Got Needle. Need Haystack.

Some needles just won't get lost. Howard Needle, for instance. He's the ex-con who launched a luxury magazine but didn't bother to pay his staff, or his bills. Now he's back in trouble. This time, Needle has been accused of threatening to kill a woman he feared was going to spoil his latest business venture: electronic cigarettes.

In a police report filed last week, Needle allegedly told a Boca Raton woman named Iris Jaet that if she got in his way she'd be found floating in her boss' pool. "What are you some kind of wise guy?" Jaet asked Needle, according to the report.

"Yeah, I'm connected," Needle allegedly told her.

It wouldn't be Needle's first threat. When an associate in a previous business wouldn't pay, Needle allegedly threatened to put him in a wheelchair. That was Operation Wooden Nickel, a currency futures fraud in New York. Needle would plead guilty to extortion and racketeering, serving 30 months in prison.

From the cell block he went straight into the South Florida publishing biz. Cravings Palm Beach was his short-lived luxury magazine. He blamed its failure on the economy, but at least a few associates suspect foul play. One jilted freelancer, Scott Rose, has been hounding Needle's probation officer for months, arguing that Needle is a menace who must be locked up lest he claim more victims.

And that's where Iris Jaet and Richard Gladstone enter the picture. In late March, at the Blue Martini Lounge on Glades Road in Boca Raton, Gladstone encountered a big-talking, cocktail-swilling business man, sporting a Star of David tattoo on his neck and taking drags off an electronic cigarette.

Gladstone had known Howard Needle before -- socially, not in the business world, and he knew nothing of Needle's criminal past. It so happened that Gladstone had a friend, Jaet, who had also switched to electronic cigarettes, which satisfied the craving without nearly the health effects. Gladstone had some money to invest. A mutual friend vouched for Needle's sales skills and Jaet could be a marketer. "SmokeMist" was conceived.

So Gladstone ordered $15,000 worth of the electronic cigarettes from China and snatched up a web domain. Only Needle, who was to be paid in commission, couldn't wait for the products to arrive. He explained to Gladstone that he'd had a recent bit of legal turbulence and that he'd get in trouble with his probation officer if he didn't show her he was getting a steady paycheck -- a rather self-serving rule that the probation officer did not corroborate in Gladstone's talks with her later. But at the time, Gladstone cut Needle $500 checks over three weeks.

That wasn't Needle's only request. He asked Gladstone to sign a waiver acknowledging, among other things, that Gladstone had read Needle's criminal indictment. Except Gladstone says Needle didn't volunteer that document -- at least not initially. "I can't sign this letter without reviewing it, because the letter says I reviewed it," says Gladstone. "When I got it, finally, I said, 'Woah, this sounds weird!'"

Needle's version of this story, by the way, is not available. In response to previous inquiries about his business practices, Needle told Juice by phone never to call him, following that demand by an email that said, "DO NOT CONTACT ME." (Probably, this newspaper didn't endear itself to Needle, considering it's also published this feature story about a boiler room business in 2000.)

As Gladstone hesitated to sign the waiver, he guesses that Needle sensed opportunity slipping away and that he became frustrated. On May 5, Gladstone was at his father's birthday party and not answering his cell phone, So Needle called the only other member of the venture -- Jaet. Ten times, according to what she told Gladstone. (Jaet referred questions to Gladstone.) These are the calls that allegedly contained threats of her floating in a pool. 

Needle's paranoia about Jaet discouraging Gladstone from the business plan was misguided, says Gladstone. In fact, he'd arrived at his misgivings independently. It wasn't just on the criminal indictment, either. It was about $15,000 worth of electronic cigarettes that didn't materialize at his door. Gladstone says they were re-routed, arriving instead at Needle's. "It was pretty stupid," says Gladstone of that cigarette switcheroo. "As if I wouldn't notice?"

By the time Gladstone phoned Needle's probation officer, Kathy Kosior-Nelson, Needle had got to her first. She told Gladstone that Needle would be passing along the electronic smokes and when she heard about the threats to Jaet, she suggested they file a police report. (Kosior-Nelson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.)

Both Gladstone and Jaet are seeking restraining orders against Needle.

Gladstone still hopes to make good on his investment on electronic cigarettes, and he figures that three $500 payments is a small price to pay for learning to steer clear of Needle. "People always tell me I'm too nice of a guy, and this is an example," he says. "Thank God I've cut ties with him. I've put this on my shelf."

He remains fascinated, however, by Needle's Jeckyll and Hyde transformations, which tend to involve alcohol. Gladstone once asked about the Star of David tattoo and Needle casually explained how he'd been out on the town with his ex-wife and he just woke up with it. In the same way, he guesses that Needle doesn't even remember making those threatening calls to Jaet. "I believe he does these things, and it's like the werewolf who has blood in his mouth the next morning, but he doesn't remember anything that happened."


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