When Vicki Met Syl
The evening of March 14, 1991, was crisp and windy in Washington, D.C., with temperatures dropping to the mid-50s after sundown. A car, a black Audi 5000, turned left off M Street onto 21st Street NW and paused briefly before the glowing windows of Galileo, an expensive Italian restaurant, while the driver switched places with the valet parking attendant.
The owner of the car entered the restaurant and made his way to a table, but this action required several minutes of his time. More than a few of Galileo's patrons appeared with regularity on network news shows and in the pages of national newspapers, and Sylvester Lukis knew them all. The maitre d'hotel and each of the six waiters knew him, too, and greeted the dapper lobbyist with uncommon warmth. Not only was Lukis a gregarious sort, he was also a legendary tipper.
He could afford to be. On the night in question Lukis, in his dark-blue Armani suit and conservative rep tie, ranked among the most successful political rainmakers in the nation's capital. Like most lobbyists, he worked for clients on month-to-month contracts; but if his employment was wildly untenured, it was also extremely lucrative. His several private and governmental customers paid an average of $5000 per month for his services, and Lukis earned between $500,000 and $600,000 per year. He owned a five-bedroom, four-bath home on exclusive Quincy Street in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and summered at Rehoboth Beach on Delaware's eastern shore.
What made Lukis wealthy was his knowledge of government and his personal acquaintance with Washington's power elite, the latter summed up in a pocket-size black leather address book containing the home phone numbers of congressmen, top bureaucrats, and corporate chieftains. But although he lived and worked inside the Washington Beltway, Lukis derived most of his paychecks from South Florida. By the early Nineties he had been Dade County's lobbyist in Washington for a decade, responsible for protecting and furthering at the national level the interests of Florida's largest county. His other clients included the cities of Miami, Miami Beach, and Palm Springs, California; and the Houston, Texas, and Dade County school boards.
Lukis had first come to South Florida from Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1963 as a pool-hustling teenage runaway in a '57 Plymouth. He returned seventeen years later to witness the most important summer in Miami's modern history. In between he spent three years in the air force in Europe, went to law school in Maryland on the G.I. Bill, and joined the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. His first assignment was giving legal advice to the department's Cuban Refugee Program.
After the fall of Saigon in April 1975, Lukis served as HEW's chief counsel in efforts to resettle Indochinese refugees. In the spring of 1980, when 125,000 bedraggled Cuban immigrants began pouring into Miami from Mariel, Lukis was sent down from Washington by the State Department as director of policy and intergovernmental coordination for the Cuban-Haitian Task Force.
Mariel was a defining experience for Lukis, and after the summer of 1980 he would repeatedly return to Miami. On the surface Lukis seemed slightly out of place in the neon metropolis, an old-fashioned northern Anglo with a poor command of Spanish and a fondness for wool suits. But deeper down lay tribal affinities. "I became enamored of the Cuban-American movement and analogized it to some extent to my own sort of Italian-American upbringing," he says. "I saw the closeness, the drive to succeed, pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps."
Lukis left the federal government to become Miami's lobbyist in Washington. While he kept an eye on the Cuban Refugee Program and other federal matters, he worked behind the scenes as an adviser and fundraiser for the 1986 and 1990 campaigns of Republican governor Bob Martinez; the U.S. Senate campaigns of Republican Connie Mack and Democrat Bob Graham; and the congressional campaigns of Democrat Peter Deutsch and Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart. He also raised money for local politicians, including former Miami City commissioner Rosario Kennedy, Miami mayor Steve Clark, and Metro-Dade commissioner Barbara Carey.
Moving through the crowded dining room of Galileo, shaking a hand here and exchanging a word there, Lukis may have seen himself as the consummate shadow man living by his wits in the gray interstices of American democracy. More simply, he might have seen himself as the son of an immigrant factory worker having succeeded for some years now beyond his wildest dreams. It's even likelier that Lukis didn't think about himself at all, for at age 45 his life had become almost entirely professional, and quasi-public. There was little opportunity for self-contemplation. It had been years, for example, since he had dined alone.
Tonight would be no exception. Seated at the table when Lukis arrived were Dick Judy, at that time the director of Miami International Airport; Deborah Lunn, then head of the Washington-based Airport Operators Council International; former Brevard County commissioner Thad Altman; and Randy Franke, a county commissioner from Oregon. Franke's wife was also present, along with Jeff Weiss, Lukis's former administrative assistant; and Weiss's girlfriend. The members of the dinner party had traveled to Washington to attend a weeklong meeting of the National Association of Counties. Franke was running for president of the organization.
There was an eighth person at the table. She was dressed in black boots, black and white herringbone slacks, a black blazer, and a white blouse. She wore a pair of modest earrings and a light patina of blush and lipstick. In the soft light of the restaurant her chestnut hair looked black, and her close-set hazel eyes appeared dark brown.
"She looked rather plain," Lukis recalls. "The first time I saw Vicki, she didn't strike me as, you know, a classically beautiful woman. I saw her as a very attractive, sexy woman. A woman with an incredible mind. She took over the table, man. Just took over."
Vicki Lopez-Wolfe, then 32 years old, had a habit of taking over tables, if not upending them altogether. Four months earlier, on November 7, 1990, she had reordered the political universe of southwest Florida by winning one of five commission seats in Lee County, the nation's fourth-fastest-growing metropolitan area. She was the first Hispanic ever to do so, and only the third woman commissioner in the county's history, but those facts tell half the story at most.
Lopez-Wolfe, in the words of one Gulf Coast resident, "was like nothing anyone had ever seen, a human hurricane." As an underdog campaigner, Lopez-Wolfe "mesmerized" audiences, according to the Fort Myers News-Press. Her command of issues and her oratorical skills were of a quality several degrees removed from what most Lee County voters had encountered in other local politicians. She had a habit of switching back and forth between the dry and the inspired, and the effect was dizzying; one moment she might delve into details of municipal bond refinancing or solid waste disposal technology, the next she'd quote Abraham Lincoln with tears in her eyes.
Vivacious, combative, and mercurial, Lopez-Wolfe had an uncanny ability to forge emotional connections with the electorate. As a woman, an ethnic minority, and the single parent of an eight-year-old son, she stood outside Lee County's traditional power structure, and this apparent disadvantage became her sharpest weapon. At the time of her political ascension, Lee County was on the initial swing of a steep growth trajectory. Hurricane Vicki, the Republican with passion, seemed like the first in a new generation of progressive public servants, the right person to handle the cultural and economic storm to come.
There was a younger version of Vicki Lopez-Wolfe that people remembered: the teenager who marched in the Cypress Lake High School band, twirled a baton as head majorette, and served on the student council. And then there was a gap in her time in Fort Myers. She left home at age sixteen to become Notre Dame University's youngest-ever freshman, moved to Chicago and then Miami after graduation, married, and worked as a financier in both the public and private sectors. The marriage dissolved, and she returned to her family in Fort Myers the spring before the election. She was unemployed, her net worth was $2000, and yet she was as eager and energetic as ever. To many voters she seemed like the prodigal daughter come home at just the right time.
On the other hand, Lopez-Wolfe had instant enemies. In an episode tailor-made for the amusement of Freudian psychologists, she requested a master pass key to the county building in Fort Myers some months after her election. The key opened every lock in the building. Two of her consternated male colleagues demanded that their locks be changed to avoid "unauthorized entry," presumably by Lopez-Wolfe.
If some saw her as too powerfully and outspokenly female, others viewed her campaign emotionalism as patently insincere and her election a stepping stone on the path of a cold, calculating climber. In fact, Lopez-Wolfe made no secret that she had larger political ambitions, though she didn't specify what they were. Her next stop might be the Florida legislature. (A fearful State Rep. Keith Arnold, D-Fort Myers, was one of the politicians who changed the locks on his office door during the pass-key incident.) An eventual run for Congress or the lieutenant governorship couldn't be ruled out.
Years later, testifying in federal court about his relationship with Lopez-Wolfe, Sylvester Lukis described the dinner table repartee at Galileo this way: "We had a lot of personal conversations, as well as conversations about things that were facing the National Association of Counties."
Q: Did you ask her out again after that night?
A: As a matter of fact, I did. I asked her out the next morning. There was a meeting of the Florida delegation. I told her it would be a good meeting, though probably not a good breakfast.
Q: And after that?
A: I believe I invited her to lunch also. And I invited her out to dinner that evening. And every evening after that. I think I was becoming completely smitten with her.
"The chemistry was incredible between us," Lukis recalls in an interview. "The second night, I was picking her up at her hotel and I was listening to a public radio interview, which I do a lot. It was on the subject of love at first sight, I swear, and they were talking about the possibilities from a psychological standpoint, confirming that that is clearly something that occurs in some people.
"I must say I had a very strong sexual attraction to Vicki. It had to do with my feelings for her body and her physical features, but I had already had the opportunity of experiencing her intellectual features as well the night before. Vicki has tremendous charisma. It's an animal, magnetic quality. It was love at first sight, but I didn't admit it to myself until April."
Three weeks after meeting Lopez-Wolfe, in early April 1991, Lukis traveled south for a business meeting with the mayor of Orlando and various airport officials. With him were two executives from Goldman, Sachs & Co., a New York investment and banking firm.
Their business finished in Orlando, the three men boarded a flight to Fort Myers.
Q: Did you see Ms. Lopez-Wolfe in Fort Myers?
A: Yes. We arrived in the late afternoon and checked into the hotel. I left Mr. Butcher and Mr. Spector [of Goldman, Sachs] to freshen up, and I went out to see Ms. Lopez-Wolfe at a restaurant, I believe it was the Old World Cheese Shop. Later we had dinner with Mr. Butcher and Mr. Spector.
Q: And what was your relationship with her like at that time?
A: By that time, in early April of 1991, we had talked on the phone every day, probably several times a day. It was a long-distance romance. We talked about everything. Vicki had lived in Miami for ten years, so we knew a lot of the same people.
Q: What happened later that evening?
A: She dropped us off at our hotel, and I made up some excuse not to get out of the car. I asked Vicki if she wanted to have a nightcap, and we went to her home and had one.
Q: And when was it that you first began an intimate relationship with her?
A: It was that evening.
Vicki Lopez-Wolfe recalls: "We didn't kiss the whole time we were in Washington. We never crossed that line, which I think is pretty phenomenal for both of us because we're both pretty passionate people. We maintained that boundary. I think that the spark that happened in April was more explosive because of it."
Lukis: "We just gave in to it, yeah."
Lopez-Wolfe: "It was the end of the world at that point."
Trying to remember the days after they parted in Washington, Lukis says, "Vicki is a very focused person, and she goes after what she wants. After she went back [to Fort Myers], I would say that she probably called me first."
"And I think there was a definite reason for that," Lopez-Wolfe adds. "I had nothing to stop me. He did. He had a wife and kids."
There is a darker explanation for how and why Sylvester Lukis and Vicki Lopez-Wolfe met, and what happened next, a theory that has been hashed over in newsrooms, squad rooms, and jury rooms for the past six years, and that led to one of the largest public corruption probes in the history of southwest Florida.
To wit: Lukis the lobbyist carefully targeted Lopez-Wolfe the politician, seduced her with money, and persuaded her to sell her vote. Lopez-Wolfe, ambitious and broke, received several thousand dollars and the promise of assistance from a political mentor with ties to the highest power circles in Washington and Tallahassee, and Lukis's clients got to build a $200 million garbage incinerator and help float $36 million in bonds for a regional airport in Lee County.
Of the many questions Lukis was later asked under oath, one was whether his Washington office subscribed to a newspaper clipping service that allowed him to keep abreast of events in Lee County. The answer was yes, and the reason for the question was this: In the weeks before their first meeting at Galileo, Lopez-Wolfe was front-page news in Fort Myers.
In November 1990 she began a love affair with a man named Bruce Strayhorn, variously referred to in local press accounts as "suave," "debonair," and a "Southern charmer." Not only was Strayhorn charming, he was married; and besides being a lawyer and a fundraiser for Lopez-Wolfe's county commission campaign, he was also a lobbyist. Since 1987 Strayhorn had represented Waste Management, Inc., an international conglomerate that held the garbage-hauling contract for Lee County and owned a nearby landfill.
The identity of Strayhorn's client was significant -- Waste Management stood to lose money if the county commission went forward with plans to construct a giant garbage incinerator and began burning trash instead of continuing to dump it. Lopez-Wolfe was attractive to Strayhorn not just for her physical and intellectual attributes, but because, as a commissioner, she would have a say over whether the county actually embarked on the biggest public works project in its history. As a candidate she had distributed brochures promising she would "fight against costly and poorly planned projects like the proposed incinerator."
On January 6, 1991, Lopez-Wolfe's affair with Strayhorn became public, thanks to an article in the Fort Myers News-Press called "Romance and Ethics." Written by investigative reporter Lee Melsek, the article began this way: "Amid Lee County's garbage controversy, a romance between a powerful lobbyist and the county's newest commissioner has raised ethical questions."
Strayhorn acknowledged paying Lopez-Wolfe's way for a New Year's weekend at Marco Island. She said Strayhorn had given her various small gifts, including "jewelry, books, tapes, boots, and a pocket knife." These gifts, she believed, fell squarely within the context of a private romance and therefore should have posed no ethical problem. (Two months earlier, in November 1990, the Florida Commission on Ethics had issued an opinion stating that politicians' romantic relationships are not, in and of themselves, regulated or prohibited by state law.)"I was devastated," Lopez-Wolfe says of the newspaper coverage and its aftershocks. "I felt very strongly that I should be able to have a private life. That relationship in no way affected my mind, my intellect, my ability to serve."
In an explanation worthy of Machiavelli, Bruce Strayhorn explained why he broke up with Lopez-Wolfe a week or two after the story appeared, shortly before his relationship with Waste Management also ended: "She's a rising star of politics, and this could hurt her, and I wouldn't want that," he noted in court. "It's caused me to ask myself, for her sake, is it worth it?"
Lopez-Wolfe was a bit more pointed: "Mr. Strayhorn flew the coop, if you will, in a very quick manner."
Strayhorn and journalist Lee Melsek exited her life for the time being, but the former would re-enter it months later, giving the latter more ammunition for front-page news stories. Ten weeks thence Lopez-Wolfe met Sylvester Lukis in Washington.
Lukis says he wasn't aware of the Lopez-Wolfe/Strayhorn scandal in Fort Myers. His first encounter with Lopez-Wolfe was not coincidental, however. Hearing that a Lee County commissioner was in town, he called her at the Washington Hilton the afternoon of March 14, 1991, and invited her to dinner at Galileo. He says that in their initial contact he identified himself as a representative of Ogden Martin Systems, Inc., an engineering firm interested in doing business in southwest Florida.
Actually, Ogden Martin Systems was already doing business on the Gulf Coast. In August 1990, before Lopez-Wolfe was elected, Lee County commissioners had voted to give the $200 million incinerator construction contract to the New Jersey-based engineering firm. But four months later, public concern about the cost and environmental impact of the incinerator had grown; when Lopez-Wolfe swept into office with Doug St. Cerny, another anti-incinerator commissioner, executives at Ogden Martin Systems feared a policy reversal and loss of the contract.
The company turned to Lukis in December 1990. "I do believe they thought they were in trouble," Lukis notes, explaining that he was hired at a rate of $5000 per month plus expenses to evaluate the positions of various Lee County commissioners and generally "get the contract back on track."
Just as Lukis's first encounter with Lopez-Wolfe was premeditated, so his first trip to Fort Myers was as much about business as romance. When he came south to Lee County in April 1991, he brought with him George Butcher and Arthur Spector, the two Goldman, Sachs executives mentioned above.
Butcher and Spector were interested in Lee County. In late 1990 and early 1991, in addition to the giant garbage incinerator, local government planned a total of 300 capital improvements, including a major-league baseball stadium, several big road construction projects, and a new bridge linking the county seat of Fort Myers with Cape Coral, the county's most populous city. These projects would require Lee County to borrow up to one billion dollars, and to do that meant hiring one or more bond underwriting firms to issue and manage the debt.
For years Lee County had done the bulk of its bond business with another Wall Street firm, Smith Barney. Now with the stakes growing too high to ignore, Goldman, Sachs wanted in on future bond deals and was willing to make an effort to achieve that end. The firm hired Lukis for $7500 per month plus expenses.
Lukis says his work for Goldman, Sachs consisted mainly of introducing Wall Street representatives to various Sunshine State decision makers. "Goldman, Sachs wanted me to help them increase their activities in Florida," he recalls. "There were several bond issuances by several boards and authorities throughout the region, including the Tampa Port Authority and the Orlando Aviation Authority."
In Fort Myers, Lukis introduced Butcher and Spector to Vicki Lopez-Wolfe, who in turn helped them meet other commissioners and government officials. It would be years before either Goldman, Sachs or Ogden Martin Systems knew of their lobbyist's love affair with the young commissioner. What Lukis's clients knew was that Lopez-Wolfe seemed like a good friend to have.
"Were you looking to fall in love with a county commissioner?" Lukis was asked six years later.
"I wasn't looking to fall in love with a county commissioner or anyone else at that time," he replied. "But it happened."
In May 1991 Jeb Bush looked down from a helicopter and saw a kinder, gentler Miami passing beneath him. That is, he saw Cape Coral and Fort Myers, the principal settlements of Lee County. Cape Coral in particular was a minor miracle of public planning -- all the storm drains, electrical arteries, and suburban streets of a mini-metropolis already laid out and waiting for the next inevitable rush of sun-seeking Northern retirees.
Bush had come to Lee County to look over some real estate and attend a reception held in his honor. The reception was to be hosted by Lee County Commissioner Vicki Lopez-Wolfe; the $575 tab for food and drink at the University Club in downtown Fort Myers (and the $439 helicopter ride) was paid by Sylvester Lukis.
"In my mind, having worked with him in the Martinez administration, I thought that he was interested in running for governor in the next election," Lukis says of Bush. "I thought he would be interested in meeting some people in Lee County."
As to how the involvement of Lopez-Wolfe benefited his and her interests, Lukis says: "First and foremost I thought she would be a good magnet, that people would come if she was the host. I thought it would help her career, too."
By the summer of 1991, Lukis and Lopez-Wolfe were more deeply involved, and he was assisting her in several ways. When she moved out of her house in North Fort Myers following a dispute with the landlord, Lukis helped her find a new apartment, and on July 23 he wrote a check for the $1000 security deposit.
In late March, Lee County Clerk Charlie Green decided to see if he could save the taxpayers some money by performing an audit of long-distance cellular telephone bills. He discovered that Lopez-Wolfe had a one-month bill of $1200, more than twice the amount of the next most talkative commissioner. The lion's share of the charges derived from calls to a Washington telephone number listed in Lukis's name.
Melsek, the Fort Myers News-Press reporter, obtained a copy of the audit and started asking questions. In a written response, Lopez-Wolfe denied there was anything indecorous between herself and Lukis. Contacted at home in Washington, Lukis verbally scratched his head and allowed that, yes, as a matter of fact he had been talking to Lopez-Wolfe quite a bit. Unable to confirm a secret romance, Melsek backed away from the story. Meanwhile, on May 6, Lukis sent Lopez-Wolfe $800 for the long-distance phone calls, and she quickly reimbursed the county.
During the ensuing three-month period -- a crucial chapter in the political life of Lee County -- Lukis transferred a total of just over $5000 to Lopez-Wolfe. In each case he covered his tracks by writing a check to her friend Karen Johnson and mailing the check to Johnson via Federal Express; Johnson deposited the checks and handed the cash over to Lopez-Wolfe.
By April 1992 the combination of secrecy and mileage had become too much. Lopez-Wolfe and Lukis decided to split up. "It was getting to both of us, carrying on in secret, behind closed doors, unable to go out to any of the Christmas receptions or other social functions," Lukis explains. "We're both passionate people, but I think we're both hard-headed people, too. We saw the relationship going in a direction that was not to her liking. She wanted some space to think about where we had been, where we were going."
Why conceal the affair in the first place?
One reason was Lukis's clients, who would certainly look askance at their lobbyist courting a public official in such literal fashion.
Another reason was Lukis's wife Brenda. At one point in early spring she called Lopez-Wolfe at home, having grown increasingly suspicious that her husband was having an affair. On another day Lopez-Wolfe faxed a love note to Lukis in Washington. The note, wreathed with X's and O's, rolled out of the fax machine as Brenda Lukis happened to be standing beside it.
"Always haunting us was the 'Romance and Ethics' episode," Lukis adds, referring to the front-page exposure of Lopez-Wolfe's affair with Bruce Strayhorn. "I felt that newspaper coverage in Fort Myers was consistently negative, and I felt that she couldn't be seen with a person like me."
Paradoxically, Lopez-Wolfe says, she was in favor of secrecy because she believed it was the best way to serve her constituents. If she disclosed her relationship with Lukis, it would mean removing herself from some of the most important votes in the county's history. "We talked about abstention," Lukis notes. "She felt that if she abstained from any of these votes, she would be failing in her responsibilities."
The final rationale for the deception, according to Lopez-Wolfe, is that she simply didn't think the private life of the only unmarried Lee County commissioner was anybody's business. To this day, even considering what happened next, she believes the same.
Asked why he did what he did in the coming months, Lukis replied, "Because I was a nut case, an individual who was completely off his rocker at the time."
Soon after breaking up with Lopez-Wolfe, Lukis left his wife and two children, moved out of his $750,000 house on Quincy Street, and took up residence with his friend James Rubin, now the senior adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Rubin had a unique before-and-after view of Lukis during the split with Lopez-Wolfe.
Before they parted ways, Rubin recalls, "they were a very exciting and dynamic couple. They had a lot of chemistry. They played off each other very well, and they were very much in love. Part of the dynamic and the excitement between them was that they argued. But they argued in a good way. They didn't argue about stupid things."
Beginning in April 1992, Rubin says, "I recall a two-to-three-month period when I would come home from work and find Syl, that is, Mr. Lukis, lying on the couch staring at the ceiling. Very quickly it became apparent that he just felt empty. He couldn't do anything. We couldn't get him to go out with another woman.
"One night I came home and found him sitting in a chair reading one of these self-help books -- I think it was The Road Less Traveled -- and I think that's when I called him pathetic. He was as miserable as any man I've ever seen. He was crazy in love with her."
Lukis still had contacts in Lee County, and in June he began hearing rumors that Lopez-Wolfe was once again dating lobbyist Bruce Strayhorn.
"I was hurt. I was angry. I wanted to see if it was true, so I started calling around," Lukis says. "I think I might have even made some anonymous phone calls to the News-Press."
Frustrated, Lukis opened his black address book and called Alan Solowitz, a former police major in Miami Beach. Solowitz referred him to Ernest Prather, a private detective then based in Miami.
"I asked [Prather] to follow Vicki, and I asked him to determine whether she was seeing another man," Lukis says.
Never one for sloppy operations, Lukis paid Prather $11,000 for three days of 24-hour surveillance in Fort Myers and Orlando during June and July. In the end he got more than he bargained for.
Prather was having trouble tailing Lopez-Wolfe because of her erratic driving habits, so Lukis instructed him to follow Bruce Strayhorn instead. "He called me and said he had observed Mr. Strayhorn with another woman," Lukis says. "I was happy about that. Since he was already there, I thought, 'Let's see if Vicki's seeing anyone else.'
So Strayhorn was seeing two women at once, one of them Lopez-Wolfe. But who was the other woman?
Lukis says he had no idea until Prather showed him a grainy, soundless surveillance videotape. The woman turned out to be Susan Anthony, a married mother and an anti-incinerator candidate for the Lee County Commission.
The videotape shows Strayhorn and Anthony seeming to kiss across a table at the Players Sports Emporium in downtown Fort Myers at 11:12 p.m. on July 24, and later disappearing into Anthony's darkened campaign headquarters between 2:16 and 3:17 a.m. the following morning. Lukis says he decided he had gotten sufficient emotional "closure" for his $11,000, and tried to stop thinking about Lopez-Wolfe.
But in mid-August, a chance occurrence brought the two together again. The child of mutual friends died by falling into a swimming pool in Los Angeles. Lukis heard about the accident first and decided he should call Lopez-Wolfe to break the news. They kept talking, then talked some more. Lopez-Wolfe admitted to dating Strayhorn, and told Lukis she suspected Strayhorn of seeing another woman at the same time. Lukis didn't mention Prather's videotape. They hung up, agreeing to see one another in Florida soon.
When they spoke again, Lukis told Lopez-Wolfe about the surveillance video without taking credit for its creation. "I was ashamed of what I did," he says.
On the morning after Hurricane Andrew, August 24, 1992, Strayhorn called Lopez-Wolfe at her home in Fort Myers to make sure she had weathered the storm and was in good health. Instead of thanks for his solicitousness, he got a shock.
Strayhorn later recalled the conversation in court testimony: "She told me she was in possession of tapes that were revealing of myself, herself, Ms. Anthony, and that it was -- I don't believe she used the word 'scandalous,' but the impression was that they were very bad tapes, if you will. She said that I should tell Ms. Anthony about them and have Ms. Anthony withdraw from the county commission race, or else the tapes would be revealed, disclosed, made public."
Q: Would you describe her as very angry?
A: Yes, sir. She said she would destroy my reputation, my family, my clients.
Q: Did she talk about how she felt about Ms. Anthony sitting with her on the commission, or the possibility of that?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: What did she say?
A: She said, "I'll not sit on the commission with that woman," or words to that effect.
Q: When you say "words to that effect," did she say 'that woman?'
A: She might have said a word other than "woman."
Q: And what was that?
A: She might have said a word such as "slut" or "whore."
Susan Anthony decided not to drop out of the commission race. For her trouble she was trounced two-to-one in an October 1 runoff with John Manning, a candidate more favorably disposed to construction of Lee County's $200 million garbage incinerator. A seemingly indisputable factor in her defeat was the release of the surveillance videotape by Lopez-Wolfe and Lukis to the News-Press and other media.
Today Lopez-Wolfe and Lukis call their actions reprehensible, the product of jealousy and rage. To government investigators, the release of the Strayhorn-Anthony videotape was just the opposite, a calculated effort at maximizing the use of a valuable artifact: Anthony, a potential threat to Lukis's clients, was kept off the county commission dais; Lopez-Wolfe got revenge on her two-timing boyfriend; and Lukis got his lover back.
That, anyway, became the theory beginning in the autumn of 1992. Strayhorn and Anthony went to the Lee County State Attorney's Office and told what they knew about the videotape; the resulting investigation focused on Lopez-Wolfe as a blackmail suspect. Then the investigation widened, finally including the whole scope of Lukis and Lopez-Wolfe's relationship.
On February 2, 1993, state prosecutors turned the matter over to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office, remaining as partners in a joint investigation. Two weeks later Lopez-Wolfe moved with Lukis to Chevy Chase, Maryland, having resigned her commission seat in an eloquent and tearful farewell address.
Nearly four years to the day since they met, Lopez-Wolfe and Lukis were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Myers on March 10, 1995. Each was charged with eleven felony counts of bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and mail fraud.
There is another significant date in the years leading up to trial last month: On August 24, 1994, Lukis and Lopez-Wolfe were married.
This is the first installment of a two-part story. Next week: An appointment in court, featuring wild-man prosecutor Douglas Molloy; Florida's only snowbird judge; and defense attorney Tom Green, the meanest, toughest white-collar lawyer in Washington. And ultimate justice.
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