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Jimmy in the Lion's Den

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Unisys reported the extortion attempt to federal authorities, who then set up Surana and Gary, both of whom allegedly were participating in the scheme. This past March the FBI quietly brought in Surana for questioning and persuaded him to become a government informant. In the months that followed Surana wore a hidden microphone, which allowed agents to gather evidence of alleged wrongdoing against Dawkins, Odio, and de Cardenas. All three men were arrested earlier this month on a variety of charges.

But federal agents were also interested in county government, particularly in the area of Metro's bond-dealing. For years authorities had sought evidence supporting their long-standing suspicions that some of the county's bond transactions -- which generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees -- were steered to selected firms with political clout. Investigators recognized that Gary could provide them access to this normally insular world.

Apparently a tactical decision was made not to approach Gary until Surana's Miami stings were well under way. If he had refused to cooperate, Gary might have alerted Dawkins and others to the FBI probe, leaving authorities with nothing to prosecute. The chronology of events in the city investigation, and interviews with Burke, Hardemon, and others, indicate that Gary did not begin cooperating with federal investigators until late June at the earliest.

As it turned out, the FBI couldn't have picked a better time to turn Howard Gary into an informant; at that very moment he was negotiating for his inclusion in two separate bond transactions. The first involved the county's recycling and incineration plant, operated by Montenay Power Corp., and the second encompassed the anticipated cost of a new basketball arena for the Miami Heat -- assuming, of course, the arena is approved by voters in November.

While the arena's future may have been in doubt, the Montenay deal was guaranteed to be lucrative, generating fees and commissions of nearly $1.5 million for reissuing $183 million in bonds for the waste plant. In mid-June, shortly before Gary agreed to become a federal informant, he met with Burke and Grigsby in Orlando to discuss the Montenay transaction.

Calvin Grigsby's San Francisco bond firm, Grigsby Brandford & Co., was already in place to be the lead underwriter for the deal, with Smith Barney and AIBC Investments slated to play supporting roles. Gary wanted to be part of the deal, but according to numerous sources, his relationship with Grigsby has been marked by a spiteful animosity.

In the late Eighties, with the help of then- county commissioner Joe Gersten, Gary's firm became the major black player in Dade's bond business. But with Gersten's departure from the commission in 1993 and Burke's ascendancy to the chairmanship of the finance committee the following year, Gary's firm suddenly found itself competing with Grigsby, who had been assiduously courting Burke -- wining and dining him and paying for at least one trip to San Francisco. Before long Grigsby's firm was being included in a series of bond deals that just a few years earlier automatically would have gone to Gary.

The June conclave in Orlando had been arranged by Burke as a sort of summit meeting. The commissioner says its purpose was to have Grigsby and Gary set aside their personal differences and join forces for the betterment of the black community. Recalls Burke: "I basically told them, 'You guys can work together and build a real black economy that will benefit the community. You guys can generate a lot of stuff together. But you can't do that if every time Calvin comes to town you two argue about the past.'"

The meeting, which Billy Hardemon also attended, did not begin until nearly midnight and lasted for several hours. Gary was the most volatile, Burke says, repeatedly screaming about how Grigsby had "fucked him" in the past, and that he couldn't trust Grigsby. To which Burke says he responded: "We're going to stay here and have this out and you guys are going to work together."

Burke says the discussions that night were far-ranging and included more than just the Montenay and arena bond deals. But, he adds, there was no attempt by him to arrange a $100,000 kickback for his efforts to broker a truce between Gary and Grigsby.

Following the Orlando meeting, Grigsby added Gary's name to the list of underwriters who would participate in the Montenay deal, which was later approved by the county commission. Whatever cheer that might have brought to Gary's life was short-lived. Soon thereafter federal agents swooped down on him and revealed that they knew all about his attempt to extort money from Unisys.

After Gary agreed to become an informant, federal agents appeared to concentrate on the Montenay transaction, and specifically on Burke, who says agents have been trying to reconstruct details of his recent travels outside Miami, especially a series of trips to the Bahamas and Bermuda. Burke says the excursions were "primarily for social occasions with female friends."

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede