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Wave of investigations reportedly left Teele distraught

By John Pain The Associated Press  MIAMI — Media reports about Arthur E. Teele Jr.’s alleged contacts with drug dealers and his reputed homosexual affairs combined with several indictments left the former city commissioner distraught before he killed himself, two people who knew him said ThursdayArthur E. Teele Jr. killed himself Wednesday in the lobby of The Miami Herald. Just hours before, a weekly newspaper published police reports containing allegations that Teele led a lurid private life. Teele had pleaded not guilty to federal fraud and money laundering charges this month for allegedly taking $59,000 in kickbacks to help a businessman get millions of dollars in contracts at Miami International Airport. If convicted, he faced a possible prison term of more than 100 years. Miami-area media have given extensive coverage to Teele’s corruption case.The Miami New Times, the weekly newspaper, put a lengthy story on its Web site Wednesday afternoon under the headline “Tales of Teele: Sleaze Stories.” The bulk of it was based on allegations contained in police reports in his state corruption case, which had not gone to trial. The police reports detailed surveillance of Teele and contained interviews with inmates who spoke of their alleged dealings with Teele.Before shooting himself, Teele spoke several times by phone with Herald columnist Jim DeFede, who described him as “very distraught.”“He mainly called because he wanted to talk to me about the allegations about his homosexual affair supposedly that a prison inmate was making against him. He was upset by what that was doing, the impact it has having on his son,” DeFede told reporters outside his home Thursday.Athalie Range, Miami’s first black city commissioner and a friend of Teele’s, said the New Times story was “unfair.”“I think this was one of the things that helped drive him over,” said Range, 89. “It mentioned things that had no relation to his alleged charges to what he did in public office.”Francisco Alvarado, the New Times reporter who put the story together, said he felt bad about Teele’s death, but he and New Times Editor Jim Mullin defended the article as fair.“When anybody that large falls from grace, what else is the media going to do? That’s our job to report what they’re doing,” Alvarado said.Herald Publisher Jesus Diaz refused to speculate when asked if he thought Teele chose to kill himself at the newspaper as a symbolic act against an organization he may have seen as his tormentor.“It’s hard to tell, when someone reaches the point that Mr. Teele did yesterday afternoon, what was the intent, what are the reasons for his actions. Because it’s very difficult to understand,” Diaz said at a news conference.Legal and psychology experts said negative publicity can cause so much pressure and embarrassment that it leads some public officials to crumble.“When you’re a public official, the shame, the disgrace, and the resulting pressure is exponentially magnified,” said Neal Sonnett, a Miami defense lawyer and a past president of the American Bar Association’s criminal justice section.Sometimes, people “realize that everything is going to collapse, ‘All of my secrets are going to come out and I’m really not going to be able to counteract them,”’ criminal justice psychologist Steven Norton said. “It’s easier to just avoid them and the ultimate avoiding of problems is suicide.”Diaz and Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler also defended firing DeFede over his taping a phone call Wednesday with Teele without the former commissioner’s consent, a possible violation of Florida law. They said he also ignored the Herald’s ethical standards. DeFede said his firing was unfair and that he should have been suspended because he told his bosses about the tape on his own.

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