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.

Between February and June of this year, the Jockey Club continued to operate under Langford, but his apparent inability or unwillingness to pay employees was a continual problem. Chef Daniel Theme (who has since moved on to Lucky Cheng's restaurant in Miami Beach) says that he was almost never paid on time under Langford, and then was rarely paid in full. Kitchen staff fared much worse; Theme recalls more than one occasion when he had to give a five-dollar-per-hour employee cash out of his own pocket for gas or food.

Yet Langford continued to drum up interest in the Jockey IV development and successfully wooed at least one investor. Richard Hines, a real estate consultant and investor in Alexandria, Virginia (near Langford's old home base of Washington, D.C.), says he gave Langford some $450,000 for various real estate deals, including somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000 for Jockey IV.

Hines, who characterizes Langford as "one of most colorful con men I've ever run into," filed suit in July against Langford in Montgomery County, Maryland, for $30,000, which he says he gave Langford in the form of a promissory note.

Hines is not the only D.C.-area business person looking for Langford. Circuit court records in Prince George's County, Maryland, show that in March 1995 two firms sued Langford for breach of contract. Four judgments have been rendered against Langford, totaling some $260,000.

Hines remembers seeing an example of Langford's reluctance to pay his staff. On one visit to the Jockey Club, he says, he saw Susan Fletcher "verbally abusing" one of the kitchen staff. From the content of the harangue, Hines says, "it was clear he had not been paid."

"Money was going in to Langford, and he apparently paid people with bad checks. He conned people regardless of race, color, or creed, and if you didn't have money to feed your family that was just too bad. If someone like me gets conned, I probably deserve it," Hines allows. "If someone like them gets conned, that's immoral."

From February on, according to Theme and Aston, the size of the staff began to dwindle. The South Florida shindig in late February was the last party of any consequence. Aston left in April, Theme about a month later. Condo association president Jack Waxenberg remembers going down to the restaurant one day during this period and seeing a single waiter on duty. Finally, in mid-June, Langford and Fletcher left not only the Jockey Club but apparently the country. The restaurant and bars have been buttoned up tight ever since. Stephanie Herman remembers a phone call from Fletcher in which she said that she and Langford were in Jamaica and were "afraid of some of the people they owed money to."

Some creditors have filed suit against Langford's Jockey Club Resorts Inc. over bad checks: Grand Western Brands Inc. for $5274.18, Uleta Rentals Inc. for $2649, Aaron Rents Inc. for $9137, Miami Purveyors Inc. for $1607. In several of these cases, a summons could not be delivered to the defendants; Scott Modlin, attorney for Uleta Rentals, says the process server who attempted to deliver the summons to Langford noted that the defendant, as of mid-July, was in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Montego Bay directory assistance has no listing for anyone named Langford with the first initial K or C. There is a listing for a Susan Fletcher, but the number is unpublished.

Echoing former Jockey Club employee Aston, Jack Herman calls Langford "a no-good son of a bitch." ("Dad!" his daughter Stephanie admonishes.) But he still has hope. "Unfortunately Langford came right after everything that happened with George, but we still think the club can be what it was until very recently,"Herman says. "It's gorgeous. The Jockey Club is a world-class place. Yes, we were fooled, we were scammed, but we don't want that to destroy any chance of having a good way of life here again." The Hermans are not suing or pressing charges against Langford, mostly because, Bobbie Herman says, "it would take Interpol to find him."

The family still wants to sell the property -- "to someone who is credible and not involved in any shenanigans, for lack of a better word," says Jack Herman. They say they are scrutinizing some likely prospects with the aid of a New York firm whose name they will not disclose. (Richard Hines says that, despite the chunk of change he lost to Langford, he remains interested in the property and has recently spoken to the Hermans about it.)

George Hernandez, his wife Kimberly, and their two young sons live in a modest townhouse in Hollywood. Though he resigned from the Florida Bar, Hernandez says he is continuing to work in real estate. He also says he and his attorneys are preparing a civil suit against the Hermans, though at press time it had not been filed and Hernandez would not discuss it.

He does offer a postmortem on his attempt to replace the old dynasty at the graying Jockey Club. "The crux of the story is egos and greed," he says. "You walk into the offices and there's a picture of Old Man Herman on the wall like he's the president of the United States. It's a really weird world that I wouldn't want to live in, that I don't want my sons to grow up in. That's a fucked-up world."

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