(Source: Associated Press)

It’s the perfect Miami morning at Carlos Justo’s penthouse – warm and bright, with luxury yachts powering through the sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean some 30 stories below.

Justo, a 53-year-old real estate agent, has been awake since 3:30 a.m. but he shows no sign of fatigue. His eyes scan back and forth, from the high rise condos, to the water, and back to the condos.

An assistant, sitting at a glass table with her back to the stunning view, is talking business. She wants to know whether he will receive any commissions or checks anytime soon.

“Right now, we don’t have any money,” Justo says. He continues talking. Fast. Pacing back and forth, he gazes out the window.

“There’s money to be made,” he says, grinning. “I’m creating the team. I’m creating the billion-dollar real estate team.”

In fact, Justo is $20 million in debt. He is five months into a massive bankruptcy filing. The IRS is after him for $6 million.

And yet, he dreams.

A Cuban immigrant who came to the United States with nothing, Justo’s is a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, a peculiarly American dream.

Once, he starred on the TLC network program ”Million Dollar Agents.” There was a time he appeared in social columns for brokering real estate deals for one-named celebrities like J-Lo, Shaq, Versace, and two-named notables like Gloria Estefan, Sylvester Stallone, Rosie O’Donnell.

Like so many of our modern titans — think Donald Trump — he inspires both admiration and contempt. Greed, he acknowledges, fueled his rise. Hubris ensured his fall.

Next time, he says, it will all be different.

Read the full article “A Superstar Real Estate Agent Plots His Comeback” in the New York Times (August 1, 2009).

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