Martin Siskind Feature

In the week leading up to Sunday, April 21 last year, a tiny notice appeared in the Miami Herald's classified pages: "ESTATE SALE!" the ad read, "Furniture, Bric-a-brac, Clothing. 7701 Biscayne Blvd."

The address was instantly recognizable to any old-time Miamian, particularly if he were male, heterosexual, and past 50. The site was the defunct Playboy Club, a vacant three-story edifice set next to the Little River at the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and NE 77th Street. Since July 1985, when flamboyant Miami defense lawyer Ellis Rubin acquired the building, it has served as little more than a ramshackle roost for birds and bums. But throughout the Fifties and Sixties, the club was a wildly popular nightspot, a glittery beacon on a much-less-seedy boulevard.

Those who showed up for the estate sale at the old Playboy Club this past spring bore witness to an unexpected piece of theater. Minutes after noon a handful of customers was pawing through merchandise inside the building and outdoors in the parking lot. Amid this tranquil scene a big, fat man with a beard was running back and forth chatting with the browsers, shouting orders at workers, and generally acting important.

Suddenly a pair of squad cars screeched to a halt in the parking lot. Three uniformed Miami police officers emerged from the cruisers. With them was an intense-looking woman with raven-black hair. The woman, a neighborhood activist named Jennifer Clark, began filming the scene with a hand-held Quasar SVHS video recorder.

After five hours of indecision, police arrested the fat man and his four assistants and took them to jail in handcuffs. The fat man was charged with grand theft, dealing in stolen property, and resisting arrest without violence. The estate sale ended abruptly.

As it turned out, the owners of the "estate" were very much alive. They reside in a suburb of Montreal, Canada. Madeleine Rodden and Yolande Thibeault are expected to fly to Miami in April courtesy of the Dade State Attorney's Office to testify in court against the fat man with the beard.

The two elderly Canadian sisters say the portly manager of the estate sale, Martin Siskind, moved into a broken-down mansion they owned on NE 72nd Street, refused for a year to move out, collected rent from a series of tenants, then stole truckloads of valuable furnishings from the house before being evicted on April 10, 1991. Police say Thibeault and Rodden have identified their belongings from photographs and Jennifer Clark's videotape of the merchandise present at the sale.

It is doubtful that testimony in Siskind's upcoming April 27 trial will address why it took police five hours to arrest him at the Playboy Club. But witnesses say the delay was due in no small part to the intervention of Guy and Mark Rubin, the sons and law partners of Ellis Rubin. At one point during the estate sale, says Sgt. Ardell Jezierski, Mark Rubin ordered officers off the premises and threatened to sue the Miami Police Department, at first claiming that the property being sold in the parking lot belonged to his family, then retracting his assertion. Later, Guy Rubin appeared at the old Playboy Club, whisked the estate sale cash box into his car, and demanded that police remove Clark and her video camera from the scene.

In sworn statements given to Assistant State Attorney Tracey Geffin, two Chilean immigrants, Alex Carrera and Vanessa Avendano, say they were hired by Siskind to move several loads of belongings from the house on NE 72nd Street into the old Playboy Club several blocks away. They say Guy and Mark Rubin appeared at the club more than fifteen times while they were working there. Another laborer, Clarence Turner, confirms the Chileans' story and says one of the Rubin sons also visited the house one day to confer with Siskind. At the time, Turner was busy ripping the water heater from the kitchen floor and loading it into a van with the stove, refrigerator, washing machine, and air-conditioning units, he says.

Siskind initially agreed to be interviewed for this story, but last week changed his mind and declined, citing the advice of an attorney.

Especially for denizens of Miami's Bayshore neighborhood, the Rubins' role in the illicit estate sale raised disturbing questions about South Florida's best-known legal clan, a family that has sought for decades to associate its name with hope in the face of injustice, and salvation through the sanctity of law. In a June 10, 1991, memorandum marked "Personal and Confidential," Jennifer Clark's husband, attorney Bret Clark, wrote to Dade State Attorney Janet Reno: "You may feel that this matter, particularly as it relates to the Rubins and their involvement with the possession and sale of stolen property, and the attempt to remove evidence, is a proper one to present to the grand jury."

But the unpublicized arrests were only one chip in a bizarre mosaic connecting the Rubins to Martin Siskind, and involving a French surrealist painter, a Broward bagel czar, bitter accusations of police payola, a German cafe owner, alleged political chicanery, midnight burglaries, death threats, and the wife of a wealthy Wisconsin cardiologist.

Today, months after police served two separate search warrants on the old Playboy Club, current and former Bayshore residents believe that a small mountain of stolen paintings, restaurant equipment, household and office furnishings, and 3000 cases of Yugoslavian mineral water have ended up inside the cavernous building, wrongfully gathered by Siskind from a half-dozen different sources and stored with the apparent knowledge and consent of the Rubins.

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