The Bad Bet

It turns out murdered gambling boss Gus Boulis had plenty to hide

Boulis wouldn't entertain the questions. "I reminded her [of] our deal and our agreement, and I was very clear about it," he explained in court.

By 1988, Boulis and Hren ran several restaurants in the Keys and had launched the successful Miami Subs restaurant chain. That year, Boulis also began to move his business operations to Broward County, purchasing Martha's Restaurant, on Ocean Drive in Hollywood.

That's when FDLE first began to investigate Boulis. The agency discovered that the businessman was as cunning as he was ambitious. On October 5, 1988, Michael Halpren, one of Boulis' former attorneys, approached authorities after Boulis threatened Halpren's mother in an argument over a business deal.

Lucrative gambling boats like the Sun Cruz VII afforded Boulis a lavish lifestyle, including his impressive Hallandale Beach home (following picture).
Colby Katz
Lucrative gambling boats like the Sun Cruz VII afforded Boulis a lavish lifestyle, including his impressive Hallandale Beach home (following picture).
Colby Katz

Claiming that he was no longer bound by attorney-client privilege, Halpren told FDLE agents that one of Boulis' money-making schemes was to rip off fellow Greeks by selling restaurant businesses to them at inflated costs or under unfavorable terms. Boulis would advertise restaurants for sale in Greek publications in New York and New Jersey, Halpren told FDLE.

"Boulis would show a financial statement for the restaurant claiming a low gross income for his own tax purposes but telling prospective buyers the income was much higher to justify his price for the business," the FDLE report states.

What's more, Boulis was a master at exploiting Greek camaraderie. He encouraged fellow Greeks to do business without attorneys, making them easy marks. In some instances, Halpren said, Boulis would sell a restaurant without the liquor license or land, forcing the new owner to make monthly payments to him as high as $26,000 for use of the liquor license and building.

"If the buyer wanted an attorney rather than to trust his fellow Greek countryman, Boulis would usually [sell] the liquor license... with the business and lower payments for the property," the FDLE report states.

At the same time, according to the FDLE report, both the state Beverage Department and Broward Sheriff's Office were investigating Boulis' business practices. But neither agency brought charges, and Boulis' enterprises continued to expand after he and Margaret moved to Hollywood.

In Broward, Hren went from being a do-any-job restaurateur to a shrewd businesswoman who often served as the chief negotiator and project manager for Boulis' operations. "Gus had the notion, the ideas maybe," remembers Lewis, the former waitress who eventually became Hren's top assistant. "Margaret is definitely the voice and the one that made it happen."

As with Boulis, nothing stopped Hren. Kim Cooke, a former waitress who later worked with Boulis and Hren in their hotel businesses, remembered in court a day in 1993 when she and Hren traveled to Key Largo to oversee construction at a Marriott hotel they were building. Hren was pregnant with Boulis' child, and as she was conferring with the construction crew, morning sickness overcame her.

Recalled Cooke: "She started to get sick, and we had to run by the car, and I was hiding her in front of everybody because she was vomiting off the side of the — between the cars — and I was blocking her so the people, construction guys, wouldn't see her."

Still, pregnancy didn't slow her down. Hren was working at the Marriott Key Largo on the day she went into labor, Cooke remembered, and she calmly drove her car around to the front of the hotel and yelled: "Gus, let's go. I'm in labor."

One week later, Hren was back to work, baby Aristotle in her arms. "She came walking in, dressed in a white linen suit, looking gorgeous, with the baby," Cooke recalled.

Life was good. Boulis and Hren operated restaurants and hotels throughout South Florida, and Boulis owned a majority stake in a chain of more than 100 Miami Subs restaurants. By 1993, according to court records, the Greek-born businessman was worth $79 million. Two years later, in 1995, Hren gave birth to their second child, Alexander.

But over the next few years, Boulis' business and personal lives would begin to collapse again as state law enforcement officials slowly learned of Boulis' ties to organized crime.

Boulis possessed a virtually flawless talent for identifying businesses that could turn handsome profits. In 1996, he jumped into the burgeoning cruise-to-nowhere industry — casino boats that sailed three miles to international waters to allow patrons to gamble without regulation. At the time, several boats operated throughout South Florida, with news reports suggesting that even H. Wayne Huizenga wanted a piece of the action.

Starting with a purchase of the 650-passenger Paradise Three, which docked on the Intracoastal Waterway behind Martha's Restaurant, Boulis quickly expanded into the gambling-boat company that would become Sun Cruz Casinos.

Boulis concealed his ownership of the business using a variety of corporations. A federal law prohibits foreign nationals from operating vessels registered in the United States. What's more, the large Sun Cruz boats docked in Hollywood clearly violated zoning ordinances in the city. But the City Commission never bothered Boulis, raising unfounded allegations, which FDLE nevertheless documented through a confidential source, that the gambling mogul was greasing palms at City Hall.

Although FDLE agents could never substantiate wrongdoing, the allegations sparked what would become a nearly three-year investigation into Boulis' life, murder, and their connections to organized crime.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help