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A self-described nerd in high school, Juan Carlos had been a model student, taking honors classes. When he tried marijuana for the first time at 16 years old, he smoked only sporadically at first but by age 18 had quickly ramped up to as many as ten joints per day, occasionally lacing them with cocaine. He claimed to have done crack off and on for four to five years, dropped acid every weekend for three years, and also abused alcohol. In his adolescence and throughout his 20s, he experimented with heroin, crystal meth, ecstasy, and prescription painkillers.
The result was dramatic. One psychological evaluation noted that he "manifested deficits in all domains of cognitive functioning" and that he had "noticeable impairment in social and occupational functioning." But the drugs also numbed him to the sadness he felt after the molestation. He told one of three court-appointed psychologists, Dr. Sanford Jacobson, in March 2011 that "he learned that he could deal with things through drugs... they would obliterate the feelings that he had."
Both parents knew their son was struggling with abuse and begged him to kick his habits, but he refused. "I tried and tried and tried, but I couldn't control him," Eduardo says. "Drugs destroyed his life."
There was also anger in Juan Carlos. It surfaced in 1997, his final year at Southwest. At 18 years old, he was dating a 14-year-old freshman girl, but the relationship was faltering. So he became violent, punching her in the face and arms in January that year. A couple of months later, the girl's mother transferred her to another school. Juan Carlos didn't take the move well. On March 10, he went to her house in Sunset and knocked on her door, but, according to an arrest report, "The victim, not wanting to see or speak to the defendant, refused to answer." Enraged, he forced open her bedroom window. She told him to leave.
"The defendant then struck the victim several times on the face with a closed fist," the report states. "He then grabbed the victim by the sides of the head and with his thumbs pressed on the victim's eyes, causing heavy bruising and swelling. The defendant struck the victim several more times on the face before leaving."
The girl's parents called the police that night, and Juan Carlos was arrested for battery. Despite the attack's viciousness, he was able to enlist character witnesses, including Southwest faculty members. Karen Cohn, head of the gifted education department, wrote in a letter to the court, "Quite frankly, [Juan] is one of the few students that I would trust implicitly." Linda Greenfield, the department chair of language arts, wrote, "He is worth whatever investment we make in him."
Juan Carlos eventually pleaded no contest. Adjudication was withheld, and he was given one year of community control with two years' probation. He was told to have no further contact with the girl and her family and not to consume any alcohol or drugs. The court-ordered psychological report seemed positive about his future. "He appears to be fully oriented as to the seriousness of his past behavior," it reads. "He did not present as a high risk for violence at this time."
Juan Carlos was remorseful. "I realize that I committed a mistake," he said in the report. "I've learned from that mistake, and that'll never happen again."
After high school, Portieles entered Florida International University, where he found a niche as a DJ and program director at the student radio station, Radiate FM (WRGP, 88.1). There, he chose the name that would become his identity in the clubs: Seasunz. He told his father the moniker reflected his spirituality. Water and the sun, he said, were elements that sustained life.
In 1999, Portieles landed an interview with the now-defunct 103.5 the Beat as a program director. When he didn't get the job, he told his father he was going to leave school and be a professional DJ.
"So I said to him: 'What, are you going to work construction with me?' " Eduardo recalls. "He said, 'No, I'm going to be famous.' "
In a city like Miami, finding success behind the decks is no easy task. "DJs in this town are a dime a dozen," says Dan Vidal, who runs a Miami nightlife website and has been a part of the scene for more than a decade. To stand out, Vidal says, you have to hustle constantly and get your name out. In that sense, Portieles was prolific. He networked with everyone in the scene, handing out fliers and CDs and trying to broker deals with printers, club owners, and other DJs.
Portieles also capitalized on an underserved market: all-ages parties. Thanks to a May 2000 ordinance that prohibited clubs in Miami Beach from allowing entry to anyone under age 21, only clubs in Miami could host parties for teenagers. Although all-ages events weren't moneymakers — the inability to sell liquor cut significantly into the profits — most of the big-name Miami clubs staged occasional events geared toward high schoolers and younger college students to develop future clientele. Downtown hot spots such as Space, Nocturnal, Karu & Y, and Allure rented to promoters, who would pay the clubs up-front. It was in this scene — DJing foam parties and overgrown homecoming dances — that Portieles got his start.