Longform

Crime & Politics

Page 8 of 9

This past June investigators began serving subpoenas on other secretaries who had worked with Book, all of whom subsequently admitted their involvement in Book's scheme to subvert campaign finance laws.

From the outset, Book and his attorneys, Donald Bierman and Ted Klein, quietly tried to settle the case with the State Attorney's Office. "They wanted to resolve this civilly, with a civil fine, without any sort of a criminal case being filed against him," prosecutor Bedard recalls. "I disagreed with that and I told them very bluntly that as long as I was the prosecutor in the case, we were going to prosecute this criminally." (Bedard took control of the case after Larry LaVecchio left the State Attorney's Office to become a federal prosecutor.)

According to Bedard, Book and his attorneys responded by attempting to have him removed as the lead prosecutor. "They did not like the manner in which I was handling the case," says Bedard. "I didn't take it personally." They were in the process of appealing to Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle (a Democrat like Book) when, on September 20, they learned that WPLG-TV (Channel 10) was about to air a story on the Book investigation.

Other media outlets would be sure to follow, and would undoubtedly try to investigate more deeply. A prolonged period of bad publicity now seemed inevitable.

At 5:00 p.m., Bedard recalls, an hour before the story broke on Channel 10's evening newscast, Book's attorneys called to say he was prepared to plead guilty to criminal charges, just as Bedard had been proposing for months. Less than 24 hours later, Book appeared in court and pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors: two counts of making campaign contributions in excess of $500, and two counts of making a campaign contribution in the name of another person. Judge Catherine Pooler fined him $2000, and Book turned over another $40,000 to the State Attorney's Office to be distributed to various charities.

Book's dramatic change of strategy, and the speed with which he managed to get before a judge and enter a plea, caught some investigators by surprise. FDLE officials were upset because, they claim, they had not been properly notified in advance that a deal was being cut. If they had been notified, they would have objected to the charges and penalties as being too lenient. FDLE Commissioner Tim Moore says he has asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to review the evidence to determine if any federal charges might be applied.

According to law enforcement sources familiar with Book's case, the federal prosecutor who has been assigned to review the material is none other than Larry LaVecchio. (LaVecchio declined comment for this article.) Because some of the illegal campaign contributions were mailed to candidates, LaVecchio is believed to be examining the possibility of filing federal mail fraud charges against Book, charges already considered but discounted by Assistant State Attorney Dennis Bedard. (The Florida Bar is also reviewing Book's actions to determine if professional discipline is warranted.)

Bedard says he sympathizes with FDLE's frustrations. If he could have threatened Book with jail time, he would have pressed the case further. But he notes that the crimes are misdemeanors, and even though he might have been able to charge Book with more than 50 counts, jail time for a first offender would not have been realistic.

"In my own personal opinion, I think this should be a felony," Bedard adds. "It is a very serious offense for the following reasons: In the last 30 years in this country, money has played an increasingly important role in our political system. The influence of people who contribute money to politicians has increased enormously, to the detriment of the public. What these laws try to do is minimize the amount of influence these people have on the political process by preventing big contributors from donating large sums of money.

"And lets face it," he continues, "what Ron Book is trying to do here is to maximize the amount of political clout he can exercise over these politicians on behalf of his clients. And the way he does that is by contributing as much money as he possibly can -- legally or illegally -- to the campaigns of those candidates who, at a later time, will be asked to vote in a certain way that benefits his clients. He deliberately violated those laws for his own selfish good and for the good of his paying clients."

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede