Ex-mayor, (Uechi black belt), dies
BY AMY DRISCOLL TERE FIGUERAS NEGRETE AND JAY WEAVER
Former Keys Mayor John L. ”Jack” London, a longtime Monroe County commissioner who pleaded guilty to tax evasion last year in a public corruption case, died Tuesday after being admitted to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital last weekend for an undisclosed illness.
London, 68, was a county commissioner from 1990-98 and mayor from 1996-98. He had been set for a Feb. 9 sentencing in a federal tax case for failing to report a $29,000 payment he received in 1997 — when he was mayor — from a Marathon businessman who sought permits for a redevelopment project.
Prosecutors said the $29,000 was used to satisfy a lien on a home that London owned in Ireland. FBI agents arrested him at Key West Airport in 2004 as he was preparing to fly to Ireland.
London’s prosecution was part of a wider federal investigation into alleged political corruption in Monroe that included the indictment of former County Attorney James Hendrick on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges.
It’s unknown what effect London’s death is likely to have on the prosecution of former County Attorney Hendrick, who faces a March 6 trial. London was to be a key witness for the prosecution.
”We are scheduled to proceed to trial,” said Alicia Valle, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We will assess what impact, if any, this [death] has on the case and fully expect to go through with the trial at this time."
Last year, Hendrick was charged with conspiring to thwart a federal investigation by directing witnesses to lie to a Key West grand jury about the $29,000 payment to London by a political consultant.
According to the indictment, political consultant Randy Hilliard issued three checks totaling $29,000 to a law firm in Ireland to satisfy a lien on a County Cork property owned by London. Hilliard has not been charged in the case.
Without London as a witness, prosecutors will build their case around Hilliard’s testimony.
Hilliard, a Miami-Dade political consultant who once listed himself as the Prince of Darkness in the phone book, allegedly took $75,000 from the developer of the Halls Resort project on Marathon and then diverted $29,000 to London, according to the indictment. He also sent a fax to Hendrick’s law office in Key West confirming the payment, the indictment said.
Because this is a conspiracy case, Hilliard can testify not only about his direct knowledge but also about hearsay — including anything London or Hendrick may have said to him about the alleged kickback scheme.
Hendrick’s lawyer, Ed Shohat, said his client is innocent.
”We deny any involvement in the kickback scheme . . . and any involvement in the obstruction of justice,” Shohat said.
The attorney also expressed Hendrick’s sadness over the loss of his longtime friend.
”We’re all very sorry to hear about the passing of Jack London,” Shohat said. “Jimmy Hendrick has known Jack London for most of his adult life. He’s very upset that he’s passed away.”
J. Allison DeFoor II, a former Monroe County sheriff and judge who had known the ex-mayor since 1982, said London’s legal troubles shouldn’t obliterate his accomplishments. ”He was a good guy, he really was,” DeFoor said. “He made a big mistake, but we should focus on all the good things he did and not the mistake. . . . He screwed up, but we all screw up.”
He said London brought professionalism to county government and helped unite the upper and lower Keys.
”Jack helped knit those two worlds together,” DeFoor said.
London also is credited with helping lead major initiatives for the Keys, such as sewage treatment and growth control. He was the former director of the Historic Florida Keys Foundation as well.
London had long dreamed of leaving Key West for Ireland after retirement, said Monroe County Commissioner Charles ”Sonny” McCoy. ”All he ever talked about was retiring to the Emerald Isle,” said McCoy, who used to run into London at a neighborhood coffee shop where both were regulars.
London, long interested in the island’s history, was instrumental in restoring the clock tower of the Old City Hall, originally built in 1891, after storms damaged it.
”He was a preservationist,” said John Jones, assistant city manager for Key West. “And he was a conservationist and concerned about the environment. He was always jumping on us if the city cut down mangroves.”
Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Dean Lopez Funeral Home in Key West. Funeral Mass is 9:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Key West.