The Education of Shawn Lewis

Lesson #1: Hard work and an aptitude for computers can make a young man rich. Lesson #2: Some rich young men take to South Beach like fish to water. Lesson #3: South Beach is the shark. A young man with money is the bait.

After years of working around the clock, Lewis's talents had turned him into a multimillionaire virtually overnight. He faced only one problem: what to do with himself.

In late December 1998, Lewis came to Miami Beach on a whim. His stay at the chic Delano Hotel was intended as a quick vacation. But it became a monthslong sojourn. He wound up renting a house and calling South Florida home.

South Beach trifecta: Former nightclub moguls Thomas Kramer, Richard Bronson, and Chris Paciello
South Beach trifecta: Former nightclub moguls Thomas Kramer, Richard Bronson, and Chris Paciello
South Beach trifecta: Former nightclub moguls Thomas Kramer, Richard Bronson, and Chris Paciello
South Beach trifecta: Former nightclub moguls Thomas Kramer, Richard Bronson, and Chris Paciello

South Beach has proved mighty alluring to rich men who court trouble, especially in the hedonistic nightlife circles. Thomas Kramer, a German developer with a taste for skyscrapers and nonconsensual sex, took the Beach by storm in the early Nineties. Richard Bronson, a stock dealer with a boiler-room fortune, opened Shadow Lounge before securities regulators chased him into retirement. More recently came Chris Paciello, the handsome Brooklyn tough who ruled the popular club Liquid until the feds exposed his mob ties.

The reasons for the attraction are obvious. This is a young town with a transient, international population. There is no snooty old guard to judge where your money came from or where you went to school. Here you can be whoever you want -- as long as you're picking up the tab. And of course there is a higher concentration of beautiful women here than nearly anywhere else in the hemisphere. No doubt about it, if you grew up poor and struggling, and really wanted the chic set to kiss your ass, South Beach would be the place for you. Lewis was hooked. Shortly after arriving he was frequenting the now-defunct club Chaos, buying bottles of champagne and tables in the VIP section. The recovering workaholic had found a place to play.

But like Kramer and Paciello before him, Lewis has had problems with his temper. While his friends in Boston remember him as an easygoing man, happiest behind a computer terminal, in Miami he's been prone to outbursts. "I get frustrated, yeah," he admits. "One thing is, it's hard in Miami. It's hard to do the right thing, and the work ethic here is 100 percent different than New York and Boston. But I'm learning; I've got my head screwed on straight. It's not happening anymore."

The most regrettable incident to date occurred in April 1999, on the sidewalk in front of Wet Willy's, the Ocean Drive bar best known for disguising vast amounts of grain alcohol in ice-creamy slush. You wouldn't have taken Lewis for a millionaire wunderkind that day. He was adorned like some kind of crazed conventioneer, sporting a feathered headband and Mardi Gras beads, a sports jersey, shorts, sandals, and wrap-around Oakley sunglasses. His attire was not the only loud thing about him. Lewis had guzzled enough slush to be sloshed. As the afternoon wore on, he and a tableful of friends became noisier and noisier, eventually catching the attention of a couple of uniformed Miami Beach cops working an off-duty security assignment at the bar.

One approached Lewis and asked him to leave. But Lewis hadn't earned his millions listening to what other people -- even cops -- told him to do. After walking away he marched right back. The officer confronted him again. Lewis spit in the middle of the policeman's forehead.

At this point the cops moved in to make an arrest. According to the deposition of officer Samir Guerrero, Lewis began struggling and yelled, "I'm not going to fucking jail." Eventually the cops cinched handcuffs on him. "He was talking all kinds of stuff," Guerrero remembers. "He said, I made five million dollars in one day. Can you say that? I have all this money. You don't know who you're messing with. I've got the best lawyers.' The whole time I was walking him back there he was running his mouth."

Lewis's usual bravado fades when he recalls the incident. "I made a mistake," he says flatly. "I was new to the Beach. I was with friends from up north. I tried to intervene when it looked like the officer was going to move on a friend, and I should never have done that. I had a lot of booze, and my temperament does not mix well with that. It's something I regret and will regret to the day I die. I don't have a history like that, nor do I care to have one. I'm really sorry."

The cops charged Lewis with battery on a law-enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence -- both felonies -- and disorderly intoxication, a misdemeanor. True to his word, Lewis hired the most famous lawyer in town, Roy Black. Five months later, on September 29, 1999, Lewis agreed to attend anger-management classes and alcohol counseling (the counselor concluded Lewis did not have a drinking problem) and donated time and computers to the Bay Point Schools for troubled youths in exchange for the charges being dropped.

He's had other problems handling his newfound prominence. Earlier this year a woman named Paola Arguello tried to file criminal charges against him for pulling her hair in a nightclub. When authorities didn't pursue it, Arguello sued him in civil court. Lewis simply sighs at the mention of Arguello. This is what he has to contend with: Simply bumping into someone could result in a lawsuit.

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