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.

Hernandez's point man in the construction operation was Eddie Anton, who supervised the project from one of the fourteen suites in Jockey I that served as the club's hotel rooms. Anton also helped assemble the talent that would bolster Hernandez's attempted resuscitation. Among the cogs in this new machine were Susan Garfinkle, a seasoned South Beach publicist who had promoted clubs and parties; Miguel Aston, a food-and-beverage director who had run the dining operations of Miami landmarks such as the Mutiny Hotel and the club on Fisher Island; and chef Daniel Theme of Miami Beach's Osteria del Teatro.

This crew hurled itself into refurbishing the club and restoring its lost luster. Early reactions were generally positive. Opening night, November 9, 1996, coincided with the first Tyson-Holyfield fight and drew some 175 people, including a gushing Bob Beamon, gold medalist in the long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and a Jockey Club member (see the New Times story "The Ride of His Life," November 21, 1996)."The club was busy," Jack Herman remembers. "I didn't attend too many of the parties, but he had a lot of marketing. It was very active under George. There were always parties, and it was a very Latin American scene."

The residents of the three condo towers, fed up enough with the Herman clan's flounderings to have sued Jockey Holdings in February of last year, were willing to listen to Hernandez's plans, though they remained a bit guarded. "[Hernandez] had what I thought was a good idea, to get every resident to be a member and pay $80 a month, which is not a lot," recalls Jockey I condo association president Jack Waxenberg. "But he wanted you to pledge ten years' dues from your apartment [rather than pay year by year]. Then that would be four or five million dollars to go directly to the bank and pay everybody off. We said, 'Well, we don't have to be members.' Finally I said, 'Talk to me in a year about a membership.'"

But even though the parties and the general business of the club looked good, some of those on the inside during the closing months of 1996 noticed signs of trouble and conflict brewing -- both within Hernandez's team and between his group and the Hermans.

Susan Garfinkle remembers some problems with employees getting paid during this stretch, though she adds that she never had a problem herself. (She, like Eddie Anton, was living in one of the Jockey Club hotel rooms during her association.) She also stresses that the person running the day-to-day operations was not Hernandez -- the person whom she had been hired to promote as the new face of the Jockey Club -- but Anton.

Anton emphasizes that he was not only the implementer of the new vision for the Jockey Club but its mastermind. His execution of that vision, from hiring and firing staff to courting potential investors in the development of a proposed Jockey IV as a time-share resort, continues to be a point of pride for him.

"This was my life," he says, his voice rising. "One deal. Not to retire, but to show the world that you can go to prison and come back. To show the world, yes, I stole money to help my son, I had to become a fucking criminal. But I had nothing to be ashamed of." (As he does numerous times during his interview in the Federal Detention Center, he punches the table for emphasis.) "I was hard, I was brutal, I was Machiavellian, and I don't have a fucking problem with that." He insists that he would sometimes pay his employees out of his $10,000-per-week stipend. (Hernandez would not comment on how much Anton was paid.) "They were my fucking men," he stresses. "They were my soldiers."

Miguel Aston confirms that Anton's "soldiers" got paid, but adds that it was Anton himself who sometimes gave the food-and-beverage director pause. "I was actually a little skeptical about the whole situation from the beginning," says Aston, a tall Spaniard who recently opened Renaissance restaurant in Bay Harbor Islands. "Eddie Anton had the classic gangster attitude. Not necessarily that he was a gangster, but his attitude, his behavior, was identical. He had a very rough way of being, the way that he talked, the way that he express himself. He was a very ordinary individual. His behavior was ordinary, not classy. George Hernandez was a more sophisticated individual. [Anton] will swear a lot, and will tell anybody to fuck off any given time, you know?"

The feverish renovation and reopening of the Jockey Club was only the first aspect of the grand scheme. The real jewel (and cash cow) would be Jockey IV, a project that had been proposed as far back as 1994. Mario Rodriguez, a Miami-based developer of time-share resorts, acted as a broker in Hernandez and Anton's attempts to woo Argentine time-share firm Apartour into developing Jockey IV on the adjacent Lear School property. (No Jockey Club-related entity owns this weed-choked, eight-acre slice of land and its crumbling, low-slung buildings, but the Herman group has consistently used the possibility of developing it as a carrot for prospective investors.) Rodriguez knew Susan Garfinkle, who took him to meet Eddie Anton last winter.

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