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He was charged with resisting arrest with violence, a felony that would have spelled deportation. Cheng wrote in a letter to the judge that her husband had "lived a life of bullying and deceiving," but von Houtman escaped with a misdemeanor battery conviction and probation.
The baron is more boastful than apologetic when he recalls that night of violence. After a police officer reached for his pepper spray, von Houtman says, "I told him: 'I eat that stuff for breakfast.' I left the cops lying in a pool of blood. They would later say that if they knew who I was, they would've brought ten officers."
These days, von Houtman dates a 23-year-old model who he says is a former fling of actor Colin Farrell. And the roots of his wealth remain opaque. He claims he has inherited a fortune from his family: His mother, Dorothy, was the heiress to the Blue Bonnet margarine company (New Times was unable to verify that claim with ConAgra Foods, the conglomerate that now owns the brand). His military career, which he says included "jumping out of planes into deserts and jungles" for Britain and Israel, was lucrative — but, naturally, top-secret.
Von Houtman's registered Florida enterprises include only sponsorship of a low-level dirt-biker, according to state files, and ownership of two active companies: Baron Global Industries LLC and Royal Global LLC. Both are "commodity trading enterprises" whose addresses are listed as von Houtman's 4,000-square-foot Isle of Venice townhome in Fort Lauderdale. "I broker jet fuel and oil deals with foreign countries," he explains without giving any associates' names. "The government contacts I made through my military work have been very useful."
Despite his diamond jewelry and multiple exotic vehicles, public records show he is not without financial trouble. American Express is suing him for $440,514.96 that the company claims he owes on a black, or no-limit, card issued to him. And the Isle of Venice crib, which he purchased in 2007 for $1.85 million, is in foreclosure.
In short, the baron is perhaps not unique in flash-is-everything South Florida. But people like him don't often land partnerships with top-tier sports stars.
When Wade met von Houtman in 2007, it would have been difficult to name a sports superstar with a cleaner image. The lithe and aggressive six-foot-four shooting guard had beaten a hard-knocks childhood on Chicago's South Side. His father raised him while his drug-addicted mother bounced in and out of jail on petty charges.
The young baller married his longtime girlfriend, Siohvaughn, in 2002, and they had two boys, Zion and Zaire. He was picked fifth by the Heat in the 2003 draft, before his senior year at Marquette University. Even as his national stock rose in 2006, when he helped lead the Heat to a championship, Wade's earnest and humble interviews never revealed a trace of prima donna.
In 2007, Wade was named Father of the Year by the National Father's Day Committee, which honors dads who show "high accomplishment in their chosen fields... and enormous achievement as parents." (Perhaps the committee has had better classes: Among Wade's co-honorees were infidelity icons Hulk Hogan and John Edwards.)
He founded a children's charity, Wade's World Foundation, and partnered with a similar group run by his then-teammate Alonzo Mourning. He focused on mentoring poor inner-city children. "I always said that if I got the opportunity to do something for kids that wasn't done for me, I would do that," he told New Times at a June charity event at the Overtown Youth Center. "Our whole focus is to deal with kids like me growing up — kids from broken homes, kids that can't see no further than the dirt outside of their house — and give them an opportunity to see the world and understand that there's a bigger picture."
Wade entrusted the business of profiting from his fame to a childhood friend. Since October 2007, months after going into business with von Houtman, the basketball star's Chicago buddy, Marcus Andrews, has been president of Wade Global Enterprises LLC, an umbrella company overseeing most of his off-the-court business. In 2007, Wade earned an estimated $12 million in endorsements, putting him at number ten on Fortune magazine's list of most marketable athletes, just behind NFL quarterback Peyton Manning.
Which is to say Wade's reputation was worth hundreds of millions of dollars when the baron met Andrews in late 2006 through a third party. (Andrews declined to be interviewed, but in response to von Houtman's myriad claims, said only: "Not true!") Von Houtman says he was initially offered the chance to buy the rights to Wade's likeness for T-shirt production. The cost: $1 million. "I had no idea who Dwyane Wade was at the time," the baron recalls. "I assumed he was a rapper. When I looked into him and realized he had the potential to be a megastar, I immediately wanted to get my hooks into him."
The T-shirt concept met an early demise. Wade had a clothing contract with Converse, says von Houtman. But the conversation evolved to include a chain of Hard Rock Café-like restaurants, complete with memorabilia and clothing stores. A group of restaurateurs joined the project, most prominently Mark Rodberg, co-owner of Bucky's Bar-B-Que in Boca Raton and Bucky's Grill in Fort Lauderdale.