When the US targeted Russia’s oligarchs after the invasion of Ukraine, the trail of assets kept leading to our own backyard. Not only had our nation become a haven for shady foreign money, but we were also incubating a familiar class of yacht-owning, industry-dominating, resource-extracting billionaires. In the January + February 2024 issue of our magazine, we investigate the rise of American Oligarchy—and what it means for the rest of us. You can read all the pieces here.
Fisher Island, population 684, is America’s richest zip code. It draws celebrities, execs, and oligarchs seeking social distance from nearby Miami. The average resident declares $3 million in income. As a sales rep told Travel + Leisure, “It’s the place to be for individuals with a net worth of 10 digits and above.”
The 216-acre outpost, which can only be reached by sea or air, features berthing for yachts of up to 250 feet, a heliport, and a seaplane ramp. Security for the seven-minute ferry ride from Miami Beach is tight—residents get personal passwords and visitors can’t board without an invite.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner own a house on another nearby private island, but other Trump associates have been found here, including Felix Sater, a developer involved in Trump’s plans for a Moscow tower; former Trump adviser and Ivanka pal Maggie Cordish; and hot-dog king Howard Lorber, who advised Trump’s 2016 campaign. Russian real estate developer Aras Agalarov (whose pop star son helped arrange the Trump Tower meeting where dirt on Hillary Clinton was promised) sold a condo in 2018.
Residents have included Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Mel Brooks, Julia Roberts, and Oprah Winfrey, who sold her penthouse to the chairman of Campbell Soup for $6.5 million in 2001. While islanders’ median age is 68, younger celebs like Shakira and Kim Kardashian are rumored to have eyed properties.
In February 2023, the feds moved to seize three properties on the island owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a sanctioned Russian oligarch who met with Trump fixer Michael Cohen in 2017. (An art dealer who’d helped Vekselberg buy a penthouse was charged with money laundering and, after being served by FBI agents on the island, fled abroad.)
If you have to ask
A typical condo goes for $9 million, but in January 2023, this 10,200-square-foot, seven-bedroom manse hit the market at $36 million.
Residents have been convicted of federal crimes including tax evasion and tax, mortgage, and securities fraud. In 2018, an island condo owner and Venezuelan billionaire was charged with money laundering; he’s now a fugitive on ICE’s most wanted list. Another resident who displayed a “Sultan” nameplate at his front door pleaded guilty to impersonating a member of the Saudi royal family.
In 2020, Fisher Island residents dropped $2.1 million on federal elections, with 60 percent of their presidential campaign donations going to Trump. DeSantis megadonor Stefan Brodie lives on the island. Sugar baron and Hillary Clinton megadonor Alfonso Fanjul was sued by the Fisher Island Club over unpaid dues. (The case was dismissed.)
New residents must pay a $350,000 initiation fee and annual dues of $23,005 to access a clubhouse, 18 tennis courts, four pickleball courts, and a nine-hole golf course. Other amenities include a medical clinic, a private school, a theater, a space observatory, and an aviary.
The Golden strand
The island’s private beach, made out of some 50,000 tons of imported Bahamian white sand, was the site of a 2007 “swim-in.” Activists pointed out that developers had once promised to make the beach publicly accessible.
Fisher Island’s Rich History
1918: African American millionaire Dana A. Dorsey pays $8,000 for a tiny island off Miami. His vision of a resort for Black beachgoers dies the next year with the island’s sale to the company of Carl Fisher, whose properties bar Black and Jewish patrons.
1925: For a 265-foot yacht, Fisher trades part of his eponymous island to William K. Vanderbilt II, who builds a mansion there.
1962: Richard Nixon buys shares in a land syndicate that hopes to develop the island. As president, he cashes out for nearly twice what he originally paid.
1978: The developers win a long zoning battle after promising a public beach and no bridge.
1983: “Now that you’ve conquered the world, separate yourself from it,” reads an ad for the island’s luxury villas.
1996: “I don’t think anyone can break our security,” boasts an island spokesperson. “We’ve never had a photographer or a fan make it on the island uninvited.”
2007: Amid lawsuits from residents resisting more development, an island executive remarks that “Fisher Island people…don’t get to live on Fisher Island by being easy to deal with.” SEIU launches a union drive, as workers allege “segregation” from residents while commuting: “On the ferry, it’s whites on one side, Blacks on the other.”
2016: A tunneling machine named after Dorsey finishes a new sewer line for island residents, 78 percent of whom are white.
2017: The Fisher Island Residents Association hires Francis Suarez—Miami’s newly elected mayor—to help stop new condos.
2020: In early April, Covid tests are made available to all residents “to monitor how spread occurs in a nearly contained environment, unlike anywhere else in the world.”
2022: Plans to develop the last open parcel include a $90 million, 15,000-square-foot penthouse. According to the real estate agent, potential buyers “are people who don’t deal with mortgages or interest rates.”
Illustrations by Alex Green