Last November when Caryn Stumpfl accepted a job writing for a luxury goods magazine called Cravings Palm Beach, it never occurred to her that her new boss, the publisher, might have a felonious past. No, that realization came only after it became clear that she would not be getting paid for her work.
Stumpfl is just one of several former contributors to Boca Raton-based Cravings Palm Beach who report being stiffed by Howard Needle, a former currency trader busted for extortion and racketeering. Needle went from a term in federal prison right into the luxury magazine publishing business.
"In eight years of doing freelance work, I've never encountered something like this," says Stumpfl.
She came to Needle only after her previous job, editing Hollywood Magazine, led to an acrimonious parting. Stumpfl told Needle that she left because the publisher of that magazine had been slow to pay her. "And (Needle) said, 'Oh, I would never do that,'" recalls Stumpfl.
She signed a contract with Needle for $3,000 in exchange for which she was going to write most of the magazine's content. "He was supposed to pay me within seven days of the printing," says Stumpfl, who provided The Juice a copy of the invoice she gave to Needle. "He called me and said he couldn't pay me yet." Then he asked whether he could pay her in three installments, says Stumpfl, or by credit card. Fine, she told him. But still the payments never came.
The three-grand still felt like a pittance compared to the anguish of working in the magazine's office at Federal Highway and SE 44th Street in Boca Raton. Stumpfl says Needle had a penchant for speaking in lewd ways about women. She commiserated with the only other worker, Rosalie Farnsworth, who worked on designing the magazine. Both were married, but Stumpfl says of Needle, "He would refer to me and Rosalie as his Angels, and he was Charlie."
Toward the end of December, with her bill still unpaid Stumpfl was not about to work on the next issue of the magazine. That led to explosive arguments with Needle. "When I insisted on being paid he got belligerent with me," says Stumpfl. "He threatened to sue me, he'd scream the F-word, slam the the phone down. He's just a bad person, in my opinion. He's not a professional."
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Stumpfl doesn't know what came of the money the magazine collected from advertisers. She wasn't paid. Neither were other freelance writers. Farnsworth told The Juice Needle owes her nearly $8,000. It seems Needle didn't pay the printers, either. Charles Rosenberg, national sales manager for Rose Printing Company in Tallahassee, printed one issue of Cravings Palm Beach/. He says Needle produced a down payment and nothing more. Asked how much the company lost, Rosenberg said, "thousands."
Another printer, St. Ives of Hollywood, refused to comment on its business dealings with Needle, but the company is listed among his creditors. (Needle filed for personal bankruptcy in December.)
But aside from the rent and electricity bill, Stumpfl doesn't know what Needle's expenses were, and she knows there was revenue. "I don't know how much money he was getting paid from advertisements," says Stumpfl. "I think he just pocketed the money and didn't feel compelled to pay any of those people."
In interviews this week, Needle has maintained that he made honest effort to build a profitable publication but that he was a victim of the economic downturn. He says he intended to pay his staff and contributors, but couldn't afford to do so. Reached Friday afternoon for his response to allegations by Stumpfl, Needle said, "I have no comment," then hung up the phone. A few minutes later, he wrote an all-caps email with a subject line "DO NOT CONTACT ME."