Best Of :: People & Places
In Ponzistan — as South Florida will someday be rechristened in the more honest history books — it takes something extra to stand out. Pyramid schemes are a dime a dozen; to get your face on Mount Ponzimore, you've got to bring it. Nevin Shapiro took down a university's sports program. Scott Rothstein demolished Broward's political system. And Allen Stanford? All he did was buy a house with a moat in Coral Gables for his mistress, snatch up virtually the entire Caribbean nation of Antigua, set himself up as a faux cricket baron, and blow through an $8 billion scheme from a headquarters in downtown's Miami Center. Stanford's crazy ride didn't end once he finally landed in prison in 2009 after his Ponzi scheme collapsed into rubble. While in custody, he was beaten to a pulp by another prisoner and required mental health assessments before his trial. Thankfully, in March a jury finally decided to put Stanford where he belongs — alongside Shapiro and Rothstein, rotting away in prison for decades — after convicting him on 13 of 14 fraud charges.
He had all the attributes of a winning mayoral candidate: handsome, smart, and connected, as the middle brother of a Cuban-American political oligarchy. And as a reformer on the county commission who introduced legislation creating the Miami-Dade Inspector General's Office, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla had the credentials to clean up county hall. But it didn't work out for him — he lost mayoral bids in 2000 and 2004. So he turned to twisting county commissioners' arms on behalf of real estate developers seeking rezoning approvals and companies wanting to do business with Miami-Dade. He's mighty good at it too, as evidenced by the corporate titans on his client roster: development giant Lennar Homes, leading red-light camera provider American Traffic Solutions, and national heavy hitters such as Ryder, TD Bank, and Walmart. His lobbying career was bolstered by his return to politics in 2010, when he was elected to the Florida Senate, taking his termed-out brother Alex's seat. When his clients can't get their way at the county level, they can count on Diaz de la Portilla to use his influence in Tallahassee to fulfill their agendas there. Talk about bang for your buck.
After serving nearly three decades in federal prison for smuggling pot into Miami, Robert Platshorn would have been forgiven for spending the rest of his free days in quiet solitude. But the 69-year-old former leader of the Black Tuna Gang — which the DEA dubbed his '70s-era stoner collective of pot importers — has instead become one of the nation's most visible proponents of medical marijuana. Perhaps nobody in the world can better rue the irony that marijuana, which has never caused an overdose, is outlawed in most states, while lethal cigarettes and alcohol are freely peddled. Platshorn served more time, doing 29 years of a 64-year sentence, than anybody before or since for a marijuana offense. Since his 2008 release, his life mission has become touting the benefits of medical marijuana — including alleviating pain, quelling nausea, promoting sleep, easing the side effects of chemotherapy, and reducing inflammation — to a surprising but entirely logical demographic: elderly Floridians, whose physical ailments and limited budgets make them ideal joint-puffing self-medicators. Platshorn's "Silver Tour" puts on symposiums for seniors featuring experts and advocates of medical marijuana. Bobby Tuna, as Platshorn is nicknamed, has bought infomercial spots and billboards for the cause. (If you feel like donating to the shoestring campaign, check out his website.) He and others successfully pushed for an upcoming Miami Beach vote to decriminalize pot on the island. It's a shame that Platshorn lost nearly 30 years of his life for selling a natural and harmless plant. But if he succeeds, such an injustice won't happen again.
Your abuelita knew about Genesis Rodríguez long before you knew about her. The Miami-born-and-raised daughter of Venezuelan heartthrob singer José Luis "El Puma" Rodríguez, Genesis has enjoyed an acting career that had its, um, genesis in hammy telenovelas. Think shows such as Dame Chocolate, Prisionera, and Doña Bárbara, in which the male characters are all named Fernando and wear eye patches but not shirts. If we were her, we would have complacently collected the six-figure paychecks for the Spanish-language work until inevitably being cast as creaky old Griselda, the evil and possibly psychic great-aunt. Instead, Rodríguez left home for Los Angeles to try to make it as a mainstream American actress. Her perfect segue came in the form of the love interest in Casa de Mi Padre, Will Ferrell's absurdist passion project in which the world's pastiest man plays the lead in a telenovela spoof filmed entirely in Spanish. Since then, the Hollywood roles have been rolling in: including in the Cameron Diaz romantic comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting and the Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback vehicle The Last Stand, and as the costar of Hours, an indie flick set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Of course, the 24-year-old's quick stardom has nothing to do with her looks. She's absolutely hideous. Google her if you don't believe us.
Like a demonic version of Santa Claus, Warren Sapp tore around offensive tackles to deliver packages of hurt to opposing quarterbacks for 13 seasons in the NFL. But long before he was one of the most feared men in the pros, he was a football phenom from a shack in Plymouth, Florida. As a linebacker for Apopka High School, Sapp set records for sacks, tackles, and — bizarrely — the longest field goal in school history. He joined the Miami Hurricanes in their early-'90s heyday and quickly earned a reputation as one of the nation's best defensive tackles. He was picked 12th in the 1995 NFL draft and signed a $36 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Sapp's stellar career was punctuated by scandal. In 2002, he threw a cheap shot that sent an opposing player to the hospital. The same year, he strangely began skipping around opponents before games. When he was fined $50,000 for it, he called the NFL a "slave system." Yet the self-styled "QB Killa" still went on to win the 2003 Super Bowl. He officially crossed over to the dark side a year later when he joined Al Davis's evil Oakland Raiders. Even Sapp's retirement in 2008 didn't stem the flow of bad news. In 2010, he was arrested in South Beach on domestic violence charges (which were eventually dropped). The Sapp really hit the fan a year later when PNC Bank won a nearly $1 million court decision against the Pro-Bowler for a failed real estate project. This March, Sapp — who made $77 million in the NFL — declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Court records revealed he had just $826.04 in his checking account and $339.31 in savings. His debts, meanwhile, totaled $6.7 million, including $75,000 a month to his ex-wife and four other women with whom he's had kids. The motor-mouth Sapp has only made things worse for himself since filing for bankruptcy. He recently fingered fellow footballer Jeremy Shockey as the "snitch" who brought down the New Orleans Saints in a bounty system scandal. Shockey has demanded an apology and a retraction. Sapp, meanwhile, hasn't appeared on the NFL Network since his remarks. It seems that after a career spent crushing quarterbacks, in the end it's Sapp who has been blindsided.
Miami newest major-label rap act, recent Atlantic Records signee Brianna Perry (formerly known as Lil Brianna) made her recorded debut on Trina's "Kandi" a decade ago when she was just 9 years old. Back then, she was a girlie Lil Bow Wow to Trina's Snoop, a precocious kid rhyming bubblegum raps over New Edition's "Candy Girl." Unsurprisingly, for someone who was rolling with the Diamond Princess while in the third grade, today Brianna has a potty mouth and feisty attitude to match that of the 305's best-known female MC. Taking on the nickname YRB, or "Young Rich Bandit," Perry had her breakthrough last year with "Marilyn Monroe," likening herself to the late blond bombshell with the memorable refrain, "Marilyn... Monroe... Arrogant... I know." When XXL magazine neglected to include her in its annual hip-hop "Freshman Class" earlier this year, she responded by burning a copy of the issue in a video for the song "Dear Hip Hop." Flagrantly defiling hip-hop's most influential publication might seem like a big bridge for a freshman to burn, but she's since been praised and spotlighted in no less a prestigious outlet than the New York Times.
As her mother suffered a painful, prolonged death from Alzheimer's, longtime Miami-Dade politician Larcenia Bullard began researching alternative treatments that might help. What she learned would forever change the legacy of a moderate Democrat's whiling away her final term in the state's Republican-dominated Senate. The more Bullard read, the more she became convinced that a simple plant, grown organically and without any complex drug company patents, could offer real relief to her mother. Problem was, that plant was pot, and in Florida at least, the medical marijuana movement has as much momentum as Rick Scott's re-election campaign. (That's zero, folks.) So Bullard, a former school principal, spent her final months in Tally sponsoring a medical marijuana bill, giving the Florida House and Senate matching proposals for the first time in decades. Sure, the bills failed. But seeing someone such as Bullard suddenly become the face of a saner marijuana policy did wonders for the movement's image. If Larcenia can embrace pot legalization, why can't you?
For years, Ozzie Guillen has gotten away with saying drivel simply because he reminds everyone of their crazy uncle who made everyone laugh until he drank himself to death in his trailer. He has called journalists homophobic names, labeled Sean Penn a Chávez-loving loser, and even dubbed himself the MLB version of Charlie Sheen, "minus the drugs and the prostitutes." But when Guillen took over as manager of the Miami Marlins this winter, he seriously overestimated the tolerance of his team's target audience: baseball-loving Cuban-Americans. Just a few days after opening day, when the Marlins were supposed to be basking in baseball glory, Time magazine published an interview in which Guillen said, "I love Fidel Castro... I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, yet that motherf***er is still there." The fallout was quicker and nastier than Guillen's barbed tongue. Hundreds of mostly Cuban protesters swarmed the Marlins' brand-new stadium in Little Havana. Sponsors threatened to boycott. Guillen promptly apologized, but the ball club suspended him for five games anyway. The controversy has soured what promised to be a sweet relationship between our bizarre city and its boisterous new manager. Polls from late April showed that only 7 percent of Floridians liked Guillen, putting him slightly ahead of Fidel Castro himself (4 percent). A recent winning streak, however, has lifted the loudmouthed manager's likability once again — at least until the next time he endorses El Comandante.
A few years ago, local real estate agent Richard Couto adopted a Rambo-esque nickname: "Kudo." He began driving his Range Rover into what's known as the C-9 Basin, an unincorporated area of Northwest Miami-Dade County notorious for unlicensed slaughterhouses and a horse meat black market. He filmed undercover video of animals being slaughtered. He broke into the farms at night and catalogued their inventory, and once even stole a doomed baby pig he renamed "Oreo." He carried two cocked and loaded handguns and wore a flak jacket. He was doing what local cops and politicians — who by all accounts knew about the illegal slaughterhouses — were too apathetic or corrupt to tackle themselves. Kudo has been called crazy, but he's really just brave and effective. Through compiling a huge amount of undeniable evidence, he bypassed local police departments and went to state attorneys, who sparked a raid that dismantled the entire C-9 Basin. Now cops have no choice but to work with him. His horse slaughter investigations have led to stronger laws statewide. His undercover videos of hogs and cows being brutally slaughtered have netted felony prosecutions. These days, Couto has ditched the Range Rover for a more utilitarian pickup truck, tricked out with SWAT-level surveillance and commando gear. He's Bruce Wayne for South Florida's hoofed citizenry.
Getting a museum named in your honor? Apparently that just takes a big check. (Ask Jorge Perez.) Turning your own private art collection into an institution that rivals those of many museums? That takes true cultural power. Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz met in Havana, Cuba, as teenagers and have been together ever since (something quite powerful in its own right). Now, as citizens of modern-day Miami, they've become known as some of the most important art collectors in not only the city but also the nation. For years, the pair opened their home to art lovers, but in 2009 they launched the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, a publicly accessible exhibition space in the Design District that now houses their huge stash of modern art. Though the collection is their calling card, the couple's work in Miami extends beyond just the creative. Carlos is a senior trustee of the University of Miami, as well as chairman of the board of CC1 Companies, Inc., a beverage distributor. Rosa is director and treasurer of the same company.
Shows like Mad Men and Magic City help us realize that some aspects of life were better back in the day. Miami's press flack extraordinaire, Lisa Palley, does the same. She doesn't rely solely on emailing press releases en masse to everyone on her contact list; Palley actually addresses her emails to the individuals with whom she is trying to connect (usually with a friendly little note). And unlike most public relations personnel who seem to communicate via email alone, Palley also does the unthinkable — she picks up the phone and calls. That personal touch might be why she is the official public relations maven for Miami Book Fair International and the Knight Arts Foundation. She also works with Book & Books and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and has worked with the Miami International Film Festival, the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, the Human Rights Ordinance Campaign (SAVE Dade), Pride Miami Beach, and Planned Parenthood. The dame's got class — and it shows in the way she does her job.
We like our city's characters to be as cartoonish as possible. We enjoy pretending that we live in a Marvel Comics universe. Turn to this year's winner for Best Citizen, and you'll find a gun-toting, rich playboy who stalks nefarious animal abusers. How Gotham-esque is that? So God bless the Miami Marlins front office for being as gleefully villainous as possible. The perennially crappy baseball team fleeced the citizenry for a Little Havana stadium that will cost taxpayers more than $2 billion with interest. Owner Jeffrey Loria (AKA the Penguin) and president David Samson (AKA Pinky) spent roughly $200 million of their ill-gotten gains on top free agents. All these cretins had to do was laugh maniacally in private and remember to wait 30 minutes after caviar before swimming through their Brickell tower full of gold coins. Instead, Napoleonic nincompoop Samson took to a March business luncheon to brag about the royal stadium heist. According to a Miami Today reporter in attendance, Samson boasted that his money would flood his skybox even if the stands remained typically empty. He also took potshots at billionaire activist Norman Braman — another comic-book-worthy character who fought the stadium effort — and the admittedly dubious smarts of local politicians. Samson claimed he had been misquoted, but video footage confirmed most of Miami Today's account. Quite Two-Face of him, don't you agree? Here's hoping Loria soon starts menacingly stroking a white cat during interviews.