9 Weeks Later

It was another lesson in imprudence, taught in this tortuous miasma of hucksters and schemers called South Florida. And everything seemed so legitimate.

Here were two smooth-talking guys wielding the name of Mickey Rourke like a magic wand, putting in a last-minute order for a pair of boxing trunks and 28 handmade satin jackets to decorate the actor and his entourage for Rourke's second pro boxing match at the Miami Beach Convention Center. White quilted jackets with mango-color lining and red metallic snaps, decorated with vibrant green shamrocks outlined in Sunkist orange and dangling, mango-color boxing gloves with mulberry laces. Not to mention the actor's South Beach handle, "Marielito," sewn across the back in arresting ruby glint with a silver outline. And on Rourke's jacket only, a zippered hood embroidered with a band of diamonds in ruby, golden poppy, and aquamarine.

The pair first approached Paul Rotunno, a production manager for a garment manufacturer, about four weeks before Rourke's hyperhyped April 25 fight. Introducing themselves as Maurice and Zasha, they said they had sketches for the clothing, but nothing else. "They said, `We need it in a week,'" remembers Rotunno, who has worked in Miami's fashion industry for four years. "With such a tight time schedule, they had nowhere to go. So I went to my Rolodex and started calling out numbers to them: where to buy material, where to find the pattern makers, where to find embroiderers. I said, `Just use my name and I'm sure they'll help you out.'

"I was opening doors like this because they were talking about making thousands of these. They were talking about different fights around the world and having some made as promotional items."

One business willing to undertake the rush job was Rainbow Monogram, a twelve-year-old embroidery firm operating out of a warehouse in Little Haiti. Robert Hoffman, owner of the company, remembers the two men well: "One said his name was Zasha Mirando, a tall distinguished-looking guy, from India, maybe. Beautiful long hair to his shoulders with a gray streak in it. The other said his name was Maurice - I didn't know the last name - a sleazy-looking Arab-type guy with three earrings in one ear."

Hoffman says Mirando guaranteed that his company, Emporio America Inc., would handle the monetary details. "They were saying they were going to have, like, seven or eight fights around the country and were talking about a whole line of embroidered clothing," remembers Hoffman. "It was going to be big, big stuff. That was the story they gave me."

Two weeks before the fight, the man Hoffman knew only as Maurice gave him a $500 cash deposit, handed him the cut material for the clothes, and put him to work. The embroiderer created about fifteen computer programs, called "tapes," that would command the embroidery machine to make patterns for the various designs. He pulled two all-nighters to complete the tapes; four employees worked around-the-clock for two days to stitch the designs onto the material. Says Hoffman: "I can't tell you how it hurt my normal business. I didn't do anyone's tapes for a solid week. It was only his stuff."

With only two days to spare, Hoffman and his weary crew finished the embroidery. The bill for materials and labor: $10,000, of which $2500 had already been paid. Maurice gave Hoffman a check for all but $1000 of the balance, with instructions not to cash it and a promise he'd return the following Monday with cash. At the same time, he showed the embroiderer his driver's license, which bore the name "Youcef Ihaddadem," Hoffman noted. "He said he used Maurice because no one could pronounce his real name."

Ihaddadem (a.k.a. Maurice) hurried the embroidered fabric to Jorca Manufacturing in Hialeah, which had agreed to sew the pieces together. "They came to me Thursday morning and said they needed it by Friday because the fight was on Saturday," recalls Jorca president Aurelio Cachon, who initially doubted he'd have enough time to complete the job. "They said, `It's no problem with the money. Put the people to work. It don't matter how many hours.' I trust these people because a friend of mine recommended them. I did it because Paul [Rotunno] sent them to me."

Cachon, in business in Miami since 1970, the year he emigrated from his native Cuba via Spain, says he dealt only with Ihaddadem, whom he knew as "Maurice." "He told me that if I didn't have tickets for the fight, Mickey was going to get tickets for everyone," says Cachon, who was also seduced by promises of an order for "thousands of jackets for the fight in Japan."

It took twenty people all day Thursday and half of Friday, hunched over sewing machines, to construct the jackets and the pair of trunks. When "Maurice" came to retrieve the outfits, he told Cachon he would return Monday to pay the $1790 bill. "You know, I trust the guy," the tailor says. "It was for Mickey Rourke. They were using his name."

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Kirk Semple