Between bites of braised lamb shank, Richard von Houtman — or, as his black American Express card reads, Baron Richard von Houtman — holds his iPhone sideways to display a recent call. It's a Chicago number alongside the name "Siohvaughn." As in Siohvaughn Wade, the ex-wife of 27-year-old Miami Heat demigod Dwyane Wade.
"We spoke for 45 minutes," boasts von Houtman, a Fort Lauderdale transplant. Traces of a haughty British accent linger after 20 years in the States. "She says she's going to send photos of herself with bruises after being beaten by Dwyane to Pat Riley."
That's Heat President Riley and, like many of von Houtman's claims on this cool early Monday afternoon in April, the story is unverifiable. This squat 64-year-old bodybuilder with thinning hair shaved to fuzz and the glowing-red complexion of a raw tuna steak is seated next to a patio table at the crowded Latin Café just north of downtown Miami. He's dressed in khaki capris, an embroidered designer T-shirt, and loads of diamond jewelry, including a multicolored Jacob watch and a Superman medallion. "I just don't understand," he continues with something resembling sincerity. "How do you get bruises when you're black?"
The crack falls flat, but von Houtman barrels forward. He's arranged this lunch with a single objective: to disparage one of the National Basketball Association's most popular players. During the hourlong meal, von Houtman lets loose with a barrage of inflammatory allegations that he'll repeat time and again for the next couple of months: that Dwyane Wade shuffled rapidly through mistresses and physically abused Siohvaughn; that the star and his entourage transformed their Brickell Avenue office into a sex den for groupies; and that Wade asked the baron to procure Deca-Durabolin, an anabolic steroid. (Von Houtman says he refused.)
Perhaps more remarkable than the tawdry claims is the fact that von Houtman was until recently in business with Wade. He claims to be an heir to a margarine fortune and an ex-spy, a self-described "007 without the license to kill." In fact, he is a former crony of a slain Dutch hashish kingpin, and U.S. Customs seized his Boca Raton mansion for the connection. He's been married five times and has a long, court-recorded history of violence against women. After one wild episode in the late 1990s, he was convicted of battery on three Palm Beach County cops.
In 2007, he and Wade joined to create a chain of upscale sports bars and invested in a charter school company. Within a year, both firms went down in flames. In late 2008, Wade was hit with the first of two breach-of-contract and antitrust lawsuits relating to the failed partnerships.
And in January, Siohvaughn filed for divorce, alleging her husband was a serial adulterer who had abandoned their children and infected her with a sexually transmitted disease. Within the month, after he filed a libel suit against his ex-wife, she retracted the scandalous claims.
Soon von Houtman was publicly trumpeting the six-year NBA veteran's alleged vices, first in letters to Riley and other Heat brass, then to South Florida media. As with his ex, Wade sued von Houtman for libel. Through publicists, he has refuted the baron's claims as "fairy tales." And Wade tacitly promised collateral damage in an interview with New Times. Of von Houtman, he said: "Once the truth comes out, [he's] going to be hurt more than me."
It's evident that only the opening salvos have been fired in what will be an ugly and revelatory public feud that could continue for years — and wreak untold damage on the superstar's reputation, which is nearly as valuable as his basketball skills.
After chugging a post-meal espresso, von Houtman pays the bill with a hundred, pushes out his chair, and lumbers to the parking lot. He pauses after opening the driver's door of a white 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom, setting off a chorus of soft dings. "I don't hate Dwyane, but I think he's a fool," he ruminates solemnly. "He'll always be able to make $20 million a year playing basketball but not much more than that. Why would a company sign on with Dwyane after his name has been smeared through the mud, rather than a LeBron James or somebody like that who's kept his dirty business behind closed doors? What you're watching is the downfall of Dwyane Wade."
In early June, the first warm monsoon of hurricane season pummels a drab, custard-colored home just north of downtown Delray Beach. Inside, a 35-year-old woman with smeared, bright-red lipstick and sedate brown eyes recounts the years of abuse to which she claims Richard von Houtman subjected her. "He would hit me in my legs with a belt so that other people wouldn't notice," she says in a mousy voice.