Mayor Al's Shady Pal

When you're a politician helping out a felon, it's better not to ask questions.

On August 9, 1999, a Chicago-based company called 1307 Wabash Building Corp. bought a shopping plaza that included the old Cinema 4 movie theater in Pompano Beach. The price of the strip mall, located on the southwest corner of Sample Road and Federal Highway and known as "Haven Plaza," was $3,575,000. The only name listed on the deed as a representative of the Chicago company was "Gregory Berkowitz."

Berkowitz, listed as a one-sixth owner of the property, is a longtime employee of Wolf's, though it's unknown how far back their association goes. In 1991, Berkowitz was named along with Wolf in a civil racketeering suit filed by the City of Chicago alleging tax fraud. Newspapers labeled Berkowitz a clerk of the slumlord. Apparently, he's been promoted. Now he was buying multimillion-dollar properties.

Just six weeks after the plaza was sold, a tenant officially settled into the old theater. It was one of Wolf's old partners, a man who ran millions in illicit drug profits through his properties in Chicago. And the man's plan was to build a Riviera-like nightclub inside the theater, to create a two-tiered, 70,000-square-foot palace that would hold 2,500 people. He would call it Club Cinema.

Sam Frontera was back.

If Frontera's rebirth proves anything, it's that, while it might not be easy for a convicted cocaine dealer to open a nightclub in Florida, it is possible.

So long as the truth is hidden and the right people are in his corner.

State law forbids anyone who has been convicted of a felony in the past 15 years to hold a liquor license, a category in which Frontera definitely falls. That's the apparent reason why the ex-con installed his mother and sister as owners of the business. His 79-year-old mother, Elaine Frontera, is the sole officer of a Florida corporation called Pompano Beach Music Cinema Inc. His sister, Marie Grace, runs another company called Club Cinema Inc.

Both live in Michigan and have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the club, according to sources close to Cinema. The women also have little or nothing to do with the millions of dollars that have gone into renovating the club.

You wouldn't know that, however, when looking at the club's official file at the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

The state demands that any entity holding a liquor license disclose all individuals with a financial interest in the business. According to records submitted by Club Cinema to the state, the entire venture cost only about $60,000 and was financed by Elaine Frontera's $125,000 life insurance policy.

Jerry Sanzone, director of the Pompano Beach Building Department, says millions of dollars have gone into the club during the past several years.

However, based on the doubtful financial figures and questionable ownership information, the state granted Elaine Frontera a full liquor license in 2002.

The liquor license file also contains several letters bearing the name F. Ronald Mastriana, an attorney who represents Club Cinema. Mastriana, according to a biography published on his law firm's website, is a "preeminent real estate developer" and "one of the nation's most respected attorneys." He boasts of his charitable activities and work on behalf of the Boys and Girls Club, of his membership on the Fort Lauderdale Beach Development Board, and of the huge projects he's been involved with, including the giant Sawgrass Mills Mall and a pair of projects involving Donald Trump.

The bio also describes Mastriana as a "prodigy" of the DeBartolo family, whom he worked for as a young man. That shopping mall-building clan is best-known for its ownership of the San Francisco 49ers and notorious for its own business scandals and alleged Mafia ties.

Mastriana readily admits that Frontera asked him to do the Club Cinema work. And he says Frontera is one of his oldest and dearest friends. "He's a straightforward, honest guy, just a good, decent guy," Mastriana says.

Did he know about Frontera's criminal history?

"I knew he was in trouble, and I know he's a good person who would give you the shirt off his back," Mastriana answers. "If I had a problem and I needed someone to talk to, I could call Sam."

When he is asked about the paperwork he filed on Frontera's behalf at the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, Mastriana stands behind his contention that Frontera's mother is the legitimate owner of the club.

"I believe she lives down here," he says. "And I don't think [Sam Frontera] is running the club. I believe it's a man named Greg Berkowitz from Chicago."

Mastriana distances himself from the paperwork his firm submitted to the state. "I never even saw the [liquor license] application," he says. "Somebody else in my office handled that. I don't even know if we got paid to do that. I don't think we did."

The name listed as the Club Cinema contact on the license application, however, is "Ron Mastriana." Mastriana's law firm also sent checks to the state when various payments were due for the club.

Pompano Beach's Sanzone says he knows full well who is operating Club Cinema — and he says it has nothing to do with an elderly woman from Michigan. It's Sam Frontera.

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