Ash & Burn

William Ash calls himself Mister Madam, but in the South Florida gay community, this ex-con's name is mud

New Times is not the first publication Ash has stiffed. In November 1996 a Broward County judge granted the Sun-Sentinel a $16,416.36 judgment against Ash for ads he had placed in the paper for Crystals Entertainment. Ash pleaded ignorance when asked about the judgment, saying he'd never heard of Crystals. After New Times faxed him the court documents from the case, which indicate papers were served to Ash's Fort Lauderdale home at the time on SW 18th Court, he called back: "I called the Sun-Sentinel. They do have a Bill Ash on file, but it's a fiftysomething person with a different Social Security number. He rattled it off to me, and it wasn't mine." Who was "he"? "I don't remember his name," Ash responded quickly. The Sun-Sentinel declined to provide details about the case.

Ash makes no apology for what he calls a "colorful and unusual life." His response to the Sun-Sentinel judgment is typical: He doesn't so much deny his misdeeds; he spins them into a vast web with shape but no substance. Indeed he's more than willing to answer questions about particular episodes, but it's a Proustian discourse, a stream of consciousness that, at conversation's end, offers nothing in the way of actual information.

Consider his off-the-cuff claim that he's a radio personality involved with morning radio bits that are "campy and gay and very light." So where could one listen to him in South Florida? His reply is protean: "Y-100 used to hold it on the morning show. And then it went over to Channel 6. Then it was on the Web. And then it got cut out of there when the new news manager came in. It got snapped out on the budget cuts along with, basically, their entertainment and a whole bunch of other things, and they got rid of most of their Web stuff. Then Channel 4 picked it up. And then Channel 4 just recently went through a management change, so I don't think it's on a television station now."

Businessman Michael Pine smelled something fishy when William Ash paid for thousands of balloons with a blank check
Joshua Prezant
Businessman Michael Pine smelled something fishy when William Ash paid for thousands of balloons with a blank check
Top: John Weatherhead, former director of CenterOne, eventually regretted accepting Ash's offer to raise cash through a Tina Turner concert.
Joshua Prezant
Top: John Weatherhead, former director of CenterOne, eventually regretted accepting Ash's offer to raise cash through a Tina Turner concert.

So no one can hear him now? "I think Howard Stern uses some bits, like all that stuff he had in the background when they're doing funny things." That sound bite of someone shouting "Fabulous" on Stern's show? That's Ash's voice, he avows.

Ash claims links to other media as well. "I talk to The [National] Enquirer at least once a month," he boasts. "They're constantly calling to confirm stories, stuff like that. Anything to do with big stars in town that they suspect [escort] girls were involved with. They'll call and say, "Is this true? What can you tell us?'"

In fact Ash professes to have been quoted extensively in newspapers. When New Times could find no evidence to back the claim, Ash faxed eight pages of text -- none of which included a dateline or publishing origin. One undated story purports to be the account of Ash's climb from rags to riches in the escort business. "Mr. Ash's tale began in a tiny coal town in Northeastern Pennsylvania," the story reads. "Feeling somewhat like an outcast while growing up, Mr. Ash left the Avoca area in his teens and followed the sun straight to Florida. Although he struggled financially for quite some time, Mr. Ash always kept his chin up and finally landed a job at a small escort service, working the phones." Ash became a "mothering hen" for the girls, "a modern-day Henry Higgins."

Ash is quoted: "It was almost like there was this whole market out there just waiting for me. It was as if I had finally found my calling. The girls and I, we all have something in common: the fantasies of very wealthy men and keeping them well satisfied. The girls love me. They know they will never have to worry about me trying to sleep with them -- ever! They see me as their fairy grandmother."

Referring to Ash as "Mister Madam," the account continues: "Employing hundreds of girls and discreetly fulfilling the wildest fantasies of thousands of extraordinarily rich clients soon became Mr. Ash's life, yet he always funneled his money back into the community. From throwing exorbitant AIDS benefits, at which Madonna was known to show up with her entourage, to donating huge amounts of money to women's and homeless shelters, Mr. Ash became the man with a cause and his cause was to help others. It still is today."

Ash did indeed move to South Florida as a young adult. The rest of the story he faxed over is somewhat less grounded in reality. Although Ash did not discuss his early years with New Times, he has left a lengthy record of his activities in criminal and civil court files. According to Fort Lauderdale police records, in 1983 Ash, then 19 years old, was arrested for attempting to pay for a meal at the Italian Garden Restaurant with a double-endorsed check. The restaurant wouldn't accept it, and Ash had no cash, so police were called. The original endorser of the check told police he had neither endorsed it nor given it to Ash.

Apparently Ash began earning some income during this period working for escort services, though he also entered into other business ventures. In March 1987 Ash gave James W. Waldman, a Boca Raton attorney who had once represented him, a $1500 check from the account of a business called Sandollar Ceramics. The check bounced, but Waldman did not report it to police until October 1988.

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