The Ticket Clinic Accused of Selling Bogus Driving School Diplomas

The Ticket Clinic founder Mark Gold
The Ticket Clinic founder Mark Gold Illustration by Randy Pollak

With a confident grin, Mark Gold strides into a Broward County courtroom and waltzes up to a podium. Dressed in a dark suit and silver striped tie, the five-foot-five attorney tells Chief Magistrate Brenda Di Ioia that his client, a man caught speeding in his mother's 1995 Saturn, will not quietly pay his fine.

"Entering a plea of not guilty, ready for trial," says Gold, the charismatic 61-year-old founder of the Miami-based Ticket Clinic, a huge traffic law firm famed for its incessant advertising.

The graying lawyer furrows his brow and begins questioning his client, a squirrelly-looking guy named Matthew who was pulled over on the way to the dog groomer. But Gold has a trump card: The officer stopped both Matthew and another driver at the same time.

"Did he have an opportunity to operate his speed-measuring device, his radar, his laser, on that person, signal him over, and then do the same to you?" Gold asks.

"I don't think that's possible," Matthew says. "It's like the magic bullet in the Kennedy assassination. I don't see how he could."

Di Ioia finds Matthew not guilty, and Gold and his client burst out of the courthouse, high-fiving as if they've just beaten a life sentence. "Yeah!" Gold exclaims, clenching his fist like he's Johnnie Cochran at O.J.'s acquittal.

The case, which was televised in a 2009 episode of truTV's Speeders Fight Back, was yet another victory for Gold's company, which claims a 97 percent success rate. The firm helped pioneer the high-volume, heavy-advertising approach to fighting traffic tickets — a niche hardly any lawyer would touch when Gold started out in the late '80s. The Ticket Clinic now employs 300 people and has 26 locations in Florida and ten in California.

"I actually created the entire industry," Gold boasts. "No one has been able to imitate what we do."

"Mark thinks he's invincible. He thinks he's above the law, that everything he does is OK."

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By commercializing the craft, lawyers like Gold say they've allowed drivers of all incomes and education levels to fight unfair tickets and DUI arrests. Gold's company has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against policies that hit drivers' pocketbooks, such as red-light cameras. "We are the firm at the forefront of traffic law, fighting what we perceive as illegal or unjust laws," Gold says.

But the Ticket Clinic's explosive growth, amid a lack of oversight both at the state level and within the firm, has also made it ripe for abuses.

The FDLE is now investigating allegations that the company's supervisors took money in exchange for falsified traffic school certificates. A former employee has filed a whistleblower lawsuit over those same claims, saying he warned Gold of the problems and was ignored. Other employees who spoke to New Times describe a hostile work environment that led to abusive treatment and a culture of fear. And outside critics say the company has used its big profits to try to tilt judicial races in favor of judges friendlier to traffic scofflaws.

"I have a great firm. We do a great job for people," Gold says, dismissing claims of impropriety. "I take every employee's allegations very seriously... As far as I know, the majority of our employees are really happy."

But the clinic's founder has also earned a personal reputation for questionable behavior. In recent years, Gold has waged a legal war against a strip club over a $19,000 tab, been arrested for domestic violence — a charge that was later dropped — and disciplined by the Florida Bar for some of his business practices.

"Mark thinks he's invincible," says Nieves Arango, a former legal assistant with the Ticket Clinic. "He thinks he's above the law, that everything he does is OK and that everybody should sit back and accept it."

Gold disagrees with such critiques and says providing the best service to clients is what wakes him up every morning. "There's not a lot of lawyers that will get out of bed for $69.95," he says. "People love us. We do a really good job."

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The Ticket Clinic founder Mark Gold in a 1988 WSVN interview (left) and a 2009 appearance on truTV's Speeders Fight Back.
Stills via WSVN and truTV

Behind a blond-wood desk stacked neatly with files, Gold faced WSVN reporter Denise White. He visibly fought his nerves as White leveled a tough question: Why had Gold signed off on ads starring a three-time drunk driver who bragged about getting off on the charges thanks to his help?

The year was 1988, and legal advertising — especially for DUI cases — was practically unheard of. But only a few years out of law school, Gold was blasting the airwaves with Ticket Clinic spots. The approach was paying off: In one year, he'd already expanded to four offices across Dade and Broward.

From across the desk, White pressed him about his scruples. "At the rate that you're going," she said, "you're going to have a situation... in which you get someone with that kind of record who kills someone. How are you gonna sleep at night?"

"I can sleep at night," Gold said. "I'm protecting the constitutional rights of everyone."

The testy exchange was an early glimpse at both the Ticket Clinic's future controversies and its successful formula. At just 31 years old, Gold was one of the first attorneys in the nation to make traffic tickets and DUIs into a cash cow. Gold broke social norms and made old-school lawyers shudder, but the same classmates who snickered at him quickly shut up when millions poured in.

Gold was born and raised in Great Neck, Long Island, two generations after his grandparents touched soil on Ellis Island from Eastern Europe. His father, Gerald, grew up during the Great Depression, selling apples on the street corner as a boy to earn money for the family.

Gold's own childhood was far more comfortable. His mother held a master's degree in sociology, while his father, a PhD in economics and statistics, worked as a commodities trader and taught at Pace University. In 1959, his dad authored the best-selling book Modern Commodity Futures Trading, which the New York Times called "the bible of the industry." Mark, the second of three children, says his parents taught him to think for himself: "I grew up in a very intellectually stimulating household."

When he moved away to attend the University of Miami, Gold majored in finance, thinking he'd carve out a life like his father's. But after graduating in 1977, he changed his mind. "I wasn't really drawn in that direction," he says.

So he entered law school at UM and earned his JD in 1982. After graduating third in his class, Gold took a job as a commercial litigator with Fieldstone, Oliver, Kluger, Sumberg & Mondre. Newly flush, he stashed away paychecks to save up for a sports car. "Instead of buying a condo with the money, I bought a Ferrari," Gold says.

That luxury racer would set him off on his eventual career path. A cop soon caught him speeding down I-95, and hoping to avoid losing his license, Gold began looking for loopholes in Florida's traffic laws. He was surprised how easy it was.

Gold still remembers confronting the officer in court: "Trooper, do you have your daily log? Florida Administrative Rule 15B says you have to keep a daily log of your radar unit."

The trooper, befuddled, insisted it wasn't a requirement. The judge turned to Gold for clarification, and the young attorney brushed the dust off the state's rule book. "The judge didn't know it, the trooper didn't know it, and the case got dismissed," Gold says.

That glorious win was the impetus for the Ticket Clinic. Gold borrowed $25,000 from his father and opened his first office at NE 26th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. Back then, the idea of dedicating an entire practice to traffic violations was novel — people usually just paid their tickets without questioning them. Gold's friends and relatives thought the idea was beneath him.

"Former partners would scoff. My father was a real intellectual, and he was like, 'You're going to chase traffic tickets after you graduated third in your class?'?" he says.

The comments stung, especially those from his dad. "He was embarrassed," Gold says. "I think the only thing worse would have been if I had become an ambulance chaser."

Gold told reporters his office was the first of its kind in Florida. His business model was three-pronged: high volume, low costs, and mass advertising on radio and TV.

It didn't take Gold long to realize he was onto something. The ads worked their magic, and hundreds of people called. Gold immediately hired two other lawyers.

"My entire plan was to be marketing-driven," he says. "The clients loved it from day one. They didn't know where to turn when you get something like this. You can't go to a $1,000-an-hour lawyer for a traffic ticket."

Looking back, Gold says his moment of clarity came at a job interview right before he took the leap to start the Ticket Clinic. His interviewer was Kendall Coffey, who later gained notoriety when he resigned from his post as a U.S. attorney after biting a stripper.

"He sat down and goes, 'Mark, you're real bright. I've read all your stuff. But I don't think you're a team player,'" Gold says.

Coffey was spot on, Gold concedes. "I don't play well with others," he says. "I had to do something on my own."

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Gold's most memorable ad, telling viewers not to "monkey around" with their licenses, featured a suit-wearing chimpanzee.
Via Ticket Clinic advertisement

Dressed in a sports jacket and tie, a crazed chimpanzee shook his head furiously as he sat in a black leather office chair. While cameras rolled, Gold stood behind him in a nearly idential outfit.

Then came the punch line: "If you think any monkey in a suit can fight your traffic ticket, think again!" Gold beamed. The chimp jumped up and hugged Gold's neck as the Ticket Clinic's number flashed across the screen.

Gold's most famous advertisement drew both groans and smiles, even leading some animal rights activists to call for a boycott. Not too many attorneys would be inclined to shoot an ad with a chimp. But Gold's willingness to take such risks both fueled the firm's growth and sparked trouble as the Ticket Clinic took off.

Gold's first brush with the law came just a year after opening, when the brash young attorney was slapped with a criminal charge and a Florida Bar complaint for aiding and abetting the unauthorized practice of law. A woman had turned Gold in after learning that her ex-boyfriend, a young law school grad who hadn't yet passed the bar, was representing Gold's clients in court. The charge was dropped when Gold agreed to do some pro bono work, but the Bar suspended him from practice for ten days.

He soon found himself in legal hot water again, this time in Broward County. In 1991, Judge Jay S. Spechler found Gold in contempt of court after he showed up an hour late for a DUI hearing and allegedly pretended not to have seen video evidence. (Gold's lawyer disputed that accusation.) Gold was ordered to pay a $500 fine, take a college ethics course, and write a 40-page report on what he learned, according to a Miami Herald article at the time.

Even his bombastic claims of having invented the high-volume ticket industry have been called into dispute. Years before Gold opened up shop in Miami, trademark records show a Texan named Bobby Kizer registered the "Ticket Clinic" name, opening locations across that state before selling to a Colorado company in 1984.

He said employees "plied him with liquor" until he blacked out and racked up a nearly $19,000 tab.

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Kizer, who was widely written about and even interviewed on CBS Evening News in 1981, says it was his idea to scale ticket business through mass advertising. "This guy took my name," says Kizer, who now practices real-estate and environmental law. "I was the first one to do it on a national basis. That's why Dan Rather did the package."

Gold insists he wasn't aware of Kizer's operation until 1987, when he opened in Miami. "It wasn't until I had the name trademarked that I saw the other guy in Texas," he says. "From what I've seen, it was just a small operation. We kind of left him alone."

Gold's aggressive marketing also got him into trouble. On several occasions, the Florida Bar took action for ads that broke or toed the line of the association's guidelines. Gold tendered a conditional guilty plea for consent judgment in 2007 to three of the claims, involving a bus-bench advertisement that didn't include a lawyer's name, a lawyer-referral website he operated that sent clients to the Ticket Clinic, and direct mail ads that used quotes from outdated newspaper articles. He then countersued the Bar in federal court for what he viewed as biased and ongoing harassment. Gold withdrew the case in 2008, though he still believes he was right. "We always play by the rules," he says. "If they say we can't do something, we don't do it, but we may appeal it."

Despite those legal bumps, Gold's business plan boomed. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the firm expanded across Florida and into Los Angeles. Gold settled into a Mediterranean-style home behind the La Gorce Country Club, purchased a private plane, and traveled on luxury excursions to Europe and Africa. He split from his first wife in 2000 in a contentious divorce that led to spats over $10,000-a-month alimony payments and custody of the couple's dog, according to court documents. He remarried in 2003 and upgraded to a $1.9 million manse on the Venetian Islands and a $2 million vacation home in an upscale Colorado ski town. He divorced again, in 2010, at which point he was pulling in around $400,000 a year.

As his coffers grew, Gold turned all of that cash into serious political muscle. Since 2009, the Ticket Clinic has spent $285,000 lobbying Gov. Rick Scott, his cabinet, and state legislators through an organization Gold founded called the Drivers' Rights Association. The company has also filed lawsuits in about 70 communities against red-light cameras.

"We take very seriously fighting what we see as injustice in the court system," Gold says.

But some critics say the Ticket Clinic's political spending is self-interested — particularly when Gold has gone after judges he viewed as too harsh on drivers.

In 2012, for instance, the firm backed its own attorney, Stephen Smith, in a race against incumbent Collier County Judge Mike Carr in Naples. Gold's second ex-wife, Caroline Zelman, established a committee called Florida Judicial Watch, which spent $91,000 on negative ads targeting Carr. That was another departure from legal norms — usually, judicial races stay above the fray because the candidates are governed by Florida Bar decorum rules. By channeling the negative ads through a committee, Gold had again found a loophole, though the effort ultimately failed.

"They did an effective job saying I was a monster," Carr tells New Times. "They outspent me about ten-to-one, but I won two-to-one."

Two years later, Gold ran Smith again. This time, through another committee founded by his ex-wife, $143,000 went toward defeating St. Lucie County Judge Philip Yacucci, who had sentenced Smith to a five-day jail sentence after finding him in contempt of court at a DUI proceeding. Yacucci told the St. Lucie News Tribune he believed the Ticket Clinic had a nefarious plan: running candidates against sitting judges to force those judges to recuse themselves from Ticket Clinic cases.

"It's mind-boggling they can do this," said Yacucci, who was also reelected.

"My father was like, 'You're going to chase traffic tickets after you graduated third in your class?' "

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Gold says his motivation was simply going after judges he believed were biased and too harsh with drivers. "If we see that our clients are being seriously or badly affected by irrational rulings or unfair judges, we do what we can to help."

His personal foibles have also sullied the Ticket Clinic's brand as he's risen to power and wealth.

In 2011, the lawyer made national headlines by suing the strip club Goldrush in downtown Miami, saying employees "plied him with liquor" in November 2010 until he blacked out and racked up a nearly $19,000 tab. He later accused the strippers of spiking customers' drinks with Xanax.

The case was eventually settled out of court, and despite the headlines, Gold says he doesn't regret suing. "Some of my fancier lawyer friends were like, 'What are you doing?' But it had to be done," Gold says. "Bottom line is, I won't be intimidated. In the end, I was vindicated. Unfortunately, I can't say how."

Two years later, around 2 a.m. October 23, 2013, Miami Beach Police responded to a call from Gold's 21-year-old fiancée, who said Gold had hit her and pushed her to the ground during an argument about her Facebook page. Officers found Gold, then 58, on a bridge near his waterfront home on the Venetian Islands and arrested him for felony battery. Gold denied being the aggressor, and the case was eventually dropped by prosecutors — but not before his mug shot, which showed Gold with a visibly battered face, made the rounds on the nightly news.

The couple broke up after that fight, but Gold married another 21-year-old, his current wife, at a Las Vegas wedding chapel that December. The 2013 battery case has since been expunged from Gold's record, and he has always denied the allegations. "I've never hit a girl in my life," he says.

That negative publicity seems to have done little to dent the Ticket Clinic's bottom line. Today, Gold's company has dozens of offices in Florida and California, which have collectively defended more than 3 million traffic cases, according to the company. Gold has three partners and is preparing to take the business nationwide.

His legacy looms larger than the Ticket Clinic, though, having inspired imitators across the legal world. Shortly after Gold went into business, specialty bankruptcy lawyers with names like the Florida Bankruptcy Center began cropping up using the same high-advertising model. And in 2007, attorney Jeff Miller told a West Palm Beach TV station the Ticket Clinic was his inspiration in starting DivorceYes, a low-cost law firm that now has seven offices.

"I always thought it would do well," Gold says, "but I never imagined I would end up fueling an entire industry."

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Former Ticket Clinic employee Joe Losada says he left the company after a complaint he reported wasn't thoroughly investigated.
Photo by Kristin Bjornsen

On a September night last year, Joe Losada drove home from work unsure if he'd ever go back. A mail clerk at the Ticket Clinic, he'd debated for weeks whether to quit.

At 43 years old, Losada was loath to lose a job. Ten years earlier, he'd been fired from the Miami-Dade Police and convicted of stealing money from a drug dealer during a sting. Losada had always maintained his innocence, but that conviction made it hard to find work. Now, though, he'd grown increasingly concerned he'd accidentally land back in criminal waters.

In August, Losada had told management he suspected his supervisor was taking money in exchange for falsified traffic school diplomas. After reporting that, he had been given a small raise and moved to another Ticket Clinic location. But as he spoke on the phone that September night with a former co-worker, Losada learned the supervisor — who hadn't been reprimanded — was growing even bolder. Worse, Losada believed his complaint had been dismissed without a thorough investigation.

That night when he got home, he sent an email to the Ticket Clinic's regional manager tendering his resignation. "I have seen illegalities and abuses that have been reported several times, yet nothing is done," he wrote in a September 5 email, which he later forwarded directly to Gold.

Losada provided New Times with copies of his emails and two diplomas he believes were illegally issued to Ticket Clinic clients. His claims, which are also outlined in a new whistleblower lawsuit filed last week, were corroborated by three other employees who spoke to New Times. An FDLE spokeswoman also confirmed the agency is investigating.

Gold, though, says Losada's complaint was thoroughly investigated and found to be without merit. In unemployment documents, he described Losada as a disgruntled employee. "He was unable to prove one scintilla of his claims, which were obviously just a vendetta against his supervisor," Gold wrote.

Losada's claims aren't the only complaints made by a half-dozen current and former employees who spoke to New Times. Some say they were asked to perform tasks that compromised their safety or ethical standards, yet they feared termination if they refused. Others described gender-based harassment and their wages being docked for simple mistakes.

"It's just sad the fact that we have to take it. Nobody wants to say anything," one employee says. "Everybody wants to keep their job."

"Nobody checks for diplomas... It's kind of like the perfect crime."

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The most serious charges are outlined by Losada. A Hialeah native, he served in the Army before joining the Miami-Dade Police Department in 1997. Then, in 2010, he and his partner were busted for planting evidence and stealing cash from a drug dealer's home. A jury convicted Losada of official misconduct, aggravated assault with a firearm, misdemeanor battery, and criminal mischief.

He left prison an unemployable pariah until Gold took a chance on him in 2014. Losada says he worked his way up the ranks from a legal assistant to mail manager.

Slowly he began to notice that his supervisor wasn't putting the names of certain clients on the walk-in log, saying the guests were friends or relatives. Those clients were ushered to the supervisor's office for 20 or 30 minutes and wouldn't allow anyone else to handle their cases. Losada soon came across traffic school diplomas that were being printed at the Ticket Clinic's office.

Losada came to believe the supervisor was using his relationship with a traffic school provider to illicitly print diplomas for clients who hadn't sat through the court-mandated classes. In exchange, he'd take cash payments and tell the clients he'd do the class for them or otherwise "take care of it."

"He'll tell you: 'You don't have to do the traffic school; give me $200 or $150,'?" Losada says. "Everybody's happy... He makes out with $200, Mark makes out with $79, and you get your fake diploma."

Other employees who spoke to New Times say they believe the scheme was going on in three Ticket Clinic offices. "It's just being bought," says former legal assistant Nieves Arango, who worked in the same office as Losada. "The client wouldn't have to go to school to attend classes; they'd get the certificate as if they completed it."

Another employee says she became aware of the diploma scam when someone close to her ran into legal trouble. "Don't worry about it," her supervisor said, pointing her in the direction of a traffic school that would print off a certificate, no questions asked, for $80. When she arrived, she realized it was the same traffic school where her supervisor had previously sent her to pick up stacks of diplomas.

"He uses a lady. She basically charges, I think, $80, and she goes ahead and just fills it out like you did the school," says the employee, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. "It's obviously not legal."

Losada believes his own supervisor preyed upon vulnerable immigrant clients who may not have known the payments weren't legal. "He targets transients and Spanish speakers, the ones who don't understand the law," Losada says. "Nobody checks for diplomas... It's kind of like the perfect crime."

Losada first reported his suspicions to the firm's CFO, Eric Beller, last August in an anonymous email. But Beller soon called him in, figuring he was responsible. That's when Losada says he learned the firm had no plans of firing the supervisor or even looking at documents he'd gathered.

Losada says he could have moved on. But doing that might have made him an accessory, he says. Who would believe the felon over the law firm? He was also upset that bad drivers were being sent back on the road with no classes.

"If you get driver-improvement school, it's because you got a ticket and you did something you weren't supposed to do," he says. "These people don't care if you crash, blow up, catch on fire. You're not learning anything... This is a judge's order, for the love of Christ."

Gold pushes back hard against Losada's account. He says Losada refused to provide documents backing up his claims. Gold says Beller and others reviewed walk-in client logs against surveillance footage and interviewed the allegedly scheming supervisors but found no foul play. "We could not find a thing," Gold says. "I'd want to know if this is going on in my shop."

After Losada quit, Gold also fought his unemployment claim. "Losada is a convicted criminal of crimes of moral turpitude, lying, and falsifying evidence, among other serious violent crimes," he wrote. "A leopard doesn't change its spots. He lied then, he's lying now." Losada's claim for unemployment was denied.

Gold says that no one besides Losada came forward with a complaint and that other employees weren't interviewed as part of the company's investigation. "It's a fine line," he says. "There's rights on both sides that you have to balance."

After he resigned, Losada took his allegations to the Miami-Dade Police Department and the FDLE, which is investigating the claims. On January 18, he also filed a lawsuit against Gold, claiming he lost his job due to the company's failure to take action.

"I resigned because I didn't want to be involved in a crime," Losada says. "They took food off my family's table."

The traffic school scheme isn't the only allegation leveled by current and former employees. Arango, the former legal assistant, says she was fired after asking her boss to assign someone else to a client who frightened her when she couldn't guarantee him results. "He threatened me and came back twice looking for me," Arango says. "If you don't agree to do some of the things they do, you literally lose your job."

Arango says her pay was docked if she was just one minute late to work or if a client had an issue in court. Another woman said she watched a co-worker at the Ticket Clinic's North Miami Beach call center get fired for having another employee clock her in as she rushed up the stairs. In the 40-person call center, the woman said, employees fielded more than 100 calls a day yet risked their jobs if they didn't stash their cell phones in lockers as required.

"If they catch you with a cell phone, they automatically terminate you," she says. "This isn't high school. We have kids. We have family emergencies."

Two employees described witnessing Gold berate an assistant for not having prepared him coffee, which they say wasn't part of her job.

"He said, 'Where the fuck is my fucking coffee? Get up and make me some fucking coffee!'?" Arango recalls of that moment, which another employee independently remembered. "He just likes to belittle people, especially women." (Gold says he treats all employees with respect and denies the coffee incident happened. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he says.)

Arango says her only personal confrontation with Gold came one day when she caught him using the women's bathroom, which had two stalls. Female employees eventually began locking the door to avoid run-ins with the CEO.

When Arango challenged him, though, she says he got mad at her. "He said, 'I can walk into the women's bathroom anytime I want to because I'm the owner.' I said, 'You may be the owner, but you're still a man, and it's still illegal.'?" (Gold tells New Times he used the women's restroom as a matter of convenience because it was closer to his office. Asked if he thought that was appropriate, he said, "Oh, I don't know. Maybe if I was transgender, it would be?... It's my office, I'm the boss, and if no one's in there, I don't think it's inappropriate.")

Gold says he takes employee complaints seriously and believes numerous safeguards are in place to avoid malfeasance.

"The clients are always getting the best service and are unaffected by any infighting that would happen within offices," he says.

Gold shows up at Panther Coffee in Sunset Harbour wearing a black polo shirt emblazoned with the familiar yellow Ticket Clinic logo. It's 10:05 the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and he's already mentally prepared for the annual jams caused by protesters who block South Florida's roadways on motorcycles and ATVs. On the plus side, he jokes, think of all the traffic tickets!

Even now, Gold isn't shy about his thirst for more business or his contempt for competitors who have copied his business model.

"Many of them have no knowledge of traffic law," he says. "My imitators would sign people up and hire some outside lawyer who would just go plead no contest and weren't aware of any of the legal defenses."

Between the whistleblower suit and the FDLE investigation, the Ticket Clinic faces one of its biggest challenges to date. Gold has already begun taking action. The day after New Times asked him about Losada's accusations, Gold fired the supervisor named in his claims. He says he didn't speak to Losada or review new information before the firing.

"I would kill myself if I didn't have something, so, no, I'm not retiring."

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As for the whistleblower case, Gold hasn't yet responded in court. He declined to discuss the case.

Still, the Ticket Clinic, with its fight-back mentality, has made it fine through past struggles. Gold forecasts even more growth for the company, with more offices in Florida and a recent move into the San Francisco Bay Area. Eventually, he says, the goal is to go national, finding lawyers in different markets who will agree to take cases under the Ticket Clinic name.

"We have over 300 national affiliates, and we're moving toward a national platform that's less brick-and-mortar and more web-based and app-based," Gold says. "Back in the day, people wanted to see a building to know you actually existed, but those days are over. "

But the company's push for expansion hasn't been universally successful. Recently, the Ticket Clinic tried to launch in Chicago but couldn't make the business model work.

"I know how to read a market — over 10 million people, over 3 million tickets a year," he says. "We had great results, but a ticket in Chicago is only 120 bucks. So I learned a lesson: I can't go in a market where a ticket is almost as cheap as our fee."

For now, Gold splits his time between Miami and Puerto Rico, where he says he is working with Gov. Ricky Rosselló to help him rewrite traffic laws. Campaign finance records show Gold donated $2,600, the maximum allowed contribution for an individual, to the governor's campaign in March 2016. Gold says currently there are no repercussions for not paying a traffic ticket in the island territory, leading to outstanding fines totaling $700 million.

Asked if he plans to open a Ticket Clinic in Puerto Rico, he answers to the contrary. "Right now, it wouldn't make any sense," Gold says. "Maybe if the laws change, as the governor has suggested."

By most characterizations, Gold could retire tomorrow as a business success. He owns at least three multimillion-dollar homes, including a five-bedroom villa in Puerto Rico and the waterfront house in Miami Beach, which he plans to demolish and rebuild in a "tropical modern" style.

Yet even facing a fresh round of court challenges, Gold says he has no interest in taking a knee. "I would kill myself if I didn't have something, so, no, I'm not retiring."

Losada says he wishes the situation had been resolved internally, but he's not afraid to put up a fight against one of the biggest legal giants in the state. "I did everything the way the law tells you to do it, the way the book tells you to do it," he says. "This place is a freakin' viper's nest. It's bad, bad business."

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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.

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