Eleven years ago, New Times writer Wyatt Olson crossed paths with Ryan Lipner, one of the nuttiest, most indiscriminately self-promoting individuals we've ever found in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Lipner had a childhood dream of running a Hallmark store, following in his dad's footsteps.
He later took over several stores in area malls, getting into disputes with mall management and Hallmark, which involved an $18 billion lawsuit. Since then, we've followed him through political campaigns and the start of a lawsuit against his estranged parents in which he sought permanent adult-child-support payments because of his bipolar disorder.
Now, Ryan Lipner wants to tell the rest of his story.
Starting with the fact that the hot Russian who married him for a green card refused to have sex with him.
Lipner says he met Valentina late last year. She was from Russia and had been living in South Florida for a while, staying at a Boca Raton golf-course condo. Lipner says she had been dating his friend Eric and had planned to marry him to get a green card and remain in the United States.
Eric, though, was already married. "At the last minute, he reconciled with his wife," Lipner says. Valentina was upset. Eric recommended the Hallmark kid. "He'd probably marry you."
They all met up at a Cheesecake Factory in Boca. Lipner, who at 28 admits to a taste for women around 40, was awestruck. "Wow, I've gotta get a piece of this," he remembers thinking. "I was attracted to her; I really loved her. The problem was, she didn't feel the same about me."
Lipner waited to marry her while the lawsuit against his parents proceeded -- he wanted to get his child-support money before committing to marriage. After firing a couple of lawyers and calling a judge anti-Semitic, Lipner entered mediation with his parents, reaching settlement terms while sitting in separate rooms. Eventually, it was agreed that his parents would pay him a lump sum instead of ongoing support. The official amount remains private, but Lipner seems quite pleased with it.
"I got the money December 7 and married Valentina the next day," he explains.
Lipner says he signed a petition to sponsor his wife and her daughter as legal residents and later met with an immigration official. She got a temporary green card on the condition that she live with Lipner for two-and-a-half years. "She got the green card in May, and on May 31, she threw me out of the apartment."
He's now representing himself in a divorce that he filed on June 11. (He's no stranger to the courtroom -- besides the Hallmark case, he's been a party to 164 lawsuits in federal court and dozens more on a state level.) Not only did Lipner's new wife refuse to live with him for long -- he revealed early in our conversation that she never once agreed to have sexual intercourse with him. Now she's changed her phone number, and he can't reach her. The marriage, it appears, was strictly business while it lasted.
As far as actual business goes: Ever since his blowup with the Hallmark Corp. a decade ago, Lipner has been barred by a federal injunction from ever operating a business with the Hallmark name. But he couldn't stay away: The card-and-tchotchke market is in his blood. "I grew up in the business and have a passion for it," he says. "I'm the Hallmark Kid. I've gotta have a piece of the action, know what I'm saying?"
So he opened a gift-and-card shop at the Festival Flea Market Mall in Pompano Beach: "I sold a lot of high-end crystals -- Swarovsky, Precious Moments, Beanie Babies -- everything Hallmark sells except the cards." We were going to go out for a visit, but he called us in a hurry last week to say he had moved out, relocating to a mall in South Miami that he didn't want to name, so as not to draw management's attention to his tumultuous retailing history. It's the biggest store he's owned since the one he ran with his dad at Sawgrass Mills when he was a teenager.
Lipner is also, once again, running for political office. He plans to enter the governor's race in 2014. He's done this before, and his attempt to make it to this year's presidential election didn't work out so well. It's all terribly quixotic, like so much else that he does, and Lipner -- even in his nuttiest moments -- knows it. So why does he keep running for positions he'll never hold?
"Women like it," he says. "They like going out and messing around with a candidate. I get a lot of action out of that."
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