As Falcone's bank account grew, so did his political clout. In November 2005, glossy flyers arrived in mailboxes in both Hialeah and Overtown blasting candidates who opposed Falcone's friends or threatened his projects. One of the targets was Commissioner Richard Dunn, who was then vying for a District 5 seat. The flyers, funded by Falcone, looked like a grade school report card and gave the politician straight F's.

Dunn suspects Falcone targeted him because he spoke out against gentrification. "They beat me up pretty bad," Dunn says, "because they knew I'd stick up for poor folks."

In November 2008, the city approved the Miami World Center project in Park West on the border of Overtown. "Long-standing promise to Overtown may be fulfilled," the Miami Herald trumpeted in a headline. Despite the spotlight, Falcone stayed behind the scenes. He rarely appeared in public and told friends he didn't like to be photographed.

Edward Falcone's $43 million home
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Edward Falcone's $43 million home

Falcone was riding high. Around that time, New York Social Diary blog called the budding tycoon "insatiable," noting he "plunked down" $28.75 million, $13 million, and $7.3 million on three opulent private residences. He later paid a cool $43 million for a mansion — just a stone's throw from the Intracoastal Waterway — in an exclusive community called Manalapan.

But backstage, things were getting tense. He and Crespo had broken up and were no longer speaking. In 2008, after a paternity test, a Palm Beach County judge ordered him to pay $6,900 in monthly child support. It got nasty in 2007 when — following a lengthy separation — Crespo began to date another man, she says. "He stopped seeing his son. He didn't visit him in the hospital or call him on his birthday or Christmas."

Falcone filed court papers claiming the "devastation of the real estate market" made him unable to afford the child support. Meanwhile, financial records show he was able to pay more than $490,000 in property taxes on his mansions, $18,300 to lease a new Mercedes, and $108,000 annually for "lawn care."

"He should be embarrassed," says Crespo's lawyer, Jason Marks. "He treats his landscaper better than he treats his son."

One of his companies, Royal Palm Homestead, then filed an eviction proceeding against Crespo, seeking to boot her and the child from their home. She was served the papers Christmas Eve. (Attorney Hobas contends the papers were filed by Arthur, not Edward.)

Almost simultaneously, his businesses began to suffer. Four lawsuits in the past year allege financial flakiness and fraud on the part of the brothers. In May 2009, Ocean Bank sued Edward and Arthur Falcone in Miami-Dade County court for failing to pay installments of a $48 million loan. Three months later, PNC Bank also sued them, claiming they lied about $900,000 in assets. (Arthur Falcone did not return calls by press time.)

Orion Bank, which was set to finance part of the Miami World Center project, also claimed in November the brothers had "breached terms of conditions" for a $2.3 million loan. And in December 2009, the Tousa Committee, a group of creditors, filed court papers alleging they used fraudulently transferred money. (All cases are open.)

Today the Miami World Center hangs in limbo. The land remains vacant, trash has accumulated, and fences have fallen down. "We haven't heard anything from them," says James Villacorta, director of the Overtown/Park West CRA, which has reported the site for code violations.

Crespo is another story. She wants Falcone to know he can't lawyer-away his son. Her child feels abandoned, she says, and they are afraid they might lose their home. Thinking about it makes her big brown eyes water just a little. "He needs to keep his promises," she says.

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