Guma also brought his mother and siblings into the fold. He even set one Jerusalem house aside as a gift to his mother. In 2007, he sent an email to her: "I have enclosed some pictures of your apartment in Jerusalem... I hope you love the beautiful 360-degree sweeping views from the 'veranda...' I always promised you a 'comfortable' place to retire to," he wrote.

Aguiar was as intense and impulsive as ever, but now his efforts could make a difference. In what is now the "Guma Aguiar Family Campus" of Chabad Lubavitch in the Galt Ocean Mile stretch of Fort Lauderdale, Lipszyc recalls a time when Aguiar overheard him talking about a troublesome personal debt of $10,000. The next week, there was a check for $10,000 in the collection box. Lipszyc says Aguiar once went to the hospital to sit for an entire Sabbath with a Brazilian man he did not know; perhaps he was reminded of his father. The rabbi says Aguiar appeared on his doorstep at 2:30 one morning; he wanted to go out and feed the homeless. So the two of them went to Publix and bought rotisserie chickens, then traipsed around the neighborhood to find hungry people. One homeless man said he wanted cigarettes and beer, not food. So Guma was off to the convenience store. When he couldn't help someone who asked, the rabbi says, Aguiar would torture himself over it.

He pressured his wealthy uncle to donate more to Jewish causes. Kaplan's chief project was Panthera, an organization that works to preserve big-cat habitat and encourage species reproduction. One of Aguiar's associates remembers his grousing about Kaplan's wasting time and money as a "jaguar gynecologist." The associate says that Kaplan eventually got wind of the comment and that this would later drive the two apart.

Guma Aguiar
Courtesy of Jerry Levine
Guma Aguiar
Guma Aguiar visited the gas chambers at Auschwitz in July 2009 with Tovia Singer, the rabbi who influenced his conversion to Judaism.
Courtesy of Tovia Singer
Guma Aguiar visited the gas chambers at Auschwitz in July 2009 with Tovia Singer, the rabbi who influenced his conversion to Judaism.

On March 6, 2008, a Palestinian gunman shot into a crowd of students at the Mercaz HaRav religious school in Jerusalem, killing eight. That night, just after midnight, Aguiar called the man who had talked him into Judaism, Tovia Singer, who had become a close friend. "Let's move to Israel," he said. Singer, who had plenty of family there, agreed and booked flights for each of them to depart the next day. Aguiar brought over his wife and young children as well. Both men would continue to divide their time between Jerusalem and the United States.

A year later, Aguiar became famous when he offered to invest several million dollars in the popular but ailing Beitar Jerusalem soccer team. He followed up a few months later with an investment in the city's biggest basketball team. For Israelis, Aguiar's good looks and macho optimism were a welcome break from the backroom scandals of team ownership. Newspaper headlines referred to him simply as "Guma."

Singer said that women began to throw themselves at Aguiar. Jamie would later allege that he had multiple mistresses. Friends knew him to smoke pot. Lipszyc said Guma did not see relaxing as being at odds with his religion. He recalls Aguiar telling him once, "Even when I'm partying, God is with me."

It was the tennis match at Vero Beach all over again: Everyone was watching, expecting Aguiar to win. For a while, it seemed as if he would.

Aguiar and Kaplan had cashed out and made their fortune in 2007, but by 2009, their relationship had dissolved and Kaplan filed two lawsuits against his nephew.

One, in Broward County Circuit Court, alleged that Aguiar had mishandled donations from Kaplan to a foundation in memory of his mother, Lillian Kaplan. Another, in federal court, accused Aguiar of committing fraud relating to the proceeds from their oil- and gas-drilling windfall. Kaplan wanted damages and to strip Aguiar of all the money he had made as a partner.

As Kaplan told it in the lawsuit, Aguiar's adventure in Texas was little more than a research errand for Kaplan. "Kaplan instructed Aguiar to identify potential oil and gas leaseholds," read the legal complaint. "To accomplish this, Aguiar spoke with Kaplan on a daily basis, during which he received instructions, discussed prospects, was tutored on the processes to be followed... and received approval for purchases."

Moreover, Kaplan said Aguiar had frittered away the exploration venture's money. This included claims that Aguiar had used the money to obtain a personal bodyguard, to pay his friend for "personal services," and to pay Jamie $100,000 as a "consulting fee." The most striking accusation mentioned in both suits: "that Aguiar has come to believe he is the messiah, and has diverted funds in part to support his messianic mission."

Aguiar did seem to be losing a grasp on where his real success ended and his dreams began. He had started telling people he was owner of Beitar Jerusalem rather than just a donor. In a 2009 interview, he had said, "I expect I'm the richest man in Israel, and I'm still growing. Whatever I do succeeds. Nobody can buy me."

Aguiar hired a filmmaker, Jerry Levine, to follow him through Florida and Israel, making a series of documentaries about his life and work. Aguiar wanted to write his own story, apart from the hounding media. Levine says Aguiar told him that "he was tired of being this guy making money for other people." In the Houston Chronicle interview, he described his venture in Texas with Leor Exploration as "a one-man show where I was the CEO, CFO, secretary, treasurer, plumber, and land man."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help