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Crime & Politics

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After a long pause, Raisler admitted that he wasn't even sure if what he was about to tell them was illegal. It certainly didn't have anything to do with phony auto accidents. But it did seem suspicious to him. Raisler said that his partner, Greg Webb, was living with a woman, Debbie Stipp, who worked as a secretary for some bigshot attorney. The attorney had asked Stipp to write a bunch of checks to various political candidates, and then the attorney reimbursed her. Raisler knew this, he told investigators, because Greg Webb had told him.

He said the attorney's name was Ron Book.
As Raisler spoke Book's name, a broad smile spread across the face of John Askins, one of the two investigators questioning Raisler. "It was like deja vu," Askins recalls.

With his earlier investigation of Book for insurance fraud still clear in his mind, Askins immediately called the State Attorney's Office. Like Raisler, he wasn't entirely familiar with Florida's elections laws, but he quickly discovered there were two possible offenses. First, it is illegal to make a contribution through another person; and second, the maximum amount an individual can contribute to any candidate is $500 per election. Both offenses are misdemeanors.

On October 5, 1994, Greg Webb and Debbie Stipp were interviewed by Askins and two of his colleagues. Webb, too, had been cooperating with investigators in the staged-accident case, but now that the questions involved Ron Book, it was Debbie Stipp who did most of the talking.

She said she worked as an assistant manager for an Aventura company called Executive Acquisitions. The firm leased out office space and also provided secretarial and support services to a variety of clients, including Ron Book. Stipp confirmed what Raisler had told investigators earlier -- Book would ask her to write checks to various political candidates on her personal account and then reimburse her the same day.

She said Book had explained to her that this was necessary because he would often guarantee candidates a specific amount of money from friends and clients, sometimes as much as $5000 or $10,000. But from time to time, when the money was due, he wouldn't have collected the full amount. Rather than disappoint the candidate, Book personally would make up the difference and funnel the money through her.

As proof, she reached into her purse and handed investigators two checks Book had written her. One was reimbursement for a $500 contribution he had asked her to make to statehouse candidate Charlie Safdie; the other was to another statehouse candidate, Dana Maley, in the amount of $250. The checks from Book had been written September 23 and September 30, 1994, and she hadn't yet deposited them.

Stipp then showed investigators her personal checkbook, which included carbon-copy receipts of more than two dozen checks she had written to various candidates. The total amount came to more than $10,000. All the checks, she said, had been written at the behest of Ron Book. As for the candidates, most of them were unknown to her.

Stipp then told investigators this practice had been going on for years, and that she wasn't the only one Book had asked to write checks; she provided the names of five other secretaries in the office.

In return for Stipp's cooperation, investigator Askins promised to speak to prosecutors on her behalf regarding allegations that she played a minor role in the staged-accident ring. (She is not expected to be charged in connection with that case. To date no charges have been filed against George Raisler or Greg Webb, although investigators say they are imminent.)

Askins didn't hesitate in considering which prosecutor would be best suited to receive Debbie Stipp's information about Ron Book: He called Larry LaVecchio, the assistant state attorney who had been vexed by Book's conduct in both the Opa-locka bribery investigation and the stolen Mercedes insurance case. LaVecchio, in turn, recruited Dennis Bedard, another assistant state attorney from the office's organized crime unit. And with that, the latest criminal investigation of Ron Book was under way.

"It was the easiest case we ever worked," says Askins. "It was absolutely ironclad. We were sort of astonished at the irony of us having been the same agency that arrested Book previously, and now having apparently hit pay dirt once again. It's not like we targeted him. We were going after the staged-auto-accident ring and he just sort of fell into our laps."

It may have been an ironclad case, but a substantial amount of work still had to be done -- various bank records needed to be subpoenaed, politicians' campaign-finance statements required scrutiny, and Book's secretaries had to be interviewed. Even though the allegations had nothing to do with insurance fraud, the State Attorney's Office asked Askins and his colleagues to continue with the investigation. They had broken the case, and the principal witness, Debbie Stipp, was still providing them with information regarding the accident ring. To enhance the team's investigative power, agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) were also assigned to the case.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede