By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Michael E. Miller
While some of Siskind's neighbors were glad to see him vacate the cafe on Commodore Plaza, Carolyn Russ and Felippe DeAlba weren't. DeAlba, a Spanish investor who lives in New York, and Russ, the wife of a wealthy doctor from Marshbrook, Wisconsin, say they gave Siskind more than $30,000 to open an art gallery at La Bread Station. The plan never materialized, and the idea evaporated when the city ousted Siskind from the cafe and he disappeared from the Coconut Grove business scene. Russ and DeAlba claim Siskind simply took their money and vanished.
"Martin was so charming," Russ recalls. "He introduced me to all these local artists. He said we would sell their paintings and make them famous, and make a lot of money on commissions, too. I could see it happening. I almost had tears in my eyes from the artists I met in Miami - they were so poor and had nowhere to show their work. Being an orphan myself, I felt sorry for them. At first I gave [Siskind] $5000. I said I expected ten to twelve percent return on it, with payments monthly.
"He sent me a bunch of newspaper clips about the success of the Bread Station, but stalled on the payments," Russ says. "Then he called me when that was gone and said he needed another $5000. He threatened me: `If you don't send more money fast, you'll lose what you've put in.' He did that several times. Finally I flew to Miami and just showed up at the cafe. There was no art gallery at all. Where the art gallery was supposed to be, there was nothing but a pile of debris."
In August 1989, Dade Circuit Court Judge Mary Ann MacKenzie ordered Siskind's Revelopments International to pay Russ more than $33,000. Russ's Miami lawyer, Lance Gerlin, says he has been unable to collect the judgment against Revelopments International and is now planning to sue Siskind personally - if he can find him. "What can I say?" Gerlin shrugs. "Florida is a debtor's haven. We don't know if we'll ever be able to collect from this guy."
Jack King, publisher of the monthly Coconut Grover, was introduced to Siskind in 1988. The owner of La Bread Station glibly agreed to invest from $50,000 to $100,000 in the fledgling publication, then failed to pay for an $80 restaurant ad, according to King. "Martin was one in a long line of people who came blowing into town saying he had $40 million and was going to show us how things were done," King says with a laugh. "He was going to save the Grove from itself. It turns out that like so many of them, he was full of just a tremendous amount of shit.
"I think he went through about 60 employees, poor young black kids who would work for him a couple weeks and never get paid," King adds, echoing statements by a half dozen former employees. "I remember one night I was walking down Commodore and there was this young black guy who had worked for him three weeks. They were out on the sidewalk, arguing. The kid wanted his money, and finally he just popped Siskind a good one, knocked him flat on his ass. The cops showed up right away, but they were hesitant to get involved. They knew Siskind and they hated his guts. One day he finally just disappeared."
Except that he didn't. Siskind showed up in Broward County, where he now also faces grand theft charges.
In 1989 a successful hard-driving businessman named Lewis Flakowitz sold his Coral Springs restaurant to Bernard Sammon, an Englishman who had come to the United States for his retirement and then grown restless. The Golden Bagel, tucked into a strip mall at 10299 Royal Palm Blvd., was a popular breakfast spot and a lucrative wholesale bagel producer, but under Sammon's husbandry things began to slip. Former employees suggest Sammon underestimated the amount of energy and expertise the enterprise would require.
By the summer of 1990, when his daughter introduced him to a man named Martin Siskind, Sammon was in serious financial straits. The unexpected pressures of the business were beginning to take a toll on him emotionally. (Sammon later disappeared "off the face of the earth," according to Flakowitz; he was rumored by former employees to have suffered an exhaustive collapse and returned to England.)
At the time Siskind seemed like the answer to Sammon's prayers. According to one employee, Siskind represented himself as the owner of a management company with years of experience in the restaurant industry. He was given power of attorney and $25,000 operating money by Sammon's daughter, the employee says. Besides energy and new ideas - opening the restaurant at night, bringing in live entertainers - Siskind seemed to have an amazing talent for self-promotion. In a June 1990 article ghost-written by Siskind himself, Entertainment News and Views publisher Howard Salus described the Golden Bagel's new manager in breathless detail.
After calling Siskind "a rather unique, very intelligent, off-the-wall kind of guy who is, to put it mildly, easily remembered," the article went on to coo some more: "Martin is the type of gent that tempts you to prove him wrong...and it rarely happens. He's got a lot of background behind that self-assuredness, including various entertainment-oriented enterprises in Europe, [and] ownership of La Bread Station here in the Grove.... The fact of the matter is that this winning attitude has to emanate from the top, and it does with the unpredictable, cherubic, phony-tailed [sic], youthfully middle-aged Martin Siskind."