Jimmy in the Lion's Den

This past Sunday Rev. Cleo Albury, Jr., of the Bible Baptist Church in Liberty City, exhorted his congregation to believe in the power of prayer, and he used the parable of Daniel in the lion's den as an illustration. Daniel, the pastor reminded everyone, was a servant of the Lord and a righteous man who had been betrayed by those who were jealous of him. His detractors tricked the king into believing that Daniel was corrupt, and the king in turn ordered him thrown into a lair filled with savage cats, a giant stone pressed against the entrance to literally seal his fate.

"Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions," Albury read from the Old Testament. "And when he came to the den, he cried out in a lamenting voice to Daniel, 'Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?' Then Daniel said to the king, 'O king, live forever! My God has sent his angel, and shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.'"

As Albury spoke, raucous cries of "Amen!" punctuated his every sentence. "Now the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den," the reverend continued. "So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God." The king, realizing he had been duped, then ordered Daniel's accusers thrown to the lions, and Daniel went on to become a prosperous man.

Closing his Bible, Albury paced back and forth, retracing the path of the story. "Prayer sustains us in times of false accusations," he intoned. "Prayer turns the table on accusers and enemies." The more he spoke, the more he appeared to seethe with indignation. "They can't find anything wrong to pull you down," he bellowed, "so they'll make something up to pull you down. When people want to get you, they'll find ways to get on your trail!"

And when they catch you, Albury said, they throw you to the lions, just like Daniel. "And all lions don't have four feet!" he roared over the rising din of the 900 people who had gathered to hear his sermon. "There are some lions who have two feet, who are going around looking for someone to devour!"

Albury's flock erupted in shouts and applause. "That's right! That's right!" they yelled as it became clear the pastor was no longer talking about the biblical Daniel.

In the church balcony, Dade County Commissioner James Burke smiled and nodded in agreement. Only a few days earlier the news had broken that Burke was the target of a federal investigation in which he was suspected of soliciting $100,000 in kickbacks from a county bond deal. An allusion to the controversy had been made at the outset of Sunday's service. Donald Manning, director of Dade County's Department of Corrections -- who, like Burke, is a long-time member of Bible Baptist -- had told the congregation: "Don't believe everything you read." But it was Albury's allegorical tale that brought the faithful rallying to Burke's side.

As the service was drawing to a close, Burke descended from the balcony. He wore a striking white Nigerian ceremonial shirt with gold trim that hung loosely below his knees. His matching white cotton pants were also laced with gold. Clutching his Bible, he strode to the front of the church, a flowing, glowing apparition. Albury opened his arms wide as the commissioner approached the altar. They embraced. Then a dozen church elders stepped forward and tightly encircled the two men. "Oh Lord," Albury prayed, "deliver him from the lions."

It may indeed take divine intervention to save Jimmy Burke. Though he has not been charged with any crime, he acknowledges that in the weeks ahead he will be indicted as part of a wide-ranging investigation into government corruption. After initially netting Miami Commissioner Miller Dawkins, Miami City Manager Cesar Odio, and lobbyist Jorge de Cardenas, federal agents shifted their attention to the county and took aim not only at Burke but at his former chief of staff Billy Hardemon, and at bond underwriter Calvin Grigsby.

The link between Dinner Key and County Hall was Howard Gary, Miami's former city manager whose firm, Howard Gary & Co., is one of Dade's most successful minority bond traders. The affair began unfolding last year, when Miami finance director Manohar Surana solicited a bribe from the computer company Unisys, which was seeking a multimillion-dollar contract with the city.