The Owe Zone

Every year Dade County is required by law to publish the names of all business-and land-owners who haven't paid their county property taxes on time. Dade publishes two lists: one for local businesses' unpaid personal property taxes (i.e., those that relate to an enterprise's equipment and furniture) and one for real estate property taxes, which apply to land and the permanent structures built on it. Late last month the county produced its catalogue of businesses that failed to pay their 1993 personal property taxes, which were due in November and which officially became delinquent on April 1. The list, which by contract is published by the Miami Daily Business Review, spans 82 pages and includes 27,667 businesses that owe a total of $19,781,000.

Regarded on one level, the roll is a statistical bore, page after page of eye-glazing agate type. But to the civic-minded (and patient) citizen, it provides valuable information about the people who do business in Greater Miami. Specifically, it indicates who plays by the rules and who doesn't.

If Rose Lee Basile has her way, everyone is going to play by the rules A sooner or later. Basile, who is chief of ad valorem taxes in the Tax Collection Division of the Dade County Finance Department, says personal property tax delinquents will be warned that if they fail to pay up within 30 additional days, the county can take action. "If no payment is made," Basile says sternly, "we have the right to issue a warrant and we can -- and do -- have the property seized by the Metro-Dade police. And then," she adds ominously, "we auction it off."

As a public service (and because we happen to enjoy poring over tiny type) New Times has combed through this year's data and distilled an abridged register of delinquents. Bearing in mind that Dade's personal property tax is a business tax (and also bearing in mind that eyestrain can lead to dangerous complications in later life), we concentrated on big numbers (unpaid taxes in excess of $1000), and on the one area most commonly singled out for its business activity in recent years: Miami Beach.

Not surprisingly, that bejeweled epicenter of development provided plenty of fodder. As of April 21 a total of $1,027,411 in 1993 personal property taxes was delinquent among Miami Beach businesses. Much of the money is owed by enterprises with very recognizable names, headed by people who have directly benefited from the huge popularity of Miami Beach (and from its roads, schools, police, and other public services), people who have been slow to funnel some of those dividends back into the public pot.

A self-described pioneer in the international playground known as South Beach, developer Tony Goldman provides as good a starting point as any, having failed to pay $10,310.03 in taxes on six of his Beach businesses, including the Park Central and the Imperial hotels. Goldman, who was unavailable for comment about his tax debt, may have been around since before the Beach was hot, but he's no longer alone. Far more than 1000 business owners appear on the county's roster of deadbeats, though in some cases the businesses themselves are defunct. Other prominent names on the list include developer Mel Schlesser ($2579.27) and philanthropist Micky Wolfson and his Washington Storage building ($6472.12).

The area's dining and entertainment industry, too, is well represented:
A Mano ($3074.03)
Au Natural Gourmet Pizza ($1384.47)
Avalon Cafe ($2073.34)
Black Beans on the Beach ($3943.42)
Blimpie Subs & Salads ($1434.77)
Butter Club ($3189.21)
Cafe Avanti ($1618.48)
Caffe Milano ($7386.05)
Cassis Bistro ($5009.44)
Compass Cafe ($1730.07)
Dunkin' Donuts ($1499.30)
Fifth Street Club ($2332.67)
Flame Steak Restaurant ($1652.27)
The Forge ($9584.78)
Front Porch Cafe ($1289.20)
Gertrude's ($1507.32)
The Grille ($2787.59)
I Paparazzi di Roma Ristoranti ($3444.88)
Le Loft ($15,180.06)
Lulu's ($1522.69)
Lyon Freres ($2304.94)
Mario's South Beach ($4944.12)
The Palace ($4192.66)
Park Place Cafe ($5186.08)
Passage to India ($7115.67)
Pineapple's ($3657.12)
The Spot ($1795.90)
Stefano's Gourmet Market ($1302.85)
Third Rail Company ($3012.50)
Tiramesu Restaurant ($5507.04)
Torpedo ($1922.04)
Tropics International Restaurant ($1314.47)
Van Dome ($8646.50)
Villa Deli ($2897.40)
Zio Luigi's ($1912.64)

However neglectful they may have been, none of those businesses compares to the Shawnee Miami Beach Resort, which owes a whopping $48,504.06. Along with Tony Goldman's accountants, the Shawnee's bean counters can commiserate with the bookkeepers at these Beach hotels:

Avalon Hotel ($4302.09)
Beacon Hotel ($5786.64)
Boulevard Hotel ($1120.44)
Breakwater Hotel ($1146.12)
Carillon Beach Hotel ($7844.62)
Carlyle Plaza Inc. ($4961.31)
Essex House Hotel ($2529.39)
Golden Sands Hotel ($1695.42)
Howard Johnson Oceanfront Hotel ($16,095.01)
Lafayette Hotel ($2082.00)
Raleigh Hotel ($2192.66)
Ritz Plaza Hotel ($1806.12)
Sagamore Hotel ($5139.74)
San Souci Hotel ($7786.78)

Of course, success doesn't necessarily equate with financial diligence. The modeling and production industries, for instance, have experienced explosive growth on Miami Beach and made some industry leaders wealthy in the process. But not everyone has found the time to pay their taxes:

ACT Productions Inc. ($1194.21)
Big Time Productions ($1288.37)
BWC Chrome Labs ($13,749.37)
Color Plus ($2466.91)
General Entertainment Production ($4811.97)
The Lab ($10,908.59)
L'Agence Models ($2444.32)
Michele Pommier Models Inc. ($3731.73)
Studio Laser Casting on the Beach ($5532.72)

Nearly every Late Linda or Tardy Tim is quick to offer an explanation. "I know the City of Miami Beach was very confused when we moved last year," says Jane Fleming, controller for Michele Pommier. "Those taxes have been paid."

Or an excuse. "I don't know the numbers," explains Reinhardt Pfunder, owner of The Lab and its $10,000 debt to the county. "Now I have to go back to my CPA. I just sign the checks, that's all I do. It's a stupid tax. We'll do it tomorrow, no problem! Here I come!"

Sometimes the accountant isn't above pointing a finger back at the client. "I filed a return for that already," says John Blumenthal, accountant for Beach Sports International, whose general manager had directed to Blumenthal all questions about the company's purported $7599.26 debt. "[The owners] should've gotten the bill. Whether it's been paid or not I can't tell."

Most often, however, it's all a big misunderstanding. "I don't owe anything," barks Graziano Sbroggio, general manager of Tiramesu Restaurant. "Where did you get that list? There is a big mistake! We pay off everything!


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