The Jockey Club's Wild Ride
Walter Troutman's two-story penthouse atop the original Jockey Club high-rise, which he designed specifically for himself when he built the place in 1968, is anachronistically opulent, with its spiral staircases, panoramic view of the Intracoastal, and indoor pool on the upper level. Still, with all the plaques, magazine covers, snapshots, and photo collages grinning down from its walls, the place also has a museumlike air.
Troutman himself is the dominant character in the decor, albeit as a younger version of the Georgia-born investor: a tall, dashing, auburn-haired playboy with a winning smile, mugging alone or in the company of a galaxy of stars from Jackie Gleason to Don Shula. The Jockey Club's original visionary, seated behind the desk of his modest paneled office on the lower floor of his penthouse, still has brick-red eyebrows and an easy Southern charm, but his white hair attests to the years that have passed since both he and the Jockey Club first appeared on the Miami social scene. (Troutman is vague about his age but seems to remember that he was born in 1921.) The name "Jockey Club" refers to not only the condominium towers, of which there are now three, but also to the once-chic social club facilities: the restaurant, four bars, three swimming pools, fifteen tennis courts, fitness center, marina, and fourteen hotel rooms that later became a separate entity.
"It was a hot club," Troutman says of the good old days at 11111 Biscayne Blvd. "We were jam-packed every night, and we had quite a few thousand members. It was everything we had dreamed of it being."
Though Troutman was the impetus behind building the club, he was not the only dreamer involved in the nascence of the Miami hot spot. Among the original investment group were developer Harper Sibley and an old friend of Sibley from Rochester, New York, Jack Herman.
But it was Troutman whose name, face, and personality came to embody the Jockey Club. "A club like this is a personal situation," he emphasizes. "In other words, you really have to take care of it personally. If you've got one member or umpteen thousand members, they more or less look to you. So from that standpoint it's sort of a fun thing, but it's also a trying thing. All day long you're talking to people. You get tired of people congratulating you," he proffers with a slight smile.
"I can hardly name the celebrities that I didn't have here at one time or the other. And I concentrated on it, highlighting the club with celebrities, with special situations, things that really turned people on. You have to sort of be part of it and have it in your system. If you don't, you don't do too well."
After eating, breathing, walking, and talking the Jockey Club for a decade and a half -- during which he and another of the original partners gradually bought out the others -- Troutman decided it was time to get its business operations out of his system. He remembers selling his stake in the club facilities to his partner in the early Eighties.
After he had abdicated his official position with the club, he was able to look down from his lofty perch on the ownership changes, bankruptcies, and foreclosures that bedeviled the club through the mid- and late Eighties. "The people who were running the club then didn't know how to make it happen," he opines. "They didn't know how to give it the ambiance, the flair. You run into any ex-Jockey Club members now, most of them get into, 'Gee whiz, what a great place this was. What happened?'"
Jack Waxenberg, president of both the Jockey I condominium association and the homeowners' association encompassing all three condo towers, has lived in the building since it opened. He recalls fondly the original incarnation of the club that was just an elevator ride away. "It was like going down to your living room," he recalls. "It always seemed there was someone there who would buy you a drink, or you'd want to buy them a drink. The dining room was excellent. It was a good place to be. In those days, you belonged to the Palm Bay, Turnberry, and here."
Though he sold his shares of the Jockey Club in 1972, Jack Herman still feels a sense of pride about the club in its heyday. "We provided the membership with a way of life that was unparalleled as far as the world was concerned," declares the 81-year-old Herman. "People came from Europe, South America, the main cities in the United States. It was the most prestigious club in the country. It was international in scope." He rattles off a list of luminaries who would see and be seen in the restaurant and bar: Hubert Humphrey, Van Cliburn, Jackie Gleason, Bebe Rebozo, Joe Robbie, Pierre Salinger, Chet Huntley, Eva Gabor.
Jack's wife Bobbie Herman remembers personally taking care of a couple of Australian tennis legends of the Seventies. "Tony Roche and John Newcombe were the wildest, craziest, sweetest guys," coos Bobbie, now 70 years old. "They'd be out drinking all night, then at five in the morning they knew they couldn't play if they didn't eat. So where did they go for their steak-and-eggs Australian breakfast? To Bobbie's door."
Every entrant to the Jockey Club's restaurant, from A-lister to wannabe, had to pass through the same gatekeeper: maitre d' Tino Pareto, a short, trim, energetic emigre from Genoa, Italy. Pareto, who currently runs Tino's Place, an Italian-Peruvian restaurant in Coral Gables, remembers fondly his years at the Jockey Club. "On a weekend night, it was wall-to-wall people," he reminisces in a gentle Italian accent. "We used to do an average of about five, six, seven hundred dinners. Everything was French service. They were coming down from New York, from San Francisco, from New Orleans. Everybody met at the Jockey Club for the weekend. They used to call me from London, from Paris, from Hong Kong and say, 'Such-and-such a day I'll be there, make me a party for 50 people.' It was a different time, a good time, good prestige."
Pareto remembers seeing the departure of Walter Troutman and the other original investors from the operations of the club as a harbinger of bad times; he left in 1982.
His instincts proved keen. The Eighties were indeed a grim decade for the Jockey Club -- for both members and residents. The social club property was sold three times between 1985 and 1989, and a 1989 savings and loan debacle involving some $15 million in bad loans left the operation in the hands of the FDIC. After the Herman family, whose patriarch Jack was among the original owners, bought it from the federal government that year, the old magic didn't return. Even renowned New York City chef Larry Forgione couldn't spark a revival: His fine-dining and open-to-the-public restaurant, called An American Place Waterside at the Jockey Club, lasted only a few months in 1994.
Hoping for a turnaround, the Herman group, headed by Jack's son-in-law Sam Sardinia, sold the club in 1995 to Boca Raton-based Sky Scientific, a mining and development company, but the new owner failed to make its mortgage payments shortly thereafter.
The tribulations of the club itself were intertwined with those of the residential units. Jockey III, the final tower, was completed in 1982, bringing the total number of units to 411. The decline of property values in the area, exacerbated by the financial and operational nightmares plaguing the club, dragged down the value of the condo units and engendered increasing ill will from the residents toward the Hermans. The culmination was a 1996 lawsuit by the three condominium associations against the Hermans' company, Jockey Holdings, Inc., that is still pending -- as is a counterclaim by Jockey Holdings against the condo associations.
Though one of the issues disputed in these suits is that of payment for the upkeep of the club's common areas (i.e., what proportion should be paid by the residents and what proportion by the owners of the restaurant/recreation properties), the residents have other concerns about the consistent failures of the "club" part of the Jockey Club. "It's definitely had a negative impact on the condominium owners," Waxenberg says of the disastrous past two decades. "The apartments are worth 40 to 50 percent of what they were at their peak."
Miami-Dade County property records bear out Waxenberg's bleak assessment. Sixteen owners in the three towers sold their condos in the county's fiscal year 1996-97; all but four got much less for their property than they had paid, and none made a profit. Units that had sold for $250,000 in the Eighties sold for $129,000, $115,000 -- even as low as $61,000.
Considering these dismal trends, the Hermans were eager to unload the property. Membership in the private club had dwindled from some 7000 in the Seventies to a meager 500 last year. The condo associations were cursing and suing. As the club, its owners, and the condo dwellers have aged and memories of swankiness have faded, a procession of white knights has ridden through the automatic gates to rescue a property clearly in need of rescuing. Yet all these chevaliers have had chinks in their armor -- and, in some cases, a good bit of tarnish as well.
Eduardo Jesus Anton is burdened by a world of problems that have nothing to do with the time he spent at the Jockey Club, but as he paces the stark visiting room in downtown Miami's Federal Detention Center, tall and grim-faced in his forest-green jumpsuit, his role in the attempted revival of the club still weighs heavily on him.
"The person who basically did all the reconstruction of the Jockey Club, who had the vision for the Jockey Club, who sold, really, the Jockey Club project to George Hernandez, was me," Anton growls, his deep baritone serrated by Marlboros. "That I will always take full credit for. Not blame, credit. I took a bankrupt property, a deal that nobody wanted to touch, and I saw an opportunity to make this the deal that got me back from the wilderness I was in. In return, I had to sell my soul to George Hernandez."
Being behind bars is nothing new to Eddie Anton. A former real estate salesman and ex-Marine (drummed out for going AWOL and writing bad checks), he served three years in federal prison for a kickback scheme in 1986 involving Housing and Urban Development money, according to court records. Anton, who moved to Miami from Spain with his family in 1973, says he needed the money (he claims to have netted $17,000 in the scam) to help his then-girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child, get herself and her son away from the boy's father.
After serving his time from April 1991 to May 1994, he was paroled -- but he had been indicted, while in prison, on numerous felony counts of bank fraud and wire fraud, many related to real estate deals. Free on bond, he entered a guilty plea on September 24, 1996, to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; on January 28 of this year he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. The potential punishment for these crimes ranges from no jail time to 25 years in federal prison.
But in the summer of 1994, although he was a convicted felon and facing another indictment, the Cuban-born Anton was still hopeful he could put his real estate skills to work while awaiting the resolution of the charges against him. He hooked up with a young Coral Gables attorney named Jorge "George" Hernandez, whose law practice was in the same building as the office of Anton's bail bondsman.
"I was helping George fix his office and expand his office, and expand his business," Anton says. "I renovated that office myself physically, with a hammer, myself. I helped him with the hiring of the people, because he wanted to get heavily into the real estate part of the law, and clearly that was my field of expertise. I put my contacts to work for him.
"Even though my parole officer went to him and said, 'You understand he has a criminal record, et cetera, et cetera,' George just asked for a copy of all my criminal files so he could read them and make sure he was not going to bed with some guy who was fucking little kids or some shit like that.
"George Hernandez became like my brother. So in return, for my brother, I did things that I didn't need to do. I advised him, hours and hours and hours. I trained his marketing people how to get leads, I managed his people. And he grew from nothing to a powerhouse of title and mortgage work in South Florida. Here you have a kid that was making 30 Gs a year when I met him, all of a sudden he's getting 100 files a month for a closing at $1000, $1200 a file, and that's a lot of mortgages. And I was getting 400 fucking bucks. I didn't mind. He was my brother."
When first contacted for this story, George Hernandez, now 29 years old, agreed to be interviewed. In subsequent telephone conversations, however, he became increasingly reticent, declining -- politely -- to be interviewed in person. Throughout these exchanges, he refused to go into detail about his relationship with Eddie Anton, but his feelings about his former associate are clear.
"On anything that Eddie Anton says, I have no comment," Hernandez snaps. "He's just a scumbag convict."
In mid-1996, Jockey Holdings, Inc. (the Hermans' ownership group) was sifting through the wreckage of its sale of the club facilities to Boca Raton-based Sky Scientific, which had bought the majority interest in February 1995. By November of that year, Sky's failure to pay its mortgage or property taxes led Jockey Holdings, which still held the mortgage, to begin foreclosure proceedings.
By this time George Hernandez was wearing many hats. In addition to practicing real estate law, he also brokered mortgages and sold real estate title insurance. It was in his capacity as a lawyer, though, that he first learned of the availability of the Jockey Club. He recalls being intrigued by the prospect of buying such a prestigious property for the relatively low asking price of $3.8 million.
"The name carries a certain aura, especially in South Florida," says Hernandez, who grew up a middle-class Cuban-American kid in Westchester and Kendall. "It was one of the first premier resorts."
According to Jack Herman's daughter Stephanie (a part-owner of their company), while the foreclosure on Sky Scientific's mortgage was making its way through the courts, George Hernandez called her. "He and his people said that, in doing their due diligence on the case, they decided that they liked the deal so much they wanted to buy it," she recalls. "We were nearly ecstatic. We would get the title back, we had a buyer, and we didn't have to worry. We were thrilled."
Hernandez won't comment directly on his original deal to buy the Jockey Club. Last year he told New Times he laid out a $750,000 down payment, received financing from the mortgage holders (the Hermans) for the rest, and began work immediately on renovating the rundown restaurant and bars in August 1996.
Both the Hermans and their attorney Larry Goodman emphasize that, contrary to the impression Hernandez gave, the upstart never actually owned the club. What Hernandez had, Goodman says, was a licensing agreement under which he would renovate and operate the Jockey Club with the understanding that the club would be his if, by December 31, he could pay off the long laundry list of financial burdens (back taxes and liens) the property had accumulated.
Goodman says that although Hernandez did make some payments up-front, the total amount was nowhere near $750,000. Most of the money Hernandez brought to the deal, the attorney adds, took the form of physical rehabilitation of the property. (In November of last year, Hernandez estimated he had pumped some $1.5 million into the renovation. Goodman and the Hermans dispute this amount; today Hernandez will not comment on either the renovation or the down payment.)
Hernandez's point man in the construction operation was Eddie Anton, who supervised the project from one of the fourteen suites in Jockey I that served as the club's hotel rooms. Anton also helped assemble the talent that would bolster Hernandez's attempted resuscitation. Among the cogs in this new machine were Susan Garfinkle, a seasoned South Beach publicist who had promoted clubs and parties; Miguel Aston, a food-and-beverage director who had run the dining operations of Miami landmarks such as the Mutiny Hotel and the club on Fisher Island; and chef Daniel Theme of Miami Beach's Osteria del Teatro.
This crew hurled itself into refurbishing the club and restoring its lost luster. Early reactions were generally positive. Opening night, November 9, 1996, coincided with the first Tyson-Holyfield fight and drew some 175 people, including a gushing Bob Beamon, gold medalist in the long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and a Jockey Club member (see the New Times story "The Ride of His Life," November 21, 1996)."The club was busy," Jack Herman remembers. "I didn't attend too many of the parties, but he had a lot of marketing. It was very active under George. There were always parties, and it was a very Latin American scene."
The residents of the three condo towers, fed up enough with the Herman clan's flounderings to have sued Jockey Holdings in February of last year, were willing to listen to Hernandez's plans, though they remained a bit guarded. "[Hernandez] had what I thought was a good idea, to get every resident to be a member and pay $80 a month, which is not a lot," recalls Jockey I condo association president Jack Waxenberg. "But he wanted you to pledge ten years' dues from your apartment [rather than pay year by year]. Then that would be four or five million dollars to go directly to the bank and pay everybody off. We said, 'Well, we don't have to be members.' Finally I said, 'Talk to me in a year about a membership.'"
But even though the parties and the general business of the club looked good, some of those on the inside during the closing months of 1996 noticed signs of trouble and conflict brewing -- both within Hernandez's team and between his group and the Hermans.
Susan Garfinkle remembers some problems with employees getting paid during this stretch, though she adds that she never had a problem herself. (She, like Eddie Anton, was living in one of the Jockey Club hotel rooms during her association.) She also stresses that the person running the day-to-day operations was not Hernandez -- the person whom she had been hired to promote as the new face of the Jockey Club -- but Anton.
Anton emphasizes that he was not only the implementer of the new vision for the Jockey Club but its mastermind. His execution of that vision, from hiring and firing staff to courting potential investors in the development of a proposed Jockey IV as a time-share resort, continues to be a point of pride for him.
"This was my life," he says, his voice rising. "One deal. Not to retire, but to show the world that you can go to prison and come back. To show the world, yes, I stole money to help my son, I had to become a fucking criminal. But I had nothing to be ashamed of." (As he does numerous times during his interview in the Federal Detention Center, he punches the table for emphasis.) "I was hard, I was brutal, I was Machiavellian, and I don't have a fucking problem with that." He insists that he would sometimes pay his employees out of his $10,000-per-week stipend. (Hernandez would not comment on how much Anton was paid.) "They were my fucking men," he stresses. "They were my soldiers."
Miguel Aston confirms that Anton's "soldiers" got paid, but adds that it was Anton himself who sometimes gave the food-and-beverage director pause. "I was actually a little skeptical about the whole situation from the beginning," says Aston, a tall Spaniard who recently opened Renaissance restaurant in Bay Harbor Islands. "Eddie Anton had the classic gangster attitude. Not necessarily that he was a gangster, but his attitude, his behavior, was identical. He had a very rough way of being, the way that he talked, the way that he express himself. He was a very ordinary individual. His behavior was ordinary, not classy. George Hernandez was a more sophisticated individual. [Anton] will swear a lot, and will tell anybody to fuck off any given time, you know?"
The feverish renovation and reopening of the Jockey Club was only the first aspect of the grand scheme. The real jewel (and cash cow) would be Jockey IV, a project that had been proposed as far back as 1994. Mario Rodriguez, a Miami-based developer of time-share resorts, acted as a broker in Hernandez and Anton's attempts to woo Argentine time-share firm Apartour into developing Jockey IV on the adjacent Lear School property. (No Jockey Club-related entity owns this weed-choked, eight-acre slice of land and its crumbling, low-slung buildings, but the Herman group has consistently used the possibility of developing it as a carrot for prospective investors.) Rodriguez knew Susan Garfinkle, who took him to meet Eddie Anton last winter.
"Mr. Machiavelli," Rodriguez says dryly of Anton. "He was rather proud of saying that The Prince is his favorite book, his personal bible, and it only took minutes after I met him for him to announce that he'd been to prison. He was a manipulator like you wouldn't believe. I first went in with the idea that me and my group would be developers or managers for developers, but it didn't take too long to realize that it would require ongoing cooperation with Eddie and company, and that just was not going to work.
"Eddie was a maniac, yelling and screaming for the flimsiest of reasons," Rodriguez continues. "At some point during the negotiations I wanted to cultivate a relationship with the Hermans, because I felt that a year from now, Eddie would either be dead, in jail, or out of this deal somehow."
George Hernandez says Anton's overbearing manner eventually proved too much to take: "Toward the end of November and into December, he had taken too much control and was starting to be antagonistic with the Hermans." (Everyone interviewed for this story who was at the Jockey Club at this time remembers at least one toe-to-toe shouting match between Stephanie Herman and Anton; Herman refuses to discuss it.)
"He had no right to do this," Hernandez adds curtly. "He was a peon, he was an employee. I dismissed him."
Getting rid of Anton, though, did nothing to help Hernandez finalize a deal for Jockey IV or even buy the existing club. When the first day of 1997 came, attorney Goodman says, Hernandez had paid neither the various debts and obligations still owed on the property, nor the agreed-upon down payment. As far as the Hermans were concerned, Hernandez's reign at the Jockey Club was over right then, even though he continued on at the club for some weeks.
While acknowledging that he couldn't come up with all of the funds, Hernandez says his departure from the scene was at least partially his choice.
"We'd had the intention to purchase the club, it's just that financial and legal problems came up," he offers. "The project really lost its appeal. I wasn't interested in running the club without owning it."
With Hernandez neither owning nor operating the facility, the first two months of 1997 became a bizarre interregnum. The height of the insanity was a party for South Florida magazine to which Hernandez had committed. For a while it appeared that the fete would fall through altogether. But the Hermans ponied up the necessary cash to pay the staff and the entertainment (aging Brit-rocker Dave Mason, flown in just for this performance), and the party was by all accounts a success. Publicist Garfinkle left the Jockey Club after this party and has since moved herself and her business to Boca Raton.
By the end of February Hernandez and Anton had other concerns -- the "financial and legal problems" to which Hernandez alluded above. Both were named in a lawsuit alleging that Hernandez, through his law practice, was selling mortgages on properties he didn't own. The plaintiffs in the case, which was filed February 27 and is still unresolved, are two national title-insurance underwriters that guaranteed titles insured by policies issued by Hernandez in his role as a title insurance agent.
In an affidavit, Lynn Wilburn, a private investigator retained by the title insurance firms, writes that on at least two separate occasions Bell Holdings Inc. gave Hernandez money for properties to which Hernandez did not hold title. (Bell Holdings is owned by 38-year-old entrepreneur Robert Bell, whose Banana Boat sunscreen was an international success and earned him millions. The Miami native, who sold his company to Playtex in 1993, recently re-entered the sunblock game with the Sea & Ski brand.)
Among these transactions, Wilburn writes, was $900,000 given to Hernandez to purchase outright "certain real property located at the Jockey Club"; namely, the fourteen hotel rooms -- which he never owned. Wilburn asserts in the affidavit that the deed Hernandez delivered to Bell Holdings for this property on September 24 of last year was fraudulent.
Robert Bell himself confirms that Bell Holdings did business with George Hernandez but won't comment in detail because of the litigation. "I wasn't really personally involved in the day-to-day operations of [Bell Holdings]," he adds.
In other instances, Wilburn continues, Hernandez persuaded Bell Holdings to lend money to people to buy real estate -- but in many cases, Wilburn writes, no purchase was made; Hernandez allegedly kept the money.
"It is my estimate that the Defendants have conspired to steal, and have in fact stolen, amounts in excess of $3 million," Wilburn writes in his affidavit. Though the acts he describes are crimes (notably mortgage fraud, a federal offense), no criminal charges have been filed in this matter against Hernandez or Anton. Wilburn would not comment on the specifics of his findings outside of what was set forth in his affidavit, but he did confirm that Hernandez and Anton were being investigated for these questionable transactions. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami would not comment for this story.
Possible criminal consequences notwithstanding, the civil case alone has drastically reshaped Hernandez's life. The judge appointed a receiver for Hernandez's law firm/mortgage brokerage/title insurance company. Shortly after the suit was filed, Hernandez resigned from the Florida Bar.
Hernandez has a theory about the source of the fraudulent documents mentioned in the title insurers' lawsuit. "After Eddie Anton left the Jockey Club, there were some documents that were forged," Hernandez says in his soft, earnest voice. "He took money from an investor of mine, defrauded them. When that hit, and I saw that he'd used my name on the forgery, I voluntarily and temporarily resigned from the Bar to show that I had nothing to do with this.
"Anton apparently had created fraudulent mortgages via computer," Hernandez goes on. "I didn't know that his conviction was for mortgage fraud. When I fired him, for whatever reason he went back to his old ways."
That Hernandez, the man he says was once as close to him as a brother, would accuse him of forging documents is no surprise to the incarcerated Anton. He also insists that Hernandez knew full well what kind of felon he was. "I should have known better than to play with people who knew my legal background, who took full advantage of that," he laments. "I'm not going to regret the fact that, because of me, 100-and-some-odd people had employment, that I made that place feel again what it used to be, which was renowned worldwide. I'm not going to tell you that if I had the ability to redo it again that I would not do the deal. I think the deal was a good fuckin' deal, and a deal that I proved that you could make money on. Unfortunately, George Hernandez needed to steal money to make the deal happen. Unfortunately, there was a man with a criminal fuckin' record in the middle, who was able to be used."
The Herman family was reluctant to be interviewed for this story. But over coffee and cookies in their two seventh-floor apartments in Jockey I, Jack Herman, his wife Bobbie, and their daughter Stephanie tried to put a brave face on what Stephanie called the family's "annus horribilis."
In addition to the craziness at the club downstairs, the family was beset by further tragedy. Sam Sardinia, husband of Jack Herman's daughter Lori and president and CEO of Jockey Holdings, died of brain cancer at age 65 in March; he was gravely ill while Hernandez and Anton were in charge. Charles Kwasha, Jack Herman's brother-in-law and another partner in Jockey Holdings, died in May at age 90.
The Hermans' comments on the brief reign of George Hernandez are often oblique, though at the mention of Eddie Anton's name the family moans in unison. "He scared me to death," says Stephanie. "I don't think I can comment on him. His behavior was very ... erratic."
Jack Herman, a smallish, tanned man in a bright yellow polo shirt, is more willing to talk about the group of potential new owners for the Jockey Club, who entered the picture in mid-February, shortly before the nearly canceled South Florida magazine party. The principal figure in this new group was Trinidadian businessman Karl C. (or K.C. or Casey) Langford, who came down from Washington, D.C.
"We were introduced to K.C. Langford by a reputable person who lives in Washington. He seemed very credible," Jack Herman says. "He knew a lot of people; he surrounded himself with very prominent people." These people, Herman continues, included several possible investors who expressed interest in both the club and the Lear School property next door.
Herman says Langford, much like Hernandez before him, entered into a licensing agreement with the Herman group toward the end of February, under which he would operate the club with the intention of eventually buying it.
"He fooled everybody," Herman says. "He brought in economists from Washington, resort developers from Texas, California, Japanese architects, developers, construction people. The people were real; we've since heard that they were fooled, just like we were."
Holdovers from Hernandez's team quickly realized that the switch to Langford was not going to be the panacea the Hermans hoped for. "The really miserable times started after [Hernandez and Anton] left, with this K.C., the scum of the earth, a no-good son of a bitch," says food and beverage director Miguel Aston. "If I ever saw him, I don't know what I'd do."
Aston recalls that Langford and his assistant, Susan Fletcher, simply weren't paying anyone for anything -- vendors or employees. "His checks that were bouncing around, it didn't matter to him whatsoever," Aston says. "Purveyors, they were owed thousands; everybody stopped delivering things. We couldn't even get the garbage picked up. He used to send people to buy the liquor illegally -- in the stores, that's illegal to sell in the bar. What he was trying to do, I think, was milk the place, because he was collecting all the dues from members, collecting revenues from the marina, collecting this, collecting that, and not using any money whatsoever for any purchases.
"I think the Hermans were against a rock and a hard place, you know? They had to go around with whoever it was because it was the only chance they had to have the thing open."
Between February and June of this year, the Jockey Club continued to operate under Langford, but his apparent inability or unwillingness to pay employees was a continual problem. Chef Daniel Theme (who has since moved on to Lucky Cheng's restaurant in Miami Beach) says that he was almost never paid on time under Langford, and then was rarely paid in full. Kitchen staff fared much worse; Theme recalls more than one occasion when he had to give a five-dollar-per-hour employee cash out of his own pocket for gas or food.
Yet Langford continued to drum up interest in the Jockey IV development and successfully wooed at least one investor. Richard Hines, a real estate consultant and investor in Alexandria, Virginia (near Langford's old home base of Washington, D.C.), says he gave Langford some $450,000 for various real estate deals, including somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000 for Jockey IV.
Hines, who characterizes Langford as "one of most colorful con men I've ever run into," filed suit in July against Langford in Montgomery County, Maryland, for $30,000, which he says he gave Langford in the form of a promissory note.
Hines is not the only D.C.-area business person looking for Langford. Circuit court records in Prince George's County, Maryland, show that in March 1995 two firms sued Langford for breach of contract. Four judgments have been rendered against Langford, totaling some $260,000.
Hines remembers seeing an example of Langford's reluctance to pay his staff. On one visit to the Jockey Club, he says, he saw Susan Fletcher "verbally abusing" one of the kitchen staff. From the content of the harangue, Hines says, "it was clear he had not been paid."
"Money was going in to Langford, and he apparently paid people with bad checks. He conned people regardless of race, color, or creed, and if you didn't have money to feed your family that was just too bad. If someone like me gets conned, I probably deserve it," Hines allows. "If someone like them gets conned, that's immoral."
From February on, according to Theme and Aston, the size of the staff began to dwindle. The South Florida shindig in late February was the last party of any consequence. Aston left in April, Theme about a month later. Condo association president Jack Waxenberg remembers going down to the restaurant one day during this period and seeing a single waiter on duty. Finally, in mid-June, Langford and Fletcher left not only the Jockey Club but apparently the country. The restaurant and bars have been buttoned up tight ever since. Stephanie Herman remembers a phone call from Fletcher in which she said that she and Langford were in Jamaica and were "afraid of some of the people they owed money to."
Some creditors have filed suit against Langford's Jockey Club Resorts Inc. over bad checks: Grand Western Brands Inc. for $5274.18, Uleta Rentals Inc. for $2649, Aaron Rents Inc. for $9137, Miami Purveyors Inc. for $1607. In several of these cases, a summons could not be delivered to the defendants; Scott Modlin, attorney for Uleta Rentals, says the process server who attempted to deliver the summons to Langford noted that the defendant, as of mid-July, was in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Montego Bay directory assistance has no listing for anyone named Langford with the first initial K or C. There is a listing for a Susan Fletcher, but the number is unpublished.
Echoing former Jockey Club employee Aston, Jack Herman calls Langford "a no-good son of a bitch." ("Dad!" his daughter Stephanie admonishes.) But he still has hope. "Unfortunately Langford came right after everything that happened with George, but we still think the club can be what it was until very recently,"Herman says. "It's gorgeous. The Jockey Club is a world-class place. Yes, we were fooled, we were scammed, but we don't want that to destroy any chance of having a good way of life here again." The Hermans are not suing or pressing charges against Langford, mostly because, Bobbie Herman says, "it would take Interpol to find him."
The family still wants to sell the property -- "to someone who is credible and not involved in any shenanigans, for lack of a better word," says Jack Herman. They say they are scrutinizing some likely prospects with the aid of a New York firm whose name they will not disclose. (Richard Hines says that, despite the chunk of change he lost to Langford, he remains interested in the property and has recently spoken to the Hermans about it.)
George Hernandez, his wife Kimberly, and their two young sons live in a modest townhouse in Hollywood. Though he resigned from the Florida Bar, Hernandez says he is continuing to work in real estate. He also says he and his attorneys are preparing a civil suit against the Hermans, though at press time it had not been filed and Hernandez would not discuss it.
He does offer a postmortem on his attempt to replace the old dynasty at the graying Jockey Club. "The crux of the story is egos and greed," he says. "You walk into the offices and there's a picture of Old Man Herman on the wall like he's the president of the United States. It's a really weird world that I wouldn't want to live in, that I don't want my sons to grow up in. That's a fucked-up world."
After he was fired from the Jockey Club, Eddie Anton says, he spent several months trying to see if the relationship he had built with the Argentine time-share firm could be parlayed into another development somewhere else; he says he even went to Argentina to meet with Apartour. While on this mission, he failed to appear for his April 14 sentencing hearing; his bail was revoked and a warrant issued for his arrest. U.S. Marshals picked him up in Texas in July, and he was transferred to Miami's Federal Detention Center the same month to await sentencing -- and to face an additional charge for failure to appear.
Anton remains bitter that much of the story of the mortgage-fraud lawsuit brought against him and Hernandez will come down to George's word against his. "Who are you going to believe? This young fucking child-looking kid, or this fucking con artist?" he asks ruefully.
Meanwhile, though members can dock their yachts at the marina or play a couple of sets on the tennis courts, they cannot enjoy a martini or a filet mignon.
And the residents of the the Jockey Club -- especially the older inhabitants of Jockey I who remember the bygone glory days -- don't share the Hermans' dogged optimism. "I don't think anybody will buy it," sighs Jack Waxenberg. "They have nothing to sell. They're selling pie in the sky.
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