Sunday, April 22, 2007

Why Zeigler was So Unpopular with Some Local Business Interests

In the 1989 nationally syndicated television program on the case, A Matter of Life and Death, television journalist Ike Pappas noted:

    “Zeigler was attempting to clean up corruption right in his hometown of Winter Garden, Florida. He was helpful in shutting down the old Edgewater Hotel, a center of prostitution and drug dealing. But he was also trying to gather information on other illegal activities such as gun running and, most importantly, loan sharking. The loan sharks made a fortune letting [black] migrant workers buy groceries on credit at an interest rate of 520% per year. And Tommy Zeigler alleges that certain members of the Winter Garden police force were in on the action.”

Zeigler described what was going on at the Edgewater Hotel in the heart of Winter Garden:

    “You’ve got a police car sitting out in front of the place and a cop sitting behind the counter. If anything got out of line, they would simply beat the [black] people up and dance them out the back door. This is not something that I was told, but something that I have seen….”

In the mid-70s, Zeigler tried to obtain the assistance of the Police Chief, the Fire Chief and even the Code Enforcement Officer of Winter Garden in shutting down the Edgewater Hotel. None would help. Finally, he obtained assistance from the Hotel and Restaurant Commission Inspector from the state capital in Tallahassee, Mr. Merritt (now deceased). The hotel was closed for good.

Zeigler did not give in to the threats on his life by local police. He kept fighting to help the blacks in his community. The white loan sharks moved to take the only black-owned liquor license in the area by framing the owner, Andrew James. Andrew James was charged with one count of selling marijuana behind his bar. The state agent on the case was a local man, Mr. Baker.

Zeigler arranged for an attorney for the black man, Andrew James, and testified as his character witness. The character witness for the white man on the other side was Judge Maurice Paul.Tommy’s side won and Andrew James kept his liquor license. The local racial tumult was so severe a riot broke out and Mr. Baker’s house was burned. Zeigler tells what happened then:

“When you get stopped by a cop on Main Street and he tells you he’s going to kill you if you don’t get your nose out of his business, what’s to stop him?”

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