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Arthur "Art" Teele (May 14, 1946 – July 27, 2005) was an American lawyer and politician who belonged to the Republican Party. Born into a wealthy black family in Florida, Teele received an excellent education and became a respected officer in the US Army and went on to a successful career in private practice and politics. A controversial tabloid raised scandalous charges against him during his fight to clear his name from a conviction, and he committed suicide. Posthumously, his case was appealed and his conviction was overturned exonerating him of all charges. Art Teele married Celestra Patton Teele, of whom he had one son Arthur Patton Teele. (Trey) Teele, later married Stephanie K. Teele of whom he was married upon his death.
Legal and military career
Teele was a law student who went into the military after his graduation. Teele served the US Army as a Judge Advocate General on the personal staff of General Henry Emerson, Commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg from July 1975 to June 1977. Teele earned his law degree from Florida State University College of Law.
In private practice: civil rights, NASCAR, and the France family
After his honorable discharge from the US Army, Teele provided pro bono services to the defendants in the Wilmington Ten which was the most prominent civil rights case in America during the 1970s. Teele met with the attorneys for the Wilmington Ten as well as attorneys and administrative staff of North Carolina Attorney General Rufus Edmisten. In 1980, the federal courts ordered a new trial for the Wilmington Ten, and Attorney General Edmisten dropped all charges after hearing appeals from Teele and others permitting the Wilmington Ten to go free.
Returning to the private practice of law in his home state of Florida, Teele became the attorney for Bill France, the founder of NASCAR, before entering politics in Miami. In Europe, Teele consulted with Interpol on investigations into organized crime and international homicide cases.
Shortly after his election in 1980, President Ronald Reagan appointed Teele to the post of Assistant Secretary of Transportation. From 1981–83, Teele was the head of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA), a position officially known as Administrator of UMTA (now FTA).
In the 1990s, Teele was elected Miami-Dade County Commissioner in Miami, Florida. Following a controversial investigation and trial, Teele was removed from office by Governor Jeb Bush on March 2, 2005. Although Teele was convicted of corruption by threat against a public servant, the verdict was overturned on appeal after his death by suicide.
On July 27, 2005, Teele walked into the The Miami Herald building and shot himself fatally in the head.
At the time of his death, Teele was a popular politician with a loyal following in Miami-Dade. Teele's conviction stemmed from an incident with a Miami-Dade County detective who had been conducting surveillance as part of a corruption probe. That probe had resulted in Teele being charged with ten felony counts of unlawful compensation with trial set for October 2005. Teele was also under federal indictment for money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud for allegedly helping a minority company win more than $20 million worth of electrical contracts at Miami International Airport for work that was actually undertaken by a larger non-minority company. Teele faced a possible 20 years in prison if convicted of the federal charges, but an examination of his personal financial records after his death revealed that Teele was not a rich man and was actually in debt for half a million dollars.
On the day of his suicide, the Miami New Times published a cover story on Teele which was based on the report of the corruption probe and detailed alleged dealings with illegal drugs and a transvestite prostitute with a criminal record. Shortly before he shot himself, Teele called Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede, who taped their conversation. This taping led to the dismissal of DeFede. According to the tape, Teele professed his love for his wife, Stephanie, in a rambling conversation that revealed a spike in his personal anxiety.
A prominent Republican campaigner
Teele campaigned for Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential primaries, and this political association was raised as an issue in the African-American community when Teele ran for mayor of Miami-Dade County later that year. Teele was one of the top two candidates to emerge from the general election, but he was narrowly defeated in a runoff by Alex Penelas.
Conviction overturned and Teele exonerated
On April 18, 2007, almost two years after he committed suicide, Teele's conviction for corruption by threat against a public servant was overturned by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal. The court allowed the appeal by a deceased individual on the basis that Teele's conviction precluded his wife from making a valid claim for death benefits under the City of Miami's pension plan and other merits of his case.
A narrowly focused documentary about Teele's final days that concentrated on the sensational aspects of his tragic suicide was produced by two University of Miami film students, Josh Miller and Sam Rega. Miller and Rega's student documentary, Miami Noir, was screened at the 2008 Miami International Film Festival.
Their documentary re-examined the travesty in the context of political pressures from the Florida State Attorney's Office during Jeb Bush's administration that raised serious concerns about the motives for the official persecution of Art Teele.
- "Floridacdc.org". Floridacdc.org. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
- "Heads of the Operating Administrations, U.S. Department of Transportation". Office of the Historian, U.S. DOT. March 1, 2009. Archived from the original on September 12, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
- "Southern District of Florida Blog: Arthur Teele commits suicide at Herald building". Sdfla.blogspot.com. July 27, 2005. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
- "Miami News, Local News, Politics, Tech, and Breaking News | NBC 6 South Florida". Nbc6.net. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
- "Third District Court of Appeal" (PDF). 2dca.flcourts.org. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
- Official Miami Noir: The Arthur E. Teele Story
- Francisco Alvarado, Tales of Teele: Sleaze Stories, Miami New Times, July 28, 2005
- MP3 of Miami Herald radio reports from inside the building immediately after Teele shot himself
- Miami television station Local 10 online news story on the event
- West Palm Beach Channel 25 online news story