Spotlight on Nick Navarro becoming hot
July 1, 1991
It was many months ago that 60 Minutes arrived to do a segment on Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro.
The sheriff reacted as he always does at the prospect of seeing himself on TV—with joyous gusto. Navarro is a publicity junkie, and the idea of appearing on America's most popular (and serious) news show must've sent him into ecstasy.
Sure, he's bosom buddies with Geraldo Rivera, but nobody takes Geraldo seriously. 60 Minutes is the big leagues. A prime-time puff piece would guarantee Navarro's re-election.
But now the picture's gone bad. The Broward Sheriffs Office is the target of a federal investigation into corruption and influence-peddling. The press, which has given Slick Nick such a sweet ride for so long, now snarls at his throat.
Even worse for Navarro, the 60 Minutes producers are reshaping, if not reconsidering, their profile of the dapper sheriff. By the time it's over, the 2 Live Crew fiasco will look like comic relief. Ironically, Navarro's own pathological itch for self-promotion is what caused some of his problems. Back in 1986, the sheriff was too eager to help Geraldo Rivera find a target for a prime-time drug bust. BSO chose a coke dealer named Nelson Scott.
After complaining for years about Scott's activities, neighbors were glad to see him finally arrested. Why it took so long was something of a mystery, until Scott started talking. He testified that he'd been paying off deputies with cash, dope and hookers. A BSO investigation discounted Scott's charges, but the feds are listening to him now.
The scandal has other dimensions. Agents are exploring the lifestyles of some of the sheriffs top guys. One, Ron Cacciatore, managed to build a $69,000 home on a captain's salary. Cacciatore has said his family inherited some money and invested wisely. He was seen socializing with a fugitive smuggler in the Bahamas, but has insisted he didn't know the man's true identity.
Another focal point is Navarro's friendship with auto dealer Jim Moran, the sheriffs most generous campaign contributor. Recently Moran sold BSO a fleet of used cars at new-car prices. Once Navarro hired one of Moran's security men as a BSO commander, even though the man, James Burkett, had failed a polygraph when asked about drug crimes.
Burkett recently was convicted of lying to U.S. agents about a marijuana operation. He was sentenced to 21 months.
The rain of subpoenas is enough to make Navarro's hair turn from white to black. All involved have denied any wrongdoing, while the sheriff clings to the Nixon defense: Bad things might've happened, but I sure didn't know about 'em.
No, Mr. Tough Guy Sheriff was too busy busting rap musicians to pay attention to what was going on inside his own department. Now he's got a mess that will not stop stinking before the '92 election. The media, which had been Navarro's pliant co-conspirators for so long, are now lambasted for their "feeding frenzy."
To scoff at Navarro's past grandstanding is to underestimate his shrewdness. Over the years he has hyped himself into a national personality; he is far more widely known and recognized than his low-key Dade counterpart, Police Director Fred Taylor.
Even Broward commissioners have been intimidated by Navarro's silky celebrity—they've inflated the BSO budget to an outlandish $197 million a year. For reasons still unclear to taxpayers, the sheriff now employs about 3,200 people.
As much as he'd love to duck responsibility for the BSO scandal, Navarro can't. It's his own top, hand-picked men who are in trouble—not the rank-and-file deputies.
These days, the sheriffs moth-like frenzy for the kleig lights has abated. The true test will come if 60 Minutes calls again. Can Nick resist the urge to face the cameras, to beam his suave visage into 2.0 million American homes?
Probably not. He who lives by the tube, dies by the tube.