Magic Carpet Ride

Clubland Potentate David Marvisi Gets the Rug Pulled Out From Under Him

"There's no question he has a big set of balls," said another insider, Paul Drohan, the onetime manager of Mirage. "But that same set of balls are about to break him."

In extensive interviews with nearly 30 employees, ex-employees, business associates, promoters, and others, conducted mainly on the condition of anonymity, a portrait emerges of Marvisi as a brash and egotistical operator whose pathway to success was paved with a myriad of schemes, big and small, some of them legal, some allegedly not. "He used to get old broken phones and repackage them and get homeless people to sell them on the street—that's a fact," said a longtime associate, who used to go on vacation with the Marvisi family.

Joe Pappa, another close aide who worked side by side with Marvisi for many years before being let go, recalled, "I saw him pick up a credit card that someone had dropped at Exit, go to the bar, swipe the card, take a bottle of Cristal, and then drop the card back onto the floor."

illustration: Allen Douglas

However, a current employee, William Curran, banquet director for Exit and Spa, painted a different picture, saying, "David has a big heart. He donates his clubs, his time, and his money to raise funds for countless worthwhile causes. David is also very generous with his employees, but he expects them to produce. And if they don't, they're out of there." (Three other employees whom the Voice talked with agreed with Curran's comments.)

Marvisi's preferred mode of business is cash. He pays for nearly everything that way—supposedly including his $500,000 orange Bentley, one of three he owns. Promoters are purportedly paid under the table. "I never paid taxes," said one of Exit's former top party planners, who was convicted of minor drug charges. "I was always paid in cash. And that was the case with every other promoter who worked for him. He was paying out $30,000 to $50,000 a week to promoters, and it was all off the books."

Two former confidants told the Voice that they regularly accompanied Marvisi on gambling trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, where they suspected he was laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars. One said the scheme worked like this: "Say you start out with $300,000 in chips, and you play for a couple of hours, and say you break even. You can now cash out and get a check from the casino for $300,000 made out to you, and it's perfectly legit. Marvisi always loved to get big checks from the casino." (Countered Marvisi's publicist, Claire O'Connor: "Not that I believe this is true, but why would someone take their own money which they earned legitimately, and exchange it for a check if they're going to have to pay taxes on it either way. This makes no sense.")

One of the confidants also claimed that he was regularly dispatched from Exit with bags full of cash—hundreds of thousands of dollars in all denominations—to a payroll company in Chelsea where he said he would receive in return checks made out to Marvisi's personal bank account.

The same intimate acquaintances also said they believed that a blaze at Spa in early 2000 wasn't accidental. Peridance, a dance studio above the cramped Union Square club, suffered a serious fire that began around four o'clock on a Sunday morning. "The landlord told us that Spa wanted our space," said a Peridance director, who requested his name not be used. "The insurance company thought the fire was suspicious. But nobody could prove anything, so the cause was ruled 'undetermined.' " (Victor Angelillo, at the time a director of the company that owns the building, said, "There was nothing suspicious about that fire. Everybody received their insurance checks. The insurance company would not have paid out if they thought anything criminal happened.")

The burden of debuting two large-scale, multilevel nightclubs at the same time occupied David Marvisi for most of the latter half of 2002. Capitale, housed in the landmark Bowery Savings Bank, became the subject of controversy after Community Board 2 suspected that Marvisi was trying to dupe them by concocting the ruse of opening a restaurant/catering hall, when what he really planned to do was launch a rowdy disco in the historic space, using Spa's general manager, Margaret "Peggy" Millard (ex-wife of Psychedelic Furs bass player Tim Butler) as a front to get the liquor license. Marvisi's reputation among his Lower East Side neighbors wasn't improved by an incident at Capitale in September when one worker pumped a bullet into the back of another because of an ongoing personal dispute. Following a barrage of complaints from local residents and three stop-work orders, the community board asked the State Liquor Authority to deny Capitale a liquor license. The SLA chose to ignore the board.

According to another source, who was until recently an important player in Marvisi's organization, the club owner wasn't worried about community opposition to Capitale because he boasted that he had an official from the mayor's office in his pocket. "He made a statement in front of a group of employees at Capitale that he paid her off with an envelope containing $5000," he said. "I was there when he said it. Who knows if it's true? He bullshits a lot. He's the kind of guy who makes up stories as he goes along."

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