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PBA-Maddox fight fuels gubernatorial feud

Scott Maddox's father helped start the police union, which now works to keep him from becoming Florida's next governor.

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published August 7, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - Charlie Maddox was an Army sergeant, a drill instructor-turned Metro Dade street cop. Blending charm, guile and toughness, he built the Florida Police Benevolent Association from nothing into a statewide political force more than 30,000 members strong.

Along the way, the PBA groomed Charlie's son, Scott Maddox, a political force in his own right.

Before Scott graduated law school, the PBA gave him a $60,000-a-year consulting contract. It helped elect him Tallahassee's youngest-ever city commissioner, jump-starting a political career that now has him aiming for governor.

Eleven years ago the PBA ousted Charlie, saying he had turned the union into his personal fiefdom and lined his family's pockets. It was an ugly parting; both sides came away bearing serious grudges.

Now, as the 37-year-old son runs for governor, the union instrumental in launching his career is bent on destroying it. It's a political schism as personal and bitter as Florida has seen.

Says PBA executive director David Murrell: "I don't know that it's personal. I would just characterize it as business."

* * *

With a shoe box in the trunk of his police car, Charlie Maddox collected 50-cent annual dues from his fellow Metro Dade officers. He started unionizing in the early 1960s; his fledgling group flexed its muscle, helping defeat a county commissioner who had the audacity to compare police officers to sanitation workers.

"We whipped his a--," gloats Charlie, now 71.

Charlie had made lieutenant in 1972, and his wife detective, when he resigned to lead the new Florida PBA. Scott was 4.

Mallory Horne, a legend in Florida politics, was like a second father. Horne was state house speaker and Senate president, the only man in 150 years to serve as both.

Charlie's power base was Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. He would have off-duty cops pound the pavement for PBA candidates; politicians knew to play nice.

"A lot of politicians down there (in South Florida) were beholden to Charlie," Horne says.

In 1977, the state Division of Retirement questioned the roughly $8,400 annual disability Charlie was getting for an old back injury.

Steve Mathues, a lawyer for the retirement division, felt compelled to write a memo about the advice he said PBA lawyer Donald Slesnick offered: "He informed me that "Charlie has a lot of friends up there' and "if Mallory has to come over there . . . he'll bring the Cabinet with him.' "

Charlie kept his disability pension.

Scott's parents divorced when he was 6. He moved in with his father in Tallahassee when he was 16.

Scott worked for more than a half-dozen South Florida legislators. Says one, former Miami representative John Cosgrove: "Charlie wasn't just Scott's father, he was his political godfather."

Scott's father, stepmother and wife were on the PBA payroll. He was still in law school when the PBA gave him a $60,000 political consulting contract.

In 1993, at just 24, he was elected to the Tallahassee City Commission. About 15 percent of his campaign donations were from the PBA, more than $7,000.

Two years later, Scott led the effort to oust Dan Kleman, Tallahassee's popular, 19-year city manager. City officials said Kleman told them Scott pressured him to appoint a PBA-backed police chief. Kleman picked someone else.

Kleman never publicly criticized Scott, who said he had management issues with Kleman unrelated to the police chief.

(Forced out in Tallahassee, Kleman came to Hillsborough as county administrator. He served nine years, resigning when a split commission said it had lost confidence in him.)

* * *

In August 1994, Gov. Lawton Chiles paid homage to PBA members from around the state meeting at Pasco's Saddlebrook Resort to elect their leaders. The governor barely had left the stage when the bloodletting began.

Scott was there, counting noses to help his father win another term. He and Charlie accused South Florida chapters of padding their votes with dead police officers.

Charlie tried to adjourn the meeting. He said tensions were too high; opponents said he just wanted to delay a vote he knew he would lose. They voted him out.

After the meeting, Charlie told a reporter why he tried to halt the meeting. "Everybody's got a gun, and things were getting out of hand. A couple of guys were in a shouting match. The electric charge there was just too much. And I didn't have a gun. ...

"Whores are whores," he said of those who turned on him.

His opponents said Charlie mismanaged union finances and awarded contracts to friends and family. He "is venomous, the most poisonous snake known to mankind," John Rivera, head of the Miami-Dade County PBA said at the time.

How did hostilities grow so fierce?

Charlie says he's still not sure. He says some members objected to the union endorsing Chiles over Jeb Bush, and some objected to his plan to run the PBA's lucrative phone solicitation business in-house rather than through private contractors.

Scott says some union leaders "had relationships" with the private solicitors and enjoyed being "wined and dined." To this day, Scott says, PBA leaders lavish more member dues on themselves than his father did.

The PBA says Charlie's way with a dollar was the problem.

"Charlie had the philosophy that if he had a nickel, he would spend a quarter and hope that the extra 20 cents would somehow materialize down the road," says Murrell, whom Charlie once fired. (Charlie won't say why; Murrell says it was for blowing the whistle on mismanagement.)

Murrell says Charlie left PBA finances a shambles. He says the IRS ordered the union to pay more than $1-million, mostly penalties and interest, for having not paid taxes on revenue from a highway patrol magazine.

"You can start out doing good things and be well-intentioned for the people you represent, and then it can change to where you really run the organization for yourself," says Florida PBA President Ernie George, of the Palm Beach PBA.

George had to sue to force Charlie to release membership information and says money that was supposed to be set aside for the legal defense of officers accused of wrongdoing was misspent. (Charlie denies it.)

George likens Charlie to Pat Tornillo, the teachers union boss now in prison for stealing millions from the United Teachers of Dade.

Charlie says comparing him to Tornillo is slanderous, considering Charlie never was charged with anything illegal. Scott says the union would have pursued charges if it had anything.

"My father was treated very unfairly. He gave 33 years of his life to the PBA, and if he had done anything else he would have profited much greater. . . .

"They did their best to demonize my father just so they could win a political argument."

The PBA revoked its founder's membership and won't grant his pension, which Scott says just shows how petty things got.

* * *

Charlie and his allies tried to lead their own alternative to the PBA. To block it, the union sued. The nasty litigation prompted the Florida Bar to try to punish Charlie's lawyers for supposedly insinuating that the PBA's lawyer was having an affair with a judge in the case. A referee concluded that the Bar did not prove its case.

In its lawsuit, the PBA said Charlie tried to destroy the union on his way out. It said he paid $20,000 to Scott's consulting company for work never completed. Scott says the contract was competitively bid and the executive board approved all payments.

The suit accused Charlie of swiping the PBA's telephone solicitation lists. Charlie denied doing anything improper.

Three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, they settled. Charlie gave up trying to start a rival union.

"I wouldn't say he was despondent, but he just withdrew," says Mallory Horne. "He looked at it, as most of us do, as an extreme example of disloyalty. It's like Caesar - he could not believe from where it came from. . . .

"Scott became to Charlie a way to express a comeback."

* * *

By 1998, Scott was mayor of Tallahassee and president of the Florida League of Cities.

In the Legislature, the PBA's top priority was a law to require better pensions for police and firefighters. Opposite them was the Florida League of Cities - in the person of none other than Scott Maddox - saying the law would break city budgets.

A PBA TV spot accused opponents of spreading misinformation and featured a picture of a bearded Scott Maddox looking a little like Charles Manson.

Scott said he was just doing his job, for the taxpayers of Tallahassee and cities across Florida. George, the PBA president, doesn't buy it.

"It's hard for me to see, knowing all the things the PBA did for him and his family that he would go out and oppose this for law enforcement," George says.

The PBA won that round.

Scott can get emotional when he talks about his uncle, Metro Dade officer Frank D'Azevedo, shot and killed in 1976 investigating stolen driver's licenses. Or about the officers who put their lives at risk under his watch in Tallahassee.

As mayor, he raised officer pay more than 30 percent; he always backed officers in police shootings.

"His reign on the commission and as mayor were the best the police department ever had as far as pay and benefits," says officer John "Stump" Beeman, a former PBA member who says union leaders ousted Charlie just to take the power.

"If you look back at every campaign Scott has had since the bad blood started, the PBA has done all they could to hurt him," Beeman says.

In May, Scott resigned as chairman of the state Democratic Party to run for governor. The PBA got busy.

* * *

PBA lobbyist Ken Kopczynski was assigned to dig for dirt. Before he unearthed a gem, Scott's management of the party made headlines.

The IRS froze party bank accounts for nonpayment of payroll taxes. Scott blamed his comptroller, Debbie Griffin-Bruton (wife of a PBA member). He said she covered up her mistake, leaving him in the dark. Nor had he been told by his best friend, Scott said, his father's former PBA comptroller whom Scott had hired to help with the party's accounting.

Murrell, the PBA executive director, recalls the IRS fining the union after Charlie left. "There's a real pattern of mismanagement," he says. "What Scott did to the party, Charlie did to the PBA. The parallels are eerie."

Kopczynski then discovered that while Scott was chairman, the Leon County Democratic Party did not report that it paid a $10,500 fine for late finance reports. Again, Scott blamed Griffin-Bruton.

Saying that Scott may have committed a felony by not reporting the fine, the PBA filed a complaint with the Florida Election Commission. It has not been resolved.

Charlie heard about the PBA complaint and apologized to Scott.

"I told him I'm sorry that they're shooting at me through him. I've had to apologize to him for that a number of times over the years," says Charlie, who recounts the advice he has always given his son: "You lead from the front and don't back up. All your wounds have got to be from the front and not from the back."

Over at Charlie's former office in Tallahassee, they're happy to supply the wounds. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Murrell says.

He is at his desk at union headquarters. Behind him, left over from 1996, hangs a giant blue-and-white banner: "FLORIDA PBA WINS. SORRY CHARLIE!"

Adam C. Smith can be reached at adam@sptimes.com or 727 893-8241.