The Powers Behind Ocean Drive

Talk about hot. Jerry Powers had yet to unveil his magazine and already he was getting good ink. "Powers, the man behind Ocean Drive magazine, must have more credibility than most new publishers," gushed Miami Herald columnist Gail Meadows in November 1992. "Without even a prototype to show potential customers, he's been able to sell 40 pages of ads."

The January 1993 inaugural issue did not disappoint. Aimed at capturing the upscale advertising market created by South Beach's fashion boom, Ocean Drive immediately defined itself as a mirror image of its namesake -- glamorous and gossipy and desperately beautiful. The ideal read for starstruck browsers. None other than Guess! model Claudia Schiffer graced the cover, her renowned bosom testing the straps of a clingy black gown.

The chicest of advertisers clamored for space in the February issue. Fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo, who had snapped the shot of Schiffer, agreed to supply the next half-dozen covers. The glossy even landed an interview with Thomas Kramer, the mysterious German financier who was gobbling up Beach real estate like Linzer torte.

For Powers, who had arrived in town with little more than a dream, the debut was cause for celebration.

On January 20, 1993, however, the 48-year-old New Jersey native made a very different sort of debut -- this one in U.S. District Court, where he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failure to file a federal tax return, crimes for which he faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

Two years later Powers has yet to be sentenced (he is slated to receive his punishment April 6). His magazine, in the meantime, has swelled to Vogue-ian proportions, doubled its staff, and sought out new markets in Broward and Palm Beach.

With the ascendance of Ocean Drive, Powers has become South Beach royalty. Once a struggling Sixties radical who put out Miami's first underground newspaper, he now dines in the finest restaurants, drives a Jaguar, lives in a spacious home on exclusive Sunset Island, and rubs elbows with A-list celebs.

All this, of course, while federal charges are pending.
And his trouble with the IRS isn't the only secret Powers has been keeping. There is also his arrest record -- which stretches back to 1966 and includes some twenty busts, most for worthless checks, others drug-related -- and at least four lawsuits filed against Ocean Drive by former staff members and service providers who allege the magazine failed to pay them.

While by no means nefarious, one other secret is equally intriguing. Powers has never publicly discussed Ocean Drive's financial backers, a group that includes prominent advertiser and one-time profile subject Thomas Kramer, who has invested tens of thousands of dollars in the venture.

Other than to confirm that Kramer is an investor, Powers refuses to discuss his magazine's finances. But he is candid about his brushes with the law. He blames most of the arrests on a drug addiction that dominated his life for the better part of a decade. The recent tax charges, he says, were due to bad financial advice and his own carelessness. But he believes these past transgressions have no bearing on his leadership of Ocean Drive. "After all I've been through, I've learned," Powers asserts. "When you're running a business, you have to be very aware of laws that govern the finances. And I am. I am."

Jerry Powers can spin riveting tales of his exploits as a struggling hippie idealist, then acknowledge in the next breath that he recently purchased a new Jag. He can insist that he holds fast to the radical values of his younger years, even as he lounges in an oceanfront office decorated with photos of himself alongside then-presidents Reagan and Bush.

Even his lawsuits smack of irony.
Take the case of Ocean Drive versus Rumor Model Management. Rumor had paid only $1000 of the $4000 the magazine had charged for full-page ads that ran in the first two issues. In March 1992, the agency sent a check for $1000. The check bounced. Months later the bill remained unpaid. Powers hired an attorney to sue Rumor and recently obtained a judgment for $6200, including damages.

Ocean Drive has numerous other suits pending against delinquent advertisers, but those cases don't cover the full scope of Jerry Powers's familiarity with matters like bad checks. Metro-Dade police records indicate that Powers wrote his first bad check in New Jersey in 1966, shortly before he came to Miami and began publishing his underground newspaper, the Daily Planet. Writing bad checks became, by his own admission, a habit.

Sometimes the checks were small (fifteen dollars to one Missy Alspach). Other times they were large ($1278 to Always Better Service Plumbing). Sometimes Powers would fight the charges in court. Other times he would simply fail to show up on the appointed day, whereupon a warrant would be issued for his arrest. On November 20, 1985, when police stopped him for a traffic infraction, a records check showed that Powers had no Florida driver's license but did have warrants outstanding on four previous worthless-check charges dating back to 1978.

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Steven Almond