Monday, December 26, 2005

Former Sembler gossip columnist joins 6th Circuit Grievance Committee

The Sixth Circuit is the circuit court for Pinellas and Pasco Counties, Florida. This court has a growing reputation for having a double standard--one set of rules for ordinary people; another for wealthy Republican donors. For example, former ambassador to Italy Melvin Sembler is currently suing the former national chairman of his Straight Seventh Step Society to reclaim his discarded penis pump--and for mental anguish. Already in that suit Judge Walt Logan has issued an injunction against Bradbury without Bradbury's knowledge. Later Judge Logan attended a social with Sembler's attorney and Sembler's son. For reasons like that we are acutely interested in any activities of the Sixth Circuit, more especially as those activities might relate to Mel Sembler.
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When the Semblers are in Rome magazines like Gossip News cover their frequent social outings. But back in St. Petersburg, Florida that job is left up to the St. Petersburg Times and, until her retirement last year, frequently to reporter Mary Evertz . Ms. Evertz covered Mel's affaires d'etat and Betty's ruby laced evening gowns. In fact her very last article before her retirement (published on April 22, 2002) was about the security concerns Ambassador Sembler faced in Rome. His driver and a police officer rode with him to work in a bulletproof BMW, she wrote, with a van with four policemen in the lead and another van with four cops trailing.

When Ms. Evertz wrote her security article, the royal couple had Jan Sher's aunt Sonja (sister of former Straight board member Marilyn Benjamin) and her husband Irwin as house guests. For lunch that day Sembler entertained US Rep. Porter Goss, a Sanibel Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and his wife, Mariel. His guest for dinner was US Rep. C.W. Bill Young. George and Laura Bush were recent house guests, and back in February fellow Australian Russell Crowe had showed up to schmooz with 80 people the Semblers had invited over to view the film A Beautiful Mind at the embassy's private movie theater.

The Palazzo Margherita is the home of the US embassy in Rome. According to Mary Evertz it was the palace for Italy's beloved Queen Margherita. Ms. Evertz writes that Julius Caesar once owned the area and "it was here, it is said, that Caesar entertained Cleopatra." From her we learn that Sembler's office is the palace's entire ballroom with its "magnificent" Murano chandelier which "casts a golden glow over the four large tables with marble tops that originally were commissioned by the queen for the room." "At the residence entrance," Ms. Evertz writes, "is a mezuza, which two Italian rabbis have blessed, and 6-foot-tall porcelain flowers purchased at the Temple Beth-El Art Show grace the entry foyer."

According to Sembler the embassy has twice the staff as the one in Australia "therefore, more or less, twice the amount of work." Ms. Evertz adds that work at the embassy proceeds at a "hectic pace." We learn from Ms. Evertz's article that in the first five months in office, the Semblers had already entertained 3,000 guests! Rebecca Winke was one of Mel's party guests the following year. As a Northwestern alumni living in Italy, she was one of Sembler's guest at the Mother of All Northwestern Alumni Living in Europe Bash that he threw in 2002. When she met Ambassador Sembler, Ms. Winke says he shook her hand and started into a dialogue about Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug work. When she managed to get a word in, she says she asked the ambassador about his career before being a diplomat. "Hey, I’m no diplomat! I’m a businessman!" she says Sembler replied.

Perhaps Ms. Winke wasn't overly awed by Nan Reagan's anti-drug crusade--after all, Ms. Winke had been a liberal activist when a student at Northwestern. But Mary Evertz might be more easily impressed by Sembler's tough stance on juvenile drug use. Her father was Judge William Gardiner--a highly respected county juvenile judge who was noted for his concern about wayward youths.

Mary Evertz's security article was the first of three by The Times discussing the Sembler's 50th wedding anniversary party in 2002. But when Ms. Evertz is part of the story herself as when she chaired the Boy Scout event awarding Sembler Company CEO Craig Sher with his Distinguished Citizens Award, somebody else at The Times has to write. That's what happened when Mary and Bud Evertz were hobnobbing with the Semblers at the Sembler's Nozze d'Oro which is Italian for The Mother of all Toga Parties. Mary and Bud and all the guests were seated at tables named for towns that have special significance in the Semblers' lives. Dr. Bruce Epstein sat at the Dyersburg, Tenn. labeled table--named for Betty Sembler's birthplace.

There were 300 invited guests. The list included ambassadors from Australia, Colombia, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Belgium, the Israeli ambassador to Italy, the Italian Minister of Defense, plus US representatives to Denmark, Slovakia and Mauritius. Space probably precluded Ms. Park from naming everyone who was there but she did mention many guests by name. There was Brent and Debbie Sembler, Steve and Diane Sembler, Craig and Jan Sher, Marilyn Benjamin, George and Pam Campbell, Bud and Mary Evertz, Dr. Will and Nancy Greenberg, Bruce and Mary Ann Marger, Sonya and Irwin Miller, Ira and Beverly Mitlin, Ron and Fagl Oxman, Dave and Adele Pinkser, Thelma Rothman, Ron and Sherry Sacino, Don and Jane Silverberg, Mike and Sandy Slomka, and "an orthopedic surgeon who once treated Betty Sembler."

Why was everyone named except "an orthopedic surgeon who once treated Betty Sembler?" That's weird, but we have a theory. In those days the Semblers and Straight were getting a lot of negative Internet press. Suppose Mel Sembler started in on Nancy Reagan's anti-drug message and how he was the idea behind "Just Say No!" Suppose the Israeli ambassador to Italy or Antonio Martino, the Italian Minister of Defense, replied, but what about the things our intelligence people are reading on the web that Straight tortured kids? Dr. Bruce Epstein sat at the table with these two along with Greg and Liz Sembler. If Greg Sembler downplayed the Internet reports, any good intelligence officer would think, but he is Mels' son, what else could he say. But Dr. Epstein is knowledgeable of Straight. He would be more credible--but was he under any obligation to voluntarily disclose that he had been a Straight board member himself? And besides, the "orthopedic surgeon who once treated Betty Sembler" sat at that table too.

The year before Wes Fager had reported on how Mel Sembler had probably quashed a state attempt to close Straight and how, subsequently, Straight Foundation board member Donald Sullivan, MD had resigned from Straight and became positioned on the state Senate's committee that would oversee any investigation of wrong doing by Sembler. The year before that Donald Sullivan's wife Judge Irene Sullivan attended Betty Sembler's birthday party. This was well publicized on the Internet. Donald Sullivan is a noted orthopedic surgeon in St. Petersburg. Was he the unidentified surgeon sitting at the Dyersburg Table?
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More icing. May 10, 2000 was Mel Sembler's 70th birthday. Mary Evertz wrote about Sembler having breakfast with his three sons (even Steve was there). Before flying off to Washington with Betty, the sons gave their dad a green a Mercedes sports convertible. It was a good week for Mel Sembler, Mary wrote, he also received the Order of Australia. August 8, 2000 was Betty's turn. Mary covered Betty's 69th birthday and announced that the governor had named Betty Sembler Day in all of Florida for her work on drug issues. Mary wrote, "She got the word from the governor himself at the Republican National Convention when they had adjoining boxes for Gov. George W. Bush's acceptance speech." Wow!

Lennie Bennett is another Times reporter assigned to cover the gossip beat on the Semblers. On Sep 9, 2001 it was Bennett who wrote about the 100 guests at Gratzzi's for Betty Sembler's 70th birthday party. He wrote, "Among all the people I meet, she has always been special to me. Her warmth, kindness and total lack of pretention shine through." In 1999 when Mary Evertz cochaired the committee that selected Mel Sembler for his Distingiushed Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts, Lennie Bennett wrote the story. And when the Semblers joined Bud and Mary Evertz to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, Bennett covered that story too. Fellow Times reporter Betty Jean Miller was Mary and Bud's matron of honor.

Betty Jean Miller was no stranger to the Semblers either, once having written an article about a dinner in the Semblers' honor for their support of Straight which raised $300,000. Another article by her covered a Sembler trip to Washington to get drug war legislation passed. In Nov. 2001 Mary wrote about two parties the Semblers went to in Washington. At one, Betty wore "a gown by St. Petersburg-New York designer Peggy Jennings. For the evening she chose a two-piece metallic and wool ensemble in pewter." Mary also wrote about Betty Sembler helping Lynne Cheney decorate the VP's home. In another Nov. 2001 article Mary Evertz wrote about the party Sembler Company threw for the old man before going to Italy. She quoted Roxanne Roberts of the Washington Post stating, "Today, 'ambassador' is more than a fancy title; it's a legal position." In Jan. 2001 she wrote about Mel and Betty schmoozing with the Cheney's at ball parties.

In Oct. 2000 Mary wrote, "Last week, Sembler was in Boston for the first of the Bush-Gore debates, jetting back to the Tampa Bay area and arriving at 3 a.m. Wednesday. By 4:30 p.m. he was in Ybor for the grand gala for the new entertainment complex. He left again on the campaign trail, then was back in St. Petersburg to observe Yom Kippur with his family before heading out again." In Sep. 1999 she wrote about the Semblder's vacation to Ireland. In Jan. 1999 Mary was covering the Semblers at Jeb Bush's inaugural ball. "If you think he's popular," she quotes Betty, "you should see what happens when his brother George W. is in a crowd." And she adds that the Semblers just got back from a trip to Israel with George W. Bush. Mary notes that the Semblers were asked to fly back with the governor to Tallahassee. And on it goes.

The Saint Petersburg Times and its writers have forgotten the history that The Times itself had almost single-handedly written about the Late Great Straight Holocaust. It is because of their newly heaped praise that Melvin and Betty Sembler have become the Saviours of America's youth that they are regarded as today. Yet, in all their blustering, The Times' writers never once bothered asking the obvious. At the Sembler's gala wedding anniversary Mary Jane Park had noted that there was a table labeled Dyersburg, Tennessee for Betty's hometown, but where was a table publicized for St. Joseph, Missouri--Mel Sembler's hometown? In 1999 Mary Evertz noted that Betty's mother Fay Etta Schlesinger was at Jeb Bush's inaugural ball. Again in 2001, at a Republican fund raising dinner, Ms. Evertz reported that Mel Sembler had brought his mother-in-law Fay Etta. But where was his own mother?

Since the day the Semblers arrived in Pinellas County, Florida they had been proudly honoring and presenting Betty's parents; but there was never a mention of Mel's own parents. Worse, Mary Evertz, Mary Jane Park nor any other reporter ever put two and two together. Mel, you always present your in-laws, why don't you ever talk about your own parents? Fortunately Straight survivors Marti Heath and Samantha Monroe looked deeper. They found out why Sembler does not talk about his father. It appears his dad was a bookie. That story is here.
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Mary Evertz has done as much as anyone to perpetuate the legend of Melvin and Betty Sembler--wealthy socialites deeply concerned about the nations' youth. Mel Sembler, a man who let American taxpayers daily heat, cool and light an entire ballroom just for his personal use. A man who used his ballroom office to plan perhaps more parties and to entertain more guests than Michael Jackson ever did. The man who used his ballroom office to get the US government to buy a $113 million monument to celebrate his own Greatness!

What is Mary Evertz doing these days? She is a public member of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee. She says, "I look forward to making certain lawyers in Florida represent their clients with integrity."

Related stories:
Articles by Mary Evertz on the Semblers:
Chamber recognizes four community leaders Series by MARY JANE PARK, Sep 21, 2003; pg. 8
Menorah Manor marks its 18th anniversary Series by MARY JANE PARK, May 7, 2003; pg. 8
To Rome with caution by MARY EVERTZ, Apr 22, 2002, pg. 1.D
Sembler family gets ready for Rome Series by MARY EVERTZ, Nov 23, 2001; pg. 8.D
Diplomats get a festive sendoff Series by MARY EVERTZ, Nov 2, 2001; pg. 8.D
Semblers await word on posting to Italy Series by MARY EVERTZ, Aug 3, 2001; pg. 3.D
Celebrity watching at its best Series by MARY EVERTZ, Jan 26, 2001; pg. 4.D
Prominent Floridians among those making the scene Series by Mary Evertz, Jan 20, 2001; pg. 10.A
Sembler juggles job, family, politics, honor Series by MARY EVERTZ, Oct 13, 2000; pg. 6.D
Latin musical stars former Miss Florida Series by MARY EVERTZ, Aug. 13, 2000, pg. 8F
Australia bestows honor on Sembler Series by MARY EVERTZ, May 14, 2000; pg. 8.F
Semblers visit Ireland, Australia by MARY EVERTZ, Sep 5, 1999; pg. 8.F
Notables welcome Bush at gala by MARY EVERTZ, Jan 10, 1999; pg. 3.F
A DELICIOUS DUET by Mary Evertz, Dec. 13, 1995

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