The Continuing Adventures of Martin Siskind

In which the clever con artist nearly reels in a million-dollar bonanza

Miami's hip new Wynwood Art District (WAD) has entered an exciting stage of evolution, marked not just by sleek pink-and-black street banners but also a heightened sense of perception regarding the area's most colorful con artist, Martin Siskind.

Marty, as he is known in the WAD community, is currently under federal and state criminal investigation regarding his involvement in the takeover and sale of an Overtown apartment building once owned by the now-defunct Church of the Divine Mission. The City of Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) bought the property in 2002 for $252,000, a price thought by some to be greatly inflated. Law enforcement authorities are trying to determine whether the money Siskind allegedly received from the transaction (an estimated $25,000) was tantamount to grand theft.

Since the publication of a New Times article chronicling the Divine Mission deal ("Grand Theft, Church," October 30, 2003), local artists and former business associates have come forward with tales of other alleged swindles contrived by Siskind involving artwork, antiques, and real estate deals.

For example, early last year ceramic and resin artist Mark DeLima thought he had scored some cheap live-in studio space when he moved into Siskind's 25,000-square-foot warehouse at 2200 NW Second Ave. The building is headquarters of the nonprofit Advocacy Foundation, which Siskind launched in 1997. According to a more recent mission statement it "assists deserving and indigent individuals involved in or accused of criminal conduct, in all stages of the judicial process." Tax records show the foundation's main source of revenue in 2001 was $102,423 from the sale of a house. The document also states that the 62-year-old Siskind draws no salary. An IRS service representative says the nonprofit did not file a tax return for 2002.

As the Advocacy Foundation's president, Siskind lured DeLima with a new project at the warehouse -- the Artopia gallery and artist studios. "Siskind was so polite and worldly," DeLima recounts. "He pumped me with these ideas that I would be working so much that [eventually] I wouldn't need the small loft space -- I would need the big warehouse next to the Advocacy Foundation."

DeLima spent months making decorative tiles for a fundraising project Siskind had supposedly lined up with the Allapattah branch of the Greater Miami YMCA. DeLima also waited in vain for Siskind to install a shower as part of a plan to create four artist lofts in the warehouse. "I lived in this rat-infested dirty shell for six months until I couldn't take the threats and sick personality of that pathetic individual," DeLima says, adding that Siskind never compensated him for the tile work and kept his $500 security deposit.

During his Artopia tenure, DeLima says he also observed indigents arrive regularly with what he suspected was stolen merchandise, which Siskind would buy for a pittance. "That's not to mention the Sunday rendezvous with sexy women who entered the Artopia building from the rear and stayed for only fifteen minutes -- all in the name of community service," DeLima smirks. "What a scam and grip he has on the poor and unfortunate."

Siskind chuckles at DeLima's accusations. "Oh, yeah. Sure, sure," Siskind says. "There's no truth to that whatsoever."

Then there is Evo, a collage artist whose Wynwood studio is near the Advocacy Foundation. Evo (she uses her first name only) reports that Siskind persuaded her this past April to bring three of her assemblages to his warehouse for what she thought was to be a May 9 exhibition. "I'm pumped up," she recalls. "I'm thinking I met the man who's going to help my career." But as the date approached, the absence of publicity for the show began to trouble her. She mentioned her concern to her neighbor Purvis Young, the vaunted primitivist painter. Young told her that Siskind had pulled a similar stunt in 2002 with about ten of his paintings. Gallery owner Fred Snitzer, who represented Young at the time, had to sic lawyer Harold Rifas on Siskind. Rifas demanded return of the paintings, which could have fetched upward of $10,000. "I hate to see people take advantage of artists," Rifas says. Evo finally retrieved her artwork, relying on the power of her own shouting. The May 9 exhibition never took place.

"I know nothing about that whatsoever," Siskind responds. "Evo, she never dealt with me at all, so I have no idea what you're even talking about there."

Later in the year Siskind also sweet-talked Anne Treadway, owner of the Wynwood antique shop Miami Mid-Century on NW 34th Street and North Miami Avenue. He tried to persuade her to move her entire inventory to his warehouse, where he also runs a store called Thriftopia. She agreed only to give Siskind two antique lamps on consignment, she says. If he sold them, they would share the proceeds. But Treadway was not at Miami Mid-Century when Siskind picked up the lamps. She was later shocked to discover he'd taken five lamps and $600 worth of furniture. Total haul, by her estimate: $3000 worth of merchandise. "This man is so horrible," Treadway fumes. "I just want to see him put away." As of early November Siskind had not returned her wares. "Ah," Siskind responds to Treadway's allegation, feigning bemusement. (Neither Treadway nor Siskind responded to requests for further comment.)

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2 comments
Carmendano
Carmendano

I would like to know if this Martin Siskind is the same one I met in school in Forest Hills Junior Highschool about 55 years ago???

 commenter
commenter

In my experience, Richard Siskind and his son, Jon are two of the lowest forms of scum on the earth. They will get there's or perhaps they already did and that's why they are such horrible people. They lie, they cheat and lie some more...they yell and treat people w/ disrespect every day. They are only motivated by there own greed. Both only see life there way. Stay away.

 
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