When Juan Carlos Diaz left Gold's Gym in a snit on January 11, hustled out by Emilio Estefan's bodyguard Tony Almeida, the frustrated actor/singer/escort/masseur made the rounds of local media outlets. The February 2 issue of Spanish-language gossip weekly TVyNovelas reports that a "very agitated" Diaz showed up to vent at their offices around 4:00 that afternoon -- two days before filing restraining orders against the music mogul he claims fondled him and the bodyguard he claims threatened him. (A temporary restraining order was denied.) Diaz did not, however, stop in at our illustrious publication, despite the fact that we have been known on occasion to print a critical word or two about the godfather of Latin pop. Perhaps he didn't tell his tale to us because we might have exposed his story to harsh scrutiny. Or maybe he didn't stop by because, as of May 2000, he was banned from New Times by the classified advertising department for bad debt and worse behavior. Or just maybe he didn't come to us because he didn't wish to reveal his long standing as a regular New Times adult-entertainment advertiser. Diaz may have made his money from the "hot secret desires" catered to in our back pages, but he had his sights set on the rewards of sating those desires as a star of studio and screen.
At the January 14 press conference where Diaz accused entrepreneur Estefan of unwanted advances, he denied ever placing an ad in New Times. But the Venezuelan-born Diaz had indeed been a regular client in our classified section since August 1994. Over the years he came to know most of the ad reps. His visits to 2800 Biscayne Blvd. grew more frequent after he bounced a series of checks in 1998, leading the paper to require all future payments in cash. "He was an adult client," recalls one classified rep, "just a regular face that we would see every week." A supervisor, who remembers joshing with Diaz from time to time in the lobby, clarifies: "Basically, he's an escort."
At first Diaz advertised as a masseuse. In one innuendo-laden ad, he offered "total massage for total release" -- 24 hours a day -- "whatever massage you want is the massage you get!" Another ad suggests Diaz was working with others: "Total Massage/Light Touch Full Body Rub/By females or males/Hotel - Home/7 days a week...Now Hiring." Since 1994 New Times has imposed ever stricter rules about what kinds of ads can run in the "Mind/Body/Spirit" section. Currently ads purveying physical contact can only be placed by clients who hold a valid massage license from the State of Florida. Diaz was able to be more explicit in the "Adult Entertainment" section. "Hot muscular male model for all types," touted one ad. "Call Tony." As with his massage services, Diaz seems to have hired and placed other escorts as well: "Ecstasy Models/Females and Males/All Different Types Available/Call & Choose/Now Hiring."
In February 2000 Diaz submitted to the New Times office two nude photographs of himself for an advertisement that would run in New Times Los Angeles. A much bulkier, healthier-looking Diaz appears in the photos, looking almost nothing like the haggard, hollow-cheeked man currently accusing Estefan. Softened by computer-generated shadow, a classically posed Diaz à la Michelangelo's David is balanced by a second, more contemporary view of Diaz's jaw line and torso. In the beefcake shot, an open white shirt is draped over the figure's broad shoulders, bulging pecs, and sculpted abs. His hands, coyly crossed, ever so slightly reveal the top of his package. Assuming the romantic-sounding name Giovanni, Diaz peddled himself to Angelenos as "Hot, masculine, BISEXUAL, Very Discreet."
Diaz's aspirations went beyond the escort industry. In 1998 he landed the lead role of Hector Santos in the independent film Escape from Cuba and won a Crystal Reel Award from the Florida Motion Picture Association in Orlando for Best Actor. Award notwithstanding, the abysmal production never scored commercial release. Only in the favorable climate created by the Cuban-exile mobilization to keep Elian Gonzalez in the United States did this preposterous piece of propaganda find its way into Miami's Hispanic Film Festival.
In April 2000 Diaz made an embarrassing bid for the spotlight in front of the home of the young castaway's Miami relatives. After Gloria Estefan, Jon Secada, and other local luminaries offered their heartfelt support from the Little Havana podium, the Venezuelan actor took the microphone to plug his film. "Let Elian stay in the United States," implored Diaz, as a newscaster tried to take the microphone away from him, "and make sure you go see the movie!"
Diaz hired a bottom-feeder publicist, who called New Times pitching a story. Taking no chances on an indifferent press, the aspiring actor placed his own ad in this paper's movie section. Just under a quarter page in size, the ad reproduces the Escape from Cuba poster alongside a photo of a fully clothed Diaz, above the announcement of his "special appearance" at the Tower Theater screening. An oversight allowed the ad to run before Diaz had actually paid for it. For weeks afterward New Times attempted to collect. Unable to place further ads until his balance was cleared, Diaz grew angry. "You're a fucking bitch," he told more than one ad rep, growing so hostile during one call that the department contacted police. "We decided he's not running in our paper," recounts a supervisor.
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Only when Primer Impacto, a Spanish-language investigative news program, traced Diaz's cellular number to a recent New Times ad for an escort named Mario did the classified staff realize the banned client had continued to place ads through third parties. When asked to produce further documentation of his identity, the client who had been placing the Mario ad for at least six months withdrew the account. "It's hard to keep track of these people who pay cash and use cell phones," a classified rep points out.
According to a New Times advertising manager, Diaz owes the paper $300. Publisher Michael Cohen adds, "We still want our money."
So does Emilio Estefan, Jr., who has sued Diaz for defamation. He's seeking one million dollars in damages. "I never touched him in my life," Estefan claimed at his own press conference on January 31. Instead the mogul said that for two years, "he followed me and drove me crazy with wanting to be a singer. Every day he would say, I want to record a disc; I want to record a disc.'" But the star-maker admits such persistence did not particularly distinguish Diaz from other Estefan wannabes. "I hear that all the time."
Judging from our back pages, it's easy enough to sell yourself as someone people can touch. With the come-hither images of Shalim, Shakira, Thalia, and even the sainted seductress Gloria, Estefan's enterprise stokes an even hotter desire for what can never be sated: the desire for what can never be touched.