By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Terrence McCoy
By Jeff Weinberger
By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
Yes, his business was floundering in 1994. And yes, he was grateful when Stavropoulos rescued it by investing about $2500. But after several months, he began noticing "this guy was ripping me off royally." He shows phone bills revealing hundreds of dollars in calls to Canada. And he displays a statement from a credit card agency to Image that seems to show a client was billed twice. It states "cardholder did not receive services -- cardholder billed more than once."
"I asked Peter about these things and he didn't answer me," Babij says. "He was setting me up to take the fall and getting ready to skip town." He claims Stavropoulos has an unsavory past. Stavropoulos once paid a fine in Canada for falsely representing in advertisements the benefits associated with his chain of weight-loss clinics. And in 1994 Palm Beach County authorities alleged Stavropoulos didn't have a permit to recruit talent in the state. The charges were later dropped.
So Babij says he hatched a plan to save his company. He met with a lawyer and drew up a contract for the other partners to sign over their shares. There was no attempt to stage a late-night rendezvous at the office; he arranged to meet them at the News Café. Tony, the muscled acquaintance mentioned by Stavropoulos, was not present when they gathered, he maintains. Babij admits he threatened his partners, but not with violence. "I was going to expose them for theft and double-billing," he says, as well as for conspiring to avoid paying taxes here. He denies making any phone threats or spray-painting 666 on anyone's door.
The only piece of evidence Babij offers regarding theft is a bank statement indicating a withdrawal of several hundred dollars on September 14, 1994, the day after the News Café meeting. (The same withdrawal earlier noted by Stavropoulos. "It was my money," he says.)
Then Babij adds this twist, partially confirmed by Stavropoulos. Several months after his former partners departed Miami, a man named Derek called and claimed Stavropoulos had authorized him to take over the company. "Peter made a deal with this guy," Babij says. "He was supposed to come in, kick my ass, and throw me out. I told him to fuck off."
Months later Derek visited the office. "He says to me: 'Peter fucked me over on another deal, so I just wanted to tell you that Peter hired me to muscle you out.' I said, 'Do you have anything that proves this?' and he gave me this." Babij then displays a two-page letter signed by Peter Stavropoulos on November 30, 1994. It outlines an agreement to appoint Derek (his last name is never used) president of Image. In the letter Derek is promised a weekly salary of $450 and "94 percent of the profits, after tax." But it never happened. When asked about Derek, Stavropoulos replies, "He was somebody I was talking to; nothing happened with him. He turned out to be a thug like Babij." Stavropoulos concedes writing the letter but says he did nothing improper.
With Stavropoulos in Canada, Babij set to work on his dream.
For Babij 1996 began on an embarrassing note, and the year didn't improve much.
In January the agency owner appeared as a guest on Geraldo Rivera's talk show. For a segment titled "The Dark Side of Modeling -- The Harsh Truth Under the Hot Lights," producers lined up a panel of second-rate models who complained South Beach agencies pressured them to get breast implants and that drugs were too accessible to refuse. Babij, who says he was suckered on to the show by lying producers, is attacked by a brunette named Tracy. The woman, who admits to a substance-abuse problem, claims she saw Babij doing drugs at a party. "Your agency was giving me a bad name," she says. He acknowledges using drugs, but says now he's clean and Image is the only drug-free agency on the Beach. A blonde named Courtney pipes up that Image has treated her well: "I have had no problem with Jerry and Image agency. As far as I'm concerned, they've been fine with me." The broadcast does not come across as a searing exposé of the modeling business so much as a lengthy whine session by the discontented and the self-involved.
In June a company called M2 Communications, which listed its address as 17100 Collins Ave. in North Miami Beach (in reality Sunny Isles Beach), hired several Image models for a print ad to push a 1-900 phone-sex line. According to an invoice for the job, M2 hired seven models and rented a large ice cream cone replica, as well as a photographer and assistant, for two days. The bill, which is dated June 21, came to $21,867. But according to Babij, M2's president, Jason Itzler, refused to pay, so Babij and his lawyer, Chandler Finley, wrote letters requesting payment.
On June 22 Itzler filed a complaint with Metro-Dade police alleging that Babij "contacted the victim, Jason Itzler, via land line and threatened to kill him and make matters worst [sic] if he did not pay him the $20,000 he felt he owed him for a photo job performed for the victim." The complaint also states that two cars were vandalized in M2's parking lot and a shot was fired through the window. On June 27, 1996, police arrested Babij for threats and extortion. The charges were later dropped. M2 Communications is no longer in business, and Itzler could not be reached for comment.