Crime & Politics

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At the end of the day, while other lobbyists may adjourn to Clyde's, a bar near the capitol popular with legislators and reporters, Book retires to his hotel room to begin preparing for the next day. "I don't believe in going out drinking," Book remarks. "I don't believe in going out and partying. I don't entertain a whole lot of legislators at night. I get to the capitol first and I am basically the last guy out of there at night.

"I hate to lose," he continues. "I hate to lose. I learned that when I ran track. I will work as hard as a human being can work. I will work 24 hours a day to accomplish what I need to accomplish."

Book's attraction to politics began early. When he was just thirteen years old, upset that the park in his North Miami neighborhood was not lighted at night, he picketed the mayor's house. The park got lights. Flush from the success of that fight, he organized a teen group called "Youth for Progress," and became politically active in local races, handing out leaflets for a variety of candidates, including Gwen Margolis. "He loved politics," recalls Margolis, now a Dade County Commissioner. "He really enjoyed it. While he was in high school, he hung signs for me in my first statehouse race, and he has helped me in every campaign since."

He attended the University of Florida, where he continued his interest in running, a solitary, inwardly competitive sport well suited to his personality. When necessary, Book can work with other lobbyists as part of a team, but he prefers to operate alone. The message is clearer when one person delivers it, he says. And he never has to share the glory of winning.

Book received his bachelor's degree ultimately from Florida International University and a law degree in 1977 from Tulane in New Orleans. Returning to Florida, he immediately went to work for Alan Becker's 1978 campaign for state attorney general, but when Becker lost in the primary, Book joined up with Bob Graham, who was running for governor.

So persistent (some would say annoying) was Book that he quickly became one of Graham's top fundraisers, an accomplishment that greatly impressed the candidate and his staff, and when Graham won, Book was offered a job with the new administration.

He began as a special assistant for legislative and cabinet affairs, which had him lobbying the legislature in support of the governor's initiatives. Reporters dubbed the 25-year-old a whiz kid. Soon he was made director of the office, and eventually was given the senior title of special counsel to the governor. Observes veteran Sen. Pat Thomas: "In North Florida vernacular, Ron Book is as smart as a tree full of owls."

At the least Book was smart enough to realize that being a glorified bureaucrat had its limitations, especially given his experience and growing political contacts. So after less than four years with Governor Graham, Book opted for the private sector and landed at the fast-rising law firm of Sparber Shevin. He became an instant rainmaker as clients clamored for the boy wonder with the solid-gold connections. His name was added to the letterhead and his salary was reported to be $200,000 per year.

By 1985 he was married, and he and his wife Patricia already had the first of three children. Life couldn't get much better.

And it didn't.
In 1985 little was known publicly about Alberto San Pedro except that each year during the Christmas season he would host a lavish party at the Doral Hotel in Miami Beach in honor of Lazarus, his favorite Santeria saint. Politicians, judges, and law enforcement officers were among the multitudes who attended the annual bash. Details of San Pedro's life may have been sketchy, but he was generally understood to be a successful real estate developer who lived in a Hialeah mansion with eight bathrooms and bulletproof windows.

If that last detail didn't cause San Pedro's guests to wonder about the true nature of his business, apparently neither did his 1971 conviction on murder-conspiracy charges stemming from a plot to rip off a group of drug dealers who turned out to be undercover cops.

For Ron Book in 1985, Alberto San Pedro was merely another client. Book reportedly had been introduced to him by Donald Dugan, a local public relations man and San Pedro confidant. The ex-convict had for years been trying to have the murder-conspiracy conviction expunged from his record. He had already completed his sentence, but he still sought an ex post facto pardon just in case he might someday want to run for public office (the felony would have prevented that).

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede