It's probably never a good idea to call a guy who carries a gun a coward. But what else are we to conclude about State Attorney Investigator Paul Meyers? He is, apparently, simply afraid to talk to us about remarks he made in another newspaper last August.
In that interview, Meyers assumed the role of apologist for the State Attorney's Office and his boss, State Attorney Kirk Zuelch. He said he wasn't happy about the "shots" Zuelch has been taking in the media. And he was critical of newspapers that sometimes take the side of those being prosecuted without talking to someone at the State Attorney's Office first presumably to get the "real" story.
Well, we've been trying since Aug. 20 to get Meyers to call us and answer some questions about what he said in that interview. We even faxed a two-page memo over to him outlining our questions in advance. No response.
We sent the memo over again on Sept. 20. No response. And we faxed another request over just this week.
Now, we are certainly aware that Meyers is not the official spokesman for the State Attorney's Office and he has probably been ordered not to return our calls. In fact, Zuelch probably called Meyers on the carpet for sitting for that other interview in the first place, and pretending that he was a spokesman.
But the fact is that Meyers did sit for that interview and he did run his mouth about how wonderful the State Attorney's Office is and how unfair it is for any of the media to dare to criticize that office. All we want to do is ask him some questions about what he said but we can't do that while he's hiding under his desk.
We hear that he's a big, bad boy when he's busting those little girl clerks in the t-shirt shops. But, apparently, he goes into a cold sweat when confronted with the possibility of talking to Key West The Newspaper. That's because he knows he can't defend what he said.
What Meyers was reacting to, of course, was our front-page commentary last July 30, headlined "Funny Business or Incompetence: It's Time For A New State Attorney." Our subhead was "Zuelch's Style: Selective Prosecution, Abuse of Power, Weak Lawyering."
In that piece, we outlined example after example of high-profile arrests that later resulted in the charges being quietly dropped because, time after time, the State Attorney's investigators had made bad cases they couldn't defend. We also cited examples of Zuelch's efforts to indict enemies of his political friends on bogus charges. And we cited at least one example in which Zuelch used his influence to benefit his wife, who is also a government employee.
Much of our July commentary is still timely. And a reprint may be worthwhile. County voters need to know about Mr. Zuelch and his minions. So, here is that commentary again, with some appropriate updating:
When a Grand Jury recently chided State Attorney Kirk Zuelch for law enforcement impotence in dealing with shady merchants on Duval Street, his office sprang into action. But rather than go after fly-by-night businesses with a history of complaints, Zuelch and his crew busted one of the classiest merchants on the street Manuel Marcial, who has owned and operated Emeralds International here for 19 years.
The charges were questionable at best a customer wanted a full refund on a ring originally purchased in 1993. And the ring had subsequently been damaged by the customer. The emerald had been broken and part of it was missing.
But Zuelch pushed his staff to plod forward anyway, making sure that their actions received as much press coverage as possible to, apparently, damage Marcial's reputation as much as possible.
But now those charges are reportedly falling apart. The Miami appraiser who provided the appraisal on which Zuelch based his charges has now repudiated that appraisal. "Marcial is not a criminal," the appraiser says.
Now, a red-faced Zuelch and his people are reportedly considering trying to settle this case quietly out of court. But Marcial says he'll have none of that. He wants full vindication and a public apology. And if Zuelch proceeds with a trial and can't get a conviction, his office may be facing false arrest charges.
Some say that the State Attorney's Office is floundering out of control. The Marcial case is just one example in which Zuelch and his staff have, apparently, just flat screwed up. In some cases, our sources say, these apparent screw-ups are on purpose, designed to push the agendas of Zuelch's power-broker friends. In other cases, these may simply be examples of abject incompetence.
Back in July, the State Attorney's office dropped all charges against SunCruz Capt. Loralee Ockerlund. She had been arrested in February of last year, charged with allowing gambling on her vessel within the three-mile limit. The State Attorney authorized that arrest based on mere visual observations by officers. And the only GPS (global positioning satellite) reading taken by the officers showed the vessel outside the three-mile limit.
Capt. Ockerlund's attorney said that the case "was ill conceived and politically motivated." But that didn't make any difference to Zuelch and his staff. They went for it anyway making sure, as usual, to get as much press coverage as possible to, apparently, damage the reputations of Capt. Ockerlund and her company as much as possible.
And do you remember the 1996 case in which a Coral Shores high school teacher was arrested in front of one of his pupils for allegedly spening more than $100 in sending out letters supporting a candidate for School Superintendent?
The arrest generated big headlines which is Zuelch's style. Then he offered to drop the charges if the teacher would accept pre-trial intervention, in essence, a stringent probationary sentence. That is Zuelch's style: Trash a person's reputation with a public arrest; then reduce or drop the charges to keep from having to defend the bogus arrest.
The teacher refused to accept Zuelch's offer and demanded a jury trial. And that was the end of that. Knowing that his office couldn't defend those charges, Zuelch ordered that they be dropped.
Question: Why was the man arrested in the first place? Answer: To embarrass the candidate the teacher was supporting. Abuse of power? You be the judge.
And, do you remember Zuelch's involvement in the Mosquito Control Board (MCB) job fix flap, don't you? Back in 1993, the Chairman of the MCB went to Zuelch and told him that the majority of the board had conspired to create an unneeded job and, then, fill that job with then-Mayor Dennis Wardlow. That charge was confirmed by both a former and a current member of the board. But Zuelch could have cared less.
Now, fast-forward to 1996, after the voters had replaced the alleged job-fixers with two anti-corruption commissioners. But when they moved to unfix the job, Zuelch fell all over himself convening a grand Jury to investigate trumped up charges that the new commissioners may have conspired out of the sunshine even though both had repeatedly promised, while on the campaign trail, to unfix the job if elected.
But unwilling to depend on the Grand Jury members to bring down indictments (they didn't), Zuelch illegally leaked the proceedings to the press to, apparently, damage the reputations of the two job unfixers as much as possible. We know he leaked the information, because he leaked it to us.
The leak resulted in big headlines, damaging the reputations of the two elected officials. And, of course, that was the whole idea.
Who was the source of the complaint Zuelch was investigating? Would it surprise you to learn that it was Dennis Wardlow?
And let's not forget the Duck Tour Safari, the little company that used World War II amphibious vessels to conduct harbor tours. Because they could also operate on land, the same vehicles were used to transport passengers back to their hotels or to other pick-up points around the island.
Zuelch set out to make a case that the Ducks were illegally conducting sightseeing tours on land, in violation of the City's exclusive franchise with the Conch Tour Trains and Old Town Trolleys. That's a criminal offense in Key West, folks. We're not making this up.
Undercover investigators went on tours aboard the Ducks and shot hours of videotape but they were unable to produce any evidence that any Duck representative was pointing out sights on land. Even the routes were not conducive to sightseeing like scenic White Street.
But no matter. Ducks owner John Murphy and his captains were charged. And that effectively put the Ducks out of business which was probably the plan all along. Then, as usual, the State Attorney wanted to plea bargain the charges down. But Murphy insisted on a jury trial. And you know what happened.
Malicious prosecution? Restraint of trade? What do you think? This abuse of power by the State Attorney could cost the City millions! And rightly so.
But you should know that when Zuelch loses a case or is willing to drop charges, he really has a loser on his hands because one thing we've all learned from the Judge Shea "trial" is that Zuelch thinks nothing about calling the judges or most of the judges and suggesting to them how they should rule in his cases. Judge Shea told him to shove it. That `s how Shea got in trouble. But, we understand, some of the other judges are more compliant.
You should also know that Zuelch doesn't restrict his abuse of power to just "the line of duty." When his wife got demoted over at the Domestic Abuse Shelter, he reportedly used his influence to not only get her reinstated, but to also get the director fired. Why not? Zuelch's philosophy seems to be, "If you've got the power, flaunt it."
Zuelch is up for reelection inext year. And when election time comes, many voters may agree with us. Enough is enough! There's just too much abuse of power. There's just too much corruption. It's time for a change. It's time to clean up the State Attorney's Office.