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At Bayside, Ship Happens

Page 4 of 5

Sofge says he just wants the best for Miamarina and Bayside. "There have been shootings out back and everything else. And we're trying to keep it so tourists can feel safe coming here. Keep downtown alive. Like a South Beach atmosphere."

Frustrated about her pending eviction, La Rumba owner Ilona Fortunato says the city is unfairly overlooking Sofge's skirmishes with police. "First of all, he's a drug addict. Then he likes to pick up prostitutes on Biscayne Boulevard. Then he got busted for having coke," she seethes. "Why does the city want to pick on people who aren't doing anything wrong?"

Sofge acknowledges he had a drug problem and was arrested several times, but says that is irrelevant to his tour boat business. His competitors bring up the problems because they envy his success, he argues. "It's like an Arby's that goes up against a Burger King. Arby's knows what they're getting into before they get into it."

Public records show Sofge has been arrested three times in Miami-Dade -- but not on one of his boats. He was arrested twice last year for driving recklessly in his BMW and then violently resisting arrest. In one of those incidents, which took place last August in front of Bayside, he was also charged with cocaine possession. This past April he was busted for soliciting a prostitute who happened to be an undercover officer. Sofge is awaiting trial on that last charge.

"I'm not proud of what happened, but it happened, and I took care of it," Sofge sighs. He says he left his company in the hands of his brother and other employees last year while he underwent drug treatment. "I'm just trying to make sure that every day is a good day."

Then there's the mysterious FBI investigation.
In 1996 agents began probing the disappearance of former Sofge employee Maureen Deulomnick, whom Haley Sofge says was his girlfriend at the time. She vanished from a beach on Big Harbor Cay in the Bahamas while on a fishing trip with the Sofges and several other people, according to Haley. "I have no closure," he says. "I had a girl that was in my life for quite a few years and disappeared on a fishing vacation over in the Bahamas." Adds Chuck: "We were questioned in the beginning, and we did all the homework and research and did everything we felt we could to find her. We were physically exhausted." Three other tour boat owners told New Times they were questioned by an FBI agent about Deulomnick last year. The FBI declined to comment on the probe.

Haley Sofge says some of his competitors have tried to implicate him in the disappearance. "That's a dirty rumor. That's a real nasty rumor talking about that," he snaps. "You're talking about a human being. You're not talking about business. You're talking about something personal."

Bogner would not comment on the investigation or Chuck Sofge's arrests. "How far into someone's personal life am I supposed to get?" he huffs. He adds that the Sofges are "model tenants" because they always pay on time.

For Bogner, changes at Miamarina are not happening fast enough. Now he's run into a delay at city hall.

This month, at Abrams and Bogner's request, interim City Manager Donald Warshaw asked commissioners to rescind the current requirement that commercial boat operators submit a "certificate of public convenience and necessity" when they apply for a dock lease. Among other things, the certificate asks applicants if they have a criminal record. In a memo to commissioners, Warshaw wrote: "The elimination of the certificate will relieve the City from determining the moral fitness and character of the applicant and, instead, evaluate potential operators' experience, operation, and revenue potential to the City."

The commission deferred action on the proposed change and on Bogner's master plan until a public hearing can be held. Because the commission is in recess during August, that will not happen until September.

Still, Bogner cites progress. The marina's manager observes that the section of the marina reserved for private pleasure boats is filling up. Of 45 slips in that area, 15 have permanent leases, compared to a mere 2 when Bogner arrived. "I'm trying to make this place as high-quality and competitive as the other marinas in the area," Bogner says.

But getting people to stop by Miamarina is not easy. On a recent weekend afternoon, Bogner crouched in his office, two-way radio microphone in hand, and looked through a window toward Biscayne Bay. He focused on a sports fishing vessel named Better Idea, which was towing a Jet Ski.

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Kirk Nielsen
Contact: Kirk Nielsen