Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam's South Florida Adventure
In the waning afternoon light, the five-foot-nine blond with Tina Turner lips and Pamela Anderson breasts opened the doorway of her cramped apartment on Boca Place Drive and began to scream.
Standing there beneath the palm trees in the sprawling parking lot was a darkly handsome man with thick, meaty hands named David Fioravanti. Behind the blond, Fioravanti saw a 7-year-old blond girl appear.
"Daddy?" she said.
Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam's South Florida Adventure
But before Fioravanti could grab her, the woman went apoplectic. "Tell me your father beats you!" shrieked the 31-year-old Michelle Braun. "Does he beat you? Tell me he beats you!"
Then Braun reached for the nearest weapon: a wooden spoon. "I am going to take you to court, motherfucker!" she shrilled, weeping and hysterical, running after her ex-husband and waving the spoon. "I'm going to win custody!"
As told in court records, this is the hitherto-untold epilogue to the story of the California madam who replaced Heidi Fleiss and once ensured that Tiger Woods, Mickey Rourke, and Charlie Sheen got laid. For more than four years, her backroom antics roiled Hollywood. She schmoozed Turkish oligarchs, socialized with stars, and netted fawning features in Details and Rolling Stone until her 2009 federal conviction for transporting prostitutes.
According to court records and police reports, her life has devolved into a series of bounced checks, unemployment, stocks schemes, alleged drug abuse, and a bitter custody battle culminating in a lawsuit she filed in Palm Beach court last month against Fioravanti. Hers is the story of a meteoric flash rising from the desert sands of Bakersfield, California, and shooting overseas before crashing back to Earth and burning out in Boca Raton.
Since her arrival here, the local casualties have been legion: a battered Rolls-Royce, a stiffed furniture store, bewildered investors, and a pair of daughters she's taken along on her bizarre journey. "All of the problems are related to my ex-husband," the now-35-year-old explains to New Times in a baritone timbre. "I'm protective of my kids; I'm a mother."
Long before she met Fioravanti, while growing up as a privileged Jewish kid in oil-rich Bakersfield, California, she tooled around in a purple Chevy truck emblazoned with pink flames. In the 1990s, with an impossibly tall and voluptuous figure, she headed west to Los Angeles, where she met her future husband, then a young band manager with sharp, masculine features. They plunged into the glitzy nightlife and didn't look back. "When I first met my wife," Fioravanti recalled, "she was very different than she is now."
Amid the red carpets and velvet, Braun discovered a particular skill. "It was the time of the dot-com explosion," says friend Danno Portley-Hanks, a Los Angeles private investigator. "All of these guys who'd never been with a beautiful woman in their life could all of a sudden go out there and bang whomever they wanted. One night, this dweeby dot-com millionaire told Braun he wanted to party with the [Playboy] Playmate of the Year.
"He said, 'I'll pay $100,000 to spend an evening with one.' So Michelle calls a Playmate she knows and says there's a guy who'll pay $50,000 to spend an evening with you." The girl says sure. So Braun goes back to the dot-com suit, Portley-Hanks remembers. "She tells him, 'She'll do it, but only for a quarter million.' And he pays it. In a single fucking night, she made $200,000."
Before age 24, Braun assumed the identity of Nici — leader of a clandestine cadre of high-end prostitutes, porn stars, and playmates called "Nici's Girls." The business model was simple. The hotter the women, the richer the men.
And in an industry that hinges on discretion, Braun was all bombast. First she spilled the goods on Sheen. "What did he want?" she told Vanity Fair. "Two tits, a hole, and a heartbeat." Next was Tiger Woods. "Tiger was just a horndog," Braun said.
Braun soon built five houses worth $18 million. But there were problems. In 2000 and again in 2002, Braun gave birth to a girl, whom she later told she was a travel agent. Then she allotted Fioravanti a $250,000 "nanny salary" and paid for him to open two Johnny Rockets restaurants in Palm Beach Gardens and Daytona Beach, according to her recent lawsuit. (Parries Fioravanti: "That's 100 percent false.")
In 2006, they divorced in Broward County. In the fallout, there were flings with disc jockeys and trust-fund kids and high-value houses in Boca Raton from Aurelia Street to Northway Circle. In October 2007, the FBI stormed her two-story, $825,000 home on Aurelia and found cocaine and marijuana in her bedroom. "It's not mine," said a quivering Braun, who was later charged with felony possession. (The charge was dropped in 2009.) "I hang out with the wrong people."
A year afterward, she crashed a boyfriend's 2004 Rolls-Royce Phantom at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and dialed the Bentley Specialist, a shop on Second Avenue in Boca, which repaired the sedan for $11,330. Braun showed up days later and handed them a check — which turned out to be worthless, according to a police report. Grand-theft charges were later dropped because prosecutors couldn't show criminal intent. "Still, she never paid me back," says the shop's owner, Marcus Turek. "Apparently the money had been in her account, but she wouldn't pay me. I got stiffed for $10,000."
It got worse. One April afternoon in 2009, she swept into a Chase Bank in Boca and deposited a check for $3,000, which police say was returned for "insufficient funds." She also failed to pay $550 to American Relocation Consultants, an Oakland Park company that moved and stored her belongings, according to court filings. And she sued to recover a half-million dollars' worth of possessions including Jesse of Italy Regolo furniture and an Olivia de Berardinis silk stocking lithograph — "priceless" because "it was a gift from Charlie Sheen," according to court records.
There were more furniture problems. According to a Palm Beach County lawsuit, she stiffed Sklar Furnishings of Boca Raton on a $16,553 bill. She tried to pay it with her American Express card, but the plastic was declined. (A default judgment was entered against Braun in late 2011.) "We don't deal with Ms. Braun anymore for obvious reasons," says a Sklar spokesperson who declined to give her name.
And because no tale of South Florida sleaze is complete without a Scott Rothstein cameo, his firm dispatched lawyer Marc Nurik to defend Braun when she was charged in federal court with transporting a person across state lines to perpetuate "acts of prostitution" and profiting $15,000 from the transaction.
Braun went down without a fight, pleading guilty and forfeiting her celebrity contacts. She was sentenced to six months of house arrest in Boca Raton, where, according to court filings, her life soon imploded.
Her ex-husband launched a legal assault to gain custody of their daughters. "I have personal knowledge that she abused illegal drugs on numerous occasions including cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, and whip-its," he said in a December 2009 affidavit. The madam had whip-its on her bedside table, marijuana in the fridge, and vaporizers and glass pipes on the kitchen table, he alleged. One night that August, he said, one of his daughters had called him "crying hysterically," saying Braun had "held her down and choked her." The court granted Fioravanti full custody, citing Braun's "lack of fitness" as a mother.
Worse yet, all of Braun's cash and possession were gone. In a 2010 financial statement, she said she was flat broke, unemployed, and $740,000 in debt.
Fioravanti was in similar shape. The recession had pummeled and ultimately killed his restaurants, he told New Times. He couldn't find work until 2012, when he snagged a job in Wilmington, North Carolina. By then, Braun had seemingly stabilized and won joint custody.
But, Fioravanti says, that stability was an illusion. Without warning, Braun took the kids to her mother's house in Bakersfield earlier this year, where court records show they had a difficult time in school — and she ignored Fioravanti's petition to relocate them to Wilmington. "She moves them all around California like pawns in some sort of sick game," Fioravanti said.
The kids weren't long for California. Braun and her children were soon hauled back to South Florida. In late March, the madam was again sentenced to house arrest for operating a Fort Lauderdale scam that sold nonexistent stocks, bringing the total number of criminal convictions to three. Fioravanti has no criminal record in Florida.
Just a few weeks ago, on behalf of her daughters, Braun sued Fioravanti in state court, accusing him of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. She claimed his incompetency had hastened the restaurants' collapse and cheated the children out of money.
When New Times informed Fioravanti that his own daughters were suing him, he couldn't believe it. "It's complete nonsense," he said. "She's hurting for money. My kids are my whole world; they always have been. This is despicable. But I'm not going to lower myself to making negative comments. You don't throw stones at a glass house."
Braun is similarly reticent. Reached on her cell phone for comment, she said only, "Do not call me again, seriously. Don't call me again."
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