Miami New Times' Ten Most-Read Long-Form Stories of 2017

Miami New Times' Ten Most-Read Long-Form Stories of 2017
Illustration by Joseph Laney
Illustration by Joseph Laney
This year, Miami New Times exposed child molestation allegations against the founder of Florida's largest megachurch and domestic violence charges against one of Miami's most recognizable reality TV stars. We told the tale of the worst Florida Keys murder in three decades and got inside a booming purple drank ring tied to the biggest names in hip-hop. Our writers investigated an only-in-Miami invention patent marketing scheme and the handful of politically tied companies set to make a fortune off medical marijuana. And millions of readers came along for the ride.

These are the ten most-read long-form pieces we published in 2017:
click to enlarge Bob Coy founded Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale and turned it into a 25,000-member powerhouse before resigning in disgrace. - PHOTOS: SCREENCAP VIA YOUTUBE/GOOGLE STREET VIEW
Bob Coy founded Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale and turned it into a 25,000-member powerhouse before resigning in disgrace.
photos: Screencap via Youtube/Google Street View
1. Founder of Florida's Biggest Megachurch Accused of Molesting a 4-Year-Old

The sexual assault claims, which have never before been divulged, raise new questions about the pastor, his church, and the police who handled the case. Documents show that Coral Springs cops sat on the accusations for months before dropping the inquiry without even interviewing Coy. His attorneys, meanwhile, persuaded a judge with deep Republican ties to seal the ex-pastor's divorce file to protect Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale from scrutiny.
Illustration by Jesse Lenz
2. How a Floating Bale of Cocaine Led to the Florida Keys' Worst Murder in Decades

The untold story of Key Largo's most brutal homicide in 25 years shines a light on a drugged-out Upper Keys underbelly worthy of a Bloodlines subplot and reveals a surprising truth: Every year, dozens of Florida fishermen find square groupers — packages of marijuana or cocaine, sometimes worth millions of dollars — drifting in the ocean. Then they have to choose: Call the Coast Guard? Or chase the promise of riches far beyond what a fishing boat can provide, risking prison time — or, in some cases, unimaginable bloodshed.
click to enlarge COURTESY OF ROBIN ZIEL
Courtesy of Robin Ziel
3. Ted Vernon Stars in South Beach Classics Despite Decades of Violent Abuse Claims

Records show that everyone in Vernon's immediate family, from Ziel to his first wife to all three of his children, have accused him of domestic violence. The abuse grew so bad that his daughter, Alex, says she ran away from home as a teenager and has since relocated across the country, changed her name, and moved into a more secure residence in an attempt to get as far as possible from her father.
click to enlarge Harrison Garcia (back) partied with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, including Wiz Khalifa (right). See more photos from Harrison Garcia's purple drank empire. - COURTESY OF DANIA JIMENEZ
Harrison Garcia (back) partied with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, including Wiz Khalifa (right). See more photos from Harrison Garcia's purple drank empire.
Courtesy of Dania Jimenez
4. Inside the Miami Purple Drank Ring That Allegedly Supplied Lil Wayne and Chris Brown

Garcia's charges — which carry a mandatory minimum of 30 years behind bars — have sparked worldwide headlines thanks to his two most famous friends, Weezy and Breezy, who are listed as witnesses and remain under investigation by the feds. Convinced Garcia snitched to law enforcement, many of his influential friends have abandoned him, while angry fans have sent death threats.

But friends and family of the Miami musician, speaking for the first time about the case, insist Garcia's only crime was getting caught up in the high-rolling culture of hip-hop. Garcia was addicted to cough syrup, they say, but was just a pawn in investigators' overzealous quest to take down big-name rappers.
click to enlarge Dana Brown surfed every day except Saturday, based on his strict interpretation of the Bible. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF BOB BROWN
Dana Brown surfed every day except Saturday, based on his strict interpretation of the Bible.
Photos courtesy of Bob Brown
5. Florida's Last Beach Bum Lived in a Van Until He Died Surfing

For 15 years, Brown and his dad, George, had been fixtures on Florida's surf scene. With their distinctive look — clear blue eyes, deep tans, and white beards that reached their chiseled chests — they were hard to miss. Locals in Cocoa Beach affectionately called them the ZZ Top Guys. The pair lived in a white Ford Econoline van parked at the same beach access point every morning, spending their days trading small talk with beachgoers and, in Dana's case, surfing and skateboarding. They hewed closely to their own interpretation of the Bible, refusing to cut their hair or do anything on Saturdays, their Sabbath.

George Brown died eight months before his son, in March, at age 87 in Cocoa. Lonely and lost in his dad's absence, Dana had set out at age 60 to fulfill a long-held dream: surfing in California. But he had always planned to return home. His death meant the abrupt loss of a throwback to surf culture from Florida's younger and wilder days, when the beaches weren't filled with luxury condos and when surfing, to many, was a way of life.

It's a wonder their lifestyle lasted so long at all.

Illustration by Alvaro Diaz-Rubio
6. Florida Pot Growers May Soon Get Rich

Over the past several months, New Times dug into the backgrounds of the seven companies' current and former owners, executives, and partners. These marijuana moguls include some of the state's best-connected and savviest businesspeople. Many also have backgrounds that haven't been explored in-depth. Among them are a real-estate developer once tied to political corruption, a hedge fund manager who recruited two gambling tycoons as investors, an attorney embroiled in a burgeoning Tallahassee FBI probe, a Gainesville entrepreneur who bought a franchise from one of the largest cannabis companies in Colorado, an ex-IBM executive, a Miami mortgage broker, and some of the largest nursery operators in Florida.
click to enlarge DESIGN BY JORGE SESIN
Design by Jorge Sesin
7. A Miami Beach Scam Took Millions of Dollars From Thousands of Inventors, Feds Say

As millions poured in, the firm's tough-talking CEO, Scott J. Cooper, boasted about trips to remote islands on his yacht and lashed out in expletive-laden tirades at inventors who complained. In screeds posted online and emailed to customers, the company bragged about its security team composed of ex-Israeli special forces trained in Krav Maga and threatened critics with lawsuits — or worse.

Neither Cooper nor his attorney, Daniel Rashbaum, responded to multiple interview requests for this story. In court, they've argued that World Patent Marketing is a legitimate operation that gave inventors multiple warnings about the enormous odds against them. "Ninety-nine percent of inventions fail to become commercially successful, which... is why there are bound to be disgruntled WPM customers no matter the quality of the services," Michael Pineiro, an attorney at Rashbaum's firm, wrote in one filing.

But experts say World Patent Marketing is simply the latest iteration of a long-running con in a barely regulated industry that targets starry-eyed inventors. As Cooper took victims for up to $400,000 each, they say, he also might have scared away a whole generation of inventors.
click to enlarge Corey Jones. See photos from the crime scene here. - COURTESY OF CLINTON JONES
Courtesy of Clinton Jones
8. Corey Jones' Killing Could End 28-Year Streak of Florida Cops Not Being Convicted
In Florida, nearly 25 years have passed since an officer has faced trial for killing someone in the line of duty. Convictions are even rarer. The last time a Florida officer was convicted for shooting a civilian was in 1989. And that decision was ultimately overturned.

With the Black Lives Matter movement shining a light on the lack of police accountability, the Corey Jones case is an important marker for the Sunshine State. For the first time in decades, a cop could actually face prison for killing someone and lying about it.
click to enlarge Rafael and Omar Rivero founded Occupy Democrats from a Kendall bedroom. - PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALEX MARKOW
Rafael and Omar Rivero founded Occupy Democrats from a Kendall bedroom.
Photography by Alex Markow
9. How Mexican-American Twins From Miami Created the Liberal Powerhouse Occupy Democrats

Launched from his parents' West Kendall apartment and helmed with his twin brother, Occupy Democrats is now the leading political page on the left, according to a recent analysis by BuzzFeed. It wields more influence, at least on Facebook, than virtually any other news source in America.

The company is an undisputed leader in a new industry of "hyperpartisan" sites that churn out aggregated, unabashedly partisan news. The sites live and die on Facebook; free from the constraints of objectivity and, in some cases, facts, they're able to play to their audiences' emotions.
click to enlarge VIA U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
via U.S. Attorney's Office
10. How Harlem Suarez Went From Cuban Immigrant to Wannabe ISIS Jihadi 
Suarez's unusual tale shows both the lengths the FBI will go to make terrorism arrests and exposes just how vulnerable aimless, impressionable young men can be to the overtures of violent extremists.

"The question is whether we're using counterterrorism to actually identify terrorists," says Michael German, a national security scholar and former undercover FBI agent, "or trying to find gullible young people to coax into a manufactured plot for the purposes of scoring a win."

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Miami New Times staff