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Through a mutual friend, he met the veteran actor Bauer, whose career never took off after his star turn as Tony Montana's brother Manolo. Bauer joined as executive producer and then introduced Cabanas to La Grave — who's listed in state records as owner of lending and investment outfits as well as a Mercedes-Benz dealership. The Venezuelan businessman says he sunk $100,000 into the project.
Filming began in June 2009. The crew, artists, and Cabanas stayed at South Beach's Eden Roc Hotel. Artists would report to the shoot at 6 a.m. "ready for whatever challenge Gino had," says Miami-raised Cesar Santos, who adds he was paid $1,200 per week while the checks lasted. "It felt a bit like we were making a commercial. We might take an airboat to the Everglades and paint there with all the mosquitoes. Another day, we went to some little islands and were painting on boogie boards."
Cabanas's checks began bouncing within the first month of production, says unit production manager Julian Valdes. But most of the crew agreed to finish shooting before being paid, Cabanas claims. After six weeks, the show wrapped. Cabanas moved from the Eden Roc to a million-dollar manse on Hibiscus Island.
Now the sound files are being held hostage. "The sound guys are holding on to the sound until I pay them," Cabanas complains. "But without the sound, I can't sell the show, so I can't pay them."
La Grave hired a private investigator to delve into the show's finances. He says he learned it was never under production contract with Fox, as Cabanas had claimed. "It was definitely not a Fox Broadcasting show," says network spokesperson Elissa Johansmeier, adding that South Florida affiliates "have not heard of it."
This past January, Work of Genius grip Steve Irvine filed the breach of contract suit against the Vine Studio, Cabanas's company. It's still slogging through the courts, but Irvine hopes a judge will classify it a class action.
Cabanas says he's a victim. He has lost his $1.475 million, four-bedroom Bel Air house to foreclosure, and this past summer, Bravo aired Work of Art — a reality show about artists. Work of Genius will be better, Cabanas insists— although it might undergo a name change. He now says it will air on Venevisión, a Venezuelan TV network.
Meanwhile, he's casting what he describes as a "Sopranos-esque" drama, titled Magic City, set in 1975 Miami. He's looking for investors.
"The new show is another scam to raise money," says Julian Valdez, who claims Cabanas owes him more than $20,000. "He's like one of these — ay, coño — one of these evangelists you see on TV."