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On August 6, 2007, according to court documents, von Houtman, Rodberg, Wade, and Andrews signed contracts sealing their partnership in an "upscale restaurant concept to be named D Wade's."
For his licensing rights, Wade would receive 10 percent ownership or a minimum compensation of $1 million. He would be required to make four appearances total at the restaurants per year, plus attend each grand opening. "Mr. Rodberg and Mr. von Houtman led [me] to believe that they had much experience and expertise in the restaurant business," Wade later claimed in court, "and that this deal could make everybody a lot of money."
Instead, the enterprise was reminiscent of one of the baron's marriages: stunted, hostile, and a source of copious litigation.
The first, smaller location opened with little fanfare on North Dixie Highway in Boca Raton in February 2008. The Fort Lauderdale D Wade's, a massive 34,000-square-foot restaurant located at 1451 N. Federal Hwy., launched the next month. Wade showed up for the grand opening of the dark-wood-and-leather temple-to-the-flat-screen, where waitresses wore skintight referee-striped outfits. He even brought along his mom.
Professional reviewers never made it to the eateries, but many amateurs were unkind. "They basically turned the whole restaurant into a huge cheesy bar [with] display cases filled with D. Wade stuff," one Chowhound user commented. "Food is typical cheap bar food — fried this-and-that, potato skins, burgers, etc.... What a disappointment."
Behind the scenes, according to claims Wade made in court, his partners were hatching schemes to cut him out of profits. Four months after the Fort Lauderdale location opened, von Houtman sold his stake in the restaurants. The new owners entered negotiations to expand the chain with former Kentucky governor and KFC founder John Y. Brown — "unbeknownst to Mr. Wade."
Soon after, Wade claims in court papers, he was asked to invest $1 million in an under-construction Aventura location. He declined.
The Boca Raton D Wade's aborted in May 2008. The Fort Lauderdale restaurant followed suit two months later — right around the time the basketball star helped Team USA win an Olympic gold medal. Wade then suspended the restaurants' use of his name, according to court documents, effectively terminating the chain roughly a week before the Aventura location was scheduled to open.
The controversy also spelled the end for a side venture in which the baron claims to be still involved. The partners had invested in a planned chain of five Fort Lauderdale-based charter high schools, to be called D. Wade's Schools, that had been founded by a nonprofit called Mavericks in Education. Wade was given an undisclosed percentage of shares in the schools, which would specialize in reforming dropouts. The CEO of Mavericks, Mark Thimmig, claims that after the restaurant deal began to go sour, Wade "dropped off the face of the Earth."
"The contract called for him to take an active part in promoting the schools," Thimmig says. "I haven't been able to reach him. It's a tragedy of missed opportunity."
The next year would see Wade named in three lawsuits and damaged by divorce court revelations. His sparkling image was tarnished for the first time.
On July 17, 2008, Wade's former partners sued the superstar in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claiming he had not fulfilled his marketing obligations to the restaurants. He counter-claimed the restaurateurs had attempted to cut him out of expansion plans. Nine months later, the former partners sued in federal court, citing lost clothing and memorabilia sales and seeking $90 million in damages. (Wade's lead attorney, Michael Kreitzer, did not respond to emailed questions about the litigation.)
But von Houtman was not content to let the drama unfold in court. Beginning in late 2008, he began firing off emails to Pat Riley, lobbying the Heat president to "influence" a settlement to the restaurant lawsuits. And this past February, he launched a smear campaign against the Heat player, meeting with the Palm Beach Post and New Times to make allegations about Wade's personal life.
The baron casts Wade as a carousing pothead and provided New Times with a loose timeline of what he calls "disturbing behavior." One anecdote includes Wade and actor Jamie Foxx smoking a joint at SoBe's Mansion Nightclub, with von Houtman tagging along. Another has the superstar trolling for waitresses at their restaurants and using a rented Brickell office as a "place... to bring girls to." The baron offers no strong evidence to back his claims. Photos he touts as showing Wade and rapper Trick Daddy smoking weed on a Chicago stage don't clearly show either man puffing anything.
The only one of von Houtman's claims that is truly verifiable is the least shocking. In September 2007, Wade was driving a $400,000 Maybach in Aventura (while texting, the baron says) when he plowed into the rear bumper of an old Mercedes waiting at a stop light. To keep the accident from being reported, von Houtman claims he sent the young female driver a check for the damage. The woman's mother, Reva Roiter, confirms that story.
Von Houtman says he is still owed the $6,800 he paid for the accident — a figure that represents a paltry 4 percent of Wade's per-game salary.
For a time, those allegations were overshadowed by claims from Siohvaughn. The star's wife had filed for divorce and in January 2009 accused him of cheating on her, infecting her with an unspecified STD, and — perhaps the biggest blow to the former Father of the Year — abandoning his children. "His failure to spend time with them... has resulted in the children at times being afraid of him," she claimed in papers filed in Miami-Dade Family Court. "In fact, Zion... does not recognize or know Dwyane... and has cried uncontrollably the few times that Dwyane has attempted to hold him in his hands.''