But Kramer soon announced he'd found one last chance to salvage his career: He was pinning all his hopes on Malik Riaz. The night before he left for Karachi, Pakistan, 200 friends gathered at his mansion to drink champagne and wish him bon voyage. "It's like being present at my own funeral," he told me.

The down-on-his-luck businessman had reason to be apprehensive. His plan reeked of desperation: Riaz, a notorious property tycoon, wanted to partner with him to build Safe Island City, which will supposedly boast the world's tallest building and the world's largest shopping center — all on the outskirts of Karachi, one of the world's most dangerous cities.

Kramer had met Riaz in Pakistan in 2010 through a mutual friend in Islamabad. The two struck up a relationship, and after a real estate company owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family backed out of a deal to finance Safe Island City in February, Riaz asked Kramer to come aboard. (Riaz didn't respond to requests from New Times through an intermediary for an interview.)

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.

Riaz, who likes to portray himself as Sultana Daku — a Pakistani version of Robin Hood — has been publicly accused (though never convicted) of crimes ranging from forgery and extortion to kidnapping and murder. Last May, a fellow land developer named Dr. Shafiqur Rehman filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Pakistan charging that Riaz, with help from the police, had tried to frame him for the killing of one of Riaz's bodyguards in August 2008. He also claimed Riaz was responsible for the deaths of Lt. Gen. Imtiaz Hussain and Dr. Mansoor Janjua in a dispute over a land deal in Lahore. (Those claims, which Riaz has denied, are pending in court.)

Critics, though, say Riaz has skirted convictions only because he's too powerful. In June 2012, for instance, investigators tried to arrest Riaz in Islamabad on the orders of a special anti-corruption court, but the local cops prevented the tycoon from being taken into custody.

According to Amir Mateen, the reporter for the Spokesman, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has heard hundreds of cases alleging criminal misconduct by Riaz's company Bahria Township, "mostly involving land-grabbing where [Riaz's] goons forcibly took away land from poor people to build houses, some of which cost as high as 220 million rupees — the Sultana Daku in reverse."

Kramer was willing to ignore those dangers. He had no stable income. The businesses he ran didn't bring in much money, and his Star Island mansion was on the market for $55 million, but without any serious offers in sight. The Pakistani project could either be a glorious final coup for the investor or serious trouble.

"The deal better go through," Kramer told me in the kitchen during his going-away gala. "It's either that or a bullet to the head."

Just two days after leaving Miami on March 12, Kramer signed a memorandum of understanding with Riaz while surrounded by flashing cameras in Karachi. Kramer told a roomful of journalists that he "is spearheading a syndicate that is planning on investing $20 billion over the next five to ten years."

Where would Kramer get $20 billion for such a risky project? Already, Pakistani regulatory authorities have fined Riaz's company for fraudulent advertising and for illegally receiving public money in advance for a project that is still a long way from breaking ground.

Still, in a way, the partnership makes sense, because Riaz wants a sheen of Western backing and Kramer needs his name on a real project. "I think the deal is mutually beneficial," Mateen says. "Malik Riaz wants to use the name of an investor who turned around part of Miami, and Kramer will either make money if the project goes well without spending much or still gets compensated in some ways."

Kramer briefly flew back to Miami Beach in early May to oversee the auction of his mansion's contents. Buyers could bid on everything: his taxidermied German shepherd, a portrait of Joseph Stalin that once hung in the cigar room, a statue of Ben Franklin that used to sit in the courtyard. How much did he make? Kramer won't say.

Indeed, he refused to comment for this story when reached by Skype from the Cannes Film Festival last week.

"I don't want to talk about my past. You fucking worked for me for a year — you should know all this!" he yelled. Then he softened his tone. "Bye, love you. We'll talk when the article comes out."

The mansion, home to two decades of bacchanals, now sits empty awaiting a buyer. Meanwhile, Kramer's legacy — the luxury real estate market he helped pioneer in South Beach — is again surging with buyers from Russia and Brazil snapping up apartments. The price of land in SoFi has increased tenfold since Kramer began buying properties in the neighborhood.

Anyone in danger of forgetting who he was and what he meant to South Beach in its '90s heyday has only to look at the skyline of contemporary Miami Beach, where Portofino still looms as the tallest building in South Beach, a monument to one man's arrogance and perseverance.

As party promoter turned property developer Michael Capponi says: "His initial vision of South of Fifth Street helped reshape South Beach into what it is today."

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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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