The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 1, 1997 · Page 7
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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 7

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Monday, December 1, 1997
Page 7
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-i THE PALM BEACH POST MONDAY, DECEMBER 1 , 1997 7 A Molotov cocktail found in restaurant's dining room FIRE From 1A own lawsuit against Valiant in state court as early as this week, their lawyers said. The two-alarm fire at the restaurant at 13980 U.S. 1 in Juno Beach ignited after 2 a.m. on July 24, 1996. County firefighters determined that the fire was started in two areas of the building. Richards dead and this current problem," he wrote in 1993. - The Scherers were placed on five years' probation, and after paying restitution to the court, their sentence ended early in December 1995. , - Mintz said the couple's prior arrest "has nothing to do with this case." B Staff writers Joe Brogan and Pat Moore contributed to this story. could not be reached for comment. In trying to have the insurance policy nullified, Valiant also says Betty Fay Scherer tried to conceal from investigators the restaurant's financial records as well as the couple's past arrest for growing marijuana. The Scherers were arrested in 1993 on four drug-related charges after Martin County sheriffs deputies found more than 20 pounds of pot in a house the couple had rented under a false name in Port Salerno, court records show. Before their sentencing, Robert Scherer, a former General Motors engineer from Buffalo, N.Y., wrote the judge an apologetic letter explaining that he and Betty resorted to pot farming after the failure of another Denny's they owned in Lake Worth left them on the brink of ruin. "As a desperate attempt to get rid of our money problems, we worked out a plan to grow marijuana in a rented house and try to sell it until we could see our way clear," he wrote in court papers. The Scherers bought books on growing marijuana and "how to safely sell it." Robert said he was inspired by an acquaintance, Ted Richards, who found quick money smuggling pot in the early 1980s and he was undeterred after finding Richards slain one morning years ago. "Excluding traffic tickets the only trouble I have had with the law has been when I found Ted f Catch us on the 'Net! The Palm Beach Post ERIN MORONEYStaff Photographer The burned-out former Denny's at U.S. 1 and Donald Ross Road is being renovated and is to reopen as Hammerhead's Sea Grill. A Molotov cocktail" a wine bottle filled with gasoline and topped with a burning fuse was found in the dining room, and the gas lines in the kitchen had been tampered with. A crushed can of mineral spirits and a pile of charcoal were found among the rubble, as were a handful of matchbooks, according to a fire investiea- Betty Scherer Last week to save on steam carpet cleaning 'As a desperate attempt to get rid of our money problems, we worked out a plan to grow marijuana in a rented house and try to sell it until we could see our way clear. ' ROBERT SCHERER Valiant's attorney, W. Lane Nielson, did not return phone calls seeking comment. A few weeks after the fire, Palm Beach County sheriffs detective Fred Tysoe interviewed Robert Scherer, who agreed to take a voice-stress test. Scherer said he and his wife closed the restaurant for fumigation about 12:45 a.m. the night of the fire and everything seemed fine. But during the voice test, Scherer showed signs of deception when asked whether he knew who started the fire and whether he started the fire, according to sheriffs office records. A second test yielded the same results. When asked to be interviewed again, Scherer declined, and the criminal investigation ended. Mintz said voice-stress tests are "nonsense and make-believe," less reliable than lie detector examinations. He said the charcoal in the restaurant is evidence that the blaze was set by a fire enthusiast. "This case was the typical arson by firebug," he said. The burned-out building at U.S. 1 and Donald Ross Road was dormant until a few weeks ago, when renovations began to open a new restaurant, Hammerhead's Sea Grill. The property owners, Louis Bills and Ted Brown Jr., tor's report. Robert Sheriff's Scherer detectives also were at the fire to try to find the arsonist. But at-tempts to lift fingerprints from the restaurant safe and a carton of ' matches failed. ; Suspicion soon fell upon Robert Scherer, 56, the restaurant's owner, and his wife, Betty Fay Scherer, 58, the manager. They : were the last people in the restaurant, and they stood to benefit from an insurance windfall: They had bought a policy protecting the ' property inside the restaurant on July 1, just 23 days before the fire. ; At the time, the Scherers faced bills to pay for needed renovations, the Valiant lawsuit says. ! County records show that their ; business had three liens against it ; for unpaid back taxes since 1993 ' totaling more than $52,000 in- "eluding a $3,773 lien filed nine days before the fire. The Scherers were out of town last week and could not be reached for comment. Their lawyer, Mark Mintz, said Valiant's suit is an attempt to wriggle out of an expensive claim. He said the Scherers bought new insurance because they had been solicited by a Valiant salesman at a meeting with other Denny's owners in Sarasota not long before the fire. He also downplayed suggestions that the restaurant was in financial distress. "The situation was improving, not getting worse. That area is growing rapidly," Mintz said. "It's a typical tack of an insurance company to say business was not going well." per room Steam Carpet Cleaning, Reg. $25. Your Best Value! Clean 6 areas fors69, Reg. $130. 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Save on I -x ' ; : ft. m . tVi H by;: ;y "(- f Ll I';.; j.r-L, ' - "j1 j ; A No charge for Air Handler Reg. $74 The New York Times Five months after the Supreme Court struck down an at-; tempt by Congress to criminalize : the distribution of indecent mate-rial over the Internet, several fam-Hly advocacy and civil liberties ; groups plan to use a conference in ; Washington to attack many of the " on-line industry's proposed solu-l tions to the problem. ; The conference, sponsored by - a coalition of high-technology com- panies and public policy groups, will focus on discussions of how to make cyberspace safe for children without new government regula-, tion. The idea is to rely on technology, education and existing laws to screen children from inappropriate material on line. Participants are expected to announce campaigns to educate parents, and initiatives to work with law-enforcement officials in prosecuting violators of existing laws prohibiting child pornography and on-line stalking. Several organizations plan to publish "white lists" of recommended sites for children. But the thorny questions about the appropriate use of ratings devices and blocking software are likely to be left unresolved. "What's happened is people realized this is a far more complex issue than anyone ever imagined," said Christine Varney, a former member of the Federal Trade Commission who is heading the conference, formally called the InternetOnline Summit: Focus on Children. "There was a strong push from the White House to do universal self-rating, and that may be where we end up. But it is too early to tell whether it's a goal we all strive for." Some groups already have staked out positions at the poles of the debate. Civil libertarians say that the Internet the medium the court declared deserving of the "highest protection from government intrusion" is at risk of being stifled by the voluntary adoption of clumsy technologies that block far . more than just pornographic material. And since the industry's interest lies not so much in protecting free speech as in promoting free enterprise, some find the privatization of the issue troubling. . Family advocates argue that simply telling parents to monitor ; what their children watch or to use software programs that filter offensive material is not enough. 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