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    Casino ship founder killed

    Controversial SunCruz and Miami Subs founder Gus Boulis is ambushed on a South Florida road in a ''well-planned shooting.''

    [AP photo]
    A policeman looks at the crashed vehicle of Gus Boulis after Boulis was shot in Fort Lauderdale.

    By THOMAS C. TOBIN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


    FORT LAUDERDALE -- Gus Boulis, founder of SunCruz Casinos, turned gambling cruises to nowhere into a gold mine. He also made a lot of enemies along the way.

    One of them gunned him down, police say.

    photo
    Boulis
    Boulis had just pulled out of his Fort Lauderdale office Tuesday evening when a car pulled in front of his black BMW, slowed, then stopped. A second car, traveling in the opposite direction, moved alongside and stopped. The driver shot Boulis several times in the upper body with an automatic handgun.

    Boulis, who also founded the Miami Subs restaurant chain, drove a few more blocks, making his way to busy U.S. 1 south of downtown Fort Lauderdale. There, he crossed a landscaped median and crashed into a small oak tree.

    In a twist that ended his long and controversial career as one of South Florida's most notable millionaires, Boulis' car came to rest across the street from a Miami Subs.

    Boulis, 51, died about an hour later at Broward General Medical Center.

    "We're not calling it a hit or mob-related or gangland," said Fort Lauderdale police Detective Michael Reed. "Right now, we're calling it a well-planned shooting."

    The line of potential suspects is long, Reed said, given the numerous disputes -- legal and otherwise -- that have arisen from Boulis' business dealings, including the September sale of SunCruz Casinos, which remains mired in a tangle of lawsuits.

    Fort Lauderdale police are gathering information from other agencies, including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI, that have had dealings with Boulis, Reed said.

    "He's got a lot of background," Reed said. "So there are many people to talk to."

    Since selling SunCruz, Boulis turned his attention to his hotel, restaurant and marina ventures, which operated under the umbrella of Atlantia Holdings Corp. On Wednesday, in Atlantia's new offices near downtown, armed security guards kept watch over the reception area and workmen fortified the automatic door that leads to the company's offices.

    Inside, Greg Karan, a Pinellas SunCruz executive who knew Boulis for 32 years, recalled the personal attributes that made him so successful.

    "He rolled up his sleeves and got down and dirty right alongside his workers," said Karan, who remembers joining the millionaire SunCruz founder as he parked cars for customers at the company's Hollywood port.

    "We worked hard together," Karan said.

    Boulis' family, which includes two children in his native Greece and two more in South Florida, on Wednesday offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the killer's capture. Boulis made millions when he sold his stake in Miami Subs, but he was best known as the king of casino cruises. At its peak, his company owned 11 of the 26 gambling boats operating off Florida's coasts, which generated $100-million in annual revenues.

    Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth investigated the casino boats Boulis was operating and fielded frequent complaints from those who did business with him.

    "His whole attitude was that laws don't pertain to him," Butterworth said Wednesday. "He didn't seem to have too many friends."

    Under his watch, SunCruz boats tied up in Port Richey, Tarpon Springs, John's Pass, Clearwater, Daytona Beach, Key Largo, Port Canaveral, Hollywood and Palm Beach. They operated virtually unregulated, allowing legal gambling 3 miles off U.S. shores in international waters.

    Federal prosecutors reportedly forced Boulis to sell his majority ownership in September and fined him for violating a law prohibiting foreigners from owning and operating certain vessels in the United States.

    In an interview for a 1998 article, Boulis told the St. Petersburg Times his company didn't flout the law. But, he conceded, he's not afraid of shortcuts.

    "When you have a lot at stake, maybe it's better to ask for forgiveness than to go through the bureaucracy," he said. "We don't take no for an answer. We hire lawyers if we have to."

    When Butterworth and Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne raided three boats in Hollywood about a year and a half ago, they found more than $670,000 in cash on board. About $500,000 of the money was in one safe, $100,000 in another and the remaining money in slot machines.

    "What got our attention was we raided the boat on a Tuesday when he had the fewest people on board," Butterworth recalled. "Most of us use banks."

    Trouble surfaced as recently as last week, when the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Boulis had been banned from his old gambling boat and its offices after he allegedly attacked its owner and vowed to have him killed.

    Adam Kidan said in a court petition that Boulis had attacked him "in the face and neck and kicked his body" during a business meeting Dec. 5.

    A month earlier, Boulis threatened to have Kidan beaten or killed, the affidavit said.

    Boulis filed suit recently, claiming that Kidan and his partners had bounced checks, failed to repay $2.5-million in operating funds he left with the company and broke a contract provision requiring them to return 5 percent of the business if they failed to get financing for $30-million of the purchase price.

    Boulis was also being sued for child support and alimony by a former girlfriend, Margaret Heren. She is the mother of his two children, ages 5 and 7. In 1997, she received a restraining order against Boulis, saying he punched her and threatened to kill her and the children.

    Boulis left his hometown of Kavala, Greece, at age 16, and joined the merchant marine, jumping ship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to avoid mandatory military service back home. Broke and barely able to speak English, he wound up in Toronto, where a friend found him a $1.35-an-hour job as dishwasher at the Mr. Submarine sandwich shop.

    Eventually Boulis became an owner of the company, which he helped expand to 180 restaurants. Later, he built and bought dozens of motels and hotels in South Florida, including the Marriott Key Largo Bay Beach Resort.

    But Miami Subs was the business Boulis held most dear, perhaps because he started it from scratch and built it into 200 stores and took it public, according to Karan, the SunCruz official.

    Like many who knew him, Karan could not get over the irony of Boulis dying in front of one of the stores.

    "It was one of his babies," he said. "One of his pets."

    - Staff writers Lucy Morgan and Collins Conner and Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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