Mixing and Acting

Bankruptcy allows a Fort Lauderdale trade school to stage a walkout

Wayne Radomski sells confidence. A robust composite of Gordon Gekko and Dom DeLuise, he sits behind a sturdy marble desk the size of a pickup truck's bed. His office on Oakland Park Boulevard, one mile west of I-95, is decorated with Greek statues, greenery, and gold light fixtures. His rapid-fire speech is laced with authority and resonance.

Like his workplace, Radomski's business, the National Academy of Professional Arts, is a peculiar mix. A trade school that offers courses in theater and bartending, it is appropriately housed on the top floor of a strip mall where you can have anything done, from your taxes to your nails. Radomski, who dresses as impeccably as a Wall Street banker, explains the odd pairing of disciplines by saying he teaches skills that apply to both. "Self-esteem is really where the issue is," he says, drowning out the soft classical music that pours from a speaker behind him. "If there's low self-esteem, then a person obviously doesn't want to go out and work, because they've been badgered by their last job or badgered by a relationship. We go into these spaces with them so they can come out and feel good about themselves."

When students complete either of his programs, Radomski insists, they are able to enter the workforce as if they had prior experience. "When a person gets out of my bartending school, they feel as if they've been behind the bar for two years," he continues. "When they come out of my theater [school], they are professional actors who can work in the industry."

While Radomski's sales pitch has drawn scores of pupils over the years, he's also had more than his share of financial difficulties. And now several of his former students have come forward with accusations of mismanagement and fraud. Chief among their claims is that, when it came to matters of money, Radomski was a liar. Four students interviewed by New Times say he violated the terms of tuition contracts they signed when they enrolled. Others contend he refused to give refunds after temporarily shutting down and did not pay several employees.

Radomski argues the students and their cohorts are mistaken. The school closed only a few weeks for Christmas break. And when it comes to complaints from the students and a teacher named Ronald Wertheim, Radomski's face contorts. "They were... part of a whole class I threw out January 7," he comments. "They went to the home of one of their teachers outside of class to study, rather than pay their tuition."

Then there's the matter of bankruptcy. Radomski first denied seeking Chapter 7 protection this past December, then declined to comment further. But federal records tell another story. The Radomski Management Corp., which lists the school's address as its own and Radomski as its agent, filed for bankruptcy in federal court in Fort Lauderdale this past December 16. It owed $271,996.68 to 105 creditors from New York to California. The case is now closed.

Radomski may have settled some or most of this debt, but he clearly left some people in the lurch. Students allege, and the documents seem to confirm, that Radomski simply stopped holding classes for two months, then reopened in the same location. The only difference was that the business name had changed from the Radomski Management Corp. to the National Career Development Corp.

Moreover, Radomski's description of his background raises as many questions as his business dealings. Born and raised in White Plains, New York, he says he graduated from the Academy of Theatrical Arts in New York. There is no listing in the telephone directory for the school, so this could not be confirmed. (The academy was mentioned in press clips during the 1980s.) In 1983, he claims, he opened the first accredited bartending school in the nation in Washington, D.C., which later provided all the bartending services at three presidential inaugurations. "We did both of Reagan's inaugurations and Bush's with a company called Rockwell's Catering out of D.C., which is probably the most famous catering company for the White House." Problem is there's no listing for Rockwell's in the nation's capital. White House records show the company was employed during the Reagan years, but it is unclear at what events, spokeswoman Erika Bacheller explains.

Then in the early 1990s, Radomski says he moved to South Florida. He opened his first acting/bartending school at 2700 Oakland Park Blvd. in 1998. "I did my homework and found out there were no licensed acting schools in the whole state of Florida. And there's all kinds of work in Miami. There's all kinds of work in Fort Lauderdale." The school grew, he says, to the point where it had 12 teachers and 32 students.

Tuition costs are unclear. Radomski says they vary. The disgruntled students contend they paid from $1500 to $2500 per semester. These days, Radomski comments, his is one of the few clean, professionally licensed acting schools in South Florida. "Pick up the Sunday Heraldand you'll see 10 to 15 illegal ads in there for schools luring people in that don't know any better," he says. "They're running scams, and they're all over the place. I've earned myself a nickname at the [Florida] Department of Education: Mr. Clean. That's because I run such a clean program." A spokesperson at the Florida Department of Education did not return calls from New Times seeking comment.

Indeed Radomski's love of drama runs deep, says 30-year-old Claudio Berki, who attended the National Academy of Professional Arts from September to December in 1999. He argues Maestro Radomski's life has become one majestic stage performance. Berki chose the school because Radomski offered flexible tuition payments at a relatively inexpensive price. So he slapped down a $1000 deposit. "When I met him, I got a bad vibe from him right away. I thought he was a total bullshit artist. An actor. But I joined anyway because I didn't have a lot of money and I had been looking for an acting class."

Berki contends his first semester was unproductive. Classes were disorganized, lacking in structure, and teachers were frequent no-shows. When he tried to reclaim $600 he paid toward future tuition at the beginning of December, he says Radomski was evasive. "For over a month, he kept giving me the runaround. He even said to me at one point, "If I wanna screw you, I'll screw you.' He promises dreams to young actors, and it's all just bullshit. He preys on young people that he knows he can scam," Berki says.

Daniel Sangiacomo, a 32-year-old Uruguayan native who also attended the school from September to December of 1999, feels cheated too. He says he was lured by Radomski's passion. "The hardest thing to take about my experience with the academy is that [Radomski] painted such a beautiful picture of it and it was all just lies." What the maestro promised, among other things, Sangiacomo relates, was a professional environment conducive to learning. Instead he provided a constant state of tumult. "Every day there was an average of four to five people coming in and interrupting class looking for Mr. Radomski. And they were always loud and angry."

Several teachers complained they weren't being paid. Wertheim says he regularly pleaded for his pay. "After three weeks I quit because [Radomski] kept telling me I'd get my check tomorrow and I never did." And Sangiacomo says within his first couple weeks at the school, a teacher named John Fionte quit, letting everyone know that, one month into the school year, Radomski had yet to pay him. Fionte could not be reached for comment, but someone using his name posted a comment on the Sun-Sentinel Website this past November: "As I am still owed a substantial amount of money, I have joined the sadder but wiser group of ex-employees of the academy."

As time went on, Sangiacomo contends he was subject to more deceit. "I signed a contract which was supposed to include a free bartending course, and just before it was to start, he made me pay another $500 for it. He said he never told me it was free. I was suspicious, but I really wanted to continue the acting, so I paid it."

Greg Allen, a Fort Lauderdale resident who attended the school for just two weeks, says he too glimpsed trickery. But he believed in the acting school enough to look beyond it. "I thought the whole bartending/acting idea was excellent," Allen enthuses. "He really sold me on how wonderful the school was. I met one of the teachers, and I was impressed.... But it turned out to be a horror story." Allen says he and Radomski agreed he would pay $1000, then teach bartending classes to offset his $450 monthly tuition bill for acting lessons. By the end of the first month, Radomski welshed on the deal, he says, even though he had signed a contract. "He denied his own signature," Allen laughs. "The man should be a lawyer."

Frank Viñas, a 25-year-old student from the Dominican Republic, tells a story echoed by the others. When he came back from Christmas break in early January, the school's doors were locked, and no one was around. He heard nothing for several weeks, until a bankruptcy notice arrived in the mail. It listed him as a creditor and Radomski as the debtor. "I was just completely shocked. Here I had only been to two weeks of classes, and I was out $1500." Viñas says he pursued Radomski vigorously in an attempt to get his money back, constantly calling and visiting the school. But after several months of making no headway, he surrendered. "I finally decided that I don't need a person like that in my life," Viñas comments. "A person that does these horrible things to good, honest people striving for a career. I figure I just bought him out of my life for $1500."

Eleven creditors listed in Radomski's bankruptcy filing didn't respond to calls from New Times. But one did. Back in December the maestro owed New Times $314, according to the filing. But this newspaper has continued running his ads on a pay-as-you-go basis. The reason, according to publisher Jill Muller: Radomski paid in cash. "If we can make a client that has bad debt pay us for future ads in cash," she says, "we will accept their advertising."

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