Mexican-style South of the Border Justice has arrived in America with a vengeance, and is on display in a courtroom in Miami where three members of New York’s Gambino Family, Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari, and James "Pudgy" Fiorello, are on trial for the murder of Suncruz Casino tycoon Gus Boulis.
The Boulis trial confirms the appearance on these shores of the kind of blatant immunity from prosecution that Mexican gangsters, politicians, drug cartel bosses and Generals—many of whom wear more than one hat—have long taken for granted in our neighbor to the South. Given the continuing devolution of the formerly-great superpower, this should not be considered an especially surprising development.
Yet it is still a shock to realize how much justice in today’s Miami resembles that in, say, Tijuana, fabled home of risque sex acts and now “stewmasters” making “Mexican meat soup” by dissolving bodies in 55-gallon industrial drums in auto repair shops placed strategically across the dusty landscape.
Tijuana is located in a semi-failed state that you could call a banana republic, if that weren’t a slur on nutritious fruit.
Guess what? So is Miami.
Maybe Miami and Tijuana should be sister cities. Because Gus Boulis' murder trial is almost too spookily similiar for words to a trial which took place in Tijuana twenty years ago.
Gus Boulis was a casino cruise operator who had recently sold his 11-ship operation to Jack Abramoff, the big-time Republican lobbyist who was at the time one of America’s most powerful men. After Abramoff and Kidan “forgot” to pay Boulis for the purchase of his casino cruise line, his continued existence almost instantly became inconvenient.
Héctor Félix Miranda was a well-known journalist in Tijuana. When he wrote something unflattering about one of Mexico’s most powerful men, his continued existence also became inconvenient.
Both suffered the same fate, in the same way. Also, the aftermath of the murders played out almost identically.
Hector Felix Miranda was ready to go to work. On a rainy morning in April, 1988, he left his house and climbed behind the wheel of his Crown Victoria LTD to drive to his job as co-editor of ZETA, a widely-read muckraking newspaper.
Across the street from Hector that morning sat a man watching from a black Pontiac TransAm with its engine running. Victor Medina was a burly former state policeman, an expert marksman, and a professional bodyguard to Jorge Hank Rhon, the son of Carlos Hank González, the most powerful man in Mexico at the time.
Parked facing Hector, maybe 150 feet away, was a brown Toyota pickup truck with two men aboard. One wore Levis and work boots, while the other, the shooter, Antonio Vera Palestrina, who had been Carlos Hank González’ personal bodyguard when Hank was Mexico City’s mayor, was decked out in cowboy boots, cowboy hat, an expensive suit, and a belt with a gold belt buckle.
The black TransAm pulled out in front of Hector, then suddenly stopped. Coming up behind him was the brown Toyota pickup, which pulled up beside Hector.
Gus Boulis was ready to go home. Finished with a later meeting that lasted until 9:15 p.m. on a cool breezy night in February 2001, he walked outside to his BMW, and pulled out of the parking lot and turned south, towards home.
Watching Boulis drive away, according to his testimony at the trial, was James “Pudgy” Fiorillo, described as a "dog-walking, food-fetching, car-washing, and baby-sitting wanna-be Mobster from New Jersey.” Pudgy got his nickname back in high school, where he stood 5’6” while weighing 260 pounds.
Prosecutors used to think Pudgy had been the gunman who killed Boulis. But they accused him only of spying on Boulis and reporting his movements to “Little Tony” Ferrari on the night of the murder. Two years ago, he pled guilty to murder and conspiracy charges, and got a light sentence in return for testifying for the prosecution.
Boulis had only driven a few blocks before a car pulled in front of his BMW, forcing him to slow down, and then stop. The car in front of him didn't budge. Boulis slammed on the brakes to avoid a collision. Just then, witnesses told police, a second car, a black Mustang drove up and pulled alongside him in the oncoming lane.
The Mustang's driver opened his window. Boulis turned to look, and made a grim discovery. The man in the Mustang was pointing a gun right at him. Boulis raised his hand as if to shield himself, but it wasn’t enough to stop three hollow-tip bullets from burrowing deep inside his chest when the driver opened fire, shooting Boulis at least three times with a semi-automatic weapon.
As the black Mustang front of him sped away, Boulis screamed, a loud blood-curdling animal sound that eyewitnesses said they will never forget. Bleeding and barely conscious, Boulis pressed the accelerator, headed south a few blocks, then turned a corner and blacked out, spinning across a median into oncoming traffic and crashing into a tree next to a Burger King.
Professional bodyguard Antonio Vera Palestrina rolled down his window and pulled out a powerful shotgun and shot Hector twice. The impact of the first shot threw Hector off his seat to the other side of the car, where his head bounced off the door as a second shot pierced his ribs, ripped his arm and almost tore it away. His body was left slumped under the dashboard, his gray “Members Only” jacket shredded, smelling of gunpowder, and soaked in blood and flesh.
In Tijuana, there were daily demonstrations. The public and independent newspapers across Mexico expressed skepticism of the investigation into Hector’s murder, and called for justice. “Unless politics or publicity interferes, money can buy innocence and freedom,” explained a journalist in Mexico City.
Authorities in Mexico soon arrested the two Jorge Hank Rhon bodyguards, Medina from the TransAm, and Vera from the Toyota pick-up truck, who they also identified as the shooter.
Despite persuasive evidence to the contrary, prosecutors theorized Vera’s motive for murdering the journalist was rage over something Hector had written about him. This mystified Hector’s co-workers at the newspaper, who could find no evidence that Hector had ever even mentioned him in his column.
Jorge Hank Rhon was known to have been incensed about Hector’s last columns, in which Hector had ridiculed him as a spoiled rich kid. Yet the relationship between Hector and Rhon went unexplored. The bodyguards' boss, Jorge Hank Rhon, was never even questioned.
And, most tellingly, on the day of the murder Vera—who was Jorge Hank Rhon’s head of security as well as his personal bodyguard—had cashed a $10,000 check from Rhon at Rhon’s Aqua Caliente racetrack.
Despite these major loose ends, authorities began to act as if the crime had been solved. There was an inexplicably long delay before the trial began, during which it was continually postponed. Slowly, the story began to disappear from newspapers. People no longer demonstrated. Journalists stopped showing up at noon every day outside the prosecutors office demanding justice.
When the trial finally commenced, witnesses had become considerably less certain of their facts than before.
After Greek tycoon Gus Boulis was gunned down in his BMW, Fort Lauderdale police immediately began scrutinizing SunCruz Casinos. Suspicion focused on the recent sale of his casino fleet, for a very good reason: Boulis, Jack Abramoff, and Adam Kidan had been carrying on a very public feud.
“We certainly aren't lacking in suspects,” said a Fort Lauderdale homicide detective with admirable understatement.
Later, detectives said they had basically solved the crime within 48 hours. However, they offered no explanation for why it took four years before three men who they had believed were involved in the murder since the day after the crime were finally arrested and charged.
Nor have prosecutors, since the trial began two weeks ago, taken the jury into their confidence about why—after taking an impossibly slow four years to bring charges—they took an additional eight years to bring the case to trial. Safe to say, something highly irregular was clearly going on.
Adam Kidan, a defrocked attorney who had gone bankrupt in both a bagel shop and a mattress store, became Jack Abramoff'spartner in what prosecutors say was a totally fraudulent purchase of Fort Lauderdale-based SunCruz casinos from Boulis.
Kidan and Jack Abramoff partnered to buy SunCruz from Boulis for $147.5 million, then reneged on paying as soon as the deal was final. Instead of paying Boulis, Kidan and Abramoff used $300,000 of SunCruz money for a luxury skybox at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., where Abramoff entertained politicians and GOP fat cats.
Abramoff and Kidan also helped themselves to $500,000 salaries, as well as lots of expensive perks. But the best part of the deal was that the two men took control of the casino line without ever putting down a dime of their own money.
No wonder Boulis was suing to regain control of the business when he was killed.
Both men were later jailed after pleading guilty to defrauding lenders in the deal. As part of his plea agreement, Kidan pledged to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
“Mr. Boulis, who owned the casino boat fleet, was shot and killed in 2001,” reported the New York Times. “Mr. Kidan may be able to help state prosecutors who are investigating the slaying of Konstantinos Boulis.”
“Mr. Kidan may be able to help prosecutors investigating the Boulis hit” is like authorities asking O.J. Simpson for help figuring out who murdered Nicole. It's almost too droll for words. And far too ironic for the NY Times.
Now that the government shutdown is over, if you’re looking for a fresh source of outrage to bring a healthy flush to your face, try this: By stepping forward and bravely pointing an accusing finger at Gus Boulis’ "real" killer, who turned out, alas, and all too conveniently, to be already dead, Adam Kidan got his federal prison sentence cut… in half.
Despite having a string of well-documented character defects that mark him as a prime candidate for an invitation to Michael Milken's Sociopaths Ball, somebody in our government clearly wanted Adam Kidan to really really like him.
In an opening statement lasting over an hour, prosecutor Gregg Rossman described a scenario right out of a Hollywood movie — shady financial deals, powerful Washington D.C. interests, mob figures, convicted felons…All he left out was the real reason for the terrifying end of one of South Florida's most prominent businessmen.
Prosecutors said they "didn't believe" Kidan or Abramoff played any role in the murder of Boulis.
Because I found the statement so amazingly unbelievable, I collected examples of how various national newspapers had phrased it.
“Abramoff had nothing to do with Boulis' death,” said prosecutor Brian Cavanaugh, in a straighforward, if unconvincing, explanation. He went on to say he can understand why defense lawyers would want to look into it. "They have a right to investigate their case," Cavanaugh said. "They perceive things differently than we do."
"Prosecutors said they believe Moscatiello, Ferrari and Fiorillo had Boulis killed without Kidan's knowledge," read another, "then pressured the lad to continue paying protection money."
Elsewhere, prosecutors theory of the case suggested the Goombah Gambinos had killed Boulis to "encourage" Kidan to keep paying protection money.
“According to prosecutors, “Big Tony” Moscatiello saw Kidan and SunCruz as a continuous income stream. Boulis was a threat to that income. Boulis’ attempt to regain control over SunCruz, threatened lucrative contracts they had with the new owners.”
The prosecutor’s reasoning made no sense. Compared to the real stakes involved in controlling SunCruz, the Gambino torpedoes bodyguard contracts were strictly penny ante. Also, since Kidan was ostensibly paying for their bodyguard services because he was worried about being “rubbed out’ by Boulis, wouldn't eliminating the threat posed by Boulis also eliminate the need for the "lucrative" bodyguard contract?
Recall for a moment Tijuana prosecutors claim that Jorge Rhon's bodyguard killed journalist Hector Felix over something the journalist hadn't written about him. Jack Abramoff and Jorge Hank Rhon must have something powerfully compelling in common.
Determined to shield jurors from realizing that the people responsible for ordering the murder of Gus Boulis are not sitting in the dock—and never will be—prosecutors since the trial began have engaged in tortured reasoning that would be right at home in courtrooms in Tijuana.
They believe the gunman who shot Boulis to death was a man named John Gurino, who was killed in a dispute with a Boca Raton delicatessen owner two years later.
Eight years ago, some believed the Florida State’s Attorney’s Office was about to charge Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan, then on trial for fraud for stealing the SunCruz line through blatant financial fraud, in the murder of Gus Boulis.
Wrote one optimistic pundit, “Murder trumps fraud in the prosecutorial world.” But neither Abramoff or Adam Kidan was ever named as a suspect. The answer to “why not Kidan?” is easy.
No one would be able to convince a jury that the buck stopped with him. (Kidan was the man, after all, who wrote checks(totaling $200,000) to pay for the hit.) That meant charging Abramoff.
The kid glove treatment both men received illustrated how little reason there was for ever believing that the result of the Abramoff Scandal would be a big broom sweeping everything clean.
The Abramoff Scandal, like the Jorge Rhon murder scandal in Tijuana, and like Iran Contra and every other recent American scandal,is deemed too big to ever be allowed to break.
Moscatiello told detectives that Kidan had ordered the hit. Prosecutors apparently don't believe him. Anyone doubting his assertion should perform a simple thought experiment:
“You’ve just bought a life insurance policy for $10 million on your spouse, who is then shot three times at close range with hollow point rounds by people authorities identify as Gambino hit men who recently cashed big checks from you.
Is writing a quarter million dollars worth of checks (for no discernible purpose) to Mafia hit men later charged with the murder of the check-writer’s biggest enemy just another in the long line of "freak coincidences" for which Florida is justly famous?
“I believe that it’s a sign, a sign from God,” Patti Burke told Florida Today. “He is still in our life every day, and he wants to show that to his people.”
It's not quite manna, but in Burke's eyes it's a manifestation of her faith.
The cracker in question has two markings, or imperfections, on its surface. Burke says the first marking is of a cross with a circle around it. The second marking, near the head of the fish, represents a golden crown.
“When I picked this one up, I knew he was special,” she said. “Something I’ve never seen before out of all the Goldfish I’ve eaten.”
Burke admittedly has been working from a large sample size, consuming between two and three pounds of the crackers per week. She says she eats the small crackers individually, examining each one for the optimal amount of savory coating.
Burke now carries her special cracker in an earring box padded with gauze. But she wasn’t immediately convinced it was a sign from God. At first, she thought maybe she had won a special promotion from cracker manufacturer Pepperidge Farm.
“They called me back and said there’s no way this could have been printed like that in the factory,” Burke told Florida Today. “They said it sounds like something miraculous happened and we don’t know how it happened.”
(That comment has not been confirmed by Pepperidge Farm.)
After becoming convinced that the cracker in fact possessed a deeper, spiritual message, Burke brought her sign of faith to her pastor, D. Scott Worth.
“I think it’s a sign,” Worth told WKMG. “I think it points to, I would hesitate to call it a miracle, but I think it points to the miracle, which is Jesus Christ defeated death. And that’s what Easter is all about.”
A 49-year-old Florida woman was arrested last month for exposing her backside to her boyfriend and a teen boy after she attacked them with papayas.
A Vero Beach police arrest report published by TCPalm.com on Tuesday showed that when officers responded to the March 10 disturbance, Suzanne Evlarina Wasden met them and her “pants were partway down exposing her buttocks.”
“The defendant was very intoxicated,” the report stated. “The defendant had blood on her arms and shirt.”
Wasden told police that the skirmish had started when her boyfriend showed up wanting “birthday sex.”
Police spoke to a 16-year-old neighbor who said that Wasden had come to his trailer earlier in the evening “wanting a cigarette and beer.”
“When she didn’t [get] one, she started yelling and screaming,” according to the report. The suspect allegedly began hitting the boyfriend and pushed him into some glass.
The teen “said that the defendant then started throwing papayas at them.”
At that point, Wasden reportedly pulled her jeans down and said, “Kiss my butt.”
“That was something that none of us wanted to see,” the teen explained to police.
Indian River County Sheriff’s Office records indicated that Wasden was arrested on misdemeanor disorderly intoxication charges and released on $500 bond two days later. She was scheduled appear in court on Tuesday morning.
Wasden had been previously arrested in November of 2012 and has a “Georgia peach” tattoo on her right ankle.
“[I was] Skyping my girlfriend, doing homework,” sophomore Jason Smith, pictured, told WESH-TV. “I figured it was too late to be another drill.”
According to WKMG-TV, officials found a handgun and assault rifle, as well as several homemade explosive devices just before 5 a.m.
Classes have been canceled until noon on Monday. The evacuated students were taken to the school’s Student Union and the on-campus arena has also been made available for anyone displaced by the evacuation. A nearby parking garage was also evacuated, but reopened Monday morning.
The school sent an alert around 2 a.m. saying there were no further threats reported, a delay that drew criticism from some students.
“I would think that they would let us know faster,” said student Nick Erickson. “It was at least two hours because it was at least 2:00 in the morning and this happened at midnight and we didn’t know anything for at least two hours. It’s sad that it was a student but at least there wasn’t high casualties.”
A University of Florida researcher has described a new genus and species of extinct saber-toothed cat from Polk County, Fla., based on additional fossil acquisitions of the animal over the last 25 years.
The 5-million-year-old fossils belong to the same lineage as the famousSmilodon fatalis from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, a large, carnivorous apex predator with elongated upper canine teeth. Previous research suggested the group of saber-toothed cats known as Smilodontini originated in the Old World and then migrated to North America, but the age of the new species indicates the group likely originated in North America.
The study appeared online in the journal PLOS One on March 13.
"Smilodon first shows up on the fossil record around 2.5 million years ago, but there haven't been a lot of good intermediate forms for understanding where it came from," said study co-author Richard Hulbert Jr., vertebrate paleontology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "The new species shows that the most famous saber-toothed cat, Smilodon, had a New World origin and it and its ancestors lived in the southeastern U.S. for at least 5 million years before their extinction about 11,000 years ago. Compared to what we knew about these earlier saber-toothed cats 20 or 30 years ago, we now have a much better understanding of this group."
Hulbert helped uncover fossils of the new genus and species,Rhizosmilodon fiteae, from a phosphate mine during excavations in 1990. The species was named after Barbara Fite of Lutz, Fla., who in 2011 donated one of the critical specimens used for the new description and allowed UF scientists to make casts of two other partial jaws in her collection.
The donation was a major contribution to the research because the remarkably well-preserved lower jaw contains almost pristine examples of all three chewing teeth, Hulbert said. The genus name Rhizosmilodon, meaning "root of Smilodon," implies the animal could be a missing link and direct ancestor of Smilodon, which became extinct about 11,000 years ago.
The study's lead author, Steven Wallace, an associate professor in the department of geosciences and member of the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology at East Tennessee State University, used comparative analysis of saber-toothed cat anatomy to help determine the animal's taxonomy. The analysis was primarily based on structure of the animal's lower jaw and teeth, smaller than the Smilodon and about the size of a modern Florida panther.
"The taxonomy of this animal was controversial because when it was first published 20 years ago, they only had one partial, somewhat-decent lower jaw, and it was missing some of the critical features," Hulbert said. "We now have more complete specimens showing it has a mixture of primitive and advanced characters, and does not match any previously named saber-toothed cat genus or species."
Originally misidentified as a member of the genusMegantereon in the early 1980s, Rhizosmilodon is instead the sister taxon to Megantereon and Smilodon, and the oldest of the group. These three cats are in the same tribe -- meaning they are more closely related than a family or subfamily -- and are often called as saber-toothed cats because of their long canine teeth, Hulbert said.
"When people think of saber-toothed cats, they think of it as just one thing, as if the famous tar pit saber-toothed cat was the only species, when in fact, it was an almost worldwide radiation of cats that lasted over 10 million years and probably had a total of about 20 valid species," Hulbert said. "Counting the newly described animal, there are now six different species of saber-toothed cats known just from Florida."
Saber-toothed cat expert Julie Meachen, an instructor at Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, W. Va., said the study helps settle the debate about whether the tribe arose from the Eurasia before coming to North America.
"I think that this revision was well-needed," Meachen said. "The fact that it's one of the oldest lineages is really interesting because that means that this exciting group of saber-toothed cats really is a North American tribe -- it evolved and persisted in North America."
Since 1915, more than 60 new species of reptiles, birds and mammals have been named from Central Florida phosphate mines, located southeast of Tampa and south of Lakeland. Rhizosmilodon lived in a forested coastal habitat that was also home to rhinos, tapirs, three-toed horses, peccaries, llamas and deer. Its relatively small size probably allowed it to climb trees and safely hide captured prey from large carnivores, such as packs of wolf-sized hyena-dogs and an extinct type of bear larger than the modern grizzly.
PACIFICA, Calif. — Three people were arrested Monday after they stocked a stolen, 82-foot yacht with pizza and beer, and then ran the vessel aground on a Northern California beach, authorities said.
Authorities took two men and a woman off the boat hours after the "Darlin" got stuck in shallow water at Pacifica State Beach, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office said.
Pacifica police arrested Leslie Gardner, 63, Dario Mira, 54, and Lisa Modawell, 56, on suspicion of grand theft and conspiracy. They were being held in the San Mateo County Jail.
The strange tale began early Monday when beachgoers phoned police to report the sailboat in trouble.
The luxury yacht was trapped on a sandbar in shallow water at low tide and unable to get back out to sea. A few wetsuit-clad surfers had paddled out in the frigid water near the grounded vessel as its hull was battered by 4- to 5-foot waves.
After television news reports of the grounding aired, the boat's owner called police to report it stolen, Sausalito police Sgt. Bill Fraass said.
"We do have thefts of vessels throughout the area, but the theft of a vessel of this size is uncommon," Fraass said.
Police arrested a 61-year-old Florida woman for allegedly pointing a gun at Walmart employees, threatening them after the store refused to honor her coupon for $1 off of a purchase and later attacking authorities.
The Smoking Gun reported on Monday that Mary Frances Alday was arrested on March 1 and charged with four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count apiece of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence stemming from a confrontation in which she allegedly took a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber gun out of her car and pointing it at the staff saying, “I have something for y’all.”
The Wakulla County Sheriff’s Department said in a release that the Crawfordsville, Florida resident “became verbally abusive” toward the store’s assistant manager, Tracy Stockslager, when Stockslager said the store’s policy prevented them from honoring the coupon.
Alday allegedly hit Stockslager with her shopping cart while being escorted out of the store and warned the staff not to follow her. When Stockslager said she intended to get Alday’s license plate number, Alday allegedly said, “If you follow me, I have something in my car for you.”
After going outside, Alday allegedly pulled the weapon out of her car and pointed it at the staff before leaving the scene in a 2011 Ford Escape. When authorities pulled her over later that evening, the department said, her pattern of belligerence continued.
When asked if she had a weapon in the vehicle, she allegedly told Sgt. Danny Harrell, “Yes, I have a concealed weapons permit, and you are not taking my gun.” She also refused to give up the weapon when asked where it was.
Authorities said Harrell was forced to use a taser on Alday when she “reached over the console for something in the passenger seat” after she refused to get out of her vehicle. The gun was found in a console in the center of the vehicle.
Alday is currently in jail while she awaits her first court appearance.