The Amazing Crespo!
Perhaps if the note had been unsigned and composed of letters cut from a magazine, he may have felt even more threatened. As it was, the scribbled message, which had slipped out of a fax machine in John Reitzammer's Jacksonville office sometime during the early morning hours of May 12, was enough to ruin his day and make him realize, for the first time since he had become a government official, exactly what it meant to be "in the public eye." "It's over, John," began the chilling, handwritten missive. "From here on in I'm really going to inflict real problems on your friends. It's time you come forward and ended this."
Reitzammer, then Florida's first Commissioner of Film and Television, a volunteer post, didn't need to look at the signature to know who his correspondent was. The dispatch was only the most recent -- but clearly the most hostile -- of an expanding opus of faxes emanating from the Miami Shores home of Al Crespo, an often-unemployed jack-of-all-production-trades in the South Florida film industry.
For five months Crespo, a self-proclaimed industry spokesman, had pummeled Reitzammer and other state officials with a one-man campaign of facsimile propaganda criticizing their efforts to rebuild Florida's film marketing and promotion apparatus. To the average citizen, this issue might seem too arcane to bother about, but then again, no one ever accused Al Crespo of being an average citizen.
The official plan called for the replacement of the nineteen-year-old Florida Film Bureau, a government body that marketed Florida as a filmmaking destination, with a new public/private film promotion organization, the Florida Entertainment Commission, led by governor-appointed industry representatives. Reitzammer was responsible for overseeing the transfer of the old guard to the new and was considered a likely candidate to serve as the new commission's executive director. Crespo had maintained that political cronyism, conflicts of interest, and assorted violations of the state's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law had corrupted the commission's formation. In addition, he had argued in his fax assault that the new state film organization favored the large Orlando studios -- Universal and Disney -- while shutting out smaller, independent producers.
In Reitzammer's mind, though, Crespo's campaign had only one purpose: to run him out of office. The film commissioner's nemesis had demonstrated a remarkable tenaciousness, launching fax after critical fax and copying them to hundreds of people throughout government and the Florida film industry, hounding him from public meeting to public meeting, week after week, month after month. And Reitzammer knew there was even more to this super gadfly than met the eye: The guy was an ex-con, a former bank robber, a real live gun-toting, mask-wearing, give-me-all-your-money-or-I'll-blow-your-goddamn-brains-out bandit. But while previous missives had been typewritten, the most recent, Reitzammer noted uncomfortably, was scrawled in pen. The crabbed markings seeming somehow more ominous and, yes, more crazy than his usual typed jeremiads; Crespo's strategy of facsimile propaganda had apparently taken a sudden and sinister turn to facsimile terrorism.
Reitzammer immediately called the governor's office and spoke with Chiles's chief of staff, who then contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Investigators assigned to the case told Reitzammer they were going to pay his foe a visit. "I asked them not to: I didn't want to provoke anything," the 48-year-old Reitzammer recalls. "But they said, 'We're going to go take a good, solid look at him and let him know that we know.'" Reitzammer even had what he terms "a home security conversation" with his wife: both their phone number and address were listed. And, after all, they had the children's safety to worry about.
The following morning an agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement woke Crespo with a phone call. Would he mind if an investigator paid him a visit? A short while later, at about 9:30 a.m., two female FDLE agents arrived at his Miami Shores home, a modest two-bedroom condo owned by his mother. One agent explained that they had come to investigate "allegations of a possible threat."
"This is a very long story," Crespo told the agents in a calm, firm, tone. "I will provide you with all the documentation." With that, he launched into a seamless, twenty-minute explanation -- largely uninterrupted -- of his fight against Reitzammer and the formation of the Florida Entertainment Commission. The handwritten missive, he continued, was just a warning to Reitzammer that Crespo had evidence of wrongdoing and was considering legal action against state officials, including Governor Chiles. "These people have done wrong," Crespo said, according to a tape-recording he made of the conversation. "You all don't know anything about this."
"The only thing we know about, sir," replied one agent, "is that a possible threat has been initiated." Their goal, the agent explained, was "to make sure that by exercising your First Amendment rights you don't go any further and actually cause this individual any bodily harm, that you are not some wacko who's going to go out and bomb this guy's car." The FDLE later reported that Crespo was an "articulate, worldly fellow, unlikely to resort to violence."
The idea that he has generated so much fear sends Crespo into a convulsion of laughter. It's a powerful laugh, garbled with coughs and a snort here and there. "Those fucks!" he exclaims in an edgy Key West twang, his perpetually rose-colored face, encircled by a bright white beard, heating to crimson. "I've been out of prison for nine years and I haven't robbed a bank in eighteen! And there's poor little Reitzammer thinking: 'The big, bad, boogie man's going to get me!' If I wanted to whip his little ass I wouldn't have spent all this time doing all this stuff!"
Since taking up arms -- a computer, a fax machine, and the public records laws of the state -- Crespo has maintained a largely solo watch over the Florida Entertainment Commission, which began official operations this summer, and over the officials and industry representatives who run it. While Reitzammer, now the commission's executive director, has been the focus of his attention, dozens of other state and local officials, and film industry execs A both large and small -- have been targets of attack. Throughout, Crespo has generated a relentless outpouring of faxes -- blistering and caustic attack letters and "position papers," as he calls them, oftentimes several pages long -- decrying wrongdoings in the formation of the commission.
But Crespo's fight, only the latest in a life marked by challenges to authority, has not been limited to fax lines. In the past year alone he has made more than a dozen appearances in the corridors and offices of state government, all well-planned assaults on the capital to collect documents and to hound public officials. "I'm polite and low-key and don't raise hell," he says, half-convincingly. "I wear a suit and show up and say, 'Hi!' But I go everywhere. You name the department, I've been there. And they know when I'm in town. It's like, 'Uh oh! There's a loose citizen in the compound! Crespo's back!'" Indeed, anyone of stature in the industry who hasn't received a call or a visit or a fax from Crespo has probably been sleeping for a very long time under a mound of celluloid.
Needless to say, his enemies -- whether film bureaucrats or industry executives -- don't see anything honorable or heroic in his actions. They label him a menace, a hindrance to the affairs of the state. His misguided efforts, they say, are purely an attention-seeking device. The implication is that, much as windmills became giants through the troubled eyes of Don Quixote, the Florida Entertainment Commission, as viewed by Al Crespo, is a wellspring of malfeasance.
Crespo's activities have generated equal parts respect and annoyance among the industry's rank and file, those same people he is supposedly championing. His actions, at the very least, have agitated and politicized the burgeoning state film and production industry, once a fairly sleepy and insular bunch. Despite scant media coverage, Crespo has waged his fight with a single-minded devotion that redefines the term "civic activist." His battle, meanwhile, has exhausted vital management time at the highest levels of state government and, say several industry and government officials, has created a fractious atmosphere that threatens Florida's efforts to portray itself as an ideal destination for filmmakers.
"There has been a massive overreaction on Al's part," comments Seth Gordon, a Miami public relations executive and member of the board of directors of the Florida Entertainment Commission. "He's taken small complaints which may be valid and turned them into the Holy Grail. The one thing Al brought to the equation is a better sense of solidarity in the industry, but it's organized around a myth: that the state is trying to do something evil to this industry. There's no evil. I think we all have an image of Crespo on top of a water tower with a high-powered rifle and several boxes of ammo."
Comments like these only fuel Crespo's ardor. If he's convinced of one thing, it's that this fight is one in which the law is finally on his side.
Al Crespo's criminal past now governs his life: It's both a burden and a source of power. On one hand, his prison record has turned him into a social pariah, unhirable for most jobs, the lowest class of citizen, a status he knows he'll never be able to shed. On the other, it has empowered him with the knowledge that he hit bottom and survived. The experience freed him of many emotional and professional constraints that restrict others; he seems to have no capacity for embarrassment, no sense of social hierarchy, no fear.
Born in 1941 (he turned 52 on Christmas Eve), Crespo spent most of his youth in the Florida Keys where several generations of ancestors had taken up residence. He dropped out of high school in tenth grade and, in his words, "began to fuck up." His life of crime began in 1959 when he and a friend attempted to rob a Miami Beach motel in order to pay for a girlfriend's maternity bills. Armed with a toy pistol and a cap gun, they held up the clerk at the Last Chance Motel and were immediately arrested. "We were so drunk, we didn't see all the police," recalls Crespo. "There must've been a dozen police in the area. Somebody must've died next door or something."
After a year of prison Crespo returned to Miami and, he says, "started hanging out with guys who were doing this shit for real." He soon got busted for breaking into a car and got a six-month sentence at the Dade County Jail. He soon escaped by faking a back injury in the shower and giving his guards the slip while being treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Caught after two days on the lam, Crespo was sent to the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida, for two years. Upon release in 1962 he graduated to armed robbery of banks and jewelry stores. "It wasn't just a part-time vocation," he confides. "This is what I did." He finally was arrested in Ohio in 1963 on charges of robbing a bank and a motel and was given a sentence of 30 years to life.
During his sentence Crespo developed a reputation as a prison activist, at one point trying to organize a national prisoner's union. "We were among a group in prison of what I would call the intelligentsia," says a former prison colleague of Crespo's who requested anonymity. The colleague, who spent 22 years in prison for bank robbery and now leads sales seminars for bankers in Tampa, recalls Crespo's tireless involvement with the Jaycees and with an inmate council at Chillicothe Correctional Institute in Ohio. The council functioned as a conduit between inmates and prison administration on contentious issues such as parole and prisoners' rights. "He was so dedicated to what he was doing and he had no fear of consequences," the man recalls. "He found out he could persuade and motivate people. It was a view of himself that I don't think he'd ever experienced in his life. You could just see the endorphins kicking in, you could see it transforming his life. Chiles and the people he's involved with here in this movie thing? This is just the warden and the prison administration and the Ohio governor all over again."
In prison, Crespo also began to study law. He became so proficient that he filed a handful of lawsuits as a plaintiff and served as counselor to other prisoners filing their own. He also represented himself on appeals of his criminal charges. "I had zero success in the appellate courts," Crespo says. "But it was a good training ground."
Soon after his sentence was commuted in 1972, Crespo, brimming over with a sense of self-worth, made a run for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives. (Crespo says his release restored his civil rights as a citizen -- and therefore his ability to run for political office.) His main plank: prison reform. Needless to say, he suffered a resounding defeat. The loss, coupled with a brief, failed marriage and an inability to find a steady job, shoved him back into the bank-robbing business. "I always had problems when I ran out of money," he admits, a bit redundantly. "Except now, that is. I don't give a fuck any more." He was locked up again from 1976 to 1984 in the Connecticut state prison system and the federal prison system; several of those years he spent in maximum-security solitary confinement for being, as he calls it, "an aggravation" to the warden.
After his release, Crespo returned to Miami and stumbled into the film-production industry when an acquaintance invited him to be an extra on a low-budget film called Private Resort starring Johnny Depp. The 1985 film, an imbecilic sex comedy about two guys on the make at an oceanside resort, was a bomb. (Since then Crespo has added to his resume dozens of credits as a location scout for feature films and commercials, and as assistant director on several projects including the 1988 made-for-television horror movie Moving Target.) Even though work was infrequent, Crespo became politically active in the industry, cofounding a statewide producers' association and helping launch an alliance of major film groups around the state that included the Screen Actors' Guild and the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association; the coalition was organized to fight a 1987 sales tax on a range of services including those connected to the film industry.
Paul Kuchukian, a Miami film technician, marvels at Crespo's energy and single-minded devotion to a cause. "He does his homework like few people I've ever met," says Kuchukian, who also witnessed Crespo's activism in yet another arena: Two years ago, while living on a two-story houseboat docked on the Miami River, Crespo founded the Liveaboard Preservation Association with Kuchukian and waged a ten-month fight against an ordinance that banned houseboats from the Miami River. Crespo says their efforts resulted in the Miami City Commission's grandfathering in the 39 houseboats already on the river. "He certainly honed his skills in dealing with bureaucracies," Kuchukian says of his friend. "At times, Al knew the new regulations better than the city officials."
Film work continues to be less than plentiful, and Crespo barely earns a living with the menial production jobs he infrequently gets these days. (Although he doesn't have to pay rent because he lives in his mother's condo, telephone bills hover around $300 per month.) He blames his empty bank account in part on his fascination with Reitzammer and the Florida Entertainment Commission. "I've devoted myself all year to this fight and I haven't necessarily endeared myself to people who'd hire me," Crespo acknowledges. "This is a business where kissing ass is almost a requirement. Anyway," he continues, "I got a full-time job." He gestures to the piles of faxes and photocopied documents and court papers neatly piled around his coffee table, the kitchen counters, and the dining room table, and beams smugly.
In fact, Crespo's current battle with state film officials has consumed his life, taking him away from his girlfriend, a Miami florist, and from his hobby, painting, which he learned at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. When at home, Crespo can often be found in a small walk-in closet he's converted to an office, the focal point of which is a Macintosh Plus personal computer.
The images and mementos that adorn the office walls and the hallway outside reflect his short career in the film industry. They include snapshots of Crespo on various sets; a photographic still from a student film in which he played a priest; and framed letters from film industry groups commending him for his activism on behalf of the industry. A framed collage of production and show-biz photos shows him posing with Andy Gibb and Rick Garcia in 1988 at a party at Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, surrounded by nubile women in Brazilian Carnivale attire, dressed as a monk for a role as an extra in the movie The Unholy.
It's in this bunkerlike office that Crespo pounds out memoranda with alarming speed in a two-fingered, hunt-and-peck style. "These are all one drafts," he says, nodding at the mounds of documents. "I had to be fairly accurate in the 'joint' because I didn't have a whole lot of correction fluid." Prison also taught him how to type fast, he says. Sometimes, Crespo recalls, he had only a few moments to secretly bang out a letter on an unattended typewriter in a prison official's room. While in prison in Talladega, Alabama, he would duck into the foreman's room in the paint shop to type out statements while another inmate kept a lookout for guards.
Crespo keeps a small copy machine and a fax machine in his dining room. During the early stages of his blitz campaign against Reitzammer and other officials, he would fax one sheet at a time to one address at a time. "Sometimes I was literally on my feet for 24 hours," he claims. Now he sends the documents to a friend who, using a computer program, simultaneously fires them off to every recipient on Crespo's copy list -- a list that tops 300 and grows by the day. "If I'm fucking with someone, I'll send them stuff all the time," Crespo chuckles. "For a while there, I was hitting Reitzammer every day. For someone with no money, like me, it's power! Imagine that: Every day some guy's pounding on you, pounding on you, pounding on you. It fucks with your head!"
"Al only exists when he's engaged in combat," observes Florida Entertainment Commission board member Seth Gordon, another frequent target of Crespo's invectives. "In his own mind he's adopted for himself the role of the righter of all wrongs."
It was a small item in the Key West Citizen back in December 1992 that launched Crespo head-on into his current fight against Florida's film officials. To the average reader the tiny article deserved only a fleeting glance, but to the ever-wary Crespo it leapt out like a front-page banner headline. The item announced that the old Florida Film Bureau, run by several bureaucrats, would close to make way for the new Florida Entertainment Commission, composed of gubernatorially appointed representatives from around the entertainment industry. Reitzammer, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Film and Television, would oversee the transition. (As film commissioner, a volunteer post, Reitzammer was not directly linked to the film bureau but complemented the group's activities by helping Gov. Lawton Chiles formulate a promotion plan for the Florida film industry. A front-runner for the job of the new entertainment commission's executive director, he was eventually selected for the post this past September.)
According to that 1992 news article, a little-publicized bill had passed the legislature nine months earlier mandating changes in the state's official efforts to promote the film industry. As did the old film bureau, the new Florida Entertainment Commission would act as a marketing organization for the state's film and television industries, attracting out-of-state projects and serving as a warehouse of information. As an improvement, the bill's proponents argued, the new commission, with actual entertainment professionals in control, would be more responsive to the needs of the industry and would cost less than the old film bureau because it would help pay for its efforts by raising money from private sources. Crespo didn't buy it -- and set out to challenge the state's actions.
While Crespo agrees the state needed to change the way it marketed itself to the international film world, he grumbles that local or state film industry groups should have been included in the decision to shut down the old film bureau. He blames Reitzammer, Chiles's handpicked point man for the state film industry, for keeping everyone in the dark. "Reitzammer didn't make any effort to travel around the state or appear before groups," Crespo rails, "the kinds of things you do if you actually want to reach out and lead a movement for change." Crespo called for a one-year moratorium on the closure of the Florida Film Bureau so the industry could debate its merits. "What we were saying was, 'Don't disrespect us and jam this down our throat,'" he adds.
With that, the initial seed of mistrust was planted in Crespo's brain, already fertile ground for conspiracy theories. Over the next several months Crespo began scrutinizing the actions of officials connected to the Florida Entertainment Commission and perceived the unfolding of a statewide plot of misconduct. While many of the allegations may seem petty to outsiders or those not steeped in the intricacies of public law, they have inflamed Crespo's mind and soul. Several complaints do appear to be valid -- in fact, targets of Crespo's ire have admitted as such. Still, critics question the necessity of all the hoopla.
Crespo's first set of allegations was crystallized in an 84-page request for an investigation, which he fired off to Jerry Chestnutt, inspector general of the Department of Commerce, this past February. The report, entitled "Putting Florida Filmmakers First," included claims that Reitzammer, a self-described "close personal friend" of Chiles, was a political crony. It also charged that Reitzammer and Chiles had consistently paid more attention to big production companies while ignoring input from smaller, independent companies on issues concerning the development of Florida's film industry. Most controversial, perhaps, was Crespo's allegation that Reitzammer, while volunteer Commissioner of Film and Television, mixed his public business with that of his privately owned video production company, Images, Inc.
In his investigation, Chestnutt didn't find any evidence of wrongdoing. He confirmed that Reitzammer was conducting his public and private business at the same address, but in different areas of the office and without apparent conflict of interest. Chestnutt also acknowledged that state documents had been faxed on Images, Inc. stationery, but attributed that to a clerical error. As for allegations of favoritism and cronyism, Chestnutt cast those aside as "personal opinion and/or policy issues" and not in his purview.
Crespo declared the investigation "a whitewash" and refused to back off. More charges came over the next few months focusing mainly on issues of democratic openness, including:
The claim that the 1992 legislation creating the Florida Entertainment Commission shut out independent companies and filmmakers from participating in the selection of board members and the executive director. Crespo says he and an alliance of South Florida filmmakers hired a lobbyist to represent them in Tallahassee. Their efforts resulted in a rewriting of the legislation, which opened up the selection process of the commission's board of directors and also limited the authority of the board members.
The allegation that a public official secretly circulated an anonymous fax to regional film commissioners throughout the state urging a protest to the legislative changes that Crespo supported. Crespo accuses Reitzammer of sending the so-called "unsigned fax." No official has accepted responsibility for the document, and there is no conclusive proof of the sender. (But then again, Crespo's critics point out, maybe it shouldn't matter any more. Everyone -- including Crespo and Reitzammer -- is pleased with the legislative changes to the Florida Entertainment Commission. But Crespo's still furious about the mysterious fax.)
The charge that members of the Florida Entertainment Commission have held closed ballots and secret conversations in violation of the state's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, which guarantees public meetings and access to documents.
More recently, Crespo has accused Chiles of mail fraud. In November the governor sent letters soliciting funds for the Florida Entertainment Commission. The letters claimed that the foundation was certified as a nonprofit corporation by the IRS. The ever-vigilant Crespo called the IRS and learned that the foundation had never been granted tax-exempt status. Reitzammer and the governor's staff admitted the error and claimed it was an honest mistake, not an effort to dupe prospective donors. Crespo, though, asked the U.S. Attorney last month for the Northern District of Florida to open an investigation into the matter. "Crespo's a person who finds a crack in everything and begins to try to wedge more and more stuff into it," Reitzammer groans. "I don't have a problem with that if you're going to build something else. But he's being destructive for the sake of being destructive."
In the flurry of faxes and incessant attention to every microscopic detail of the Florida Entertainment Commission, Crespo's method has obscured his message and exhausted the patience of many industry professionals and public officials. In fact, there are few people who actively follow his campaign and understand its issues in all their complexity; most people admit they gave up reading the entirety of Crespo's correspondence long ago.
And except for the assistance of a handful of comrades, and the occasional half-baked letter-writing attack, Crespo has largely gone it alone. He explains that he stepped forward as a self-designated spokesman and watchdog because no one else seemed to care what was going on in Tallhassee. "No one pays attention to government unless it hits them in the face," he says. "This is an industry that doesn't pay much attention. They prefer not to deal in reality. They only want to deal with the problems of making commercials."
Meanwhile, Crespo's crusade has become entangled in lawsuits. In May film commissioners for Polk County and the City of Tampa -- who serve as liaisons between the industry and the community -- sued him for libel in separate complaints, saying he had falsely alleged that they, along with others, had violated the state's Sunshine Law. (One complaint has been dismissed; the other is pending.)
Since July Crespo himself has filed no less than four lawsuits in courts around the state: against Chiles, charging him with overseeing a violations-riddled selection process for the Florida Entertainment Commission executive board; against the Florida Entertainment Commission for more than a half-dozen alleged violations of the sunshine Law; against a state organization of local film commissioners for failure to provide public documents; and against the Florida Department of Commerce, also for failure to provide documents.
The lawsuits against Chiles and the Florida Entertainment Commission are pending; the other two have been dismissed. Even so, in both cases, the defendants provided the documents soon after Crespo filed suit, and both were forced to pay his court costs. Crespo claims victory. (Crespo's score so far: two lawsuits dismissed with prejudice, two still pending, one inspector general's report discounting several charges, one rewritten bill in Crespo's favor -- and a giant windfall for fax-paper manufacturers.)
William Stevens, general counsel for the Department of Commerce, argues that Crespo is suing for the sake of suing. He cites the lawsuit Crespo filed against him and the Department of Commerce in which Crespo alleged that a request for public documents was ignored for a month. Stevens says Crespo's request was misplaced during a busy period in a special legislative session; it wasn't purposely ignored. "If Crespo really just wanted the material, he could've called up and said, 'Hey, Bill. You know that note I left you?' But instead, the next thing we know, we get sued!"
As for the lawsuit Crespo filed against the Florida Entertainment Commission alleging violations of the Sunshine Law, Stevens acknowledges that if the law was broken in the early days of the foundation, those violations were committed unintentionally and were all correctable. "Meanwhile," Stevens adds, "he's burning up a lot of government time and money."
Comments a bemused Seth Gordon: "Al made some good points early on: that we ought not be controlled by the big guys -- Disney and Universal; and that the industry groups out to have a formal voice in making nominations to our board. But now he dwells in mind-numbing minutiae. He started with some big juicy stuff, but it's been reduced to a thin gruel."
But lost amid the rhetoric and the bu-reaucratic wrangling, Crespo's crusade harbors at least one nugget of universal truth: that even the lowliest democratic citizen -- even an ex-con -- can help to shape public policy and the rules we live by.
It's some time before 6 a.m. on Saturday, December 11, and most Miami Shores residents are doing the sensible thing: sleeping. Crespo's not. He's up, slugging down coffee and preparing for a day trip to Fort Meyers. But this ain't no vacation. This is business. The Florida Entertainment Commission board of directors is meeting at 9 a.m. at a Fort Meyers resort. Crespo has missed only one of four board meetings since the commission's founding. Dressed in blue jeans, a purple oxford shirt (untucked), and Reebok tennis shoes with fluorescent green laces, he heads out to his late model Buick Somerset and loads up the trunk with a video camera and tripod -- better to document the meeting with. The plan is to rendezvous in Broward with two allies, then make the trek across the Everglades along Alligator Alley.
In early morning darkness, as Crespo winds the car through empty suburban back streets, conversation turns to his personal history, revealing yet another source of his passion. His family's ancestors, he says proudly, have been in South Florida for more than 150 years, making him a descendant of the area's first settlers. (Indeed, at his home Crespo shows visitors the burial record of his great, great grandmother, who was born on Indian Key.)
As with many South Floridians who actually grew up here, Crespo has a guardian's loyalty for the area. "So many people come down here with a boomtime mentality," he scoffs. "There's such a large influx of people with no ties to the community, and we see some negative things happening. They come to participate in the plunder. I know I'm a fuckup but I feel something for Florida. I care what happens here."
Crespo pulls into a Publix parking lot for the arranged meeting with two steadfast supporters: Myra Zeller, a former location caterer, and Bill Grefe, a veteran South Florida film producer and director. The three pile into Grefe's car with assorted low-tech documentary technology including Crespo's camera and tripod, as well as Zeller's tape recorder. As they race the sun across the state, their comments take on the ring of a pep rally. During the two-and-a-half-hour jaunt, the travelers recount the various alleged transgressions by Reitzammer and his cronies, the history of their struggle. "Everybody I've talked to says these guys have done nothing for them," Crespo exclaims at one point. "The important thing for them is not what they can do to help you, but what they can do to hurt you."
The Florida Entertainment Commission meeting is just getting under way as the three rebels lug their equipment into the small conference room. The commissioners and several observers smile knowingly, if uncomfortably, at the late arrivals. Crespo walks to the back of the room, sets up a camera and sits down demurely. He has promised to be calm today; after all, he doesn't want to jeopardize his pending lawsuit in which he's accused the commission of committing several violations of the Sunshine Law.
But not much time passes before something rankles him and, Crespo being Crespo, he is unable to swallow the emotion. He shoots his arm up and begins waving his hand. He wants to speak, but no one will recognize him. Without meeting Crespo's glare, Commission Chairman Chris Qualmann explains to the assembly that time at the end of the agenda has been reserved for public comment. For a member of the public to speak in the interim, he must first be recognized by a board member. But no one even glances at the gadfly, and the meeting continues apace. Moments later, Crespo explodes in frustration: "Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, you have questions from the floor!"
"You're out of order!" bellows Qualmann, an Orlando entertainment attorney.
"Not true!" Crespo sputters. "You have to allow the public to participate...." He blurts out a state statute by section and paragraph number. Qualmann repeats his instructions, and, as board members take care to not even look in the direction of Crespo, the meeting continues. "They just violated the fucking law," Crespo snarls under his breath, lips quivering, arms folded tightly. "This is probably going to end up as another count in my lawsuit. He has to at least ask the other board members if they want to recognize a question from the floor."
During a recess, Crespo stomps over to Qualmann who looks up from the conference table, smiling tolerantly. They toss tenets of the public law back and forth. As the meeting reconvenes, Crespo remarks over his shoulder, "I have never lost in the court of law, at least not in public policy. I've lost substantial criminal charges, but not public policy." Throughout the rest of the three-hour meeting, Crespo spends much of the time with his hand aloft in the air, fruitlessly waving it around like an eager schoolchild, occasionally snorting in disrespect and scorn.
On the drive home, Crespo is again reflective about his cause. "Irreparable public harm has been done," he insists, quietly angry in the waning daylight. "These are violations that have impacted on the very fabric of the state. It just doesn't seem that the law really means all that much to these people."
He won't be home until well after nightfall, but the following morning he's up early. By noon he has drafted a new motion in his lawsuit against the commission (adding two new counts based on Saturday's proceedings), written several letters to people in the industry, made a round of phone calls, and even found time to design a Christmas card that he will send to his colleagues -- friends and enemies alike -- throughout the state. By fax, of course.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.