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Sins of South Beach: The Truth Hurts

February 21, 2009 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local News


Say what you will about former Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud, the man cannot get enough of the spotlight. If 12 years (6 as a commissioner and 6 as mayor) as an elected official and a heavily publicized federal corruption trial were not enough, Daoud now remains in the public eye with his tell-all memoir “Sins of South Beach.” In it, the former mayor tells of the lies, corruption, sex and violence that took Miami Beach from a crime infested retirement ghetto to the American Riviera that it is today.

If you are an aficionado of South Florida history, or even the recent history of Miami Beach, you will find this book fascinating. If you have moved here recently, this book really makes you understand that South Beach was not always synonymous with celebrities and parties, but rather with old people and street crime.



Imagine an island of retirees left by their children to die on the sand. Imagine unscrupulous landlords taking advantage of their elderly tenants by illegally raising rents and keeping security deposits (ok, that happens today too). And imagine a power establishment so strong that the poor old folks had nowhere to turn. This was South Beach in the late 1970s, and the elderly needed a champion in city government to protect their rights. That champion was Alex Daoud, a Miami Beach city attorney.


During his first term, Alex was a good man working to protect the rights of the elderly in South Beach. But, as we learn in the book, power- especially power in Miami Beach, always leads to corruption. Throughout the book there is a parade of powerful and crooked individuals, ranging from Miami Beach power brokers to former mayors to presidents of large financial institutions, who approach the commissioner and then mayor about “retaining” him for his services. Theoretically this “retainer” was for his services as a lawyer.  But the services actually included everything from assuring unions a prevailing wage law to getting Abel Holtz’s son on the city zoning board.



The book is somewhat depressing in that it makes you realize how the wealthy really can be above the law. It shows that even in a seemingly clean democracy like we have in America, those with enough money to influence poorly paid public officials can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want. Those of us who live in South Florida need only look at the constant movement of the Urban Development Boundary to remind ourselves of that. But while what most of us know about government corruption is anecdotal or third hand, “Sins of South Beach” makes it all too real. It’s kinda like the difference between knowing your girlfriend is cheating on you, and having her actually tell you.


The thing about any tale of corruption is that is gets incredibly complicated. Alex Dauod does the best one can expect to explain the convoluted backdoor dealings that went on at City Hall during his tenure, but because there really aren’t any tangible transactions going on, everything is very vague. If you like mob stories, which are similarly vague and complicated, you may find this book easier to follow than I did. But when bribes are for third hand favors, it becomes difficult to remember who’s paying who to do what.

Alex Daoud names a lot of names in “Sins of South Beach.” Some of the people had already been convicted or never charged with the crimes he mentions. Others were never charged. And it is unlikely that this book will launch any sort of federal investigation into corruption charges from 18 years ago. But, as Daoud told me, he is “surprised nobody has sued (him) over the book yet.” There seem to be a lot of nefarious characters in this book, and Alex Daoud seems to be the only one who paid the price. Even one of the villainous characters in the book, Abel Holtz, has a 2nd of NE 2nd Ave. named after him in the heart of downtown Miami. This location is just 2 blocks from the Federal Courthouse where he pled guilty to a felony involving lying to a grad jury. How’s that for irony?



Another interesting aspect of the book is Daoud’s description of the rampant crime that gripped Miami Beach after the Mariel boatlift. His disdain for Castro seems to run much deeper than the typical South Florida political pandering, as he cites the duping of Jimmy Carter and the unleashing of thousands of violent criminals onto the streets of greater Miami as what made the Beach unlivable. He blames the boatlift for the slaughter of many of South Beach’s elderly residents in the 1980s, and the deaths of 2 Miami Beach police during the same time. The book also includes a graphic description of what he and the Beach cops referred to as “Attitude Adjustment Sessions,” where they would beat criminals to within an inch of their lives, put them in body bags, and dump them with no shoes, no belts, and no money in a bad part of Miami.



And of course, what tale of South Beach would be complete without sex? Much like his political career, Alex Daoud begins this book with good intentions. He has a wife he met in law school who comes to Miami Beach with him, and their marriage seems strong. Until he sleeps with a tennis pro. And as anyone who’s ever cheated knows, once you’ve done it once, it just goes on from there. Henry Kissinger once said that “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” and Alex Daoud’s run through the women of Miami Beach is living proof of that. And as the book says, even a city commissioner in a relatively small city finds plenty of women willing to jump into bed with him. Two failed marriages ensued.


The sex scenes in the book are not particularly graphic, but they seem to romanticize what to the casual observer are rather tawdry affairs. In his extensive discussion of his affair with Bonnie Levin (who was the prosecution’s star witness in Daoud’s federal trial) he talks of her recruiting women for threesomes on a regular basis. Which is all well and good until he describes “making love” to a stranger that his girlfriend brought over for their mutual enjoyment. How much “making love” is really going on in your average threesome? I’m guessing there wasn’t a whole lot on longful gazing going on in the bedroom of the mayor’s mansion during these encounters.


Alex Daoud does a great job of telling the story, but in so doing he takes a lot of liberties with quotations. Much like Truman Capote was criticized for inventing conversations for “In Cold Blood,” so does Alex Daoud have dialog in this book that reads like it came from a screenplay. People explain things to each other that they obviously already know (this is presumably so the reader is clued in) and conversations take place that are, for lack of a better description, just not what people say. And given how much Alex Daoud has been through in the past 20 years, it is unlikely he remembers who exactly said what, just what the gist of the conversation was. But, much like with Capote, this doesn’t do a whole lot to detract from the book as a whole.


The book is not a quick read, as it checks in at nearly 500 pages. But if you are fascinated by South Florida history or government corruption, it doesn’t seem long at all. You take away from this book a lot about how Miami Beach operates, and how it got to be the way it is. And that is wasn’t necessarily a pretty story. Alex Daoud said he wrote this book because it was a story he felt needed to be told, and that the media only reported part of the story. The story may be a bit hard to swallow for some, but quite often the truth hurts. Especially when it’s the truth about a town full of illusion like this one.


“Sins of South Beach” is for sale at Borders in Aventura and Books & Books on Lincoln Road. To purchase a signed copy, call Alex directly at (786) 970-0061 and he’ll mail you the book. The price for this hardback edition is only $24.99. You can also buy the book online from Alex’s website.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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