Grigsby's past is particularly insightful. Let's call it the Easter Sunday shotgun, groin-kicking incident. On that evening in 1994, Grigsby's fourteen-year-old daughter, who apparently had been grounded for the night, sneaked out to the movies with her eighteen-year-old cousin and one of the cousin's friends, twenty-year-old Bryan Creech.
A few hours later, when Creech returned with the daughter, an incensed Grigsby blocked the driveway with his BMW, preventing Creech from leaving. Grigsby then emerged from his car brandishing a shotgun, booted the startled Creech in the groin, and ordered him to lie on the ground, according to a 1996 San Francisco Examiner story based on court records and police reports.
"What are you doing with my daughter?" Grigsby demanded. "I'm going to kill you! Are you ready to die, motherfucker?"
The six-foot-two Grigsby then marched Creech into the house, took his wallet and pager, and searched his vehicle. In the meantime, Grigsby's wife and daughter begged him to come to his senses and put down the gun. "Dad, what are you doing?" his daughter reportedly shouted. Eventually Grigsby relented and told Creech to "get the hell out of here."
Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputies arrived and arrested Grigsby for battery, false imprisonment, and brandishing a firearm. According to the Examiner, Grigsby claimed he thought his daughter had been kidnapped.
A judge ultimately dismissed the charges against Grigsby, angering the prosecutor. "One's access to wealth should not provide a shield under which he can violate the rights of others with impunity!" the prosecutor wrote in a letter to the judge.
Rivals in the bond industry say Grigsby built what was until recently the largest black-owned bond firm in the nation through a combination of talent and the same sort of killer instinct that left Creech doubled over and whimpering on the front lawn.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Grigsby also has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for politicians around the country and has never been shy about using his ties to those in power. "I'm a political groupie, I know everybody," he told the San Francisco Examiner a few years ago. In addition to being a major donor to the Democratic Party, the 52-year-old Grigsby was born in President Clinton's hometown of Hope, Arkansas. "Bill Clinton and I are homies," Grigsby bragged.
His Miami indictments are not the first time his name has been linked to allegations of political corruption. In the mid-Eighties the FBI investigated accusations that Willie Brown, the former speaker of the California House of Representatives and current mayor of San Francisco, pressured the state treasurer into steering lucrative contracts to Grigsby. Former acting state treasurer Elizabeth Whitney told federal agents and the Los Angeles Times that on two occasions Brown insisted she assist Grigsby's firm.
Whitney claimed that as long as she was willing to help Grigsby, Brown remained her ally. But in 1988, while still acting treasurer, Whitney said she angered Grigsby by refusing to hand him the lion's share of an upcoming state bond issue. Whitney alleged that prior to the clash, Brown had promised to support her appointment as permanent state treasurer and to fight against an attempt by then-Gov. George Deukmejian to replace her. After her conflict with Grigsby, Whitney claims Brown refused to talk to her and she eventually lost the treasurer's seat. The FBI investigation went nowhere.
Jurors in the Miami seaport and bond cases are unlikely to hear about either the Easter rampage or Whitney's allegations of political strong-arming, neither of which were isolated incidents. But both are worth keeping in mind as a new year approaches and Grigsby prepares to take the stand.