When Shock nightclub opened on South Beach last November, visitors were treated to quite a show: women in can-can costumes brought customers flaming drinks. Leggy models reclined on kinky red leather couches listening to the club's cutting-edge sound system. Shock's founder, Julien Manival, bragged that he wanted his patrons' heads to spin for days from all the special effects.
Three months later, however, the only heads now spinning belong to Manival's ex-employees. When Shock abruptly shut down after only two weeks, the Frenchman jetted back across the Atlantic, leaving behind him up to $100,000 in outstanding debts.
"He wanted to be the hottest club on South Beach," says local artist Victor-Hugo Vaca Jr., who claims Manival still owes him $20,000 for a mural. "But what is going on there right now is fraud."
The Miami Beach club scene has long been notorious for shady establishments, shysters, and SOBs. But Manival came across as a smooth gentleman with a Rolex watch and a beguiling accent. Even SoBe's biggest names didn't flinch when he proposed opening up a club where '90s hot spot Liquid once stood on Washington Avenue near Española Way.
"He talked a good game," says Nick D'Annunzio from TARA Ink., a public relations firm Manival hired to promote Shock. "Julien made it seem like he came from money and had created a name for himself in southern France," he adds. "He really seemed like a big deal."
Instead, Manival stopped paying TARA Ink. after the first month, breaking a $16,250 contract but promising to settle-up as soon as he renewed his visa back in France. He hasn't returned yet. D'Annunzio says he's since tried billing Manival's credit card but it has been rejected repeatedly. "I don't think we're ever going to get paid," he laments.
Many of Manival's associates knew the club was in trouble long before it opened. Arturo Vargas, an investor in LUX - the club upstairs from Shock - reluctantly agreed to loan the project $44,000 to buy liquor. But when he stopped by shortly before the opening, he realized Manival had no idea what he was doing. "Everything was so disorganized," he remembers. "He bit off more than he could chew."
Reached in France, Manival claims he's the sucker, losing $300,000 of his money when the building's owners cut-off his credit and closed the club without warning.
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"The owner is the stealer because he stole my credit card and changed the lock with all my materials inside," he says in halting English. "It wasn't my fault." Manival says he still plans to pay his debts to TARA Ink. and others, and still wants to make it in South Beach. But he claims he already paid Hugo $3,000 -- more than enough considering his mural was two weeks late.
Vaca Jr. says his work was delivered on time and Manival's check for $2,662 bounced.
The painter says his fellow artists and entertainment workers are Manival's real victims. "I've had people tell me they are going to commit suicide over this," Vaca Jr. says. "If this guy keeps pulling this kind of stuff in South Beach, somebody is going to reach the end of their rope."