It was another lesson in imprudence, taught in this tortuous miasma of hucksters and schemers called South Florida. And everything seemed so legitimate.
Here were two smooth-talking guys wielding the name of Mickey Rourke like a magic wand, putting in a last-minute order for a pair of boxing trunks and 28 handmade satin jackets to decorate the actor and his entourage for Rourke's second pro boxing match at the Miami Beach Convention Center. White quilted jackets with mango-color lining and red metallic snaps, decorated with vibrant green shamrocks outlined in Sunkist orange and dangling, mango-color boxing gloves with mulberry laces. Not to mention the actor's South Beach handle, "Marielito," sewn across the back in arresting ruby glint with a silver outline. And on Rourke's jacket only, a zippered hood embroidered with a band of diamonds in ruby, golden poppy, and aquamarine.
The pair first approached Paul Rotunno, a production manager for a garment manufacturer, about four weeks before Rourke's hyperhyped April 25 fight. Introducing themselves as Maurice and Zasha, they said they had sketches for the clothing, but nothing else. "They said, `We need it in a week,'" remembers Rotunno, who has worked in Miami's fashion industry for four years. "With such a tight time schedule, they had nowhere to go. So I went to my Rolodex and started calling out numbers to them: where to buy material, where to find the pattern makers, where to find embroiderers. I said, `Just use my name and I'm sure they'll help you out.'
"I was opening doors like this because they were talking about making thousands of these. They were talking about different fights around the world and having some made as promotional items."
One business willing to undertake the rush job was Rainbow Monogram, a twelve-year-old embroidery firm operating out of a warehouse in Little Haiti. Robert Hoffman, owner of the company, remembers the two men well: "One said his name was Zasha Mirando, a tall distinguished-looking guy, from India, maybe. Beautiful long hair to his shoulders with a gray streak in it. The other said his name was Maurice - I didn't know the last name - a sleazy-looking Arab-type guy with three earrings in one ear."
Hoffman says Mirando guaranteed that his company, Emporio America Inc., would handle the monetary details. "They were saying they were going to have, like, seven or eight fights around the country and were talking about a whole line of embroidered clothing," remembers Hoffman. "It was going to be big, big stuff. That was the story they gave me."
Two weeks before the fight, the man Hoffman knew only as Maurice gave him a $500 cash deposit, handed him the cut material for the clothes, and put him to work. The embroiderer created about fifteen computer programs, called "tapes," that would command the embroidery machine to make patterns for the various designs. He pulled two all-nighters to complete the tapes; four employees worked around-the-clock for two days to stitch the designs onto the material. Says Hoffman: "I can't tell you how it hurt my normal business. I didn't do anyone's tapes for a solid week. It was only his stuff."
With only two days to spare, Hoffman and his weary crew finished the embroidery. The bill for materials and labor: $10,000, of which $2500 had already been paid. Maurice gave Hoffman a check for all but $1000 of the balance, with instructions not to cash it and a promise he'd return the following Monday with cash. At the same time, he showed the embroiderer his driver's license, which bore the name "Youcef Ihaddadem," Hoffman noted. "He said he used Maurice because no one could pronounce his real name."
Ihaddadem (a.k.a. Maurice) hurried the embroidered fabric to Jorca Manufacturing in Hialeah, which had agreed to sew the pieces together. "They came to me Thursday morning and said they needed it by Friday because the fight was on Saturday," recalls Jorca president Aurelio Cachon, who initially doubted he'd have enough time to complete the job. "They said, `It's no problem with the money. Put the people to work. It don't matter how many hours.' I trust these people because a friend of mine recommended them. I did it because Paul [Rotunno] sent them to me."
Cachon, in business in Miami since 1970, the year he emigrated from his native Cuba via Spain, says he dealt only with Ihaddadem, whom he knew as "Maurice." "He told me that if I didn't have tickets for the fight, Mickey was going to get tickets for everyone," says Cachon, who was also seduced by promises of an order for "thousands of jackets for the fight in Japan."
It took twenty people all day Thursday and half of Friday, hunched over sewing machines, to construct the jackets and the pair of trunks. When "Maurice" came to retrieve the outfits, he told Cachon he would return Monday to pay the $1790 bill. "You know, I trust the guy," the tailor says. "It was for Mickey Rourke. They were using his name."
Rourke leaped into the ring as planned, wearing his spectacular jacket and trunks; and, as reported in these pages, he received a severe bludgeoning at the ferocious hands of journeyman Francisco Harris. (The fight, inexplicably, was scored a draw.) Rourke was paid; those who had adorned him were not.
When Ihaddadem failed to show up at Rainbow Monogram the Monday after the fight, Hoffman tried unsuccessfully to cash the $6500 check. Then he tried, with more success, to reach Ihaddadem. For the next three weeks, the two men spoke repeatedly by phone. "Then I spoke with him on a Thursday night, and he said, `I got the cash. I'll be over in ten minutes. I'm on my way,'" recalls Hoffman. "That's the last I ever heard from him." The next day, the phones at two offices Ihaddadem was using - one was a suite in The Grand at 1717 N. Bayshore Drive, the other a shop at 12603 NE Seventh Avenue in North Miami - had been disconnected.
On May 27, after speaking by phone several times with the man he knew only as "Maurice," a very patient Aurelio Cachon finally received a check for $1790, drawn on the Emporio America account. Written on it were the words: "Cancel if cashed before June 15." Cachon waited. On June 16, when he tried to cash the check, Cachon learned the Emporio account was empty, the company's phone lines disconnected.
As for Paul Rotunno, who supervised the cutting of the material and coordinated the entire endeavor, he never received cash or a check for his work. He estimates the expense for cutting the material and "doing most of the legwork" at $1300. But the effort, he says, cost him much more in honor and reputation. "No one does this type of work like that, unless it's for someone special," says a wounded Rotunno, his voice a mixture of anger, regret, and embarrassment. "The only way I got involved in it is because I like Rourke as an actor. This kind of thing makes you very cynical. I won't do anything like this again, no matter who it is. I don't care if the Pope walks in here. Personally, I'd like to get my hands on Maurice and choke him to death."
Rotunno and his local colleagues aren't the only people who have a bone to pick - or break - with Ihaddadem and Mirando. When the two men closed up shop unexpectedly earlier this month, they left behind a trail of unpaid bills, bad checks, unfilled invoices, and angry creditors.
William Diaz of Computer Signs & Graphics in North Miami says he's owed $1300 for work he did in mid-May for Ihaddadem, whom he knew as Maurice Bendali, and Mirando, whom he knew as Bernard Dumas. "They called us up and said they needed signage done for their shop on NE Seventh Avenue," Diaz says. The men were apparently building a showroom for their new line of denim wear, Fly Jeans. "I'm talking about money," Diaz remembers of his visits to the showroom-in-progress, "and they say, `Don't worry about it. We have millions all over the place.' Everybody was there working. They had video cameras put in, carpets being laid, plants being delivered, windows being painted." Diaz designed the company's black-and-white logo, plastered in decals across the shop window, and constructed "Fly Jeans" signs for the parking lot.
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Janet Pytowski, owner of Vidcat Video in New York City, was contacted last month by Mirando/Dumas, who commissioned her to produce three short videos for his denim business. She sent the videos on June 1, with an invoice for $1200. When she later called the toll-free number she had been given, Pytowski discovered the phone had been disconnected. The 30-day purchase order was to expire this past Sunday, but late last week Pytowski wasn't optimistic she'd see any money. "We were scammed," she declared. "And I'm a New Yorker and I'm not supposed to get scammed."
Lenore Gordon, who owns the North Miami building where the Fly Jeans office was located, says the tenants "weren't in there a month when we found out they were doing all these crazy things." Her renters, whom Gordon knew as Maurice Y. Bendali and Bernard Dumas, installed new phone lines in the office without her permission. The landlady says she's filed eviction papers and has been left with a "terribly large" phone bill, the headaches brought on by a constant parade of betrayed creditors, and an office full of empty electronics boxes and leather samples. Says Gordon: "I still don't know what the game was, because I never saw any jeans."
But a few nettlesome IOU's may not be all Messrs. Bendali/Ihaddadem and Mirando/Dumas have to contend with. By late last week, the Miami Police Department, the Metro-Dade Police Department, and the Dade State Attorney's Office had all received fraud complaints regarding the two elusive gentlemen.
As for Mickey Rourke, he was in Japan last week preparing for his third professional bout and couldn't be reached for comment. At press time it was unclear what he would be wearing into the ring.