This has been an eventful year for real estate tycoon Thomas Kramer: One multimillion-dollar land deal with the City of Miami Beach -- and two sordid stories of alleged sexual assault
Throughout the summer, as Miami Beach officials negotiated one of the biggest land deals in city history, there were hints of unease. Hard-knuckled planners and high-paid attorneys dickered endlessly. Architectural experts were consulted. The citizenry was sounded. But no amount of discussion about development rights and design guidelines could assuage the worriers, skeptics who asked repeatedly whether it was in the city's best interests to cozy up to Thomas Kramer, a once-broke German commodities trader who had mysteriously regained his millions in less than three years, a temperamental party boy known for his risque escapades, a self-styled South Florida eminence whose development plans for his $100 million worth of South Beach properties shifted with the vagaries of the market.
But there was no proof that Thomas Kramer, president, director, secretary, and treasurer of the Portofino Group, couldn't be trusted. He had no criminal record. He flattered city commissioners and contributed to local charities. He promised not to build "ugly, ugly, any-city buildings." He paid in cash.
So on October 5, commissioners voted to take the 38-year-old real estate tycoon at his word. They signed off on an agreement with Portofino, turning over $11.3 million and coveted development rights in exchange for land the city needed and for release from costly legal obligations. The deal allows Kramer to determine the future of South Pointe, Miami Beach's southernmost neighborhood, whose rundown apartment buildings and Art Deco gems alike command spectacular views of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. In other words, commissioners have tucked themselves and their constituents snugly into bed with Kramer -- with his vision, his sense of architectural style, and his judgment.
As one 22-year-old Scottish nanny says she discovered not long after the transaction was approved, Kramer's bed is not necessarily a prudent place to be. The woman, whom New Times agreed to identify in this story as "Mary" although her real name is a matter of public record, went to Miami Beach police on November 7 and reported that Kramer had sexually assaulted her two days earlier. Within a week, she dropped the charges and returned to Scotland.
The allegations marked the second time this year that Kramer, whose divorce from publishing heiress Catherine Burda recently became final, has been accused of sexual assault. In February he was arrested at a Zurich, Switzerland, nightclub after allegedly attempting to sexually assault the pregnant wife of a long-time friend. (Through his attorneys, Kramer has vehemently denied both allegations.)
Hours before flying home to Scotland, Mary told New Times what happened when she ran into Kramer on Saturday, November 4, at Bar None, a Beach nightclub favored by the local glitterati. "I was with Richard, a friend of mine, and we were talking and Kramer came up to me," she said, explaining that she had met the German developer previously at the Forge, a popular Beach restaurant, but had never had a lengthy conversation with him. "He'd come up and say, 'Oh, you're so beautiful,' but I just sort of took it like a man being flirtatious, and, like, I never took it as anything else because he looked as if he was old enough to be my father." She was, however, attracted to one of Kramer's friends, a 26-year-old man named Oliver, and made no secret of the crush.
When Kramer invited her to join Oliver and him at their table at Bar None, Mary didn't hesitate. "I was talking to Oliver, and Thomas Kramer kept throwing me back drinks," she said. "I didn't think anything of it, because he was with his girlfriend and he wasn't making any advances at me." After two hours spent drinking tequila, Mary agreed to join Kramer, his girlfriend Stephanie, and Oliver for a nightcap at Kramer's Star Island mansion.
Plump and shapely, with an upturned nose and blond hair, Mary looks like a high-school-age baby sitter, and in fact she spent two years studying child care at a private training college in London. Last April she signed a two-year contract to work as a nanny for a family that divided its time between South Florida and Saint Barts. She moved to Miami Beach with the family in August.
At Kramer's house, Mary said, she accompanied Kramer and Stephanie upstairs to the master bedroom. She wasn't sure where she was going; she kept wondering about Oliver's whereabouts. (He never showed up.) Both Kramer and Stephanie changed into bathrobes and invited her to do the same. She complied. "I was so trashed by this time," she said. "I sat on the bed and then Stephanie left the room, saying, like, 'Bye-bye, you two, see you later.' And I turn around and say, 'What's going on? What's going on?'"
According to the report Mary filed with Miami Beach police: "[Kramer] then forcibly placed victim on her back holding her down. Victim states she told [Kramer] to stop and that she was a virgin A victim repeatedly told [Kramer] to stop. [Kramer] then took an eyedropper containing an unknown liquid and placed a drop of this unknown liquid into her left nostril. [Kramer] then placed a couple of drops into his nose. Victim then remembers waking up next to [Kramer] at approximately 0800 hours and asking what had happened. Victim states she awoke feeling sore around the pelvic area and anus area. Victim also has abrasions to her lower lip and chin with bruises around arms and legs. [Kramer's] chauffeur drove victim back to her residence. Victim does state she had consumed a large amount of alcohol. Victim went to RTC [Rape Treatment Center] after speaking to this writer."
It had taken Mary two days to decide to go to the police. Then, the day after she filed the report and was examined by a doctor, she signed a form indicating that she did not wish to proceed with the charges against Kramer. The police also returned her clothing, a long-sleeve black two-piece outfit decorated with faux gold chains and lions' head buttons, which they had earlier taken as evidence.
"The allegations are totally false, unequivocally untrue," says Richard Sharpstein, Kramer's attorney. Sharpstein says his client has a different version of events, but declines to elaborate. "We believe the case is over," Sharpstein says. Kramer himself did not respond to New Times's request for an interview. A spokeswoman for Portofino says he is out of the country.
In speaking to New Times, Mary was adamant that the police report she originally filed was the truth. "Why would I make this up?" she said. "And why would I have bruises?" She said she recalled going to the bathroom at Kramer's house in the morning: "I looked down and he had shaved all my pubic hair off. I went back to him and I said, 'Please take me home, please take me home.' He kept going on about how he respected me and how much he liked me and wanted to see me again, and I don't know, I was just confused because it was the first time, and I didn't know what, and I couldn't remember what...," she trailed off, obviously distressed. "And when I got back home, I wrote him a letter saying how special he had made me feel, but everyone says it's quite normal to do something like that after this has happened. I didn't know what to think, whether this was the way it should be the first time, or whether it was my fault."
Mary said her visit to the Rape Treatment Center just confused her more. "I saw the doctor and everything, and he took, like, samples from me and said [the rape] did happen, and he's got proof from photographs," she remembered. But she still wasn't sure that she wanted to fight Kramer in court. And when she withdrew her report, Mary told New Times, she told the detective in charge of the investigation that she had made up the story in order to get back at Oliver for not showing up at Kramer's house.
"Everyone kept saying, 'If you go ahead with these charges, it's going to be you who suffers,'" she explained. "And I didn't want to cause any trouble for my employer, and I just thought, I can't do this, I just can't do this. I went in the next day and I asked them to drop the charges -- just forget about it."
Det. Howard Zeifman, a spokesman for the Miami Beach Police Department, says that "[in Mary's case] the investigator believes a crime did occur, but the victim refuses to prosecute." It is not uncommon for a victim of sexual battery to back away from her story, according to Zeifman. "If they do go to court," he explains, "they are liable to be drilled about every sexual contact they've had throughout their life. They have to face their accuser, and with a high-profile guy, the media is going to drag you through the mud. They can interview your mother and your best friend. They can talk to your employer."
Mary said she was going home to Scotland to be with her family, and that she did not intend to return to Miami. "I was a fool to get drunk and go there," she admitted. "But I thought they were decent people. I never thought this would happen."
Mary is not the first person to claim that she was sexually assaulted by Thomas Kramer this year. Back in February, a long-time friend of the developer accused Kramer of raping his wife in the bathroom of a nightclub in Zurich. According to Werner Benz, a spokesman for the Zurich police, Kramer was arrested on February 21, spent the night in jail, and was released on a bond of 20,000 Swiss francs, or nearly $18,000.
The case, which made headlines in the German tabloid Bild am Sonntag in late October and was subsequently covered in the Miami Daily Business Review, is under investigation by the Zurich district attorney. The prosecutor handling the case refused to comment for this article.
A source close to the investigation provided New Times with copies of documents he says are transcripts of interviews Zurich police detectives conducted with Kramer and his accusers immediately after the incident. The documents yield the following account:
Susanna G., a 33-year-old Swiss clothing designer, said her husband Philip had known Kramer since they went to school together in Frankfurt twenty years ago. The two men had kept in touch sporadically. In the fall of 1994, when Kramer turned up at the Zurich clothing store Philip owned, the men renewed their friendship, and Kramer invited the couple to celebrate Christmas with him. Susanna, Philip, and their three children spent more than two weeks in Miami as Kramer's guests.
On February 20 Kramer arrived in Zurich from St. Moritz and took a room at a deluxe hotel overlooking Lake Zurich. He met Philip and Susanna for dinner at a restaurant, where Kramer later estimated they consumed about four bottles of red wine. Around midnight, they moved on to a nightclub called Tabaris. There, Kramer said, they drank four bottles of champagne and a bottle of cognac.
Shortly after arriving at the club, Susanna went to the ladies' room. To her surprise, she would tell investigators, Kramer was there. "I advised him that this was the ladies' room and asked him to go to the men's room," said Susanna, who was three weeks pregnant with her fourth child. "There were two stalls in the ladies' room. Thomas Kramer maneuvered me into the rear stall, entered it as well, and locked the door behind him. I stood against the wall next to the door and I noticed I was in a dilemma. I told him to leave the stall because I would like to go to the bathroom by myself. First, he stood with his back toward me, then he suddenly turned around and held a little tube with white powder under my nose. I inhaled the stuff automatically.
"I repeated again and again that I had to go to the bathroom and asked him to leave. He replied, no, no. I sat down on a stool. I have to mention that I was still completely dressed. Then I felt dizzy. At the same time he tore my blouse off me. Then he tore my panties off me. Then he inserted one or two fingers into my vagina to arouse me. At the same time he tried to kiss me and undressed himself. Then he took his penis and pushed it into my mouth. He told me to bite into his penis, which I did."
Philip G. told police that he became increasingly worried as he waited at the table with Kramer's girlfriend and that he had asked the woman to check on Susanna. "Shortly after [she] had left, she was standing by me again and said she was sorry, but Thomas had gotten ahold of my wife. I am unable to repeat the exact words, but she expressed it in this sense and was even grinning. It was immediately clear to me what that could mean. I immediately proceeded to the ladies' room and opened the door."
The men scuffled briefly; Kramer sustained a laceration over his left eye that later required stitches. He was arrested by the Zurich police at the nightclub at about 12:45 a.m.
In the statement attributed to him, Kramer denied attacking Susanna G. "We went to the bathroom together," he told the police. "There was a silent agreement between Mrs. Susanna [G.] and myself regarding the fact that we wanted to be alone with each other. Therefore, we went to the ladies' room, where we locked ourselves in the stall. Because I had drunk quite a bit of alcohol earlier, especially cognac, I got diarrhea. Therefore I was sitting in the stall and had to relieve myself. For this very reason, I never touched Susanna [G.], when suddenly Philip came storming into the bathroom and punched and kicked our door. [He] ...screamed like a madman and shouted he would kill his wife."
When Sgt. Mario Dndliker asked Kramer why he had gone to the ladies' room with Mrs. G., he replied, "Because we had already sat together all evening and Mrs. Susanna [G.] had already been playing with my genitals during dinner.... Again, I point out that Mrs. Susanna [G.] held my penis in her hand all evening. However, I did not get an erection. Based on these points, it was clear that Mrs. Susanna [G.] must have had a certain sexual interest in me. We went voluntarily to the bathroom at Tabaris."
Kramer also said that prior to the incident in the ladies' room, Susanna had been sending him boxes of Swiss chocolates daily. "My wife called her last Saturday or Sunday and told her not to do that," he asserted.
He later filed criminal assault charges against Philip G. Heinrich von Hanau, chief executive officer of the Portofino Group, says Kramer has also filed civil lawsuits against the couple for libel and personal injury. "I think there is a tendency right now for people to try to take advantage of people who have more than they have, and sexual harassment seems to be one of those situations," von Hanau says, adding, "Mr. Kramer is confident that the charges against him will be dismissed and that the charges against [Susanna and Philip] will be sustained." The criminal assault charges Kramer filed are pending.
Lawrence Rodgers, a Miami-based lawyer for Susanna and Philip, said he will not comment about the case. Attorney Richard Sharpstein says he has no knowledge of the Zurich incident. Neither Kramer's Swiss lawyer, Konrad Butz, nor his counsel in Munich, Matthias Wohlfahrt, would comment on the case. A secretary at Butz's Zurich office referred calls to Wohlfahrt, who he said he had a personal policy against speaking to the media.
The tall, lanky German is hardly a stranger to controversy. Ever since he moved to Miami in late 1991 A and spent, according to von Hanau, more than $100 million for 45 acres of South Beach real estate A he has been in the public eye, often under embarrassing circumstances. ("Tycoon Thomas," a December 1992 New Times cover story, and several shorter followups have chronicled Kramer's often outrageous antics.) In October 1992, at the opening of his extravagant Ocean Drive nightclub Hell, he purportedly declared in front of a line of invited guests that "these people are all too ugly to come in." He is said to have followed up that crowd pleaser by discouraging the entry of gay patrons.
Within a few months, Hell had closed, but the outrageousness continued. A model named Shelly Hall filed a complaint with Miami Beach police alleging that Kramer had fondled her breasts. Hall did not pursue the complaint. In April 1993, Kramer was sued for sexual harassment by Marjorie Pulice, an employee of his Collins Avenue corporation Olympus Holdings, who alleged that "non-consensual grabbing" had taken place while she was working for him in South Hampton, Long Island. (The charges were dropped when the matter was resolved out of court.)
Kramer has also proven himself somewhat inept at public relations. The same month Pulice filed her lawsuit, he alienated Miami's Cuban community by telling the German magazine Stern that he believed Cubans would return to the island once it was free, and that Miami is thus fortunate to be "the only big city in America that has the prospect to, perfectly effortlessly, get rid of its slums." (Kramer claimed his remarks were misinterpreted.)
Last year Miami Beach police were called to break up a fight at Les Bains nightclub between Kramer and another patron who accused the real estate mogul of antagonizing him with anti-Semitic remarks. Kramer's publicist later vehemently denied that he had made any derogatory ethnic comments.
In June of last year, Kramer was interviewed by Beach police after he allegedly threw a glass of wine at a pesky panhandler. No charges were filed.
None of these incidents appears to have weakened Portofino's negotiating position vis-a-vis the City of Miami Beach, though Kramer's original plans for his South Pointe properties have metamorphosed from a vague scheme to construct a low-rise development emulating an Italian resort village to visions of casino gambling and colossal condo towers.
The pending charges in Zurich might interfere with Kramer's latest development strategy, however. According to John Shewairy, district intelligence officer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a foreigner traveling on a nonimmigrant visa who is under investigation for an aggravated felony such as sexual battery can be denied entry into the United States. "He could be excluded from entry even though he had a valid visa, on the grounds of moral turpitude," says Shewairy.
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