When management at historic and famed Casa Casuarina -- better-known as the Gianni Versace mansion -- learned that Scott Rothstein's business empire was imploding, the majority owner of the property, telecommunications tycoon Peter Loftin, was faced with a crisis.
Rothstein had, after all, purchased a stake in the 20,000-square-foot playground for the ultra-wealthy in late July, and his Bova Group took over management of the entire property, including the hotel, restaurant, nightclub, and private membership club.
Casuarina staff learned of the Rothstein trouble two Sunday nights ago (on this blog). Lawyers at the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler firm confirmed on the phone that Rothstein's money was gone and that he had fled the country.
By the following Monday afternoon, Loftin ordered the shutdown of Casuarina, the chief landmark of Miami's South Beach. More than 50 people were out of their jobs, including Casuarina's new executive chef, Wolfgang Birk, who had recently relocated from Washington, D.C. Suddenly the mansion's slogan, "An oasis for the privileged few," seemed to take on a new, grim meaning.
"Mr. Loftin realized that he had basically made a deal with the devil and he needed to
protect his asset," a high-ranking Casa Casuarina representative told me today on the condition of anonymity. "He asked that the Bova Group that was owned 100 percent by Scott be removed from the property immediately. It's going to be a long, drawn-out affair before this is totally done. Mr. Loftin wanted to make sure he was protecting his asset from Scott and anyone coming after Scott. It's a mess. I feel terrible for the employees that were here, some who moved from out of town to work for him. [Rothstein] left everyone hanging, and it's unfortunate."
The representative said Loftin is in talks with a new management company and hopes to reopen the property at least partially by next weekend. However, no deal has been inked. He said that recent renovations being done by the Bova Group were stopped and that Rothstein left behind hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. He wouldn't tell me the particulars of the Bova Group deal but indicated that Rothstein bought a small stake in the mansion for a minimum price -- around $1 million -- and several future promises that obviously went unfulfilled.
"Mr. Loftin got conned the way everyone else did," said the spokesman. "The mess that is left behind from Scott is very large, and he did it in a very short time."
Rothstein, who had a $1 million wedding at Casuarina last year with Gov. Charlie Crist in attendance at the reception, was recently in the media talking of how he planned to transform the property into a nightclub open to the general public, a project dubbed [email protected] Casuarina. Loftin purchased the property for $19 million in 2000 after previous owner Gianni Versace was gunned down by spree killer Andrew Cunanan.
"The place has an amazing vibe just waiting to be released,'' Rothstein told the Miami Herald in August. "Right now the problem is it's caught in between from where it was and where it wants to be."
Heading the project was Tony Bova, Rothstein's partner in the restaurant business, who also managed Bova Prime on Las Olas. The Casuarina representative said Bova too has been all but destroyed by the Rothstein disaster as, he suspects, was Jack Jackson, the Fort Lauderdale restaurateur who recently sold his Las Olas steak house to Rothstein and was hired as Bova's chief of operations.
"Tony is going to get hurt in this as much as everyone else," he said. "I feel horrible for him. He doesn't deserve this. I don't think Tony has any ownership in the Bova Group. Tony is crushed. This is someone he trusted his livelihood with. He was not complicit in any way with what was happening. He had a guy who was helping him dig himself out of a hole financially and help him become successful financially again. The Bova Group was a legitimiate wing of the Scott Rothstein empire."
The representative said he hopes to rehire as many of the unemployed as possible when Casa Casuarina reopens. "They will have the right of first interview," he said. "It's terrible. I am going to try to get as many of the former employees on the payroll as possible."