A former Miami city commissioner shot himself to death Wednesday inside the lobby of the Miami Herald newspaper, one day before a rival publication was set to publish a lengthy report detailing allegations of corruption, drug use and liaisons with male prostitutes.
Arthur E. Teele Jr., 59, who was arraigned five days earlier on federal corruption charges and also was accused of taking kickbacks on government land deals, was pronounced dead Wednesday evening, shortly after firing a pistol into his head and collapsing at the Herald's waterfront headquarters in downtown Miami. The shooting jarred a newsroom that quickly shifted from a state of shock to the task of reporting a huge local news story unfolding right below it.
The Herald reported on its Web site that Teele shot himself after asking a security guard to tell Herald columnist Jim DeFede to relay a message to the commissioner's wife: "I love you." Seconds later, Teele, in a dark suit, was lying on the floor, a pistol at his side.
Teele chose the Herald lobby to end his life, but it was another publication, a weekly called the Miami New Times, that may have written his epitaph. The New Times cover, posted Wednesday on its Web site and due to hit news boxes on Thursday, featured a cartoon image of a leering Teele next to the headline "Tales of Teele: Sleaze Stories." The headline on the article, which the author said is primarily a reprinting of a police surveillance and investigative report, elaborates: "Male prostitutes and multiple mistresses, drug money in Gucci shopping bags, bribery and extortion conspiracies. And you thought you'd heard it all about Art Teele."
The police report is jaw-droppingly graphic, describing in detail the sex acts that a male prostitute who is now in jail said Teele paid him to perform. It also paints Teele as a high-pressure extortionist who insisted that businessmen "pay to play" before getting deals with the city.
Teele collected money in shopping bags and in piles held together by thick rubber bands, the report said.
The police report lays out a sordid history: mistresses flying in for steamy weekends, motel meetings with male prostitutes, late-night pornography-viewing sessions and cocaine deliveries from dealers with names such as Peaches.
Richard Sharpstein, a Miami lawyer who represents one of Teele's co-defendants, said late Wednesday that he thinks Teele "got wind of" the New Times article before taking his life and that the shame of the public exposure was too much for him.
"This is the perfect example of the power of the press," Sharpstein said. "It's a little outrageous to go to press with allegations made in an unsubstantiated police report."
Teele, a buoyant public persona, was once one of the most powerful politicians in Miami and served on the city and county commissions. But he was despondent as his legal woes mounted, Sharpstein said.
Teele was under investigation by state and federal officials. In the federal case, he was accused of facilitating a $20 million airport contract for an associate; in the state case, he allegedly got kickbacks on the sale of parking lots that were not needed and never used, and got paid in his role as chairman of the city's redevelopment agency.
DeFede, whose sharply written columns often expose dirty dealings in Miami's colorful political world, took several calls from Teele in the minutes before the shooting, the Herald said. Teele said he had a package for the columnist but hung up after saying it was not urgent that he come down to the lobby to get it.
Sharpstein says Teele may have hoped that DeFede, a former New Times columnist, might intercede with the publication to stop disclosure of the police report. Teele, though deeply depressed, had planned to meet soon with Sharpstein, who predicted prosecutors would be unable to prove that Teele broke the law: "Now he'll never live to see it."