Fane Lozman doesn’t mince words.
Nor does he back down from a fight.
Even when federal marshals raided and subsequently seized his houseboat at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina, leaving him homeless and without all of his belongings, he fought back and won.
The North Bay Village resident has been involved in so many knock-down-drag-out fights with what he called corrupt politicos and other government agents that he can be a target of a conspiracy plot to silence him any day now.
But that hasn’t slowed him down.
With the old to familiar cliche “You Can’t Fight City Hall,” Lozman was meticulously prepared and brought the fight to his latest opponent.
Lozman, a community activist, is the face of a recall campaign to oust North Bay Village Mayor Corina Esquijarosa from office after she allegedly committed $50,000 homestead exemption fraud and other misdemeanor crimes relating to her real estate business. Lozman, who discovered the discrepancy and reported it the Miami-Dade Property Appraisers office and Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, said following an investigation by the Property Appraisers Office, Esquirjarosa was found to have misrepresented her homestead status by renting out her primary residence. Esquijarosa also deceived the voters by failing to make multiple required disclosures on her statement of financial interest (FORM-1) that all candidates running for office must file. Lozman said Esquijarosa, 38, met the municipal recall requirement according to state law. Esquijarosa was elected North Bay Village Mayor by only a 6 vote majority in November 2010. Florida law lists the multiple penalties for failing to make any required disclosure on a Form-1, including disqualification from being on the ballot, impeachment, removal or suspension from office.
“She has made multiple criminal acts by lying on her form, in my opinion,” Lozman told The SunPost.
According to records, the Property Appraiser’s Office placed a lien on Esquijarosa’s Miami property after she refused to pay a total of $3,109 in back taxes for one of the units at the River Condominium, a one-bedroom, one-bath complex she had owned since 2008. She also failed to pencil in the property on her state-mandated financial disclosure form at the time she filed papers to run for political office. She faces other penalties as well.
“If the citizens had been aware of her non-disclosure of multiple items on her statement of financial interests, she most likely would not have been elected,” Lozman said. “Esquijarosaís three calendar years of homestead exemption misrepresentations, which were just discovered, also would have resulted in her defeat on the ballot. Esquijarosa should not receive the benefit of an elected office after she intentionally deceived the voters.”
According to the village’s charter, any elected official or political candidate must live in North Bay Village. According to her campaign disclosure forms, Esquijarosa listed her address as 1900 S. Treasure Dr., in North Bay Village. State law requires a homeowner must notify the Property Appraisers office of any changes in homestead status, and if they fail to do so, the owner can be assessed for up to 10 years of exempted taxes, plus 15 percent interest per year and a penalty of 50 percent of the taxes exempted. The exemption allows homeowners to reduce the taxable value of their homes by $50,000, resulting in a tax break.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is investigation the allegations but can’t comment because the case is still pending.
“We can’t comment on any matter that is currently under investigation,” said an investigator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Lozman said he and Al Blake, who’s also a member of the recall committee, gave Esquijarosa several opportunities to resign when her alleged real estate fraud came to light but she refused. According to Lozman’s documented complaint, which leading to the recall effort, Esquijarosa is fighting a foreclosure on properties she owns but taking the rent money from her tenants.
“She is lying to them,” he said. “She refuses to pay property taxes, which led to the lien on her property and she’s taking tenants’ rent money.”
According to her campaign disclosure documents, Esquijarosa works for the city of Miami as a project manager and earns a $98,000 per year salary with benefits. Lozman said there’s a two-part process to recalling Esquijarosa from political office. State law requires at least 275 signatures of North Bay Village’s 2,748 registered voters to force a recall election. If the signatures are legal, the mayor has five days from the date they were verified to release a statement in her defense. The next step is the recall committee must circulate another petition with Esquijasrosa’s statement attached and will need to collect 412 signatures, which is also 15 percent of the electorate. All the signatures were submitted to North Bay Village Clerk Yvonne Hamilton, who must send the petition to Lester Sola, supervisor for Miami-Dade County Elections Department, to scrutinize to determine if they signatures are legitimate to force a recall election. Lozman said the first group of signatures have been approved and waiting for the second round of names to be verified.
“I know we can do it because a lot of people feel the same as we do,” he said. “We are confident we will get the second round of signatures approved as well.”
Esquijarosa has declined to comment on the allegations and recall effort after several messages were left at Village Hall. But she circulated an email saying the recall campaign is a case of sour grapes because she defeated the recall proponents’ mayoral candidates in the last election.
“I am disheartened that this recall effort has been contrived by malicious and mean-spirited persons who supported my opponent(s) in the mayoral election,” she said in the email. “While this recall effort is distracting, expensive, and unwise, diverting important attention away from the pressing issues of the day, I put my faith in the wisdom of the electorate.”
She won mayoral seat in November by six votes.
Lozman is no stranger to butting heads with powerful politicos and federal government officials. Several years ago, when federal marshals seized his boat following a complaint from the City of Riviera Beach that it didn’t meet the marina criteria, Lozman claimed it was political retribution for fighting city hall. Lozman said before he could response to the complaint, U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas gave federal agents the green light to seize it. They also took all of Lozman’s clothes and other personal belongings and left him homeless.
“I didn’t even have any clothes to wear,” he said. He has been paying rent to live at the city marina for three years. “All my clothes are on my homesteaded floating home.”
Lozman accused the judge of taking away his rights and no due process was involved to give him a chance to explain his position. Before his boat was seized, the city’s marina rules stated that a vessel must meet the requirements of the city. Any watercraft must have propulsion to be allowed to leave the area during an emergency. In Lozman’s case, he said his boat was grand fathered in because it was a floating structure, a home on the water. Published reports indicated that then-mayor Michael Brown was bent on giving the marina and a good part of the city to Viking Yacht Company and former Miami Dolphins’ owner and business tycoon Wayne Huizenga to turn it into a playground for the wealthy. Wealthy people who display an elitist demeanor to those less fortunate. Lozman was among the hundreds of residents the city planned to remove from their homes in favor of the proposed new project. Lozman filed a lawsuit against the city and in the process gained a powerful ally in his fight, then-Florida governor Jeb Bush. Lozman almost single-handedly killed the reportedly $2.4 billion plan, which would’ve removed hundreds of people from their homes. The fight apparently earned him the undying enmity of city officials.
Then, came another fight with a North Bay Village official. Under the leadership of then-mayor Oscar Alfonso, Lozman was faced with a $100 a day fine for his houseboat, illegally parked on the Marina, according to the city’s code enforcement regulations.
Lozman filed a lawsuit and the state ruled in his favor that the city didn’t have jurisdiction of the position of his houseboat. He said it was a plot by Alfonso, who during his term owed the IRS $200,000 in unpaid taxes, to get rid of him from the city. After Esquirjarosa was elected last year, Lozman said she decided to revisit the issue, igniting another spat with a public official from his hometown city.
But his latest wrangle led the revelation of Esquirijarosa’s investigations. An escalating series of government scandals over the years have led to a political apocalypse in North Bay Village and residents want it to stop, Lozman said. Lozman said Esquirjarosa is a boor and she needs to resign from political office to save herself from further embarrassment. He said the recall campaign should be the least of her concerns because she’s on the radar of the State Attorney’s Office.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s charged with criminal activity,” he said. “She’s rude, dishonest and a disgrace of an elected official. She should do the residents of North Bay Village a favor and resign.”
Blake said a lot of North Bay Village residents no longer want her as the city’s top brass, but some of her friends are defending Esquirijarosa and supporting her to stay in office and fight the recall. He said when he and Lozman went door-to-door to condos and private homes to collect signatures for the recall campaign, some refused to ink their names on the document fearing political reciprocation.
“No one who we ran into defended her,” Blake said. “No one came to her defense.”