The Villain in Michael Moore's New Flick Is Miami's Condo Vultures Founder

Whenever the national media parachutes into Miami to write about our Chernobyl disaster of a condo market, they usually turn to one man, our own cheerful soothsayer of real estate doom.

It's Peter Zalewski, founder of the delightfully named Condo Vultures. The former Daily Business Review reporter is quick with a funny quote and is unabashed about his company's "bottom-feeding" philosophy of making money off foreclosed property.

Well, Zalewski has officially taken his shtick to the next level. It seems the king of confrontational liberal filmmaking, Michael Moore, has made Zalewski one of the chief villains in his new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, which opens in Miami today.

If you watch the embedded preview above, you can see King Vulture at the 1:25 mark, with a seriously bad-ass quote: "This is straight-up capitalism," Zalewski says, miming his hands cocking a shotgun. "Chck-chk, BOOM."

Zalewski tells New Times he has a solid eight-minute segment in the first half of the movie, talking about his company's philosophy while leading a film crew through foreclosed condos. And he couldn't be happier being portrayed as the bad guy.

"A lot of people are going to see this movie and hate us," Zalewski says. "But from the beginning, we've been upfront about what our company does. We are not warm and fuzzy. That's why we're called Condo Vultures."

Here's how Zalewski got involved with Moore's latest broadside against the unfettered free market.

In April, he got a call from someone who said he was from an indie film company doing a documentary about the economic meltdown. He wanted to fly to Miami to talk about the real estate meltdown. Zalewski says he checked into the company the filmmaker claimed to work for and quickly realized it was a made-up shell corporation.

"At no time did they tell me this was for a Michael Moore documentary," he says. "But I signed off on the release knowing that it could be anything. I would have signed off even if I knew it was Michael Moore."

The film crew spent a day with Zalewski talking Miami's real estate disaster. Zalewski says it was clear from the crew's questions that the film would be left-leaning. "So I went as far to the right as I could when I talked to them," he says, laughing. "I used some pretty aggressive language."

Zalewski didn't learn he was featured in a Moore film until August, when some clients in Germany who'd caught an early release of the movie called to tell him he had a major part in the new flick.

Among the memorable scenes from the Condo Vultures founder: An extended metaphor about vulture vomit. "They asked me how I'm different from a real vulture, and I say that vultures vomit on themselves to clean their feathers. I don't do that too often," he says.

Zalewski hasn't seen the full film yet. Despite his star turn, he shockingly wasn't invited to the premiere. So he's hosting his own opening-night showing with friends and family tonight in Sunrise.

"This is going to mean off-the-charts publicity for our company," he says. "I couldn't be happier."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink