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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — First-term Palmetto Bay Vice Mayor John Dubois is running for re-election with a target on his back.
At its center is accused pedophile, Stanley “Junior” Kowlessar. Kowlessar allegedly broke into a neighbor’s Palmetto Bay home in the middle of the night in February, 2015, sexually molesting a nine-year-old girl in her bed.
Kowlesssar needed a place to live, after being ordered by a judge to remain at least 500 feet away from his alleged victim. In court, Vice Mayor Dubois spoke up for the alleged molester – the son of Stanley Kowlessar Sr., a Dubois friend and supporter.
Dubois told the judge in a hearing, “I don’t believe there is any possibility whatsoever that Junior did what he is accused of.”
And where did Junior Kowlessar go to live? In Vice Mayor Dubois’ multi-million dollar bayfront home. He had lived with the Vice Mayor for more than two months when CBS4 News revealed the living arrangements.
Dubois made no apology at the time, when questioned by CBS4’s Gary Nelson.
“He’s a good family friend, U.S. Marine, and I’ll do everything I can to help,” Dubois said.
The vice mayor remained loyal to his housemate by the bay, even after two more alleged victims came forward, claiming Junior Kowlessar had molested them years earlier when they were living in the same house as the girl in the case Kowlessar is charged with.
“I have every faith and confidence that the system will work this out and that these charges will be rectified and dropped,” Dubois said at the time.
The vice mayor even threw a fund-raising barbecue to help in Kowlessar’s defense, an event promoted in the village newspaper.
The 9-year-old’s father was livid with Dubois.
“I don’t recall seeing him in my daughter’s room on the night this crime was committed. I was there. I saw the defendant in my daughter’s bedroom,” the father said in a June, 2015, during an interview with CBS4.
Under a bright media light, Dubois found Kowlessar a new place to live – in the home of a supporter a few blocks away.
Since the events of last year, and waging a re-election campaign, the vice mayor is still supportive of Junior Kowlessar.
“I am not going to apologize for standing up for a friend or family member in a time of need,” Dubois told CBS4 in a recent interview.
It is an issue in the race. Business owner and activist David Zisman is one candidate challenging Dubois.
“For an elected official to take sides on any issue involving something as horrible as this is just a complete lack of judgment,” Zisman said.
Long-time PTA president Erica Watts – one of many parents who attended hearings opposing Kowlessar’s release – had considered running for office, and Dubois’ embrace of an accused molester may have been the tipping point.
“Having been a child victim of abuse myself, I know what it is to be small and not believed,” Watts said. “And then imagine that you’re a family here in the village and your own representative and his powerful friends try to discredit you and your small child.”
“I’m outraged,” said the father of the 9-year-old alleged victim, who is campaigning among his neighbors and in blind posts on the internet against Dubois’ re-election.
“He has no values. He purports to say that he’s looking out for the best interests of the children of Palmetto Bay. That’s laughable. That’s a joke,” the father said.
Dubois, the father said, was calling him and his daughter liars – taking the word of an accused molester against theirs.
Dubois responded, again without apology.
“I would just say that I always stand by my friends and family in times of need, and that’s what I did here,” Dubois said.
Dubois said enemies on the town council have recruited challengers and fueled criticism of his role in the sex abuse case. They want to see him defeated because he has been critical of what he calls a pro-development, “corrupt” process. Dubois is particularly critical of a council vote rezoning a large tract on Old Cutler Road that could allow nearly 500 living units to be constructed there, adding to what is already nightmarish traffic during rush hour.
Watts denied being recruited to challenge Dubois, calling it ridiculous.
“No one put me up to this. I’m running on my own merits, and I want to serve the people of Palmetto Bay,” said Watts, who has served on the Village’s Education Advisory Committee, and worked in public service for years providing legal aid to underprivileged clients in family court. She has a degree in economics and law and is married with a child.
Zisman laughed at the notion that he was in any way recruited to oppose Dubois. Zisman has been active in village politics for years, has run for the council three times, and served on the village’s Charter Review Committee.
Dubois has been a lightning rod for controversy. The Department of Environmental Resources Management cited him for allegedly chopping down swaths of delicate, environmentally needed mangroves that blocked the view of the water from his mansion. Dubois has denied removing the mangroves. The county is suing him in an effort to force him to replace them. Dubois is counter-suing the county. He also sued the DERM inspector who cited him. A judge threw out the suit and ordered Dubois to pay some $66,000 in attorney fees. Even as he denies having destroyed the mangroves, Dubois claims he has replaced them.
The county issued a statement refuting that claim.
“The mangroves have not been replanted in the area from which we allege they have been removed,” the statement said.
Environmental regulators declined further comment citing the suit/countersuit going on with Dubois.
Dubois has waged a “green” campaign. His flyers and commercials tout his commitment to the environment.
Zisman calls that odd, given the allegedly mangled mangroves.
“It’s hypocritical. You can’t justify what his campaign is about with what his actions have been,” Zisman said.
Dubois has a treasure chest of campaign finance money, more than $120,000 at last report, most all of it from his own pocket.
“I wonder why he’s spending over $100,000 to keep a job that pays $12,000 a year,” Watts said, noting that Palmetto Bay is a small town of just 23,000 residents.
“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been successful in business and I’ve been able to put my money where my mouth is,” Dubois said.
Dubois has also sued the Miami-Dade County Commission On Ethics, saying they have “lied” as they reportedly investigate whether he improperly voted on the Old Cutler Road development proposal. Because Dubois lives almost next door to the property in question, the suggestion is he had a conflict of interest in voting on the issue. In a prior vote, Dubois had in fact recused himself.
The vice mayor has a history of not taking kindly to criticism. He sued a blogger who was critical of him on the web, according to the Miami Herald. That suit has not advanced.
While Dubois says his key concern as he seeks re-election is traffic and over development, Zisman says he intends to be a vice mayor accessible to the people.
“I have a proven track record of defending the rights of the citizens, everybody in Palmetto Bay, and that is the voice that I have for the people,” Zisman said.
Watts stressed that while Dubois has a campaign chest of more than $100,000 and Zisman has raised more than $50,000, she has only about $5,000 in her account, small donations primarily from friends, she said.
“I am indebted to no special interests,” Watts said. “I truly just want to serve the residents of Palmetto Bay, no one else.”
Stanley Kowlessar, the accused child molester, is set to stand trial November 14th, six days after his friend, Vice Mayor Dubois, stands for re-election.
Click here to read more about Campaign 2016.