By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
Above all, she did not want a player. "There are a lot of them, and down here in Boca, there are an awful lot of them," she says. The first matches were "misconnects, real misconnects," she recalls. One man's idea of a good time was to spend all day on his boat fishing, the "last thing in the world I'd want to do," she says. "But I didn't expect it to be perfect the first time out. I knew there would be a couple of rough ones.
"I'm seeing someone right now. I don't know where it will go. We're still very early on in a relationship. Did I get my money's worth? I don't know yet, and I probably won't know that for several years. I did not look at it as: 'Here's money -- go get me a husband.' I looked at it as: 'Here's money I'll invest in a future relationship.' It's my earnest money toward that investment."
Tracy says of Amram, "I think she's smart, that she has a product that can sell to a very certain market. She projects incredible confidence in her abilities, sometimes too much; she's almost too smooth. Sometimes you fall for it, and other times I sit there thinking, 'I just see right through it.' There's a little bit of a sense that it's all a scam, but I think there's also a give and take on the part of the client. What are you willing to settle on, to negotiate? What are you willing to do if you're really serious about finding someone?"
Yet another client, Robert (not his real name), didn't pay anything to become part of the Soulmate pool. Now 67 years old, Robert answered a personals ad about three years ago, which turned out to have been placed by Amram. "She didn't make any promises to me whatsoever," says Robert, who underwent a battery of screening tests he describes as "thorough." "Since then, I've met five ladies through Helena. In my estimation, they've been very nice relationships but never materialized into a long-term relationship. Really, it was chemistry."
You're a girl from a poor family, so whatever Yente brings you'll take, right? Of course right.
If Amram's method of matchmaking hasn't varied much from location to location, neither has the nature of the complaints against her. Civil court cases filed in Palm Beach County in recent years echo the claims of fraud from New Yorkers 12 years ago.
In December 2000, Miriam Brown, a resident of Palm Beach County, filed suit in circuit court accusing Soulmate of breach of contract and fraud. Brown became interested in Soulmate after reading the company's brochure, which stated in part: "Helena doesn't take just anyone." Brown contacted Amram, who quoted her a price of $50,000. When Brown declined, Amram lowered the fee to $30,000 in a cash/barter deal: a third in cash, a third in gift baskets from Brown's business, and a third in airline tickets. Brown accepted. The matches, however, were not "high caliber" as promised, according to the complaint. Brown learned that one man had herpes. Others included a man who was still married, someone who had a felony DUI conviction, and an individual with a "schizoid personality disorder." As a result, Brown asked for her $30,000 back, and Amram agreed, the complaint states. When Brown visited the Soulmate offices on November 15, 2000, however, Amram refused to refund the money. Brown soon sued.
Playing hardball, Amram countersued in April 2001, claiming Brown had defamed her. Amram asserted that Brown had insisted on dating Jim Horn, an employee of Soulmate. During that date, "Brown made numerous advances" to Horn, "who continuously advised Brown that he had no desire of becoming 'intimate' with her," the countersuit alleged. The rejection led Brown to carry out a "malicious and deliberate plan" to destroy Soulmate, Amram claimed. The case was settled out of court. The terms of the agreement are confidential. Brown's attorney, Richard Goetz, would not discuss the case for this article.
In another case around the same time, Eric Jay Goldberg filed suit December 29, 2000, against Amram in Palm Beach County Circuit Court to get his $50,000 payment back. According to the complaint, at the time he made the contract with Amram, he was in the process of getting a divorce but had been trying to reconcile. He insisted on adding a stipulation to the contract that if he got back together with his wife, he'd get the money back. He divorced her, then remarried her and asked Amram for the fee. She would not make the refund. Again, the case was settled out of court in a confidential agreement. Goldberg's attorney, James Tuthill, also would not discuss the case for this article.
It wasn't until early this year, however, that Amram's business began to unravel. On February 22, the Boca Raton Police Department's Economic Crimes Task Force, which includes representatives from the IRS, FBI, and Postal Inspection Service, raided Amram's office looking for evidence of improprieties. Police took computers and documents after receiving complaints from clients, according to Jeff Kelly, a spokesman for the department. Kelly declined to give details about the nature of the complaints, saying only that they were "definitely enough to get a warrant to investigate, that's for sure."