The last time attorney Michael Vivoli and client Ronald Charles Vinci chatted was about a month ago. Vinci was telling Vivoli about a home he had just purchased — a two-story, million-dollar mansion along Fort Lauderdale’s New River, in the well-to-do Tarpon Bend neighborhood.
Vinci, 70, a self-made multimillionaire from Southern California, wasn’t overly excited, Vivoli remembers. He talked as though he had just scored another good deal, with the money he had made from successful Honda dealerships in Southern California and Nevada.
The pair would not talk again.
Tuesday afternoon, Fort Lauderdale police went to the Tarpon Bend home after a 911 caller reported finding a body inside the mansion at 101 SW Coconut Dr.
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Vinci’s body was wrapped in duct tape. Investigators on Wednesday released few details about his mysterious death, except to say it was suspicious.
His body was turned over to the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office to determine how he died.
“I was just in shock when I got the call this morning,” said Vivoli, Vinci’s business lawyer for the past 11 years. “It’s just devastating.”
Vivoli said Vinci started out in the San Diego area in the 1960s with some tools and $1,500. He started out with Honda motorcycles, then moved into selling cars.
At the time, as Vivoli recalled, people wondered who would want a Honda?
Turned out, lots of people did, and Vinci was ready to provide them.
He grew the business, eventually owning several dealerships across Southern California and one in Las Vegas.
“He acquired a couple of other car dealerships, made some other good investments and became a fabulously wealthy individual who never lost sight of his underlying values,” said Vivoli. “He earned every penny he ever had.”
Along the way, he developed a passion for flying and boating. Over the years, he owned multiple boats and airplanes. He even got into helicopters.
In 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times, Vinci received a permit to build a helistop on his Rancho Santa Fe property. Neighbors who were against the idea got the permit invalidated.
Vinci had no problem telling the newspaper how he felt about the decision.
“I don’t think a small helicopter like mine caused any more noise that those earth movers over in Fairbanks Ranch or those gardeners who fire up their weed-eaters and lawn mowers first thing every morning,” he told the Times for a 1989 story about the growing popularity of private helicopters.
Despite losing the helistop, he kept the Rancho Santa Fe home, the Times reported. He apparently parked the helicopter someplace else. He would take the three-seater chopper up for rides over the Nevada desert.
And he later got a helipad. About five years ago, he had a rooftop helipad built atop one of his Honda dealerships.
“It was a thing that was catching on at the time before the recession — getting around in a helicopter,” said Kurt Robinson, of Robinson Helicopter, whose company in Torrance built the special flight accommodation.
“I can tell you that the rooftop helicopter came with stairs that would lead right into the dealership; that’s what he requested,’’ Robinson said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
Records show Vinci owned Pacific Honda and Santa Ana Honda dealerships — and apparently was in on the early sale of the famed DeLorean car created by the late John DeLorean.
And in 1984 Vinci was a co-defendant in a $1 million civil lawsuit charging that 70 DeLorean cars were mistakenly sent to his Pacific Honda dealership. It appeared that Vinci’s dealership had given the financially-troubled John DeLorean two loans for $620,000 each, the suit said. The suit asked for the return of the cars to the DeLorean Motor Co., which in 1982 had petitioned for financial reorganization in Bankruptcy Court. Vinci had received the cars in exchange for repayment of his loan. It was unclear how the case was resolved.
Vivoli also recalled hearing about how Vinci helped friends who needed it. When he first began to represent Vinci, Vivoli recalled meeting a friend of Vinci’s who was struggling financially.
Vivoli remembers the friend telling Vinci a number of years ago that he owed a company $1 million.
Vinci asked the friend for a name. The man later found out Vinci paid off the $1 million debt, then told the company to leave his friend alone.
Vinci eventually tired of the automotive business as it grew more and more litigious, Vivoli said. He moved to South Florida in 2005, where he loved being able to walk along the Intracoastal Waterway. He sold his last dealership a few years ago, Vivoli said.
He had a girlfriend, one adult son and a grandson.
Vivoli saw Vinci about two years ago, when Vinci came to Southern California for a court hearing, and Vivoli recalled he had never seen Vinci look better.
“There’s a guy that anybody and everybody would want to be,” he said.