The House That Madoff Money Built
You want to know how you would have been living if you'd hooked up with Bernie Madoff and started illegally raising for him right at the swindler's start in the 1960s?
You have to look at how Fort Lauderdale's Michael Bienes lived. I've written a lot about the philanthropist who claims he, too, has been ruined by the Madoff scandal. He was shut down by the SEC after he and partner Frank Avellino raised $441 million for Madoff without securities licenses. But he just turned around and put all those same investors back in with Madoff and retained his ties with the Ponzi schemer extraordinaire.
Fortunately, we have a record for how Bienes lived, contained in the archives at the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald. What follows are excerpts from the lifestyle, arts, and society pages of the newspapers with dates and bylines. And say what you will about her, but Martha Gross is fun to read, she's like a kid in a very expensive candy store. Remember, most of these stories were written after he was busted by the SEC. It jumps because it goes on for miles. Enjoy.
-- (Herald, Sept. 24, 1993, Laurie Brookins) The Bay Colony home of Michael and Dianne Bienes is an elegant configuration of stately columns, towering picture windows and expansive terraces that seem to go on ... and on ... and on ...
Today's estate is more than three times larger than their original 5,000-square-foot Fort Lauderdale home. The couple, who are known as patrons of the arts and hosts for charity benefits, expanded their home to 6,000 square feet and built an adjacent 10,000-square-foot "entertainment pavilion" - a popular site for fund-raising events staged by such groups as the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, Miami City Ballet and Fort Lauderdale Opera.
Yet, while hundreds have dined and danced in the entertainment pavilion, few have seen the residence, which features tone-on-tone whites as a backdrop for the couple's collectibles.
"We love the Mediterranean, and all of the white reminds us of
what you might find in Italy and Greece," Dianne says. "We also enjoy collecting pieces from our travels, and the white provides a lovely canvas in which our pieces both stand out and become part of the design. We don't have expensive art - that's not our thing - but we like to feel as though the things we've collected will help people get into our hearts and minds."
The entrance foyer leads to a sunken living room and the formal dining area, which seats 10. Dianne says the white dining room allows her to develop different color palettes according to her mood and entertainment theme.
"I love to create new looks using the china and silver and flowers," she says.
On the other side of the living room is Dianne's office and a card/gameroom, which houses a large portion of the couple's collection of elephant statuary. Down the hall, a family/media room is dominated by a Peter Max painting of the Statue of Liberty and a view of the outdoor pool. (There's also an indoor pool in the entertainment pavilion.) A bar of ceramic tile and glass block extends into the room; a custom climate-controlled wine closet is located in the rear.
"This is our place to entertain casually and be comfortable," Dianne says.
A second floor was added to the master suite during construction of the entertainment pavilion. The first floor consists of Michael's bathroom/dressing room - a brass valet stands next to his oversized sunken tub - while an adjacent sitting area contains white chaises and an entertainment center.
"This is my favorite room in the house, where Dianne and I can relax and talk at the end of the day," Michael says.
A spiral staircase leads to the bedroom, where an oversized contemporary stainless-steel-and-brass bed is the focal point. The bed was originally designed to stand against a wall, but licensed interior designer Duane E. Reynolds of Vero Beach created an upholstered back when they decided to stand the bed in the middle of the room.
"The back of that headboard was not pretty," he says.
Adjacent to the bedroom is Dianne's bathroom and closet. Crafted primarily of glass block and white marble, the bathroom includes an upholstered leather chaise, area rugs and a curved black-lacquer dressing table - all custom-designed. But Dianne's closet is the stuff of which a shopaholic dreams are made: It's comprised of glass shelving for hats and purses, a seven-tiered shoe carousel, yards of rack space, more than 100 small drawers for color-coordinated accessories, and cold storage for furs.
"It's certainly a closet most women could only fantasize about," Reynolds says.
Reynolds is also working on smaller projects for the couple, such as built-in cabinets for the guest rooms and a custom silver chest for the dining room.
There are always little details and refinements that are going on in different areas of the home," he says. "If there's something that can be updated or improved upon, (the Bieneses) are more than willing to do it."
"Our house is for our enjoyment, and we built it to suit," explains Dianne. "Ultimately, I hope it says that we enjoy living here, that we're pretty open people and that our home is open for the enjoyment of others."
-- (Brookins, Sept. 24, 1993) Dianne Bienes conceived the idea for her home's entertainment pavilion when she spied the deserted house next door.
Her husband, Michael, a former certified public accountant-turned-investor, explains how it happened.
"Dianne said: 'You always promised to buy me a diamond ring; well, I don't want it anymore.' "My response was, 'Wonderful!' Then she added, 'I want the land next door instead.''' She got her wish and they hired Fort Lauderdale architects Ed Bywaters and Charles Duemmling to design the 10,000-square-foot party house, which was completed in 1991.
"The challenge was to build an addition of those proportions, yet make it look as though the entire estate had been built at once," says Bywaters. "We wanted to create something that didn't look as though it had been tacked onto the side of their home."
The pavilion's entrance foyer is flanked by the dining area and indoor pool. To the left, a 14-foot wall of etched glass folds open to create a more intimate space or folds back for maximum-capacity entertaining.
Designed to accommodate up to 40 people, the dining room features Hepplewhite chairs and mahogany tables inlaid with yew wood. A feather motif on the chair backs also was incorporated into the room's eight-foot custom storage cabinets.
The indoor pool is surrounded by enough space for formal banquet tables or buffet-style serving stations. For larger parties, the pool can be covered to accommodate extra tables or a fashion-show runway. An exercise room and catering kitchen complete the first floor.
Licensed interior designer Duane E. Reynolds of Vero Beach created a decor thatemphasized elegance and warmth.
"The background is spectacular, yet neutral, so that the modes of entertainment could be varied," he says. "You can have everything from an Italian street theme to an elegant palace just by changing your table linens, decorations and other accouterments."
Visitors are fascinated by the pavilion's sponged walls, Dianne Bienes says. The complex process took six weeks to complete. Four painters followed each other with brushes and crumpled "sponges" of plastic wrap to achieve the gold-into-aqua shadings.
"What we wanted to create was the shimmering effect of a pool reflecting light back up on the wall," says Reynolds. "Therefore the color is more intense closer to the pool and lessens as it goes up."
Upstairs, the media room is a dramatic combination of aqua, deep green and black. Custom black-stained oak cabinetry houses the audio-video equipment and art books. Custom 20-foot sofas can accommodate up to 25 people and feature fold-down acrylic plastic tables for snacks. Terraces flank the media room to provide views of the Intracoastal.
-- (Sept. 29, 1993, Martha Gross) How can you not feel good at a Bienes' party? The food is always superb. The service, impeccable. (You never worry where to dump that canape toothpick or that empty glass. Someone always appears to whisk it away. Tuesday night, chefs filled your plate at the buffet, and an attendant carried it to your table for you. All you had to do was chew.) "Their attention to detail is wonderful," said Ann Hvide. "Look at the emeralds on the candles tonight. And on the napkin rings."(Suggesting the Jewels Ballets, of course.) "Their parties are exciting, creative, delicious," said Toby Ansin. "Their hospitality comes from their art hearts."
Charlie Cinnamon agreed: "They've made a remarkable change in the community. They're still making it."
So everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time, chatting so enthusiastically you could hardly decide who to listen to first. Nora Bulnes (her Spanish language magazine Selectra will soon be 10 years old!) was telling a guest about the time she met Jacqueline Onassis at a party in New York, and was fumbling for English words when Onassis said thoughtfully, "Why don't we speak Spanish?" And then proceeded to chat with Bulnes en Espanol.
Bernice Schwenke and Carol McCarvill were telling friends about their recent, wild, whitewater rafting trip in Costa Rica with hubbies Harry and Norman, and Jayne and Phil Lundell.
Michael Bienes was talking to pals about the Russian situation. "Don't ask me what Yeltzin should do. Why should I try to help Yeltzin? When I had a problem, did he ever try to help me?'' Mimi and John Bauer chaired the dinner. Jan and Jim Moran, Fran Goodwin, Jean-Faye Friedt and Linda Gill co-chaired. When Villella took the mike, he hailed his hosts' endless help to the arts. And he saluted Michael Bienes, saying, "It's always pleasant to be in the company of a rascal."
-- (April 6, 1994, Gross) When James Judd likes a musician, he puts his piano where his mouth is, as he did Friday night. At that baby grand on the mini-stage upstairs in Fort Lauderdale's Carone Gallery, he played an enchanting accompaniment for acclaimed cellist Mario Brunello. This for a recital in the Dianne and Michael Bienes Benefit Recital Series, which the couple has underwritten. (What don't they underwrite?)
Judd, artistic director of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and the Greater Miami Opera, performed gratis. Brunello, too. But this was one time when two freebies added up to something priceless. (Or almost. The sellout event cleared about $ 27,000 for the philharmonic.)
The evening began with champagne in the ground-floor galleries. And a food-fest with vast pig-out potential. How could you not pig out? The waiters kept passing potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon mousse, wee tortellini pies, crab cakes and more. And two incredible buffets were absolutely irresistible. They looked like oversized keyboards graced with silver candelabra and bouffant bouquets of roses topped with dancing musical notes.
What music lover could ignore all that? Especially when those tables were groaning with pepper-crusted tuna, peanut chicken, grilled lamb, poached salmon, asparagus and a rainbow of pastas? And every one of the 200 guests were music lovers. Would Jodie and Matt Carone have let them in the door otherwise?
After the repast, everyone hurried upstairs. Malcolm Farrell, president of the Philharmonic's board of trustees, introduced Bienes, who introduced the musicians. Of course, he had to rib his pal Judd first. "Listen, don't shoot the pianist if he's no good," he said. "He's doing the best he can."But then he told how just four days before, in St. James Palace in London, Judd had conducted the English Chamber Orchestra before an audience that included Prince Charles. (It included the Bieneses, too. They saw and heard the whole thing.) And he thanked the indefatigable Joan and Jerry Hoffman, who staged the evening. And Paula Robison and David Flintner, who underwrote it.
And the recital? Delightful music, right there in your lap, so to speak. Beethoven, Schumann, Bach, Faure and Martinu. Plus encores, of course, after all that applause.
Then everyone headed downstairs for coffee and dessert - a rainbow of sorbets crowned with with musical-note cookies and served with an assortment of toppings. (Executive Food Services did all this for a song. Everyone wanted their card.) And with dessert, more teasing. Stanley Marks pointed to Judd and said, "That pianist might have a real future in music."
And Bienes set a glass on the piano, and dropped a dollar in it, saying, "It's kind of tacky, but I think Judd will appreciate it."
On the scene: Yolande Rubin, Sondra Horner, Jerry Moritz, Wayne and Michele Carson, Jack and Libby Deinhardt, Shelly Marks, Lu Thomas, Jeff and Kathy East, Murry and Patti Liebowitz, Rich and Vera DuLaney, Jeanne Burlew, John and Leila Bishop Masterson, Donald and Jeanne Kahn, Normon Codo, Jeanne and Donald Kahn, Silvia Flores, Sally Leavitt, Howard Leavitt, Gerry and Virginia Levy, Saul and Adele Geronemus, Arie and Ann Ilton, and Stephanie, Frank and Suzanne Germack.
-- (Sept. 14, 1994, Gross) Arts addicts Dianne and Michael Bienes had a good week. It kicked off with their Labor Day Splash, a picnic and pool party. Held where? In their own back yard (a waterfront deck) and around the indoor pool in their unique Bay Colony party house. They invited 60 buddies. Poolwear was optional - because the water sports and pool dunking were optional, too.
Good thing. At first everyone was too busy nibbling samples from the non-stop appetizer parade. Shrimp big enough to bite back, every other kind of seafood you've ever heard of, Tex-Mex pastries, rumaki, soft pretzles, plum-sized strawberries, etc.
They barely swallowed the last bite, and it was time to head outside where chefs were barbecuing fat burgers and dogs, steaks and chicken. And serving corn on the cob, baked taters, umpteen salads and more. Plus lemonade to wash it down and a last act of watermelon and/or do-it-yourself sundaes with 20 toppings to choose from. Wow!
After all that who could swim? Or even waddle over to the pool? Besides, everyone was too busy catching up. With a beaming James and Valerie Judd and their eight-month-old Carissa (a beautiful, hugable cherub), Linda and Edward Villella and their talented 13-year-old Crista, Hans and Anne Hvide, Barbara Lee and Frank Brogan, Brit newcomers Frank and Ann Blunt, the Fort Lauderdale Opera Guild's director Patrick Flynn and his missus Karen, the Florida Grand Opera's general manager Bob Heuer, Italian dress designer Renato Balestra, etc.
Arts enthusiasts, every one of them, naturally. A fervent affection for the arts is the current that charges the Bieneses' lives. This is the couple that gave a cool, unrestricted $ 500,000 to Miami City Ballet this spring; who have underwritten a long list of projects for local arts; and who host fund-raisers and fetes for them all year long. The next? On Sept. 22, an unveiling of the photo portraits of Ten Women of Style and Substance who will be honored by Fort Lauderdale's Philharmonic Society in October.
Thanks to benefactors
But three days after Labor Day it was the Biennes' turn to be honored. At a Donor Recognition Reception in ArtServe's newly spiffed up digs in the old Fort Lauderdale Library. Citibank played host. Many groups, businesses and folks were honored, but the Bieneses crowned the list. Their $ 75,000 gift paid for the Bienes Business Center for the Arts, at ArtServe, to offer non-profit cultural organizations space, equipment and services.
ArtServe, as you know, does exactly what it's name says, giving arts organizations whatever tools, talents or helpers they need - plus administrative, management or legal assistance. And now, even rehearsal space. It's an incubator for arts programs - a doting mom, a mentor, and often, a willing slave. When Roy Rogers rounded up donated plants to landscape its newly redone quarters, Mary Beck rounded up members to plant them.
ArtServe's executive director Andria Pinson welcomed the reception guests. So did Citibank's senior veep Steve Freiberg. Then ArtServe's president Pat DuMont presented the awards. To the Bieneses, to Jan and Jim Moran (another couple who never stop giving) and the rest. Michael Bienes, accepting a sculpture by Dorothy Gillespie, said, "Our city and county are a dream in the process of coming true. We'll be a major U.S. city by 2010 or before."The arts, he feels, are a major factor.
On the scene: Sage Wallace, Dolph DuMont, Pam and Ralph Deardon, Elaine Ziffer, Bill Donnelly, Elaine Azen, Ron Saunders, Linda Jones, Thor and Lee Amlie, Bill and Mary Riedel, Geoff Kasher, Debbie Mason, Kay Harvey, Bruce Mattson, Jack Latona, John Graham, Mark Slaughter, Joe Millsaps, Leonard and Sally Robbins, Robbie Kurland, Diane Mataraza (from the National Endowment of the Arts), Vinnette Carroll, Sam Morrison, James Brooks-Bruzzese, Renee La Bonte, Jan Crocker, Alan Curtis.
-- (Jan. 10, 1995, Miami Herald, Julie Kay) Millionaire philanthropists Michael and Dianne Bienes were hosting another one of their dinner parties in their lavish Fort Lauderdale home Dec. 12. This one was for Grace Kelly biographer Robert Lacey and county literary luminaries.
The guests were relaxing over coffee and dessert, discussing a project the Broward Public Library Foundation was revving up to complete: a rare books and special collections room in the main library in Fort Lauderdale.
"How much money do you need?" asked Michael Bienes.
"One million dollars," said Kay Harvey, the foundation director.
The group held its collective breath. After a moment, Bienes responded. "OK, you've got it," he said.
"Then we had a few toasts," Harvey said.
The contribution makes it possible for library administrators to realize a dream they have had since the library was built in 1984 and have been working toward since 1988. It is the largest gift the library system has received in its 20 years of existence.
But to the Bieneses, it's just one more record contribution to the arts and literature -- their passion since moving to Fort Lauderdale permanently in 1980.
"Dianne and I felt this was an excellent opportunity for us to help make a good library great," Michael Bienes said. Since moving to the area from New York, he and his wife have become immersed in South Florida cultural circles and have made philanthropy practically a career.
(Jan. 18, 1995, Gross) F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved it. A trip back to his era. A Gatsby Gala for the creme de la creme of South Florida's opera lovers. It was the celebration Saturday night of a marriage made in heaven, merging the Greater Miami Opera and Fort Lauderdale's Opera Guild into the Florida Grand Opera.
It wasn't exactly held at a speak-easy. But the party pavilion at Michael and Dianne Bienes' Bay Colony manse caught the mood. The pool was covered with a dance floor, Jerry Wayne played the music of long ago. The hooch flowed like water, and flappers swarmed about. (Well, they looked like flappers.) You didn't have to say, "Joe sent me," to get in. But it didn't hurt to say, "Patrick sent me," or "Norman sent me," or "Charlotte sent me."Patrick Flynn is Florida Grand Opera's managing director. Norman Codo is its vice chairman and Charlotte is his wife. Of course, you had to have a ticket, too; with 230 guests, it was a sellout.
And everyone dug into the Gatsby mood. Most gals wore '20s dresses. James (FGO's artistic director) and Valerie Judd's outfits were authentic down to Valerie's feathers and James' spats. Josephine Lieser wore a real jeweled headband from that era, with bird-of-paradise feathers on it and pearls down to there. Jan Amis carried a cigarette holder as long as her arm. Hilden Salva wore an authentic gown and headband she found in a vintage dress shop in San Juan. Sue Gencsoy wore, for the first time, a flapper-styled Bob Mackie she bought eight years ago. "I'm so glad it still fits me," she said. And Stanley Marks kept pointing to his Shelly in her Zelda outfit, and asking people, "Have you met Zelda Fitzgerald?''
And Michael Bienes was making gangster talk, telling guests they must be there for the next opera. "And if you aren't, I'll kill you."
"It feels like the '20s," said Norm Codo. "Give me more champagne and it'll feel even more like them."
All this, even though Saturday morning was so stormy the party looked iffy. (You can't seat half the guests outside during a tempest.) All day long, the weather was vile - with winds whipping and rains pouring. "I didn't know if I could get up here in that mess," said Miami's Florence Hecht. But somehow it all dried up in time.
The dinner was exquisite. Gold service plates and table wear, gold-tipped napkins, gold runners between the bowls of roses. You've got the picture - 24 carats all the way. As at any Bienes dinner, each course was arranged on its plate like a work of art. A cabaret, set up poolside while the guests dined, was ready for more music and dancing after dinner.
Knowing that the Bieneses collect elephants, the Florida Grand Opera gave them a magnificent bronze fellow with three heads. It was presented by Oren and JoAnn Lewis, the night's honorary chairmen (with Frosene Sonderling). "Dianne and Michael are such fabulous people," said JoAnn. "And what can you give the Bieneses?''
Thanks to Citibank's support, the night made more than $ 100,000. And Michael Bienes admitted there was a reason they set it in another era. "That was a better time in many ways," he said. "Life was more civilized. It had more meaning and love. Let's bring it back. The performing arts can do that."
On the scene: Toby Ansin, Len Rapaport, Lou and Sharon Cyktor, Roger Hinkley, Ralph Dearden, Bob and Doris DuBois, Pat and Dolph Du Mont, Malcolm and Penny Farrell, Ted and Jean-Faye Friedt, Tahsin Gencsoy, Pat Helmus, Armando Salva, Lucille Mann, Paul McNeil, Joe Jessup, Florida Grand Opera C.E.O. Bob Heuer, Trudy Savy, Herb Kurtzheim, the Rev. Vincent Kelly, George and Veronika Thorne, Lottie Morton, Steve and Neena Freiberg, Felicity Hayes-McCoy, Catherine Mozine, Sal Corsini, Sally and Len Robbins, Joan Readding, Frosene Sonderling, Sonja Zuckerman, RoseMary and Marc Zenobia, Tony Brown, Wilfred Judd, Andy Boros, Arnold and Martin Rosin, and Kathy Pike.
(Jan. 18, 1995, Miami Herald, Jana Soeldner Danger)
Fringed and feathered flappers, and the band belting out Bye, Bye, Blackbird. Waiters passing silver trays of wild rice pancakes topped with duck, shrimp scampi and baby lamb chops. Champagne bubbling everywhere. Dance cards to fill; couples trying the Charleston and the fox trot. And then a sit-down dinner.
No wonder the Opera Guild's Great Gatsby gala Saturday sold out early and had a waiting list. But then, Dianne and Michael Bienes, who hosted the event at their Fort Lauderdale home, have a reputation for giving terrific parties. "It's the best party I've been to this year," said community volunteer Shelly Marks, who attended with husband Stanley, a stockbroker.
The 1920s-style clothes were part of the fun. Philanthropist Josephine Leiser wore a jeweled headband made by retired fashion designer Giorgio Mardiello, using stones and feathers that had belonged to his mother. Lin Brett-Major, a mediator with Conflict Solutions, was decked out in white top hat and tails.
More than 200 guests paid $250 each to attend the gala, which earned more than $100,000 for the Florida Grand Opera. For the first time this year, the merged Miami and Fort Lauderdale guilds are hosting parties together. Guests included former Fort Lauderdale Opera Guild President Joyce Gardner and husband Neese, a lawyer; Ron Korn, president of the Florida Grand Opera; and Rose Mary Zenobia, president of the Fort Lauderdale Opera Society, and husband Marc, a developer.
Ten birthday cakes ablaze with 10 candles each made a bright parade as waiters served dessert at the Broward Community Foundation's 10th anniversary dinner Tuesday. The party celebrated the foundation's success in raising $10 million over 10 years.
The $110-per-plate dinner also honored the foundation's founders and benefactors, and earned about $5,000. Libby Deinhardt, retired executive director of the foundation, and husband Jack, owner of Multicon of Florida, chaired the party.
Resort fashions from Saks Fifth Avenue highlighted an afternoon party aboard the Radisson Diamond cruise ship Saturday. The event honored past presidents of Hospice Hundred. Four were present: Kathie Jackson, an owner of Burt and Jack's restaurant; Maria Bailey, community relations director for The Herald; Evelyn Quinn, leasing manager for the Fort Lauderdale Jet Center; and Kari Bondurant, a Realtor with McGee Whiddon. Chairing the party were Sharon Turnau, owner of Landmark Travel, and community volunteer Micki Linderman.