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September 17, 2014

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Records suggest club kingpin has violent side

Ex-wives, ex-employee have sought protection in court from Steve Davidovici

If Steve Davidovici is trying to find out who got angry enough to call the IRS on his Las Vegas nightclub operation, he will be making a long list.

The Las Vegas man at the center of the federal investigation at two Strip nightclubs has a history of violence against lovers, employees and club patrons, according to lawsuits and protective orders stretching back more than a decade. All the while, Davidovici, steeped in mystery, was building a nightlife empire — culminating with Pure, the most successful nightclub in America.

Known simply as “Stevie D.,” even to casino executives, Davidovici, 44, is a modern hustler whose meteoric rise in the Las Vegas club scene is legend among media that report on such things: an ex-prizefighter from Brooklyn who may or may not have fled New York to escape a Mafia debt, only to help birth the nightlife industry in Las Vegas. And, if Blender magazine is to be believed, his career stretches back to 1980s Manhattan, where, as a teenager, he hosted Brooke Shields’ 16th birthday party. Little of this has been proven, but Davidovici hasn’t made corrections to that legend.

He is typically media shy, and his outsized personality and explosive temper have kept those who would ask at bay. What is known — and undisputed — is Davidovici’s business acumen. He’s played a hand in every major nightclub here from the start, beginning with Club Rio in 1994.

His charm — one scenester described him as “straight outta ‘Goodfellas’” — has not only attracted celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Christina Aguilera, but has gotten them to invest in his clubs and restaurants. All of this has allowed Davidovici to attain the good life in 10 short years. In 1995, after a bitter divorce from his first wife, he was left with little more than a 1986 Nissan. (His wife got the couple’s 1986 Cadillac.) Ten years later, he was living in a $1.75 million mansion and driving a Ferrari.

The public face of Pure Management Group is his partner, Robert Frey, the stepson of prominent developer Irwin Molasky and a man with access to high echelons of Las Vegas society. But it was camera-shy Davidovici who was the brains of the operation.

“That company wouldn’t be where it is without Stevie,” one associate said.

“He is the catalyst for its success and everyone knows it.”

Davidovici, through his lawyer, declined an interview.

“He’s hardworking, energetic, gentlemanly and at the top of his profession,” said the lawyer, David Chesnoff.

Public records add to that portrait.

Michael Politz, a friend and the publisher of Food & Beverage magazine, says Davidovici has been unfairly portrayed as a violent thug by people who see a caricature of a man and do not know him well.

“He works 20 hours a day — this guy does not sleep,” he said. “This is a tough town. There’s a lot of guys out there who don’t want you to succeed.”

Davidovici married his first wife, Ayalivis, in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1988, and the two had a daughter in 1990. But if he carved out a career as a prizefighter, the New York State Athletic Commission has no record of it. His father Radu, on the other hand, is listed in the online boxing registry boxrec.com as having fought once, in 1967 against a fighter named Ralph Marquez. Radu lost.

It’s unclear when or why Davidovici came to Las Vegas. Financial records show that more than $41,000 in civil judgments were levied against him from 1991 to 1993 while he maintained a Staten Island, N.Y., address.

After first listing a Nevada address in 1993, he and Ayalivis separated briefly because of domestic violence, according to Ayalivis’ divorce affidavit. The couple reconnected, but in April 1995 Ayalivis filed for a protective order, alleging he had threatened her life and told her, “If you go after my finances, I’ll kill you.” She claimed he had a history of violence, alleging that in an earlier incident he had choked her during an argument. In another altercation, she said, he hit her in the face, threw a television set and destroyed family photographs.

A protective order was granted, which also barred him from any contact with his daughter.

Davidovici quickly filed for divorce, which was granted. The couple agreed to share custody of their child.

On the professional side, his career was starting to take off. Club Rio, one of the first major casino nightclubs, was a hit with Davidovici at the helm. The club was a dramatic departure from the tacky, cheap-looking caves of years past, and under Davidovici’s bold leadership, the business exploded — astounding Rio executives and competitors.

He introduced bottle service, then a practice of high-end nightclubs the world over, and it wasn’t uncommon for the club to sell out of Cristal and Dom Perignon champagne.

Also, it was at the Rio that Davidovici got to know Frey, the cigar shop owner who would later become his business partner in Pure Management. Davidovici found love again, in bartender Joey Kasamis. The two had a son in 1996, and by 1997 he was running another successful club, Ra at Luxor. Though the two separated a year later, according to Kasamis, Davidovici continued to pursue her. She filed for a protective order against him in July 1998, claiming that since their split Davidovici had been threatening her, leaving “repulsive, vulgar” messages for her, visiting her work and waiting for her in parking lots, once hurting her arm with a car door.

Davidovici denied the allegations. That November, the couple reunited. But by October 1999, Kasamis filed for another protective order, claiming to have been beaten brutally.

According to her application, as the two argued Davidovici struck Kasamis in the back of the head, grabbed her by the throat, threw her on the floor and kicked her in the head.

A protective order was granted. Davidovici sought to dissolve the order and, failing that, a polygraph examination for both parties to test Kasamis’ credibility. He said she was using the protective order as leverage in their child custody battle.

In that case, Kasamis alleged the incident was the latest in a series of assaults dating to late June 1999, including his holding a butcher knife to her throat on Oct. 10 of that year, telling her “he would stick the knife through my neck but I wasn’t worth it.”

In a strange twist, Davidovici’s ex-wife, Ayalivis, supported him, saying in an affidavit that he had never abused her.

Police never charged Davidovici in any of the alleged incidents. He has since remarried.

In July 2000, a 21-year-old woman from Henderson died of an Ecstasy overdose after partying at C2K, the nightclub Davidovici was managing at the Venetian. The casino quickly shuttered the venue, and H&H, which leased the space from the Venetian, cut a deal with Davidovici’s company, Silver Hammer, to move out.

The parents of the woman sued the Venetian, H&H and Silver Hammer. The parties settled, but not before some details about the club operation emerged.

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of the victim’s parents, attorney E. Brent Bryson alleged that C2K management created an atmosphere that allowed illegal drug activity to flourish and did nothing to curtail it. Supervisors personally observed patrons in the club’s VIP room using Ecstasy and snorting cocaine, Bryson alleged. The lawsuit was resolved by a confidential settlement.

Despite the lawsuits and finger-pointing, Davidovici bounced back by summer 2001. He worked as a promoter at Blue Note Las Vegas, and helped open the Coyote Ugly bar at New York-New York, the first in what would become Pure Management’s large nightclub empire. The club was a big hit and was followed by several others, including Tangerine at Treasure Island and Pure at Caesars Palace.

Davidovici, associates say, knew how to create the right kind of buzz. He courted celebrities, paying them exorbitant appearance fees so customers could mix with them — for the right price. His clubs expertly manipulated supply and demand, charging as much as customers were willing to pay on any given day or hour.

The degree of power and influence Davidovici exercised was surprising, especially given that he was operating these cash-happy clubs just steps away from the highly regulated casino floors. Take, for instance, the case of Ira Kiener, a club patron who filed a civil suit against Pure, Caesars Palace and Davidovici after an altercation in 2005.

According to the suit, Kiener negotiated an “entry fee” with Davidovici at the door to cover himself and his party. But when they entered, Kiener said Davidovici excluded two people. When Kiener complained, he alleged that Davidovici “verbally and forcibly ejected” him from the premises. Kiener complained to Caesars management but was told the casino “could do nothing — because they did not own, manage or control” the nightclub.

While on his way back to his car, Kiener said, he had another encounter with Davidovici, who, accompanied by four bouncers, rushed him on the casino floor. They attempted to drag Kiener into the nightclub, he said. Security officers soon came, handcuffed him and handed Davidovici Kiener’s driver’s license. Davidovici disappeared into the nightclub and returned to hand back the license, the suit says.

“Now, I know where you live,” Davidovici told Kiener, the suit says.

Davidovici denies the allegations, but the incident fits with a description by the former associate. “This is not just a guy with a temper,” he said. “This is a violent man. There are people who are afraid to leave him.”

Just ask Greg Jarmolowich. He resigned as Pure’s director of operations in August 2007 and Davidovici threatened him with a knife, according to his application for a protective order. He also said he was approached by two Pure employees, one on each of two occasions. Jarmolowich alleges that both threatened him on behalf of Davidovici.

“They have all threatened me with bodily harm and suggested they could have me killed,” Jarmolowich wrote in his application. The protective order was granted. Both sides, however, will appear in court next month to discuss a possible dismissal, according to court records.

Sun librarian Rececca Clifford-Cruz contributed research to this story.

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