"When I got out of jail, it was, `Goodbye, Chiffon, don't write any more bad checks.'"
"I wish all I had was a few bad checks from her," says Denise Hovey, who owns Hollywood Hair Design on East Exposition Avenue. At one time her operation was big enough for her to employ a skin therapist named Jay, who refused to talk with Westword. Hovey says Jay met Chiffon at Butterfield 8 and invited her to the salon. Last July 2 Chiffon appeared with a friend and asked Hovey to cut and color her hair; the friend had her skin treated. Chiffon paid for both services with a check from a closed account. Before Hovey discovered that, though, Chiffon had already given her a story about an uncle in Chicago who made investments. "She told me he said things were going well, and that he had a sure thing," Hovey says. "She said I would be able to double my money in fifteen days. I've always worked so hard for everything, and she seemed to know what she was talking about.
"All my life I've worked seventy, eighty hours a week to make ends meet. At the time when I met Chiffon, I was trying desperately to think positively. So when she said she could invest my money, I thought, `Why not me?'
"And why not me, damn it?"
Hovey withdrew a $5,000 cash advance from her Visa in two increments, giving Chiffon checks each time. Chiffon signed a note saying she would pay Hovey $10,000 on July 17. Hovey has yet to see a dime. "The reason Chiffon gets away with this shit all the time is that she does that `two for one' deal, and no one will come forward because they're afraid they'll get caught doing something illegal. But mine wasn't that way--her uncle was supposed to be an investor or something, and he was good at it," Hovey says. "Now my life is all messed up.
"One time I asked Chiffon if she was my angel, and she just looked at me and said, `No, I'm just the opposite.' It's the only time Chiffon ever told me the truth."
Hovey has had to downsize her business, cutting the shop she owns into thirds and taking in rentals. She was almost unable to buy a car because her credit card was maxed out; she has spoken with the police, who told her the case was civil, not criminal. But she doesn't have the money to pay for a lawsuit.
"Do you know how fast interest charges accumulate on a $5,000 cash advance?" Hovey says. "The worst part is, I totally lost my self-respect for being so stupid. I'm determined to make 1995 the complete opposite of 1994."
Hovey did try one last time to get her money back--the day Chiffon was arrested at the International. When she arrived at the restaurant, Hovey met Gottdenker and Richter, who were watching Chiffon being taken away. They looked like they had just been shot. "We started to talk to each other," she remembers, "and then all of us realized maybe one of us was on Chiffon's side. So we stopped talking. Then we looked at each other again and realized we had all been screwed."
The International wasn't Chiffon's first restaurant. "I had a restaurant in Miami, and I had some financial problems," she says. "People were stealing out of the restaurant, and I ended up having out $2,800 in checks that I couldn't cover. They hit the district attorney's office all at once, and--bam! There I was, in trouble again."
According to the Metro-Dade County police department in Miami, Chiffon was arrested thirteen times--sometimes only months apart--from March 1976 through July 1982 for issuing worthless checks. She was convicted in 1980 for felony forgery and served a twelve-month sentence. Six months later she was arrested again, this time for 52 counts of writing worthless checks, for which she received a felony conviction and a ten-year sentence.
Chiffon now claims the whole problem rested with her probation officer, who she says never posted her restitution, which led the judge to throw the book at her. "I am glad this is finally coming to light," she says. "Judge [Bruce] Levy gave me six months' probation, during which time he said I had to make restitution. I paid the whole amount in three months. But the court clerk told him he had not received a penny from me, and the judge said `ten years.'"