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Gerald Posner’s Tell-All Book Reveals Juicy Stories

October 05, 2009 By Bill Cooke in Miami: Local News  | 1 Comment

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In the spring of 2005, SoFi resident and author Gerald Posner was working on a book about the Vatican.

One day he and his wife Trisha took some time off to have lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab with legendary Miami Herald reporter Gene Miller.

Over the next few hours, Miller - who won two Pulitzer Prizes in his 48 years at the Herald and who died later in 2005 - entertained his hosts with tales of South Florida’s “shady characters” and their nefarious deeds between bites of food.

The stories Miller told him “planted the seeds” for a book on Miami Beach.

Posner decided to put the Vatican book on hold.

Says Posner, “I was immediately drawn to a story of shady characters in a sunny place,” and a town that makes “Scarface look like a documentary.”

The resulting book, Miami Babylon: Crime, Wealth, and Power—A Dispatch from the Beach, will be published October 13 by Simon & Schuster.

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The 464-page tell-all will have more than just a few of South Florida’s boldface names reading the book backwards as they scan the index to see if they’re mentioned.

The rest of us - those of us who wonder why the National Enquirer doesn’t do the occasional issue on South Beach - will be delighted with the dish that Posner serves up.

Posner conducted more than 200 interviews and sifted through some 20,000 pages of court documents, criminal case transcripts records of city commission and zoning board meetings in researching the book.

He interviewed South Florida cops, club owners, real estate entrepreneurs, celebs, crooked politicians, has-beens and wannabes.

Posner also relies heavily on information gathered from Miami Herald and Miami New Times archives.

Miami Babylon is Posner’s 11th book.

Posner, 55, was born, raised and educated in San Francisco.

He attended U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Hastings law school in the late ’60s and early ’70s, during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War. “I was a card-carrying member of the Students for a Democratic Society,” says Posner of his college years.

Following law school he was hired by a New York law firm, which he left after a few years to form his own practice.

In 1986 he published his first book, MENGELE: the Complete Story, based on research he did for a lawsuit against the family of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.

Posner and his wife Trisha began traveling to South Beach in 1989, staying at hotels like the Astor, Nash and Townhouse.

The couple met on a blind date in 1980 and were married in 1984.

Trisha has assisted Posner with every book he’s written.

They’ve lived in Miami Beach full-time since November of 2003.

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Posner recently sat down with MiamiBeach411.com for his first interview about the book.

He said that he had originally planned to write about South Beach from the arrival of the Mariel refugees to the present day.

But that plan was soon scrapped when he discovered it was impossible to write a book about the history of Miami Beach without going back to the Beach’s beginnings.

Posner’s book opens with the influx of newly arrived Mariel refugees flooding a “slowly declining” Miami Beach and turning it into a “war zone.”

“We went from being a seasonal tourist town to suddenly dealing with seasoned criminals who had nothing to lose,” a former Miami Beach police detective told Posner.

The book includes one of the saddest chapters in Miami Beach’s history as seen through the eyes of a newly elected city commissioner named Alex Daoud, who wanted to observe first-hand what Beach cops were up against.

He convinced the chief of police to let him ride with a cop on the midnight shift and ended up getting into a bloody fight with a gang of street thugs.

First elected in 1979, Daoud - who’s a poster child of sorts for all that is good and bad about South Beach - went on to serve three terms as a city commissioner and was elected mayor three times before being convicted of bribery in 1992 and serving a year and half in prison.

Posner then backtracks and gives readers a fascinating thumbnail sketch of 19th-century Florida.

He devotes two early chapters to the improbable tale of the genesis of Miami Beach at the hands of Carl Fisher, a former Indianapolis bicycle dealer and “virulent anti-Semite and racist,” who envisioned a whites-only enclave on a mosquito-infested island after purchasing 200 acres of beach and mangrove swamp in 1912.

Fisher told his wife that he wanted to build a “Magic City” - a name still associated with Miami Beach.

Fisher died in 1939 at age 65, an impoverished alcoholic.

Posner moves on to Miami Beach in wartime, when the Army took over many of the city’s hotels and apartments to house new recruits during WWII.

Post-war Miami Beach saw a new breed of visionary taking a chance on the island.

Real estate developer Ben Novack hired architect Morris Lapidus in 1954 to design what would be come the centerpiece of the Miami Beach hospitality industry: the Fontainebleau Hotel, the same year, Posner says, that two Miami businessmen founded a company called Burger King.

But don’t mistake Miami Babylon for a dry history book.

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There’s plenty of gossip and revelations about the Beach’s A-listers and movers and shakers.

And reverberations are already being felt even before the book’s official debut on October 13.

I’ve learned that a few events planned to coincide with the book’s release have been canceled due to pressure exerted by a few influential people who don’t like the way they’re depicted in the book.

And Posner told me that he believes that Chapter 9 - “The Players” - will spark a guessing game of sorts among readers.

Using pseudonyms, Posner sketches portraits of “Julio Bermudez” and “Bobby Weinstein,” whom Posner says are “prominent Miami Beach businessmen and real estate tycoons” but who made their fortunes importing cocaine on go-fast boats in the ’70s and ’80s. Their days as drug importers “are a hidden part of their past.”

“Bermudez,” Posner writes, “has saved enough from his drug-dealing days to buy a dozen million-dollar-plus apartments in Miami Beach.”

Posner devotes several chapters to Forge owner Al Malnik, a man who seems to have been investigated by just about every local and federal law enforcement agency there is - but who’s never been convicted of anything.

In another chapter, “Building Blocks,” Posner tells of an interview with the host of Channel 7’s “Deco Drive,” Louis Aguirre.

Aguirre poignantly recounts - for the first time in print - his struggles with his homosexuality as a confused teenage boy living with Cuban parents in Miami.

He tells Posner that when he finally moved to Miami Beach, he resisted going to gay clubs for fear of being discovered.

Instead, he says, he would stand in his apartment in front of a large picture window hoping to catch the attention of men as they left gay clubs in the early morning hours.

And a book about South Beach wouldn’t be complete without a chapter on small-time hood turned club owner Chris Paciello.

Paciello was able to open two of Miami Beach’s hottest night clubs in 1994 and in the process charm just about all of SoBe’s glitterati before it was discovered he was wanted for taking part in a New York murder 1993.

Paciello pleaded guilty to his part in the murder and was sentenced to prison in 2000. Freed after six years, he now lives in Los Angeles.

Of Paciello, one SoBe insider told Posner, “There’s no morality here. If he comes back, he’ll be more famous and have more friends than ever.”

But not everything Posner learned made it into print.

Some people, Posner found, were too eager to talk and others not so eager.

Posner told me that once word got out he was working on a book about South Beach, he started getting emails and phone calls from people offering up juicy bits of gossip on their enemies.

“I ignored all of it,” he says.

And then there was the interview with club promoter and convicted felon, Tommy Pooch, that ended before Posner had a chance to turn on his tape recorder.

Pooch got in the first question, “What’s in this for me?”

“He never mentioned money,” Posner says, but the implication was clear. He wanted to get paid.

Posner devotes many chapters to the ’80s and ’90s on Miami Beach, from the arrival of Mariel refugees and the re-birth of South Beach in the mid-’80s as it became a favorite destination for real estate speculators, fashion photographers, models and television and movie producers.

The book ends as present day South Beach - along with the rest of South Florida – struggles to cope with a declining economy and falling real estate prices.

With Miami Babylon, Posner has succeeded in capturing the essence of South Beach and the myriad of characters who’ve shaped and defined what has to be one of the most talked about and interesting two square miles of real estate anywhere in the United States.

The book is a sweeping picture of a place that is constantly being re-invented by a cast of characters straight out of a Hollywood casting office; many of whom are re-inventing themselves and escaping dark pasts.

Or as Trisha Posner puts it, “It’s the fall of the Roman Empire on steroids.”

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-Gerald Posner will present Miami Babylon at an appearance at Books and Books on Lincoln Road, Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Bill Cooke is a professional photojournalist and life-long Miami resident. He also runs the wildly popular Random Pixels blog, covering local and national issues.

See more articles by Bill Cooke.

See more articles by Bill Cooke

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1 Comments on

"Gerald Posner’s Tell-All Book Reveals Juicy Stories"

David L. Wylie says:

Finished Posner’s Miami Babylon last weekend and found it fast-paced,titillating, extremely interesting and a down-right must read for anyone living in South Florida.  I kept coming across names of folks that I personally know or, at least have met in passing.  Great job Gerald!  Can’t wait for your next literary offering!

Posted on 10/07/2009 at 10:47 AM

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