The Powers Behind Ocean Drive

For South Beach publishing magnate Jerry Powers, life wasn't always marked by glamour and upstanding citizenship. Some would argue it still isn't.

As to the misdeeds themselves, he is definitive: "I did it. Clearly I did. I probably wrote more [bad checks] than I got caught for. I'm telling you, the reason I did was because I was on drugs and, like, I had no clue as to the fact that I was even on the planet during parts of that time. But I never spent a day in jail [for writing bad checks], and I don't think there was ever anything I was found guilty of."

Old police and court records are sketchy when it comes to the resolution of the various violations, most of which were felonies. But from the documents that do exist, it appears all but one of the charges were eventually dismissed after restitution was made. Civil court records also show that Powers was sued more than a dozen times between 1977 and 1984.

Powers says his drug problem consisted of an addiction to cocaine, barbiturates, amphetamines, "and whatever else was around." The drugs led to other arrests. In 1973 police busted him for drunkenness and possession of cocaine. (The charges were later dismissed.) In 1978 he was nabbed for attempting to obtain drugs with a forged prescription. (The felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and transferred to county court, where, Powers recalls, he was found not guilty.) Four years later he was arrested on drug charges again. Police and court records don't indicate what became of that alleged infraction; most likely, as Powers claims, the charges were eventually dropped.

Powers, who married in 1970 and fathered a daughter two years later, says his drug dependence worsened during the Seventies and early Eighties. In 1984 he finally quit at the urging of his wife Sandi, putting an end to a dark era of his life.

It did not end his problems with authorities, however.
In 1986 he signed on as business manager for pop artist Peter Max, a friend he'd made during his heyday as an underground publisher. Both men reaped the fruits of the Eighties art boom. Powers moved to New York, took a summer house in the Hamptons, and, as it turns out, neglected to pay his taxes. According to a document filed in January 1993 by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York, he failed to file federal income tax returns for 1988 and 1989, years in which he earned a total of $560,000.

"It was about irresponsibility," he now says. "I had gone from making $25,000 a year to making two, three, four, five hundred thousand dollars a year, and I had no clue of how to deal with my finances. It was like, one day I was taking the bus on Kendall Drive and the next I was in a limo. I was given very, very, very bad financial advice by someone. But I don't blame that person. I blame me."

While his criminal past has remained hidden from the general public, Powers says he has told his business associates and some staffers about the arrests: "I haven't gone into detail, but they know." (Three former employees, all of whom worked closely with Powers, say this claim is nonsense. "He made like he was a pillar of the community," one contends. "If he wanted to be upright and honest, he sure didn't do it with me. I only found out about his past months later, and it wasn't from him.")

A week after the federal tax charges were filed, Powers pleaded guilty. His sentencing date has since been delayed four times, a two-year lag that has fueled speculation that Powers is cooperating with the federal government. One well-worn rumor is that he may be providing the feds with information about his former boss, Peter Max. Powers declines to comment about this, as does Max's attorney, Bob Gage. Powers won't say precisely why he and Max parted ways, only that a slump in the art market led to tensions.

In any event, by 1992 Powers already had set his sights on a new project. All it took was one visit to South Beach and he wanted back into publishing. He says something about the Beach -- the youth, the sultry climate, the sense of possibility -- reminded him of the Sixties.

He recruited a young, energetic partner named Jason Binn, the son of Morton Binstock, chairman of Atwood and Richards, a multimillion-dollar trading company in New York, and the two began brainstorming ideas for a monthly magazine. Once they hit upon a concept, all they needed was money.

As successful as Ocean Drive seemed in its first issue, the magazine was burdened by startup costs A office equipment, legal fees, salaries, not to mention the rent on an office at 804 Ocean Dr. During those first months, one former employee recalls having to transport a personal computer from home into work because the company couldn't afford its own.

Printing costs also took a toll. The magazine, in fact, was sued in state court by a company now called St. Ives Press, for refusing to pay $18,500 in printing fees for its debut issue. Powers claimed the printers had screwed up the color tone on the cover, rendering poor Claudia Schiffer an unsightly shade of orange. Eventually the magazine agreed to pay St. Ives $12,000 in installments, but Powers missed the first payment. On the orders of a judge, Ocean Drive ended up paying St. Ives $14,500.

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