Money and betrayal on Las Olas Boulevard

Barbara Wells

Barbara Wells

Irving Bowen

Irving Bowen

 By Dan Christensen,

The heiress to a Broward family fortune that includes Fort Lauderdale’s landmark Riverside Hotel and much of chic Las Olas Boulevard’s priciest real estate is suing her once trusted right hand man saying he betrayed her.

Barbara S. Wells, whose grandfather started The Las Olas Company in 1936, alleges ex-company president Irving Bowen used her riches “to enjoy the trappings of wealth and power” while squandering tens of millions of dollars and “running the company into the ground.”

Two non-family sources familiar with the dispute said Wells’ total losses are believed to exceed $100 million.

Bowen wasted as much as $20 million on planning and development costs for a proposed $130 million hotel expansion, the lawsuit says. It calls the city-approved expansion an “unrealistic” failure.

Bowen’s decision to make way for the 135-room expansion by evicting popular rent-paying merchants like Café Europa and O’Hara’s Jazz & Blues Café and demolishing their buildings in February is making it difficult for The Las Olas Company to pay its bills.

“Defendant created a cash flow deficit at the company which will eventually lead to the company losing millions of dollars each year until the company can no longer operate,” the complaint says.

The Las Olas Company’s board of directors fired Bowen on July 22. But Bowen has refused Wells’ demand that he resign as trustee of a string of family trusts of which she is the beneficiary.

The trusts own 73 percent of The Las Olas Company’s stock. Bowen is using his control as trustee to “thwart” company operations, the complaint says.
Bowen is alleged to have created a “financial crisis” by pressuring the company to repay millions of dollars in loans made by the trust when he was both trustee and boss of The Las Olas Company. Wells says Bowen’s dual roles were a conflict of interest.

Wells’ 26-page complaint, filed Aug. 13, accuses Bowen of breaching his financial duty to her by placing himself in a position antagonistic to her trusts, wasting assets, mismanagement and diverting funds for imprudent business ventures.

Wells, who heads a local foundation that donated $4.5 million to Broward General Medical Center last December, has asked Broward Circuit Judge Mel Grossman to remove Bowen as trustee and order a full accounting. A jury trial on damages is also sought.

Bowen has yet to answer Well’s allegations in court, and his lawyer, Sigrid McCawley of Fort Lauderdale’s Boies Schiller Flexner, did not respond to requests for comment. McCawley said in court filings that Bowen “vehemently denies the allegations in the complaint.”

William F. Hamilton, an attorney at Holland & Knight in Tampa, represents Wells. Hamilton did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment.

Wells’ suit also accuses another trustee, Morris C. Brown, of impropriety. Brown, a lawyer in the Boca Raton office of Greenberg Traurig, “is not fit to serve because he and his firm played a crucial role” in drawing up trust documents that facilitated Bowen’s scheme, the complaint says.

Brown declined comment Sunday night.

Artist rendering of proposed Riverside Hotel expansion

Artist rendering of proposed Riverside Hotel expansion

Irv Bowen is married to professional fundraiser and real estate broker Judith Bowen. According to the complaint, she was friends with Wells in 2003 when Wells’ father, Preston A. Wells Jr., died and she encouraged Wells to seek out her husband for business advice.

“Unbeknownst to Wells, defendant had a checkered past littered with business failures,” the complaint says.

Bowen resigned as chief financial officer for Westmark Group Holdings, Boca Raton subprime mortgage lender, in 2000 after the discovery of “millions of dollars of material accounting discrepancies,” the complaint says.

The next day, after Westmark announced a large loss, NADSAQ  suspended trading in its stock, the complaint says. The stock exchange delisted Westmark’s stock in June 2000.

Three years later, Bowen persuaded Wells to remove two of her father’s former business colleagues as trustees of her trusts, and give him the job, according to the complaint. He later became The Las Olas Company’s president and chairman, paying himself both “a substantial salary” and big trustee fees, it says.

Bowen used Well’s trust funds as “a source of ready capital” for company real estate deals the board and shareholders would not approve, the complaint says. He also used millions to buy out – at allegedly inflated prices – family critics of his expensive hotel expansion plans.

Bowen allegedly borrowed heavily to buy the property he wanted, sometimes at above market prices and without appraisals, the complaint says. He pledged the entire stock portfolio of one of Wells’ large trusts to secure the loans he needed, and later had to sell it off to pay down debt as property values declined. Even so, court papers say, the trusts still owe lenders millions.

All those stock sales had another effect. Wells now owes millions of dollars in unwanted capital gains taxes, the complaint says.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • Good story as usual.

  • Everyone knew IB was lying when he said in many public arenas, presenting his mamouth and unrealistic expansion project, that *his* tenants are *GOLDEN*, inferring that the Las Olas tenants were on the top of his list of priorities, to take care of them during the transition; and then he systematically gets rid of them in one way or another. Many people were hoping he would just fall in the Intercoastal from his balcony, to save everyone from his megalomania and destruction. People fell for IB’s story just as they did for Hitler’s promises to make a better world for Germany.

  • Poor Irv and Judy, they got caught. East Side Ft. Lauderdale bunch will eat this up and say I told you so…

  • Here is another story that was waiting to be reported. People were very concerned about Barbara Wells’s fragile psyche while under the spell of her “caretakers” Irv and Judy. There is more than financial skullduggery in this tale.

  • This seems an extremely one-sided report. I would like to hear the other side.

  • The last time I looked, this is the USA isn’t it? How does 1 man close doors on a tenant that has positive cash flow in the business, let alone puting so many people out of work in this time of need. I am referring to Ohara’s, THE ROCK of Las Olas Blvd. Without Ohara’s, have you visited the ghost town of Las Olas Blvd, pitiful. I hope you can sleep at night knowing how many peoples income you have destroyed. This is not a communist country Mr Bowen.

  • The Bowens are both pompous, self-righteous, lying thieves. This is not the first scam they have pulled, but, hopefully, it will be the last. There is no “other side” of the story. That’s why Irv Bowen could not be reached for comment. Unfortunately, some of their other victims did/do not have as deep pockets as Ms. Wells. I hope they both go to jail for a long, long time.

  • It does not seem one sided to me – it reaks of facts. True, true facts. And businesses ruined. Lives diminished.

  • @ langej: if Bowen could speak without lying then Ok, let’s hear from him – with a grain of salt.
    He is in the drivers seat… he’s in charge of the trusts, he has the money.

  • Like the Rothstein tale, this sordid story serves as justification to end the Florida Bar’s self-regulating grip over attorney misconduct. It’s high-time the Florida Department of Professional Regulation take full charge over all matters related to attorney misconduct. I urge everyone fed-up with this nonsense to contact you respective state legislators to re-introduce legislation to this effect.

  • Barbara was kept drugged by Bowen’s Maid and her assistant who would bring her food everyday, Her assistant telling me that maid and him were doing this for her own good. Her Computer had a delay on it and Irving was reading all email for years and deleting. They used Wayne Black the dick from Miami to Cut tires/ Put pins in Deadbolts to enter later/ also breaking glass on car / during repairs jump over a 6’fence to loosen the lug nuts on the new tires. And Peeking into windows.

  • Like the Rothstein tale, this sordid story serves as justification to end the Florida Bar’s self-regulating grip over attorney misconduct. It’s high-time the Florida Department of Professional Regulation take full charge over all maters related to attorney misconduct. I urge everyone fed-up with this nonsense to contact you respective state legislators to re-introduce legislation to this effect.

  • Tar & feathering seems a good remedy for good ole’ boy Bowen and his shrew of a wife.
    Theives, liars and just plain greedy these two. Must have taken lessons from Bill & Hillary.

  • Bowen was using Justin B Schmidt/Rothstein firm to take 6 million from other holdings this last summer. WHY Was Prestons Wells Secretary Killed 4 months before Irving Mortgage Las Olas Blvd For 51 million. Her husband still sits in jail without a trial for over 2 years.

  • @ Friend… not clear, was it Wayne Black peeking or Irv Bowen?
    Whose tires were they cutting and why? Was it her personal auto that was damaged to hurt Barbara?
    Is Wayne Black a private detective or a bodyguard?
    Keep this going, Barbara is not out of the woods yet… need more info to help.

  • See what the buzz is about!

  • This story is worse than has been reported. Far worse.

  • How can this possibly be worse?

  • December 7th a day that will live in infamy! Pearl Harbor Day!

    … and we thought that we were safe in this country – with hooligans running this town, it is just a reflection of corporate thievery and treachery to benefit the selfish greedy machine that needs to be fed through out this country.

    Let’s start at home first and expose these rats. Our society will rot from the inside out if more stringent overseers are not in place. Good job Bull Dog! Keep digging for that bone.

    I refuse to sit idle while I see my country turn into a Marxist, Socialistic cesspool. Every country that has violated property rights has turned into a Hell Hole and right now if we do not stand for the One thing that has protected our Natural rights for about 233 years……, we will lose the very thing that makes this country worth a damn.

  • Everyone living in south Florida pretty much agrees that most of the con artists that have been in the news lately come from some place else… another state, not native Floridians. No sincere ties to their community. than – IRV BOWEN, disgraced former Las Olas Company CEO. Irv Bowen is from Florida, born and raised.

    He single handily brought down the Riverside Hotel, Las Olas Boulevard and added immeasurable and varied difficulties to the already difficult times we are in. Now Las Olas Boulevard looks like the street of lost dreams taken down by greed.

    So Barbara Wells, (she was born in Illinois, and moved here after only spending winters here and summers in the North – not a native Floridian either) whom Irv Bowen and his highly paid hired pitch team, hid behind while he was smoozing the City of Fort Lauderdale with his paid lobbyists, and by lining up all muscle with the inside power men he hired; counting on the Wells Family good name and better, their millions of dollars to make his dreams come true.

    Barbara paid all the bills and still got the shaft from her “right hand man”, whom feels raped by this guy Irv Bowen, her trustee for hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Carpet bagger is an appropriate word for those who want to take advantage make money by fooling people with their silver tongue promises.

    Bowen fooled the City of Fort Lauderdale, all their various boards for city internal departments approvals, whom bought into all the smoke Irv could generate.

    Anyone else have any comment on others who came here from someplace else to hoodwink people and make off with millions, or just taking bribes.. I guess that says it.

  • @ Friend… not clear, was it Wayne Black peeking or Irv Bowen?
    Whose tires were they cutting and why? Was it her personal auto that was damaged to hurt Barbara?
    Is Wayne Black a private detective or a bodyguard?
    Keep this going, Barbara is not out of the woods yet… need more info to help.//////////////Wayne Black Is a Private Dick from Miami and was hired to chase Barbara’s Boy Friend Away starting by Forcing him to leave Barbara’s Office, later peeking into his window with Barbara in the condo and than putting a steel pin into the deadbolt at his door, later cutting the friends tires, and putting stuff into the gas tank, later at the repair shop the new tires lug nut were loosen in the middle of the night, Barbara does ride in this truck sometimes. And than later came back and broke the Side mirror off and put it though the side glass on the door breaking it .

  • just good old boy from lake placid sippin on glass tea and watchin my three legged dead dog swim in lake june. thanks lot u old prune.

  • Hey Irv, did you scam Westmark? I have read numerous inferences re major inconsistencies re the Westmark accounting?

  • Irv Bowen and The Las Olas Company ruined Las Olas Boulevard and my 16 year old business. This demented old man should pay for the losses. Las Olas Blvd looks like a pathetic and tired street. Store windows have the same merchandise they had 2 years ago. The gay crowd does not go there anymore because it is a BORING OVERPRICED street. They do NO marketing..never did. SuperBowl came..they did nothing. The Las Olas Company is too stupid to lower the rents on the stores so people can survive. So…Las Olas goes back to what it looked like in the 80’s. DEAD.

  • My question about this is: Is Northen Trust Bank involved also in the Presbeterian Over Expansion plans for the small side street of Las Olas on 4th Street?

    Recall that Northern Trust Bank Las Olas was involved in the aledged 6 million dollar Rothestein money laundering issue by Irv Bowen theft from Barbara Wells.

    Research Northern Trust’s role in history.

  • Question: Does any one know if Irving Bowen is a FreeMason? The Red tie seems to be a give away to a secret society.

  • Irv Bowen is dead.
    His wife Judy lamented to a friend about Irv’s medicine costing so much, and perhaps, she shouldn’t have bought a new Mercedes and a newer home rather than live in the original Bowen home where Irv grew up; Judy said that she is not giving Irv medicines they can’t afford for his neurological condition.
    He and his wife Judy team-worked, and targeted “Wealthy, Society Women” in Fort Lauderdale.
    I must mention the Restaurant Mai Kai’s deceased father’s daughter was also a successful target.
    What they lost is a drop in the ocean compared to what they did to Barbara Wells. Who knows what would have happened if the Mai Kai owner sued Irv Bowen.
    In conversation with a Mai Kai representative in-the-know said, that the Mai Kai didn’t want any bad publicity for the restaurant, so to pay off Irv’s spending extravagantly while at the Mai Kai they had to sell property in the Bahamas, a boat and a home.
    It is sad to say that so many people were in the know, didn’t expose him.
    The fact that the city was lied to by Irv Bowen and they threw all their might to help Irv, whom they thought was carrying out Dick Wells plans for an expanded Las Olas Boulevard, creating more tax revenue for the city.
    When the Riverside Hotel’s taxes were in default for non-payment in the Spring of 2009 from the previous year is when Irv was exposed for a myriad of offenses; stealing, forcing Barbara to purchase more property on Las Olas Boulevard… the list goes on and on.

leave a comment


Subscribe to our Newsletter


First Name

Last Name