First published on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2001 The violent end to the fantastically large life of Greek tycoon Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis leaves investigators with an army of enemies and a legion of friends to question as they tackle the daunting job of discovering who killed him. Boulis, whose improbable success story -- a virtual American fairy tale -- began when he jumped a Greek freighter in Nova Scotia 33 years ago, was gunned down in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday night as his legal and financial troubles were reaching a crescendo.
At the time of his slaying, the former dishwasher who built a multimillion-dollar empire of fast-food chains, casino ships and resorts had been demonized by his business partners, abandoned by local politicians and accused of breaking a secret deal with the government to get out of the gambling business.
"He was a person who liked to play by his rules alone," said Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti, who drafted Boulis to help rebuild her city's beachfront but only last week said she no longer wanted to do business with him. "He could be extremely engaging, very charming and open, and very dominant and domineering," she said.
A tireless, personable and hands-on businessman, Boulis had built a fortune -- he once put his net worth at $95 million -- on the Miami Subs restaurant chain, parlaying some of his money in successful hotels and the SunCruz Casino, which almost single-handedly created a "cruise to nowhere" gambling industry in Florida.
He was famously generous, friends say, doling out gifts to the Greek Orthodox Church, the American Cancer Society and Kids in Distress. And he was fun. On the first Wednesday of each month, he treated church members and friends to a free night of food, music and gambling on his SunCruz VI in Hollywood, drawing Greeks from all around.
"Gus was just a very gregarious, fun guy to be around," said friend and business associate Donald Wright, a retired chairman and CEO of SunTrust Credit Corp., who helped finance some of Boulis' ventures. "He was one of the most imaginative and most dynamic people I've ever met," Wright said.
But everywhere Boulis went, in his personal and business affairs, he left a messy trail. His wife, who lives in Greece, filed for divorce, he was charged with threatening to kill his Florida girlfriend, sued by myriad business partners, and accused of promising to kill the man who bought his SunCruz Casino.
"Hey, there's a list an arm long," said Myron Burnstein, who has pursued Boulis and SunCruz as a special counsel for Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
Boulis' recent troubles centered on his $147 million sale of SunCruz Casino in September to a partnership headed by Dial-A-Mattress founder Adam Kidan. The ink had hardly dried on their sale agreement before Boulis accused Kidan of stealing his money, Kidan accused Boulis of stealing his slot machines, and former Boulis partners in Tampa and Jacksonville said both Boulis and Kidan cheated them out of their interests.
A meeting between Kidan and Boulis erupted in a wrestling match, in which Kidan said Boulis tried to stab him with a pen, punched and kicked him, and promised to kill him. Kidan, who called Boulis "an animal" said this week that he thought Boulis was actively trying have him killed.
Kidan said Monday that he hired private investigators to compile a "risk assessment" that concluded Boulis was dangerous. But he also said last week that he would not be intimidated by Boulis.
"This man has finally met his match," Kidan said at the time. "We're not taking this lying down."
Kidan, who is in Israel on business, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Boulis only sold SunCruz because the federal government forced him into it, and even the sale set prosecutors on him once again.
Boulis admitted last February to concealing his ownership in two of his companies, Dream USA and Dream Boat Inc., trying to hide the fact that he was not a U.S. citizen when he bought six SunCruz ships in 1994. U.S. laws require such vessels to be owned by corporations whose president and board chairman are U.S. citizens. Boulis became a citizen in March 1997.
Boulis' plea to the charges, in which his companies were fined $500,000 and he was fined an additional $500,000, was sealed. Neither the U.S. Attorney's Office nor Boulis' attorney would explain why the case was sealed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Teresa Davenport has asked U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz to unseal the document because Boulis violated the terms of his settlement by retaining a 10 percent interest in SunCruz through his company, Shake Consulting, a partnership formed in the Caribbean nation of Nevis.Despite his problems, Boulis never showed the strain in public, said his longtime friend, Greg Karan, who only Monday was being deposed in one of five lawsuits surrounding the SunCruz deal.
"Every day the big smile, welcoming his customers and employees," recalled Karan, an executive vice president with SunCruz before and after the sale. "His constant go-go-go approach to his business, his customers, that's what motivated him every day."
Karan started working for Boulis at one of his Mr. Submarine sandwich shops when he was 15.
Gus Boulis: A volatile, unlikely success story
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