Other People's Money

The new king of South Florida philanthropists, Richard Bronson, built his empire on the shady side of Wall Street

Sokoloff is referring to charity events Bronson has hosted at Shadow Lounge to fight AIDS, cancer, and cystic fibrosis. When told about the owner's troubled regulatory history, Sokoloff replies, "Do I know about that? No. Do I care? No."

Sokoloff met Bronson about five years ago, soon after the broker moved to South Florida. Even then Bronson was hoping to become involved in some kind of media project, says Sokoloff, who once worked at Ocean Drive magazine. "His passion has always been in publishing," Sokoloff says. "Doing this magazine is his dream. It's something he's always wanted to do."

After announcing Channel's launch, Bronson basked in a round of congratulatory articles. Publishing, he told the Herald is "a love -- and I also see an opportunity to make a lot of money." He told the Daily Business Review he would hire good people and let them run the magazine. "I do my best to stay out of the way," he said.

Even as Bronson expands his South Florida empire, stock analyst Thomas Benson has established a Web page dedicated exclusively to Biltmore (www.stockbroker-analysis.com/bilt.html). It includes charts tracking the performances of several stocks that Benson says the company is peddling. They all nose-dive. "I don't think anybody who takes a look at that Web page would do business with Biltmore," comments Benson, who says he set up the site as a public service.

Biltmore, meanwhile, is also doing business under the name Midas Investment Group. Bronson has virtually retired, says Grubman. He has ceased involvement in the firm's day-to-day business to concentrate on other projects like Shadow Lounge, Channel, charity events, and board memberships. But those activities don't impress Biltmore's detractors. Told of Bronson's philanthropy, one regulator joked: "Let me check and see if they're paid up on their settlement. I might try and come out there to get some of that." Adds former investor West: "He's trying to buy a whitewash. He's got his money. Now he wants something different. He wants respectability.

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