That project also nearly floundered. He'd made it to only the fourth floor of the planned 44-story building when he ran out of Otto's money. So in 1995, developer Jorge Pérez stepped in with financing. Kramer was a constant thorn in the developer's side, insisting at one point that the concrete balconies be replaced with glass ones, a $10 million overrun. Later, he decided the showers were all too small and ordered the architect to rip them out.

Kramer's personal life also threatened his empire. In February 1995, he was arrested in Zurich, Switzerland, after an old school friend accused him of raping his wife in the bathroom of a strip club. Kramer claimed the sex was consensual. The charges were dismissed by Swiss prosecutors because it was unclear whether the woman's injuries were inflicted by Kramer or by her angry spouse. Then, later that year, Catherine divorced him.

Amid that turmoil, Kramer's business empire reached new heights. Portofino opened in 1997 as a huge hit. The peach-and-turquoise building attracted deep-pocketed buyers from abroad who snapped up apartments for as much as $2.5 million. The same year, Kramer sold 13 acres of oceanfront land for $54 million, four times what he'd paid for it five years earlier. South Pointe was booming, and crazy Kramer wasn't looking so crazy anymore.

Thomas Kramer is famous for his extravagant lifestyle.
Thomas Kramer is famous for his extravagant lifestyle.
Kramer's Portofino Tower is still a high-end hot spot in South Beach.
Marc Averette
Kramer's Portofino Tower is still a high-end hot spot in South Beach.

Soon after his divorce from Catherine, Kramer began dating Stephanie Phillips, a fashion model studying psychology at the University of Miami. Phillips wasn't a vacuous model. She was an avid outdoorswoman who enjoyed hiking in far-flung locations with Kramer.

But despite his newfound love, Kramer kept getting into trouble. In November 1997, while at dinner with Stephanie and Jorge Pérez at the South Miami restaurant Trattoria Sole, a fracas broke out. Owner Maurizio Farinelli said Kramer punched him when he told the developer to put out his cigar. A huge brawl erupted between his posse and the restaurant staff. By the time a bloodied Kramer stumbled out to be whisked away in an SUV, the restaurant had been trashed. Kramer was charged with misdemeanor assault. (He was later acquitted.)

Then, a month before the assault trial, Phillips committed suicide. She was 25. Kramer, who claimed he learned that Phillips was suffering from bipolar disorder only after she died, was inconsolable, comparing losing her to having his right arm cut off.

Her death seemed to spur Kramer to even greater heights of outrageous behavior. In April 1999, he was kicked off his own 42nd birthday cruise, a lavish affair that began in Tel Aviv. For Kramer, it ended the next day when the captain dumped him in Port Said, Egypt, after he'd started a fistfight with a waiter because the ship had run out of Opus One, a favorite California wine.

The next month, Kramer was arrested for rape again, this time by the London Metropolitan Police. One of Kramer's assistants, who was staying with him in his posh London mansion, accused him of sexually assaulting her in his bedroom. Kramer claimed it was an attempt by the secretary and her boyfriend to shake him down. The case was dismissed after his accuser withdrew the charges.

By the end of the 1990s, just as Kramer was reaching the pinnacle of his success as a real estate developer, his highly public personal life was spinning out of control.

I first met Thomas Kramer in November 2010 at Burger & Beer Joint on Bay Road and quickly realized the stories about his eccentricity weren't exaggerated. Before eating, he reached into a velvet bag and took out an elaborate collection of spices, which he carefully laid out on the table. He said he carried them everywhere he dined out.

I found Kramer charming and infuriating at once, not at all like the "Deutsche douchebag" of tabloid legend. He was a constantly moving ball of energy, like an overgrown 6-year-old with a bad case of ADD — an impression that would only strengthen over the 12 months I spent in his employ.

I'd gone to the restaurant hoping the entrepreneur could help me with a copyright lawsuit, and although he proved unhelpful, I did spend an entertaining evening slapping his hand under the table as he tried to put it up my skirt. He was fascinated to learn that I was working as a professional dominatrix. I was 19 pretending to be 21. After escaping to Miami Beach from my suburban Staten Island home in the summer of 2009, I'd found my way to a dungeon in Coral Gables. I later wrote a New Times cover story about the time I spent there and penned a regular column about BDSM, a body of work that helped me worm into Kramer's confidences. One freak bonding with another, as it were.

Before I left the burger joint, he claimed I reminded him of himself as a youngster. "If you're this crazy now, imagine what you are going to be when you are my age," he said. The dinner over, Kramer took a wad of cash from his pocket and tipped the waitress $200.

For two years afterward, we texted and kept in contact. Then, in March 2012, I saw he'd posted an ad on Facebook looking for a ghostwriter to pen his autobiography. I replied as a joke, but he instantly texted back asking me to come in for an interview. He hired me on the spot and told me to turn up for work the next day.

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ralphpetrucci topcommenter

This man promoted nothing but stupid greed and wasteful spending. Things turned out right.


This is a good story.  You have his rise to power, followed quickly by his squandering of that power, and the inevitable downfall.  He should probably say to hell with reality tv and try to get his life made into a movie.

frankd4 topcommenter

i first came across this story from the book MIAMI BABYLON which basically is the story from initially FISCHER from the north, to the present day master-builders of south beach