North Bay Village Mayor Threatens Blogger With Lawsuit Over Blackmail Claims

Tiny North Bay Village has been the scene of big-time drama this year over old drug charges and new blackmail attempts. The case centers on Commissioner Douglas Hornsby, a local physician who stunned residents earlier this year when he revealed that he'd been convicted on cocaine charges in 1992 — and that he was publicly airing the case to head off a would-be blackmailer who'd been sending packages to his house threatening to release the info unless he resigned.

Now that sordid tale has taken another turn for the bizarre. This week, the village's mayor threatened to sue a local blogger who wrote about rumors that the mayor and another commissioner are under federal investigation for the blackmail letters sent to Hornsby.

Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps hired an attorney to send a cease-and-desist letter to Kevin Vericker, who has blogged about city politics for six years. The missive, sent Tuesday, alleges he intentionally made false claims about the mayor and her ties to the blackmail case, and demands he remove the post. (Leon-Kreps and her attorney, Deborah Baker-Egozi, declined to comment for this story.)

But Vericker says he won't change his blog. He explains rumors have swirled for months that Leon-Kreps and Commissioner Jose Alvarez are being investigated in the case and that both have refused to directly discuss the claims with him; he says his blog post is simply a call for them to publicly disclose whether they're being probed over the blackmail attempt. (Alvarez didn't return multiple calls to his city-issued cell phone and an email from New Times.)

"I'm not making any allegations about them; I'm just writing about what everyone in the village is saying and asking them to finally respond publicly about it," Vericker says.

The trouble began in May, when Hornsby, who was appointed to the village commission in January, asked for time to speak at a meeting and then revealed he'd been convicted on cocaine charges in Shelby, Tennessee, in the early '90s and went to prison; he was on parole until 1999, went through rehab, and became a licensed radiologist.

The village's police chief, former Miami Beach Chief Carlos Noriega, quickly announced the FDLE and a federal agency had opened investigations into the attempt to extort Hornsby. That's when rumors began blazing through the community.

Vericker, age 62, has lived in the island town of 8,000 people for 20 years and been involved in local politics for much of that time. He started his blog — the oddly named North Bay Village Reality Based Community — to provide grassroots information on a town that rarely finds the local media's spotlight. On Facebook, his page has nearly 1,500 followers.

"I'm sarcastic and I occasionally try to be a little satirical," Vericker says.

He has written on-and-off about Hornsby's blackmail attempt since May and published his latest blog post this past Sunday, when he alleged that "reports" around the village tied the mayor and commissioner to the ongoing probe and demanded they either state "categorically" they aren't involved in the investigation or recuse themselves from city meetings in the meantime.

"The mayor and commissioner will not have a conversation with me about anything. There seems to be an allergy to letting the village know exactly what is going on," Vericker says.

Two days after his blog post went live, Vericker received a cease-and-desist from the mayor's attorney.

"You have intentionally and with actual malice made false and defamatory statements about Ms. Leon-Kreps. These statements include knowingly false publications, which allege that there is a criminal investigation against Ms. Leon-Kreps; that Ms. Leon-Kreps is under criminal investigation for sending extortion letters to a fellow North Bay Village commissioner; and that the FBI is investigating Ms. Leon-Kreps," the letter states. "All of these statements are false and were made by you with actual malice."

The letter gives Vericker until this morning to remove the post lest he face a lawsuit seeking "punitive damages."

So what is the state of the blackmail probe? An FDLE spokesperson confirms the investigation is ongoing but declines to discuss specifics. North Bay Village Manager Frank Rollason says that investigators are still working but that he doesn't have any information about who is being probed.

"I can't confirm or deny any reports about who is a target," Rollason says. "There's definitely a federal and state investigation ongoing connected with the Dade state attorney into the extortion claims by Commissioner Hornsby. I'm keeping a distance from it deliberately."

New Times could not confirm the veracity of the rumors Vericker cites in his post. Leon-Kreps, who has a nursing degree from the University of Miami, has been North Bay Village mayor since 2011. Alvarez, who works as an administrator in his wife's law office, was elected to the commission in 2016.

Vericker says he believes his blog helps the village and notes that its Facebook page was the only local source of information that remained available throughout Hurricane Irma. He thinks the mayor is wrong to threaten him with legal action.

"I feel like we're performing a public service," Vericker says. "But I guess when things get prickly, the mayor calls the attorneys in."
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink