Victor Posner, without a doubt, was the nastiest and the most corrupt financier I have ever met. He took corporate malfeasance to new heights, shamelessly plundering the companies he bought and sold like collectible baseball cards, with little regard or sympathy for the people who devoted their lives to building those now-bankrupt businesses. Posner didn’t care about anyone else; he was only interested in enriching himself. Posner’s cunning nature, predatory instincts, and calculated approach were truly unparalleled.
Over time, Posner gained control over a wide range of public companies, ranging from the Arby’s restaurant chain to Royal Crown Cola, and even Sharon Steel. Notably, his hostile takeover of Sharon Steel in the 1960s laid the groundwork for the notorious corporate raiders that would later emerge in the 1980s, including figures like Ivan Boesky and the king of Junk bonds, Michael Milken, both of whom Posner would later have business dealings.
I first became aware of Posner in the early 80s when working as a pool boy at one of his lavish properties, The Victorian Plaza, situated on the esteemed 69th Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. He was dating a drop-dead gorgeous girl at the time who had to be in her late teens. He showered her with all kinds of gifts, including her own white convertible Rolls-Royce Corniche, which became a symbol of her elevated status. I saw more of her at the time than Posner, as she would often sunbathe by the pool.
Later on, I secured a position at an upscale Italian restaurant called Tiberio, nestled within the prestigious Bal Harbour Shops—an exclusive haven for the affluent and famous. This fine establishment was under the ownership of Giulio Santillo, who also operated a flagship Tiberio in Washington, DC. Occasionally, Santillo would traverse between the two locations, ensuring the smooth operation of his ventures. However, it was Piero Filpi, the charismatic and dashing Sicilian Maitre D’, who truly stole the spotlight and spearheaded the Bal Harbour spot. With an unparalleled ability to enchant and captivate his patrons, Piero emanated an aura of exceptionalism, positioning himself in a league of his own.
While working there as a busser, I got a first-hand look at what a prick Posner could be. We all referred to him as Papa. When we received a call that he was on his way, a mad dash ensued to prepare his table because he had so many demands that needed to be executed before he arrived. It was such an ordeal, especially when we had a packed house. We’d often prepare a special crudités platter and wedge raw vegetables into a bowl of crushed ice before he arrived. Posner hated waiting long for his meals, so this would tie him over until his food arrived. Throughout his meal, he’d snap his fingers at us to get our attention as if we were his slaves or slap your hand if you removed a dish prematurely from his table that he hadn’t yet finished. He was uncouth and uncivilized—the product of a mere grade school education. But he was one of our best customers who frequently dined, dropping a lot of money. So he got away with a lot.
For obvious reasons, a set of bodyguards always accompanied Posner. He was one of the nation’s highest-paid executives who in 1985 earned a staggering 12 million dollars, topping all other CEOs in that year. He was willing to do everything to get his way until the government came knocking. His greed and rapacity knew no bounds (even his son sued him multiple times).
Enter Edward Bennett Williams. Williams was one of the nation’s most brilliant trial lawyers. He had defended some of the most public galleries of rogues and rebels, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, and Mafia bosses Frank Costello and Sam Giancana. His firm, Williams & Connolly, was based in Washington DC, which allowed him to mingle with the rich and powerful, making him the prototypical Washington insider. In fact, both President Ford and Reagan had appointed him to head the CIA, but he declined, preferring to stick to what he knew best. But to many, Williams was more publicly known as the owner of two sports teams—the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles.
For years, Posner had eluded the authorities and financial regulators who had tried to pin his predatory and deceptive business practices to a crime. But nothing ever stuck until they accused him of tax evasion. Like Al Capone before him, whose rapacious criminal behavior had for years eluded the law until the long arm of the IRS stopped him, so too was Posner stopped in his tracks by them. Realizing he was in deep legal trouble, he called on the only man he was confident enough would help get him out of the mess of his own undoing. Although Williams had been on the case for some time, I started seeing him about midway through his long battle to defend Posner against the Feds.
Bennett was a large and imposing figure but had lost considerable weight as he was battling colon cancer. When he came down to Miami to visit his client—as he was trying the case in a Miami court—he’d often come for lunch at Tiberio. On one occasion, I remember Williams striding into the restaurant to meet Posner and stopping at several tables to say hello to some of his friends or clients who were also dining that very day. Everyone seemed to know him. He had a magnanimous presence that controlled a room and charmed both men and women alike. On another occasion, Bennett was sitting with Posner when he noticed another client across the room who was a regular and excused himself from Posner’s table to sit down and chat with him. This client was a reputed, organized crime figure whose name shall remain anonymous. Whereas Williams was gracious and well-mannered, Posner was the exact opposite. You couldn’t have found a more unlikely pair to be seated together—a rogue and a hero.
Posner eventually lost his case, most likely because he took the stand in his defense and showed the jurors how much of an entitled and arrogant prick he was despite Williams’ painstaking efforts to coach him how to answer his prosecutors. But in the end, Williams was able to keep Posner from going to jail—which was almost a foregone conclusion. Instead, Posner had to pay only a 3 million dollar fine and serve 5,000 hours of community service dishing out meals to the homeless as punishment. For Williams, it would be his last day in court.
In August of 1988, Williams lost his cancer battle and died at the age of 68. Over two thousand mourners poured into Georgetown’s Holy Trinity church on a hot summer day to pay their respects to the fallen legal titan. Posner died in 2002 from complications of pneumonia at the age of 83, with nary a whisper from mourners save for a few estranged family members and business associates.
Former restauranteur, musician, concert promoter, producer, publisher, manager, and impresario, Charles Carlini has synthesized these roles to become a dynamic force in the music industry–noted for his ability to bring diverse talent together to create innovative concerts and recordings that reach and move music-lovers everywhere.