As a co-defendant in the town of Gulf Stream’s recent RICO lawsuit, I would like to set the record straight. The town initiated this action for one purpose — to censor, intimidate and silence its critics.
I have been very careful to make sure my legal complaints against the town were thoughtful, valid and worthy of the court’s time. Mayor Scott Morgan labeled them all “scandalously malicious and frivolous.” Now the town’s RICO complaint has apparently been determined to be frivolous. How ironic.
Mayor Morgan, using the town’s outside counsel, attorney Robert Sweetapple (previously my attorney), first offered to exclude me a year ago from this RICO complaint if I agreed to drop all my lawsuits against the town. I did not take him up on his offer.
Last October the mayor and attorney Gerald Richman assured the other commissioners that the RICO threat would make me withdraw all my complaints and cause me to stop asking for public records. Additionally, the commission anticipated that a RICO judgment would get them all their legal expenses back three times over.
Perhaps naively, I thought my right to free speech was more important than the inconvenience of defending against a RICO claim. I had no idea just how debilitating and costly that defense would be.
This experience has been very stressful for my family and me. The financial strain of defending myself, the uncertainty of a possible devastating outcome and the shock of being falsely accused have taken a toll. I thank God U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra finally put an end to it.
I consider the mayor’s RICO lawsuit against me and his publicity campaign of “bully pulpit” comments at Town Hall meetings, his official letters to residents, town interviews on TV and in newspapers, and even a defamatory law review article by another of the town’s attorneys, all to be part of a continuing campaign of retaliation against me for speaking out.
I have made many public record requests about the police officer who trespassed into my home over three years ago and other questionable activities by the town. I have spoken publicly at town meetings about issues town leaders may find uncomfortable. The town wished to chill such public speech by claiming it was part of some organized crime effort. Thankfully the judge ruled otherwise.
Rather than admit past wrongdoing, agreeing to follow state law in the future and acting like a real democratic government, town leaders instead choose to stall the inevitable by ignoring settlement offers and prolonging a legal strategy apparently intended to “save face.”
In July, the commission voted to appeal Marra’s decision and ask another judge to examine this expensive and unwarranted RICO lawsuit.
Also at this meeting, the town manager disclosed that next year’s budget will allocate $1 million for legal expenses (25 percent of the town’s entire budget). Where is this money coming from? At that same July meeting the town approved a preliminary budget that raises the millage rate from 3.1 mills in 2012 to 5.0 mills in 2015. According to the town’s own estimates, when adjusted for increases in property value, this is a total increase of 73.57 percent in just three years.
This RICO complaint may have been born more out of hubris than actual government purpose, proving to be more self-serving rather than serving the public and certainly intended to protect town leaders by punishing town critics. Consequently, the notion of fair government has been besmirched and unfortunately town residents will be stuck with the hefty and growing bill.
Editor’s Note: According to the Town of Gulf Stream, Mr. O’Hare has filed more than 1,000 public record requests with the town.