On the evening before his arrest last week on charges he received $135,000 in bribes from contractors doing business with the City of Miami, suspended commissioner Arthur Teele claimed he was basically clueless about the investigation. But foreshadowing a theme he may echo once his trial begins, he said he had heard the probe had taken some odd turns, with detectives talking trash about him.
"They've been asking things like: öDo you know anything about his transvestite lover?'" Teele recounted by phone from his wife's condo in the Plaza Venetia. "Apparently they told some woman that I was a transvestite."
Which investigators? "It's been traced back to the State Attorney's Office," he replied.
According to Teele, as investigators questioned friends and associates, other salacious rumors were floated: He has "many girlfriends." He's bisexual. "They've accused me of going with men and women, and made sure it gets to my wife," he charged. It's all been part of a sinister effort to get his wife to turn on him. "That's the same thing they did to Martin Luther King," said the 58-year-old lawyer. "Not to compare myself to Martin Luther King."
Teele was suspended from office by Gov. Jeb Bush in September, after a high-speed car chase in which the commissioner, in his own words, pursued "a young, virile, handsome man" who had been following his wife. The stalker turned out to be an undercover cop from the Miami-Dade Police Department who was engaged in the public corruption investigation.
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State prosecutors allege that Teele took ten cash payments, totaling $135,000, from Jacques Evens Thermilus between May 1999 and October 2003. In exchange, prosecutors say, the commissioner helped Thermilus's company, TLMC, receive public contracts worth $1.5 million to build parking lots in Overtown and the community center at Charles Hadley Park. One of the alleged payments helped Thermilus's friends at Danville Findorff, a firm that remodeled Margaret Pace Park, score a lucrative contract change in that multimillion dollar project.
But conspiracy theories were on Teele's mind on the eve of his arrest last week, including plots by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, city manager Joe Arriola, a cadre of wealthy white real estate developers, Miami Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler, and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. All apparently want him out of the way because he's a threat to a "land grab," also known as the Crosswinds project, that envisions luxury high-rises in Overtown.
Teele did admit he was wrong about two things. After his September arrest for chasing the undercover cop, he told New Times he suspected investigators had planted a tracking device on his car -- the vehicle's battery kept draining. He said he had the car swept for such a device, but nothing was found. And he believed authorities would attempt to put him away for a different kind of offense: "I always thought they would put drugs in my car. That's what they did in Missouri to a congressman in the Seventies."
Facing ten counts of unlawful compensation, Teele is out on $100,000 bond. "This is a very unpleasant phase of my life, with a 92-year-old mother," Teele offered. "I'm pretty devastated."