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Coffees at the White House, a state dinner with the president and first lady, intimate dining to include “a few hours of high-quality dialogue” with Bill Clinton, and parties in a VIP sky box at the Democratic National Convention. Vice President Al Gore’s Miami fund-raising pal, Howard Glicken, dangled those perks before Hamilton Bank chairman and chief executive officer Eduardo A. Masferrer in an unsubtle 1996 letter soliciting $50,000. The Federal Election Commission later ruled that Hamilton’s soft-money contribution was illegal. But get-togethers and good times weren’t the only opportunities promised to the Cuban-born head of one of South Florida’s largest international trade lenders. “You will receive preferential treatment for appointments to boards and commissions,” Glicken wrote. “In addition, there are a number of possibilities we can discuss in person regarding benefits in relation to Hamilton Bank’s Latin American activities, which would include State Department, Commerce Department, White House [McLarty], Treasury, Ex-Im Bank, IDB [Inter-American Development Bank], OPIC [Overseas Private Investment Corp.], and others. The annual trustee membership is $50,000, made payable to the Democratic National Committee.” At the time, Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty was President Clinton’s special envoy to Latin America. He had also served as Clinton’s chief of staff at the White House. Three weeks later, Miami-based Hamilton Bank cut a $50,000 check specifically earmarked to the DNC for a trustee membership. The problem: Federal law prohibits national banks like Hamilton Bank from contributing to any candidate for political office. Hamilton Bank, with $1.7 billion in assets, is the principal subsidiary of publicly traded Hamilton Bancorp. It has eight branches in Florida, including Weston and West Palm Beach, and a one in Puerto Rico. Hamilton made local headlines this month when its stock plunged after the company reported an unexpected $5.6 million quarterly loss. Last month, in the wake of banking troubles in Latin America, the bank agreed to tighten its credit assessment procedures in a consent order with the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Coincidentally, it was an OCC bank examiner who uncovered Hamilton Bank’s $50,000 contribution to the Democrats in early 1997. And a few months later, they tipped the FEC, which in January quietly capped a lengthy investigation by imposing a $5,500 fine upon Hamilton Bank and a fine of $15,000 upon the DNC. It’s against the law for a national bank to contribute to a political campaign, but it is not against the law to solicit a national bank. So the FEC took no action against Glicken, who in 1997 was director of the DNC’s national finance board. Nor did it take action against Glicken’s Democratic tag-team partner, Miami investment banker and former Florida Secretary of Commerce Charles Dusseau, in pursuing Hamilton Bank and Masferrer. Despite the fine, the Democrats ultimately turned a $35,000 profit because they were allowed to keep Hamilton Bank’s illegal $50,000 contribution. And how did the Democrats manage that? Federal records show that after bank examiners discovered the illegal contribution, DNC officials promptly sanitized the cash by transferring it from a soft-money account to a DNC building-fund account where it could be legally accepted. But that was only after the $50,000 “was illegally used during the 1996 election for political activities such as polling, media and get out the vote,” according to a final report written by FEC associate general counsel Lois G. Lerner. Indeed, Hamilton Bank officials and representatives said the building fund is where the $50,000 was supposed to have gone all along, but didn’t because of clerical mistakes at the bank and at the DNC. Washington, D.C., lawyer Larry Barcella, who represents Hamilton Bank, blamed the outcome on the fact that the contribution was never specifically earmarked for the DNC building fund, even though the bank’s lawyers and executives wanted it done that way. “It was a minor administrative oversight by the woman that ended up actually cutting the check,” said Barcella. “The Democratic Party made a mistake, that’s really what this is all about,” said Masferrer. “They put it in the wrong account. They even apologized.” But the FEC didn’t buy it. “This office does not conclude that the misdirected contribution was a matter of mere ‘inadvertence,’ nor that an accounts payable employee should be credited with the error,” said the report. More clearly established is how the $50,000 contribution came to be made in the first place. According to the report, it was Charles Dusseau — also a former Miami-Dade commissioner — who first approached Masferrer about becoming a DNC trustee. “Mr. Masferrer asserts that Mr. Dusseau advised him that contributing to the DNC would be ‘good business for the Americas,’ ” the report said. On April 1, 1996, Glicken followed up with a letter to Masferrer on DNC stationery. “I can tell you from personal experience that the business networking opportunities and results I have had over the years have made this investment one of the most effective I have made,” wrote Glicken. At the time, he was partnered with Dusseau in the Americas Group, a bank consulting firm in Latin America. The Americas Group was later sold, and is today owned by Coral Gables, Fla.-based Terremark Worldwide Inc., Dusseau said in an interview. Glicken continues to work there. Dusseau said he was never contacted by the FEC about the Hamilton Bank contribution. Masferrer said he and Hamilton Bank’s board of directors decided to make the $50,000 contribution to the Democrats to further the cause of free trade, not for any quid pro quo. “We support candidates that support free trade,” said Masferrer, noting he never sought any federal appointment. Glicken was on a fund-raising rampage, of sorts, when he pitched Hamilton Bank. That year, The Wall Street Journal later reported, Glicken raised an astounding $2 million for the Clinton-Gore ticket and the Democrats. Al Gore brought Glicken to the Democratic team, the newspaper said. Glicken and his wife, Barbara, threw parties for Al and Tipper Gore at their Coral Gables home. The Glickens went so far as to “put vanity plates on their two Jaguars reading “Gore 1″ and “Gore 2,” the newspaper reported in 1997. Gore talked about the Glickens’ license plates last April while being interviewed by a Justice Department prosecutor about campaign finance matters. “I remember when I first became aware that he and his wife had those license plates, and I thought, geez, this is a little over the top here,” said the vice president, according to an Associated Press story. In 1998, Glicken’s political stock crashed when he pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanor charges of soliciting and laundering $20,000 in illegal foreign money for the Democrats. The $20,000 came from Thomas Kramer, a German developer active in Miami Beach. Glicken, who was fined $80,000 and put on probation for 18 months, was out of town and unavailable for comment. Barbara Glicken said Tuesday that her husband no longer raises money for the Democrats.

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