Ash & Burn

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

In the meantime Ash owned and operated a small shop called Self-Designs by Tricia at the now-shuttered Bazaar on West Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. In September 1988 Ash ordered 56 paintings from Frank Walcutt, a Deerfield Beach businessman. When one of Walcutt's employees delivered the paintings, valued at $6677, Ash told her to return later because he didn't have his checkbook. When Walcutt returned to collect the money four days later, he found that the business had been closed. Some of the paintings hadn't gone far: Walcutt found a few of them hanging as decorations on the walls of businesses adjacent to Self-Designs. Ash was arrested and charged with grand theft. He was released on bond in October 1988. Court records do not indicate how the case concluded.

He was arrested again in June 1989 for the rubber check he'd passed to Waldman; in August 1989 a Broward County circuit judge sentenced Ash to 90 days' probation for the Waldman check-kiting. A month later Ash violated the probation when he burglarized a van; he was also charged with resisting arrest when he refused to put his hands behind his back for cuffing, according to court files.

Ash apparently gave up retail sales after these arrests; in August 1993 the "modern-day Henry Higgins" donned the hat of a manager trainee at a McDonald's in Coral Springs. After little more than two weeks on the job, Ash filed a claim with the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security, charging he had been injured at work. According to Gregory Johnsen, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represented McDonald's in the case, Ash claimed the restaurant's manager had punched him in the face. "Our assertion was that it had never happened," Johnsen says. The judge who presided over the case agreed, writing that Ash did not provide any evidence he had been injured, nor did she did believe Ash was injured. The judge ordered Ash to pay McDonald's $3550 in investigation and surveillance costs. Ash, however, did not show up for the final court hearing "due to an alleged terminal illness," according to court documents. The judgment remains unpaid.

Norman Kent published an exposé when he learned of Ash's latest scheme, Storm.
Pompano Bill
Norman Kent published an exposé when he learned of Ash's latest scheme, Storm.
A float touted the opening of Storm during Pride Parade 2000
Pompano Bill
A float touted the opening of Storm during Pride Parade 2000

Ash remembers differently. "I never lost," he asserts. "McDonald's paid for all medical expenses and things like that. I never lost anything." Asked about the terminal illness, Ash responds, "Umm, I wasn't in town. There was no terminal illness."

Handicapped Sales Workshop, which sold products assembled by disabled people, was next to let the fox into the hen house when it hired Ash as a salesman in October 1993. He left the job within two months, but the company was not rid of him. In December a Handicapped Sales Workshop salesman telephoned a regular customer to solicit a reorder. A clerk told the salesman the company had already reordered -- from William Ash. The company soon discovered that Ash had photocopied the workshop's client lists, account information, and sales presentations. He then began his own business, Handicapped Workshop. The company filed a civil suit in Broward County circuit court claiming Ash had violated the terms of an employment agreement, which prohibited him, as an ex-employee, from competing with the company for one year after voluntary or involuntary termination. In January 1994 a judge ordered Ash to return all client lists to Handicapped Sales Workshop and to cease competing for one year.

How and when Ash became involved with entertainment promotions are unclear, but by the early 1990s he was touting himself as an advance man. John Weatherhead had been director of CenterOne, a nonprofit HIV/AIDS counseling center, for about three years in 1994 when William Ash approached him. Ash claimed he had connections with major singing artists and could bring Tina Turner to Fort Lauderdale for a fundraising concert.

These were the days before the protease-inhibitor "cocktail" treatment was available to slow down the advance of the disease, Weatherhead recalls, a time when CenterOne's support groups and alternative therapies, such as massage, were the only balm for the sickest patients. CenterOne sometimes received money from fundraisers held on its behalf at local clubs, but it generally did not orchestrate benefit concerts from the ground up. "But if there was a possibility of making some significant money off a big name, that became a possibility," says Weatherhead, who resigned as director earlier this year. "[Ash] went through a whole litany of contacts he had. And apparently he does have some contacts, but I think they tend to be the result of his most recent scam."

Days after his conversation with Ash, Weatherhead received a call from a reporter at a tabloid newspaper (either The National Enquirer or the Star -- he can't remember which). A volunteer at CenterOne, William Ash, had called the tabloid, the reporter said, and disclosed that Tina Turner was a client at the center and was HIV-positive. "Obviously when we found out what was going on, we totally got rid of the man," Weatherhead says of Ash. He recalls that one of the tabloids did indeed publish a story, but its gist was that Turner's publicist had exposed the HIV sham. American Media, which owns both The National Enquirer and Star, did not respond to inquiries about the story. Ash tells New Times he was never a volunteer at CenterOne, nor was he involved with any promotion.

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