Thomas Kramer's South Beach Story Ends With $200 Million Court Judgment

Red-eyed with exhaustion, Thomas Kramer slumped behind his empty desk. The real estate tycoon had been up all night worrying about how to break the news to his employees. As they filed in, he reached across the desk and grabbed a bottle of pills. Behind him, green lights blinked on an oversize map, indicating the dozens of exotic locales he'd visited. But the shell-shocked look on his face made the towering, blond German look less a glamorous entrepreneur than the general of a defeated army.

It was a Thursday morning in early March, and Kramer had called an emergency staff meeting in his "war room," as he referred to the office in his opulent Star Island mansion. The seven-member team that gathered around him had known for months their boss was facing money problems. He was so short of cash, in fact, he'd borrowed money from friends and sold off his extensive watch collection to meet payroll. Until we marched into his office, though, no one knew just how dire the situation had become.

"I can no longer afford to keep you guys," Kramer said softly as he began to cry. "There are only so many watches I can sell. I feel like I have failed you all."

In the 12 months I'd worked for Kramer as his in-house writer, I'd witnessed firsthand his crippling mood swings, but I'd never seen him this depressed. "I see no other option," he sobbed.

That morning marked a new low in one of the most incredible rise-and-fall stories in Miami Beach's storied history of booms and busts. In the 1990s, Kramer was SoBe royalty, the man who'd spearheaded the South of Fifth revival and ruled from a waterfront mansion where wild shindigs sometimes turned into outright orgies. More than anyone, he symbolized an era of glamour, decadence, and carefree excess.

Now it was all over thanks to a Swiss court ruling in January that Kramer had to repay nearly $200 million to a German currency-printing dynasty. His appeals were up. Everything had to go — the house, the staff, the jewelry, the extensive cellar of vintage wine, even the taxidermied giraffe that greeted visitors in the hallway. Because of my job in Kramer's mansion, I had a unique front-row seat for his last days in Miami Beach. I saw one man's desperate efforts to salvage his name and his livelihood, afraid but hopeful that some last-minute opportunity would save him from financial ruin.

In fact, by the time he dismissed his staff, Kramer had already found the man he believed could be his long-shot savior: a scandal-tarred Pakistani plutocrat named Malik Riaz who wanted a partner to build a $20 billion island city in Karachi. Riaz, Kramer said that morning between sobs, was his last best hope.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring Pakistan back on the map of the leading nations in the world," Kramer later said of the project.

If he succeeds in Karachi, Kramer could pull off the ultimate coup in a career full of remarkable comebacks. If he fails, though, it's anyone's guess how low he could fall.

"I don't see any possibility of the island project materializing," says Amir Mateen, a Pakistani reporter who wrote a ten-part series about Malik Riaz for the Pakistani newspaper the Spokesman. "It has all the ingredients of a scam."

Thomas Kramer was a notorious figure even as a teenager. He was born April 27, 1957, in Frankfurt, Germany, and by the age of 13 he was making waves with a rabidly right-wing student newspaper he founded called Pausenzeichen, the German word for "recess" or "break."

As student protests raged against the Vietnam War, young Thomas watched cars burning in the street and police battling protesters, he recalled in interviews for his unpublished memoirs. Even though he had yet to visit the country, Kramer loved America, or at least the idea of America. To him it represented freedom and democracy, while the student protesters represented the opposite: the tyranny of East German-style socialism.

After his home was graffitied with threats tied to his newspaper, his father, a stockbroker named Willi Kramer, and his mother, Ingeborg, shipped Thomas off to Salem Boarding School, a posh private academy housed in a castle. Suddenly surrounded by students and teachers who agreed with his right-wing views, Kramer grew bored with politics. It was a move he'd repeat throughout his life. He thrived on conflict.

Instead, the teenager turned his energies to making money in the stock market just like his father. The fact that Willi's son wasn't old enough to trade didn't stop him. Kramer often told a story about changing his age on his passport, opening an account with 500 Deutschmarks, and then trading on the school pay phone. By the end of high school, he claimed, he made his first million Deutschmarks. (Though he also admitted he just as quickly lost it on bad investments — another recurring pattern.)

By 1976, Kramer was working on Wall Street, where he spent the next decade as a commodities trader commuting between Germany and New York. He was already getting a reputation as a major-league playboy. For his 30th birthday party in 1987, he rented a German castle, invited 200 guests, and made a grand entrance dressed as a circus ringmaster riding an elephant.

Kramer attributed his early success to his dreams — literally. "I am a man of visions," he told Forbes magazine in March 1993. "One time I had a dream about a burning field. I knew I should buy wheat and corn futures. That is how it is with me." Another dream, he claimed, told him to take all of his money out of the market, which led him to predict the 1987 stock market crash. Whether it was foresight or good luck, he made a reported $30 million on that deal and became a regular on German talk shows.

He also dated a string of high-profile and beautiful women. The loveliest of all was Catherine Burda, a willowy heiress whom Kramer met in 1989 at a charity dinner.

They were both rich kids with rebellious streaks. Three days after meeting, she flew him in her private jet to Munich to meet her father, Franz Burda, who ran one of Europe's largest publishing empires. The meeting did not go well. In interviews for his memoir, Kramer recalls Franz, a giant of a man, screaming, "Are you that Thomas Kramer? If you ever touch my daughter, I'll destroy you! I'll destroy you!"

The couple defied Franz and jetted to New York a few days later to marry. It turned out Franz Burda wasn't bluffing. His newspapers began running stories about a purportedly shady real estate fund that Kramer had set up in East Germany just before reunification in 1990. The accusations were flimsy, but the bad press caused the bank to withdraw its line of credit. Kramer says his fund went bankrupt.

But if Kramer had made an enemy of one powerful German business magnate, he soon found a friend in another: Siegfried Otto, the wealthy patriarch of the clan that controlled Germany's biggest bank-note-printing company, Giesecke & Devrient. Siegfried was Catherine Burda's stepfather.

Outwardly, the elderly Otto was a respectable businessman. He'd earned his wealth by marrying Utta Devrient, the daughter of Giesecke & Devrient's owner, in 1943 while he was a major in the German army. When West Germany switched to the Deutschmark after the war, he turned Giesecke & Devrient into a global powerhouse that eventually printed currency for more than 50 countries.

In reality, though, Otto had been cheating the tax man for nearly 30 years, stashing 200 million Deutschmarks in Swiss banks. He saw a way out of his predicament in his new son-in-law.

Kramer, according to Swiss court documents, offered a simple solution: He'd take care of Siegfried's millions in Miami's real estate market. The younger German had just returned from his first trip to South Beach and was full of stories about a town slowly emerging from neglect. After a helicopter ride over Miami Beach, he was particularly bullish about the southern tip of the island, then a crime-ridden neighborhood that reminded him of Manhattan's Battery, which he saw transformed from a landfill into a luxury housing complex in the 1980s.

On May 8, 1992, the two German businessmen signed a confidential document, a gift annuity agreement that gave Kramer control over Otto's hidden funds, according to the Swiss court documents. Kramer, now 200 million Deutschmarks richer, embarked on a massive property-shopping spree, buying three lots on Star Island and 45 acres of land south of Fifth Street, often paying way over market value and usually in cash. Practically overnight, he became South Beach's biggest property owner.

"Everyone thought he was crazy," Saul Gross, then a city commissioner, told the New York Times earlier this year. "He wanted to buy whatever he could, and he was willing to pay whatever people were asking; he wasn't even negotiating."

Few have ever made a first impression quite like Thomas Kramer's grand debut in Miami Beach.

It came with the opening of his nightclub, Hell, on November 1, 1992, in the old Leo­nard's Hotel on Ocean Drive. "Come revel with the Devil," read the invitations. Kramer had spent $6 million to open a lavish nightclub featuring rooms dedicated to each of the seven deadly sins. However, rather than a glorious welcoming party, Kramer — who was dressed head to toe as Satan — prompted a mass walkout when journalists, many of whom were gay, overheard him telling the club's manager: "Don't let in any more faggots."

The opening of Hell, which closed two weeks later, was a PR disaster that left Kramer labeled a bigot — an image, though it was mostly untrue, that he could never shake even as he rose to new heights in South Beach. "He was seen as an arrogant man wearing a tux smoking a cigar telling us we were too ugly to get into his club," former Hell doorman Louis Canalis told New Times in a 1992 profile piece.

When not sabotaging his public image, Kramer spent the first half of the '90s cleaning up South of Fifth. His plans for the deteriorated neighborhood were as haphazard as his nightclub schemes. First he wanted to construct a replica of Portofino, the Italian fishing village. Next came plans for the world's largest gay hotel, followed by a $500 million casino backed by Donald Trump. Kramer blew millions on an initiative to bring gambling to South Florida that was defeated at the ballot box in November 1994. Finally, he settled on a less ambitious plan: a serious of high-rise luxury apartments, starting with Portofino Tower.

That project also nearly floundered. He'd made it to only the fourth floor of the planned 44-story building when he ran out of Otto's money. So in 1995, developer Jorge Pérez stepped in with financing. Kramer was a constant thorn in the developer's side, insisting at one point that the concrete balconies be replaced with glass ones, a $10 million overrun. Later, he decided the showers were all too small and ordered the architect to rip them out.

Kramer's personal life also threatened his empire. In February 1995, he was arrested in Zurich, Switzerland, after an old school friend accused him of raping his wife in the bathroom of a strip club. Kramer claimed the sex was consensual. The charges were dismissed by Swiss prosecutors because it was unclear whether the woman's injuries were inflicted by Kramer or by her angry spouse. Then, later that year, Catherine divorced him.

Amid that turmoil, Kramer's business empire reached new heights. Portofino opened in 1997 as a huge hit. The peach-and-turquoise building attracted deep-pocketed buyers from abroad who snapped up apartments for as much as $2.5 million. The same year, Kramer sold 13 acres of oceanfront land for $54 million, four times what he'd paid for it five years earlier. South Pointe was booming, and crazy Kramer wasn't looking so crazy anymore.

Soon after his divorce from Catherine, Kramer began dating Stephanie Phillips, a fashion model studying psychology at the University of Miami. Phillips wasn't a vacuous model. She was an avid outdoorswoman who enjoyed hiking in far-flung locations with Kramer.

But despite his newfound love, Kramer kept getting into trouble. In November 1997, while at dinner with Stephanie and Jorge Pérez at the South Miami restaurant Trattoria Sole, a fracas broke out. Owner Maurizio Farinelli said Kramer punched him when he told the developer to put out his cigar. A huge brawl erupted between his posse and the restaurant staff. By the time a bloodied Kramer stumbled out to be whisked away in an SUV, the restaurant had been trashed. Kramer was charged with misdemeanor assault. (He was later acquitted.)

Then, a month before the assault trial, Phillips committed suicide. She was 25. Kramer, who claimed he learned that Phillips was suffering from bipolar disorder only after she died, was inconsolable, comparing losing her to having his right arm cut off.

Her death seemed to spur Kramer to even greater heights of outrageous behavior. In April 1999, he was kicked off his own 42nd birthday cruise, a lavish affair that began in Tel Aviv. For Kramer, it ended the next day when the captain dumped him in Port Said, Egypt, after he'd started a fistfight with a waiter because the ship had run out of Opus One, a favorite California wine.

The next month, Kramer was arrested for rape again, this time by the London Metropolitan Police. One of Kramer's assistants, who was staying with him in his posh London mansion, accused him of sexually assaulting her in his bedroom. Kramer claimed it was an attempt by the secretary and her boyfriend to shake him down. The case was dismissed after his accuser withdrew the charges.

By the end of the 1990s, just as Kramer was reaching the pinnacle of his success as a real estate developer, his highly public personal life was spinning out of control.

I first met Thomas Kramer in November 2010 at Burger & Beer Joint on Bay Road and quickly realized the stories about his eccentricity weren't exaggerated. Before eating, he reached into a velvet bag and took out an elaborate collection of spices, which he carefully laid out on the table. He said he carried them everywhere he dined out.

I found Kramer charming and infuriating at once, not at all like the "Deutsche douchebag" of tabloid legend. He was a constantly moving ball of energy, like an overgrown 6-year-old with a bad case of ADD — an impression that would only strengthen over the 12 months I spent in his employ.

I'd gone to the restaurant hoping the entrepreneur could help me with a copyright lawsuit, and although he proved unhelpful, I did spend an entertaining evening slapping his hand under the table as he tried to put it up my skirt. He was fascinated to learn that I was working as a professional dominatrix. I was 19 pretending to be 21. After escaping to Miami Beach from my suburban Staten Island home in the summer of 2009, I'd found my way to a dungeon in Coral Gables. I later wrote a New Times cover story about the time I spent there and penned a regular column about BDSM, a body of work that helped me worm into Kramer's confidences. One freak bonding with another, as it were.

Before I left the burger joint, he claimed I reminded him of himself as a youngster. "If you're this crazy now, imagine what you are going to be when you are my age," he said. The dinner over, Kramer took a wad of cash from his pocket and tipped the waitress $200.

For two years afterward, we texted and kept in contact. Then, in March 2012, I saw he'd posted an ad on Facebook looking for a ghostwriter to pen his autobiography. I replied as a joke, but he instantly texted back asking me to come in for an interview. He hired me on the spot and told me to turn up for work the next day.

Like most of the other ten employees I met that first day at his waterfront mansion, I knew nothing of Kramer's money woes. Judging by the vast Mediterranean-style villa painted in Kramer's favorite color — bright red — he was every inch the outrageously wealthy entrepreneur he presented himself as on The Real Housewives of Miami.

My first task as his autobiographer was piecing together what he had been up to in the new millennium. "A ten-year downward spiral" is how Kramer described the period in his official biography on his website. Planned projects, such as SoBe Towers in Rio de Janeiro and a mega-development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, never made it further than the drawing board. Vast sums were funding his extravagant lifestyle, but almost nothing was coming in.

By 2010, Kramer had grown tired of all the partying and jetted to Mexico to undergo ibogaine treatment — a controversial procedure in which doctors spent two weeks pumping him full of hallucinogenic drugs. He said it had worked: He stopped drinking, claiming that even the slightest smell of alcohol made him ill. Now clean and sober, he wanted to get back into the real estate development business, but no one wanted to work with him because of his scandal-scarred reputation.

So he'd been trying to market his "brand" instead. First came TK Fashion, a line of casual wear that sold very few items. A planned cable cooking show called Totally Kooked, in which Kramer would make dinner for ten celebrity guests, also fizzled. In 2011, he set up TK Global Realty, which was in business for about a month before the realtors quit in a dispute over commissions.

Plowing through a pile of manuscripts — the efforts of the dozen or so previous writers who'd quickly been fired — I soon discovered that Kramer, who referred to himself as a "visionary developer," was prone to exaggerating and taking credit for practically every luxury high-rise apartment building in South of Fifth. In truth, he had little to do with any work other than Portofino Tower and the Yacht Club at Portofino, a 33-story building he opened two years later.

"Thomas was not really a developer. He was a trader, and so he partnered with or sold to developers who executed the projects," Neisen Kasdin, who was Miami Beach's mayor from 1997 to 2001, recently told New Times.

Kramer hadn't developed anything in Miami Beach on the scale of Portofino since it opened in 1997. The more I researched, the more I thought of Kramer as a male version of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard: a onetime big shot whose glory days were over. I began to see myself, meanwhile, as William Holden's character, Joe Gillis, a hack inexorably drawn into Kramer's glamorous fantasy world, where he was convinced his big comeback was right around the corner.

First, however, Kramer needed a face-lift. In May 2012, he scheduled an appointment with his friend, plastic surgeon Lenny Hochstein, Miami's self-styled "Boob God." Kramer wanted someone to videotape the procedure, and because I was the least squeamish person in the office, he nominated me. I held Kramer's hand as he went under the anesthesia and filmed in rapt horror for six hours as Hochstein separated the skin from Kramer's face. The smell of burning flesh turned my stomach. When Kramer woke, the first thing he asked me was how the video turned out.

As he recuperated, the impulsive businessman decided it was a brilliant idea to upload the video to YouTube, claiming it would somehow enhance his brand. The whole office protested, but he disregarded our advice. (Fortunately, the video was removed a couple of days later.)

Surreal incidents such as that one made me feel like I was working for a different company every few weeks. One month, I worked for a firm selling "not just real estate, but lifestyle." The next, bored with luxury sales, the boss decided to get into app development. "The future is online!" he would bark enthusiastically. Never mind that he had trouble operating his iPhone.

Kramer was also obsessed with starting a reality TV show. His guest appearances on The Real Housewives of Miami — where last season he kicked out two of the show's cast members for bickering at his dinner table — had whetted his appetite, but he wasn't having much luck drumming up interest. "You don't make me any money — at least get me a fucking show!" he would yell at his staff.

A friend of mine knew people at NBC, so she set up a meeting at Kramer's mansion with a high-ranking executive producer. But in the middle of the meeting, Kramer began weeping while explaining why he was "misunderstood." I never heard from the network again. Apparently, he was too unhinged even for reality TV.

Kramer's red-faced rages, meanwhile, were frightening. The most insignificant detail would set him off: from an email that wasn't typed in his favorite font (Helvetica) to a wrong-colored marker on the office whiteboards. During these episodes, it was as if he would enter into an altered state. Afterward, he would forget what he had just said and seemed genuinely surprised that his staff was upset.

Not unexpectedly, employee turnover was high. During the year I worked on Star Island, I saw more than 30 people come and go. Nevertheless, if you could look past the outbursts, Kramer could be a cool boss. "My house is your house," he often said, when he wasn't calling us all "baby lions," his affectionate term. Any employees who needed a place to live were welcome to stay rent-free in one of the guest houses, and Kramer encouraged his staff to grab a bottle of wine from his fridge and chill by his pool. We would roll our eyes and call him our "wacky German mother" when he cavorted around the kitchen making us lunch while wearing an apron with a huge black dildo embroidered on it.

What we didn't know, though, was that behind the scenes, Kramer's financial house of cards was close to tumbling down.

The judgment came January 13, nearly 21 years after Siegfried Otto had entrusted Kramer with 200 million Deutschmarks. The Swiss Federal Tribunal, the nation's highest court, was unequivocal: Kramer must now pay Otto's descendants the equivalent of $187 million.

It was Kramer's entire fortune and more — a stunning result that came from nearly two decades of legal fighting in Europe that Kramer, amazingly, had somehow kept secret from nearly everyone who knew him in Miami.

Kramer's troubles, it turned out, began back in 1993, only a year after Otto had entrusted him with his money. That's when Otto got cold feet, confessed to German authorities that he'd hidden his untaxed fortune with Kramer, and then struck a confidential deal to avoid jail time by repaying 100 million Deutschmarks (about $71.4 million). That agreement was leaked to the German press two years later, forcing Otto to resign from day-to-day operations at Giesecke & Devrient.

What was less public was Otto's legal action after settling that massive tax bill: He asked Kramer to pay back the money. Problem was, Kramer had already spent about $100 million on land in Miami Beach. So, according to Swiss court filings, Kramer returned just $20 million and refused to refund the rest. After negotiations between their lawyers failed, Kramer filed a preemptive lawsuit in July 1996 with the circuit court of Zurich claiming he was "maliciously misled during contract negotiations" with Otto in 1992 and didn't owe him anything.

Otto countersued the same year, demanding the return of all his funds plus interest and an accounting of how Kramer had spent the millions. The next year, the Swiss courts dismissed Kramer's lawsuit and sided with Otto. Whether the money that Otto gave to Kramer constituted a loan, as Otto maintained, or a gift, as Kramer claims to this day, became the basis of a string of unsuccessful appeals that would consume Kramer behind the scenes for the next 15 years.

When the 82-year-old Otto died after a series of strokes in 1997, his surviving daughters inherited their father's business and continued his lawsuit. Verena von Mitschke-Collande, the current owner of Giesecke & Devrient, and Claudia Miller-Otto, a philanthropist and abstract painter who lives in Key West, weren't willing to forgive such a colossal debt. (Both sisters declined to be interviewed for this story.)

On January 9, 2003, the Zurich High Court dismissed Kramer's appeal. To ensure that the Swiss judgment stuck, the heirs took their case to Miami. On April 13, 2007, Miami-Dade County Circuit Court decided the ruling was "an enforceable judgment of this State of Florida." The Otto sisters also targeted Kramer's London assets. A British judge froze $10 million of Kramer's property in 2007.

Despite losses on two continents, Kramer refused to give up. Within months of the Florida verdict, Kramer's lawyers petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to strike it down. In August 2009, the court denied Kramer's petition for review.

Finally, this past January, the legal drama reached its long-delayed climax when the Swiss Federal Tribunal ruled Kramer's final appeal was "without merit" and told him it was time to pay up. The Otto clan had at last prevailed against the man who'd taken their millions to Miami.

"It wasn't a matter of principle," said a source connected to the lawsuit, who requested anonymity because of ties to the Otto family. "It was definitely over the money. Two hundred million dollars isn't loose pocket change."

In the weeks after the news, Kramer's two decades of dizzying excess quickly evaporated as he scrambled to meet the Swiss judgment.

I spent February, the month before the teary meeting with his staff, covered in paper dust in a small side room with two shredders while helping Kramer eradicate 20 years of his life. Boxes of documents — party invitations from the 1990s, receipts for dinners from fancy restaurants, photographs of Portofino Tower — reached almost to the ceiling. I shredded so much that sanitation workers complained about having to haul it all away. Kramer would occasionally pop in. Humiliation welled up in his eyes as he watched his empire being slowly dismantled.

As the day of his departure to Pakistan drew closer, he became more depressed. The usual stream of gold diggers that flowed into the mansion now slowed to a trickle, though the occasional bimbo sheepishly clad in Kramer's custom-made shirts reading "Good Girls Go to Heaven, Bad Girls Go to 5 Star Island" would wander around the grounds. I genuinely feared that Kramer might harm himself. The death of his beloved father, Willi, in 2012 had forced him to confront his own mortality, and in the wake of the Swiss decision, he began to talk openly about taking his own life. I worried that one morning I might hear a shot coming from the walk-in safe upstairs where he stored his guns.

But Kramer soon announced he'd found one last chance to salvage his career: He was pinning all his hopes on Malik Riaz. The night before he left for Karachi, Pakistan, 200 friends gathered at his mansion to drink champagne and wish him bon voyage. "It's like being present at my own funeral," he told me.

The down-on-his-luck businessman had reason to be apprehensive. His plan reeked of desperation: Riaz, a notorious property tycoon, wanted to partner with him to build Safe Island City, which will supposedly boast the world's tallest building and the world's largest shopping center — all on the outskirts of Karachi, one of the world's most dangerous cities.

Kramer had met Riaz in Pakistan in 2010 through a mutual friend in Islamabad. The two struck up a relationship, and after a real estate company owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family backed out of a deal to finance Safe Island City in February, Riaz asked Kramer to come aboard. (Riaz didn't respond to requests from New Times through an intermediary for an interview.)

Riaz, who likes to portray himself as Sultana Daku — a Pakistani version of Robin Hood — has been publicly accused (though never convicted) of crimes ranging from forgery and extortion to kidnapping and murder. Last May, a fellow land developer named Dr. Shafiqur Rehman filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Pakistan charging that Riaz, with help from the police, had tried to frame him for the killing of one of Riaz's bodyguards in August 2008. He also claimed Riaz was responsible for the deaths of Lt. Gen. Imtiaz Hussain and Dr. Mansoor Janjua in a dispute over a land deal in Lahore. (Those claims, which Riaz has denied, are pending in court.)

Critics, though, say Riaz has skirted convictions only because he's too powerful. In June 2012, for instance, investigators tried to arrest Riaz in Islamabad on the orders of a special anti-corruption court, but the local cops prevented the tycoon from being taken into custody.

According to Amir Mateen, the reporter for the Spokesman, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has heard hundreds of cases alleging criminal misconduct by Riaz's company Bahria Township, "mostly involving land-grabbing where [Riaz's] goons forcibly took away land from poor people to build houses, some of which cost as high as 220 million rupees — the Sultana Daku in reverse."

Kramer was willing to ignore those dangers. He had no stable income. The businesses he ran didn't bring in much money, and his Star Island mansion was on the market for $55 million, but without any serious offers in sight. The Pakistani project could either be a glorious final coup for the investor or serious trouble.

"The deal better go through," Kramer told me in the kitchen during his going-away gala. "It's either that or a bullet to the head."

Just two days after leaving Miami on March 12, Kramer signed a memorandum of understanding with Riaz while surrounded by flashing cameras in Karachi. Kramer told a roomful of journalists that he "is spearheading a syndicate that is planning on investing $20 billion over the next five to ten years."

Where would Kramer get $20 billion for such a risky project? Already, Pakistani regulatory authorities have fined Riaz's company for fraudulent advertising and for illegally receiving public money in advance for a project that is still a long way from breaking ground.

Still, in a way, the partnership makes sense, because Riaz wants a sheen of Western backing and Kramer needs his name on a real project. "I think the deal is mutually beneficial," Mateen says. "Malik Riaz wants to use the name of an investor who turned around part of Miami, and Kramer will either make money if the project goes well without spending much or still gets compensated in some ways."

Kramer briefly flew back to Miami Beach in early May to oversee the auction of his mansion's contents. Buyers could bid on everything: his taxidermied German shepherd, a portrait of Joseph Stalin that once hung in the cigar room, a statue of Ben Franklin that used to sit in the courtyard. How much did he make? Kramer won't say.

Indeed, he refused to comment for this story when reached by Skype from the Cannes Film Festival last week.

"I don't want to talk about my past. You fucking worked for me for a year — you should know all this!" he yelled. Then he softened his tone. "Bye, love you. We'll talk when the article comes out."

The mansion, home to two decades of bacchanals, now sits empty awaiting a buyer. Meanwhile, Kramer's legacy — the luxury real estate market he helped pioneer in South Beach — is again surging with buyers from Russia and Brazil snapping up apartments. The price of land in SoFi has increased tenfold since Kramer began buying properties in the neighborhood.

Anyone in danger of forgetting who he was and what he meant to South Beach in its '90s heyday has only to look at the skyline of contemporary Miami Beach, where Portofino still looms as the tallest building in South Beach, a monument to one man's arrogance and perseverance.

As party promoter turned property developer Michael Capponi says: "His initial vision of South of Fifth Street helped reshape South Beach into what it is today."

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Lera Gavin

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