By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Why would Ash have baited CenterOne? "It's really difficult to assess what his motivations were," Weatherhead says. "I think he wanted to assist, but I think something bigger was operating there: self-promotion and self-gratification, making a name for himself in the community. He's a rather pathetic character."
If you'd walked onto the deck of the Las Vegas Expressthe afternoon of June 3, 1995, you might have thought a royal celebration was at hand. Two mimes greeted guests as they approached the gangway, which was covered with balloon arches. Inside the ship's lower decks, wall-to-wall balloons floated about the ceilings, their strings dangling upon partygoers. A thousand balloons were suspended above the top deck. Among the entertainers who mingled with guests were a juggler, the mimes, and a magician. Stationed around the ship were a caricaturist, a psychic, and an illusionist. But the act that stole the show was a stilt walker manipulating the strings to a huge puppet. Above the ship flew a small prop plane toting a banner that read "Happy Birthday."
The lavish setting didn't surprise Michael Pine, who, as owner of Balloon Productions, had supplied the balloons and other centerpieces. After all, the bash was for Wayne Huizenga, one of the most powerful figures in South Florida. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Huizenga had built Waste Management Inc. into the world's biggest garbage company. From there Huizenga took over Blockbuster Video, eventually becoming vice chairman of Viacom Inc., which merged with Blockbuster in 1994. Pine had done jobs for both Huizenga and Viacom, including a celebration of the Viacom/Blockbuster merger held at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. So when a meeting planner named William Ash walked into his office and said he was planning Huizenga's birthday party, Pine did not hesitate.
Pine had been onboard putting final touches on the balloon settings shortly before the ship was to set out to sea for several hours with the 200 or so guests. His last task was to drop the balloons. "Everyone went to sing "Happy Birthday' up on deck, and the balloon release was supposed to go off when he blows out the candles. When they brought the cake out, they started singing to this guy Bill [Ash]. I knew something was rotten in Denmark." Pine recalls his thoughts: "I didn't just see what I saw. I really don't want to know anything about this. Get my money and get the hell off the boat."
When Pine asked for the $1814 payment, Ash signed a check but left the amount and payee spaces blank. "That's pretty unusual -- very unusual," Pine says, but he figured Ash didn't want to hold him up from debarking the ship, which was just casting off. When Pine attempted to cash the check, he discovered Ash's account had been closed. He filed a report with the Broward Sheriff's Office.
David Watts, owner of A ABC's of Parties, which supplied the rainbow of entertainers for the party, also filed a police report to recover the $4650 he'd lost that night. "Bill Waldman" had contacted A ABC's and hired the performers, giving Watts a credit card number. Watts faxed "Waldman" a contract for the performers, which the customer signed and faxed back. "Waldman" was to come to the office and sign a credit card voucher but never did. After Watts sent the credit card number for payment, MasterCard informed him that the card belonged to Corina Waldman and that the number had been stolen.
Ash's lavish excess did not end with his 31st birthday bash. On June 26 Ash telephoned Rena's Flowers of Merritt in Plantation and ordered delivery of two flower arrangements to the nearby Fashion Mall. One arrangement was sent to Ash's workplace, The Gallery, the second to a hairdresser named Denise who worked at the Yellow Strawberry salon. However, Ash had used a MasterCard number belonging to a Gallery customer, who refused to pay the $170 charge.
The three cases converged. On August 22, 1995, he was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to pay restitution for obtaining property with a worthless check, grand theft in the third degree, and fraudulent use of a credit card. But by early 1996 he was in trouble again. On March 8 undercover detectives had conducted a prostitution sting at 3003 N. University Dr. in Sunrise. One of the busted prostitutes told detectives she was employed by an escort service operated by William Ash. Half of her earnings were paid to Ash, she said. The next day a male prostitute who had agreed to work with police delivered several escorts' earnings to Ash and another man, who were parked in the lot at Shells Seafood Restaurant on North University Drive in Sunrise. When Ash and his compatriot took the money, police arrested them.
This mundane felony becomes a racy tale of star-studded intrigue with Ash's retelling. The bust was the result, Ash claims, of celebrities -- think Bobby Brown and Harrison Ford -- pressuring police to crack down on Ash's business because the escort service had become so popular with so many celebs that some of the escorts were selling gossip to the tabloids. "They were looking to blame it on somebody, and I was just the one who got caught up in it," Ash says of the arrest. Sgt. James Hughes, the Sunrise police officer who arrested Ash, remembers differently. "We were just running a standard sting operation at a hotel," he comments.