The mid 1980s seem like a blur to me now. Maybe, because it was over 40 years ago. Or maybe it was simply the fast times of the “Miami Vice Era.” But I do remember vividly the night we got raided.
Just following the gang-style killing of John Callahan, World Jai-Alai’s ex-president, we had another big surprise. While sitting in current CEO and president Dick Donovan’s office with VP Paul Rico, engaging in one of our early evening “meetings,” operations manager Dan Licciardi (now current GM at Miami Jai-Alai nearly 40 years later), knocked on the door. Donovan yelled for him to come in.
Dan Licciardi was one of the most amazing individuals employed by World Jai-Alai. Destined to become a marine biologist, he decided to get a part-time job as a security guard at Miami Jai-Alai, while attending the University of Miami. His intelligence and amazing work ethic quickly caught the eye of Paul Rico. Dan somehow was convinced to forget his dream of communicating with dolphins and stay with World Jai-Alai. This day would be one of Dan’s biggest challenges.
“Some detectives are downstairs with a search warrant,” he calmly told Donovan, in his Spock-like manner. (Dan and I had instantly bonded 45 years ago both being Trekkies) “Apparently, they want to confiscate our records.” Donovan asked which records. Licciardi answered, “All of them.”
A few minutes later, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers were wheeling out on multiple hand trucks all the files and papers from our fifth-floor accounting department. Local television stations had been tipped off and were video taping the entire “raid.”
Dan did an amazing job coordinating the process, attempting to give them everything they needed, while still allowing us the ability to operate our business. It took hours and we were left with almost nothing. They kept these records for over a year. They were attempting to find something that connected the Wheeler and Callahan killings to World Jai-Alai. They ended up finding nothing!
Meanwhile, our company’s problems had no impact on the Jai-Alai industry. Business was still booming, with Miami, Dania, and Tampa now running winter and summer seasons. This was diluting the market somewhat, but overall revenues were much higher. However, I feared this almost year-round Jai-Alai would prove costly in the long run. The short seasons generated intense demand. Now, I could see the daily attendance starting to dwindle.
In Tampa, where my heart truly remained, my good friend general manager Dick Gerrity was very sick. He was fighting prostate cancer and was losing the battle. Dick was one of the toughest people I knew, having been an FBI agent in Newark, NJ. But, on my business visits back to Tampa, which always included golf with Gerrity, I could see the illness taking its toll.
Finally, in October of 1983, Dick Gerrity died.
Richard Donovan faced the problem of replacing Gerrity. Tampa Jai-Alai was World Jai-Alai’s second biggest revenue producer and was approaching Miami’s numbers. Gerrity, though not from the Tampa area, had been very popular in the community and a well-respected GM. Giles Ellis, his assistant, handled all the administrative duties. They were a good team. Would Giles take over or would Donovan send me back to Tampa to fulfill my dream, being general manager of Tampa Jai-Alai?
Donovan shocked us both and sent Gerald Coakley, another ex-FBI agent who had been at Hartford Jai-Alai but was now at Ft. Pierce. This made absolutely no sense to me, nor to anyone else. Coakley had no ties to Tampa, nor was he that versed in the sport of Jai-Alai. All I could do was shake my head and tell my wife Sue that we weren’t returning to Tampa. At least, not yet.
I knew Coakley in Tampa was a stretch. I thought, even at the young age of 34, I was ready to run a fronton. With my disappointment lingering, I had no idea that I would get another shot at my dream. Would I be returning to Tampa instead of becoming a “star” on Miami Vice? Stay tuned!