Miami has a constant supply of people scheming to gain money and social status at whatever cost. Most of them fail and go back to wherever they came from, but when they succeed, they almost certainly see their apocryphal accomplishment burn down in a blaze of shame. But few have as much gall as Haider Zafar. The man hustled three Miami Heat players out of hoards of cash and scammed the team into giving him a three-season luxury ticket package to Heat games worth $1 million. To pull off the scheme, Zafar posed as a member of a wealthy Pakistani family and cultivated connections with the Heat front office by pretending to be able to afford the pricey ticket package. He then used those connections to meet Mike Miller, James Jones, and Rashard Lewis. Zafar promised he would investment millions to support the players' business deals but said the money was tied up overseas. He also offered investment opportunities but gave the players only days to decide. He ended up bilking a combined $7.5 million out of the players, never invested money in the their businesses, and never paid for those tickets. He'll now spend the next six years not at Heat games but behind bars.

Journalists' inboxes are filled with generic news releases from faceless PR reps who couldn't give a damn about the city or what they're shilling. That isn't Jessica Wade Pfeffer. She doesn't rely on no-name emails BCC'ed to everyone in town. Pfeffer does the unthinkable: She reads reporters' stories and sends them descriptions of events they might actually be interested in covering. Her personal touch is a bit surprising in the era of carbon-copied emails, and that's likely why Pfeffer has been so successful, earning high-profile clients such as the Miami Dade College Miami International Film Festival, New World Symphony, and the Miami Dance Festival. Pfeffer is smart and enthusiastic about her clients — and it shows in her work.

jessicawadeinc.com

Overtown, Miami's original black neighborhood, has withstood a lot of strife: segregation, riots, violence, poverty. And soon its residents may have to endure the torture of a 633-foot, contoured LED billboard tower so bright it would practically be visible from Fort Lauderdale. Some activists have called the colossal, three-faced Miami Innovation Tower, planned for 1031 NW First Ave., "one of the worst projects ever proposed in Miami-Dade County" and "the most visually ugly structure in the state of Florida." But developer Michael Simkins really doesn't care. Simkins is a Miami Beach guy with a slick haircut and a fat wallet. He's a native-born power player — with an equally influential wife — who runs the $100-million-plus conglomerate Lion Associates. His light-bulb skyscraper would be the centerpiece of a four-block technology district that includes an observation tower, three-floor restaurant, and amphitheater. On the exterior, five billboards would cover an area of two acres, and Simkins argues the whole thing will boost Miami's global brand and Overtown's economy. He argues existing zoning says he can do it. With his millions and his vision, Simkins is about to remake one of Miami's poorest areas into something closer to Las Vegas. Go ahead and try to stop him.

Staring down solemnly from his high perch above his federal courtroom in downtown Miami, Judge Darrin P. Gayles looked a steroid dealer in the eye and let him have it. "One can only imagine the horror of a parent who was unwittingly taking their child to Tony Bosch for what they believed was licensed treatments by a legitimate medical professional," Gayles said, "and then watching Bosch doing courses of treatment without any legitimate cause, watching him use syringes to conduct medicine he was not licensed to practice, while we now know Tony Bosch was often under the influence of cocaine." Hearing those harsh words, Bosch — the mastermind behind Biogenesis, the Coral Gables clinic that sold roids to scores of Major League Baseball players as well as at least 18 high-schoolers — knew he was cooked. After pleading guilty to steroid charges, he'd asked the judge for leniency for helping prosecutors indict six of his cohorts. But Gayles was having none of it. He followed that blistering takedown with the announcement of Bosch's sentence: a startling four years in federal prison. Bosch wept.

In years past, our best power couples have been rolling in money. After all, cash and influence are synonymous in this town. But this year's couple, Lizette Alvarez and Don Van Natta Jr., have a different kind of capital — the cultural kind. These two writers have long histories in Miami. Both are former Miami Herald reporters who went on to greater things. They spent time in London and Washington. They brought home amazing awards and covered subjects such as Rupert Murdoch, Monica Lewinsky, and Congress. They wrote books. They conceived amazing kids. Yet they've never been pretentious or haughty. They're the kind of people everybody should meet. These days, Alvarez is the Miami bureau chief for the New York Times. And Van Natta works for ESPN while hatching ideas for volumes that continually fascinate the masses and nail the Zeitgeist. Their names will never grace a tony private art collection, but power isn't something that can always be measured in Matisses or Picassos.

There's just no baloney about Katy Sorenson. The founder, president, and CEO of the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami is a straightforward lady from the Midwest. When she served for 16 years on the Miami-Dade County Commission, she was always a voice for reason, leading the charge against a silly airport planned between the Everglades and Biscayne National Park, then pushing an equal-rights ordinance that gave status to gays and lesbians in our community. She never succumbed to the temptations of the office, as have so many on that dais. Now, in her role as government watchdog, she has continued to stand up for what's right and to educate leaders. "The Good Government Initiative is committed to conducting its affairs and activities with the highest standards of ethical conduct," the website reads. We can't think of a better person to keep our leaders on the straight and narrow.

goodgov.net

A place exists in Homestead where you can feed kangaroos, play with foxes, and pose next to peacocks. No, it isn't some sort of mystical wonderland in the middle of the Everglades. It's Safari Edventure. With more than 120 exotic species and 200-plus animals onsite, Homestead's secret gem has been a wildlife haven for almost 40 years. That's because nearly every animal you'll encounter belongs to one of three categories, the three "Rs" — rescued, re-homed, or rehabilitated. The five-acre outdoor oasis is all about delivering "hands-on nature and wildlife presentations." Sure, learning about sloths, fruit bats, lemurs, and alligators is interesting and all, but the real fun begins once the discussion ends — that's when you get to pretend you're on Animal Planet and touch the creatures yourself. When its time to feed the kangaroos and frolic with the foxes, you'll definitely feel like a real-life Crocodile Dundee. Safari Edventure ($12 admission for Florida residents, $9 for kids and seniors) is closed Monday and Tuesday, so if you want to make all of your wildlife dreams come true, head south any other day of the week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Santa's Enchanted Forest

What type are you? Are you the Paranoid Stoner, always convinced the last toke will bring you closer to Satan? Or are you the Teenage Stoner, talking up your homemade honey-bear bong and sad sage stash? Maybe you're the Chronic Connoisseur, a wake-and-bake badass meticulous about strains and rituals. Wherever you land on the spectrum, there's a wondrous place that welcomes doobie bros of all kinds: Santa's Enchanted Forest. Let's start with the name. Santa: Jolly. Enchanted: It's magical. Forest: Trees are the best. In short, it's a pothead's paradise — an amusement park snow-blasted with Christmas cheer in the middle of the tropics from late October till early January every year. Walking under the giant, rosy-cheeked Saint Nick sign, you're greeted by an archway of lights, the first of many twinkling displays that make your bloodshot eyes widen with delight. What follows is a huge Christmas tree, whose bright decor flickers in sync with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Don't hate — it's awesome. Perhaps most important, the Forest will feed your munchies. You'll find chicharrones, fries, funnel cakes, coladas, arepas, fried Oreos, and other treats. And for the more active stoner, Santa's Enchanted Forest has games and fun rides like roller coasters, bumper cars, and a Ferris wheel perfect for lighting that hidden joint high in the air. At $30 per person, with no separate ride tickets required, the Forest is an affordable must for the happy, blazed kid in us all.

santasenchantedforest.com

Hooking up with a tourist is a time-honored tradition for single people in Miami. And perhaps the best place to snag a sidepiece or a European friend is SoBe Hostel. The trendy Washington Avenue location is pretty nice (even for a hostel). The main floor houses the Hangout, a laid-back bar that's open to anyone. It's a nice change from the uhntz-uhntz-pumping tourist-centric bars and clubs, making it easier for you to impress visitors with your local knowledge. And prices are amazing for a South Beach location. Mixed drinks like Cuba Libres and the bar's take on the mojito cost about $6, and during happy hour, domestic beer goes for as low as two for $4. You can also order ceviche from the restaurant next door and have it delivered right to the bar. If you're not much of a conversationalist, you can impress with your Monopoly or Xbox skills.

Hot dudes read books. It's a universal truth. In New York City, there's even an Instagram account devoted to sexy scholars: @hotdudesreading, which has lured more than 500,000 horny followers to its shots of men lost in books on the subway. Miami book lovers, of course, don't have NYC-level public transit for their perving pleasure. But one month every year (or so), they have something better: O, Miami. The festival, which aims to expose every single person to at least one poem in April, brings out the finest specimens of word nerd during its run. And they're not just sitting around with their noses in books like those subway riders up north. They're nodding their intelligent heads at poetry readings. They're getting drunk and writing verse at Gramps. At this year's festival, O, Miami invited them to bring their adorable puppies to Collins Park to shop and swap books. Did you hear that? That was the sound of a city's worth of panties dropping. Eat your heart out, New Yorkers.

omiami.org

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®