The Jockey Club's Wild Ride

For two decades it was a chic hangout for South Florida's most well-to-do. Now it's a money pit with a sordid story to tell.

After serving his time from April 1991 to May 1994, he was paroled -- but he had been indicted, while in prison, on numerous felony counts of bank fraud and wire fraud, many related to real estate deals. Free on bond, he entered a guilty plea on September 24, 1996, to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; on January 28 of this year he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. The potential punishment for these crimes ranges from no jail time to 25 years in federal prison.

But in the summer of 1994, although he was a convicted felon and facing another indictment, the Cuban-born Anton was still hopeful he could put his real estate skills to work while awaiting the resolution of the charges against him. He hooked up with a young Coral Gables attorney named Jorge "George" Hernandez, whose law practice was in the same building as the office of Anton's bail bondsman.

"I was helping George fix his office and expand his office, and expand his business," Anton says. "I renovated that office myself physically, with a hammer, myself. I helped him with the hiring of the people, because he wanted to get heavily into the real estate part of the law, and clearly that was my field of expertise. I put my contacts to work for him.

"Even though my parole officer went to him and said, 'You understand he has a criminal record, et cetera, et cetera,' George just asked for a copy of all my criminal files so he could read them and make sure he was not going to bed with some guy who was fucking little kids or some shit like that.

"George Hernandez became like my brother. So in return, for my brother, I did things that I didn't need to do. I advised him, hours and hours and hours. I trained his marketing people how to get leads, I managed his people. And he grew from nothing to a powerhouse of title and mortgage work in South Florida. Here you have a kid that was making 30 Gs a year when I met him, all of a sudden he's getting 100 files a month for a closing at $1000, $1200 a file, and that's a lot of mortgages. And I was getting 400 fucking bucks. I didn't mind. He was my brother."

When first contacted for this story, George Hernandez, now 29 years old, agreed to be interviewed. In subsequent telephone conversations, however, he became increasingly reticent, declining -- politely -- to be interviewed in person. Throughout these exchanges, he refused to go into detail about his relationship with Eddie Anton, but his feelings about his former associate are clear.

"On anything that Eddie Anton says, I have no comment," Hernandez snaps. "He's just a scumbag convict."

In mid-1996, Jockey Holdings, Inc. (the Hermans' ownership group) was sifting through the wreckage of its sale of the club facilities to Boca Raton-based Sky Scientific, which had bought the majority interest in February 1995. By November of that year, Sky's failure to pay its mortgage or property taxes led Jockey Holdings, which still held the mortgage, to begin foreclosure proceedings.

By this time George Hernandez was wearing many hats. In addition to practicing real estate law, he also brokered mortgages and sold real estate title insurance. It was in his capacity as a lawyer, though, that he first learned of the availability of the Jockey Club. He recalls being intrigued by the prospect of buying such a prestigious property for the relatively low asking price of $3.8 million.

"The name carries a certain aura, especially in South Florida," says Hernandez, who grew up a middle-class Cuban-American kid in Westchester and Kendall. "It was one of the first premier resorts."

According to Jack Herman's daughter Stephanie (a part-owner of their company), while the foreclosure on Sky Scientific's mortgage was making its way through the courts, George Hernandez called her. "He and his people said that, in doing their due diligence on the case, they decided that they liked the deal so much they wanted to buy it," she recalls. "We were nearly ecstatic. We would get the title back, we had a buyer, and we didn't have to worry. We were thrilled."

Hernandez won't comment directly on his original deal to buy the Jockey Club. Last year he told New Times he laid out a $750,000 down payment, received financing from the mortgage holders (the Hermans) for the rest, and began work immediately on renovating the rundown restaurant and bars in August 1996.

Both the Hermans and their attorney Larry Goodman emphasize that, contrary to the impression Hernandez gave, the upstart never actually owned the club. What Hernandez had, Goodman says, was a licensing agreement under which he would renovate and operate the Jockey Club with the understanding that the club would be his if, by December 31, he could pay off the long laundry list of financial burdens (back taxes and liens) the property had accumulated.

Goodman says that although Hernandez did make some payments up-front, the total amount was nowhere near $750,000. Most of the money Hernandez brought to the deal, the attorney adds, took the form of physical rehabilitation of the property. (In November of last year, Hernandez estimated he had pumped some $1.5 million into the renovation. Goodman and the Hermans dispute this amount; today Hernandez will not comment on either the renovation or the down payment.)

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