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 continuing their honeymoon in Europe and a trip to California, where Lewis says he paid for several thousand dollars' worth of plastic surgery for Romero, the two split. Lewis, suspicious and angry, hired a private detective to follow Romero. According to Lewis and his attorney, the detective determined that Romero had moved back in with her old boyfriend, whom she had run to after the initial breakup before the nonwedding.

Lewis and Romero filed for divorce on September 22. One informed club source says that after the nightclubs were put in her name, Romero began making inquiries about selling them off. Romero concedes that someone made queries on her behalf, but she didn't know about it or approve.

Things swiftly turned bitter. On the day they filed for divorce, Lewis filed a defamation lawsuit claiming "Romero orally published and made certain statements to third parties ... naming and accusing Plaintiff, Lewis, of being a murderer who had killed a man, that Lewis had gone to jail for seven years, that Lewis is laundering money, and that Lewis is a racketeer."

It was a bizarre document, and apparently short-lived. Lewis dismisses the complaint as "over now."

Romero had not seen the suit, saying her lawyers handled "all of that stuff." When shown the complaint, she laughed and said, "None of that is true; that's why it went nowhere." In the end Lewis and Romero struck a cash deal: She was paid a lump sum (the figure was not disclosed) to transfer the companies back to Lewis's control.

To the outside world, it looked like Lewis had been taken for a ride, that he had met a sexpot who married and then ditched him and was amply rewarded. Lewis sees it that way. Yet, when the lawyers for both sides had stopped escalating the tension, Romero says she wasn't happy about what had transpired. She decided, she says, "to do the right thing."

Back went the lump-sum payment. She returned her "birthday gift," which she is not allowed to mention, but which friends say was a Porsche Boxster. She even returned the diamond engagement ring. "I have been saying all along, it has never been about money," she notes. Lewis, still less than amicable, says he gave his ex-wife a check for half the Porsche's value.

This was Lewis's nadir on the Beach. For a time he considered packing it in and heading back north. Ultimately, he says, he didn't want to go out that way. "It was a rude awakening," he says. "I'm a pretty street-smart guy; I didn't think I'd get taken advantage of like that."

As fall rolled around, it became clear that Lewis's miscalculations had cost him. His romantic life was in shambles, and he had had to close G-Spot in order to reinvent it. Lewis needed an act two in Miami, and he needed some help pulling it off.

In early September, at a posh party on Hibiscus Island, Lewis met G. Jack Donahue. If South Beach high society is filled with snakes, then Donahue fancies himself a wily snake charmer. A dapper Irishman who even on the most humid days wears pressed shirts, ties, and jackets, he is an anomaly amid the palm trees. His face still retains the pinkish hue of his Boston roots, despite having left the Northeast ten years ago. And his work, as a kind of insider PR man, consumes him. Like a perverse chamber of commerce guide, he can't stop talking about how seductive his new home is. "South Beach is a sunny place for shady people," he says, cribbing W. Somerset Maugham's adage about Monte Carlo.

"The hottest sex on the planet is on these 23 blocks," he adds. "This is the billion-dollar sandbox. The old feel young here, and the young feel opportunistic. I'm legit; I've been here ten years, and I don't drink or drug. My penchant for women is unparalleled, but that's all right. It's healthy."

After talking with Lewis at the Hibiscus Island party, Donahue recounted, he signed on to Lewis's organization. "I don't know who the hell was advising him, but he needed some help," Donahue says. "He got involved with some poor advisors."

"Jack's a great guy," Lewis says. "He has inroads into the community where I should be. I quit school in the ninth grade. I don't have that polish. Jack can help there."

The first thing Donahue did was to set out to rehab Lewis's image. He helped the chastened mogul found a charitable institution, the Shawn M. Lewis Foundation, which threw a breast cancer fundraiser at the Raleigh Hotel in October. A grander benefit to raise money to fight Parkinson's disease is planned for this month.

"By this time next year, Lewis Enterprises could be employing upwards of 1000 people. That's a lot of revenue for this place," Donahue says. "This city should be very thankful he's here, otherwise you'd have even more boarded-up storefronts on Washington Avenue."

Meanwhile the recent opening of Krave appears to have been a success. Puff Daddy and Jennifer Lopez partied there, a necessary coup, given that celebrity buzz is the lifeblood of the club scene.

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