The Haunting of Alex Daoud, Part 2
Alex Daoud has never been one to sit still. At his prime the three-time Miami Beach city commissioner and three-time mayor was constantly in motion, always the center of attention. Tall and strong and handsome, he lusted for the action, the pop of the camera flash, the adulation heaped on him by all. But that was before federal investigators began to discover that something else lay behind Daoud's genial facade. In late 1992, Miami Beach's golden boy was convicted of bribery. The following year he pleaded guilty to other corruption charges and was hauled off to prison.
For a man like Daoud, a tougher punishment would have been difficult to imagine. There he was, locked away from the adoring crowds, left alone to contemplate his own fears and needs and hatreds. He was forgotten for the first time in his life.
Freed early in April 1995 after seventeen months in federal custody, Daoud tried to put his sordid past behind him and get on with his life. He found a job -- first working for a car-alarm company, then delivering flowers. He devoured medical textbooks with a dream of one day enrolling in medical school in the Caribbean. Once an avid amateur boxer and exercise enthusiast, he began visiting the gym again. And he continued with his political memoirs, which he had begun -- first as fiction, then as autobiography -- before entering prison. "I've changed a lot, haven't I?" he often asked me in the months after his release. "I'm not the same person I was before." He frequently said he wanted to live a clean, quiet life; in time, he said, he would ask a judge to release him from the balance of his three-year probation.
But so much prevented him from leaving the past behind and pushing ahead, not the least of which was his animosity toward those people he once considered friends but who, he claims, quickly abandoned him when he was clobbered by the federal government. After a little more than a year of simmering in his quiet, uncomfortable rage, Daoud was back at ringside and climbing through the ropes.
In June of this year, the 53-year-old Daoud steps back into public, controversial view. His girlfriend, Robyn Elliott, sues her former boss, Crescent Heights general manager Russell Galbut, accusing him of sexually harassing her for years and of unlawful retaliation under Florida's whistleblower statute. Two days later Galbut files a countersuit, alleging that Elliott has conspired with Daoud to extort $1.2 million from him. "War has been declared!" Daoud gamely announces to me.
The lawsuits are a bizarre mix of treacherous and salacious allegations, and as far as they pit Daoud against Galbut, they are a twisted reflection of a seemingly strong friendship that was so representative of Miami Beach's power structure in the Eighties. During most of those years, Daoud was an associate at Galbut's family law firm on Washington Avenue -- Galbut Galbut & Menin; Daoud nominated Galbut for the powerful Zoning Board of Adjustment, a seat the developer held for about a decade; the two could be found at all the right community and charitable functions, and they used only the kindest words to describe each other.
Their rises in fortune also occurred in tandem. As Daoud ascended toward the top of the Dade political firmament, Galbut was establishing, among other ventures, the largest condominium-conversion operation in the region, developing prominent beachfront buildings such as the Alexander, the Castle Beach Club, 100 Lincoln Road, the Shelbourne, and the Carriage House, among others.
Robyn Elliott, a jittery but good-natured woman, became Galbut's administrative assistant in 1990. The relationship fell apart this past December when Galbut fired Elliott because she "objected to or refused to participate in the unlawful activity and practices of Galbut," her suit alleges. Elliott filed her lawsuit in federal court and claimed, among other allegations, that
*Galbut implied to business associates on at least two occasions that Elliott would provide them with "sexual favors."
*Galbut had "a number of extramarital affairs" and would "describe to Elliott, using sexually explicit language, the various sexual relations and sexual practices he engaged in, or would like to engage in, with his female companions."
*Galbut requested Elliott to provide false testimony if she were subpoenaed in connection with a federal banking investigation of Capital Bank, of which Galbut is a shareholder and director.
*Galbut requested that Elliott prepare fraudulent insurance claims for Crescent Heights properties and Galbut's personal residence.
*Galbut required Elliott and other employees to make campaign contributions to specific local political candidates with the assurance that they would be reimbursed by Crescent Heights.
Galbut's attorney, Franklin Zemel, has answered the charges with a detailed dissection of Elliott's complaint, and he has asked a judge to throw out the case. The attorney contends that Elliott unilaterally left the company and describes her complaint as "a vast array of imaginative claims and a potpourri of innuendo-laden allegations." He adds: "When you look at it allegation by allegation, what you'll find is that she got a portion of the story and never got the whole story."
Galbut's countersuit -- which, oddly, doesn't name Daoud as a defendant -- is as inflammatory as Elliott's. The developer says he temporarily allowed the ex-mayor, after his release from prison, to stay in an apartment at the Aventura Beach Club condominium, which is owned by Crescent Heights. In addition, Galbut says he gave Daoud "hundreds of dollars in cash." But Daoud ran up a phone bill in excess of $1000 at the condominium that he never paid. Galbut further alleges that Daoud refused to move out of the unit more than five months later, even though Galbut wanted to sell it.
Sometime in autumn of last year, Elliott told Galbut that "Alex wants to see you," according to the complaint. That same afternoon Daoud allegedly appeared at the Crescent Heights headquarters, entered Galbut's office, and raised his shirt to reveal that he wasn't wearing a body wire. Supposedly Daoud then began to frisk Galbut for a wire. "While Galbut was still stunned by this episode, Galbut was then led by Daoud into the executive bathroom in Galbut's office," the suit says. "Once in the bathroom, Daoud turned on the water loudly, and when Daoud was comfortable that he could not be overheard, Daoud then demanded from Galbut another apartment to reside in indefinitely and that such apartment be titled in Daoud's name. When Galbut refused, Daoud threatened to 'expose' several alleged secrets which Daoud claimed he knew about other people friendly to Galbut."
Galbut reportedly responded: "Go ahead. If you've got something to say then say it. But don't threaten!"
"You're making a mistake, Russell," Daoud allegedly said. Then, according to the lawsuit, he "threatened to 'take down' Galbut and destroy Galbut and the Galbut family. Daoud claimed that he wanted to get even with other people whom Daoud claimed used to be his friends back when he had 'power,' but who had since 'abandoned' Daoud as a result of his criminal proceedings. Daoud stated that he was particularly angry at Abel Holtz, former chairman of Capital Bank." Galbut says he kicked Daoud out of his office.
As for Elliott, Galbut says that in the final months of her employment she made numerous threats to Galbut that he if didn't pay her bonuses or if he ever tried to fire her, she would call a press conference. Galbut says the administrative assistant demanded $5000 for her silence. "Elliott also began making a series of comments against Capital Bank and the Holtz family, who prior to her involvement with Daoud gave no consideration one way or another about any of these people or entities," Galbut's lawsuit states, a suggestion that Daoud was turning Elliott against the bank and the Holtzes. (In addition to being a director and shareholder of the bank, Galbut also chaired the institution's "independent committee" that reviewed claims made by several dissident shareholders alleging wrongdoing by the Holtz family.)
According to Galbut, Elliott quit the company on December 27, 1995, retained a lawyer, and then increased the price of her silence to $1.2 million, which she demanded in a letter sent April 1 through her attorney, Roderick Hannah.
In the letter to Galbut, Hannah outlines various charges against the developer and describes the correspondence as "a form of damage control given the substantial downside and risks you and your company now face." He offers the possibility of a "confidentiality agreement" should a settlement be reached, and demands a "lump sum payment" to Elliott of $1.2 million.
Hannah says the extortion allegations are "bogus." He refutes Galbut's claim that Elliott ever threatened to call a press conference if she were fired or if she didn't receive bonuses; he says Galbut offered $5000 for her silence; and he denies the insinuation that Daoud has turned Elliott against Capital Bank. "In fact, Alex Daoud has discouraged her from doing her lawsuit because of her emotional distress resulting from the stuff Galbut did to her."
Daoud, too, denies Galbut's allegations of conspiracy. "I never threatened him," the ex-mayor says. "That's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard in my whole life! I never led Russell Galbut to the bathroom. He's old enough to go to the bathroom himself." Daoud does admit he asked Galbut for another place to stay, but he says he never demanded money or property from his former friend. Soon after their talk, Daoud says, he vacated the Crescent Heights condo and moved into Elliott's two-bedroom house in Davie. (Elliott refuses to comment on this or any other matter for this story.)
So what went wrong with the friendship between Daoud and Galbut? For years Daoud had refused to say anything negative about his old pal. And Daoud admits that Galbut was very generous when he got out of prison: Galbut sent Elliott to pick him up, he loaned Daoud an apartment, he gave the ex-mayor $3000 cash, and he even bought Daoud a laptop computer so he could work on his book.
But Daoud complains that Galbut didn't do enough. While he was in prison, Daoud contends, the developer promised to find him a job and a permanent place to live. Once freed, though, Daoud came to believe Galbut hadn't made good on his word. "I think Russell treated me the way he did because of Holtz," Daoud asserts, his piercing blue eyes going hard and cold. "Basically what happened was Holtz told him not to do anything to help me, that I was a government snitch." As Galbut is on the board of directors and still does business with Capital Bank, he had to heed Holtz's words, Daoud maintains. "Galbut said, 'I'm too connected with the bank.'"
Daoud says "the final straw" came when the Galbut law firm withdrew its representation of Daoud regarding a lawsuit he'd filed against the administrator of a trust he'd established for his son. Daoud had brought the suit in the fall of 1995 against Dade businessman Rafael Bonafonte, whom Daoud had counted as one of his best friends before going to prison. Daoud accused Bonafonte of stealing thousands of dollars from the trust. (It's another irony of Daoud's life that when he had his falling out with Holtz and decided to drop "Abel" as his son's middle name, he chose to rename the boy after Bonafonte.)
Galbut Galbut & Menin represented Daoud in the matter for a few months but then withdrew. Daoud blames Holtz, who he believes instructed the Galbuts to drop him as a client. Daoud says he heard this from Abraham Galbut, the firm's senior partner and Russell's brother. "He said he couldn't represent me because Russell said it made him look bad," Daoud asserts. "Do I think Russell owed me? He made his commitment that he was going to help me. When a man gives his word, I think he should keep it."
For his part, Russell Galbut denies ever promising Daoud a job or housing. He says he never told his relatives to dump Daoud's case and never told the ex-mayor he was feeling pressure from Holtz. "I've never spoken with Abel Holtz about Daoud other than in the context of bank meetings, which are regulated and which have nothing to do with anything personal," Galbut insists. (His brother Abraham couldn't be reached for comment.) Holtz himself also denies instructing the Galbuts to stop dealing with Daoud. He says that in the past year and a half he's spoken with Russell Galbut only once, and that conversation concerned an internal Capital Bank matter and was conducted in the presence of several attorneys.
Galbut and Bonafonte aren't the only former associates Daoud is tangling with these days. He has also been subpoenaed to testify in two federal trials involving men -- one an attorney and the other a lobbyist -- who did business with the City of Miami Beach during the Eighties. (The subpoenas are not yet public record and so Daoud will not identify the individuals for publication.)
And of course there is Abel Holtz. Daoud has been questioned under oath in connection with a state hearing to determine whether control of Capital Bank was transferred legally by Holtz to his wife Fana and to his sons Daniel and Javier, both of whom had held upper-level positions in the bank. Two years ago, just before pleading guilty to a charge of obstructing a grand jury investigation of Daoud, the elder Holtz passed the helm of the institution to Daniel, who was made chairman, president, and CEO. Javier was made executive vice president and chief credit officer, and Fana became a director.
A group of unhappy shareholders claims the transfer was illegal and that Holtz's two sons and wife are not competent to run the publicly traded bank, which has $1.6 billion in assets and 28 branches in Florida. State bank regulators began the hearing August 26; it is expected to continue until at least the end of next week.
The entire proceeding -- including all prehearing discovery -- is sealed by a confidentiality order; therefore Daoud, who was subpoenaed by the shareholders' lawyers, is prohibited from divulging what he said during his sworn deposition. He also expects to be called to testify in the hearing but won't speculate on the testimony he may give.
It's likely, though, that the shareholders' attorneys will want to use Daoud to scrutinize the retainer he received from Capital Bank when he held political office. Daoud has contended in court testimony that the retainer was a bribe arranged by Abel Holtz, who was then the bank's chairman. In return for the payments, Daoud says he used his political position to steer toward the bank companies and individuals doing business with the city. The ex-mayor has also told federal investigators that he supported the Holtz sons' election to various city boards in exchange for the payments.
Daoud's childhood bout with polio is never far from his mind. When he was six years old, he came down with the viral disease and was confined to a wheelchair. After six months, he was fitted with crutches and a heavy brace for his affected leg. His mother drove him several times a week to Variety Children's Hospital for therapy; he stumbled around in the apparatus for a year.
The illness was also emotionally and psychologically hurtful. At school he was teased and harassed by his classmates. "Children can be cruel, and against a partially paralyzed child they were brutal," he writes in his autobiography in progress. "It was a horrible existence that was magnified when I finally returned to school. I was thrown out of my wheelchair or knocked off of my crutches and ended up defenseless on the ground while my tormentors danced joyfully around me."
The polio eventually disappeared and Daoud found his strength in boxing. His mother carted the scrawny kid over to the now-demolished but then-hallowed Fifth Street Gym, training ground for Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, and other boxing legends. Daoud eventually grew to a powerful six feet four inches and has remained obsessive about his fitness -- or lack thereof -- as if it will help stave off a relapse of his childhood trauma.
Now he has a different scourge to overcome: his corrosive sense of betrayal. Despite his involvement in the ongoing legal proceedings, his bitterness toward his old friends and associates -- the ones he says turned their backs on him -- has only increased. So he seeks a remedy the only way he knows how: in public. He's ready to lead me into the furthest uncharted territories of his corrupt political career. He would like to see an article written. He wants to publicize his experience. "I want people to know the truth," he says. Recounting it, he adds, will be cathartic.
Something else weighs on his decision to divulge his secrets: his health. Daoud fears he's going to die soon. He suffers from hypertension, he says, and undergoes regular doses of an unproven and controversial alternative therapy to combat constricted arteries in his heart. Once a week he visits a clinic in Coconut Grove for a treatment called chelation therapy, which involves the removal of metal and minerals from the blood. (He emerges from the sessions smelling like patchouli.) His sister, brother, and father all died of heart problems; Daoud's siblings were both younger at their death than he is now. And his mother passed away from heart-related ailments. "I'm a time bomb," he says.
And there appears to be another motivation. It doesn't seem exactly coincidental that Daoud's willingness to go public occurs as news of the Operation Greenpalm corruption investigation breaks. As he has watched the scandal unfold, he has compared his own transgressions and punishment against the feds' current targets. His conclusion: He was cheated.
"Did Miller Dawkins get suspended?" he asks of the Miami city commissioner the day the criminal complaint was filed. (Dawkins is accused of demanding and receiving a city contract kickback and was suspended a day later.) "Son of a bitch! I was suspended immediately! I smell a real stink here. Something's not right."
He curses at the fact that at the time of then-city manager Cesar Odio's arrest, the president of the Cuban American National Foundation was already talking about raising $300,000 to $400,000 for Odio's defense fund. "Can you believe that?" rails Daoud, who paid for his own defense. The ex-mayor also notes that the black community immediately circled around Metro-Dade commissioner James Burke as the feds descended on him. "I can tell people this race thing is disgusting," Daoud spits contemptuously in reference to allegations that the Operation Greenpalm investigation is racially and ethnically motivated. "I guarantee to everyone that the U.S. Attorney is an equal opportunity prosecutor."
Daoud later posits that municipal-bond dealer Howard Gary, another subject of the probe, clearly received excellent legal advice. (Upon being implicated in the Miami City Hall scandal, Gary became a government witness to help implicate acquaintances and business associates.) "His lawyers said, 'Howard, your life's over as you know it,'" Daoud speculates. "I was stupid not to tell the truth from the very beginning."
Daoud had an opportunity to tell all back in 1993. In order to receive a reduced sentence for his crimes, Daoud became a federal informant. His cooperation helped nail Abel Holtz and another former associate, CenTrust Bank chairman David Paul. But Daoud says he refused to talk to federal investigators about certain people. "I wouldn't discuss [former Miami Beach city commissioner] Abe Resnick, I wouldn't discuss [former Miami Beach mayor] Harold Rosen, I wouldn't discuss Russell Galbut," he recalls. "But no one appreciated that. Did any of them come by my trial? Did any of them come to my mother's funeral? When I was facing fifteen years and getting my ass killed, where the hell were these people? Every day I didn't help the government by telling the truth about people was a day I had to serve in prison." Bruce Udolf, chief of the public integrity division of the U.S. Attorney's Office, would not confirm that Daoud was asked about these men, saying, "We never comment on issues discussed during the debriefing of cooperating individuals."
So what does he have to reveal now? The allegations spill out over the course of several conversations. They're often vague, and the statute of limitations has likely expired on most of them, but if true they depict a city in which illegal cash flowed freely and the public trust was abused with impunity. In addition, they describe a man who, by outward appearances, was virtuously civic-minded, but who in truth was morally and ethically reprehensible.
Daoud begins by admitting to all but one of the crimes alleged in the 41-count federal indictment handed down in 1991. The exception: accepting a $10,000 bribe from boxing promoter Gilberto "Willy" Martinez, who later pleaded guilty to drug charges. (Daoud still maintains that the payment was a legal fee he rightfully earned as the promoter's lawyer.) Among the government's allegations that Daoud now says are true:
*He received a total of $35,000 in payments from two companies controlled by CenTrust chairman David Paul. (After his trial, and in order to avoid a second trial, Daoud pleaded guilty to accepting one payment of $5000 from a CenTrust subsidiary.)
*He did in fact demand hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of free or discounted renovations to his Sunset Island home from contractors involved in millions of dollars in city-funded construction projects.
*He collected bribes in connection with his participation in the rescue of South Pointe Towers, a Miami Beach high-rise condo project on the verge of collapsing into bankruptcy in 1987. Daoud persuaded two banks, including Capital Bank, and some labor unions to save the project with new financing.
According to the federal indictment, Daoud's law firm, Galbut Galbut & Menin, allegedly received a check for "approximately $25,000" from the now-defunct law firm of Finley Kumble, which was representing South Pointe's developer. Daoud says he received about $14,000 of that money, even though he did no legal work on the deal. The payment, he asserts, was a bribe in return for political influence and upcoming favorable votes. At Daoud's trial Thomas Tew, Jr., an attorney with Finley Kumble, testified that the $25,000 was for "legal fees" and that he, not Daoud, suggested the payment because the mayor had worked hard to save the project. (Daoud was not convicted of the charge. "My opinion was he did a hell of a job,"Tew says. "Did Alex ever extort me? Hell no, he didn't extort me. Fact of the matter is the guy never leaned on me. It would've been easy for me to say [in court] that he put a little pressure on me. But he didn't."Tew wonders why Daoud is now saying he's guilty of a crime to which he once pleaded, and was found, not guilty. "That's close to mental illness," he contends.)
*Daoud says he did accept bribes, as charged, from two labor union locals, though the jury at his trial acquitted him on both charges.
In addition, Daoud now confesses to an array of misdeeds that were alleged by federal prosecutors in the course of pretrial or trial proceedings but for which he was never formally charged. Specifically, in a pretrial letter to Daoud's attorney, prosecutors listed a series of transactions that allegedly showed Daoud's "participation in a pattern of racketeering activity." Among those Daoud now admits are true:
*"The receipt by the defendant of monies from [former Miami Beach mayor] Harold Rosen in connection with Rosen's representation" of a local developer. Daoud says he received "about $7500" from Rosen, his one-time friend, after referring the developer to Rosen, who would act as a lobbyist regarding a vote that was coming before the city commission. Daoud says the $7500 was officially called a "referral fee" but was, in fact, a bribe in return for political influence. Rosen angrily denies that the payment was a bribe. "I remember the incident and it was a referral fee!" he declares.
*He received "about $6000" in cash from Ocean Drive property owner Leonard Pelullo, whose pioneering purchase and renovation of Art Deco hotels put him in frequent contact with city officials. "He paid me for overall favors," Daoud says of Pelullo, who owned the Cavalier, Cardozo, and Carlyle hotels, as well as the ill-fated Senator, whose demolition is credited with catalyzing the South Beach historic-preservation movement. Pelullo is now in prison after being convicted of federal fraud and racketeering charges.
Beyond that Daoud says he committed scores more crimes that were never uncovered by federal investigators. He says he lost count of the number of bribes he took while commissioner and mayor, or the number of people he shook down in exchange for favorable city decisions. How did he have so much influence over the direction of the commission if he was just one vote among seven? His grin is sinister, his lips pull tight over his teeth. "But you're the mayor," he says with a wink.
Orchestrating votes, he confides, was as easy as organizing a pick-up basketball game. To hell with the Sunshine Law, which prohibits elected officials from speaking with one another about an issue they may vote on unless they are gathered in a public forum. The law, he says, was a sham during his years in office and was violated frequently, both by him and others holding public office in Miami Beach.
Some of the malfeasance to which Daoud now confesses is not political corruption in the classic criminal sense of bribes or extortion. But if true, it does reveal the extent to which Daoud was willing to compromise the public trust for his private gain, and it portrays a man whose sense of morality was malleable, at the least. Daoud alleges that *Crescent Heights executive Russell Galbut promised to give him a job at the family law firm if Daoud managed to get him elected to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. "He told me, 'If I get on, you can join our law firm,'" Daoud recalls. Galbut, though, flatly denies the allegation. He says he introduced the then-commissioner to his cousin, Howard Galbut, who was the firm's senior partner at the time, but that he never made a deal with Daoud.
*He did little or no legitimate legal work for Galbut Galbut & Menin but used his position as an elected official to steer toward the firm companies that had matters before the city commission. Howard Galbut says he's not aware of any conflict of interest Daoud might have had on the commission, but acknowledges that Daoud did attract clients to the firm, which in and of itself is not illegal. Galbut says Daoud wasn't a particularly prolific associate. "The work he did do, I thought he did well," the attorney recalls. "He also didn't do much. He was mainly involved in public service."
*Daoud says he was among the many people who allegedly received money from former Medicare chieftain Miguel Recarey. In the early Eighties, Daoud contends, in an effort to obtain a health-care contract with the City of Miami Beach, Recarey's company, International Medical Centers (IMC), put the then-commissioner on an indirect retainer. IMC, he says, wrote a monthly check of $1000, which passed through two other hands and resulted in a payment of about $300. Daoud says he did no legal work for IMC but used his position as a commissioner "to lobby for them and apply political influence" to win the contract -- a clear conflict of interest. (Recarey, later charged with Medicare fraud, remains a fugitive in Spain.)
*He interfered in the investigation of an auto accident involving a former state official. In the early Eighties, returning from his first extramarital affair, Daoud says he happened across the accident on a Miami Beach street. While police officers milled about, Daoud says he secretly removed from the car three bottles of unmarked pills and a plastic bag full of an unidentified white powder, and later flushed them down a toilet at the hospital where the official was treated.
*As a first-term city commissioner, he says, he actively participated in the brutal police beating of three suspected rapists whose victim was a friend of Daoud. The beating allegedly took place after the suspects had been subdued and restrained.
*Beginning soon after that confrontation with the rape suspects, and continuing for several years, Daoud occasionally rode along with Miami Beach police officers, some of whom he says organized themselves into a gang of badge-carrying vigilantes. "We developed a system of punishment to rid our city of the Mariel criminals," Daoud claims. If someone was found committing a misdemeanor or minor violation, the cops would drive him across the causeway to Overtown, take his shoes, money, and identification, remove his belt, and dump him there.
For felons or those found repeatedly committing minor crimes, the vigilante officers would handcuff them, drive them behind the Theater of the Performing Arts, drag them out of the police car, and while they were still handcuffed, "punish them," Daoud recalls. The officers employed Mace, electric shocks, clubs, and feet. "You tried not to use your hands because you didn't want to leave marks on your knuckles," Daoud recounts. "The crime rate didn't drop, but there were very few repeat offenders for us to deal with." The officers referred to these beatings as "attitude adjustment sessions."
Daoud names three officers allegedly involved in these incidents. One of them says he "heard about" the so-called attitude adjustment sessions but denies participating in them. The same officer, though, confirms that the dumping of small-time crooks in Overtown was common, and that City of Miami cops often returned the favor. (The second officer denied knowledge of Daoud's allegations, and the third officer did not return phone calls.)
*While married to his second wife, Daoud consummated his first extramarital affair, at Seacoast Towers. During the next several years, he estimates he slept with scores of women -- including a high-ranking city official -- and engaged in group sex at his home while his wife was away at dental school in North Carolina. His philandering continued through his third marriage, which came to an end during his federal trial when one of his lovers testified that she and Daoud had had an affair. (Daoud's only child was a product of his third marriage.)
Corruption was rife during his years in office, Daoud claims. "We made Ali Baba and the 40 thieves look like choirboys," he proclaims. And if prosecutors were to approach him now and ask him questions about those same people he protected before? "Let me say this," Daoud responds. "I've had a great enlightenment. I am so sorry from day one that I didn't tell the truth about everyone."
Today Daoud lives with Robyn Elliott in a small, two-bedroom house in a development in Davie, far from the plush, $485,000 home on Miami Beach's Sunset Islands that he once called home. It is simply decorated and is clearly Elliott's place. Daoud, left to his own devices, is a slob. The clutter in the corners -- stacks of documents; boxes teeming with photo albums, newspaper clippings, and other mementos; medical and self-help books; a child's toys -- all of that is Daoud's.
The most prominent decorations are a few artifacts Daoud has saved from his years in political office. Above a sliding glass door to the tiny back yard is a row of black-and-white photographs: Daoud in a tux with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Daoud with Raquel Welch, Daoud with Don Johnson. On a side table is a framed photo of the mayor holding forth with a microphone, broad-shouldered, flat-bellied, speaking to an AFL-CIO convention at the Sheraton Bal Harbour in the late Eighties. A brass doorplate -- Mayor Alex Daoud -- is wedged into the frame.
"Look at those pictures," says Daoud, whose hair was long and scraggly when he was released from prison but has recently been cropped at the insistence of his probation officer. "Doesn't that look like a different world?" He plops down on a large, overstuffed chair in the living room and calls for the couple's two dogs, a black mix named Midnight and a German shepherd named Freedom, the latter a gift to Daoud from Elliott on the first anniversary of his release. The two animals vie for Daoud's attention, and he adores their unconditional love. Daoud has ballooned to a bulging 285 pounds, and his physique, although enormous, continues to obsess him. "Am I really fat?" he asks hopefully. "God, I've really gotten fat, haven't I?" He wears a gray T-shirt, basketball high-tops, and a pair of those tiger-print drawstring pants favored by weightlifters -- all the better to accommodate his heft.
He certainly doesn't have money to buy better clothes. His job -- researching court records for a West Palm Beach title company -- pays him about $300 per week, a percentage of which goes toward the cost of probationary supervision. His outstanding debts, however, are enormous. The IRS recently sent him a notice of levy against his wages to the tune of $125,500 for unpaid taxes stretching back to the Eighties. He is mostly supported by Elliott's paycheck from her job as a grants writer for a retirement home.
Daoud frequently contrasts his poverty with the wealth of his former friends. "You have Galbut sitting up there smoking his fat cigars," he rants. "Meanwhile I don't have food on my table. Instead of getting any sympathy or any understanding, he comes back to me and says, 'Abel Holtz wouldn't be happy.'
"You know, I'm happy to be alive," he continues. "My whole attitude is different." He sounds entirely unconvincing. "I'm very content in many ways. I know myself better than I ever did. I think there's a catharsis, a cleansing that comes with telling the truth." Daoud soon hopes to make a formal request of U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King to terminate his probation based on good behavior. (Attorney Bruce Rogow says the Galbut lawsuit shouldn't have an effect on Daoud's probationary status. "Whatever allegations were made, allegations are just allegations," he comments.)
Still, in our three years of conversation, which began shortly before his sentencing, Daoud has never once admitted to me that he deserved to go to prison. He concedes having committed plenty of crimes, but he says he suffered enough during the trial. "Not everybody who commits a crime goes to prison!" he says defiantly. "I went to trial. I think by fighting the justice system, you pay the price. I was willing to get in the ring. But I also wanted some corner men. All these people should have said, 'We have a moral obligation to stand by him.' All these people were doing these things with me but they were willing to sacrifice me. And that's the story I want to get out -- that I had misplaced loyalty."
He opens a thick red binder -- a typed draft of his uncompleted memoir, which has now stretched to 934 pages -- and begins reading from the opening section, in which he is being fitted with a wire by federal agents in advance of a meeting with Abel Holtz at the Forge restaurant in Miami Beach. The scene takes place in a room at a Howard Johnson hotel on Miami Beach (see sidebar).
He narrates a few paragraphs, then looks up. "Excellent!" he declares. "You gonna quote that in the article? Now if only I can maintain that level, it would be a Pulitzer Prize-winner, wouldn't it?
"So what are you going to call this?" he asks, referring to this article. "'Miami Beach Corrupted'?" He pauses in thought, then a self-satisfied smile curls across his face. "'Daoud Ascending'?