High Rollers on the High Seas

Sports geeks set sail on the Aquasino

High Rollers on the High Seas

Filed under: Flotsam

From Miami Beach, the 228-foot Aquasino looks like a towering hotel with bright navy blue walls jutting from the water as if built onto a humongous concrete pylon. The gambling boat has embarked every night since August.

I was supposed to be on the "ladies night" cruise, but scheduling problems landed me on the "sports writers" cruise.

Four hours out to sea, at the roulette table, a swarthy man in a tan guayabera stands behind his knockout girlfriend. She wears a black sequin top that is corset tight. As she lines up little hills of colored chips on the table's numbered grid, he slaps and gropes her curvaceous behind as if it were a sack of good luck pudding.

The chip piles grow. He smiles, laughs, and runs his fingers through his hair as though he knew all along that things would work out this way. At midnight the casino closes, and passengers trickling out of the lower decks talk about their winnings and losings.

The man with the hot moneymaker is revealed to be Dan Le Batard, the Herald's controversial sports writer. "Dan's not going to want to talk to you," announces a slick William Morris agent named Eric Rovner. "Dan's a really big deal." Dressed in a brown pinstripe shirt, Rovner shudders when he discovers I've been invited onto the boat. What's the story? Why had I come?

Le Batard's girl has taken $1200 at the roulette tables. His eyes flash with a little glint. As the ship heads back to Miami Beach, he takes his girlfriend to the rear of the boat and makes out with her, right under the American flag. Calvin Godfrey


The Rich Get Bitchier

Filed under: News

The ultrarich private community of Williams Island is about the last place you'd expect to get jumped — especially by residents, who are described on the management's Website as "individuals who are accustomed to life's finer things." So when he visited the island a few weeks ago, Hollywood resident John Vasquez was more than a little surprised to find himself being assaulted and robbed by a 59-year-old inhabitant of Williams Island.

Vasquez had first encountered the man minutes before the assault, he says, while driving up to the island's security gate. "He was acting crazy," Vasquez says, "arguing with some people in a truck, and he almost hit my car. So I pulled up to him and said, 'What's wrong with you?'" The man's ominous answer, according to Vasquez: "I'm the guy that's gonna bury you."

Vasquez, age 65, who had recovered only days earlier from a heart attack, drove away and parked in front of one of the island's buildings, where he was visiting family. When he got out of his car, there was the man. "He was following me," says Vasquez. "I had no idea."

The man grabbed Vasquez and, he later told the police, threw him to the ground. Then the guy reached down and "he ripped my watch right off my arm." Still in possession of Vasquez's watch — "A Rolex knockoff, you know," Vasquez says — the man drove off.

Aventura Police traced the assailant's license plate to Williams Islander Daniel David Tawil. Tawil admitted to having given in to road rage.

When the police visited Tawil's apartment, he retrieved Vasquez's watch from a drawer and handed it over. Tawil was promptly arrested and charged with strong-arm robbery, and Vasquez says he will pursue charges.

Tawil's lawyer, Brian Bieber, disputes Vasquez's account. He says the visiting 65-year-old provoked the scuffle, causing his own watch to fall into Tawil's car.

"I want him in jail," says Vasquez. "I'm telling you — this will blow the lid off Williams Island!" Isaiah Thompson


Family Seeks Search for Joe CoolCrew

Filed under: News

It's one of this year's biggest mysteries — and one of the saddest stories. On September 22, four crew members of the Joe Cool, a Miami Beach-based fishing charter boat, headed for Bimini with two passengers. The boat was found empty two days later in the Florida Straits. The passengers were discovered in the yacht's dinghy and later charged with murdering the others. The crew — which included Capt. Jake Branam and his wife Kelley — has not been found. The couple has two little children.

Kelley's mother, Leanne Van Laar-Uttmark of St. Louis, Missouri, wants to keep searching. Van Laar-Uttmark told New Times this week that Texas EquuSearch — the same outfit that scoured Aruba for missing teen Natalee Holloway — has agreed to look for Kelley and the rest of the Joe Cool crew. EquuSearch has divers, sonar, and equipment. What it doesn't have is a boat.

"They want to do a careful grid search of the area," says Van Laar-Uttmark. "But we need someone to donate a boat." She says the search team needs a 50-plus foot powerboat for five or six days. Anyone looking to help can call EquuSearch at 281-309-9500 or 877-270-9500 (ask for Tim or Cindy).

"We know this is a long shot," Van Laar-Uttmark says. "But our loved ones could be on an island. They could have made it." Tamara Lush


THE CHANGING TIDE

Benigna Marko Walks Away with a Windfall

Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess recently had a golden opportunity to show his intolerance for high-ranking subordinates who abuse their power through nepotism. In August the county's ethics commission recommended Burgess take administrative action against Benigna Marko, an assistant director for the Planning and Zoning Department, after finding she "did everything within her power to orchestrate the hiring of her paramour, Abel Lera, for the manager position" ("Dade Disclosure," August 23). She also wrote Lera's evaluations, which qualified him for three pay raises totaling $30,000.

But Burgess allowed Marko to resign without so much as a reprimand. She walked away with a $234,959 payout in accrued sick and holiday leave time.

Lera, Marko, and Burgess all declined to return Riptide's call for comment.

According to county records, in 2003 she also helped her niece, Elizabeth Garcia, get a job as a zoning clerk and a promotion to a zoning plan processor even though her niece had no experience. (Garcia abruptly resigned from her $31,000-a-year job earlier this month.)

Department employees accuse Burgess of giving Marko a free pass because she is a friend. "Benigna and her husband would have dinner with the manager and his wife on a regular basis," says one worker. "She always referred to him as 'Georgie.'" Francisco Alvarado

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