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Rees Jones – the Cadillac of golf course designers Golf

Published Sunday, January 9, 2005 1:00 am
by Hannon Deutsch

Rees Jones
Golf is a game of patience and understanding. The same qualities that are inherent to the game apply to the architects who sculpt the topography Mother Nature has blessed us with.
Over the last four decades, Rees Jones has made his own signature mark on the land. His dedication to making golf enjoyable, yet challenging, has earned him countless number of accolades. But perhaps more important than earning the well-deserved title of “The Open Doctor,” Jones has captured the respect of his peers in the architecture industry as well as the best players in the world.

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So when the Breakers Hotel was searching for a renowned artist to redesign its course in West Palm Beach, the process of elimination brought them straight to Jones. Golf Digest recently ranked him the second most powerful architect in golf behind Tom Fazio. Interested in who’s third? Jack Nicklaus.
Jones’ resume includes remodeled courses such as The Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2, Congressional Blue, Hazeltine National and Torrey Pines South in addition to designing more than 100 courses. Hazeltine is now the site of the 2009 PGA Championship and host of the 2016 Ryder Cup.
“I think they have crowned the proper champions on the Open courses that I have redone,” says Jones, who owns an 8 handicap.
The Breakers West, now known as The Breakers Rees Jones Course, was constructed 72 years after its Ocean Course appeared in 1896. Since Jones is synonymous with marrying classic designs with innovative and strategic thinking, planning the fit between the two groups was seamless. By working on several U.S. Open courses that are rich in tradition and remembering what was passed down from his late father Robert Trent Jones, he carries with him a timeless tradition of superior standards.
“I think this is an era of building classic style golf courses with the shot options,” says Jones, 63, a purist in every sense. “I follow the Neo-classic design style. The bunkers are on angles and the landing areas are narrowed down. I think we are in a wonderful style now where we are not over-baking out golf courses and we’re not undercooking them either.”
The 8-month, $6 million project was designed with flexibility in mind. The course now plays to a par 72 with an additional 400 yards in length and 4 1/2 acres of new lakes. Jones was on-site with his sleeves rolled up during the first critical 10 weeks of the project. The risk/reward option was tactically designed throughout the course, offering a variety of shot options to challenge each player’s cerebral game.
“I have been fortunate to work with really good clients like the Breaker’s,” says Jones. “It’s about getting the team working on the same level. You have to be there. My approach was to bring this golf course to a pre-depression standard. In the 70s, it was a real minimalist period. Now, we’re back into the stylistic approach.”
Jones stays ahead of the pack when it comes to the equipment aspect of the golf industry.
“We have to build golf courses that are enjoyable to play on a continuing basis that also stand the test of time,” he said. “Golf architecture is a competitive profession. There are many more people in it now than when I first started. Each job is your credential. You have to devout the time to building a golf course that is challenging, intrigues and is enjoyable to play.”
According to Jones, a golf hole can be defeated, but more than likely it will defeat the golfer. When asked if a certain hole he has redone stands out more than any other in his memory bank, Jones quickly mentioned the 17th hole at Brookline. Before entirely restructuring three greens Jones examined old photographs of the original Willie Campbell layout with the intent to keep the putting rub of the green into play. It was remodeled prior to the 1988 U.S. Open and will be forever known as the site of Justin Leonard’s famed putt that won the tournament for the Americans. Leonard’s 45-foot putt on the 17th against Jose-Maria Olazabal capped a remarkable comeback win by the United States at the 1999 Ryder Cup after it trailed Europe, 10-6, heading into the final day’s singles matches.
“It was a famous hole to begin with and now it is even more famous,” says Jones, who was the recipient of the Old Tom Morris Award last year. “It has one of the best small championship greens for a 370-yard par 4. It determines the winner every time it has been played.”

No arrests made in FAU arson case, but professor says colleagues have ‘pretty good idea’ who did it

Police said an arson that scorched Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus more than two months ago was still unsolved Sunday, even though English professors have a pretty good idea who tossed bricks and gasoline through their office windows.

Although FAU police said no arrests had been made since the March 10 arson that closed the Humanities Building, professors said campus gossip implicated a certain freshman so upset over a bad performance in his mandatory English composition class that he flew into a rage when department heads upheld a grade assigned by their teaching assistant.

“We have a pretty good idea who would have done it,” professor Thomas Martin said. “Unfortunately, I think the investigation is going to sit on the shelf and go away, unless you get CSI out here to find some micro-fiber or something.”

Martin described the arsonist as a “strange, violent nut job of a student” who would eventually land in jail.

“It was a cowardly act and probably part of a pattern of bad behavior,” Martin said. “If half the effort this student put into firebombing the English department went into studying for class, it would never have happened.”

According to fire marshal investigators, it was around midnight when the arsonist threw bricks through three English department windows located in a corner of the ground floor of the Humanities Building.

The arsonist then poured gasoline into the offices, lit one of the rooms on fire and was apparently scared off by the sprinkler system before finishing the job.

No one was working in the building at the time, although arson remains a first-degree felony regardless of the reported injuries.

Although fire marshal investigators said in April that the prime suspect failed his preliminary lie detector test, they would not say this weekend why university police had not pressed charges.

“We’re out of the investigation now and FAU is handling the rest of the case,” said Lt. Rich Schuler of the fire marshal’s office. “They know what they need to do.”

Lt. Chuck Aurin of the FAU police said he could not discuss any suspects in the case because the investigation was still open.

The three rooms drenched in gasoline were the main office of the Department of English, the office of department chairman Andrew Furman, and the office of writing programs director Dan Murtaugh.

The arsonist set off the fire in Murtaugh’s office. Murtaugh, who teaches freshman composition, was vacationing in Bermuda at the time.

“We gave police the names of the students we thought could have been responsible, but that obviously wasn’t enough to make an arrest,” Murtaugh said this weekend. “I suspect it’s a matter of hard evidence at this point.”

Furman said FAU had relocated the English professors to the third floor of the Social Sciences Building indefinitely. A decision on whether they will return to the old offices is expected before the university’s fall semester.

“We hope to stay here for several reasons,” said Furman, whose office window was also smashed a week before the arson. “Personally, I feel a bit safer being off the ground floor.”

Although Furman said he was disappointed by comical speculation in the student newspaper about what happened to the Department of English, he said professors had not responded to the rumor mill.

“This fire was traumatizing for the department,” Furman said. “We’re still too busy dealing with it ourselves to be able to tell the students how to deal with it.”

Martin said Furman and Murtaugh did nothing to provoke the attack on their offices, which he called an anomaly.

“Dan and Andy are the nicest guys you’d ever meet,” Martin said. “They’re student-oriented, self-effacing and they don’t have any enemies.”

University spokesman Andrew LePlant said this weekend that he had no idea whether an arrest would be made in the arson.

“It’s just a wait and see,” he said.

Renovations to the Humanities Building, which required new walls and flooring due to water and smoke damaged, have totaled more than $30,000 and were nearly complete as of this weekend.

No, you’re not gonna need a bigger boat: FAU submariners to discuss ‘theory into practice’ and human-powered subs

Published Sunday, September 11, 2005 1:00 am
by By John Johnston

The year 2005 was record setting for the Florida Atlantic University Human-Powered Submarine Team. In July, and at the 8th annual International Submarine Races in Bethesda, Maryland, the team finished second overall. The 6.1-knot speed achieved by the two-person sub also broke the schools best previous time, giving FAU membership in the very exclusive 6+-knot (about 6.9+ mph) club, according to pilot Travis Steeves.

“The International Submarine Race is a great opportunity for FAU engineering students to put theory into practice,” Steeves said. “Having the opportunity to compete and share information with other ocean engineering enthusiasts from around the world is definitely very exciting.”

Team members this year included: Cynthia Cleveland, David Darwent, Scott Gibbs, Zach Grabe, Gerry Kaufman, Kenny Patek, Faydra Schaffer, David VanEpps, David Wilkinson, and team leader and pilot Steeves. To share the experience, the team will host a presentation and slideshow on the July race Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 11:30 a.m.

The current international competition dates back to 1989 when FAU’s Department of Ocean Engineering and entrepreneur H. A. “Hap” Perry started the race. The competition was originally held in Florida in the open ocean; however, weather problems moved the race to the Maryland indoor basin in 1995.

The building of human-powered submarines dates back more than 200 years – and with Horace L. Hunley’s financial backing, three human powered submarines were built during the Civil War. Hunley himself died onboard the third submarine as it successfully attacked and sunk the USS Housatonic off Charleston, SC in 1864. Hunley’s ship was 35 feet long, and had eight-crew members hand cranking a two-bladed propeller.

Current human powered submarines are smaller, and represent many months, if not years, of effort in labs, workshops and garages by engineering students or individual entrepreneurs. The goal is to design an underwater vehicle that can be powered successfully through the course, according to Steeves.

The subs are timed through a 10-meter section of the model basin in Maryland, an indoor channel usually used by the US Navy to test new ship designs. Teams run the course one at a time. All of the submarines are flooded designs – meaning that there is no air inside the vehicle, so the pilot must use SCUBA gear.

And while the competition is fun, Steeves said, the team’s mission is to design, build, and race submarines that are propelled solely by human power and requiring the integration of many aspects of both engineering and liberal arts disciplines.

This year’s event drew competitors from throughout the U.S. and from as far away as the Netherlands. Participants included universities, corporations, government agencies, individuals and research labs. Various awards were given, including ones for best overall performance, innovation, speed, best use of composite materials and spirit of the race.

FAU’s Department of Ocean Engineering, a unit of the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences, was founded in 1965 as the first ocean engineering undergraduate program in the nation. The department’s Institute for Ocean and Systems Engineering, known as SeaTech, is located at FAU’s Dania Beach Campus. The Institute focuses on ocean and related engineering education, research, development, testing, implementation and product commercialization, according to the university
Tuesday’s 11:30 a.m. presentation will be held in the Majestic Palm Room, located in the University Center on FAU’s Boca Raton campus. Dr. Edgar An, professor of ocean engineering at FAU, will also be on hand to answer questions.

John Johnston can be reached at 561-549-0833, or at

Boca spammer refuses Microsoft settlement offer George Merwyn allegedly sent phony ‘Viagra’ e-mails from his $2.5 million home

Published Tuesday, April 12, 2005 1:00 am
by By Sean Salai

An alleged Boca Raton spammer who sent millions of e-mails hawking fake Viagra from his posh Blue Inlet home has refused a $100,000 settlement offer from Microsoft in an ongoing lawsuit, the Boca Raton News learned Monday.

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In a Feb. 14 letter obtained by the Boca News, Seattle attorney Theodore J. Angelis offered to drop Microsoft’s lawsuit against George Merwyn of 777 Marine Drive in exchange for the $100,000 payoff “if this matter can be resolved in the next week or so, without significant, further expenditures on our part.”

“I trust that you will recognize that offer as a significant compromise from the multi-million dollar judgment that could be awarded if this matter goes forward,” Angelis wrote to Merwyn’s attorney. “Likewise, I trust that you will recognize that Microsoft has already incurred significant fees in locating and litigating against your client, and would be seeking the recovery of those fees in the lawsuit.”

The conditions of Microsoft’s proposed settlement also included a permanent injunction that would have barred Merwyn and his roughly 50 accomplices, including his wife, from using Microsoft software including MSN internet access and MSN Hotmail.

But a Microsoft spokeswoman said Monday that Merwyn, whom they accuse of using an MSN Hotmail account to send the unsolicited e-mails all over the world, had ignored the offer.

Merwyn could not be reached for comment. A Boca News reporter who approached the wrought iron gates of his $2.5 million home in Blue Inlet observed two guard dogs barking in the courtyard, but could not locate a buzzer for visitors.

A neighbor said Merwyn spent the day at a local hospital with his pregnant wife Rachel, waiting for doctors to induce labor.

Merwyn’s Seattle attorney, Christopher Lee of Rohde & Van Kampen PLLC, also would not comment on the case.

Viagra is a legitimate sexual potency drug for men. Microsoft investigators said Merwyn and his accomplices promoted their fake Viagra through a Puerto Rico affiliate program called Webmed-RX, but provided fake contact information for the company in their e-mails.

“The spam in question used a wide range of alleged false and deceptive features, including ‘spoofed’ headers, which made the spam appear that it was coming from reputable Internet Service Providers,” said Aaron Kornblum, a Microsoft Internet Safety Enforcement lawyer. “The e-mail was also allegedly sent using ‘open proxies’ or hijacked computers, which are unsecure computers through which spammers route e-mail to hide the point of origin and their identities.”

Microsoft officials did not estimate how much money the Merwyn gang made from the scheme, which sought victims’ credit card numbers.

Their lawsuit, dubbed Microsoft Corp. v. Merwyn et al, is pending before a Washington Superior Court judge in King County.

The issue of spam e-mails made worldwide headlines on Friday, when a North Carolina judge upheld a nine-year prison sentence for convicted spammer Jeremy Jaynes, who sent more than 10 million junk e-mails a day. It was the first prison sentence ever handed down for the crime in the United States.

On Monday, a newly released Pew survey found that 28 percent of Americans report seeing more spam in their in-boxes this year, but because less of it is pornographic, they’re “not as upset.”

Sean Salai can be reached at or 561-893-6427.

Psychologists blast Rush Limbaugh for mocking traumatized Kerry voters Post Election Selection Trauma is a real problem, Florida clinicians say

Published Tuesday, November 16, 2004 1:00 am
by Sean Salai

Mental health officials in South Florida blasted Rush Limbaugh on Monday, saying the conservative talk show host’s offer of “free therapy” for traumatized John Kerry voters has made a mockery of a valid psychological problem.
“Rush Limbaugh has a way of back-handedly slamming people,” said Sheila Cooperman, a licensed clinician with the American Health Association (AHA) who listened Friday as Limbaugh offered to personally treat her patients. “He’s trying to ridicule the emotional state this presidential election produced in many of us here in Palm Beach County. Who is he to offer therapy?”
The Boca Raton News reported last week that more than 30 distraught Kerry supporters in South Florida contacted the non-profit AHA following their candidate’s Nov. 3 concession to President Bush. AHA officials have diagnosed the disorder as Post Election Selection Trauma (PEST) and have scheduled the first of several free group therapy sessions for just after Thanksgiving.
Cooperman, whose professional practice is based in Delray Beach, said the election-related symptoms she sees in the Kerry supporters more than quality PEST as “a legitimate syndrome or disorder within the trauma spectrum,” according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
“Rush Limbaugh has no clinical qualifications to counsel anyone,” Cooperman said. “He’s not only minimizing PEST, but he’s bastardizing the entire psychological field and our clinical expertise.”
Rob Gordon, AHA executive director, said Limbaugh’s radio musings caused the charity to receive hundreds of calls and letters from gloating Republicans. But he said he also received a small batch of letters and e-mails from people who said they understood why some Kerry voters would need therapy.
A man named Paul wrote to AHA, “I too was very depressed, and I knew a lot people who felt the same way. You have to understand that to many of us, this was the key election about the future of our country, and with a Bush win that future is pretty much destroyed. Naturally, there’s going to be some significant grief.”
“The people here in Palm Beach County now in therapy or support groups are the canaries in the mine shaft,” Gordon said. “There could be thousands of others, even Republicans, who need to be in therapy over this election.”
Gordon said the AHA on Monday also received its first out-of-state call – from a fixed-income woman in Texas who is “absolutely terrified of what Bush will do” – and scheduled a free telephone therapy session with her for today.
Douglas Schooler, the Boca Raton trauma specialist who treated 20 people with hypnotherapy following Kerry’s loss, said he believes many people suffering from election-related symptoms are still afraid to step forward.“The Republicans want Kerry voters to shut up and pretend they’re not feeling anything,” Schooler said. “But many people have serious emotional pain over this election and it’s unhealthy to stuff it down inside of you. Therapy is the best way.”
Although Schooler said he never listens to Limbaugh, he said he has been deluged by similar phone calls and attacked on South Florida’s radio talk shows.
“Most of the calls I’m getting are from Republicans making fun of the whole thing,” Schooler said. “One guy wrote me a letter saying I should tell people to vote Republican and save themselves the stress. Republicans want to minimize the whole story of election fraud and voter anger.”
Schooler said he did not expect the Republican gloating to stop anytime soon.
Limbaugh, a Palm Beach County resident who owns $26 million worth of property in the area, read the two Boca News exclusives on his nationally syndicated radio program last week.
“So if anybody on the left wants some serious therapy here and counseling, I’m more than willing to offer my assistance as well,” Limbaugh said on Nov. 9.
On Nov. 12, accused by Gordon of picking up the story to rub it in the faces of Democrats, Limbaugh said, “Now, my friends, I didn’t do that. I reached out. I offered a hand of friendship. I offered my own counseling services.”
AHA officials, listening to the taped broadcasts, described Limbaugh’s tone of voice as sarcastic.

Palm Beach County warns of scams targeting its water utility customers

Published Thursday, August 4, 2005 1:00 am
by By John Johnston

Scam artists have approached about a dozen Palm Beach County households, according to the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department.

“We want to make sure that innocent people are not tricked into believing that they need to purchase unnecessary filters to treat their tap water,” department director Bevin A. Beaudet said.
County Commissioner Mary McCarty’s office said that calls to the department’s customer service center alerted county officials that someone is targeting utility customers with an erroneous letter.

The letter states that customers who suffered diarrhea between February 20 and May 30 were exposed to fecal matter in drinking water. The letter also recommends that customers install a reverse osmosis filter and contact a plumber to install a backflow valve system.

“Whoever mailed this letter is posing as our water utility to frighten people into believing that they need to hire a plumber and buy expensive water treatment systems,” Beaudet said. “We suspect that they will follow up by soliciting business from the people they have scared with the letter.”

“Please don’t be misled into believing that your water is unsafe,” Beaudet said. “There is no need to call a plumber or purchase a reverse osmosis filter. This is a scam. We perform more than 80,000 tests each year to ensure the safety and quality of our drinking water. We’re trying to get the word out to everyone who might have received one of the fraudulent letters.”

Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the department provides drinking water to approximately 450,000 residents in the county.

Stephen K. Lower, retired department of chemistry professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia has examined the many way in which con artists have used water as the source of a scam.

He said such scams have included “magnets and ‘catalysts’ for softening water, magnetic laundry balls, waters that are ‘oxygenated’, ‘clustered’, ‘unclustered’ or ‘vitalized’ (purporting to improve cellular hydration, remove toxins, and repair DNA), high zeta-potential colloids and vortex-treated waters to raise energy levels, halt or reverse aging “and remove geopathic stress.”

“All of these wonders and more are being aggressively marketed via the Internet, radio infomercials, seminars, and by various purveyors of new-age nonsense,” Lower said. “The hucksters who promote these largely worthless products weave a web of pseudoscientific hype guaranteed to dazzle and confuse the large segment of the public whose limited understanding of science makes them especially vulnerable to this kind of exploitation.”

John Johnston can be reached at 561-893-6427, or at

Millions to fight cancer

The Papanicolaou Corps for Cancer Research, Inc. has given a major boost to South Florida’s effort to find treatments and an eventual cure to the disease.

Boca Raton Police Blotter

No Seacrest, no Cowell. But Senior Idols delight audience
At age 84, Nan Houston Stenzi of Boca Raton can still sing up a storm. So can 66-year-old Ronald Mulford and Vincent Dora, 80, also of Boca Raton. They, along with three Delray Beach residents and a half-dozen elders from Broward County, took to the stage of the Parker Playhouse recently for “Senior Idol” competition.

Boca non-property tax revenue to drop $10 million
During Boca Raton’s annual goal-setting session a few years ago, City Manager Leif Ahnell surprised the assembled crowd with a frank assessment of projected tax revenue over the next few years. He said revenue from non ad valorem sources had pretty much peaked – and would either remain the same or drop.


  • Tri County receives $500 from volunteer grant program
  • Boca planning & zoning director Annunziato retires
  • Delray offering neighborhood pride grants
  • County seeks $987,000 from FIND for Dubois Park
  • Fiesta Latina in June at Palm Beach Zoo
  • Photo exhibit to recognize Haitians in Florida
  • Hasner says final House race won’t require filing fee
  • St. Mary’s Hospital marks 70th anniversary

Mosques on the move

Activity has been pretty constant in and around the former Clerisy Academy building on NW Fifth Avenue in Boca Raton.
That’s a little unusual, since the place went bankrupt more than a year ago.
The one-time school for the gifted is now the site of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton, which purchased the building and moved its mosque from a barely visible storefront in a shopping plaza on NW 20th Street to the newer building.
The school is still considered a temporary site for the ICBR as it continues its quest to construct a 24,685-square-foot domed facility that will be the mosque’s new permanent home.
The Islamic Center had already owned the 3.3-acre lot at the corner of NW Fifth Avenue and NW 35th Street when the school folded, said ICBR spokesman Dr. Dan McBride.
“We got a call from another school that wanted to buy Clerisy and our land as well,” he said. “We didn’t want to sell, so they pulled out.”
In turn, the ICBR bought the former school site – which “essentially doubles the property we are on,” McBride said.
The name of the school has been changed to the Garden of the Sahaba Academy, a non-profit organization that is part of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton. The academy, he said, provides an Islamic environment for children’s religious and academic growth.
It has recently been certified for pre-K students – and the building can hold up to 150 kids, he said.

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School availability
Finding and purchasing the school was something of an unexpected stroke of luck, said McBride. In April 2003, the ICBR asked the city for a permit to erect a 3,370-square-foot, pre-fabricated building on the site. The plan was to move the mosque from the shopping plaza into the pre-fab building until the mosque was finished.
But the issue became moot when the ICBR bought the school.
That purchase, McBride said, could have an impact on the entire project. Plans approved by the city say the new mosque building will house a 2,730-square-foot day care center and a Sunday school.
But now that the ICBR has acquired the former Clerisy Academy, there may be no need for a school in the mosque building, said McBride.
“We will have to evaluate what we’ll do.”
The neighborhood easily accommodates the facility. “We are near a residential area, near a university and near a quiet religious community.”
City Planner Daryl Johnson, who handled the ICBR’s plans during the permitting process, said the center has constructed a parking lot for the new worship center, but no construction has started.
Johnson said the ICBR did not have to file an amended plan when it purchased the school property.
Right now, the ICBR is conducting a summer camp for children age 4 to 14 through July 30. The Boca Raton News, which visited Tuesday, was not allowed to speak with anyone attending the camp. A reporter was told to refer all questions to McBride.

Second mosque
The site of the other mosque for the Assalam Center, at 1499 NW Fourth St., is still a wide-open field with several piles of dirt at the edge.
The 10,199-square-foot building will be located just north of two other houses of worship, First Assembly of God Church and Beth Ami Congregation synagogue.
The building is to be constructed on 2.28 acres of land and will include a prayer hall, conference room, multi-purpose area, six classrooms, nurse’s room and kitchen. The landscaped grounds will offer 85 parking spaces.
The Assalam Center project has been on the drawing board since July 2000 when the City Council approved the zoning. The center acquired a small parcel of adjacent land from the city for $40,000.
The center received a building permit last June and held groundbreaking ceremonies in September.
The Assalam Center grew from a weekend school established in 1994 to teach Islamic studies and the Arabic language to Muslim children.
Classes were initially held in the homes of the participating families. But as the number of students grew, they moved to the campus of Florida Atlantic University.
In 1996, the Assalam Center was officially registered with the state of Florida as a non-profit organization.
Currently, the school has more than 80 students between the age of 5 to 19, and has overgrown the temporary facility at FAU.

Denny’s ignored anti-Muslim complaint, says Boca plaintiff

The Denny’s Corporation refused to take responsibility for a racial discrimination complaint against one of its South Florida franchises, ignoring the seven alleged Muslim victims for 11 months, a Boca Raton plaintiff said Wednesday.

Ehab Mohamed, an Egyptian-born Muslim and insurance broker who lives in Boca with his American wife, said he and his six friends in their $28 million lawsuit would fiercely dispute last week’s statement by Denny’s president Nelson Marchioli that the corporation immediately investigated and discounted their January 2004 complaint to the Florida Commission on Human Relations – a state agency that recently found probable cause for discrimination in its own yearlong investigation.

“The president of Denny’s is lying to the entire world,” said Mohamed, 31. “I’m disgusted because it was a full 11 months before Robert Morris, a private investigator hired by Denny’s, contacted us to begin his investigation.”

Alan C. Kauffman, the Boca lawyer representing Mohamed’s group in the suit filed last week, said a June 1, 2004 letter from Denny’s litigation coordinator Angela Pressley was the first and only correspondence his clients received from the Denny’s corporate office about the incident at a Florida City restaurant.

Pressley’s letter simply stated that the Florida City franchise owner would handle the complaint and that Kauffman’s clients should direct “all future correspondence or questions regarding this matter” there instead of to the corporate office.

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“When you talk about denial of civil rights, and the way Denny’s refused to take responsibility for this complaint, our case definitely goes to a threshold issue,” Kauffman said Wednesday. “Looking at past litigation in Texas, I think it’s fair of us to ask for $28 million. It’s consistent with past jury decisions.”

Debbie Atkins, Denny’s public relations director, said the company would not respond to Mohamed’s allegation outside of court.

“We’re not going to get into a back-and-forth discussion,” she said. “We’re in litigation now, so the courtroom is the proper place for these issues.”

In the statement issued last Friday, company president Marchioli said Denny’s commissioned “an immediate and thorough investigation by an independent, outside agency with experience investigating such allegations for the United States Department of Justice” to evaluate the Muslims’ claim.

“That investigation found no evidence whatsoever to support these allegations,” Marchioli said. “The facts proved no deterrent to plaintiffs who perceived an opportunity for financial gain.”

Mohamed and six friends of Middle Eastern descent from Broward County – Nabil Arafat, Ehab Albaradi, Usama El-A Baidy, Esam Hesein, Mohammad Natour and Usama Mohamed – allege in their complaint that the manager of the Denny’s called them “bin Ladens” and refused to serve them during a 2 a.m. food run on Jan. 11, 2004.

The seven friends are all married professionals, including a physician and a real estate agent. They said they were nicely dressed and polite at the Denny’s restaurant, asking a waiter not to serve them any pork or alcohol because of their Islamic beliefs.

When their food did not arrive an hour later, El-A-Baidy confronted manager Eduardo Ascano, who allegedly told him, “Bin Laden is in charge of the kitchen.”

The group confronted Ascano again and he allegedly told them, “We don’t serve bin Ladens here! You guys, out!”

As Ascano threatened to wait outside and beat them up if they didn’t leave, two off-duty police officers intervened.

Mohamed said one of the officers, a female Metro Dade cop, “pulled out her handcuffs and started banging them on the wrist” of one of the men.

She allegedly refused to give them her name and badge number, threatening to write a police report if they didn’t leave.

“Initially, we had a false sense of security because of the police presence and the fact that there’s nothing extremist about our group,” Mohamed said. “We were totally wrong.”

Mohamed, whose Christian wife is a third-generation Floridian, said he could not understand why the incident happened.

“I was shocked,” Mohamed said. “I never imagined that this sort of thing could happen in this day and age. The whole thing is pure discrimination.”

Although the Anti-Defamation League is not involved in the lawsuit, southeast regional director Art Teitelbaum said the group’s allegations could be true.

“Virtually all large companies have policies against discriminatory behavior in the consumer marketplace. It wouldn’t make financial sense not to have them,” Teitelbaum said. “However, policies are always dependent on the employees on the ground. This is not the first case where Arab-American Muslims have complained of being discriminated against.”

Kaufmann, the Boca lawyer, said his plaintiffs would seek to make Denny’s implement a policy revoking franchise ownership in a case of reported racial or religious discrimination.

A lawsuit is also pending against the two off-duty police officers, who were interviewed by a Florida Commission on Human Relations investigator.

According to the Commission’s investigative report, witnesses confirmed that the off-duty female cop threatened to arrest the men if they did not leave.

Witnesses also said the seven Muslims were noisy and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.

However, employees who served the Muslims also confirmed the anti-Muslim remarks made by manager Ascano, whom they said had a reputation for being “rude and unprofessional.”

Sean Salai can be reached at or 561-893-6427

Cause of water contamination still a mystery

The mystery surrounding the possible contamination of Boca Raton’s drinking water last month remains just that – a mystery.
Municipal leaders said Monday that a probe into the incident has yet to pinpoint the cause of the coliform bacteria discovery on Dec. 12 that resulted in a three-day boil-water order for users of Boca water.
Also, based on a three-week search involving city staff, the police and the FBI, the possibility that a worker tampered with the water or with test samples has been relegated to “very low probability,” said City Manager Leif Ahnell.
He said it was unlikely that anyone could have broken into the plant either.
“They would have had to get by 24-hour guards and cameras. They would have to know where the lab is. And they would have to know where the samples are,” Ahnell said.
He said that since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the city “has beefed up security” at the plant.
After walking reporters through a schematic of the city’s water treatment and distribution system, Ahnell Monday vowed to continue searching for an answer “until we find it – or until we run out of theories. We feel we will ultimately find” the cause of the contamination.

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Possibilities explored

The probe is now focusing on a couple of areas that show “the highest degree of probability.”
One is disinfection, he said. “Was there sufficient chlorine” in the water, he questioned. “All the monitoring equipment said there was.”
Another possibility, he said, is that something happened in the recovery basin area – one of the few sites where the water supply is exposed.
Ahnell noted that a heavy rain fell the day before the tainted samples were found.
Also being checked is the possibility that something – a chemical, perhaps – could have either neutralized or counteracted the chlorine in the water, allowing bacteria to grow.
Investigators are stymied at how test samples of drinking water could have been clean one day, then brimming with coliform bacteria the next, and then back to normal a day later.
The fact that Boca Raton hasn’t come up with an answer doesn’t mean nothing has happened since the contamination was first reported, the city manager said. Additional monitoring processes have been added at the Utility Services Department on Glades Road.
Also, the city hopes to improve the method of notifying people of a water emergency or other problem affecting large segments of the population.

Notifying residents

Ahnell said the city notified residents about last month’s contamination the same way it did during a similar water crisis in 1991 – one that took about two weeks to clear.
“There is an official process you go through,” he said. “The first thing is to notify the Health Department. They have to approve the press release.”
He said some residents have complained they did not know of the water problem in a timely manner.
“We want to get the information out as promptly as possible,” he said. “We will modify our procedures to notify people.”
The city currently has an automated telephone system that calls all telephone numbers in Boca Raton. It was not used, he said, because it would have taken the equipment three days to let everyone know.
“We are looking at other phone systems,” he said. “We need one that is like a ‘blast’ fax. We need a blast phone system.”
The process the city now has “doesn’t meet the need of today’s consumers,” he said. “We will put in a system to notify people within a few hours.”
He said the cost of the system could run between $25,000 and $50,000.
“It will not be inexpensive,” he added.
Mayor Steven Abrams, who attended the press briefing along with Ahnell, Utility Services Director Mike Woika and City Council members Susan Haynie, Dave Freudenberg and Carol Hanson, reassured residents that “this won’t happen again.”
As a result of last month’s incident, “We have been able to brainstorm about all kinds of possibilities,” the mayor said. “We will come forward with ways to prevent it.”