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
By Frank Owen
Psst, Sucker. Beachfront Property!
It's hard to keep a good hustler down.
Take Stephen Tashman, a SoFla grifter who's swindled millions of dollars in the past 20 years. Although you won't see his name attached to it, he's now involved in selling Costa Rican real estate from a boiler room in Hollywood. This battered auto part is in no way saying there's anything illegal going on there, but given the man's past, Tailpipe is keeping a tight grip on his wallet.
Tashman made the bamboozlers hall of fame in 1995 when he earned a chapter in Fred Schulte's Fleeced!: Telemarketing Rip-Offs and How to Avoid Them. The book describes Tashman's involvement in the late '80s with Atlantex Associates, a North Miami Beach company that fraudulently sold oil and gas partnerships to investors. The Federal Trade Commission sued, and a federal court fined Tashman and his cohorts $12 million. Undaunted, in the early 1990s, he started Junction Financial Corp., a Hallandale Beach firm that sold partnerships in an ostrich breeding and farming operation.
As it turned out, the birds wouldn't screw each other, but the company had no problem nailing about 1,000 investors for $3 million. This time, it was the Securities and Exchange Commission that sued.
Tashman kept going and going and going. The Energizer swindler next launched Telecard Dispensing Corp., which took in about $28 million by selling calling card machines, a dicey deal that left investors broke. The FTC sued him for not disclosing his notorious background to would-be buyers. (The 7-year-old case is still in federal court, though a federal appeals court in February allowed a lower court to ban Tashman from any involvement with marketing investments, franchises, or business ventures.)
Tashman's current enterprise is Paragon Properties of Costa Rica in Hollywood. His role, says Michael J. Fingar, the company's attorney, is "to assist in acquisition of Costa Rican property, making sure it's wholesaled to others, and to participate in the installation of infrastructure on those properties."
Right. As tempting as a little oceanfront is, the 'Pipe's going to pass on this deal.
Dead Man's Curve
"A car hitting a tree is not unusual," says Bill Hibbard, a former insurance adjuster who now works as a freelance cabinet maker. "What is unusual is when 25 or 30 people hit the same tree within five or six years." He's talking about a short, curved stretch of SE 17th Street between Fourth Avenue and Federal Highway, near Broward General Hospital in Fort Lauderdale.
Searching through police crash reports from the past six years, Hibbard has found 21 accidents in which cars traveling westbound on 17th collided with trees planted in the center median. One of those collisions took place on April 17, 2002; it killed Hibbard's 27-year-old son, Zachary.
Hibbard knows his son died while driving drunk. "But most of the people who crash there are sober," he says.
The poor design of the roadway contributed to the series of wrecks, he contends. After his son's death, Hibbard started paying attention to the median, lobbying officials about increasing safety measures. To that end, he says, the city finally placed a sign advising 20 mph along the curve, and it placed nine chevron-shaped reflective markers on the median.
When Hibbard checked recently, only four of the chevron signs remained standing. The others had been destroyed in accidents that have also stripped much of the bark from the trees.
Zachary Hibbard died when his 1999 Acura failed to make the curve and wrapped around a tree. A well-liked supervisor at National Jet at the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, Zachary was heading home from a going-away party for another employee at about 2:15 a.m. when the accident happened.
Hibbard has asked state Department of Transportation officials and Broward County traffic engineers to install a guardrail. It sounds to Tailpipe like it's time for the traffic-powers-that-be to admit there's a problem there and, yes, follow Mr. Hibbard's suggestion.
Ed Casas could barely hold back his tears. Standing on Federal Highway in Dania Beach on April 6, the former activities director for the Graves Museum watched as his former workspace was dismantled and carted away. Then he saw employees from Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Discovery and Science carry out the Graves' dinosaur bones, which have awed Broward schoolchildren for 24 years. "That broke the camel's back," Casas said.
The star-crossed museum never had it easy, but the final act was a tearjerker.
Plopped on a busy thoroughfare near a fast-food fried chicken joint, the Graves Museum was an odd destination for the science-minded. It was never financially viable, and revenues dropped for at least eight years. In 2002, an independent auditor valued the museum's collection of bones, pottery, and artifacts at $2.8 million. But earlier this month, a bankruptcy trustee and judge ruled that the entire collection was valueless -- and ordered much of it given away to Broward Community College and Florida State University. The Museum of Discovery and Science got the dinosaur bones on loan from BCC.
"These artifacts should have been sold to pay the creditors," says Norliza Batts, an attorney representing Broward County Archeological Society, which oversees the museum. "Anything left over should have been returned."
Batts says she's owed more than $200,000 for representing the museum. But trustee Soneet Kapila not only declared the Graves collection worthless but he challenged Batts' fees.
Nonprofits like the Graves file annual Form 990s with the IRS, listing everything they own -- from a $50 butterfly encased in amber to a pre-Colombian ceramic pot valued at $876,475. Individuals who donate items get tax write-offs. "So were all of those tax returns falsified?" Batts asks.
She makes a good point. The 'Pipe wonders if the recipients of Kapila's largess will, when filing taxes next year, appraise their gifts as worthless. Nothing but some old bones saved from a Dumpster? Tell it to the tax man.
So Hollywood Greyhound Track, with the imminent onset of slot machines, has decided to rename itself the Hallandale Beach Greyhound Track and Mardi Gras Gaming Center. We think that's a great idea, Indeed, this 'Pipe proclaims that a few other local landmarks could stand a rechristening. Among them:
Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport
The Girl from Ipanema Cavity Search Center
The House that Wannstedt Whacked
Dania Beach Jai Alai
The Basque Separatist and Soggy Nacho Depot
The Five-Finger Discount and Ghetto-Removal Emporium
-- As told to Edmund Newton