Tales of the South Beach debacle didn’t surface for more than a year, until May 18, 2011, when the Inquirer ran a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gossip item about a lawsuit that John Bolaris had filed against AmEx. The night before, Bolaris had been a celebrity waiter at Citizens Bank Park for pitcher Jamie Moyer’s charity dinner and ran into an old friend, Larry Platt, then the editor of the Philadelphia Daily News. Platt told Bolaris he should speak to the DN’s crime reporter, tell his side of the tale. Bolaris envisioned a hard-hitting feature highlighting his courage in helping the FBI prosecute the Mob. When he opened his door the next morning at the St. James, what he got instead was a classic Daily News cover story, his grinning mug photoshopped into a Hawaiian shirt with the headline: “Russians, Roofies and a 43-Grand Rip-Off: Like the Movie, John Bolaris Is Nursing a Real-Life … HANGOVER!” The newspaper’s art department even turned his exploits into a comic strip.
That afternoon, Bolaris met with his general manager, Patrick Paolini, who called him “classless,” according to a source close to Bolaris. As part of his agreement to leave Fox last December, Bolaris is prohibited from discussing the station for two years, but it was no secret that Bolaris butted heads with Paolini, and that over the past few years, weather had taken a backseat to a new opinionated-talking-head format that mimicked Fox’s national programming. Feeling marginalized, Bolaris made waves in the spring of 2011 when he pushed to interview his old pal Lenny Dykstra, who was facing jail time in California. He was firmly rebuffed. Bolaris became a very expensive squeaky wheel, with a salary just north of $500,000.
Last fall, Bolaris and Fox learned that Playboy had assigned a story about him and the reported Russian roofies ring. The writer, Pat Jordan, is a magazine industry heavy hitter, known for his incisive profiles. (His story on Steve Carlton for this magazine in 1994 depicted the Phillies ace as a borderline whack job who theorized that AIDS was created in a lab to “get rid of gays and blacks” and that the world is run, in part, by “12 Jewish bankers meeting in Switzerland.” Carlton later denied making the comments.) Jordan is a throwback to the early days of New Journalism, a guy who pushes the limits of narrative nonfiction. “Like most journalists, he knows that the best material comes when you close the notebook,” says a colleague. “Some subjects weren’t happy with him, but I think that’s because he reveals people.”
The brass at Fox, both here and in New York, forbade Bolaris to speak to Jordan except through his attorney. At the time, Bolaris’s primary counsel was his pal Chuck Peruto, whom he first met when he tried to pick up Peruto’s girlfriend in the ’90s. What’s indisputable is that Jordan sat down with Peruto, his law partner Richard DeSipio, and Bolaris for an interview. Peruto was quoted—regrettably, in Bolaris’s eyes—calling the AmEx investigator, Stephanie Barkey, a “clown” who could “suck my dick.” More damning for Bolaris was a long passage in which Jordan hung with him at Serafina near Rittenhouse Square. In the scene, Bolaris seems chatty and eager to live up to the magazine’s name—fending off advances from a 24-year-old hostess, flipping through naked photos texted by a “cute blonde,” and explaining the “regular blue-collar things” he likes to do with live-in girlfriend Smitheman (herself a onetime Playboy model), like “watch football naked.”
Bolaris read Jordan’s story on a Tuesday night in December and was shell-shocked. He contends he never sat down with Jordan at Serafina, saying that after the interview at Peruto’s office, he walked back toward the Square with Jordan and had a 10-minute conversation on the street before going elsewhere for dinner. He says some quotes, such as the naked football line, were made up (Smitheman swears they’ve never watched sports in the buff), and that others were pulled from previous stories or from people secondhand.
Pat Jordan tells a different story. “I interviewed John Bolaris three times when I was there,” he tells me by phone from his home in South Carolina. “Once in his lawyer’s office for about three hours, once in Serafina for about three hours, and a second time at Serafina for about two hours.” Peruto wasn’t at the Serafina interviews, but confirms Jordan’s version as consistent with what the writer (though not Bolaris himself) told him and DeSipio had taken place.
It wouldn’t be the first time Bolaris stretched the truth with the media. Years ago, when then-Daily News gossip columnist Stu Bykofsky called to confirm that Bolaris was dating Robelot, Bolaris lied, and Bykofsky called him out on it. Bolaris had also been fudging his age; Bykofsky tracked down mortgage records that proved Bolaris was two years older than he’d claimed. In a 20/20 report about the Miami scam, anchor Chris Cuomo pointed out that Bolaris “never had any sexual interest in the girls.” Bolaris later admitted to me that of course he was thinking about getting laid.
Bolaris now says he was simply covering for Robelot, and that his comment to Cuomo was part of a clarification that the Russians weren’t hookers. As for Jordan: “He’s lying through his teeth,” Bolaris insists. “He misquoted me. He made up stuff and got it from other sources and other articles. He said, ‘I need to convince my editor that I’m hanging with you.’ I’d never bury myself in my own city.”
The station had clearly had enough of its loose-cannon weatherman. The day after the Playboy story hit, Bolaris reported to work and was told to go home, two days before Christmas. In their agreement, Fox and Bolaris agreed to “part ways.” But legalese aside, Bolaris was fired.
John Bolaris was never an overt fame-seeker, but when he found it, celebrity became as much a part of him as his giddy excitement over tornado warnings. But as Bykofsky says, “Even when I caught him lying, I didn’t hate him. John’s a little loopy, but he’s likeable, and like a lot of people on television, he’s needy. What he did was dumb, but not criminal.”