By Michael E. Miller
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Rabbi Zweig, who had made the occasional donation to Moncrief, was displeased to hear he'd quit his job at Doraku. "I was unhappy he didn't have a steady job," Zweig says. "I told him he's got to survive before he starts raising money. I told him: 'Lewis, I'm in the fundraising business. It's tough.'" But Moncrief proceeded apace, working every angle, one of which was chilling with Jim Brown at the Clevelander, where he wrangled an introduction to Dolphins star running back Ricky Williams. "These football players, man, they have money," Moncrief says, "and they'll give it away and just write it off."
While striving to tap into the serious cash, Moncrief went door to door soliciting donations from restaurants and stores on South Beach, as well as from private individuals. Tennis instructor Marcelo Moreno was among those who encountered Moncrief. "I first ran into Lewis when I went to see some jazz at the Van Dyke Café or the Palms Hotel," he says. "Anyway, I saw him around a couple of times and he told me about his organization. I gave him a little money." Miami Beach chanteuse Nicole Henry was also approached by Moncrief; she says he asked her about performing at the fundraiser but never got back to her with details. Moncrief's friends and acquaintances persevered in aiding the cause, whether by donating to his organization or by helping Moncrief personally.
Says Andrew Restler: "I've given him money here and there."
Adds Daniel Seghi: "I've handed over a lot of money and a lot of time."
It's unclear exactly how much money Moncrief raised. He told at least one person he was "closing the deal" with the Delano the first week of November, but no contract was signed. (Delano managers acknowledge meeting with Moncrief but won't discuss how close they came to a deal.) Tina Young, however, doesn't think Moncrief ever raised much money -- probably less than $10,000.
One thing is certain: Moncrief left Miami Beach in November. "He said he had some issues he had to take care of -- something about a woman," says Seghi. "I've been e-mailing him but there's no response. But he could come back tomorrow." Seghi is understandably chagrined. "I've put a lot of time into our work," he laments. And money? "Big time."
Seghi won't put a dollar amount on his contributions to Mother Nature's Kitchen, but he definitely sounds more skeptical than he did in October, when he said, "I totally believe he's legit. In my heart and soul, I've asked myself if I'm getting conned. If I get screwed, so be it, but I doubt I will."
Rabbi Zweig, who warned Moncrief about the value of second chances, said this shortly before Moncrief's disappearance: "The question is, when are people going to get tired of him? I mean, you can't just become a better con man. You have to become a better man."
Young hasn't looked for Moncrief since he disappeared. "By the time he left, Lewis was becoming very demanding," she reports. "He wanted me to drop my whole life for him." Young says Moncrief was increasingly frustrated by the glacial pace of fundraising. "He was hoping that since it was for a charity, the Delano wouldn't require a down payment, but they did. And I think he was having a hard time coming up with the money, which is frustrating. Anyway, Lewis is all about action."
Shabazz, meanwhile, still has the job and the apartment Moncrief helped him secure. He was always wary, especially of Moncrief's constant affirmations of close friendship: "He was cool, and him and me were cool, but he was always making it seem like more than that. I have a few true friends, but it's a little artificial when someone you've only known for a while claims to be your closest friend."
Shabazz was only mildly surprised to learn that Moncrief had disappeared. "I actually stopped answering the door when he came over," he says. "As a matter of fact, I still don't have electric power because of some money I loaned him that he never paid back. He was a good guy, but he was like a drifter -- he used people up and moved on."