By Michael E. Miller
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For more than a year, residents of NE 26th Place in Coral Ridge, a pricey street on the Intracoastal Waterway south of Oakland Park Boulevard, enjoyed an unobstructed view of the water. Then on a clear day in October, they looked out their windows, past their BMW convertibles, Cadillac Escalades, and other luxury vehicles, to see a front-loader emptying ten-foot-tall mounds of a gooey black substance onto two empty lots.
Foxcroft Realty Investment owned the lots and had plans to build two houses there, priced at $1.4 million and $1.8 million. But what neighbors saw that day, and have seen every day since, wasn't the first phase of construction. It was slime. Canal sludge. The neighbors had other names for the smelly eyesore too, some less polite.
No matter what you call it, one thing is certain: The dumping is the result of a complicated city contract that allowed this hoity-toity neighborhood to become a way station for the funk that clogs the bowels of America's Venice. For some Coral Ridge residents, the sludge has become a metaphor for the slimy deeds of Joseph B. Elkind, who boasts a decade-long history of drug sales, violence, and Internet porn shenanigans.
Foxcroft, a real estate development company owned by Elkind, bought two half-million-dollar houses on NE 26th Place in early 2001, then demolished them. But before beginning construction on two new dwellings, Foxcroft contracted with a middleman, who contracted with another middleman, to dump the city's dredge material on the site. "After all that time in the waterways, I worry that it might be contaminated," said one neighbor, who asked not to be named. "I've looked into this guy's background, and he's a porn king."
Elkind, a tough-talking, round-faced 43-year-old with thick brown hair and piercing blue eyes, says the muck is no big deal. It's just there to level the property. Though at first he talked openly with New Times about the property, he became surly when we brought up the voluminous court record that worries his neighbors. When told what this story was about, Elkind replied: "I'm a multimillionaire. I'll come after you. You can choose to have a friend here or a foe."
Besides adult entertainment, Elkind's employment history is, well, a little unclear. He told New Times that he moved here in 1980 to found a mail-order contact lens company in North Miami called Lens Express. But according to a copy of his résumé, included in Broward County criminal court files, he moved to South Florida in 1985 to work as general manager of Lens Express. And, according to his résumé, he started a company called General Lens in 1991, selling contact lenses by mail.
In 1993, the budding entrepreneur's luck turned for the worse when he was arrested on four counts of cocaine delivery after police alleged he sold drugs to two undercover detectives on four occasions. In April 1995, Elkind received two years' probation for the charge -- only to violate his probation three months later when court-ordered drug tests revealed cocaine in his system. Then in April 1996, he got in trouble again when Chris Steele, his former boss at Lens Express, complained to police that Elkind used his truck to ram an electric gate on the company's property, causing $7,000 in damage.
In 1994, General Lens began selling contact lenses over the Internet. That's when Elkind says one of his partners approached him with a business idea. "He came to me with some adult pictures and wanted to know if I could market them," Elkind says. Believing there was much money in adult entertainment on the web, Elkind soon shifted his focus to pushing porn. In 1996, he partnered with Fort Lauderdale resident John Bennett to found Netvision Audiotext. Soon, he says, the company was earning millions of dollars per year.
Although excited about his newfound success, Elkind contends he was a hesitant pornographer. "But when you're making that much money, who cares [what people think]?" reasons Elkind, who claims that Netvision grossed $100 million in 2001.
In January 2000, Elkind told the Associated Press that Cyber Entertainment Network (CEN), one of the companies operating under the Netvision umbrella, was running 14 porn websites and owned more than 3,000 other sites. But one month later, in one of the nation's first cyber-squatting decisions, a U.S. District Court judge enjoined CEN from using www.teenmag.com. The decision came in response to a request from the publisher of Teen magazine, whose readers kept finding CEN's porn site instead of teenmagazine.com.
Things got even more complicated for Elkind in October 2000 after he allegedly broke the tibia and fibia of then-business associate Richard Ruben. Ruben, who refers to Elkind as "Joey Moneybags" in court documents, claimed he and Elkind were having drinks in Fort Lauderdale's Solid Gold strip club when Elkind asked Ruben to repay $8,000. Teresa Knowles, the bartender, recalled that the incident occurred just before closing time after the men had each consumed at least six or seven shots of Jägermeister in less than 30 minutes. Knowles told lawyers for the two men that she and the men were so drunk, none of them "should have been behind the wheel for at least a year." She remembered seeing Elkind lunge at Ruben and then saw Ruben on the floor, a broken bar stool beside him.
Elkind claimed that the stool broke and Ruben fell. Ruben contended that Elkind hit him with the stool. During pretrial discovery, attorneys for Ruben played a threatening answering-machine message Elkind had left for another business associate: "You can ask [Ruben] what happened to him last night. Please, we don't want the same thing to happen to you."
This past April 24, after a two-day trial, a jury found that Elkind had battered Ruben but in self-defense. In the end, Elkind was ordered only to pay Ruben's attorney $500, and no criminal charges were filed. Despite the court documents, Elkind insisted to New Times that this case was dismissed and never went to trial.
But Elkind's most prominent court appearance by far came in a landmark lawsuit filed in January 2001. America Online claimed that Netvision had violated anti-spam and member-service agreements by sending unsolicited e-mails advertising porn sites to AOL subscribers. AOL also asserted that commissions were paid to webmasters, many of whom were younger than 18, to send the e-mails. The case was covered by newspapers including the Los Angeles Timesand Newsday, and was later settled for an undisclosed sum.
Elkind insists that he still doesn't know the settlement cost. But a Broward County civil court file contains a message he posted on Oprano.com, a trade website for the adult entertainment industry, that provides a hint. Apparently directed at Netvision attorney Steve Workman, it reads: "Why would I settle for $7.5 million when they were suing us for $10 million? Steve, did you get kickbacks from any other of the $1.5 million I spent on attorneys for the good of this industry?" (Said Workman: "I deny that in the most vehement terms.")
Indeed, a dispute between Workman and Elkind described in court records makes for even more interesting reading. In January 2002, the attorney started a consulting company called Net Management Services, which employed Elkind and Bennett as co-managers. At the company launch party, Elkind punched Workman. The cause of the dispute is not stated in court records, but the attorney soon fired Elkind, who a few days later sent an e-mail to all of Net Management Services' employees. It read in part, "Ruff week, my boat sunk... JB? My Ferrari blew an engine, my partner is triend [sic] to fuck me..."
During the past year, relations among Elkind, Bennett, and Workman have only worsened. Elkind claims that Bennett and Workman took his name off Netvision's bank accounts and moved company money into offshore accounts. "I plan to let the court system take care of them," Elkind says.
Still, on January 15, 2002, Bennett told Fort Lauderdale police that Elkind had thrown a grill and patio furniture into the pool at Bennett's $3 million waterfront home. On August 16, Bennett told police that Elkind had smashed a beer bottle on the front of his white Land Rover, doing about $2,000 in damage. Then on September 27, Bennett reported that a large rock had been thrown through the front window of his home and that he believed Elkind was responsible.
The conflict came to a head on October 2, when Bennett was hosting a booth at a trade convention in Broward County. Bennett says Elkind stood by the booth all day making harassing and threatening statements. Finally, according to both men's accounts, the dispute became violent. In court documents, Bennett claims that Elkind strangled him on the floor. But no one was arrested. Later, each man sued the other for assault and battery. These lawsuits are pending.
Elkind, who declined to comment on the incidents and cases listed in this story, says he plans to spend his time building his new enterprise, Internet Cyber Entertainment, which has nothing to do with exposing minors to porn. "This company does no spamming, has no illegal [content], and no underage webmasters," Elkind says. "I have a 5-year-old daughter."
As for the slime-covered property in Coral Ridge, Elkind points out that he sold it December 13. The new owner, Robert Strauss, claims Elkind never told him that the lots were being used for dumping. Strauss, by the way, was recently slapped with a citation for improper disposal of waste. And so the saga continues.