Like most of the other ten employees I met that first day at his waterfront mansion, I knew nothing of Kramer's money woes. Judging by the vast Mediterranean-style villa painted in Kramer's favorite color — bright red — he was every inch the outrageously wealthy entrepreneur he presented himself as on The Real Housewives of Miami.

My first task as his autobiographer was piecing together what he had been up to in the new millennium. "A ten-year downward spiral" is how Kramer described the period in his official biography on his website. Planned projects, such as SoBe Towers in Rio de Janeiro and a mega-development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, never made it further than the drawing board. Vast sums were funding his extravagant lifestyle, but almost nothing was coming in.

By 2010, Kramer had grown tired of all the partying and jetted to Mexico to undergo ibogaine treatment — a controversial procedure in which doctors spent two weeks pumping him full of hallucinogenic drugs. He said it had worked: He stopped drinking, claiming that even the slightest smell of alcohol made him ill. Now clean and sober, he wanted to get back into the real estate development business, but no one wanted to work with him because of his scandal-scarred reputation.

Thomas Kramer is famous for his extravagant lifestyle.
HFP/ZUMA Press
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.

So he'd been trying to market his "brand" instead. First came TK Fashion, a line of casual wear that sold very few items. A planned cable cooking show called Totally Kooked, in which Kramer would make dinner for ten celebrity guests, also fizzled. In 2011, he set up TK Global Realty, which was in business for about a month before the realtors quit in a dispute over commissions.

Plowing through a pile of manuscripts — the efforts of the dozen or so previous writers who'd quickly been fired — I soon discovered that Kramer, who referred to himself as a "visionary developer," was prone to exaggerating and taking credit for practically every luxury high-rise apartment building in South of Fifth. In truth, he had little to do with any work other than Portofino Tower and the Yacht Club at Portofino, a 33-story building he opened two years later.

"Thomas was not really a developer. He was a trader, and so he partnered with or sold to developers who executed the projects," Neisen Kasdin, who was Miami Beach's mayor from 1997 to 2001, recently told New Times.

Kramer hadn't developed anything in Miami Beach on the scale of Portofino since it opened in 1997. The more I researched, the more I thought of Kramer as a male version of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard: a onetime big shot whose glory days were over. I began to see myself, meanwhile, as William Holden's character, Joe Gillis, a hack inexorably drawn into Kramer's glamorous fantasy world, where he was convinced his big comeback was right around the corner.

First, however, Kramer needed a face-lift. In May 2012, he scheduled an appointment with his friend, plastic surgeon Lenny Hochstein, Miami's self-styled "Boob God." Kramer wanted someone to videotape the procedure, and because I was the least squeamish person in the office, he nominated me. I held Kramer's hand as he went under the anesthesia and filmed in rapt horror for six hours as Hochstein separated the skin from Kramer's face. The smell of burning flesh turned my stomach. When Kramer woke, the first thing he asked me was how the video turned out.

As he recuperated, the impulsive businessman decided it was a brilliant idea to upload the video to YouTube, claiming it would somehow enhance his brand. The whole office protested, but he disregarded our advice. (Fortunately, the video was removed a couple of days later.)

Surreal incidents such as that one made me feel like I was working for a different company every few weeks. One month, I worked for a firm selling "not just real estate, but lifestyle." The next, bored with luxury sales, the boss decided to get into app development. "The future is online!" he would bark enthusiastically. Never mind that he had trouble operating his iPhone.

Kramer was also obsessed with starting a reality TV show. His guest appearances on The Real Housewives of Miami — where last season he kicked out two of the show's cast members for bickering at his dinner table — had whetted his appetite, but he wasn't having much luck drumming up interest. "You don't make me any money — at least get me a fucking show!" he would yell at his staff.

A friend of mine knew people at NBC, so she set up a meeting at Kramer's mansion with a high-ranking executive producer. But in the middle of the meeting, Kramer began weeping while explaining why he was "misunderstood." I never heard from the network again. Apparently, he was too unhinged even for reality TV.

Kramer's red-faced rages, meanwhile, were frightening. The most insignificant detail would set him off: from an email that wasn't typed in his favorite font (Helvetica) to a wrong-colored marker on the office whiteboards. During these episodes, it was as if he would enter into an altered state. Afterward, he would forget what he had just said and seemed genuinely surprised that his staff was upset.

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3 comments
ralphpetrucci
ralphpetrucci topcommenter

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

smdrpepper
smdrpepper

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
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

 
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