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Fifty Years of JusticeA History of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida$

James M. Denham

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780813060491

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813060491.001.0001

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Mad Dogs, Spies, and International Weapons Dealers

Mad Dogs, Spies, and International Weapons Dealers

(p.181) 9 Mad Dogs, Spies, and International Weapons Dealers
Fifty Years of Justice

James M. Denham

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter chronicles the activities of the Middle District of Florida’s crusading U.S. attorney Robert Merkle who charged many county and state public officials with malfeasance. Investigations and prosecutions in Duval, Hillsborough, and Orange counties are covered extensively. A narrative of his activities from 1982 to 1988, as well has his conflicts with Gov. Bob Martinez, Sen. Bob Graham, and the Reagan Justice Department are included. The embattled Merkle’s ill-fated run for the Senate is discussed as is the choice of his successor, as well as the condition of the U.S. attorney’s office when he left it. The chapter then turns to the increasing international nature of federal law enforcement, especially within the context of espionage and arms trafficking. Airports in Orlando and Tampa facilitated international travel, and this afforded opportunity to commit crimes of an international nature. The FBI, Customs, and other federal law enforcement bureaus continually apprehended persons charged with criminal activity and these persons were prosecuted in the Middle District of Florida. Many of those cases are chronicled in this chapter.

Keywords:   Robert Merkle, Arms Trafficking, Governor Bob Martinez, Ed Meese, Espionage, Iranscam, Joseph George Helmich, Ernst Ludwig Wolfgang Forbrich, George Trofimoff, Paul Sjeklocha (a.k.a. Paul Cutter)

Since his appointment in 1982, crusading U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle had set his sights on drugs and organized crime, and in February 1983 he announced that his office would begin a massive investigation of public corruption at all levels of government throughout the Middle District. Judge William Terrell Hodges approved Merkle’s request for a special grand jury for the purpose. The announcement came just after the arrest of three Hillsborough County commissioners on charges of soliciting and accepting bribes in return for favorable votes for rezoning.1

According to one source, Jerry Bowmer and two other Hillsborough County commissioners “had turned the permitting and regulation process in the county into a grubby little back-street bazaar.” Bowmer, Fred Anderson (a former fire chief), and Joe Kotvas (a former policeman) were charged with soliciting bribes from developers who wanted zoning changes. Votes were usually 3–2 with Bowmer, Kotvas, and Anderson outvoting the two other commissioners. The scam worked until January 1983 when Pickens Talley, who represented a developer, was shaken down for a bribe and decided to go to the FBI. Agents wired Talley, who then met with Bowmer and agreed to pay the commissioner $75,000 for the zoning change; the vote went through. When the first installment of cash was delivered, the FBI nabbed Bowmer, and he decided to cooperate. He in turn was wired, and when he delivered the shares to Kotvas and Anderson in the county courthouse, the FBI descended on them. All three were arrested and marched to the adjacent FBI offices and then to the federal courthouse across the street. A federal organized strike force headed by Bill James and Christopher Hoyer had developed the evidence, but soon after the initial arrests the U.S. attorney’s office took over the case. Merkle pounced on the defendants, squeezing out more details that led to an indictment against Michael (p.182) Sierra, a lawyer who had worked for the three. The three commissioners were convicted on July 19, 1983. Anderson and Kotvas got eight years, but in exchange for further cooperation the corruption investigations, Bowmer received only three years behind bars. Bowmer eventually revealed over one hundred various deals and kickback schemes. He fingered many high-level elected officials and their associates on the Hillsborough County political scene.2

The successful prosecution of Bowmer, Kotvas, and Anderson marked the beginning of Robert Merkle’s seven-year-long crusade against corruption. His initial success whetted his appetite for uncovering corruption in Hillsborough County and other jurisdictions. He was convinced that the commissioners’ cases were only the tip of the iceberg. As will be seen, his use of the ongoing grand jury investigation drew criticism, but the accusations of high-handed behavior only served to convince him that there were even bigger quarry to cage.

Merkle next set his sight on Hillsborough County State Attorney E. J. Salcines. Elected four times to the office since 1968 after leaving Eddie Boardman’s U.S. Attorney’s office, Salcines had not drawn a challenger since 1972. Salcines had clashed with federal authorities over the years, but Merkle’s attacks would escalate matters to a new level. The first hint that Merkle was after the prosecutor came after Salcines met with federal prosecutors regarding a bribery case. A man named Armando Tamargo connected to the Angelo Bedami drug ring had visited Salcines at his house and offered him $75,000 not to prosecute a man named Leon Wood. Salcines promptly threw the man out of his house and told the Hillsborough County sheriff of the incident, but no arrests were made. Salcines prosecuted and convicted Wood along with twenty of twenty-four others of the Bedami organization. “We have acted legally and lawfully and have spearheaded the investigation that got to the core of the [Bedami] organization itself,” Salcines said. The remaining four cases were turned over to Merkle’s office, which used those cases to probe deeper into the Hillsborough Prosecutor’s Office to discover whether members of the Bedami drug ring were trying to fix the outcome of drug cases by bribing or trying to bribe members of the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office. Under Merkle’s direction, the special grand jury took the matter up.3

Salcines cooperated with Merkle’s investigation until he suddenly realized that he was the target of the probe. In a public letter dated February 17, 1984, Salcines declared, “I am incensed and outraged over the unjust accusations and innuendos that have been irresponsibly hurled at me and (p.183) my office over the past two weeks. I have done nothing wrong, illegal or unethical in carrying out the honored charge of my public responsibilities.”4 Salcines explained that on February 2 he had met with federal prosecutors over the Tamargo case, in which he was a witness, and it became clear to him that he was a “target of an unspecified federal charge.”5 He was immediately subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury the next day, but he refused to answer questions. As he stated in a public letter,

For reasons totally unknown to me, I have been labeled a ‘target’ of a federal investigation, and in less than one day, I was subpoenaed to appear before the federal grand jury. I have always cooperated fully with federal authorities in their investigations as evidenced by my two voluntary appearances before the grand jury in this matter. However, after learning that Robert Merkle, whom I believe to be an over-zealous and politically motivated U.S. Attorney, was trying to incriminate me, I had no choice but to reluctantly, upon insistence of legal counsel, invoke my constitutional rights including the Fifth Amendment and insist upon a fair and impartial forum. This is precisely why I have formally requested that Gov. Bob Graham assign a special state prosecutor to fairly and objectively investigate this matter.6

Meanwhile on the same day Salcines took the Fifth, the grand jury indicted Salcines’ former chief assistant, Norman Cannella, for taking bribes. Stunned and upset at Merkle’s vendetta against him, Salcines told a reporter, “I am bewildered and I am incensed.”7

Merkle’s actions also perplexed and gave pause to numerous court observers, especially when they learned that he was planning to use the testimony of convicted felons to go after Salcines. One prominent Tampa lawyer noted, “It certainly looks strange to me that Bedami and Wood weren’t indicted. It’s funny to think that Angelo Bedami is going to testify against anybody.” Another lawyer intoned of Merkle, “He’s an excellent lawyer in the courtroom—a winner. But I hope he realizes what he’s doing when he and his assistants—in open court—name targets of investigations. You’re not ever going to bruise the reputation of a drug dealer or a murderer. But we’re talking here about people, at least some of them, who are well-respected in the community. Their records are unblemished. Even if they’re acquitted, I wonder if they can pick up the pieces.” “If Bob Merkle is right and what I hear about all the other indictments that are supposedly coming down are true,” another lawyer said, “the man will ride out of here a king. But he better be careful when he drops the net. You don’t drop a net that (p.184) traps innocent people too. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but on past occasions, I have sensed a little recklessness on the part of the feds.”8

While Governor Graham considered the situation, Salcines stood by his decision not to testify, asserting that he would cooperate with any “state prosecutor” Governor Graham may appoint, but in a letter to the grand jury foreman he asserted, “I will not voluntarily assist him [Merkle] in his efforts to destroy me and my office.” Graham eventually appointed Richard A. Earle Jr. of St. Petersburg to investigate whether Salcines had lied to a circuit judge in order to secure the early release of a drug smuggler. Earle had served as chair of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission that had investigated the Florida Supreme Court scandals in the mid-1970s.9 Earle’s six-month investigation exonerated Salcines, a fact that Graham announced on June 26.10

In July Bill James, a man with whom Salcines had clashed on former occasions, resigned from the Organized Crime Strike Force to run against Salcines for Hillsborough state attorney. Commenting on James’ candidacy against him, Salcines charged, “We have seen a consistent pattern of trying to get at the local state attorney’s office. And now all of a sudden, we have an assistant U.S. Attorney coming from that office to run for this office.”11 That fall as the political contest heated up, Judge Hodges, after hearing nearly two months of testimony against Norman Canella, threw out the case against Salcines’s former assistant, declaring that the evidence against him and another defendant was “circumstantial and insufficient.”12 Still the ongoing grand jury investigation of Salcines continued with no end in sight. The embattled prosecutor’s attorney wrote directly to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith, charging Merkle with an “insatiable appetite for power” and a “master plan to get Salcines.”13 He also assembled an impressive number of sworn statements of witnesses that accused Merkle and his prosecutors of pressuring them, burglarizing offices for evidence, and even offering drugs to one witness in an attempt to manufacture evidence against Salcines.14

By this time Merkle’s tactics had aroused numerous complaints from prominent state officials. Among those who complained directly to federal authorities was Jacksonville State Attorney Ed Austin, who called Merkle a “reincarnation of Joe McCarthy.” To Austin, Merkle was “an abusive, arrogant, unstable U.S. attorney.”15 The charges against Merkle triggered a Justice Department probe of his conduct in the Salcines investigation.

On the campaign trail Salcines blasted Merkle, accusing him of a political conspiracy to unseat him, and added that James, his Republican (p.185) opponent, was a willing tool in the plot. “These political appointees are trying to take over the local law enforcement community. Your constitutional rights could be at stake. … We cannot permit a takeover [by] a federal agency,” Salcines warned.16 With Election Day on the horizon, Governor Graham called on the U.S. Justice Department to speed up their investigations of Salcines. “The effect of this unresolved federal investigation and the recent charges of misconduct against Merkle have been to erode public confidence in these offices and disrupt the functioning of the criminal justice system within this community of our state,” wrote the governor.17 Years later Graham recalled that he had a “high regard for E. J. as a human being and a professional and thought he did a good job. My concern was this was an investigation without end.” The way it was handled was “fundamentally unfair. Salcines was sort of hung out to dry without a way to defend himself.”18

In a “preliminary finding” the Justice Department cleared Merkle’s office of wrongdoing. One week later, despite public endorsements of Salcines from Sen. Lawton Chiles, Gov. Bob Graham, and former governor Reubin Askew, Bill James defeated the long-time state prosecutor in a close election. As James assumed his new duties, Merkle’s office continued its investigation of Salcines and within a year the U.S. Attorney’s office indicted twenty-five current and former Hillsborough County officials. Included among those charged were sixteen business executives and Tampa defense lawyer Paul Johnson, chairman-elect of the criminal justice division of the American Bar Association. And Robert Cannella was indicted once again. So were formerly charged but previously acquitted Tampa lawyer John Demmi, businessman-politician Nelson Italiano, and Lawrence Goodrich, a former circuit judge. Included in the 166-page indictment were charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, extortion, obstruction of justice, and perjury. “In short,” Merkle proclaimed in a press conference outside the courtroom, “the entire spectrum of commercial life in this county has been the subject of bribery. That era has come to an end.”19

As the indictments in the Hillsborough County case came forward, Merkle was also shepherding evidence through federal grand jury investigations of Orange-Osceola State Attorney Robert Eagan on charges of bribery and case fixing. Merkle’s investigation of Eagan’s office began at the same time as the Salcines probe. “This thing has gone on long enough, you just have to wonder how long it can continue, when it will end,” complained Eagan, who was first elected to his post in 1968.20 The Salcines investigation dragged on. In December 1985 Governor Graham testified before the (p.186) Tampa grand jury. Meanwhile, as a sidebar to a subsequent case regarding a drug smuggler, Judge Hodges said there was no proof of corrupt conduct by Salcines. During the trial it was reported that Merkle next had his sights on state representative Elvin Martinez. Merkle urged the grand jury to indict Martinez, alleging that a convicted drug smuggler had supplied Martinez with marijuana and cocaine. Martinez charged that Merkle knew the charge was untrue, “and damn him for trying to destroy me.”21 A perjury indictment against Martinez moved forward. Finally, after three years of investigations, the grand jury probing public corruption in Hillsborough County disbanded without indicting Salcines. Adding insult to injury, Merkle announced, “This office has never made any public charge against Mr. Salcines.”22 Instead, Merkle asserted, it was the former prosecutor and his attorney who assumed that Salcines was a target.23

Meanwhile, criticism of Merkle’s behavior mounted. Merkle made no attempt to hide his political opinions. One critic charged that his speech to a right-to-life convention criticizing the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision as “judicial tyranny” put a “chilling effect of the exercise of our reproductive choice. … If I were a doctor,” Diane Wilkinson state president of the National Organization for Women asserted, “I would be very hesitant in making sure that I didn’t cross any line that Bob Merkle has drawn.” Abortion, in Merkle’s view, differed little from pornography and drug trafficking. He defended himself by asserting that he felt it was the duty of an executive branch appointee to “address wrong Supreme Court rulings” and that he was compelled to speak out against the price society pays because of “crime and violence of which abortion is a part.”24

Merkle’s critics charged that his many prosecutions were politically motivated and misguided. Yet his charges against prominent Tampa leaders continued. In the fall of 1986, while the trial of the indicted officials was taking place, Merkle charged Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Martinez with taking a bribe while he was Tampa mayor to secure a cable television franchise for a political supporter. Merkle pointed to charges against Martinez as evidence of his nonpartisan behavior, but critics on both sides began to question his tactics. Republican state senator Kurt Kiser noted of Merkle that there “probably is quite a bit of popular support out there for him because there’s the perception that he’s not playing footsie with anybody. … But I’m concerned he’s a little fast and loose, using a meat axe when he should be using a surgeon’s scalpel.” Others were more blunt. Of Merkle, Ed Austin charged, “I think the worst corruption in public office is a prosecutor who abuses the (p.187) power of his office, and he has abused the power of his office.” One Miami defense lawyer observed of Merkle that he suffered from the “Holy War Syndrome. People imbued with the Holy War Syndrome want so badly to go after corruption and illegal activity that they’ll do anything, trample anybody’s rights, destroy anybody’s reputation. Merkle doesn’t understand that a prosecutor also has to be concerned for an individual’s rights.” Merkle’s public outbursts and his political statements had, according to many, undermined his effectiveness as a prosecutor and had in effect hurt law enforcement in Central Florida. Again, Duval State Attorney Ed Austin stated that relations between federal and state officials “have declined to a point where cooperation and coordination, even on the biggest cases, such as drug cases, is all but nonexistent. And for that reason I consider him disastrous, even dangerous.”25

Austin and others renewed their attacks against Merkle after the acquittal of one of Austin’s prosecutors on corruption charges. “They’ve got to get him out of there,” Austin stated. “I think he should go. I think he’s an embarrassment to his prosecutor’s office.”26 A Tampa Tribune editorial also called for Merkle’s removal.27

No one challenged Merkle’s talents in the courtroom. One of his assistants who did not particularly like him remembered, “On two occasions, I’ve see seen him just eat people alive on the witness stand. I mean, they just broke down and cried. Some people think that’s bad. But the times I saw it, they deserved it. They were just lying and messing around. And he ate them alive.”28 Judge Hodges remembered that, in the only case the prosecutor tried before him, Merkle “was impeccably prepared” in the courtroom. He was able to make his opening statement, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and make his closing argument “without note one and never missed a beat. So he was capable as a trial lawyer.” But as lawyer and as a human being, Hodges noted, “Mr. Merkle appeared to be a person who never saw anything that was gray in color. It was either black or it was white, there was no in between, which was a bit unusual,” Hodges thought, especially for a lawyer.29

Only four of the sixteen indicted Hillsborough County officials were convicted in July after the five-month trial in Judge George C. Carr’s courtroom, and among the four were former commissioners Anderson, Kotvas, and Bowmer. Merkle called Bowmer’ testimony against his former associates “heroic,” but Carr disputed Merkle’s characterization. “I can’t characterize you as a hero,” he told Bowmer, “because this doesn’t quite fit. There might be a word that fits but I don’t know what that word is at the moment.”30 (p.188)

Mad Dogs, Spies, and International Weapons Dealers

Governor-elect Bob Martinez and Senator-elect Bob Graham discuss issues, November 12, 1986.

Photo by Mark T. Foley, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/134552.

Less than two weeks after his reelection to the Florida House of Representatives, Elvin Martinez learned that his trial for perjury in Judge Ben Krentzman’s court was set for December 1. The indictment was based on Merkle’s charge that Martinez had lied to the grand jury when he denied using or receiving drugs during the past ten years and had lied twice when asked about the drug activities of others. After the week-long trial Martinez was acquitted of three of the four counts, and Krentzman dismissed the remaining charge when the jury deadlocked.31

The November elections also brought omens significant to Merkle’s tenure. Gov. Bob Graham defeated Merkle’s champion, Paula Hawkins, for a seat in the U.S. Senate, and former Tampa mayor Bob Martinez was elected governor. Merkle had accused Martinez of accepting a bribe from Tampa businessman Nelson Italiano, and with the political operative on trial, Judge Hodges cleared the way for the governor-elect to testify in his trial. Martinez was slated to testify in the case after he was sworn in, even as outgoing governor, Bob Graham, was continually questioned about whether in his new role as senator he would work to have Merkle replaced. Graham refused to comment on whether he thought Merkle’s prosecution of Rep. Elvin Martinez was justified. “The questions we must ask,” Graham stated, “are not on an individual case basis but on the general operation of the (p.189) prosecutorial office in the Middle District of Florida. Has it been judicially handled? Is it professionally competent?” Incensed at Graham’s remarks, Merkle wrote a letter charging the senator-elect with injecting politics into his investigations.32

Gov. Bob Martinez testified in the Italiano case five days after he was sworn in as governor. He denied any wrongdoing in Judge Hodges’ courtroom. On the second day of his testimony Martinez grew increasingly testy with Merkle after continual denials and intense questioning. “I don’t believe you have dealt with my case properly,” he stated.33 Martinez accused Merkle of leaking information to the media about the governor, which ultimately caused Martinez’s subpoena by Italiano’s defense counsel. When Martinez emerged from the courtroom, he was obviously agitated. He declared that he was “concerned” about Merkle’s conduct and that, with the prosecutor’s four-year term having expired, that President Reagan should either resubmit Merkle’s name for another four-year appointment and accept the possibility of nonconfirmation by the Senate or appoint someone else. By the time the new governor returned to Tallahassee, Martinez’s tone grew harsher. Voicing complaints directly to the White House and working with Senators Chiles and Graham, Republican Rep. C. W. “Bill” Young and others, Martinez called for Merkle’s immediate removal. The St. Petersburg

Mad Dogs, Spies, and International Weapons Dealers

Gov. Bob Martinez fields questions regarding Bob Merkle in the state capitol. January 13, 1987.

Photo by Mark T. Foley, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/134490.

(p.190) Times followed suit on January 13, and three days later the paper editorialized, “The problem with Merkle is not that he is a zealous foe of corruption. On the contrary, the problem with Merkle is that his single-minded vendetta against his political opponents has diverted time and resources from legitimate investigations and prosecutions of official corruption.”34

Even as Merkle secured the conviction of Nelson Italiano in Judge Hodges’ courtroom, Governor Martinez stepped up his attacks against Merkle, arguing that he was unfairly dragged into the case. Martinez’s chief advisor, Mac Stipanovich, stated, “There had to come a time when someone with the courage and ability to do something about Bob Merkle does something about Bob Merkle. This is the time and Bob Martinez is the man.”35 Merkle responded to Martinez and other attacks against him in a press conference at his office in Tampa by claiming that they were unjustified and that the newspapers had formed a kind of “lynch mob mentality” against him. “When you go after a public corruption case you’re tackling a heck of a lot because … whoever the defendant may be he is able to marshal considerable support.”36 Also despite inaccurate reporting, Merkle said he had received great support from the general public in his efforts. One group, calling itself “Concerned Citizens for Merkle,” planned to secure at least five thousand signatures and send a petition directly to President Reagan, Edwin Meese, and Senators Chiles and Graham as well as the governor. The group was also mailing out “Support U.S. Attorney Bob Merkle” bumper stickers. Merkle continued to attract wide support in some circles, and his appearance on the CBS program 60 Minutes, which aired on January 10, 1988, further inflamed the pro and con arguments about the prosecutor.37

Despite continual appeals from Governor Martinez and others, the White House refused to act. Speculation as to likely successors for Merkle was printed in the newspapers, but no action was taken. Throughout much of the year Merkle was consumed with the Lehder trial. But more Hillsborough public corruption trials went forward as well. After Italiano’s sentencing, Merkle called the former political operative back to testify before the grand jury in what many speculated was one last effort to have him implicate Governor Martinez in the bribery scheme. Italiano not only reasserted his innocence but also denied any criminal conduct by Martinez, even as he prepared himself for his two-year sentence in federal prison.38

In June another of Merkle’s twenty-five indicted Hillsborough County targets was preparing for trial. As of that time, fourteen of eighteen of those charged that had gone to trial had been acquitted. Prominent Tampa lawyer (p.191) Paul B. Johnson faced public corruption charges for inflating his legal fees for a contractor so as to bribe Hillsborough County Commissioner Jerry Bowmer. Johnson’s attorney, F. Lee Bailey, contended that his client’s prosecution on charges that had previously been dropped was merely Merkle’s “personal vendetta” because Johnson had refused to testify in the grand jury’s investigation of E. J. Salcines. This was essentially Johnson’s defense in his January 1989 trial before Judge George C. Carr.39

With the Lehder conviction under his belt by May 1988 and Reagan’s second term nearing its end, many speculated that Merkle was poised to resign and seek higher public office. When Sen. Lawton Chiles decided to retire, many speculated that Merkle would enter the Republican primary. Merkle’s late June meeting with Edwin Meese, on what the prosecutor called his “future and matters of mutual interest,” fueled talk that his resignation was imminent. And indeed it was. Soon thereafter Merkle resigned and announced that he was running for the U.S. Senate.40

The front-runner in the Republican primary was the popular U.S. representative Connie Mack from Fort Myers, who refused to debate Merkle. As Merkle circulated the state debating “Cardboard Connie,” the Justice Department named Robert W. Genzman U.S. attorney instead of Merkle’s trusted assistant, Joseph D. Magri. When he learned of the decision, Merkle expressed betrayal, saying that he had received the “personal assurances” of Attorney General Meese that Magri would get the job. “But for that assurance, I would not have resigned because I was very concerned lest that office be compromised by hidden political agendas.”41 Merkle lashed out at Meese, calling him a liar. He also attacked fellow Republicans Governor Martinez and his opponent, Connie Mack, as “Florida’s dynamic duo of sleaze,” who had “engineered the witting or unwitting assistance of the Republican delegation [in] a sneak attack on tough, fair, independent law enforcement in the Middle District of Florida.”42 He even suggested that Vice President George H. W. Bush, who was running to succeed Reagan, was a willing participant in the scheme. A Justice Department spokesman answered that Meese had assured Merkle that Magri would be retained as interim head of the office until another replacement could be found, adding, “It is a pity Mr. Merkle should choose to use such virulent language. We can only conclude it’s a ploy to attract attention.”43 One of Connie Mack’s campaign spokespersons pounced on Merkle’s comments. “Merkle’s comments are ludicrous and ‘Mad-Dog’ Merkle obviously is very bitter and a frustrated candidate because he is trailing so badly in the polls and his (p.192) campaign is going nowhere.”44 The injudicious remarks were the final nail in the coffin in Merkle’s unsuccessful bid to win the Republican primary. Merkle was out.45

Magri remained interim U.S. attorney until Merkle’s successor was sworn in in late September. Robert Genzman had a distinguished background. An Orlando lawyer and graduate of the London School of Economics and Cornell Law School, Genzman had worked for three years in the U.S. Attorney’s office before resigning in 1983. In 1987 he had served as minority counsel in the Iran-Contra congressional hearings. After his swearing in on September 26 by Judge Hodges, in what the jurist called a “happy chore,” Genzman stated that he was “anxious and enthusiastic about getting started.” He promised to be “aggressive, independent, fair and non-partisan in the work that we do.”46 Genzman presented a striking contrast to Merkle. According to St. Petersburg attorney Terry Smiljanich, who worked with Genzman during the Iran-Contra hearings, “Bob is a very low-key individual who does not come on strong with a lot of bombast. Quietly, he is very effective. He gets the job done without making a big show.”47

As expected, Genzman shuffled his staff, demoting Magri and hiring two other young prosecutors that would eventually make great contributions to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Genzman hired Gregory Kehoe away from the Southern District of Florida to replace Magri. Kehoe grew up in Bronx, New York, the son of a policeman, and he earned his law degree from St. John’s University. James R. Klindt grew up in Orlando, starred in baseball at Edgewater High School, and attended the University of Central Florida and Florida State University College of Law. Uncertain about his future, Klindt clerked for Judge Howell Melton during the Lehder trial. Witnessing Merkle, Ernst Mueller, and the team of prosecutors in the six-month Lehder trial convinced Klindt that he wanted to be a prosecutor. Also joining the Jacksonville criminal division with Klindt was Stephen M. Kunz.48 Klindt hit the ground running, scrambling as fast as he could to learn the ins and outs of prosecution. Besides the specific instruction and hands-on training he received, he found former prosecutor and state’s attorney E. J. Salcines’s predicate evidence handbook extremely helpful. “I wore it out,” he said, “used it constantly. It was the most valuable thing in the office.”49

After George H. W. Bush’s and Connie Mack’s elections, Florida’s entire Republican establishment lined up in support of Genzman for a regular appointment. President Bush acquiesced, and Genzman won Senate approval for a four-year term.50 As a pathetic finale to Merkle’s crusade against Hillsborough County corruption, prosecutions against prominent (p.193) Tampa attorneys Paul Johnson, John Demmi, and Lawrence Goodrich went forward. Leading the prosecution against Johnson in January 1989 was the now-demoted Joseph Magri, who sparred with Judge George C. Carr over the testimony of Magri’s star witness, Jerry Bowmer. Carr refused to allow Magri to pursue a line of questioning with Bowmer, stating that the former commissioner was “such a liar” that it might put the entire trial in jeopardy. “And he is,” Carr insisted. “He’s admitted that time and time again.” Magri responded by filing a motion complaining that the judge was taking the defense’s side in the trial. Carr responded, “I resent some of the things you have said in this motion. It’s apparent that you’re alleging that I’m being partial as the trial judge in this case, and I resent that.”51 Johnson’s attorney, F. Lee Bailey, called numerous witnesses on his client’s behalf, including former state attorney Salcines, Sheriff Walter C. Heinrich, state senator Malcolm E. Beard, Tampa lawyer Louis de la Parte, and Hillsborough circuit judge Harry Lee Coe. The construction company executive who retained Johnson’s services also testified that, although he was shocked at Johnson’s legal fee, he paid it willingly—but was then “browbeaten” by Merkle and Magri to testify against Johnson when they were investigating the defendant. In the end Magri’s case hinged on the testimony of Jerry Bowmer, whom Bailey asserted, and few disagreed, was a “pathological liar.” The three-week trial ended with the jury acquitting Johnson on charges of conspiracy, extortion, and two of three counts of perjury. The jury deadlocked on the third perjury count, and Judge Carr declared a mistrial on that count. Then, in December, Genzman’s prosecutors failed in a third try to convict attorney John Demmi of corruption charges. “Enough is enough,” Demmi said after the jury pronounced its not guilty verdict. “I hope this is the last chapter.” Demmi’s lawyer added, “This prosecution was part of the inheritance left to us by an overreaching and overzealous U.S. Attorney.”52 Finally, Judge William Castagna’s dismissal of the corruption case against Lawrence Goodrich in 1990 marked the end of Merkle’s public corruption investigations against Hillsborough County officials and lawyers.

Using the grand jury as his personal weapon, the U.S. attorney indicted many public officials and lawyers. While the prosecutions netted no major convictions, they did consume tremendous resources and damaged many reputations. Many years later Hillsborough County circuit judge J. Rogers Padgett, recalling Merkle’s seemingly endless probes, said, “He was suspicious of everybody who worked at the courthouse—the judges, the assistant state attorneys, the criminal defense attorneys. … He seemed to (p.194) be convinced there was corruption, and he pursued it, and he found very little.”53

Even with Merkle gone, the U.S. Attorney’s office continued to receive criticism from Washington. On November 21, 1990, U.S. Attorney Robert Genzman called a report by the House Committee on Government Operations “unfair” in its assertion that the Middle District was one of three districts in the country that did not place a high enough priority on bank fraud and embezzlement cases. Genzman countered that such prosecutions were second only to drugs in his office’s priority. “Our problems are in, not the lack of quality or allocation of manpower, but the lack of manpower,” he explained.54 Genzman stated that he had the equivalent of fifteen attorneys working full-time on economic fraud, and nine on bank fraud and embezzlement cases, and that this was a proper allocation given the pressing problem of drugs, defense procurement fraud, and Medicare fraud facing the district. Genzman noted that in the last two years ninety-five bank fraud and embezzlement cases had been brought forward and forty-four were still pending.

As further proof of the office’s effectiveness, Genzman reported that under his leadership the district took in three times more money in fines and forfeitures than the amount allocated to his office (or $37.3 million versus about $11 million in operating expenses). The next year (1991) Genzman’s office also returned to the U.S. Treasury more than $29.3 million in excess of its operating expenses. “We’re not in business to turn a profit, but we’re happy when our work produces large monetary benefits for the public we service.” The money “from our operations gives the taxpayers a break, because this money is used to fund government programs.”55 Genzman noted that the office logged roughly 900 criminal cases the previous year. His offices in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Fort Myers employed 187 people, 89 of whom were lawyers. Providing further information regarding the financial operations of his office, Genzman noted that civil collections amounted to $13.2 million, and those included defaulted student loans, federal mortgage foreclosures, and overpayment of agency benefits. Criminal collections amounted to roughly $10 million, and 95 percent of those funds were deposited into the federal Crime Victims Fund, a fund that provided the states money to compensate victims and their families for economic losses. Money from criminal asset forfeitures was also used to finance federal law enforcement programs and prison construction. Local police agencies also were allowed a share in the forfeitures. Justice Department officials (p.195) ranked the Middle District in the top 20 percent in the nation in terms of money collected.56

Nuclear Protests, Spying, and Arms Trafficking

By the middle 1980s both Tampa and Orlando had grown substantially. Large international airports with daily flights to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia linked them to the outside world, and travelers engaged in legal and illegal enterprises found the two cities hospitable venues to conduct business. By the middle 1980s, with the Cold War still running at fever pitch, Orlando’s Martin-Marietta Corporation was a manufacturing center for the U.S. Army’s Pershing 2 nuclear missiles, Patriot missile launchers, and other sophisticated military hardware.

Before daylight on Easter Sunday 1984 a group of six men and two women calling itself the “Pershing Plowshares Group” cut a hole through a chain link fence, entered the Martin-Marietta production facility, hammered on missile components, smeared blood on them, and tacked up copies of an “‘indictment’ denouncing Marietta ‘for the manufacture for profit of weapons of mass destruction.’”57 When guards discovered the group inside the facility, they were singing and praying. They asserted that their actions constituted a symbolic act of civil disobedience for their cause. Their purpose was to demonstrate against the factory which they claimed was “engaged in ‘immoral activity.’” When brought before Judge George C. Young, the protestors stated that they intended to defend themselves on the basis that production of nuclear weapons was a violation of “God’s Law” and that “the break-in was justified on the basis of international law and the necessity of avoiding nuclear confrontations.” Young responded sternly, stating that his courtroom was “not a forum for the espousal of political beliefs any more than it would be the forum for persecution of political beliefs.”58 Further, Young forbade any attempt to defend those charged based on the fact they were obeying, as they called it, “God’s Law.” If convicted of conspiracy and destruction of U.S. Army property, the men and women were facing up to fifteen years in prison. Outside the courthouse and at the entrance to the defense plant, protestors carrying signs picketed daily during the trial while supporters from around the country filled the courtroom.59

As expected, the defendants were convicted of breaking and entering, thus joining six other groups of defendants representing the nuclear freeze movement convicted in other federal courts across the country. Even so, (p.196) one defendant muttered, “It was a moral victory. The truth was told in the courtroom. We expected to be misunderstood and that is what happened.”60 On July 27 Young sentenced the defendants to three years in prison and $2,900 each for damaging the missile-launcher components. “The law is clear,” Young declared, “It must be obeyed.” After listening to the defendant’s statements, Young responded, “This case does not involve a debate between war and peace. No one would dispute the desire for peace or the undesirability of nuclear weapons … but in this country the views you have espoused here today can be espoused better to the representatives of the people.”61 As the U.S. marshals led the eight away, they smiled and waved to their supporters who sang “We Shall Overcome.”

Far more serious issues for the Middle District courts to consider were several cases involving spying and arms trafficking. In 1981 Judge Susan Black presided over an espionage case involving a man named Joseph George Helmich, who had sold secrets to the Soviet Union for $130,000.00. As Black described the case, during the Vietnam War Helmich had “supplied the enemy with the codes of our black boxes, our cryptographic work, which means that they were able to listen in to our military channels, and rather than stopping after the war … he continued to get the money, and he continued to supply information to governments who were not friendly with us.” The deception had gone on for seventeen years.62

Judge Black remembered that an unusual aspect of the trial was that it was the first time “any judge in the country had used an agreement that was entered into between the Chief Justice of the United States and the White House on how spy cases should be conducted.” The problem was that the evidence used in the case was still classified. “I actually had an FBI agent assigned to me who was not permitted to go back and speak to the FBI about anything that was going on, but he took care of the evidence because part of this was still secret. … But I didn’t understand the technology completely obviously because the military felt that part of it … was generational thing, that if you had the whole box you could figure out today’s cryptology. The generals in the war testified, and it was an interesting case.” Black sentenced Helmich to life in prison for violating the espionage act, and the decision was upheld on appeal.63

On June 29, 1984, in Judge Ben Krentzman’s Tampa courtroom West German auto mechanic Ernst Ludwig Wolfgang Forbrich was convicted of spying. Forbrich was first apprehended in Clearwater when he put a down payment on the purchase of a classified military document to an undercover federal agent posing as an army captain assigned to the U.S. Central (p.197) Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base. It was revealed at the trial that Forbrich intended to sell the documents to East Germany, as he had done in similar fashion for the previous fifteen years. Forbrich lived near the U.S. military base at his home in Goeppingen, West Germany. His success in obtaining documents in Germany ultimately encouraged For-brich to use his contacts to put him in touch with officials at MacDill. The taped conversation about the down payment was used against the defendant, but jurors also listened to other secretly taped conversations between Forbrich and the former wife of an army major who had access to classified documents at the military base. The tapes revealed that Forbrich had urged her to steal the documents and sell them to him. Forbrich was eventually sentenced to a total of fifteen years in prison.64

The Tampa courthouse was also the scene of another dramatic spy trial in 1991 when ex-sergeant Roderick Ramsey pled guilty to stealing sensitive Western military secrets and selling them to Eastern Bloc nations. According to the FBI, which had been cooperating with Ramsey in the hope of arresting others involved in the scheme, the sale of sensitive documents in the early 1980s to Hungarian and Czechoslovakian agents represented an “unprecedented” breach of Western security. Ramsey had been stationed with the 8th Infantry Division headquarters in Bad Kreuznach, West Germany, and was assigned to guard sensitive military plans. He was recruited into the spying activity by his supervisor, Clyde Lee Conrad, who was already serving a life sentence. After Ramsey’s guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Robert Genzman argued that Ramsey deserved a stiff sentence because the sergeant had sold “plans for the defense of Central Europe; documents outlining the location and use of NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons; and technical manuals and information about the ability of the alliance’s military communications.” Calling Ramsey’s crimes the “most serious criminal offense one can commit,” Judge Hodges sentenced Ramsey to thirty-six years in prison. Genzman praised Hodges’ tough sentence. “We can’t afford to have people giving out military secrets to the enemy. We feel the sentence is appropriate.”65

Soon two other Ramsey associates, Sgt. Jeffrey Rondeau, stationed in Bangor, Maine, and Jeffrey Gregory, stationed in Alaska, were both arrested and brought back to Tampa in 1994. Both pled guilty to selling U.S. Army and NATO secrets to Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1985. Both were sentenced to eighteen years in federal prison. Finally, in 1997 yet another suspect in the Conrad spy ring was taken into custody. Kelly Therese Warren was arrested in Warner Robins, Georgia. Warren was charged with (p.198) preparing classified documents for distribution during the ten-year period she was stationed in West Germany. In February 1999, in Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich’s court, she was found guilty of spying and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.66

Also in Tampa retired Army Reserve colonel George Trofimoff was prosecuted for espionage. Charged with a twenty-five-year conspiracy of selling secrets to the Soviet Union, Trofimoff, seventy-three years old, was arrested in a sting operation in Tampa on June 14, 2000. The colonel formerly headed the Nuremberg Joint Interrogation Center in Germany, which interviewed refugees and other émigrés from Russia and other Eastern Bloc countries. He had a top-secret security clearance and worked in military intelligence from 1959 through 1994. Prosecutors alleged that Trofimoff received between $250,000 and $300,000 in payoffs for passing sensitive information to the Russians. After thirty-five years in the military, Trofimoff retired to Brevard County. After a lengthy investigation, the FBI lured Trofimoff to Tampa, posing as Soviet agents offering to pay him for what he thought he was still owed, and he was immediately arrested. The indictment charged Trofimoff with thirty-two overt acts of conspiracy from 1969 through 1995. Trofimoff had given the Soviets “documents, photographs, photographic negatives and information relating to national defense of the United States, with intent and reason to believe that the same would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation.”67

At Trofimoff’s bail hearing Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Furr alleged that the defendant was “responsible for a huge hemorrhage of information that had come out. … There’s no telling how many documents went over.” Included in the twenty-five years worth of secrets was information about chemical weapons, battle strategies, and NATO intelligence needs. Worse still, Furr had audio- and videotape of Trofimoff, the son of Russian immigrants to the United States, telling undercover agents, “Russia is my homeland,” and pounding his chest while saying, “I’m not American in here.”68

Trofimoff’s trial began approximately ten months later. One of the leading witnesses for the government was “John Doe,” an agent for the British Secret Service, MI6. Also used in the trial were secret KGB records recovered from a former agent who defected to England in 1992. Given a chance to testify on his own behalf, Trofimoff accused the witnesses of lying, claiming that his entire family was killed by the Bolsheviks. “I hated them and so did my whole family.”69 He told of growing up in Berlin and being raised with another boy who eventually became an official in the (p.199) Russian Orthodox Church. (Trofimoff was accused later of conspiring with the official to sell secrets to the Soviets.) Trofimoff eventually immigrated to New York in 1947 and enlisted in the U.S. Army the next year. Of the tapes, Trofimoff said he concocted the whole story. “The whole story was based on the need of money and the offer of money. That’s why I did it. I’m not proud of it.”70 The jury convicted Trofimoff on all counts. Three months later a stern Judge Susan Bucklew addressed the convicted spy: “I think you concocted a story, you committed perjury in your testimony … and I think life is an appropriate sentence for the crime you committed.”71 Trofimoff appealed his conviction on three separate occasions to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, failing each time. His life sentence behind bars became a certainty in 2004 when the Supreme Court refused to consider his case.72

Central Florida was also the venue for illegal arms trafficking activity, and the Orlando and the Tampa courthouses were sites of several highprofile arms trafficking cases. Since the passage of the Arms Export Act (1979) in response to the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, the United States had banned arms sales and other commerce with Iran. Yet with that embattled nation’s war with Iraq and lots of oil cash available, the inducements to sell Iran weapons tempted many. In August 1985 federal agents arrested Paul Sjeklocha (aka Paul Cutter) of San Jose, California, a Lebanese importer-exporter, and four others at a hotel near Orlando International airport. A seventh suspect was arrested at the Orlando airport after flying in from London. The seven men were charged with arms trafficking. Also arrested in California and Virginia were two Iranian nationals, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, and an artillery expert assigned to the Pentagon. FBI officials claimed that Cutter and his Lebanese accomplice were in Orlando to finish the deal to buy antitank weapons for over $9 million to be sold to Iran. At Cutter’s bail hearing U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Dietrich heard testimony describing the suspect as a naturalized American citizen born in Yugoslavia. He had worked for the U.S. Information Agency in Moscow in the 1960s, had been detained four and a half years in Yugoslavia on suspicion of spying for the United States, and since that time had returned to California and worked as a writer and publisher of several military-science magazines. An FBI agent testified that many incriminating documents were seized from Cutter’s briefcase including a communiqué sent from Cutter to the Defense Ministry of the Iranian Islamic Republic on the proposed sale of five thousand tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missiles sent from Cutter to them for $50 million.73

Within two weeks Paul Cutter and six others were indicted by a federal (p.200) grand jury in Orlando for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government, wire fraud, and bribery in trying to illegally ship arms and other military goods to Iran. The Middle District of Florida’s trial version of “Iranscam” went forward in Orlando on December 1985 before Judge Kendall Sharp. Most of the evidence in the case was developed through informants and the undercover taping of customs officials, FBI agents, and other unidentified sources who posed as thieves who had access to the missiles.74 Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Calvacca portrayed Cutter as an “international con man extraordinaire” who masterminded the arms deal.75 The defense attorneys for the other defendants charged that Cutter convinced them that he was assisting the U.S. government in a secret weapons deal to Iran to prevent Iraq and the Soviet Union from taking over the vast oil-rich Persian Gulf. The defense also accused the government’s chief witness, Anthony Romano, a man with a Mafia past, as well as another man in California with making death threats against the defendants if they refused to go through with the deal. Romano and an undercover FBI agent posed as Mafia figures with access to stolen TOW missiles. The jury convicted Cutter and arms dealer Charles St. Claire. The five others accused were acquitted.76

Cutter and St. Claire bitterly contested the verdict, claiming that the U.S. government had recently done several “under-the-table” deals with Iran. Cutter called his arrest “lousy and strictly illegal.” He charged that Mafia figures working for the government intimidated and in effect forced him and Cutter to make the deals.77 The fact that only two of seven defendants in the high-profile case were convicted brought the FBI and the undercover informant’s behavior under close scrutiny after the trial. Several of the jurors expressed discomfort over the FBI and the prosecutor’s office use of Romano. Romano’s shady past in the Mafia, his continued assertions that the arms deal were sanctioned by the government, and his threats to kill the defendants if they refused to cooperate was troubling to many of the jurors. One defense attorney also criticized Robert Merkle for approving the use of Mafia figures to pose as weapon’s suppliers. “He is the Darth Vader of the criminal justice system for approving the use of the Mafia in an undercover operation,” the attorney asserted. Even so, Cutter was sentenced to five years in prison, and his corporation was fined $100,000.78

St. Claire was sentenced to eighteen months in jail, but St. Claire and Cutter had served only two months when they were freed on the grounds that they were prosecuted at the same time that the White House was conducting secret arms sales to Iran. On November 13 in a televised address, President Ronald Reagan admitted clandestine arms deals to Iran in order (p.201) to fund Nicaraguan Contra rebels. As more information began to surface after the conviction, jurors began to express misgivings about their decision to convict Cutter and St. Claire. Responding to legal papers filed the previous month and to a statement by the jury foreman that he felt “duped” by the president, Judge Sharp dismissed the former convictions and granted the men a new trial. (The juror publicly stated that he would have acquitted the defendants if he had known of the government’s secret decision to sell arms to Iran.) “The court is convinced that this new evidence warrants a new trial,” asserted Sharp.79 Prosecutors appealed Sharp’s decision. Because of President Reagan’s disclosures, it was also reported that six pending arms smuggling cases with Iran were under review. Then, more than a year later in April 1988, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Sharp’s decision and ordered the men back to jail, ruling that the judge should not have considered the juror’s statement as evidence in overturning the verdict in granting the men a new trial.80

Years later Cutter appealed his conviction once again, claiming that the Reagan administration’s illegal clandestine operation of selling arms to Iran should absolve his guilt. But the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals cast aside this logic. “Although many Americans may possibly have felt betrayed and disappointed by the revelations concerning the Government’s involvement in the sale of arms to Iran and the funneling of the proceeds to Contra rebels in Nicaragua, such anguish, however great, is an insufficient basis on which to ignore constitutional laws enacted by Congress,” the court declared.

The defendant’s participation in a conspiracy to sell to Iran and his other related illegal activities do not become less illegal simply because the Government for reasons of its own security engaged in the transfer of arms and munitions to Iran. The Government’s diplomatic conduct of international negotiations or its policies in affairs of state do not excuse a person’s violation of federal criminal laws. As the Government aptly noted in its brief, “[h]ad Oliver North sold crack to the Contras, other drug dealers would not get a break in their sentences.” The defendant’s conduct was illegal—a crime; the Government’s covert activities involving Iran in no way justify or excuse defendant’s wrongful acts.81

The Iranscam case points out how difficult it was to gain convictions in arms trafficking cases. Yet another complex case was tried in Judge Patricia Fawsett’s court in 1990 against the backdrop of an impending war with (p.202) Iraq when a German optometrist and a Spanish businessman were tried on charges that they conspired to sell arms to Iraq and several other Middle Eastern countries. Claus Fuhler and Juan Martin Peche-Koesters were charged with violating the Arms Export Control Act for conspiring to sell antitank missiles to Iraq and Libya, who were identified by the U.S. State Department for promoting Middle Eastern terrorism. The two men were arrested in Orlando by customs agents posing as arms dealers eleven days after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and the trial was scheduled a month before the deadline set by the UN Security Council authorizing the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Their purpose in coming to Orlando, the indictment stated, was to finalize a deal to sell four hundred TOW missiles to Libya. A year earlier a manufacturer had tipped off authorities that the defendants were seeking to buy ten thousand TOW missiles for $160 million.82

The trial began in Judge Patricia Fawsett’s courtroom on December 4, and after two weeks of complicated testimony, including sixty cassette-tape conversations in German and Spanish between the defendants and government agents, Judge Fawsett threw out three of the five charges against Fuhler and Peche-Koesters. Similar to the Iranscam case, the issues in the trial came down to the behavior of the undercover agents. Defense lawyers claimed that the government led the defendants to believe that the sale was legal. In the process of the sting, the government set up a fake company and the agents assured the defendant that “this exportation was going to be an official government to government deal following all the legal channels.”83 Even though the two men may have suspected they were negotiating illegal sales, that did not satisfy the law. “Just because the air reeks of something foul is not proof of specific intent,” the judge asserted.84 Defense counsel praised Fawsett’s strict interpretation of the law adding that the men were foreigners and “naïve amateurs.” They were unacquainted with the law and did not know what they were discussing was illegal. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Pesquera deplored Fawsett’s dismissal, saying, “There’s no doubt that they knew what they were doing was illegal. But she ruled we didn’t prove it. It was a technicality.”85 With the crux of the government’s case collapsed, all that was left was to decide on the final count against the men, and Judge Fawsett did so on December 21. That day she directed the acquittal of the two men, ruling that there was not enough evidence to prove intent or a conspiracy to smuggle the weapons.

Judge Fawsett’s decision was a serious setback to customs officials, who stated the arrests were the result of a year-long sting operation code-named (p.203) Operation Dragon. U.S. Attorney Robert Genzman publicly announced that the acquittals would not deter his office from prosecuting illegal arms dealers. “We accept the court’s decision but we also want to stress the importance of pursing arms traffickers who jeopardize our national security interests.”86 Defense attorneys charged that the government’s trumpeting of the arrest of the men in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq had backfired. The Customs Service had called news conferences in Orlando and Washington to proudly announce the arrest of the men in August, noting that the case was “‘clearly’ linked to the invasion of Kuwait.” U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh had called the men the “merchants of death,” and a customs official referred to them as the “brokers of destruction.”87 Defense counsel charged the prosecutors and others connected with the case were “grandstanding from the very beginning. … The problem was there was never any case. The government imagined the whole thing,” one lawyer charged.88

Three years later Genzman and his prosecutors experienced a similar setback when Judge Kendall Sharp threw out conspiracy charges against four persons accused of selling antitank missiles to Uganda. The four, who also were suspected of conspiring to send helicopter parts to Libya, were arrested as part of a sting operation conducted by U.S. Customs agents posing as unscrupulous arms dealers. Sharp threw out the case as it was about to go to the jury. “In this case we had a lot of talk … but there was never any agreement, any contracts.” There was no “substantial act” to conclude the deal, he stated. Genzman expressed frustration over Sharp’s directed acquittal. “We vigorously disagree with the court’s ruling on factual and legal grounds. Unfortunately, because the court did not allow the case to go to the jury, the government cannot appeal.”89

The international nature of these prosecutions points to the fact that population within the Middle District of Florida had grown substantially. By the 1980s the urban centers within the district, particularly metro Orlando and Tampa, had become tourist meccas and travel destinations for domestic and international visitors. The region’s growth and development also lured transient residents seeking fun, relaxation, and, increasingly, business opportunities. These new dynamics posed numerous challenges to the judges and other functionaries of the U.S. Middle District of Florida because the new circumstances offered many new varied opportunities for adjudicating commercial disputes and prosecuting federal law breaking.


(1.) “Jurors to Probe Public Officials in Central, FLA,” Miami Herald, February 9, 1983.

(2.) Orrick and Crumpacker, Tampa Tribune, 423–24; “Ex-Official Works Out a Deal, Pleads Guilty,” Miami Herald, May 4, 1983; Anders Gyllenhaal, “Trial to Show Just the Tip Tampa Bribery Probes,” Miami Herald, June 12, 1983; “Witness Outlines ‘Deal’ for Votes in Tampa Trial,” Miami Herald, June 15, 1983; “Jury Hears FBI Tapes in Corruption Case,” Miami Herald, June 17, 1983; and “2 Ex-Officials Get 8 Years for Selling Their Votes,” Miami Herald, September 16, 1983.

(3.) Mary Jo Melone, “Jury Indicts Tampa Father, Son in Bid to Bribe U.S. Prosecutor,” St. Petersburg Times, November 8, 1983.

(4.) “Salcines Puts His Case to People in Ad,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 20, 1984.

(7.) Anders Gyllenhaal, “Corruption Runneth over Tough Prosecutors, Drug Trade and Informants Mean Record Number of Cases,” Miami Herald, April 29, 1984. See also “Graham Seeks Advice on Salcines Options,” Miami Herald, March 6, 1984.

(8.) Bentley Orrick, Andy Taylor, and Kevin Kalwary, “Federal Probe Digs Deeper into County Courthouse,” Tampa Tribune, February 5, 1984.

(9.) “Graham Names Prosecutor to Investigate State Attorney,” Miami Herald, April 13, 1984; “Prosecutor Rejects 2nd Grand Jury Invitation,” Miami Herald, March 10, 1984; and Dyckman, Most Disorderly Court, 52.

(10.) “Prosecutor Cleared in State Case,” Miami Herald, June 27, 1984; and “Special Investigator Clears Salcines of Lying Charges,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 27, 1984.

(11.) “Salcines Charges Interference,” St. Petersburg Evening Independent, July 16, 1984.

(12.) “Ex-Hillsborough Prosecutor Wins as Judge Orders Charges Dropped,” St. Petersburg Evening Independent, October 2, 1984.

(13.) “Prosecutor Seeking Probe of Own Office,” Palm Beach Post, October 19, 1984.

(14.) See also “Prosecutors Attacked by Salcines,” Miami Herald, October 12, 1984.

(15.) Anders Gyllenhaal, “Tampa Race a Thicket of Accusations, Prosecutor Center of Bitter Dispute,” Miami Herald, October 23, 1984.

(16.) “Prosecutors Attacked by Salcines,” Miami Herald, October 12, 1984.

(17.) “Speed up Investigations, Justice Department Urged,” Miami Herald, October 19, 1984.

(19.) “Grand Jury Indicts 25 Civic Leaders,” Orlando Sentinel, May 24, 1985. See also “Agency: U.S. Attorney Didn’t Abuse Power,” Miami Herald, November 2, 1984; “Prosecutor Salcines Ousted after 16 Years,” Palm Beach Post, November 8, 1984; “Newcomer Defeats Salcines,” Miami Herald, November 8, 1984; “Federal Grand Jury Indicts Hillsborough Civic Leaders,” Orlando Sentinel, May 23, 1985.

(20.) Roger Roy, “Eagan Argues Case for End to Corruption Investigation,” Orlando Sentinel, January 12, 1986.

(p.438) (21.) “Lawmaker Upset by Drug Allegations, He Says Prosecutor ‘Trying to Destroy Me,’” Orlando Sentinel, February 21, 1985.

(22.) “Grand Jury Calls It Quits after 3 Years,” Orlando Sentinel, March 1, 1986.

(23.) Jim Leusner, “Anti-Drug Leader Wants a Little Help from His Foes,” Orlando Sentinel, September 18, 1985; “Graham Speaks to Grand Jury Probe Focuses on Hillsborough Corruption,” Miami Herald, December 21, 1985; Pat Leisner, “Graham Questioned on Meeting with Salcines, Lakeland Ledger, December 21, 1985; and “Lawmaker, Former Client Indicted by Federal Jury,” Miami Herald, February 28, 1986.

(24.) “U.S. Prosecutor Criticizes Abortion Ruling as Tyranny,” Orlando Sentinel, November 18, 1985.

(25.) Paul Anderson, “‘Mad Dog’ Prosecutor ‘Cleaning House’ in Tampa,” Miami Herald, March 3, 1986.

(26.) “State Attorney Says Prosecutor Should Resign,” Miami Herald, March 27, 1986.

(27.) Ibid.; see also Roger Roy, “Merkle—Reviled by Establishment, Revered by Public,” Orlando Sentinel, April 20, 1986; and “U.S. Attorney Merkle Must Go,” Tampa Tribune, March 23, 1986.

(30.) “Ex-Commissioner Gets 3 Years for Bribes,” Miami Herald, November 18, 1986. See also “Three Guilty of Racketeering Jury Convicts 2 Former Hillsborough Commissioners,” Orlando Sentinel, July 20, 1986.

(31.) “Lawmaker’s Federal Trial Set December 1,” Miami Herald, November 19, 1986; and “Martinez Cleared of Perjury Acquits Lawmaker of Lying About Drugs,” Orlando Sentinel, December 9, 1986.

(32.) “As Senator, Graham Will Scrutinize Work of Merkle,” Orlando Sentinel, December 23, 1986; see also “Martinez to Heed Ruling, Testify,” Miami Herald, December 17, 1986; “Graham: I’m Not Out to Get Merkle,” St. Petersburg Times, January 3, 1987; and Paul Anderson, “Graham’s Tallahassee Farewell Marked by Questions on U.S. Attorney’s Letter,” Miami Herald, January 3, 1987.

(33.) Milo Geyelin, “Martinez Spars with Merkle During Cross-Examination,” St. Petersburg Times, January 10, 1987.

(34.) “Fire the U.S. Attorney,” St. Petersburg Times, January 13, 1987; see also “Mighty Merkle at the Bat,” St. Petersburg Times, January 16, 1987; see also Milo Geyelin, “Gov. Martinez Denies Bribe in Cable Deal—Aide Takes Jab at Prosecutor,” St. Petersburg Times, January 9, 1987; Tom Scherberger and Maya Bell, “Martinez Warns Merkle: Abuse Will Cost You Job,” Orlando Sentinel, January 10, 1987; and Paul Anderson, “Martinez to Reagan: Oust Prosecutor, Graft Charge Infuriates Governor,” Miami Herald, January 14, 1987.

(35.) Tom Scherberger, “Merkle Hits Press, Martinez Attack Comes as Jury Finds Italiano Guilty,” Orlando Sentinel, January 15, 1987.

(36.) Tom Scherberger, “Merkle: I’m Not Going to Give Up,” Orlando Sentinel, January 16, 1987.

(37.) See also Milo Geyelin, “Merkle Criticizes Media Coverage,” St. Petersburg Times, January 16, 1987; Kimberly D. Kleman, “Merkle Backers Launch Drive to Stave off His Detractors,” St. Petersburg Times, January 18, 1987; Joshua L. Weinstein, “‘60 Minutes’ Cameras Catch Merkle at Work,” St. Petersburg Times, March 24, 1987; and Mary Jo Melone, (p.439) “CBS Spotlights ‘Mad Dog Merkle’: U.S. Attorney on’60 Minutes,’” St. Petersburg Times, January 11, 1988.

(38.) Milo Geyelin, “Italiano again Questioned on Corruption,” St. Petersburg Times, April 16, 1987.

(39.) Milo Geyelin, “Defendant Says Merkle Has Grudge against Him,” St. Petersburg Times, June 19, 1987.

(40.) Chris Reidy, “Merkle Meets Meese, Fueling Senate Talk,” Orlando Sentinel, June 26, 1988.

(41.) “Merkle’s Top Aide Left off List of Nominees for Post,” Miami Herald, July 23, 1988.

(42.) “Merkle: Meese Lied about My Successor,” Miami Herald, August 6, 1988.

(45.) See also “A Cardboard Candidate,” Orlando Sentinel, August 7, 1988; Milo Geyelin, “Orlando Lawyer Picked to Replace Merkle,” St. Petersburg Times, August 5, 1988; and Kenneth S. Allen, “Merkle Assails Politicians over His Replacement,” St. Petersburg Times, August 6, 1988.

(46.) “Genzman Says He’ll Be Tough U.S. Attorney,” St. Petersburg Times, September 27, 1988.

(47.) Milo Geyelin, “Prosecution in a Lower Key: Interim U.S. Attorney No ‘Mad Dog,” St. Petersburg Times, January 2, 1989. See also Milo Geyelin, “Orlando Lawyer Picked to Replace Merkle,” St. Petersburg Times, August 5, 1988.

(48.) Milo Geyelin, “U.S. Attorney Demotes Top Aide,” St. Petersburg Times, December 13, 1988; “Genzman Supported for U.S. Attorney,” Miami Herald, January 25, 1989; Alessandra Da Pra, “From Bronx Boy to World Class Litigator,” St. Petersburg Times, July 25, 2008; and James Klindt interview with the author, May 23, 2011.

(49.) James Klindt interview with the author, May 23, 2011.

(50.) “Genzman Wins Senate Approval for 4-Year Term,” Orlando Sentinel, November 2, 1989.

(51.) Milo Geyelin, “Prosecutor, Judge Swap Barbs at Lawyer’s Trial,” St. Petersburg Times, January 18, 1989.

(52.) Bruce Vielmetti, “Two Lawyers Acquitted,” St. Petersburg Times, December 6, 1989. See also Geyelin, “Prosecutor, Judge Swap Barbs”; “Milo Geyelin, “Officials Testify in Lawyer’s Perjury Trial,” St. Petersburg Times, January 25, 1989; and Milo Geyelin, “Tampa Lawyer Found Innocent, Jury Clears Johnson of Extortion, Perjury,” St. Petersburg Times, January 28, 1989.

(53.) William R. Levesque, “Bulldog Attorney Dies,” St. Petersburg Times, May 7, 2003.

(54.) Tom Brennan, “U.S. Attorney Calls Critical Report ‘Unfair,’ Tampa Tribune, November 22, 1990.

(55.) Tom Brennan, “U.S. Attorney Boasts Collections Are Triple Costs of Running Office,” Tampa Tribune, November 24, 1990.

(56.) Ibid.; Tom Brennan, “Agency Returns $29 Million,” Tampa Tribune, December 24, 1991; and “Crime Pays U.S. Prosecutors Bills Federal Attorney’s Office Seizes $42.5 Million, Posts ‘Profit,’” Orlando Sentinel, December 31, 1991.

(57.) “Trial Begins for Pershing Missile Plant Protesters,” Miami Herald, July 10, 1984.

(p.440) (59.) Ibid.; “Plowshares Cite ‘God’s Law,’ Miami Herald, July 11, 1984; and Anders Gyllenhaal, “Protesters, Weapons on Trial,” Miami Herald, July 12, 1984.

(60.) Anders Gyllenhaal, “Protesters Guilty of Break-in at Missile Plant,” Miami Herald, July 15, 1984.

(61.) “8 Protesters Dealt 3 Years in Prison,” Miami Herald, July 27, 1984.

(62.) Judge Susan Black Oral History, 46. See also Jim Leusner, “Spying Suspect Held in Florida,” Orlando Sentinel, July 16, 1981; “Helmich ‘Guilty’ in Plot,” Orlando Sentinel, September 29, 1981; and Boca Raton News, September 29, 1981.

(63.) Judge Susan Black Oral History, 46; Jim Leusner, “Spying Suspect Held in Florida,” Orlando Sentinel, July 16, 1981; “Helmich ‘Guilty’ in Plot,” Orlando Sentinel, September 29, 1981; and Boca Raton News, September 29, 1981.

(64.) “German Pleads Innocent in Spy Case,” Miami Herald, March 30, 1984; Jury Seated in Trial of Mechanic Charged with Selling U.S. Secrets,” Miami Herald, June 26, 1984; “German Said to Tout Spying for Profit,” Miami Herald, June 27, 1984; “W. German Guilty of Spying, Jury Says,” Miami Herald, June 30, 1984; and “E. German Spy Sentenced to 15 Years Imprisonment,” Miami Herald, August 4, 1984.

(65.) “Ex-Sergeant Gets 36 Years for Selling Secrets,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, August 29, 1992; see also Bruce Vielmetti, “Ex-Sergeant Pleads Guilty to Espionage,” St. Petersburg Times, September 18, 1991; and Tom Brennan, “Army Recruiter Accused of Espionage,” Tampa Tribune, October 23, 1992.

(66.) Vielmetti, “2 Plead Guilty to Selling Secrets”; David Sommer, “Soldiers Get 18 Years for Passing Military Secrets to Communists,” Tampa Tribune, June 25, 1994; Gragido and Pirc, Cybercrime and Espionage, 104–5; and “25 Years Ordered in Spy Conspiracy Exsoldier Plotted with Warsaw Pact,” Florida Times-Union, February 14, 1999.

(67.) Tamara Lytle, “Brevard Retiree Is Accused of Espionage, Orlando Sentinel, June 15, 2000.

(68.) Jim Leusner, “Spy Secrets Unravel for Military Retiree,” Orlando Sentinel, June 21, 2000.

(69.) Dong-Phuong Nguyen, “Trofimoff: I Grew up Hating Communists,” St. Petersburg Times, June 22, 2001.

(70.) Dong-Phuong Nguyen, “Trofimoff Repudiates Taped Spy Statements,” St. Petersburg Times, June 23, 2001.

(71.) Paula Christian, “Spy Sentenced to Life in Prison,” Tampa Tribune, September 28, 2001.

(72.) Paula Christian, “British Secret Agent Testifies,” Tampa Tribune, June 19, 2001; Gwyneth K. Shaw, “Retiree Found Guilty of Spying for KGB,” Orlando Sentinel, June 27, 2001; and Gwyneth K. Shaw, “Justices Will Leave Spy in Prison,” Orlando Sentinel, May 25, 2004. On the case, see Susan Bucklew Oral History, 34–38; and Byers, Imperfect Spy.

(73.) Jim Leusner, “Suspect: Agents Threatened Death, 7th Person Sought in Arms Plot Surrenders at Orlando Airport,” Orlando Sentinel, August 6, 1985.

(74.) Jim Leusner, “7 Charged with Trying to Sell Arms to Iran,” Orlando Sentinel, August 21, 1985.

(75.) Jim Leusner, “Attorney: Plot Ran on Greed,” Orlando Sentinel, December 10, 1985.

(76.) Jim Leusner, “Jurors in Iranscam Let 4 Go but Convict 2 Arms Dealers,” Orlando Sentinel, December 17, 1985.

(78.) Jim Leusner, “Defense Attorneys, Jurors Say Iranscam Was Handled Poorly,” Orlando Sentinel, December 18, 1985; see also Jim Leusner, “Iranscam Figure Gets 5-year Term Convicted Weapons Dealer Calls FBI Sting Operation a ‘Cockeyed Affair,’ Orlando Sentinel, January 22, 1986.

(79.) Craig Crawford, “Judge Frees Dealers in Arms-to-Iran Case,” Orlando Sentinel, February 20, 1987.

(80.) Ibid.; and Kirsten Gallagher, “Missile Dealers Lose Retrial Iran Arms Sellers to Return to Prison, Orlando Sentinel, April 28, 1988.

(81.) United States of America, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Paul Sjeklocha, a.k.a. Paul Cutter, Respondent-Appellee, No. 96–2642, 11th Circuit, Appeal from MD of FL, (No. 85–65-Cr-ORL-18), May 30, 1997.

(82.) Bob Levenson, “Arms Trial of 2 to Include Talk about Deal with Iraq,” Orlando Sentinel, December 3, 1990; and “Weapons Case Ends in Directed Acquittal for 2,” Miami Herald, December 22, 1990.

(84.) Bob Levenson, “Judge Rejects 3 Arms Deal Counts Europeans Still Face 1 Charge Each,” Orlando Sentinel, December 21, 1990.

(86.) “Weapons Case Ends in Directed Acquittal for 2.”

(87.) Bob Levenson, “Judge Dismisses Case over Weapons Dealing,” Orlando Sentinel, December 22, 1990.

(88.) “Weapons Case Ends in Directed Acquittal for 2.”

(89.) Jim Leusner, “Judge Throws out Missile Charges,” Orlando Sentinel, February 3, 1993.