Winning Wasn't Everything
The senator spoke, as befits a Democrat from Massachusetts, with the moral indignation of a Kennedy. "Today is really a case study in the way a bank can foster the sort of conspiracy that rips at the fabric of our values," John F. Kerry warned, his small mouth frowning.
Though widely regarded by his brethren as Capitol Hill's ranking conspiracy theorist, Kerry had been lionized during the Eighties for ferreting out details of the Iran-contra affair and exposing American collusion with Panamanian bogeyman Manuel Noriega. By October 1991 the towering lawmaker had set his sights on a new culprit: the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), whose clientele included drug smugglers, terrorists, and money launderers.
On this, the fifth day of Senate hearings devoted to the outlaw bank, Kerry used his introductory remarks to raise the startling possibility that BCCI had operated with the tacit approval of U.S. officials. He then ceded the floor to a man he hoped would bolster this hunch: James F. Dougherty II.
Dougherty was at no loss for words. In a rambling discourse broadcast live on C-Span, the beefy Miami Beach attorney explained how his pursuit of a fraudulent insurance claim by a Jordanian named Munther Bilbeisi had revealed BCCI's rotten underbelly. Directing the assembled legislators to an endless ream of exhibits, he described how Bilbeisi, in cahoots with friendly bank branch managers, had smuggled tons of coffee into the U.S., sold arms illegally, and bribed foreign officials. The government, Dougherty noted darkly, had done next to nothing about any of this, despite his herculean efforts to encourage them.
"Let us put it on the table," snapped Republican Hank Brown of Colorado, plainly unnerved by Dougherty's recitation. "Is there any way, in your view, that the U.S. Customs Service could have not been involved in this conspiracy?"
"Senator, we have documents that show Customs knew in June of 1983 that Bilbeisi was [smuggling]," Dougherty replied. "Now the question is, when this information is brought to the Justice Department and there's absolutely zero interest: Why?"
This, of course, was precisely what Kerry had sought: a query designed to stir doubts about unseen plots, executive-level coverups, and the shaky cornerstones of democracy.
To those who knew Jim Dougherty in his previous incarnation, as a smalltime insurance defense attorney prone to fits of cussing and braggadocio, his performance before the Senate was surreal, like watching a local repertory actor suddenly soliloquizing beneath the lights of Broadway. For Dougherty himself, it marked the summit of a crusade that had consumed his life -- and, as it turns out, eroded his sense of morality.
No more than six months after delivering this testimony, his client, Lloyd's of London, forced him to resign, claiming that he had overbilled them at least $2.5 million. This past November a Florida Bar grievance committee found probable cause to support the charges.
Dougherty is now the target of a federal fraud investigation. After sitting on the case for nearly two years, investigators are also taking a keen interest in how the 54-year-old attorney spent the nine million-plus dollars Lloyd's paid him. Last month the U.S. Attorney's Office subpoenaed his records and empaneled a grand jury to hear testimony. The fraud allegations, however, are only the initial phase of the probe. The other allegations against Dougherty run to the bizarre: that he bribed foreign officials, paid off witnesses, smuggled an undocumented Salvadoran woman into the U.S., and received confidential documents from the U.S. Customs Service. Sources familiar with the inquiry say the feds are examining Dougherty's purported associations with a colorful cast of Miamians, including convicted arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian and convicted bribe-taker and ex-Miami Beach mayor Alex Daoud.
Cast by admiring journalists as a loose cannon who helped sink BCCI, Dougherty now appears destined to play a more inglorious role: that of a man corrupted by the righteous power vested in him, an unhinged Ahab whose world became a mirror image of the evil empires he sought to vanquish. "By the end there was no difference between Jim and Bilbeisi," observes one former confidant. "They were both beyond the law."
Dougherty, who once held forth for journalists on a daily basis, initially agreed to an interview with New Times, but on the advice of his attorney he has since declined to discuss any of the accusations leveled against him. He has left unanswered more than a dozen phone calls and did not respond to three letters with written questions, except to characterize all the allegations against him as "false...made by individuals who lack credibility...." Instead he defends himself via fax, transmitting a deluge of documents intended to incriminate his accusers, along with letters of support and newspaper articles from his heyday, all of which attest, quite by accident, to the depth of his fall.
At age 31, two years out of law school, Richard Lehrman was a young man with prospects. There was interest from the fancy firms on Brickell Avenue, the lure of hanging out his own shingle, and most unlikely, an offer from a sole practitioner in Miami Beach named James F. Dougherty II.
Dougherty defended insurance companies when they contested claims -- a specialty looked upon as hack work by the Brickell crowd. But Lehrman was struck by the lawyer's candor. "I called before my first interview to tell him my car had been broken into and my suit had been stolen," Lehrman recalls. "He told me, 'I don't care what you look like. I care about your mind.'" Dougherty, Lehrman continues, promised him plenty of work and a handsome salary. Then he began effusing about a multimillion-dollar insurance fraud case that had led him into a web of intrigue and a hornet's nest of litigation. A bright associate like Lehrman would be perfect for the case, Dougherty said. Lehrman, who secretly delighted in defying convention, signed on with Dougherty in January 1989.
The two made an odd couple. Lehrman, the grandson of revered Rabbi Irving Lehrman, was soft-spoken, cerebral, and polite to a fault. Five years working on the Hill as a congressional staffer had barely dented his naivete. Twenty years Lehrman's senior, Dougherty was volatile, a proud alumnus of Notre Dame and a self-proclaimed Vietnam vet with a trip-hammer temper that left holes in his walls and underlings cringing. While Lehrman was engaged to be married, Dougherty had already been through one messy divorce, and was now on his second wife, Lucia, a big-name zoning attorney.
Dougherty had come to Miami in the late Sixties. For many years his practice had consisted of minor insurance and personal-injury work. One of his more celebrated cases centered on a fishing guide who had been bitten in the crotch by a German shepherd. By the Eighties, however, he had upgraded his clientele. In 1986 a syndicate of underwriters at Lloyd's of London hired him to investigate a dubious insurance claim.
Munther Bilbeisi, a jet-setting Jordanian coffee merchant, alleged that bandits had invaded his posh Boca Raton home and made off with more than one million dollars' worth of fine art. Dougherty unearthed records that cast grave doubts on his story, and the claim was later thrown out of court. In February 1987, meanwhile, Bilbeisi submitted an insurance claim for $4.7 million, alleging that one of his coffee shipments from Guatemala had been stolen and replaced with inferior beans. Impressed by Dougherty's ferocity, a second group of Lloyd's underwriters, the Sturge syndicate, retained him to delve into the matter and to file a suit to void the claim.
Beaming over his affiliation with the venerable insurance concern, Dougherty beefed up his staff and moved into a new office in the Kovens Building on Dade Boulevard in Miami Beach. He assigned Richard Lehrman to the coffee case in August 1989, giving the new lawyer responsibility for the endless pleadings and court appearances.
Dougherty supervised the legwork required to disprove the claim, enlisting a motley array of experts that included several former Bilbeisi associates. Chief among them was Louis Altemar, a street-smart Haitian who worked for years as Bilbeisi's chauffeur, gained his trust, and was eventually assigned to coordinate his coffee-import business. Dougherty and his lead investigator, an exporter named Vicente Valls, traveled to Central America 30 times. There, with Altemar's guidance, they tracked down numerous witnesses who described Bilbeisi's import business as a coffee-smuggling ring that had grossed $100 million during the mid-Eighties.
To Lehrman the case against Bilbeisi looked unbeatable. "We used to walk into court like the guys in the white hats," he recalls, "and blow Bilbeisi's attorneys away." Indeed, a federal judge would eventually reject this second claim from Bilbeisi.
But Dougherty didn't stop with coffee. He was determined to unravel Bilbeisi's entire financial skein, and his inquisition soon took on the shadings of a criminal probe. He dug up records showing that the portly businessman had brokered a series of arms deals dating back to the Seventies and he contended that Bilbeisi was still dealing arms. He based this claim on a 1988 deal that sent three surplus helicopters A readily convertible to gun ships A from Jordan to Guatemala. Louis Altemar, who set up the transaction for Bilbeisi, provided Dougherty with documents indicating that his former boss netted $3 million on the $5.1 million sale and had brazenly proposed a second deal involving American-made jet fighters.
"Jim's theory, legally, was that showing Bilbeisi was an arms dealer and a coffee smuggler would prove he dealt in bad faith with Lloyd's," Lehrman notes. "So pretty soon his focus went beyond the original claim." Far beyond.
In an effort to have Bilbeisi indicted, Dougherty lobbied U.S. federal officials and high-ranking Guatemalans, sending them voluminous documentation. He got results. Though federal prosecutors declined to charge Bilbeisi for smuggling or arms violations, they did indict him for tax evasion in May 1991; then-U.S. attorney Dexter Lehtinen lauded Dougherty for helping make the case. Later that year the Guatemalan government charged Bilbeisi with smuggling and accused former president Vinicio Cerezo and his brother Milton of receiving kickbacks from the helicopter deal A all charges based on evidence generated by Dougherty. Bilbeisi fled to Jordan, where he remains an international fugitive.
By this time Dougherty had stumbled into the heart of a more sweeping scandal. Sifting through a mountain of bank records, he discovered that the Bank of Credit and Commerce International had given Bilbeisi dozens of letters of credit, financing much of his business. In December 1990 Dougherty persuaded the Sturge syndicate to file a civil racketeering suit against BCCI, seeking treble damages. (The insurance underwriters had never paid Bilbeisi's claims, of course, but they had paid Dougherty several million dollars, and he argued that Sturge could claim these fees as damages. "His pitch was basically that they could triple their money," explains Lehrman, whose job it was to draft the RICO complaint.)
Within six months the renegade bank, besieged by investigators, had filed for bankruptcy. The deep pocket was suddenly empty. Case closed, Lehrman figured. But Dougherty insisted Sturge could still recover some money. At an eventual cost of more than $700,000 to his clients, he hired the prominent New York firm of Weil Gotshal & Manges to intervene in the bankruptcy case.
In his mind, Lehrman questioned the wisdom of the outlay. But like the underwriters, he placed his faith in Dougherty, who by this time was paying him $8000 per month. Besides, he had to admit the work was more exciting than anything he could ever hope for as a second-year associate on Brickell. "Here I am sitting there with 30 of the top lawyers from the top firms in New York, deposing the BCCI liquidators," he remembers. "It was heady stuff."
Throughout 1991 reports of the Bilbeisi/BCCI saga, fed by Dougherty, began appearing in leading newspapers and magazines. In October Lehrman and his boss were summoned to the Capitol to testify before Kerry's subcommittee. Lehrman, who had coordinated such hearings as a congressional staffer just a few years earlier, now found himself transported, as if by magic, to the other side of the table.
In retrospect, Lehrman says, he should have listened more carefully to Louis Altemar. "He used to tell me this incredibly incriminating stuff about Bilbeisi," Lehrman recalls. "And I'd always say, 'Have you told Jim about this?' And Louis would say, 'He doesn't listen. Sometimes I think he doesn't really want the case to end.'"
At first Lehrman dismissed such comments; to him, Dougherty seemed obsessed with defeating Bilbeisi legally. But as time passed Lehrman could hardly deny the distressing pattern: The litigation simply kept expanding. In a memo sent to Sturge officials in January 1992, Dougherty outlined his "Plan for Recovery of Attorneys' Fees and Court Costs." This now included filing motions for sanctions against Bilbeisi's U.S. lawyers and preparing a second racketeering suit targeting a battery of still-solvent banks and creditors affiliated with BCCI. The memo, for instance, suggested naming Miami's Capital Bank as a defendant. "With assets over $500 million...they definitely would be interested in a settlement in this case," Dougherty assured the insurance underwriters.
In February Dougherty hired Robert Blakey, a Notre Dame law professor credited with drafting the federal criminal racketeering statute, to advise him on this second complaint. "So Blakey comes down for the weekend and he looks through our records and he tells me, 'You might as well be suing Adam,'" Lehrman recalls. Blakey collected $15,000 for his work on the case, courtesy of Lloyd's, and Lehrman quietly began looking for another job.
He wasn't the only one who'd grown disillusioned. In mid-March, Louis Altemar approached Lehrman, complaining that he would never receive the reward Dougherty had promised him when the case ended. "Mr. Jim owes you millions of dollars, too," he told Lehrman.
"What are you talking about?" Lehrman said.
Altemar took Lehrman aside and produced a copy of a quarterly statement to the underwriters at Lloyd's Sturge syndicate. The three-month bill for the Bilbeisi coffee case totaled a whopping one million dollars and listed a roster of attorneys, all purportedly working full-time on the case. Most of the attorneys, Lehrman knew, had never so much as researched a pleading. A chill traced his spine.
"You should see the other ones," Altemar said.
Dougherty's quirks A he alone spoke with Lloyd's representatives and he wouldn't let anyone else see the bills, which he hired a bookkeeper to work on after hours A now took on a sinister cast. Lehrman immediately consulted Vicente Valls, with whom he had grown friendly during the case. "You don't know the half of it," Valls said.
He proceeded to tell Lehrman wild stories of Dougherty's exploits in Central America, where the two men had traveled to investigate. (Many of these allegations are contained in a lawsuit that Valls filed against Dougherty in federal court two months ago; see accompanying sidebar.) Dougherty, Valls claimed, hired prostitutes, doled out thousands of dollars to potential courtroom witnesses, and bought fancy gifts for the officials charged with investigating Bilbeisi. Their boss had frittered away thousands more, Valls told Lehrman and later mentioned in his lawsuit, smuggling into the U.S. a Salvadoran named Korina Bretado (a.k.a. Cecilia Ramirez). Lehrman knew that it was widely assumed around the law office that Bretado was Dougherty's lover. Valls even claimed Dougherty had solicited Guatemalans to harm two of Bilbeisi's cohorts.
As he listened, Lehrman began to reassess the rationale behind Dougherty's legal strategy: The coffee case was Dougherty's cash cow, he now reasoned, and the only way to milk it was to keep it alive. The only way to justify the millions he was being paid, in turn, was to target a defendant A any defendant A whose assets were sufficient to reimburse Sturge for Dougherty's costs in pursuing Bilbeisi.
The revelation provided Lehrman little comfort. "Here I am looking to strike out on my own. My wife has just left her job to have a child," he recalls. "And suddenly my rosy future isn't looking too rosy." Concerned about the implications of his involvement, he did what any young lawyer in pickle would do: He hired a good attorney, Joel Hirschhorn. On Hirschhorn's advice, and without telling Dougherty, Lehrman and Valls flew to London in late March of 1992 to meet with John Blackwell, Lloyd's chief adjuster of cargo claims.
The pair worried that officials in the Lloyd's hierarchy might be receiving kickbacks from Dougherty. Why else, they wondered, would anyone pay his outrageous bills? Lehrman was so paranoid that he opened the meeting by informing Blackwell that everything he was about to say was on tape and locked in a safe-deposit box back home. Thus protected, he and Valls spoke for hours, supplying what evidence they could in the form of receipts, checks written by Dougherty, and Lehrman's personally kept time sheets.
Blackwell looked as if he'd been punched in the gut. "It seems like we couldn't have gotten a more severe reaction if we told you we'd just caught your wife in bed with another man," Lehrman remembers telling him.
"This is worse," Blackwell responded.
He showed Lehrman and Valls all of Dougherty's bills, which dated back to 1988. In four years Sturge had paid Dougherty $9.16 million A $4 million for attorneys' fees, the rest for other costs A to defend Bilbeisi's $4.7 million coffee claim, a claim that was flimsy to begin with.
Sturge's underwriters had long expressed concern over Dougherty's bills, Blackwell told the pair. But they, like Lehrman, had been swept up in the enthusiasm that pervaded the pursuit of Bilbeisi, evidence of which was presented to them in the form of reams of legal filings and press clippings, as well as Dougherty's own blustery promises of riches at the end of the legal rainbow. "We trusted him," explained Blackwell. "He was our lawyer. If you can't trust your lawyer, who can you trust?"
Five days later Dougherty was summoned to London, read a brief statement of accusation, and terminated. He was not told who had blown the whistle on him. At Lloyd's request, Valls had agreed to work for Dougherty for several more months, to ensure no records were destroyed. Lehrman, however, tendered his resignation upon Dougherty's return, in an angry speech heard by much of the office staff.
Dougherty reacted calmly. He insisted that all the allegations against him were part of a setup by Lloyd's, Bilbeisi, and some invisible power. He implored Lehrman to take a few months off to reconsider; he even offered him the use of his second home in Carmel, California. Then, Lehrman says, the gruff ex-Marine planted a single, gentle kiss on his forehead.
After four years of intensive work, it was plain that Dougherty, whose four grown children lived with his first wife in Colorado, regarded Lehrman as more than a protege. They were seen together so frequently that courthouse staff used to refer to the pair as father and son. Lehrman found himself strangely moved by the passionate plea. "Even after everything I knew, he almost had me believing him," the attorney says today. "He looked me dead in the eye and said, 'Richard, these are all lies.' He was capable of that kind of a performance at the drop of a hat."
The clincher for Lehrman was not merely the bills to Sturge, but also the bills Dougherty had considered submitting in federal court. In late 1991 Judge Stanley Marcus had ruled in Sturge's favor in the suit against Bilbeisi and ordered Dougherty to compile a request for attorneys' fees to be paid by Bilbeisi's company, Coffee, Inc. While Dougherty billed Sturge for more than half a dozen attorneys, his figures for Judge Marcus A prepared in the weeks leading up to his termination A included just two attorneys: Richard Lehrman and himself. New Times obtained a set of preliminary computations in Dougherty's handwriting that list Lehrman as having worked 850 12-hour days from 1987 to 1989, despite the fact that Lehrman didn't begin work on the case until August 1989. Dougherty lists himself as working twelve-hour days, every single day, from 1988 to 1990. The total proposed bill came to $7,379,400, nearly double what he charged Sturge for attorneys' fees.
"During that last meeting, I confronted Jim with those figures. I said, 'Who do you think you're fooling? Do you think Marcus is going to believe those numbers?'" recalls Lehrman. (Dougherty's figures were never submitted, and Sturge underwriters were never awarded attorneys' fees.)
Lehrman quit on the spot. A week later a check for $50,000 arrived at his home. "Severance," Dougherty had written on the memo line. Lehrman turned over the money to his lawyer, Hirschhorn. Then he went to see officials from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Florida Bar.
That was two years ago. As of today, no criminal charges have been filed against Dougherty. And though the Bar has called for its equivalent of a trial, so far it has not taken disciplinary action against him. Dougherty, however, has filed lawsuits against Sturge and his former investigator Vicente Valls (see sidebar). And he is still practicing law, although he has moved from his spacious suite to a smaller office in the Kovens Building. The City of Miami Beach is paying him to represent Phillip Huber, the city's deposed chief of police, in three pending cases and to represent the city in three other lingering lawsuits. If all this seems remarkable, it only becomes more so upon closer inspection.
The day Dougherty was sacked by the Sturge syndicate, Lloyd's hired the influential Miami law firm of Adorno & Zeder to resolve the suits Dougherty initiated and to investigate allegations of overbilling. Jon Zeder and several members of his staff spent five months dissecting Dougherty's billing and interviewing his former employees before presenting to the Florida Bar a twelve-page complaint, along with two binders of exhibits.
According to records Dougherty voluntarily gave Zeder, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars but had no documentation to support the expenditures, including nearly one million dollars' worth of checks payable to "cash," most of which had never been disclosed to Sturge representatives. The time sheets Dougherty turned over to Zeder defied reality. Occasionally the combined hours he reported to Sturge and to a second Lloyd's syndicate exceeded 24 hours for a single day. From court records, Zeder learned that Dougherty handled 146 other cases during the same period.
When Zeder interviewed half a dozen attorneys who had worked in Dougherty's office, they characterized his billing figures as grossly inaccurate. Dougherty charged Sturge for almost 4000 hours on behalf of Jonathan Fordin. Fordin estimated his actual time spent on the case at ten to twenty hours. Oscar Syger, whom Dougherty clocked at 2520 hours, said he worked several days, mostly "schlepping boxes" to and from court. June Baker, credited with 1300 hours, reported that she did no work on the case at all. "Very conservatively," Zeder wrote in the Bar complaint, "we estimate underwriters were overbilled in excess of $1,437,118 in attorneys' fees, and well in excess of a million in [other] costs." After his termination, Dougherty forwarded two statements to Sturge demanding $1.3 million more. These brought his total billing to $10.5 million over five years. Sturge, which had already paid Dougherty more than nine million dollars, refused to pay this final bill.
Zeder's figures, startling as they are, do not include any assessment of the "reasonableness" of Dougherty's expenditures. For example, his decision to file numerous motions for sanctions against Bilbeisi's lawyers (accusing them of colluding with their client) cost Sturge thousands. Dougherty justified the motions by dangling the possibility of securing damages from Michigan attorneys David Gass and Richard Postma. "We should be in a position to obtain a sum in excess of $7 million," he wrote to Sturge underwriters in early 1992. (In the same memo, Dougherty suggests filing a RICO claim against Gass and Postma's entire firm.) All the motions were dismissed. They did have one notable effect, however: Gass and Postma withdrew from the case. "Once the attack switched from our client to us, we had to get out," recalls Postma. "We were spending a small fortune defending ourselves from Dougherty's ravings."
Zeder filed his Bar complaint against Dougherty on September 30, 1992. Six months later, in April 1993, the Bar assigned a special counsel to review the matter with Randi Lazarus, a Bar assistant staff attorney.
In letters to the Bar, Dougherty has presented numerous lines of defense. He insists Sturge's complaint amounts to a fee dispute, in which the Bar has no business meddling. He argues that he has made a good-faith effort to arbitrate with Sturge representatives. He accuses Lloyd's honchos of conspiring with BCCI and others to discredit him. He admits that his billing was partially erroneous but contends that he failed to charge Lloyd's for extra work that more than makes up the difference. He further maintains that he deserves a bonus for performing exemplary work.
Dougherty's letters also provide numerous explanations for the roughly five million dollars in costs he charged Sturge. He claims, for instance, that he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the time and expenses of witnesses who would only accept cash and who refused to supply him with receipts. Dougherty also notes costs of $5000 for "protection" during his 30 trips to Central America. One letter sent to Bar officials by Dougherty's lawyer explains, "There have been at least two attempts on [Dougherty's] life, including one by machine-gun-carrying thugs, one of whom was killed while trying to shoot Dougherty." Dougherty attached more affidavits to back his claims, most of these from individuals who had been paid for their services pertaining to the case. ("The gunfight and the death threats A that stuff never happened," contends one source, who spent time with Dougherty in Guatemala. "It's just Jim's Walter Mitty nonsense.")
In August 1993 the Bar began taking sworn statements from Dougherty's former employees, who simply reiterated what they had told Jon Zeder a year earlier. This past November a Bar grievance committee found probable cause that Dougherty had violated Bar rules by overbilling his clients, and last month a 27-page complaint was sent to the state Supreme Court. Earlier this month, the court appointed as a referee Circuit Judge Gerald Hubbard, who has six months to hold another hearing. If Hubbard finds that Dougherty has acted improperly, he will recommend a punishment ranging from a private admonishment to disbarment. Depending on the outcome, Dougherty, or the Bar, can then appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. A final ruling will surely take months, possibly years. "Zeder gave the Bar that case on a silver platter," observes one former Dougherty associate. "It should have taken them about five minutes to figure out what was going on."
Bar attorney Randi Lazarus argues that the thirteen months spent investigating was necessary, given the complex nature of the complaint, along with Dougherty's determination to dispute it by inundating the Bar with pounds of papers. At one point, for instance, he hired a moving company to transport the entire case file of his federal racketeering suit A all 3000 docket entries A to the Bar offices on Brickell Avenue. They filled half a room.
Given the magnitude of Dougherty's alleged fraud, Lehrman and Valls expected federal prosecutors to leap at the chance to pursue their old boss. In April 1992 they visited Assistant U.S. Attorney Andres Rivero, bearing the same satchel of evidence they had presented to John Blackwell of Lloyd's weeks before. Although federal agents are now eagerly building a case, the investigation began in earnest just two months ago and then only after persistent urging by a state prosecutor.
Rivero couldn't take the case originally, for two reasons. First, he was preparing another case for trial. Second, he and colleague Mary Butler had worked with Dougherty on the 1991 tax-evasion indictment of Munther Bilbeisi and his accountant, Kenneth Grushoff. For obvious reasons, Rivero and Butler A the prosecutors best equipped to understand the tangled Dougherty saga A had a conflict, one exacerbated by Dougherty's reported boasts that he, not the U.S. Attorney's Office, had made the case against Bilbeisi and Grushoff.
So the material tendered by Lehrman and Valls simply languished in the U.S. Attorney's economic-crimes division for months. Rivero and Butler decline to comment about Dougherty, but another inside source insists the delay was a classic example of "bureaucratic constipation. It was a great case, an unbelievable case, but people higher up couldn't see it."
Federal prosecutors weren't alone in neglecting Dougherty's alleged misconduct. The case of June Baker offers a dramatic illustration. Freshly graduated from law school, Baker joined Dougherty's office in September 1990. Because she had yet to receive her license to practice law in Florida, her own duties were often menial. One day, for instance, she found herself chauffeuring a visiting Lloyd's underwriter. Matter-of-factly, he asked Baker how work was proceeding on the case involving Bilbeisi's fraudulent home-burglary claim. Baker had no idea what he was talking about and told him so.
A few weeks later the significance of the episode came crashing down on her. She arrived early for work and noticed some bills to Lloyd's on her secretary's desk. They listed her and another attorney as working full-time on cases neither she nor the second attorney had touched. A fortnight later she resigned. On the advice of one of her law school professors, she also wrote a letter to the Florida Bar, stating her concerns about Dougherty's billing. Then she left town.
Randi Lazarus, the Bar attorney charged with investigating claims about Dougherty, says she does not recall receiving Baker's letter. "If I had, I would have opened an investigation," Lazarus insists.
In August 1993 the Bar asked Baker to provide an affidavit. She did, but no mention was made of her earlier complaint. Now working at a Denver law firm, Baker is unwilling even to speak about her experience in Miami. She says she fears retaliation from Dougherty, who is, after all, still a practicing attorney in Florida.
Three weeks ago Richard Lehrman and the other attorneys interviewed by the Bar were called before a federal grand jury. Questioning was limited to matters involving Dougherty's alleged overbilling. The whole exercise took only a few hours, suggesting that prosecutors are intent on drafting a straightforward, if sizable, fraud indictment against Dougherty. In the coming weeks, investigators also will likely be asking questions about Dougherty's handling of the case involving Bilbeisi's burglary claim, for which he billed several hundred thousand dollars. Dougherty's firm, meanwhile, was held in contempt of court by Judge Shelby Highsmith a week ago, after failing to appoint a competent custodian to turn over all the records federal authorities had subpoenaed.
Prosecutors David Mandel and Richard Gregorie refuse to comment about the case. But knowledgeable sources say establishing the fraud is only the initial phase in what could be a lengthy public-corruption probe. This would explain why the matter has been transferred from the economic-crimes division to Mandel and Gregorie, who work in the public-corruption unit. It might also indicate that federal prosecutors view a fraud indictment as a means of compelling Dougherty to reveal whom he paid and for what purposes. Investigators are reportedly interested in at least three areas:
* Bribes to foreign officials. Dougherty himself admits in his responses to the Bar that he paid thousands of dollars in "witness fees" to Central Americans. In interviews with New Times, however, former associates have alleged that Dougherty also plied Guatemalan military officials, politicians, and judges with expensive gifts and cash, in apparent violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
According to three sources who spent time with Dougherty in Guatemala, these gratuities were delivered in exchange for hoped-for favors that would aid his pursuit of Bilbeisi. "Jim had people falsify documents in Guatemala in order to get the [smuggling] charges against Bilbeisi reinstated," investigator Vicente Valls told Bar officials in a sworn statement.
A second former associate, who claims to have personally delivered gifts for Dougherty, says they included cash payments, expensive fax machines, watches, and guns. Maria Elena Barrios, who worked as an investigator for Dougherty, says that because his Spanish is limited, he asked her to deliver cash bribes to a handful of politicians. When she refused, she says, Dougherty simply hired someone else.
"Dougherty asked us to give him a letter in which we said that Mr. Bilbeisi offered and sold us guns," recalls Vinicio Cerezo, president of Guatemala from 1986 to 1990. "He was even trying to give some members of the government different kinds of gifts. It was not exactly money he offered, but little things like briefcases and clothes. In our system, this is not illegal. But in this case he was trying to convince us to say something untrue."
* Dougherty's acquisition of confidential U.S. Customs documents. Two of the key documents Dougherty brandished in his battle against Bilbeisi were internal memoranda revealing that a Customs agent suspected the Jordanian of smuggling coffee as early as June 1983. One of the possible links between Dougherty and the agency is the regular payments he made to Jean Clarkson, a secretary for Customs's regional regulatory audit office in Miami.
New Times obtained copies of a series of checks from Dougherty to Clarkson, drawn on his professional account from 1987 to 1990. The checks range in value from $250 to $2000 and total more than $10,000. Former Dougherty employees say Clarkson, who has worked for Customs since 1982, used to drop by the office every other weekend; she and Dougherty would spend time in a back room, and then she would leave.
In an interview with New Times, Clarkson initially admitted that she knew Dougherty only vaguely, having worked for him as a pool receptionist in 1981. When told that a number of checks from Dougherty to her were dated years later, she explained that she had done some filing for him last year. "It was just a few months and solely in 1993," she said. When confronted with the existence of checks from previous years, her story changed again. "He would give me gifts," Clarkson said. "But I never supplied him information." In fact, Customs officials say, Clarkson does not have access to the documents Dougherty received.
Why did Dougherty give her gifts? "He liked me," Clarkson explained, adding that on more than one occasion "he would try to touch me. But I made it clear I did not want that kind of relationship." Clarkson later characterized Dougherty's payments as "loans," the word that appears on the memo line of many of the checks. "If I was really behind on my bills, I would ask him if he could loan me some money, and he would," Clarkson said. She does not remember how many checks she received, or when, and she refused to disclose whether she had repaid any of these "loans."
Clarkson has reportedly reiterated to federal investigators that she never gave Dougherty any documents. But she has indicated that someone higher up in the agency could have.
* Dougherty's involvement with Sarkis Soghanalian. One of the more intriguing entries on Dougherty's old office phone lists is the name "Sarkis," which falls under the heading "frequently called numbers." It refers to the notorious Miami-based arms dealer who was convicted in 1991 of smuggling combat helicopters and rocket launchers to Iraq. According to a former Dougherty associate, the two men had regular lunch meetings at Pan Aviation, Soghanalian's air cargo company at Miami International Airport. "Jim used to love to shoot the bull with Sarkis," he says. "He loved when Sarkis told stories, especially about Bilbeisi."
Dougherty's relationship with Soghanalian grew to involve more than casual meals and tall tales. At some point Dougherty provided at least $50,000 to the arms dealer for purposes that remain unclear. Tony Kahter, a long-time Pan Aviation official, says Soghanalian accepted $50,000 from Dougherty as a loan. Soghanalian himself says, "There was $50,000 and more than $50,000." He will not, however, confirm Kahter's characterization of the money as a loan. "I don't owe any response to you," he insists. "I don't have no answer for why he gave me money."
Soghanalian, who was freed from prison last year, acknowledges that he knew Munther Bilbeisi and that Dougherty asked him about the fugitive. But he denies reports from two sources that Dougherty's money was linked in some way to the pursuit of Bilbeisi. "These questions are garbage," Soghanalian declares. "I don't have nothing to do with Dougherty or [Bilbeisi]!"
Whatever the exact nature of the relationship, one obvious question is why Dougherty A who railed to the Senate about penny-ante arms dealer Munther Bilbeisi A would have anything to do with the man the international press dubbed the Merchant of Death, a man whose company has long been linked to gun-running for the CIA.
"At a certain point Jim got led into this netherworld of arms dealers and secret agents and shady characters, and he lost perspective," says one longtime acquaintance. "He became like this wanna-be spook who saw enemies and conspiracies around every corner. He used to tell these wild stories about firefights in Central America. I think he forgot he was an insurance lawyer."
Long before the federal government took an interest in Dougherty's billing practices there were those who felt the lawyer was destined for trouble. Alex Daoud, for one. The former mayor of Miami Beach says he met Dougherty during his terms as a city commissioner. Daoud says Dougherty became especially friendly in 1985, the year Daoud was elected mayor, and the year the city switched to a self-insurance program that required the city attorney to hire private lawyers to defend it when it was sued. Like a lot of people who wanted to be friends with Daoud back then, Dougherty purportedly came bearing gifts.
"He gave me a box of Cuban cigars, an automatic pistol, and $10,000 in small bills," recalls Daoud, who is serving five years in the federal prison at Estill, South Carolina, having pleaded guilty in 1993 to charges of bribery and money laundering. "Dougherty wanted me to push [City Attorney] Arnold Weiner to give him work. After I took the $10,000, he began making veiled threats that all of this was going to come out. He was basically trying to extort an extortionist. I mean, that's pretty bad."
And apparently pretty effective. Court records show that Dougherty's firm handled some 40 cases for the city from 1985 to 1987. By 1988, though, Weiner had begun farming out cases to other attorneys. Despite Daoud's lobbying, he argued that Dougherty already had the lion's share of cases and that department heads were complaining he was difficult to work with. Dougherty reacted strongly: "He calls me up and tells me he wants me to get Weiner on a three-way call so he can hear for himself that I'm going to bat for him," Daoud remembers. "So I call Weiner and as I'm talking to him Dougherty suddenly starts yelling. So then Weiner starts in, and suddenly I've got these two fat old men screaming about how they're going to punch each other out. Weiner tells me, 'I'll go to war with you over Dougherty.' That's when I realized I had to get rid of Weiner. Dougherty was the principal motivator in that decision." (Weiner declined to comment about Daoud's account; Daoud says he would be happy to offer his testimony under oath and to take a polygraph test.)
Within a year Weiner was gone, and soon thereafter Laurence Feingold's name was put forward as a successor. "Once Feingold's name is out there, Dougherty visits me again," Daoud recalls. "He tells me that he can work with Feingold and he promises me a third of any revenues he gets from city cases if I help make sure Feingold gets selected. I thought that was nice."
Daoud says that deal never came to pass. But Feingold's ascendance did prove profitable to Dougherty. The new city attorney fired Bruce Simberg, who had handled several personal-injury cases, after complaints from Risk Manager Ted Baldassarre, and reassigned the bulk of his cases to Dougherty. City records reflect that the city paid Dougherty's firm $259,000 from 1990 to 1993. "Sure, I put Dougherty's name back in the rotation, as I would any qualified attorney who requested city work," Feingold says, pointing out that the vast majority of the cases for which Dougherty has been paid were assigned by Feingold's predecessor.
Dougherty has proudly trumpeted his affiliation with the City of Miami Beach and Lloyd's of London, his other big-name client. In the annual Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, for instance, he continues to list Lloyd's as one of his clients A two years after the insurance group discharged him. (The directory also credits Dougherty as having received an undergraduate, master's, and advanced law degree from Notre Dame. University officials say their records show only a law degree in 1966.)
This tendency to self-aggrandize might also explain an October 1990 letter to Dougherty from City Attorney Feingold and then-city manager Rob Parkins. "It has come to our attention from members of the Miami Beach Police Department that an unintentional miscommunication may have resulted such that these officers, while operating radar traffic devices, believed you were the City Attorney," the missive begins. "In your best interests, therefore, we are asking for a photograph of yourself and your vehicle so that we may circulate them to every member of the Police Department."
In the case of officer Charles Seraydar, that measure would not have been necessary. A twenty-year veteran of the Beach police force, Seraydar worked off-duty as an investigator for Dougherty beginning in 1986. And as frustrated city officials would later discover, Seraydar shared Dougherty's penchant for zealous investigation.
In June 1990 Dougherty received an anonymous tip that a Greek immigrant named John Ladikos was helping Munther Bilbeisi perpetrate his bogus burglary-insurance claim by hiding the allegedly stolen property in his Hallandale home. The attorney turned to Seraydar for help. Seraydar obtained a credit report on Ladikos and ran his license plate number through a police computer. Seraydar then visited Ladikos at his home on a Sunday morning, accompanied by his friend Peter Glezelis, a Greek. Accounts of what took place, drawn from a police department internal affairs investigation of the incident, vary dramatically.
Seraydar's version was that Glezelis explained in Greek that he and Seraydar, who was in plain clothes, were investigating an anonymous tip that he was in possession of property stolen from Bilbeisi. Ladikos, Seraydar contended, admitted he knew Bilbeisi but said he had no knowledge of the stolen items and insisted Seraydar search his home. Seraydar claimed he did not inform Ladikos that he was a police officer until after the search. Glezelis offered roughly the same account.
Ladikos's version, as recounted in the internal affairs report, was that Seraydar flashed his police badge and identified himself as a Miami Beach officer immediately, then demanded through his translator that he be permitted to search the house, or else he would arrest Ladikos. A fearful Ladikos complied.
The next day Ladikos filed an internal affairs complaint. Two Hallandale police officers who had been called to the scene by Seraydar were interviewed by internal affairs. Both said Seraydar had identified himself to them as a Miami Beach cop. Investigators eventually substantiated the claims that Seraydar had violated department rules by working as a private investigator and running an unauthorized check on a license plate. (Ironically, they also determined that Seraydar was not a licensed private investigator at the time he searched Ladikos's home.) The unauthorized license check could be interpreted as an act of "official misconduct," a third-degree felony. Seraydar was suspended for two days. (Despite having been specifically advised during the Ladikos case that he was not to work as a private investigator, Seraydar would later admit to internal affairs officers that he had accepted a subsequent case in which he taped a subject without his consent, a third-degree felony in Florida. He received a letter of reprimand.)
Ladikos filed suit against Seraydar, Miami Beach, and Lloyd's of London. He agreed to drop Seraydar and the city from the suit after receiving a $27,500 settlement in July 1992. This settlement was, at the city's behest, paid in full by Jim Dougherty.
Throughout the Ladikos imbroglio, Seraydar insisted he received no money from Dougherty for his work, nor any later payments. But Dougherty's own records indicate Seraydar was paid nearly $8000 in the six months after his visit to Ladikos, including a check from Dougherty for $450 eleven days after the incident, and another for $2500 a month later.
Because the matter is still under litigation, Seraydar himself would not comment on the Ladikos case or his involvement with Dougherty other than to say, "Jim's one hell of a trial attorney. This whole thing with Lloyd's of London is the only time I've ever seen someone win all his cases and still get fired."
The journalists who covered the Bank of Credit and Commerce International tend to share Seraydar's assessment. "An alumnus of Notre Dame and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, Dougherty is a cantankerous bulldog of a man," Peter Truell and Larry Gurwin write in their 1992 book False Profits. "He is a tenacious investigator and a fearsome courtroom warrior."
Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne offer this emphatic second in their 1993 volume Outlaw Bank: "Of the many obsessive hunters of BCCI, none was more zealous than James F. Dougherty II. Dougherty was a startling character: a theatrical, hyperactive bundle of aggression who could not sit still. He kept automatic pistols in several drawers in his office and in each room of his Miami Beach home. He was ex-Notre Dame, ex-U.S. Army in Vietnam, and was definitely not someone you wanted to cross.... Dougherty had built the most comprehensive database anywhere on the activities of a BCCI branch. For reporters covering the BCCI story -- many of whom eventually got access to Dougherty's files -- it was nothing short of miraculous."
Equally miraculous was Dougherty's ability to enhance his reputation, and to assail Munther Bilbeisi's, through the media. During the frenzy of the BCCI scandal, his office became an epicenter of reportorial activity, from which emanated articles in publications ranging from Truell's Wall Street Journal to Time magazine, where Beaty and Gwynne worked. He assisted reporters in stories that linked Bilbeisi and BCCI to villains as disparate as Manuel Noriega and the Mob. Often the ties between these entities were tenuous at best, but reporters usually listened to Dougherty.
The reason was simple: He had sheaves of documents. In the summer of 1991, with BCCI under siege by tight-lipped federal agents, Dougherty won permission to inspect on behalf of Lloyd's the confidential records of the bank's Miami and Boca Raton branches, and to depose the bankruptcy liquidators who were tallying assets. "Any information we gathered was supposed to be top-secret," says Dougherty's former colleague Richard Lehrman. "But I found out later that Jim was on the phone with every reporter who wanted to write about BCCI. We were like a treasure trove to them."
At one point, Lehrman recalls, Richard Duncan of London's Financial Times published a front-page story based on information leaked by someone intimately familiar with the BCCI investigation. One of the BCCI liquidators demanded that sanctions be imposed on the responsible party. Thus ensued a three-way phone discussion among Dougherty, reporter Duncan, and Lehrman in which Dougherty asked Duncan to write an affidavit swearing he was not the leak. Lehrman persuaded his boss that such a document would only incriminate him; the matter was later forgotten anyhow. (Duncan declined to comment about the alleged discussion.)
This was not the only manner in which the garrulous lawyer is said to have stretched ethical boundaries with reporters. Dougherty was forever trying to buy them meals, drinks, even hotel rooms. In 1991, for example, he paid more than $500 to put up Duncan for two nights at Manhattan's posh Peninsula Hotel. Duncan admits Dougherty picked up the tab, but he insists it was against his wishes. "He paid the bill and left before I got downstairs," Duncan says today. "When I got back to London, I told my editor, and we sent a letter to Jim asking him to supply us a bill so we could reimburse him. He never responded and we let it slip. We still owe him that money."
Far more valuable were the tomes of data A compiled at considerable expense to his clients at the Sturge syndicate -- Dougherty supplied to journalists free of charge. As Beaty and Gwynne gratefully acknowledge in their book, Dougherty gave them his entire database pertaining to BCCI, neatly stored on computer disks.
To reporters, Dougherty's cooperation appeared to be fueled both by egomania and by an honest desire to swap information. More telling was his need to produce concrete results for Lloyd's, if not in the courtroom, then at least in the media. Articles published about Lloyd's pursuit of Bilbeisi, he argued to underwriters, helped garner publicity and deter future frauds.
No single event snared more coverage than Dougherty's appearance before Sen. John Kerry's subcommittee in October 1991, a performance that marked the ultimate affirmation of his labors. But the nagging question for Richard Lehrman is how his former boss landed the spot. "I worked for six years on Capitol Hill and I still can't figure it out," Lehrman muses.
One possible explanation, says a source familiar with the case, was Dougherty's decision to retain Jack Blum to assist in the Sturge case. A prominent Washington lawyer and former Senate special counsel, Blum was a ravenous and long-time investigator of BCCI. He was also a trusted advisor to Kerry and spoke with the Senator and his staff throughout the planning of the BCCI hearings. During this same period, from June to September of 1991, Blum's firm billed Dougherty more than $80,000, legal fees absorbed by Sturge.
Blum refuses to discuss the work his firm did for Dougherty but insists it had no bearing on the litigator's appearance before the Kerry subcommittee. "The work we did was totally unrelated to those hearings," Blum says. "That I can promise you." Kerry staffer Jonathan Winer, who helped coordinate the BCCI hearings, says he can no longer remember how he recruited Dougherty.
What those on hand during Dougherty's shining moment do clearly recall is embarrassment. "The guy was incoherent," offers one Senate aide. "He had good information but he couldn't focus. It was the kitchen-sink approach to testimony." Throughout Dougherty's discursive opening remarks, Blum passed notes to him via Lehrman -- notes urging Dougherty to stick to his scripted statement.
The hearing nonetheless went a long way toward justifying Dougherty's already exorbitant bills. "Lloyd's has, as I said at the outset, expended six million dollars to pursue and produce the evidence you have shared with us," Kerry told Dougherty in closing. "And we are very grateful."
Of all the national reporters who courted Dougherty during his heyday, none so far have seen fit to update his story. Most seem vague as to what has transpired. "Jim pressed me to write stories that highlighted the dispute between him and Lloyd's," notes Richard Duncan of the Financial Times. "Ones that put him in a favorable light, obviously. But I never did. He may not have thought too carefully about how he spent money," Duncan adds. "But he worked hard and he cared deeply about the things happening with BCCI. His heart was in the right place."
Ironically, several reporters who worked closely with Dougherty and went on to write books about BCCI published those volumes after Dougherty's dismissal. Lehrman and investigator Vicente Valls say they met with Sam Gwynne, co-author of Outlaw Bank, to personally apprise him of Dougherty's alleged misconduct. Evidently neither he nor Jonathan Beaty felt it necessary to modify the portion of their book devoted to Dougherty's heroics. In fact, both sent letters of support to the Florida Bar in August 1993.
"Dougherty contributed significantly to the ability of law enforcement, and the press, to pursue leads [by] providing expense money for shadowy sources without asking for documented receipts," Beaty notes in his three-page missive. "One of his main weapons was his use A often inventive A of money. There is little doubt that Dougherty risked his own life, as well as his reputation, because of his efforts to expose BCCI/Bilbeisi." Beaty, who won several major awards with Gwynne for his BCCI reporting, did not return a half-dozen phone messages left by New Times.
Louis Altemar surveys the expanse of his white-tile living room, a room virtually devoid of furniture, and sighs self-pityingly. "Mr. Jim make nine million dollar from Lloyd's and look at my living condition," the 50-year-old father of three says in a thick Haitian patois. "I got no kitchen. No TV. No VCR. Now the bank want to take away my home."
There was a time not long ago when Altemar was hailed as the key figure in Dougherty's crusade, the man with the inside skinny on Munther Bilbeisi. These days he casts himself as an unsung victim of Dougherty's profligacy, a humble servant of justice hung out to dry, a poor black man hoodwinked by rich white ones.
More than anything, though, Altemar embodies the manner in which Dougherty's operation came to resemble that of his nemesis. Like Munther Bilbeisi, Dougherty spent lavishly. He surrounded himself with shadowy characters (many of them former Bilbeisi cohorts). He engaged in the dangerous game of meddling in foreign affairs. And like Bilbeisi, he played Altemar for a fool and now has reason to regret it.
Altemar came to the States from Haiti in 1957. He boxed professionally under the name "Tiger Jones" before joining the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a translator. In 1976 Bilbeisi hired Altemar as a driver. He later became the coordinator of Bilbeisi's coffee-import business and helped his boss broker the helicopter deal in Guatemala. He left Bilbeisi's employ in 1988 in a dispute over his pay. Soon after that, Dougherty came calling. "Jim told me Lloyd's would take care of me if I gave an affidavit and helped him with witnesses," says Altemar. "He said I would never have to work again in my life."
The terms of the agreement, according to courtroom testimony later provided by Dougherty, were specified in 1989. He verbally pledged to compensate Altemar $50 per hour for his services, settle a $35,000 credit card debt Altemar had amassed, and pay a bonus A as soon as the Bilbeisi cases were resolved. Altemar was soon driving from his home in Delray Beach to Miami Beach five days a week. When he wasn't reviewing documents, he served Dougherty in much the same capacity he had Bilbeisi, as a chauffeur and factotum.
When Altemar complained about his mounting bills, Dougherty sometimes gave him small payments; he also bought Altemar a truck. More often the lawyer told him it would be against the law to pay a witness until the case was over. If he pressed the issue, Altemar says, Dougherty threatened him: "He told me he would have the Miami Beach police put my black butt in jail. He also said that he had [federal prosecutor] Andres Rivero in his coat pocket." The invocation of law enforcement tended to silence Altemar, who was under investigation for tax evasion as one of Bilbeisi's associates. (He later pleaded guilty and was placed on probation.)
While he was begging for scraps, Altemar claims, Dougherty lavished thousands on his alleged mistress, Korina Bretado, a.k.a. Cecilia Ramirez. "He bought that woman four cars in one year," Altemar fumes. "One Monday morning, I never forget, Jim called me in and gave me his wife's phone number. He told me his girlfriend showed up in front of his in-laws' house and made a big fight. Jim said, 'Here. You call up my wife and tell her that Cecilia is your girlfriend.' From that time I could tell Jim's wife lost respect for me." (Lucia Dougherty did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.) Another time, Altemar says, Dougherty put a gun to his head and ordered him to sign an affidavit he knew to be false.
By 1992 Altemar had lost his patience. He had seen Dougherty's bills to Lloyd's A he had even made copies of them A and was determined to secure his share of the riches. On March 8 of that year, he sent a letter to Lloyd's officials pleading his case. "I ask Mr. Jim to please take care of his promise with me now he won his case, but Mr. Jim fight with me," Altemar wrote. "He said I am a no-good nigger and he don't have to pay nobody." When he received no reply, Altemar took the fateful step: He pulled aside Richard Lehrman to show him the quarterly statement.
In the days after Dougherty's firing, the attorney cut Altemar three checks totaling $135,000. That money is long gone, along with Altemar's wife, who divorced him in 1991. Altemar says he was never paid the $50 per hour Dougherty promised him. He figures he lost a small fortune. Now he works as a chauffeur to make ends meet.
"You see how I live," Altemar scoffs. "I have nothing here. My kids want their daddy to cook for them and I can't. I buy food from McDonald's." He walks to a refrigerator in the corner of the living room, the only appliance in sight besides a coffee machine on the floor. To underscore his plight, he begins dumping rotten food into a garbage can. "You see this cake?" he asks, holding aloft a pink-and-white monstrosity. "It was for my daughter's birthday, three weeks ago. Her mother told me to shove it. But I don't want to throw it away until she sees it because it cost me $40." After a brief and dramatic pause, into the trash it goes.
He sits at the only table in the room, crushes out a cigarette. "Sometimes when I drive the limo, I start to laugh and cry at the same time," he says in a reedy tenor that makes him sound like a little old lady, an eerie contrast to his hulking frame.
Altemar marches to the bedroom, down a hallway draped with photos from a more prosperous past. One depicts him in his pugilistic prime A young, sweaty, and as pretty as Muhammad Ali. He searches his closet for the latest letter from the bank, which promises foreclosure on his home, and he plops onto an unmade bed. "The kitchen," he decides at last. "You must see the kitchen."
Past a row of empty rooms he ambles, stumbling on his slippers as he enters the kitchen, a room that appears closer to demolition than refurbishment. Live wires sprout from the walls. Detritus blankets the concrete floor. A dingy tarp lies fallen from the doorless doorway. Altemar sizes up the mess with a martyr's perverse satisfaction. "I got a name for your article," he announces. "'A Haitian Man Taken for Granted by Jim Dougherty.' The black people will love it."
Jim Dougherty is practicing damage control. Fax whirring in the background, his voice pitched at a sustained holler, he is granting his one and only interview with New Times, a phone chat that lasts all of twenty minutes. In a follow-up conversation a week later, Dougherty will bluntly announce his belief that the newspaper intends to write a defamatory article about him and will refuse to speak further.
This single interlude, however, manages to convey the panicky righteousness with which the lawyer is girding himself for the battle ahead. Without the benefit of a question, he hurtles into a recitation of his triumphs. The remarkable success of his litigation ("I'm proud of my cases. I wish you'd look at the case files"). Highlights from his visit to the U.S. Senate ("My RICO case against BCCI led the Justice Department on the way!"). A whirlwind appendix of articles, his favorite passages stressed with interjections ("Here's a good line for you!").
He winds down with a plaintive reading of the epigraph to the book Outlaw Bank, by Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne. "'Many sources on several continents helped make this story possible: Some of them risked their lives, and many of them risked their reputations' A that's me!'" Dougherty points out.
"Will somebody answer the damn phone!" he howls at a ringing in the background.
He continues reading the acknowledgement. "'We cannot name all the honest and dedicated people in law enforcement...but we can thank the following,' A ah, here we go A 'James Dougherty, a Miami attorney who did much to advance the investigation of BCCI.' Now that's what the editors of Time magazine had to say about me. So you're not dealing with some piece of shit," Dougherty says. "I've never met you, but I'm telling you, I saw combat as a Marine in Vietnam."
The United States Marine Corps headquarters does, in fact, have a record of James F. Dougherty II, born August 24, 1939, in Wilmington, Delaware. He enlisted in December 1961 and reported for training at the officers' training academy in Quantico, Virginia, on March 12, 1962. He was separated from the Marine Corps for medical reasons eleven weeks later.
"Come on over next week," the ex-Marine cries. "Read up. You've got yourself a great story.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.
- Baseball Player's Former Assistant Sold His $167K Boat Behind His Back in Opa-locka
- Goat Blood-Drinking Senate Candidate Tried to Get Miley Cyrus' Endorsement
- Poll: Floridians Really Don't Want Guns on Campuses