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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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The owner of the Kit Kat Club, Leo Mena, is pointing a finger at Lewis, accusing him of using illegal tactics to take over that space since last year. A Lewis company is Mena's landlord, and Lewis retorts that Mena hasn't been paying rent. The two currently are in litigation. Who's right and who's wrong have yet to be determined, but it's another business dispute turned vicious.
Such behavior caught up with Lewis shortly before this past New Year's. His companies NSU III and Joe Black Productions were accused of poaching staff from other Beach clubs, offering doormen and VIP hosts such high salaries that he skewed the economics. Lewis denies this. It's clear, however, that he wasn't playing nice with the other kids in the sandbox. In fact his behavior caused such bad blood that when he tried to have a formal sit-down meeting with the owners of 320, crobar, and Level, they unanimously refused.
It all added up to a pretty ugly image, so to soften it, Lewis became a philanthropist. He donated computers to the Police Athletic League, hosted charity fundraisers, and contributed to a variety of causes. "No one seems to care about that," his friend Tommy Pooch says.
Finally a few months ago Lewis embroiled himself in a lawsuit with brothers Eric and Francis Milon, who had sold their nightclub the Living Room to NSU in May 2000. After the sale Joe Black Productions hired the Milons to do promotional work but ended up suing them, claiming that the brothers' restaurant Café Tabac and lounge Opium violated a no-compete clause in their contract with Joe Black. A judge initially found in favor of Lewis -- until the Milons' lawyers, Stephen Zack and Bruce Weil, found out about his bad-check conviction. Suddenly NSU's standing to enforce any contract regarding nightclubs was in question until Lewis's involvement was sorted out. One of Zack's witnesses was Maj. Jorge Herrera from the ABT, who announced his agency was going to take a close look at Lewis and his business dealings in the clubs.
"I would like to review every single information, and probably, you know, an investigation will be started," Herrera said in a recent proceeding, "just to determine if in fact a violation of the law has ... occurred." All of which was duly reported in the Miami Herald.
At his North Bay Road mansion on Miami Beach, Lewis asserts his interest in the clubs is legal. "The statutory code states that five years after a felony conviction, you're allowed to operate and manage a venue," Lewis explains in an exasperated tone. "It's owning the liquor license that takes fifteen years [after a conviction]. What we didn't do is submit the management agreement to the ABT. They feel we should have."
Not only does he manage, he also loans money to the corporation that runs the clubs: NSU III, Inc. He is paid back from the money the club makes -- "like a mortgage," he says. The company's chief operating officer is his half-sister, Vanessa Nevius. Previously the company was headed by Lewis's former partner Paul Caputo and then, briefly, his ex-wife, Elizabeth Romero. The Milons' lawyers are calling this a "shell game," allowing Lewis to control the company through intermediaries.
So Lewis is pulling out. But that doesn't mean he's going away. He's started a construction company and says he's negotiating to buy two hotels. And that doesn't mean the fight with the Milons is going away either. Both sides want damages. What remains to be seen is whether Lewis also can expunge his growing reputation as a bully.