Dade Ain't Disney
Aside from his own talent and that of Herald reporters who keep digging up stuff to shovel his way, Hiaasen has the obvious good fortune to be sitting amid a motherlode of material--in a city he calls our "premier sun-gun-and-psycho destination," a city that has "a sewer-rat tradition of scummy politics." In short,
the best place in America to be a criminal. It is to hard-core felons what Disneyland is to Michael Jackson.... Dade has the worst crime rate in the country, and does the laziest job of putting bad criminals behind bars. ... Only 15 of 100 convicted Dade felons go to state prison; the national average is 46 per 100. Out of 24 major metropolitan areas, Dade is dead last in punishing serious crime.
By the mid-eighties, in fact, Miami cops were considered some of the crookedest and dirtiest (selling and using drugs, that is) in the nation. Drug use was so rampant that it became a fad for the city's elite--bankers, lawyers, even the Catholic archbishop--to pee in a cup for analysis, to prove they were clean. The streets were full of cocaine cowboys with arsenals. Some were exceedingly tough, like the one who was shot twelve times, including once in the forehead and twice in the chest, but kept firing until he had dropped seven FBI agents. It was the bureau's bloodiest shootout ever.
Events of that sort have given Miami great notoriety as a crime capital, and the Chamber of Commerce (whose chief executive once admitted keeping an Uzi in her bedroom for protection) has done its best to counteract that reputation by thinking up slogans, stunts and other diversions to make outsiders assume that what might be considered anarchy is just a joyful, carefree atmosphere. One of the best was "FLORIDA--The Rules Are Different Here." Hiaasen immediately capitalized on it:
RULE NO. 1: You must remove your Beretta shoulder holster before going swimming.
RULE NO. 2: You must not be alarmed to discover that two entire floors of your hotel have been rented out to the Federal Witness Protection Program.
One reason criminals find South Florida a cushy place to operate, of course, is that the judges have proven hospitable to bribes. Occasionally they show real imagination. A lawyer was accused of bribing a judge by picking up $10,000 worth of the judge's dinner tabs. The judge often ate squid. Hiaasen saw it as a case of "squid pro quo."
Some Miami juries also seem a bit odd. In the early nineties, three sitting judges and a former judge were charged with taking bribes to fix cases, and, as Hiaasen wrote, "The FBI had a helluva case, too--videotapes, phone taps, marked money. It looked like a cinch."
The judges faced fifty-three charges, but the jury, feeling exceedingly kind, convicted on only three of those. One judge got off by pleading he was a drug addict. What! Should judges who have filled Florida's prisons with drug-addicted criminals receive such mercy? (It could have been worse. One woman on the panel wanted to free all the judges of all charges because the money shown being passed on the FBI videotape didn't look green to her.)