Thursday, March 5, 2009

For Wealthy Tax Cheats, The Day of Reckoning is Here

I posted this blog on yesterday. It has created a firestorm of controversy. A friend said that people in Palm Beach are going to be upset. I said that only the tax cheats will be upset.

In some of the great houses in Palm Beach and the penthouses of Manhattan's East Side, wealthy Americans are sleeping fitfully, their nights haunted by fear of exposure. In the Bush years, the IRS became so lax in its enforcement that cheating became routine and hidden Swiss bank accounts almost as much a status symbol as private jets.

Why not do it? Everyone else was doing it. You knew you would never be caught, and you were protected by accountants and lawyers to hide your tracks. Your deceit and betrayal of American laws was shrewd strategy. It's grossly unfair that after all these years you might have to take the perp walk. And doing it, you're not going to look as nonplussed as Bernie Madoff did either.

It was so simple. Say you had a women's clothing company importing dresses from China and you were purchasing $1 million in dresses. You had the Chinese manufacturer send you a bill for $2 million. You wired him the money and he immediately wired half into your Swiss account. And say you've got a half billion dollar company and you keep doing this for ten years. Figure it out. Nobody could ever catch you as long as the Swiss kept their accounts secret.

This is big business. A person I know decided to check out her account in Switzerland. She walked into a tiny bank that looked like a 19th century cuckoo clock and took the old elevator upstairs. It opened up to a modern trading floor as big as a city block.

And now in the early days of the Obama administration, the gig may be up and there is stark terror among the knowledgeable. The sheer amounts of money waiting to be discovered are staggering, billions upon billions of dollars. There is so much money out there that once the taxes and penalties are paid, it could have a significant impact on the budget. And it couldn't be happening to a greedier, more selfish lot, most of them faux patriots to the core.

The first moment of truth arrives Monday when Attorney General Eric Holder meets with Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Swiss councilor in charge of police and justice. In the wake of the UBS debacle, the American government is seeking information on 52,000 American customers. The Swiss are willing to give up 250 customers whose tax fraud is most obvious, but not the others.

The Swiss have a special gift in masking their hypocrisy and narrow self-interest in a veneer of morality and principle. The bankers of Zurich are not happy at this seeming attempt to abrogate treaties that allow thieves to hide their funds with impunity.

Faith Whittlesey, a former ambassador to Switzerland, is a brilliant woman and a dear friend of mine from whom I learn even when I disagree. And I've rarely disagreed more with her than I do on this one. I find her stern warnings in The Financial Times Monday hardly enough reason for the American government to back off. She writes that "one of the largest Swiss political parties is agitating for retaliation that would include discontinuing Swiss representation of US interests in countries such as Cuba and Iran, where the US does not have embassies" and warns of "more virulent anti-Americanism."

I don't know about you, but I'm not sitting here quaking. If it comes to it, I'm willing to give up Swiss chocolate. But as an American who pays his taxes, I want these wealthy tax cheats to be found and punished severely including serious prison time for the worst of them.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dinner in DC

I’m up in Washington for what I call a blizzard and my friend from New England says is a dusting of snow. Yeah, five inches.

I am an intellectual bigamist. When I’m in Palm Beach, I dress like the natives and am indistinguishable from the rest of the poseurs. Then when I come to Washington I don my journalistic garb, a ratty jacket and scruffy shoes, never leave the house without my hands stained with ink, pepper my conversations with the word “fuck” and snarl greetings to anyone outside my sacred circle of journalists.

In Palm Beach, there are more Italian restaurants than there are in Rome. At dawn the trucks laden with pasta make their way onto the island. In Washington, there are Ethiopian restaurants by the score, Indian takeouts on every corner, Thai places squeezed among Vietnamese restaurants and hardly any Italian restaurants. Oh there is an Italian chain restaurant. It starts with an “M” and that’s all I’m saying. The portions are gigantic, at least four times what a normal person would eat. They don’t give you plates. You line up at a trough.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

20/20 Does its Thing

Brian Ross is the best reporter in television. I already knew that even before I met the guy. He's a true reporter. He's not into glitz. He's into getting the story and he's fearless. He did his thing on Madoff and Palm Beach last night on 20/20 and it was by far the best thing that's been done. And I know lots more was there that didn't make the cut. The program was cut down from the hour it was supposed to be. Anna Schecter was the producer in Palm Beach. She's a killer. I don't want her on my trail. Don't be misled by her looks, she's a tiger as Robert Jaffe found out.

I've had experiences with reporters before where they suck you dry, ask for your sources, and then move on leaving with you nothing for your time. Brian and Anna made sure that I was amply quoted and the reaction is incredible. Nobody believes what this one segment has done to the sale of Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach. It was already a bestseller but it's now basically the number three nonfiction hardcover on Amazon, not bad for a book published a month ago.

Anyway, you might enjoy the program if you missed it. I'm in the second part. You can find it at:

Ellen Jaffe's Revenge

I had a meeting at the Kravis Center Wednesday about my talk there on March 16. I knew that they had received all kinds of pressure to cancel the event, and I had been told that they had caved in. That wasn't true, and I left the meeting with great admiration for the administration of the Kravis Center and their commitment to intellectual liberty. It had nothing to do with me or my book, it was liberty and freedom of expression they were defending.

I assumed that the meeting was confidential and when the following day I received a phone call from Page Six at the New York Post, I figured someone at the meeting had leaked the story. It turned out, as I just learned from an email a few minutes ago, that the two events had nothing to do with one another. The person who alerted Page Six had learned the information from members of the Palm Beach Country Club. Alas, the gossip item makes it look as if I am the primary source. Nothing to be done and it's a healthy thing to have Ellen Jaffe's behavior exposed. Here's the piece:

THE wife of Bob Jaffe - the Palm Beach bon vivant in the doghouse for getting the tony island's millionaires to invest with Bernard Madoff - is fighting for her beleaguered husband's honor.
Author Laurence Leamer says Ellen Shapiro Jaffe is waging a fierce campaign to get his upcoming lecture at the Kravis Center axed because of unflattering cracks he made about her hubby in Boston magazine. "She is especially pissed and she's pressuring them," Leamer told Page Six. "You would think she'd be in social hibernation and have better things to do."
In the article, Leamer called Jaffe "a 60-something peacock in a black dinner jacket . . . [with] an aging gigolo's looks, with sleek black hair and a face that if not lifted by plastic surgery . . . looked not youthful so much as the caricature of youth."
Jaffe, originally a Boston shoe salesman, "was looking for a rich wife and Ellen was the best he could do," said one source, who describes him as a Madoff "middleman . . . steering eager clients his way and collecting easy fees in return."
Leamer - set to discuss his book, "Madness Under the Royal Palms," at the Kravis Center on March 16 - said, "The phone has been ringing off the hook for weeks asking them to cancel me - and the name behind it I keep hearing is Ellen Jaffe . . . She's not letting up. Luckily, they have the courage to stand up to it."
Jaffe's rep, Elliot Sloan, said that Ellen, a Kravis Center board member, made only two calls to officials there about Leamer's book because "all it does is open up hurtful wounds in the community." Sloan also slammed the article as "full of inaccuracies," insisting Jaffe has not had plastic surgery, noting he's been married to Ellen for 40 years and they "are very much in love."
Jaffe's name has been mud since the Madoff scandal broke. In December, he was called a "dirty bastard" and nearly pummeled at Mar-a-Lago by Nine West founder Jerome Fisher, who lost $150 million.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The sad story of the Palm Beach Daily News

When Bob Norman wrote his devastating account of the life of Society Editor Shannon Donnelly at the Palm Beach Daily News in his blog and printed edition of New Times, I was sure the investigative story would lead to an investigation on the part of Cox management. It led, instead, to top management standing firmly behind their publisher, editor and society editor without even a cursory examination. But now that I have seen the incredible comments to the article, I don't understand how they can stand back and not seek out the truth or falsehood of a myriad of serious allegations. In case you haven't seen them, here are the comments as of this evening.

John deGroot says:
Bob, your premise is flawed.Calling the "Shiney Sheet" a newspaper is like calling the Booby Trap a gentlemen's club.Truth is, whatever the so-called "Shiney Sheet" does to make a buck, it ain't no kind of journalism -- anymore than the Show-for-Dough whore's game played by the likes of City and Shore, and the many South Florida slick society mags that cater to readers with a surplus of money and a shortage of taste.PSCheck out Larry Leamer's interview on You Tube.The guy's a world class Snoot Hoot who clearly had a ball intimidating the snot out of the Flash-N-Cash Trash like The Donald that pass for High Society on Palm Beach these days.Posted On:
Listen up, has-been says:
John, Obviously, you don't read the Shiny Sheet (note there's no "e" in Shiny). There's more to it than pics of people at a party. It IS a newspaper with a strong staff of journalists (including yours truly) who could give the hacks at any major metro a run for their money any day. At least the staff members at the Shiny Sheet don't have to live in fear they're going to be laid off. Maybe that's because they know how to put out a successfull newspaper. Posted On:
Hack writer says:
Where was Leamer -- who for some reason calls himself a journalist -- when he talks about Donnelly at the head table?In his impossible to read, opportunistic and intensely boring book it's clear he was there too. Donnelly is probably the force that keep that paper afloat, and a more ethical journalist than you'll find at that or any other paper these days. Leamer on the other hand is an unemployed hack with a chip on his shoulder.Posted On:
Lived Long Enough says:
This story isn't new. It was originally broadcast some time ago with gusto by a hired gun of some of Palm Beach's grandest dames who, while claiming to be a dear friend of Ms. Donnelly's, was simultaneously mouthing off to anyone who would listen about his file of canceled checks made out to Ms. Donnelly that he claimed to have in his possession- a file that he threatened would destroy both his clients and said society editor- one that he was holding for "judgment day." Whether it exists or not- it's all toxic- and indicative of the double standards, special exceptions, petty vendettas, blatant cover ups,indifferent management and corruption that define the Palm Beach Daily News- with or without Leamer's flaccid book. Any other Cox newspaper- any other newspaper of record for that matter- would have taken swift action to protect its "journalistic integrity."
What is truly disturbing, however, is that Ms. Donnelly habitually is the first in the Palm Beach Daily News newsroom to cry "impropriety" to management regarding her co-workers in a feeble attempt to draw attention away from her own misdeeds. Ask anyone who works for Palm Beach Newspapers Inc. If they weren't afraid of losing their jobs, they would sing like canaries- if they already haven't. Problem is, management has made it clear that "going there" is treacherous ground since "The Shiny Sheet" still turns a profit in the face of declining newspaper revenues, mainly due to its fawning society coverage. Therefore, Ms. Donnelly's gifted designer duds will remain Teflon-coated as long as her bosses choose to look the other way. Wonder why? It's called "bottom line." Or, are they also getting a piece of the pie?
Posted On:
John deeGroot says:
Senile has-been that I am, I stand corrected regarding my opinion of the Shiny Sheet.By the way, did you know some doddering Old Money WASPS on the Beach call it the "Sheeny Sheet."Anyhow..I am sure that, altho driven to serve the interests of whatever passes for High Society on Palm Beach these days, the Daily News does boast several hard-working and decent newspaper folks....Just ss I'm sure there are some gentlemen who view the likes of the all-nude, all-action Booby Trap as their club. Posted On:
Former Floridian says:
Sorry miffed PBDN minion, I gotta back de Groot on this one.
The PBDN has always been an inconsequential chronicler of municipal press releases and feel-good local features, with the occasional traffic accident to provide some actual news.
What it always did best, even when I worked in PBC 20 years ago, was to drop names of well-heeled townies like pellets behind a deer. Yawn.
That's not to demean the work of the "strong staff of journalists" -- deer work exceptionally hard at what they do, and will also thrive in most environments. Posted On:
Journalista says:
As someone who had to edit the Shiny Sheet "news" stories on occasion, let me assure you it isn't a high-quality newspaper by any means.The reporting is spotty and the writing is mediocre at best.However, it does serve its community to the degree of letting the upper crust get their names and mugs in the paper at regular intervals and connects clubs, charities and various organizations via print.I have always been surprised at how the newspaper keeps churning a profit, but then again I have to balance my checkbook once a week.Posted On:
give me a break says:
Former Floridian, the Shiny Sheet is a community newspaper. It's not a big metro paper. Do you understand that? For what it is, the Palm Beach Daily News is a damn good product. It's Palm Beach, so of course, society coverage is huge. Bottom line: It sells and keeps people employed, including yours truly. I have no problem paying my bills and don't think I have to worry about it working here. You'd be hard-pressed to find too many other journalists in South Florida sharing that sentiment. Posted On:
Lived Long Enough says:
The point that everyone seems to be missing is that regardless of the reality, the Palm Beach Daily News maintains that it is the newspaper of record for Palm Beach and a member in good standing of the fourth estate. Yes, it serves the community. But it also makes its own little rules and breaks its own little rules ala Marie Antoinette. And we all know how things ended for THAT queen.
It's said that the free press is one of the pillars of democracy, yet it's painfully clear that nothing about the Shiny Sheet is free. It's all for sale to the highest bidder courtesy of a gentleman's agreement on the part of management to look the other way while questionable practices run rampant, at least from one particular desk.
Search the archives of the New York Post's Page Six. This is not the first time that this messy little business reared its ugly head. And it's certainly not the last. Posted On:
jennifer mckenna says:
Try to remember who was the publisher of PBDN for many years. The Cox style has been to do whatever they want to do and to whomever in their path. That includes employees (no matter how loyal, productive or amount of tenure). They let all know that them with the gold makes the rules even though those rules change sometimes as often as the tides. It is evident in how many management positions change at all Cox properties and the keepers of the keys end up without a desk to put them in. I have to really concentrate to remember how may bosses I have had with Cox. Some were gone before their business cards arrived.Posted On:
islandqueenbizness says:
Bob - Wow. Finally, a little light on this.
As a follow-up to the post at Wednesday, Feb. 4 2009 @ 1:19AM: That person is right, this all isn't new, but Cox Newspapers --- if it has any interest in keeping any fleck of respect in Palm Beach County --- will get all over this quickly now, since the Shiny Sheet can't be trusted to police themselves from within. Here are the Cox newspapers in Palm Beach County taking all kinds of credit for being the reason so many Palm Beach County elected officials are going off to jail on a myriad of indictments, yet their own staffers can't behave well.
The "file" being referred to must be that of Kyle Zimmer's who has long threatened that it would destroy both his clients and Shannon. If it lands on Joyce's desk or Pat's desk, will they fire Shannon or burn it to keep their jobs? Have they never seen anything that gave them pause with Shannon? Beyond difficult to believe. Pat has a significant other who works at the Palm Beach Post across the bridge, and Joyce, as it is stated, is longtime personal friends with Shannon. The Post Publisher or Cox executives need to get into the Daily News quickly to restore respect and leadership. The "bottom line" will not last forever, and eventually the Shiny Sheet readers will realize they don't have to subscribe and advertisers don't have to spend obscene money on an ad no one pays attention to. These events now will just accelerate that unless stopped and corrected.Posted On:
Former Floridian says:
Give me a break said:"For what it is, the Palm Beach Daily News is a damn good product."
OK. Seconded. But now there's a tricky question of figuring out exactly what it is -- which speaks to the broader points mentioned in both the article and subsequent comments.
As an inconsequential chronicler of municipal press releases and toothless features, it does a first-rate job and can -- and should -- skirt some of the touchier ethical questions at play here. If it's just pretending to be a news outlet, then its reps can merely pretend to follow journalistic standards.
That's likely why a society hack taking gifts isn't as big a deal at the PBDN as it was at the New York Post.Posted On:
Lived Long Enough says:
Is everyone drinking stupid juice? Okay kids, it's time to play "Connect The Dots" Palm Beach style.
Kyle Zimmer-Lois Pope (doesn't live in Palm Beach)-Shannon Donnelly.Kyle Zimmer-Celia Lipton Farris-Shannon Donnelly.Kyle Zimmer-Patrick Park (doesn't live in Palm Beach)-Shannon Donnelly.
Now add to the recipe Kraft, Kessler, Jaffe, Bleznak, Stark, Cornacchio and poor departed Barry and Beverly Crown. That should be enough to make a nice big batch of kickback soup.
Bon appetit!
Posted On:
whatabunchoftwits says:
And this so-called piece of journalism, Pulp, reminds me of a quote from Romenesko the other day: this is a "fact-free blind slam." You should be ashamed of yourself.Posted On:
Pulp says:
Here are a few for you.
Fact: Bestselling author Laurence Leamer, who has spent years researching his book, discovered that Shannon Donnelly took gifts from a source and someone she was writing about (Barbara Wainscott Berger).
Fact: Leamer and numerous other sources Shannon Donnelly accepted expensive gifts from the people she covers at her wedding.
Fact: Three reporters took concerns that Donnelly was taking gifts to the publisher.
Fact: When Leamer asked about that meeting, he was banned from the Shiny Sheet's newsroom and morgue.
Fact: When asked about a specific $1000 loan or gift, socialite Donna Shalek became evasive, said she didn't recall, and then hung up the phone. Posted On:
Honest Abe says:
Fact: Publisher Reingolg is a personal friend of the accused
Has anyone read this book?
Posted On:
Anonymous says:
Journalists and ethics; Ha. Ha. Ha.
Write what you know, clearly and plainly, the rest will follow. Posted On:
still pissed says:
Listen up, you are an asshole...loser.Posted On:
Inky Gal says:
Miss Donnelly has made a complete mockery of not only The Shiny Sheet as an institution, but also her employers. She has them held hostage and she knows it. For management to admit that they have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear for too long from what too many people have continuously brought to their attention would only reveal them as more corrupt and inept than they already are. That's why they are reading from the "journalistic integrity" script, which only amplifies their desperation to sweep this matter under the rug ASAP.
Is Mr. Zimmer as psychopathic as Miss Donnelly? Has he actually played the Robert Jaffe to her Bernie Madoff for all of these years- facilitating her "voracious appetite" for payola- if not also getting a piece of the action? Is Ms. Reingold starring as the SEC at this performance? Who will be playing Eliot Spitzer?
Unfortunately, the real losers in this drama are the readers, whose confidence in the free press has been shaken. Miss Donnelly, Mr.Zimmer and Ms. Reingold, and God knows who else, are probably laughing all the way to the bank courtesy of the spoils from the many who took the socialite's advice of "just write her a check like we all do!" Posted On:
Jeff says:
Aren't the contretempts of the mega-rich amusing? Can you imagine a life so shallow the presence or lack of presence on a rag distributed to a mere 7k people makes any difference whatsoever? In a better world Ms. Donnelly and her ego would be inconsequential.Posted On:
Inky Gal says:
Not everyone in Palm Beach is mega-rich. Many of us actually live modest lives in modest apartments on fixed incomes. Why don't we deserve a hometown newspaper of record as accountable as any other self-proclaimed newspaper of record?
We spend summers in a small town up north. Even our dinky little newspaper there prides itself on being accurate, unbiased and free of untoward influence. It takes its role as a real newspaper very seriously. Then again, most of us are too busy weeding and keeping the deer from eating our tomatoes to worry about how many times we get our names and faces in the paper, let alone willing to pay for it.Posted On:
Anonymous says:
I think everybody here is missing the point.
I am not so familiar with all the names here, but can smell a rat.
This so called society editor, obviously, is on the take and Leamer seems to state that clearly, so something else is afoot at the Post and the Shiny Sheet, and they seem to think it is okay for her to do this.
Or they don't want to face the facts that they have a problem.
Or they don't want to believe that their star reporter is a greed-driven gal.
Must have something to do with adverts, right?
It does notseem like so many ads will be coming their way from charities right now, does it?
What gives?
If she's guilty, let her go the way of Jason Blair.
Should the reputation of a newspaper be summed up in one bad apple?
Posted On:
Brenda says:
Everyone knows that this gossip columnist is The She Devil and has fooled everyone including her bosses. I'm surprised that her co-workers haven't demanded her dismissal, since she makes the entire staff appear guilty by association. Then again, maybe that's part of her "scorched earth" master plan, to take the entire company and her feeders down with her? If so, she's doing a very good job. Posted On:
Freda Enterprise says:
What's wrong with allowing underpaid, overworked gals to make a little on the side? Eva Peron did it.
"When the money keeps rolling in, what's a girl to do? Skim a little off the top for expenses, wouldn't you?"Posted On:
Outsider says:
Pulp: What is the net net of all this?
Where does the Shiny Sheet go from here?
How does it get its cred back?
If cred is the right word.
Is Mr. Leamer for real?
Does he have a legitimate case?
You seem to think so. Or do you?
Do society papers have to live up to the same standards as other media?
Just askingPosted On:
Insider says:
Please assist Outsider in understanding the real issue at hand.
IF the Palm Beach Daily News didn't cry crocodile tears about "journalistic ethics" and, instead, fessed up to the fact that it ISN'T a real newspaper, but a close cousin to the Enquirer, the Examiner and other pieces of... paper, maybe this would go away.
IF the management of the Palm Beach Daily News didn't hold the majority of its writers to one ethical standard and its society editor to another, maybe this would never have come up.
But it did come up and it's not going to go away.Posted On:
Former Floridian says:
We have a winner!
"Insider" has it exactly right -- the PBDN is either a real newspaper or not, and how it handles this ethical quandary speaks volumes about the answer to that question. Posted On:
Glenn C says:
I don't know why this stort is dragged through the mud as much as it had. With so many rumors of various residents and their Ponzi King "Mr. Madoff" financial secrets, along with murders and other scandels, why get so angry at a such a small scale issue as this? Most of these replies are of little value.Posted On:
Newbie says:
Glenn, stop being such a Pollyanna! The reality is that this is much more than rumors or a small scale issue. I'm not saying that it's a vast right wing conspiracy, but it certainly reeks of a deliberate cover up, financial impropriety and a complete disregard for the ethical code of the free press. That's hardly small scale. Frankly, it's criminal.Posted On:
CPA says:
Unless Miss Donnelly has been heeding the City Mattress commercials and packing it away in her Sealy Posturpedic, surely there must be some kind of paper trail- either on her end or the donor side. Hasn't anyone thought of that? Posted On:
Florida Floridian says:
CPA, if the groups giving the gifts are foundations, they might have to account for them under promotional expenses (but I don't know if they need to be itemized; maybe you'd know?)
If the gifts were from private individuals, as might be the case based on the examples in the article, then they would be tough to track. Posted On:
Laurie B says:
Back when I lived in Palm Beach, I kind of remember the IRS freaking her out with some kind of investigation regarding her cashing out big checks at the various branches of banks they were drawn on. Whatever happened with that? Posted On:
car guy says:
What about the Mercedes that was leased by a "friend" for her use--did Shannon report that "income" to the IRS?Posted On:
bob2 from Davie says:
Bob,I just read this story and all the comments. When you are trying to keep your head above water, all of this sounds crazy.This story seems to infurate alot of folks. What do you think will happen here? You've been a pretty good watchdog for a while. I like your style.I think there's something to deal with but what is itWith all the dishonesty and troubles in the world today, its hard to think that something like this goes on with newspapers.Is this Leamerr just trying to sell some more books or does he have a real beef? You seem to think so, right?I haven't read any of the man's books, but what is he after.And does the Post really care. Who is this woman, Shannon Donnelly, who we now know is either power hungry or greedy.There are a lot of suspicions about her.Whoever heard of a reporter driving a mercedes.Sorry to ramble on, but the story here is interesting for those of us who dont live in Palm Beach.
Posted On:
Lake Way says:
For many years I served on various committees of Palm Beach charities. And it always seemed standard operating procedure to have a line in the publicity budget for Shannon or at least have one of her private supporters as a member of a big committee. This was usually at the advice of some of the older ladies on the committee who said that this was how things worked. If we had known that this was inappropriate, I'm sure we would have never done it, as it would reflect poorly on the organization.
But with so many events in such a short period of time, and the competiton for attendance and attention so great, I guess we were duped.
I think this whole thing began with Betty Scripps and Celia Farris, and just snowballed.Now, having read responses from so many people who appear to know far more than I do, I'm simply disgusted. Posted On:
Shopgirl says:
I was one of those gals who worked in various stores on Worth Avenue during the boom years. We were all friendly with each other. The stories about selling wedding gifts on ebay are true. She would constantly complain about getting stuff from Tiffany's as they would only give her store credit. That's what she sold for fifty cents on the dollar. She registered at Neimans because she could return for cash.Posted On:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Confrontation in the streets of Palm Beach

Other than being confronted during an interview with Tim Malloy of Channel 5 with a berserk Palm Beacher accusing me of writing a “disgusting, despicable” article for Boston Magazine full of racism, it’s been an uneventful few days. I asked this gentleman on camera to say specifically what his complaints were but coward that he is, he continued walk away spitting out a few epithets as he left. If you want to read the “disgusting, despicable" article, you can find it at: Http://

If you find anything at all offensive about the article, please comment. And if you don’t, please weigh in too.

Here’s the link to the video of the confrontation:

If anyone knows who this man is, please let me know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dear Blog,

I have betrayed you. I have been disloyal for days, and now I will have to play catch-up. I’ve been busy promoting my book. A great time in Boston largely due to Marilyn Riseman, a dear friend and one of the world’s great characters. And the events on the island have been overwhelmingly successful. There was a sold out luncheon at the Pundits Monday and a standing room only event in the evening put on by the Palm Beach County Historical Society. I was so worried that the book would be so controversial that it would create problems for me, and I have a wonderful life in Palm Beach. But just the opposite. People have been overwhelmingly supportive. I’ve made new friends, and been new places, and it’s been generally marvelous.

There’s been just one exception and that’s the Palm Beach Daily News. I won’t bore you with the details, but the piece that Bob Norman has written a piece about Shannon Donnelly and the Palm Beach Daily News in New Times is the talk of the island. You can read it at:

What Norman doesn’t say is that a group of Palm Beachers are contemplating starting their own daily newspaper. That’s how bad they think the Daily News has become. I’m astounded at the response they are getting. I think people have moved beyond being afraid of the paper to being rather embarrassed that the Shiny Sheet is the public image of our island. So many serious stories are not covered or are written about in the most twisted, desultory way. There are terrific reporters on the paper. The problem is not with them so much as with the editor and publisher. The reason Cox doesn’t do anything in my opinion is that the paper makes money. But it’s on a downward trajectory in almost every respect.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama's First Betrayal?

Has President-elect Barack Obama committed his first betrayal? Has he turned away from his most exalted ideals in an act of such spiritual malfeasance that it will condemn his administration?

Some observers cite the fact that the stimulus package contains money for AmeriCorps but nothing for the Peace Corps as evidence that the president-elect has turned his back on his pledge to double the size of Kennedy's most noble child. There is buzz among former Volunteers and others associated with the Peace Corps that the expanded future of the organization is in immediate and dramatic peril. The Peace Corps $330 million budget is insufficient even to maintain the current level of 7,876 volunteers. In recent months some potential volunteers have been asked to defer their enlistments for up to a year. To expand dramatically another $80 to $100 million is needed, a pittance in terms of the impact such an escalation would have on America and the world.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal in 1964-66, an early supporter of Obama, a volunteer and a member of the steering committee in Palm Beach County, and I don't believe for a minute that he will back away from his historic pledge. He can't or he will be denying his essence. Obama will be the first president whose most formative life experience was service, working as a community organizer, and service/volunteering will be one of the essential themes of his presidency.

Obama will be our president, the leader we thought one of us might be, a leader going back to those ideals and taking them to new dramatic place in American life. "To restore America's standing, I will call on our greatest resource - our people," Obama says in the winter issue of Worldview Magazine. "We will double the size of the Peace Corps by its 50th anniversary in 2011. And, we'll reach out to other nations to engage their young people in similar programs, so that we work side by side to take on the common challenges that confront all humanity. This will not be a call issued in one speech or on program. This will be an important and enduring commitment of my presidency."

As Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel told Thomas Friedman in his column the day after the historic election: "The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service -- in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama's campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again."

It is that "dormant civic idealism" resonating among millions of Americans that can change our country. In the Obama years service/volunteering may well become the crucial mark of social legitimacy without which we are not full citizens. I understand the profound linkage between the Peace Corps/volunteer experience and the Obama campaign.

Let me tell you the story of two women, one who was in my Peace Crops group, and one who volunteered with me in South Florida. Suzanne Cluett was a feisty, determined blonde from Seattle who in the Sixties trekked to remote areas of Nepal bringing medical advice to women. She worked in that same field after leaving the Peace Corps. She became the first employee of the nascent Gates Foundation. Suzanne worked with Bill Gates' father in her basement developing what has become the greatest foundation in the history of the world. Thanks to Suzanne, the Gates Foundation is imbued with the spirit of the Peace Corps.

Suzanne died of cancer in 2006. A group of us from Nepal IV built a school in the mountains of Nepal in her honor. Bill Gates donated a million dollars part of which went to build a maternity hospital high up in the Himalayas so for the first time Sherpa women can give birth in a hospital. But Suzanne real immortality rests in the Gates Foundation. Every time you read about or see its accomplishment, think that you are seeing the Peace Corps at work.

Maria Cole is a beautiful, fortyish African-American dentist. She had a practice in reconstructive dentistry in South Florida. She sold it because she wanted to do something different and that something different was volunteering for Obama. She flew up to New Hampshire and worked organizing Enfield. Then she went on to South Carolina. She wanted to go to Texas but got no response from the Obama staff in Chicago. So she and a friend took off on their own and set up shop in Eagle Lake where Obama won both the primary and the caucus. In South Florida during the general campaign Maria managed the northern part of Palm Beach County. The largely black Rivera Beach generally had about a twenty percent turn out; this time it was over eighty per cent, almost all for Obama.

Suzanne and Maria never met but they are sisters of the blood and spirit, partners in helping to build a great and noble movement. I am witness to the fact that as brilliant and historic a figure as Obama is, he is in some measure the vehicle for a movement far larger even than the presidency. The millions of people who volunteered discovered a spiritual affinity with each other and a cause and they has a momentum and energy that nothing can stop.

I volunteer once a week for the Lord's Place in West Palm Beach working with the homeless. It's a sacrament with me. I've talked about it to Jorge Quezeda, the Latino maintenance chief in my Palm Beach condominium. Jorge's a big Obama supporter too, and he got excited hearing me talk about the Lord's Place, and he's going to start volunteering too.

Something is happening everywhere in America. The dormant idealism is awakening. The size of the Peace Corps will double. Young Americans will go to Asia and Africa and Latin America not as soldiers but as missionary of a new faith, emissaries of the best in America. They'll go into the slums, and so will middle-aged folks and retired people, and we will change this country and this world.

We are ready, Mr. President, ready for you to lead us.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Fan of Snoring

Ben Dronsick left the following comment about my post: "Heavy Snoring in Palm Beach":"Mall buzz, tourists, and restaurant crowds moving north county: how exactly is this a problem? Laurence, I'm disappointed. Or, perhaps, you are."

Well, Mr. Dronsick, you seem to like the sound of heavy snoring, but you make a certain point. So let me explain. As far as restaurants, they've gotten threadbare in Palm Beach, endlessly redundant. There should be a law banning spaghetti trucks on the island and any new Italian restaurants with Nicaraguan waiters greeting one in pseudo Italian.

I was at Cafe l'Europe last evening to have dinner with Brownie McLean and a fascinating old friend of hers. He was an amazing man, or so I think, but I didn't hear a word he said. The sound was that deafening. In the classy restaurants in north county you still can have a conversation.

I don't think it's a good sign when a generous, fun-loving guy like Patrick Park sells his Palm Beach place and moves to Jupiter. Does he know something we don't know? So enjoy the snoring when you can, Mr. Dronsick, and turn off the lights when you leave.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I’ve been volunteering for the past four years at The Lord’s Place, an extraordinary organization that helps the homeless in Palm Beach County. I’m also on the development committee as well as another committee working for our second annual SleepOut on February 6 in which hundreds of people will attend the evening events and scores of people will be spending one night the way many of the homeless spend many nights.

In the development meetings, I’ve been arguing that the charity is not targeting the wealthy in Palm Beach forcefully enough, that in this harsh climate these people will be receptive in a new profound way. The Lord’s Place has been placing cans for change in businesses around West Palm in advance of the SleepOut. I said I would try to do it in Palm Beach as a way of testing my theory.

I was a little nervous when I set out as to the response I would get. The first place I went was Palm Beach Book Store where I talked to owner Candice Cohen. “Wait a minute,” she said and went into her back office. She came back with a check for a hundred dollars. “I wish it could be a thousand,” she said as she placed the can on the counter. At Green’s Drug Store, there was a problem. They wanted two cans for both cash registers not one. Testa’s Restaurant insisted on two cans too. Wherever I went the response was immediate and positive.

I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel. I’m going out again today with more cans but here is the list so far of those who have said yes and the one owner of two locally owned restaurants who has said no. She said if she said yes, she would have to say yes for all kinds of things and that she helps in her own way. I have no reason to doubt her.

Palm Beach Book Store
Classic Bookshop
Main Street News
Blue Provence
Salon Magrit
Nick and Johnnies

Hamburger Heaven and Island Palm (same owner)

Stop Your Joking, Leamer

I've got to stop joking around. See the last sentence.

Scribe says, Watch your back, Bernard Madoff

By Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa with Simone Press, Boston Herald, January 14

Alleged socialite swindler Bernie Madoff, who continues to live in the lap of luxury while his victims fume, might be better off in jail.
Because as long as the accused chiseler is out walking the street, he might get shot!
So says Laurence Leamer, author of "Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach."
Leamer, who has had an up-close look at the Madoff scandal and its effect on the uber-rich rubes, said Bernie’s victims reportedly include a laundry list of dangerous characters - any one of whom may want revenge on the alleged mastermind of the $50 billion Ponzi scheme.
"There’s a Russian oligarch who six months ago tried to get his money out and Bernie wouldn’t give it to him," he said. "There’s also a report that he had $300 million in Colombian drug money. You don’t want to irritate these people."
True dat.
Madoff is due in court in NYC today where the government will again try to lock him up while prosecutors investigate charges that he bilked scores of investors in a massive, decades-long scam.
Earlier this week, a federal magistrate refused to revoke the 70-year-old’s $10 million bail, enraging his alleged victims - many of whom are from the Boston area. The investors are outraged that Bernie is awaiting trial from the comfort of his $7 million Manhattan apartment, while they’ve lost their shirts.
Leamer, a former Boston resident who winters in Palm Beach, completed "Madness" before the Madoff scandal hit the headlines. It paints an ugly picture of the pampered Palm Beach set - "sad, angry, insecure and frequently nasty people hiding behind empty smiles, luxury cars and socially invisible servants," as described them.
"You read the book and see the inevitability of people like Madoff and how, in the climate of Palm Beach, someone like that can be nurtured," Leamer said.
The author added that the scandal has so rocked the exclusive haunt that it may never recover.
"You have to remember this is the second hit most of these people have taken. They’d already lost half of what they had in the stock market," Leamer said. "There is this billionaire I know who just gave an incredible party for 250 people, but he says he’s not doing that anymore. The elaborately constructed fantasy of this place is finished."
Leamer, who will be prominently featured in an upcoming ABC "20/20" piece on the Madoff scandal, will be back in town later this month at an oh-so-swish soiree at the Mandarin Oriental hotel to celebrate the publication of his new book, which hits stores Jan. 20.
The author of three previous books about the Kennedy clan, Leamer said he’s working on a final chapter for the paperback version of "Madness" about the Madoff mess.
"Somebody has to make money off of this," he joked.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Heavy Snoring in Palm Beach

One of the things I keep telling people in Palm Beach is that the energy and excitement in the county is moving north. The most innovative restaurants and the most interesting new developments are all in the north end of Palm Beach County. There are people up there of wealth and privilege who could give a damn about Palm Beach. There are a couple of luxury malls that have almost everything one finds on Worth Avenue. There is no need to come to the island any longer. It is yet another reason why Palm Beach is an unrecognized crisis.

I had a personal look at this last night when my psychiatrist friend and virtual brother Dr. Frank Vaccaro and I drove north a half hour to Jupiter to attend an extravagant party put on by Patrick Park. Now Patrick is one of the most celebrated public figures in Palm Beach, his face on the cover of the society magazines and constantly in the Palm Beach Daily News,but he no longer even lives here.

We drove along Donald Ross Road in the pitch blackness, passing little but scruffy shrubbery looking for Bears Club Drive. When we finally found it and were issued into the development, it was astounding. I’ve never seen a development with so many gigantic homes. It’s a trailer park for the mega wealthy. Patrick’s is listed at a mere 9,972 on 1.1408 acres, but that’s got to be only the living area. It’s enormous, doubly so since the ceilings are high enough that planes could fly through. It's actually over 20,000 square feet as I learned subsequently.

I had brought a gift of a copy of my soon-to-be published book, Madness Under the Royal Palms. Poor Patrick is featured hosting last year’s Cancer Ball is which because of the drinking at the end “some of the men were so disheveled that their cummerbunds popped up around their midsections and became so twisted that they looked like tourniquets. It was Animal House meets Cocoon.” Thank God Patrick is a good sport or I wouldn’t have been invited.

I went up to Patrick and introduced Frank, who with his wife Terry was visiting from New York. “Frank is my psychiatrist and he’s got to be with me twenty-four hours a day now,” I told Patrick. “I’m having these wild mood swings and if I have one here I might slash my wrists or jump up on the table naked.”

Patrick wouldn’t have minded the latter but he just had his carpets done. He got the joke, but several people who overheard this thought I was telling the truth. And all during the evening people were coming up to Dr. Frank asking about his patient. He’s a lousy doctor since he spent much of the evening off on his own, not watching out for his patient.

There were well over two hundred people at the party and they were almost all from Palm Beach. It doesn’t bode well for Palm Beach unless the leaders wake up. And all I hear is heavy snoring.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thanks, Regis

Hey, Blog, I am back again. Got to tell you the news. A couple weeks ago I sent the first hardcover copy of Madness Under the Royal Palms to Regis Philbin’s home in New York with a cover note from a mutual friend, Rita Greenberg. A few days later Rita said she saw Regis in the gym at Mar-a-Lago and he was reading the book.

On New Year ’s Day I was at Trump’s club for a wedding brunch. Regis was there too having lunch on the patio. I know how celebrities guard their privacy in such moments. I figured he would be less than delighted if I intruded on his afternoon. But damn it all, I’ve got a book coming out and I went up to him and introduced myself. He was pleasant enough, but it was clear to me that he wanted to enjoy his long weekend, and when I left I thought I probably had blown it. So much for Regis.

Then this morning the phone starts ringing off the hook. At the end of his monologue Regis had talked about meeting me and reading my book. He showed the cover and basically gave it his imprimatur. Of course, I went to check Amazon. The book isn’t being published until January 20 and it was already at 16,000, not a bad figure two weeks before hand. Next time I looked it was 460.

You know how unusual it is for a celebrity to do such a generous thing. He wasn’t handed a script from a producer who had it written for him by some PR person. He wasn’t doing me a personal favor. He’s just an incredibly good human being. I already knew that from a distance. Now I know it personally.

Why Have I Forsaken You?

Oh, dear Blog, why have I forsaken you? This always happens to you, doesn’t it? They start with family photos or some pseudo-profound declaration and it just peters off until there’s nothing but blankness and you sit there by yourself day after day empty and void. And fewer and fewer people come to visit you until finally there’s nobody, no hits, and you feel a devastating aloneness.

Well, Blog, I’m back and I want to give you my excuses. On December 22, I received an email from James Burnett, editor of Boston Magazine, asking me to do a major article about how Boston has been affected by Bernie Madoff. Now dear Blog, you know that I was with my mother and brothers and was too busy enjoying Christmas to do any work. And you know too that the day after Christmas I took Amtrak to Washington to be with sick mother-in-law and wife before flying back to Palm Beach where 20/20 spent New Year’s Eve following me around.

And, beloved Blog, you wouldn’t have agreed to write this article. You’re too smart. But I’m ready for punishment. So I’ve been working twelve hours a day or more, calling sources, writing, thinking, and just a few minutes ago I zapped off my finished 6,200 word article. I’m tired, Blog, and kind of irritable. I just took my wife to the airport where she’s flying back to be with her mother. I don’t do well alone.

But now that I am alone in my solitude, I will have time to struggle to answer the one great philosophical question left in the world. Why does one only lose one sock? Why doesn’t one lose a pair? And why is my drawer full of twenty single socks. And as I puzzle over that I will attempt the one thing I must do before I can die happily. Once, just once, I would like to go into a men’s room and fully dry my hands on the hand blower and not come out as if I had just left the pool.

Dear Blog, I am alone now in a town where a heterosexual single man is a rare as a portfolio that hasn’t collapsed. And I will be going out now almost every night. And I won’t forsake you any longer. I’ll be watching for things that will make you happy and I’ll never never desert you again.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I thought that New Year's Eve in Palm Beach would be different this year, but I had no idea how different.

My evening was to begin with a cocktail party at the home of Dick and Susan Nernberg, friends of mine from Pittsburgh. They live in an exquisite apartment above Maus and Hoffman, a clothing store on Worth Avenue.

Then I was to go to the wedding of George Cloutier and Tiffany Spadafora at the Breakers Hotel. I would have to leave at some point to go to the Coconuts party at the Flagler Museum. This is the most exclusive invitation in Palm Beach by far. Then finally, Mark Brentlinger and Brian MacDonald were giving their annual blast at their mansion. They were gay and last year at midnight the bartenders stripped off their shirts to greet the New Year. That would be a fitting ending to the evening.

In the last few months the lives of the mega wealthy have been twice devastated, first by the collapse of the stock market and secondly by the embarrassing losses of the Madoff Ponzi scheme. That made even those who had lost nothing angry and fearful looking for someone or something to strike out against. And when people learned that ABC's 20/20 was following me around New Year's Eve, that became the target of the moment.

The day before yesterday, I knew something was wrong when Susan called and said that guest after guest at her cocktail party was backing out, terrified by the idea of camera snouts intruding on their lives. A few months ago, most of these same people would have lined up for their shots, but now AM(After Madoff) they seek to hunker down in obscurity. I scarcely had time to decide what to do about that problem when George Cloutier called to say that he had guests refusing to come if there were cameras. George loves publicity, and it was extraordinary that he was willing to give up the klieg lights in the name of love and a full house.

Mark Brentlinger said that he didn't want cameras either. These were tough economic times, and it would not look right that he and friends were having a wildly extravagant blast.
I couldn't do anything about George's wedding or Mark and Brian's party but I sure could do something about the cocktail party. So I started calling around inviting a whole new group of people to the cocktail party. ABC interviewed on camera many of the guests. What was so striking was the seriousness of their comments and their convictions that Palm Beach was a different place now and their lives different too.

After the cocktail party, my wife Vesna and I drove over to the Breakers for the wedding. "If this is the Titanic," Cloutier had told me in one of his more philosophical moments, "Well, we're in the ballroom and we're going down dancing." It was most flamboyant, extravagant, over-the-top, spare-no-expense blasts imaginable. Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey tried to talk over the din of music while Florida's Senator Bill Nelson and Louisiana's John Breaux sat quietly.

Former Senator Breaux and I were at the same table, and we discovered that we shared a lot in common. Our apartments in Washington are two blocks from each other. We were wearing the same stripped dress shirt. And as a politician, he shared with journalists one of the defining attributes of our mutual castes. We never pay for anything. When I started talking about my forthcoming book, Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death in Palm Beach, the good Senator whipped out his business card and asked for a freebie. (Don't worry, Senator, you'll get it next week).

I left the Breakers before eleven to make it to the Coconuts at the Flagler Museum. Last year several of the twenty-five Coconuts had told me that they had been upset at the quality and quantity of their several hundred guests, but this year was different. It could have been fifty years ago, all these faces of the old American elite. As the fireworks exploded brilliantly above the Inland Waterway to the sounds of popular music, I found it poignant. I knew this world was ending, even if few of the people here realized it.

Just as the final barrage of fireworks exploded, my wife and I left to drive north half a mile along the ocean to Jungle Road and the big gay party of the evening. Palm Beach was once one society, now it is many and gays are one of them. Gays were once servants of the wealthy. They escorted the ladies as walkers. They clothed them. They decorated their homes. And now they are often the mega wealthy themselves.

It was an overwhelming event that spilled over from the gigantic mansion next door to Ivana Trump's home. Everywhere there were pretty boys, handsome gay men, and occasional tongues placed in occasional ears in manners unseen at the Coconuts. And there was former Congressman Mark Foley, who left the House in a scandal involving Congressional Pages. And in the middle of it all dancing endlessly was the co-host, Brian MacDonald, in a white décolletage shirt that made him look like Errol Flynn playing a pirate.

As I drove back to our home, I thought what a fantastic evening it had been but one filled with a sense that I was seeing the last of something. Palm Beach has retreated into itself seeking to preserve a world of privilege and wealth beyond human imagination. But there is a stirring in the land, and a stirring even within many people on the island itself. America has to change and Palm Beach has to change as well. And there may not be too many more evenings in Palm Beach like New Year's Eve.