By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
He thought he'd make a great impresario. In 1988, with loans from the federal Small Business Administration, he and his sister Renee purchased a 17,000-square-foot abandoned building on Jefferson Avenue near Fifth Street for $400,000. The front room became a restaurant and bar called Scratch, and the back room became a theater. The theater -- with productions by different local troupes -- never really succeeded, but the front room blossomed into a popular hangout. Soon the theater space was converted into a disco. The place became a hot spot for visiting celebrities such as George Michael and Grace Jones. As Wire columnist and pioneering scene maker Louis Canales remembers, "It helped put South Beach on the map."
Delaplaine led a high life. By his own admission he would start to drink Scotch at five p.m., then would wander into Ocean Drive's few bars in an effort to drum up business for his restaurant. Now and then, he recalls, he'd have sex with young men upstairs in his restaurant or on the abandoned theater sets in back. ("Thank God for the beds back there," he says now, "because the concrete can be really hard on your knees.") But neither he nor his sister knew how to run a club or restaurant, and owing to a combination of competition, suspected employee theft, and inexperience, he now says, the business struggled. For a brief time in 1990, the pair also ran Miami's first all-gay nightclub at the Warsaw Ballroom, but despite large crowds they couldn't afford to maintain the lease, so they lost that club. Scratch closed early in 1990, with the Delaplaines owing more than $600,000 on the property and facing liens of at least $50,000 from creditors, including the IRS. About the same time, he fell behind on the mortgage payments on his $25,000 condominium, which ultimately was sold to satisfy creditors. He was also hit with a lawsuit by an irate landlord, Lawrence Kaine, over his failure to pay rent on office space he leased; Kaine alleged Delaplaine damaged the property.
Kaine is just one of several enemies Delaplaine has made with his sometimes reckless approach to finances. After serving Delaplaine with an eviction notice, Kaine recalls, "[Delaplaine] trashed the place, smashing the wall and tearing out electrical fixtures." Kaine won a $12,000 judgment against Delaplaine that he later used to obtain a lien on Delaplaine's share of Scratch, but Kaine's efforts to secure ownership of that property were thwarted by Delaplaine's filing for bankruptcy in July 1991. Delaplaine denies destroying Kaine's property and says of his bankruptcy, "I did it to protect my assets. I felt awful, but I had a plan to pay back my creditors with this property."
His bankruptcy filings showed that he owed $1.7 million and claimed assets of $45,000. His and his sister's creditors included the IRS ($30,554), Saks Fifth Avenue ($2000), Two Bills Seafood company ($3000), and assorted individual vendors and investors such as Richard Parker ($200,000), who invested in the club's renovation. Delaplaine now admits that some of those listed debts were inflated to forestall further claims against him. Still, many of the original creditors remain furious. Billy Sandefur, the president of Two Bills Seafood, says, "As far as I'm concerned, he's a crook. He owed us money and he wouldn't pay us. He used me to finance his operation."
Most of the 150-odd creditors, in fact, were never paid anything from the December 1992 sale of Scratch and Delaplaine's condominium. Total proceeds: $615,000. Delaplaine, on the other hand, has publicly claimed that the property sales netted one million dollars. To which bankruptcy trustee Gui Govaert responds, "That's bullshit."
Govaert says now that Delaplaine had a "so what?" attitude about the entire bankruptcy process. As if to confirm this, Delaplaine gleefully recalls telling Govaert and two prominent creditors at a bankruptcy hearing how he spent a $519 check he'd just received: "We went to the Avalon Hotel, ordered lobster, steak, and champagne until it was all gone, and left a sizable tip, too." He claims the trustee told him that given the same situation, he would have done the same thing. (Govaert doesn't remember any such incident and says he'd never make such a statement.)
Despite his financial problems, Delaplaine's faintly aristocratic manner and freewheeling business ventures have always given the impression that he (along with his realtor sister Renee) has lived off his family's wealth. He insists, "Everyone thinks I'm loaded, but I'm not." Last year he made approximately $5000, he claims, and shared a place with his then-lover. This year he's been able to raise his salary as Wire editor to $500 a week. (As the majority stockholder in the company that owns the newspaper, he can set his own wages.)
Delaplaine says now that he feels "bad" that he left creditors in the lurch when he declared bankruptcy, but he also has few regrets. He quotes approvingly his sister's comment: "The new life we started by coming to South Beach and the friends we made was worth being broke for." One of those friends, George Tamsitt, observes, "He lost a lot, but he was never down. He bounced back right away."
Delaplaine left another group of frustrated people in his wake in 1991 when he abruptly quit his post as editor of the South Beach newspaper Antenna, taking office equipment with him to launch Wire. With the financial backing of Philadelphia attorney Raymond Page III (since deceased), Delaplaine launched Antenna in 1990 with the typical South Beach mix of puff pieces and photo spreads, supplemented by political commentary. But because of Page's reluctance to grant him a majority stake in the business, Delaplaine recounts, he decided simply to remove equipment from the office A located in the Leonard Beach Hotel, owned by Page A and start his own paper. Helped by an Antenna sales manager, he grabbed two computers (which Delaplaine says he owned), file cabinets, a paste-up board, and other items, then carried them a few blocks north to a temporary office on Washington Avenue. "I wanted to be quick about it," Delaplaine recalls. He expected the rest of the staff to follow him, but they didn't. As New Times reported in April 1991, his colleagues were shocked. One editor said, "We came in on that Tuesday and there was not one scrap of paper in the office. Nothing."