By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
Between bites of a braised lamb shank, Richard von Houtman — or as his black American Express card reads: Baron Richard von Houtman — holds his iPhone sideways to display a recent call. It's a Chicago number alongside the name "Siohvaughn." As in Siohvaughn Wade, the ex-wife of 27-year-old Miami Heat demigod Dwyane Wade.
"We spoke for 45 minutes," von Houtman boasts, traces of a haughty British accent lingering after 20 years in the States. "She says she's going to send photos of herself with bruises after being beaten by Dwyane to Pat Riley."
That's Heat president Riley and, like many of von Houtman's claims on this cool Monday afternoon in April, the story is unverifiable. The squat 64-year-old bodybuilder with thinning hair shaved to fuzz and the glowing-red complexion of a raw tuna steak is seated next to a patio table at the crowded Latin Café just north of downtown. He's dressed in khaki capris, an embroidered designer T-shirt, and loads of diamond jewelry, including a multicolored Jacob watch and a Superman medallion. "I just don't understand," he continues with something resembling sincerity. "How do you get bruises when you're black?"
The crack falls flat, but von Houtman barrels forward. He's arranged this lunch with a single objective: to disparage one of the National Basketball Association's most popular players. During the hourlong meal, von Houtman lets loose with a barrage of inflammatory allegations that he'll repeat time and again for the next couple of months: that Dwyane Wade shuffled rapidly through mistresses and physically abused Siohvaughn; that the star and his entourage transformed their Brickell office into a sex den for groupies; and that Wade asked the baron to procure Deca-Durabolin, an anabolic steroid. (Von Houtman says he refused.)
Perhaps more remarkable than the tawdry claims is the fact that von Houtman was until recently in business with Wade. He claims to be an heir to a butter fortune and an ex-spy, a self-described "007 without the license to kill." In fact, he is a former crony of a slain Dutch hashish kingpin, and U.S. Customs seized his Boca Raton mansion for the connection. He's been married five times and has a long, court-recorded history of violence against women. After one wild episode in the late '90s, he was convicted of battery on three Palm Beach County cops.
In 2007, he and Wade teamed up to create a chain of upscale sports bars and invest in a charter school company. Within a year, both firms went down in flames. In late 2008, Wade was hit with the first of two breach-of-contract and antitrust lawsuits related to the failed partnerships.
And in January, Siohvaughn filed for divorce, alleging her husband was a serial adulterer who had abandoned their children and infected her with a sexually transmitted disease. By the end of the month, after Wade filed a libel suit against his ex-wife, she retracted the scandalous claims.
Soon, von Houtman was publicly trumpeting the six-year NBA veteran's alleged vices, first in letters to Riley and other Heat brass and then to South Florida media. As with his ex, Wade sued von Houtman for libel. Through publicists, he has refuted the baron's claims as "fairy tales." And Wade tacitly promised collateral damage in an interview with New Times. About von Houtman, he said, "Once the truth comes out, [he's] going to be hurt more than me."
It's evident only the opening salvos have been fired in what will be an ugly and revelatory public feud that could continue for years — and wreck untold damage on the superstar's reputation, which is nearly as valuable as his basketball skills.
After chugging a post-meal espresso, von Houtman pays the bill with a hundred, pushes out his chair, and lumbers to the parking lot. He opens the driver's door of his white 2009 Rolls Royce Phantom, setting off a chorus of soft dings, and then pauses. "I don't hate Dwyane, but I think he's a fool," he ruminates solemnly. "He'll always be able to make $20 million a year playing basketball, but not much more than that. Why would a company sign on with Dwyane after his name has been smeared through the mud, rather than a LeBron James or somebody like that, who's kept his dirty business behind closed doors? What you're watching is the downfall of Dwyane Wade."
In early June, the first warm thunderstorm of hurricane season pummels a drab, custard-colored home just north of downtown Delray Beach. Inside, a 35-year-old woman with smeared bright red lipstick and sedate brown eyes recounts the years of abuse to which she claims Richard von Houtman subjected her. "He would hit me in my legs with a belt so that other people wouldn't notice," she says in a mousy voice.
Her 8-year-old daughter, wearing a one-shouldered red dress, is too transfixed by Babar playing on the tube to notice Mom's extremely adult talk.
Though most of her claims can be found in court records, the woman says she is still too "terrified" to have her name published. She was, by von Houtman's own casual admission, his mistress. He kept her on the side for four years while he was married to his fifth wife, Hong Kong-born Lily Lee Cheng.