Thomas Kramer, a very rich German financier who owns many buildings in South Beach, apparently has devised his own bon mot for the breadless: "Let them drink wine."
Or, to be more precise, "Let them try to drink the wine I throw in their pathetic faces."
This was the conclusion drawn by Mark Dow and two of his dinner companions, all of whom say they saw the volatile real estate developer douse a panhandler with wine at the Sport Cafe a week ago Monday, June 13.
According to Dow and his friends, the incident began when a black man approached their table, on the sidewalk outside the restaurant at 538 Washington Ave. The man was later identified by police as Donald Poole, who was known to be a panhandler. Though Dow parted with some spare change, a staffer from the restaurant asked the beggar to leave. "He was not hassling anyone," recalls Dow, a freelance writer. "He was just standing there, kind of trying to show that he had as much right to be there as anyone."
It was at this point, Dow recalls, that a patron at the next table loudly suggested that Poole was bothering everyone and should move on. Next to the diner sat a tall, blond, cigar-smoking man who spoke with a distinct German accent and who began exchanging words with Poole. Though Dow did not know it at the time, police later informed him that the German man was Thomas Kramer.
"The next thing I saw was Kramer throwing his glass of wine in the homeless guy's face," Dow recalls. "The homeless guy told Kramer, 'Fuck you,' and Kramer shot up and started coming after him, shouting, 'You want me to fuck you? Is that what you want? Lean over this table and take down your pants. I'll fuck you right now! I'll fuck you like you've never been fucked!'"
Dow says Poole was obviously terrified of Kramer, a substantially larger man. "By this time my friend's little eight-year-old girl was also crying," Dow recalls. (His other two fellow diners, the girl's parents, offer the same account of the altercation. They have requested anonymity, however, for fear that Kramer might use his influence to harm their South Beach business.)
Kramer eventually calmed down and returned to his table, says Dow, and Poole drifted down the block. About twenty minutes later, the police, who had been summoned by Sport Cafe owner Silvano Carrara, arrived and converged on Poole. Dow and Poole each gave the officers an account of what had taken place. According to the police report filed by officer Vince San Roman, however, "Kramer was not cooperative with the investigation I was trying to conduct, but with an angry demeanor said, '[Poole] spat at me.'"
Reached for comment via his publicist, Bruce Rubin, Kramer refused to discuss the confrontation for this article. But Rubin says that judging from what Kramer told him about the incident, the developer displayed remarkable restraint. "This panhandler was physically abusive to the point of throwing glasses and cutlery," asserts Rubin, who was not present when the dispute took place. "As to the police officer, I think that he just misunderstood Mr. Kramer."
Dow and his dinnermates say they didn't see Poole throw anything.
"That is a complete lie," Dow states. "We were right in the middle of all this, so we would have seen if anything was being thrown."
When he spoke to New Times about the fracas, Sport Cafe proprietor Silvano Carrara didn't mention any flying dinnerware. He does insist, however, that "Mr. Kramer is a good customer here and I think that what happened was completely the bum's fault."
Kramer has made news ever since his splashy arrival in Miami Beach in late 1991. He spent $50 million to acquire more than 35 acres of land on the island's southern tip, promising to develop the blighted area; he also became a fixture on the local nightlife scene. "Tycoon Thomas," a 1992 New Times cover story, revealed that Kramer had left Germany after a series of news reports assailed his financial dealings. The story also raised questions about the source of the entrepreneur's funding. And while Kramer's displays of philanthropy, promises of sweeping redevelopment, and seemingly inexhaustible bankroll have found favor with local officials and power brokers -- just two weeks ago he hosted the opening reception for the annual Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Goals Conference -- his conduct as a private citizen has garnered attention of a different sort.
Kramer's history with Miami Beach police extends back to October 1992, when he was accused of fondling a woman's breasts at his now-defunct Ocean Drive nightclub, Hell. And this past January police were summoned to the Washington Avenue club Les Bains after a fight broke out between Kramer and another customer, Thomas Quinn.
According to a police report filed by officer Charlie London, "Quinn stated he was defending himself from Kramer after Kramer initiated an altercation. Kramer did this first by making numerous anti-Semitic statements toward Quinn and [his wife] Rochelle Rothfleisch. Rothfleisch supported Quinn's story. Kramer stated he attempted to avoid a confrontation, but Quinn became increasingly confrontational. As I was speaking to Quinn, Kramer walked up and started shouting at him. Quinn responded by shouting back at Kramer.
"Kramer received a large bruise next to his right eye. Twenty minutes after the fight, the bruise had grown to a swollen area half the size of a golf ball," London's report concludes.
"First and foremost," responds Kramer's publicist, "we absolutely and totally deny that Thomas made anti-Semitic remarks. He doesn't do that. There are two sides to every story."
And two sides to every mogul, as spin doctor Rubin, the fourth in a succession of publicists Kramer has hired since moving here, doubtless is aware. While Rubin is still bullish on Kramer's grandiose plans to build a casino and a $1000-per-night luxury hotel (the developer has abandoned plans for a European-style village), others on South Beach are less sanguine. Just two months ago, in fact, Kramer received a three-page letter that included death threats. The missive, on file with Miami Beach Police, was signed "Travis Bickle," an allusion to the sociopathic assassin in the film Taxi Driver.