Last week, Riptide received a mysterious complaint from a Brazilian reader who had an intriguing allegation: Located in 2800 Biscayne Boulevard -- the building that, until last year, housed Miami New Times office -- a company called Leader Perfume was ripping off South American customers, he claimed.
We decided to investigate -- and quickly ended up lost down a lavender-scented rabbit hole.
Here's the complaint we got from a reader named Anderson in Bertioga, São Paulo:
"I made a purchase over the Internet at www.liderperfume.com.br," he wrote. (Clicking on an English language icon redirects you to leaderperfume.com). "It is located at 2800 Biscayne Blvd Miami, FL 33137 - USA, which by coincidence is the same (as) your newspaper. I ask you please to (expose) it, because this company is applying blows, both here in Brazil and other countries."
New Times moved offices more than a year ago, but we were still curious about the perfume peddler. We weren't sure, however, what "applying blows" meant.
"Here in Brazil it is called fraud," Anderson explained when we followed up. "I found an Internet site that sells perfumes much cheaper than the normal market price. I was so glad I did not try to know about the credibility of it. After a week of waiting had only received an email order confirmation, sent 3 emails and no response, I started to get worried."
Anderson had been ripped off, he claims. He provided New Times with receipts and emails from the company showing his purchase. He soon found a website with dozens of other Brazilians complaining about Leader Perfume. They all told similar stories: they had paid hundreds of dollars for Calvin Klein, Bvlgari, Hugo Boss and Georgio Armani, only to never receive the goods.
We couldn't find a physical address on Leader Perfume's website, so we called the company that manages 2800 Biscayne Boulevard. A spokeswoman told us that not only was there no business called Leader Perfume in the building, there wasn't any company selling perfume. Period.
But when we drove down to the building and asked a guy at the front desk, he said, "Oh yeah, the French guy," and led us up to suite 300.
The name on the door was Samda LLC, an Internet marketing company. Inside, however, were shelves of expensive perfume bottles, stacks of cardboard shipping boxes, and two totally befuddled women.
One of them, Maria Cabrera, said she was surprised to hear that people were pissed off at Leader Perfume.
"That's weird. Maybe they didn't send the email well..." she said with a nervous shrug. "We answer every one."
Cabrera said that the owner was in Paris. She handed us a post-it with Dan Ghouzi's Hotmail account on it.
The email didn't work, but we found a cell phone number for Ghouzi. Public records show him last living at the Setai on South Beach. He answered from France.
"Wow, you are sure that it's not a competitor who wants to damage to us?" he said when we told him about the scores of complaints against his company online. "With any company or store there are people who are going to complain. When an item is lost in shipping or they are not going to receive it on time, we resend it. If they don't receive it the second time, we refund it."
Ghouzi explained that Samda LLC and Leader Perfume are the same company (two of the half dozen Florida firms records show Ghouzi involved in), and said he had permission to sling scents from the tiny Biscayne office. He also explained his business model: sell a shit-load of perfume.
"We are a small company," he said. "We try to sell 10 percent lower than everybody else, but that's a small profit margin. That means we have to sell a lot of perfume." He wouldn't say how many customers Leader Perfume has, but said it is in the thousands.
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"We try to satisfy everyone," he said. For every complaint, there were tens -- perhaps hundreds -- of happy customers, he assured us. Then he told us to send him any more "little questions" we might have and gave us his real email address.
That one didn't work, either.