Great Train Heist of Hollywood

Last time New Times visited the Hollywood Railroad Station Museum, it was just a sealed storage room in the Amtrak and Tri-Rail station next to the I-95 exit at Hollywood Boulevard. There was also a trailer, which project director Tony Campos used as an office, and there were grandiose rumors of vintage railroad cars being lovingly restored on a siding in Hialeah. That was a year and a half and $375,000 in state grants ago.

We revisited the place last week and found: sealed storage room, locked trailer, and, yes, rumors of railroad car renovation off-site. We also found, after a few phone calls, state funders pitching a bitch.

The folks at the Florida Division of Historial Resources can’t remember ever before having to demand that a grant recipient return funds. But they’re asking train aficionado Campos, who purports to be pals with the Bush clan, to give back all the money they gave him. State officials say the would-be restored cars are still sitting, in virtually the same disrepair they’ve been in for three years, at a railyard near Miami International Airport.

“There were some questionable expenditures of funds,” says Dave Ferro from the state agency. In October 2006, Ferro asked Campos, in a registered letter, to clear up the discrepancies. Campos allegedly went M.I.A. Now the agency has given an ultimatum: Fork over the funds or face legal action. The State Attorney’s Office in Broward County is investigating Campos, who did not return numerous messages.

This could have been a railroad extravaganza for Campos. He was in line to get over $1 million from the state’s Bureau of Historic Preservation via an entity he titled the “Hollywood Railroad Station Museum, Inc. D/B/A Dorothy Walker Bush Great Floridian 2000.” According to the Department of State, the Great Floridian Program honors residents for their “significant contributions to the progress and welfare of this state.” Dorothy Walker Bush, the late grandmother of President George W. Bush and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, lived in Florida from 1965 until her death in 1992. And she was a rail enthusiast.

Acquaintances of Campos say he claimed to have known Grandma Bush and bragged about an alleged stint as her security guard in support of a Secret Service detail.

The north end of the station, where train travelers used to store their baggage, was slated to house the museum. A sign on Hollywood Boulevard alerts drivers that there’s an “R.R. Museum” at the station (just like it has for about two years), but the windows are covered with large sheets of plywood. A peek under the rolling metal freight doors shows no evidence of the rail library or model railroad layout that Campos promised.

Campos still works out of the office trailer sometimes, said one Amtrak employee; he drops in occasionally to pick up mail. Creditors stop by occasionally too, the employee said. “If you’re thinking of doing business with him – don’t,” the AmTrak employee warns.

Connie Greer, executive director of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami, says Campos appeared to have latched onto the restoration game as his own gravy train. She says Campos signed on as a volunteer with her organization several years ago and won several state grants for restoration work on Gold Coast’s crown jewel – the Ferdinand Magellan Presidential Rail Car, a Pullman car designed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt that’s now a national historic landmark.

In all, Campos’ grant-writing skills earned Gold Coast, which stands near Metro Zoo, $75,000 in state funds between 2001 and 2003. But Greer says she noticed that he was authorizing work that went beyond the scope of the grants.

Greer says she heard that Campos had secured a $250,000 award from the National Park Service for, again, the Ferdinand Magellan. Trouble is, Campos neglected to mention anything to Greer about that particular grant, which was awarded under the Save America’s Treasures program. And all the correspondence for that award went to his office at the Hollywood Tri-Rail/AmTrak station.

“He was implying that he owned one of our cars, and that it was going to go up there [to Hollywood], and getting all this money with our equipment,” Greer says.

She says she has no idea what became of that money.

“Once I knew he was a shyster, I distanced myself from him every way I could,” she says. --Tailpipe

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Frank Houston