First published on Sunday, February 3, 2002. When Gus Boulis' whirlwind life ended in a hail of bullets, a tempest erupted.
Family and friends of the Greek millionaire blamed Adam Kidan, his rival in SunCruz Casinos.
Those same allies forced Kidan out of SunCruz and took back Boulis' floating casino empire.
Fort Lauderdale police chased intriguing leads and appeared on the verge of a breakthrough.
But Wednesday will mark one year since Boulis, 51, was ambushed in a gangland-style hit while driving home from his Fort Lauderdale office. The excitement attached to his sensational life -- and death -- has faded.
The search for his killer has lost momentum, hampered by a lack of cooperation.
SunCruz, still operating and firmly in the hands of the Boulis estate, is poised to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization by the end of the summer. The battle between his estranged wife, ex-girlfriend and other family members over the estate, valued between $40 million and $95 million, drags on.
And in the halls where Gus Boulis dreamed up deal after deal, from the Miami Subs fast-food chain to a long list of successful real estate projects, a disquieting calm reigns.
"Sometimes you feel like things are in slow motion now," said Spiros Naos, Boulis' nephew and SunCruz chief operating officer, who arrived from Greece to work for his uncle at age 17. "Gus' spark and energy are missing -- the fast pace is missing."
The pace of the murder investigation also has waned, with a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest still unclaimed.
Fort Lauderdale police detectives Art Carbo and Jack King have pursued clues in New York and New Jersey and come up empty. They have questioned Kidan without learning much -- "We don't feel he was totally candid with us," said King.
They approached those who received mysterious payments from Kidan, and were turned away.
But where one door closes, another opens, they said. Armed with what they believe to be a lifelike sketch of the gunman, they continue to knock on doors and field calls.
"It's the kind of case where you never really hit a dead end," said King, a veteran homicide investigator. "It never seems to stop."
Those who knew Boulis best say his death is like a fresh wound.
"I don't think there will ever be another Gus Boulis," said Blake Ober, his personal assistant from 1997 until his death. "There's such a void in people's lives since he's gone."
Boulis was a teenager when he jumped a Greek freighter in Canada in 1968. He got a job washing dishes in a Toronto sandwich shop and within five years had his own empire of Mr. Submarine stores in Canada.
He came to South Florida in 1979 and embarked on a series of ventures, including Miami Subs, which he built into a successful chain, and hotels such as the Marriott Key Largo Bay Beach Resort. He launched his first SunCruz vessel in Key Largo in 1994, and later expanded into other ports, including Hollywood and several years in Riviera Beach.
He built his SunCruz fleet to 11 ships in Florida and South Carolina, making enemies of Florida's anti-gambling Attorney General Bob Butterworth, and rousing Hollywood beach residents in opposition to his 600-passenger ship docked on the Intracoastal. The federal government investigated him, eventually forcing him to plead guilty to an obscure maritime law and promise to get out of the "cruise-to-nowhere" business.
In September 2000, Boulis sold 90 percent of the SunCruz business to Kidan and partners for $147.5 million. His father, Chris Boulis, died in the middle of the closing and Boulis had to rush off to accompany the body from Florida to Greece.
The SunCruz sale quickly went sour. Boulis sued Kidan, Kidan sued Boulis, former Boulis partners sued both of them. Boulis and Kidan got into a fistfight in the SunCruz offices -- Kidan alleged Boulis stabbed him with a pen -- and Kidan told newspapers he feared for his life.
On Feb. 6, Boulis left his offices on Southeast 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale about 9:30 p.m. and headed down Miami Road, a shortcut to Federal Highway on his way home to Hollywood. A car apparently stopped in front of him, and a black Ford Mustang, thought to be a 1990s model with temporary tags, pulled up next to Boulis. Someone in the car shot him at least three times with a semi-automatic weapon.
Boulis managed to drive out to Federal Highway before crashing into a tree. He died a short time later at Broward General Medical Center.
Police took shell casings from the scene and got a description of the Mustang's driver. They think the sketch is one of their best leads.
"When we find the individual, it will be like [his] photograph," said Carbo. "This guy is somewhere, and he is known by somebody."
In the aftermath of the murder, Boulis' lawyers showed police $250,000 in unexplained payments made by SunCruz, and the Boulis family and authorities turned the spotlight on Kidan. One recipient is a friend of John Gotti, imprisoned former boss of New York's Gambino crime family. The other is a Miami Beach company whose purpose no one will discuss.
The payments had "no legitimate purpose," the lawyers for the Boulis estate argue.
`Put up or shut up'
Kidan says he paid his friend and business associate, Anthony Moscatiello, $145,000 as a food and beverage consultant for SunCruz. Moscatiello was indicted, but not convicted, in a 1983 racketeering case in New York City that involved John Gotti's brother, Gene. Moscatiello grew up in the same Queens neighborhood as the Gottis and makes no secret of his friendship with them.
Kidan also paid $95,000 to Moon Over Miami Beach, a South Beach company whose business purpose remains a mystery. Company president Anthony Ferrari and the other principals in Moon Over Miami Beach, Thomas L. Pepper Jr. and his uncle, Frank J. Pepper, have refused to be interviewed, police said. Thomas Pepper and three other unidentified men also received a total of $10,000 in poker chips from SunCruz, according to the estate.
Kidan said he hired Ferrari, a friend of Moscatiello, to protect the SunCruz vessels, which he feared might be burglarized or vandalized during his legal fight with Boulis. Moscatiello has not responded to interview requests relayed through a third party, King said.
None of the men has returned repeated phone calls seeking comment from the Sun-Sentinel.
Attorney Michael Becker, who represents Moscatiello in the SunCruz bankruptcy case, said Moscatiello is a legitimate businessman with experience in the food and beverage industry.
Becker also represents Ferrari, who, like Moscatiello and the Peppers, has not been named as a suspect in the Boulis murder. Becker said police should "put up or shut up" if they think Ferrari is involved in Boulis' death.
"Everybody's pointing the finger at us," Becker said. "We've been investigated now for a whole year, and I haven't seen any evidence, and no one's been arrested."
Becker said he has no idea what Moon Over Miami Beach does because "I never asked."
Kidan has said openly that Boulis' people were trying to link him with the murder, even to somehow connect Kidan with the murder of his own mother in 1993. Kidan called those inferences "despicable," and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Before Boulis' death, Kidan had portrayed Boulis as a madman who was trying to have him killed, and characterized the fight over SunCruz as a typical business dispute. But the authorities have not always agreed with his version of events.
He lost repeatedly in court, as judges ruled that Kidan had taken over Boulis' company without paying his share. Kidan eventually took a $200,000 buyout from the Boulis estate for his 35 percent stake in the company he bought for $147 million.
Working with Washington, D.C.-based literary agent Muriel Nellis, he is planning to sell his story about SunCruz. In an interview last week, he said if police don't believe him, "tell them to read my book."
Kidan, who leased a $180,000 armored Mercedes when he was chairman of SunCruz, is now listed as the CEO of SecureCar Worldwide, an executive security company. "[I'm] trying to use my experience with having my life threatened to market armored cars," he said.
Police say they believe that Kidan "exaggerated" the infamous pen incident, and they dismiss Kidan's stated fear for his life.
"Gus was not going to kill anybody -- that's ridiculous," Carbo said.
A flair for a deal
The two detectives, who never met Boulis, said they have been moved by the impression Boulis left on people, by the way grown men have broken down in tears when talking about him. They say they have found that Boulis was a man of his word, and the only deal that seemed to sour on him was SunCruz.
He redeveloped Hollywood's stretch of the Intracoastal, building Martha's Restaurant, Giorgio's Mediterranean Village, and Taverna Opa, where he introduced the Greek custom of table dancing to South Florida tourists. He was a fervent advocate of Greek culture, and supported a number of causes, including the Greek Orthodox Church.
In business and in life, his talent lay in his flair for a deal and the ability to make others understand his vision.
"Whether he was talking about his little boys, or his home in Greece, you could see it," said Ober, who said he was always bringing his children to the office -- two young sons in Hollywood, two older sons from Greece. "With the boats, with the hotels. He had such a way of telling you about it."
He could carry on several conversations at once and always had a half-dozen deals going on any given week, said Naos. Boulis would never refuse a charitable request, Ober said, as long as he could remain anonymous.
Boulis eschewed fancy cars -- the BMW he was shot in was a company car he didn't usually drive -- and other displays of wealth. He was driven not by money, his family and police agree, but for the excitement of the deal. He would make money on one project and invest it in another, preferring a challenge like the Diamond on the Beach hotel project on city-owned property in Hollywood, a deal that has yet to overcome legal and political obstacles.
He even bid on The Diplomat Hotel and Resort -- now The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa -- when it came up for sale in 1997.
"His love was to see new things done, new dreams come true -- to do things that were almost impossible," Naos said.
"Gus taught me a lesson: Money to him was nothing," said Naos, sitting in the office once inhabited by his mentor. "It's what you create that lives forever."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun