Around this time a year ago, Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Ira Peskowitz stood in a greeting card aisle, fingers trembling as he fumbled through rows of pink and purple birthday wishes to find something pretty for a little girl with eyes like his.
Months before the six words she uttered on a Dr. Phil episode propelled her to internet infamy, Danielle Peskowitz Bregoli reluctantly accepted the card and a pair of Nikes from Peskowitz in a hastily-arranged meeting at the Boynton Beach Mall – more a peace offering than an early birthday present from a father she hadn’t seen in years.
Tears welled in Peskowitz’s eyes Monday when he recalled that encounter during an exclusive newspaper interview with The Palm Beach Post.
Months into her notoriety as the “Cash me Outside” girl for a fight invitation she made to audience members on the daytime talk show, Danielle is at the center of a custody battle recently revived by her father, who says he wants her out of Hollywood, into therapy and eventually at his house with his wife and their two sons.
“She’s not famous,” Peskowitz said. “She’s a child that is being exploited.”
Ever since Peskowitz first broke his silence with a Palm Beach Post interview in February, he said he’s received an overwhelming show of support from other parents he claims, like him, were shut out of their children’s lives with disastrous results.
It was important to him to make at least two things clear, he said in the more recent interview. First, he and his daughter had reconnected months before her Dr. Phil appearance and her now-viral taunt, “Cash me outside, how bow dah?” And, he said, he has the emails and paperwork to prove he was trying to get her help before the show.
Second, he said he has shunned offers of paid interviews and says he’ll never seek financial gain from his daughter’s story. To date, he says a GoFundMe page created to help with his legal fees has been the only public solicitation for help to fight what his attorney in court records earlier this month says are “intentional actions” of the girl’s mother, Barbara Bregoli, to keep him and Danielle apart.
Peskowitz says he believes his daughter actually wants out of her fast-paced life and to return to Florida, attend school and have a normal childhood.
Although published reports and the girl’s Instagram page had her still in Los Angeles as of a few days ago, an attorney for a woman who sued Danielle and her mother Wednesday said they were recently spotted in Florida.
Either way, plans appear to be underway to parlay the 13-year-old girl’s internet success into big public-appearance fees and a possible reality TV show. Danielle has already filmed advertisements for companies like FitTea on her Instagram page, which boasts 8. 3 million followers. A website linked to that page on Wednesday also was accepting subscribers and had a countdown to what could be either a website launch or an announcement of some sort.
Peskowitz says he has talked to his daughter twice recently while she was in California. In one conversation, he said, Danielle told him her management team was upset he was fighting for custody, and she added that she no longer wanted him in her life.
“Danielle needs to know that I love her,” Peskowitz said from his Royal Palm Beach home, saying he can provide her with the loving environment she needs and adding: “I don’t think she really knows what love is.”
As of early Wednesday, Peskowitz said Bregoli, who was living in Boynton Beach with her daughter, hadn’t been served with court papers about his new custody dispute. Once she is served, she’ll have 20 days to respond, and the two parents will eventually wind up in front of a Palm Beach County judge, who will ultimately decide whether Peskowitz will be allowed visitation and decision-making power in Danielle’s life.
In another twist to the family saga, published reports surfaced Wednesday with an undated video showing Barbara and Danielle Bregoli in what looks like an altercation, with Bargara Bregoli pulling Danielle by her hair and pushing her head into the ground while Danielle looks to be throwing punches back.
“We are aware of the video and are looking into it,” Boynton Beach police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater said Wednesday.
This and other videos could become items that Peskowtiz’s attorney, Robert Shahloub, will use to try to advance Peskowitz's legal fight for more custody rights.
Peskowitz believes the management team Bregoli has in place for Danielle will help fight against his case, especially knowing he wants Danielle to grow up out of the public eye.
But she’s his child, he said a few times, with a tentatively possessive tone that broke through what other times was an almost clinical account of his strained history with Danielle, whose life he said he chose to step away from to protect both her and his new family from harassment by Bregoli, a claim he has made time and again in court filings since 2004.
Peskowitz’s wife, Stephanie, says her husband’s measured delivery is part cop persona, and partly a manifestation of the internal walls he’s put up over the years to shield himself from the pain of years of bad blood between him and Bregoli.
Peskowitz and Bregoli dated for about a year before she became pregnant with Danielle. By the time the child was born, Peskowitz said, he knew the two weren’t going to work out.
The father agreed to give up a decision-making role in Danielle’s life when she was a toddler, and outside of what eventually became $1,100 monthly child support payments, he had little involvement with her.
More than 11 years ago, with Stephanie Peskowitz already having suffered a miscarriage early into their marriage and pregnant again, the couple said they decided to give up the fight, hoping Peskowtiz could reconnect with his daughter when she got older and could understand.
But Danielle didn’t understand, and still doesn’t.
Peskowitz reconnected with his daughter last year through one of her friends, who he arrested while working a detail at the Wellington Mall. The friend recognized his last name and told him Danielle had been trying to reach him for years.
“I said I’m right here, and here’s my phone number,” Peskowtiz said.
Danielle called a couple of days later, Peskowitz said, and screamed at him as she told him he’d abandoned her. She said she’d seen the court records showing he’d given up his time-sharing rights to her.
On the phone with her mother shortly after that, Peskowitz said he had a plan to rebuild his relationship with Danielle and wanted to work with a psychologist as an intermediary. Bregoli rejected that idea, but Peskowitz, saying he was desperate for contact with his daughter, said he agreed to meet her without a third party.
Since her notoriety, Danielle has made numerous appearances on social media and even filmed a video for rapper Kodak Black’s song, “Everything 1k.” In the video, Bregoli is seen lip-syncing to the words, “Growing up without a father/It’ll make you evil.”
At their restaurant meeting in March 2016, however, Peskowitz didn’t see his daughter as evil, though he didn’t know quite what to make of her long acrylic nails, fake urban accent and “attitude,” as he called it.
“She kept talking about me being a cop, saying, ‘You’re a troll,’” Peskowitz said. “I said, ‘No, I’m your father.”
It was only after a subsequent lunch meeting that Peskowitz said he began to unravel his daughter’s troubled connections and brushes with the law. On Monday, Peskowitz provided The Palm Beach Post with emails he sent to colleagues at PBSO as proof he tried to get his daughter some help for months before she went on the Dr. Phil show in the fall.
Learning about Danielle’s life brought with it deep feelings of regret for both Ira and Stephanie Peskowitz, who both brushed back tears as they wondered aloud whether backing away from Danielle as a toddler was the right choice.
“I feel guilty now, because I feel like maybe if we didn’t stop fighting, things wouldn’t have gotten to this point,” Stephanie Peskowitz said.
The Peskowitzes also decided not to tell their sons, now 9 and 11, about their sister, even after Bregoli asked Peskowitz to let Danielle meet her brothers when they reconnected last year. Ira Peskowitz said he again told Bregoli he thought they should enlist the help of a social worker or therapist for such an introduction, thinking there would be time to do it “the right way” later.
That all changed when Danielle’s online exposure signaled they would soon find out anyway. The couple said even though their sons have been teased in school about their sister, the boys always tell her they love her in the brief phone conversations they’ve had and are eager to meet her.
Even before he knew the “Cash me Outside” girl was his sister, the Peskowitz’s oldest son shocked his father when he said he wanted to meet her.
“I asked him why,” Peskowitz said. “He said, ‘I want to help her, because everyone has good in them.”
Staff writer Alexandra Seltzer contributed to this story.