The Sultan of Schmooze

Michael Aller can smooth-talk with the best of them. His political friends in Miami Beach love him for it. His creditors don't.

Aller has also accrued a string of debts at shops around town, former friends say, though most of the business owners -- including a druggist and a printer -- don't want to comment on the record about their alleged difficulties in getting paid. But Israel Sands, owner of Flowers & Flowers on Lincoln Road, found it "very infuriating" that, starting in September 1992, Aller bounced a $550 check, then kept covering it with more checks that didn't clear. Sands says Aller's repayment promises continued for several months. At one point he told Sands he'd leave the check downstairs at his apartment building; when Sands came to pick it up, there was nothing. "I found it insulting," Sands recalls. Last year Aller finally paid $250 on his debt, but when Sands asked him to begin working off the remainder by volunteering to take Mother's Day phone orders at his shop, Aller refused. "He's too grand for that," Sands says. "He was very arrogant."

This sort of fecklessness might be viewed as irrelevant to Aller's public role as civic leader, except that it sometimes harms the very organizations he has seemed so eager to help. A case in point is the financially disastrous Moon Over Miami Ball in January 1992, organized by Aller. The ball is the highlight of the Miami Design Preservation League's Art Deco Weekend, but under Aller's direction, it lost close to $20,000, League officials say. "The League was disappointed that the ball didn't make any money," says Michael Kinerk, chairman of the Art Deco Weekend Committee. "Michael works from the heart, but he doesn't understand the intricacies of finances." His overspending doomed the event, yet Aller promised at least three board members that if there were any shortfall, he'd make up the difference. However, when it came time for him to make good on his promise, one official recalls, "he never paid a dime."

Another fiasco unfolded several months later when staffers at the now-defunct Beach newspaper Antenna were struggling to keep their paper afloat. They learned through an intermediary that Michael Aller wanted to help keep them going and find new office space. "'I want to do something good for the Beach,'" a former staffer says Aller told them. Aller vowed to pay their printing costs for the next few issues. And in fact the next issue was actually printed and distributed, thanks to the check for $1411 Aller wrote to Review Printers -- but then the check bounced, twice. The printing company refused to publish the next issue until the first debt was repaid, but Aller never did, and the paper folded. "I couldn't figure out his motivation," says the former staff member. "Maybe he has this delusional thing about being a philanthropist." (Aller's bounced check prompted Review Printers's parent company, American Lawyer Media, to file a lawsuit against him last December. The case was dismissed this past March after court officials reported they couldn't locate him to serve notice of a hearing. (Hint to process servers: Try the Booking Table Cafe around noon.)

With other organizations, his record is more varied. When he follows through on his promises, Aller has been invaluable at lining up big donors for charities and serving as a superb networker. And yet he's broken so many pledges to help, says one prominent gay activist, "everyone on the Beach has been a bit burned by him." He adds, "If he comes through, great, but people know you can't count on him."

In addition, some friends say, Aller's view of himself has been wrapped up in his role as the hard-working philanthropist, and when his financial situation changed, he couldn't change with it. "It was like an addiction," says close friend Bruce Singer, president of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and a former city commissioner. "He didn't know how to re-adjust his lifestyle. Michael can't accept that he's not capable of doing all the good that he'd like to do."

Aller, after granting New Times several interviews, declined to answer specifically any of the charges raised against him. In response to a series of questions faxed to him, he replied with a general statement defending what is left of his honor: "It is unfortunate that a few people have distorted facts, misrepresented events that took place, and by innuendo created a perception that I am a dishonest person or one that is unreliable. I have tried to conduct my life in a positive way by working very hard, helping people, and doing good deeds."

Some of those familiar with his financial plight, such as a friend who was unable to collect $200 he'd loaned to Aller last year, were flabbergasted this past February when they happened to turn on a cable channel and see Miami Beach commissioners vote to award Aller his new post. "My mouth fell open," the friend recalls. "Each one of those bastards knew that he needed this money. It makes you wonder: Did the town give Michael the job because they knew he was in trouble?"

City Manager Roger Carlton has an answer to that question. "I was aware that Michael was experiencing financial difficulties, but that had nothing to do with the decision to hire him," he says. "The sum of $500 a week is not going to affect anyone's financial condition." Except, perhaps, Michael Aller's.

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