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Kaplan acknowledges that in the past he has attempted to establish assorted ventures in Bolivia, but so far he's been unable to "consummate business" there. He will not, however, describe the types of commerce in which he hoped to engage or say when he undertook his efforts.
In his role as an attorney, Kaplan says, he has "at times, represented clients in La Paz." Again, he will not identify those clients or say when he represented them, acknowledging only that there were "several."
Kaplan's 1995 financial disclosure forms list two major law clients: Mercury Air Group and Caribbean Telephone Company. (Mercury appears on Kaplan's 1996 disclosures as well; Caribbean Telephone does not.) Joseph Czyzyk, president of the Los Angeles-based Mercury Air Group, confirms that his firm does business in Bolivia, where it sells gasoline at the La Paz airport (as well as hundreds of other airports around the world). But Czyzyk is vague in explaining what services Kaplan has provided. "He has assisted us in numerous areas," he offers without further explanation.
The Caribbean Telephone Company, a corporation registered in the Cayman Islands, is owned by Broward resident Mark Bradbury. In a 1994 interview with the Miami Herald, Bradbury described his privately held company, which he founded in 1985, as a purveyor of long-distance telephone time throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. According to Bradbury, the company grosses $300 million annually and employs 470 employees in twelve countries.
Matias Farias, Kaplan's former chief of staff, says Bradbury's business also included phone sex. (Bradbury did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.) Farias, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, says that Kaplan and Bradbury approached him in late 1992 in hopes that he could introduce them to various Latin American government officials Farias had met while attached to the U.S. Southern Command in Panama.
According to a business agreement between Farias, Caribbean Telephone Company, and a company called the Manhattan Holding Corporation, a copy of which was obtained by New Times, the three would develop "audiotext information services throughout Latin America and the Caribbean." Says Farias flatly: "It was phone sex."
Farias claims he was to receive 2.5 percent of all revenue generated by any phone-sex lines he was able to establish. Kaplan is identified in the agreement twice: first as executive vice president of Caribbean Telephone Company and then as attorney of record for Manhattan Holding Corporation, a company registered in Panama. Farias says Kaplan had a similar arrangement in which he too would receive 2.5 percent of all revenue. (Kaplan would not respond to questions regarding the business agreement.)
Several months after Farias's agreement was signed, Kaplan was elected to the county commission and hired the ex-military man as his chief of staff.
According to Farias, the group successfully started a phone-sex operation in Panama toward the end of 1992. "In Panama we had twenty [phone lines]," he recalls. "We received phone calls from Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the girls would answer them." That operation continued, he says, until several months ago.
Farias also recalls a trip he took with Kaplan to Bolivia not long after Kaplan was elected to the county commission. He claims he introduced Kaplan to a General Greminger (Farias does not recall the man's first name), who in turn introduced Kaplan and Farias to Bolivian government officials responsible for the country's telephone system. Although negotiations went on for months, in the end he and Kaplan were unable to finalize a phone-sex deal because they could not agree on what percentage of profits would go to Bolivia, Farias says.
Kaplan denies he was ever knowingly involved in the phone-sex business. "I have never been specifically retained to represent phone sex," he says carefully. "One of the areas of my practice is telecommunications, but in no contract that I've negotiated has a reference to phone sex ever been made."
Kaplan will not discuss his business relationship to Caribbean Telephone or Manhattan Holding, claiming that it is shielded by attorney-client privilege, but he does say that if they were involved in phone sex, he was "not aware" of it.
Because a politician doing business with Dade County firms inevitably leads to conflicts, Kaplan remarks, he has attempted to build a law practice in Latin America. After all, as a county commissioner he receives only $6000 per year in salary. "I have to make a living somewhere," he says.