Crime & Politics

Page 6 of 9

Book and his attorneys argued (and argue to this day) that there was never any fraud against Book's insurance company, and that the $53,000 figure more accurately reflected the replacement cost of the car. Book and his attorneys worked aggressively to have the case thrown out of court, and even tried to assign blame to others.

As a defense against the misdemeanor perjury charge, for instance, Book contended that his secretary had violated the rules governing her status as a notary public by failing to swear him in before he filled out and signed the claim. If he hadn't been duly sworn in, Book reasoned, he couldn't have committed perjury on the claim form. The judge agreed and dismissed that one misdemeanor charge.

The move infuriated investigators, who saw it as a cowardly attempt by Book to protect himself by endangering his secretary, who could have been criminally charged with misuse of a notary seal.

Instead of arresting the secretary, however, prosecutor LaVecchio filed a new charge against Book -- "uttering a forged instrument." In his hasty effort to avoid responsibility, prosecutors argued, Book had admitted he sent the insurance company an affidavit he knew hadn't been properly sworn. Moreover, the new charge wasn't a misdemeanor, it was a felony.

The legal wrangling continued for more than two years. Initially Dade Circuit Court Judge Ralph Person tossed out the entire case against Book because he agreed that the $53,000 figure represented the cost of replacing the Mercedes. The Third District Court of Appeals then overturned Person's ruling and reinstated the charges.

On December 5, 1988, Book finally pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor count of submitting a falsely notarized affidavit. Judge Person withheld formal adjudication, which meant Book would have no criminal record from the affair.

LaVecchio had urged Judge Person to declare Book guilty. "This crime is not a random or senseless act," LaVecchio told the court. "It was carefully planned." But Person refused, and even seemed to express sympathy for Book by stating that the prosecution had been a costly and embarrassing affair for Book to endure. "Mr. Book has been the subject of a great deal of punishment already," Person declared.

Book and his defense attorney, Donald Bierman, declared victory. "This plea is not an admission of guilt," Bierman announced. "The agreement was made to place this unfortunate matter behind Ron Book. He wants to continue life without a shadow."

By the time the insurance fraud case was settled, Book had already left the law firm of Sparber Shevin to open his own lobbying business, a one-man shop that would give him complete control over his future.

Despite several years of bad publicity, Book seemed poised for a comeback as the Eighties drew to a close. The swagger had returned to his walk. A self-assured cockiness once again infused his personality. In a 1987 Miami Review article entitled "The Persecution and Resurrection of Ronald Lee Book," the lobbyist cast himself in the role of victim. "The only thing I ever wanted to be is president," Book told the Review. "That's what this thing has cost me probably -- the ability to run for public office. It hurts because I've always wanted to serve. The truth is it makes me want to cry.

"I learned a lot from this experience, in spite of it," he continued. "From the beginning of this whole mess, people said two things: One, you learn who your friends are. Two, you learn a lot about life you thought you never needed to know."

Book certainly didn't lose many friends during this period, especially among politicians. And if there was a life lesson he learned, it very well could have been this: The road to redemption is paved with campaign contributions.

George Raisler knew he was in deep trouble. Across the table from him sat two investigators from the state's Division of Insurance Fraud. Officially they considered him a suspect, but unofficially they knew he was the operator of one of the largest insurance-fraud rings in South Florida history. By staging automobile accidents and filing false claims, Raisler's group allegedly had defrauded insurance companies of millions.

He'd been cooperating with state and federal agents for several months in hopes of lessening whatever charges might eventually be brought against him. And on this day in early September 1994, Raisler was once again grasping for any bit of information his interrogators might consider useful, and more importantly, redeeming.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede