Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What's good for the goose...

Time and time again throughout the various mortgage fraud cases we've written about we find a reoccurring theme used by the government to go after the alleged fraudsters.  In the Plantation Cops mortgage fraud trial, it seems that every other word out of the prosecutions mouth is that the defendants had made false statements on their 1003 loan applications, specifically that the borrowers lied about the property that they were borrowing on being their primary residence.  From the indictment...
e. Defendants signed and caused to be signed at closings Affidavits of Occupancy, Mortgage Notes, Disclosure Notices, Borrowers' Certification and Authorization forms, and other documents indicating that the property they were purchasing was to be owner-occupied and their primary residence, when in fact, these defendants had no intention of living in these properties...that upon the occupancy of the property, they would not have any other permanent and primary residence; and that they were not occupying or purchasing the property for investment purposes;
Simple enough, the governments contention is that by the borrowers allegedly lying about the homes in question being their primary residences, they were able to enjoy a lower interest rate and therefore lower monthly payments for these homes that were actually investments purchased solely with the intention of resale.  Despite the fact that it's been proven ad nauseum that the borrowers did not indicate that they homes were going to be primary residences and that it was the mortgage brokers, Matt Gulla and Rene Rodriguez Jr., that had altered the loan applications and forged the borrowers signatures to reflect that the homes that were being purchased were going to be primary residences, every chance the prosecution gets they ram this primary residence thing down the courts throat.  Once again...
Form 1003, for the first mortgage loan on said property and occupancy agreements for the first and second mortgage loan on said property, which contained materially false and fraudulent statements.
I'm not sure why the prosecutors keep harping on this "primary residence" thing but judging by their reluctance to let up on the home the borrower resided in (regardless of the fact that it's been proven that the borrowers had not declared the homes were primary residences or not), you'd think that lying about your primary residence is a big deal, in fact from what we've now learned it's a federal offense!  That brings me back to another instance we've seen where one of the people we've written about has lied about their primary residence on a mortgage, does anyone remember this guy...

That's City of Miami commissioner Marc Sarnoff, the same commissioner that seemed to have trouble figuring out where his primary residence was, from our friends over at Investigation Miami...

So here's the rundown of Marc Sarnoff's primary residences per mortgage records:
  • 1993 3197 Virginia
  • 1998 3000 Shipping
  • 2000 3100 Virginia
  • 2001 3197 Virginia
  • 2002 3100 Virginia
  • 2010 Marc Sarnoff - 3000 Shipping, Wife Teresa - 3100 Virginia
Based on what we've seen in the various mortgage fraud cases we've written about, shouldn't this be a major issue?  Once again from Investigation Miami...

I wonder what the bankers would think of a guy too cheap to pay a little higher interest rate on an investment property loan so he would not tell the truth by saying the property is his primary residence.   I wonder what the Florida bar would think of an attorney who has demonstrated a habit of fibbing on bank loans.  I'm not naive, I know a lot of people do it.  But Marc David Sarnoff is an attorney.  And to him, the LAW should be gold....or something to that effect.

So what gives here?  We've spent months on end hearing the federal prosecutors beat this lying about your primary residence thing being a federal criminal offense into our head, so why haven't the U.S. Attorneys who are so fond of this concept charging commissioner Marc Sarnoff for the same thing?  In fact, Frank Alvarado from the Miami New Times even went so far as to write the U.S. Attorneys office a letter about Mr. Sarnoff lying on his mortgage applications...

Wilfredo Ferrer
United States Attorney, Southern District of Florida
99 NE Fourth St., Miami, FL 33132

Dear Mr. Ferrer,

Banana Republican commends you for cracking down on the scoundrels responsible for the rampant mortgage fraud plaguing South Florida. With that in mind, we want to bring a related case to your immediate attention. We have reason to believe Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is gaming the mortgage lending system.

A man with your keen understanding of mortgage applications knows that when buyers apply for a home loan, they are required to reside at the property if it is not for investment purposes.

Well, it seems Commissioner Sarnoff -- a Florida Bar-admitted attorney who authored ethics legislation for city officials -- has abused the requirement in order to obtain lower interest rates. Banana Republican has reviewed the commission chairman's mortgage documents for three properties he purchased in Coconut Grove between 1993 and 2000. We're pretty sure he hasn't lived at all of them at the same time.

  • 3197 Virginia St.: Sarnoff purchased this lovely two-story townhouse for $160,000 in 1993. According to the loan documents recorded with the Miami-Dade County clerk's office, he was required to occupy the property as his primary residence.
  • 3000 Shipping Ave.: Five years later, the commissioner upgraded to a beautiful abode for $240,000. Even though he was still required to live at 3197 Virginia per that property's loan documents, Sarnoff affirmed he would reside at 3000 Shipping, according to the mortgage he signed with Northern Trust Bank. 
  • 3100 Virginia St.: In 2000, Sarnoff expanded his real estate portfolio when he paid $340,000 for this residence next door to his Shipping Avenue home. His lender, Citibank, stipulated he had to reside at 3100 Virginia. Of course, he was already required by his other mortgage lenders to live at 3197 Virginia and 3000 Shipping.
  • What's more, Sarnoff refinanced 3197 Virginia in 2001 and 3100 Virginia in 2006. He again signed documents stating the properties would be his primary residences. (Sarnoff sold 3197 Virginia in 2002.)

We don't need to tell you that lying on mortgage applications has landed a lot of people in trouble in these days of rampant mortgage fraud. Indeed, this past August 30, you squeezed guilty pleas from four defendants who had set up fraudulent mortgage transactions by falsifying information on loan applications.

In the late '90s, then-Miami Commissioner Humberto Hernandez was convicted of using false documents to secure loans from financial institutions. The same treatment should be afforded to Commissioner Sarnoff.

With sincere regards,

Banana Republican
I suppose the claims of selective prosecution by the defendants in the Plantation cops mortgage fraud trial who are accused of doing exactly the same thing that Sarnoff did doesn't seem so far fetched after all.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I've solved the public corruption problem that's ruining our city.

With the help of the Chinese that is...

Think about the chilling effect that kind of punishment would have on the scheming SOB's in office down here as well as their cronies.  Make an example out of a couple of these guys and put their heads on stakes in front of city hall to send a message to the next fucker that thinks he can run amok on the tax payers dime...


Monday, August 29, 2011

So you've been charged with mortgage fraud...


Say you and a group of your closest friends have been federally indicted for mortgage fraud and you wanna put together a defense strategy for yourselves.  Perhaps the government has decided to charge you regardless of the fact that the loans in question were paid off and the fact that the mortgage brokers who put together your loans falsified information and forged your signatures on the various loan applications.  After all, years after the real estate and economic meltdown that had befallen our country we're all painfully aware that at the height of the real estate bubble, banks were lending money to anyone with a pulse in order to be able to package the mortgages they originated into collateralized debt obligations that they could then turn around and sell to Wall Street.  Common knowledge, right?  We all know banks turned a blind eye to the loan application process and in some instances even coached the brokers as to what they needed to see on the applications in order to get the loans approved.  When that became too much of a hassle, the banks even went ahead and created no doc stated income loans, can you think of a better way to encourage borrowers and their agents to stretch the truth in order to be able to qualify for a loan?  

We've written at length about this phenomenon and the fact that the we think that indeed the banks are the unindicted co conspirators in all these mortgage fraud prosecutions.  Time and time again no matter how egregious the alleged mortgage frauds seem to be, somehow the banks are always missing from the equation.  Case in point, the home at the center of the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case located at 3390 Oak Avenue which was somehow appraised at $600,000.   We all know that there's no way in hell that a legitimate appraiser could have concluded that the home was worth $600,000, not a chance.  Even if you agree that the appraiser was in on the scam and perhaps paid off in order to inflate the appraisal to where the fraudsters wanted it, then how do you explain the second appraisal done by the lender before the closing confirming the $600,000 value?  That's right, the lender in question, Citimortgage, conducted their own pre closing appraisal where the buyers appraisal value was confirmed at $600,000 which further proves our point that the banks were in on these mortgage fraud schemes.  At the height of the real estate and mortgage madness, the banks needed the mortgages as bad as the fraudsters wanted the proceeds from their bogus deals, without these mortgages the banks couldn't turn around and sell them on the secondary market.

Enough with beating a dead horse already.  So here you are charged with in a massive mortgage fraud scheme and you want to use this theory of lender complicity as part of your defense, at least that's what the defendants tried to do in the Plantation cops mortgage fraud case.  Unfortunately the government didn't want to hear it, let alone let the jury hear it...

Plantation Cops Mortgage Fraud Trial Governments Motion to Exclude Any Lender Negligence

From the government's motion...
...precluding the defendants from presenting evidence of, or argument referring to, 
  1. any lack of actual reliance by the victim mortgage lenders on the defendants’ misrepresentations
  2. any purported or actual negligence by victim mortgage lenders; or 
  3. the present foreclosure crisis and the Government’s action in seeking to resolve the foreclosure crisis, whether in opening statement, direct or cross-examination, closing argument or otherwise. 
In a nut shell, the government is telling you to take your "lender complicity" theory and shove it up your ass.  Unfortunately for the defendants in this particular case and anyone else hoping to use this defense, the judge agreed with the prosecutors.  You have to wonder, why the hell is the government so hell bent on defending the banks that brought this nation to it's knees?  Why are people being prosecuted for these alleged crimes when the real masterminds, the real ringleaders are being let off the hook?   Considering the billions of dollars worth of damage criminal assclowns like the ex head of Countrywide Mortgage, Angelo Mozilo has done, can anyone give me a plausible explanation as to why he shouldn't be behind bars?

Good luck with that lender negligence defense strategy!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Spence-Jones haters, ENOUGH ALREADY! And a quick update on the Plantation Cops mortgage fraud trial.

Throughout my years of roaming the streets of Miami and most recently when working on a friends successful countywide election campaign, there have never been a shortage of people that approached us and told us Michelle Spence-Jones horror stories.  She demanded this, she wanted that, this one needed to get paid, etc.  Then we have the anonymous posters on the various news sites and blogs that are questioning her alleged misuse of the $50,000 in government grants that were at the center of one of her criminal cases.  

That's all well and good, perhaps Spence-Jones did misuse the $50k or was maybe even involved in some nefarious payoff schemes which illegally funneled money to her or family members, if there was even a modicum of truth to any of these allegations then why didn't the state attorneys office produce proof of said illegal deeds?  Had any of the people who post comments on all these websites come forward and submitted proof of these alleged crimes to the police or the prosecutors?  Consider how desperate the state must have been to be able to bring any additional charges to further sully the reputation of Mrs. Spence-Jones, don't you think they would have listened to anything anyone had to say?  Or worse even listened to the incoherent ramblings of a convicted transsexual prostitute junkie jailhouse snitch for dirt on the commissioner like they did with the late Art Teele if they had to in order to save face?

The fact is despite being on trial in the public spotlight for over two years, as far as the public knows no one has come forward and proven any of the rumors that are constantly hanging over Spence-Jones' head.  Rest assured if there was any credible allegations against the commissioner, she would have been charged.  With that said, welcome back the D5 commissioner and deal with it. 

I've never been a fan of Spence-Jones, but at this point I'd think the state attorneys office limited resources would be better spent looking into the other criminals running around Pan American drive.

Now, onto the Plantation Cops mortgage fraud trial, my sources are slow with new information, what I can tell you for certain though is that the prosecution has been boring the shit out of the jury with the minutia of mortgage and real estate transactions.

Imagine sitting in trial for weeks if not months on end listing to bullshit about deposits, 1003 applications, signatures, earnest money, closing statements, etc.  Frankly, I'd go nuts.  This in my opinion is whats wrong with the big federal mortgage fraud trials, the government makes them too obtuse, too long and too god damn boring and hard to understand for the jurors.  It should be easy otherwise it seems to me you loose the jurors interest, in fact I've been told there were several instances during the first phase of the Plantation cops trial that the jurors were falling asleep during the court proceedings!  We'll do our best to update you on the case next week and see if we can put you to sleep, till then, have a great hurricane free weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Who's ultimately accountable for the failed prosecution of City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones?

Yesterday afternoon Florida governor Rick Scott officially gave Michelle Spence-Jones her job as a City of Miami Commissioner back after the state dropped the remaining grand theft charges against her.  Today we're hearing from our colleagues over at Investigation Miami that the prosecutor from the Spence-Jones case, Richard Scruggs, knew about the exculpatory evidence that exonerated Spence-Jones for over ONE YEAR!  Yet somehow it still took a year for the state to drop the charges against her?  From the states closeout memo that we posted yesterday, Prosecutor Scruggs says...
“Without Dr. Carey-Shuler's cooperative testimony, and without her explanation of why she appears to have drafted the letter which was provided to MMAP, the State does not believe that it can meet its burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Ok, but there's a problem with all this.  Prosecutor Scruggs and his supervisors at the state attorneys office were morally and ethically bound to drop the charges against the defendant once their case fell apart, as one of our favorite bloggers so eloquently put it...
"Trying a defendant that a prosecutor knows is innocent, or even bringing to trial a person that the prosecutor knows there is not sufficient evidence to justify a conviction is an offense so odious to the American system of justice that prosecutors who engage in such abuse should be referred to the bar for disbarment. The supervisors who approve of such conduct should be disbarred as well."
As you know, there's been plenty of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct swirling around the Spence-Jones case, illegal wiretaps, witness coercion, hiding of exculpatory evidence, etc.  In my opinion though, the reluctance of the prosecutor to drop the charges is the most egregious offense.  Think of the millions of dollars that this whole debacle has now cost the people involved, everything from the costs of the investigation, prosecution, defense and ultimately the cost for running the numerous elections that had to be conducted as a result of Spence-Jones' departure from the commission.  Not to mention the costs involved with the city reimbursing Spence-Jones legal bills, back pay and now possibly some sort of severance package for the whack job, Reverend Dunn, that replaced her.  

All of this could have been avoided if there had been a proper review of Prosecutor Scruggs's actions.  Was the case properly vetted by his supervisors before the charges were filed?  Did anyone consider the consequences of arresting a public figure from an embattled district of the city of Miami with evidence as shaky as what had been presented?  Not to mention, who the hell was responsible for letting Scruggs run amok and cross upstanding pillars of the community like Armando Codina?  

Let's not forget that this is the same prosecutor who was prosecuting former commissioner Art Teele who before the trial leaked unfounded allegations drug abuse and relations with a transsexual prostitute by jail house snitch to the local media which in my opinion ultimately caused Mr. Teele to commit suicide.  What was the point of leaking the interviews of the jailhouse snitch to the media before trial?  How could an ethical attorney let alone a prosecutor be allowed to irreversibly smear the reputation of a public figure like that with unfounded allegations of a convicted drug abusing prostitute?  Plus, why the hell is the state attorneys office so eager to give the media copies of witness interviews while they fight tooth and nail to deny people they charge with crimes the same information?  I know defense attorneys that have been asking for copies of witness interviews and statements regarding the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case for nearly three years, after numerous motions before the court and at least four court orders to this day the state still wont turn over the information requested yet they gave away the damaging interview transcripts from the Teele case to the media so gratuitously?  WTF?

Ultimately these actions disgraced our state attorney Kathy Rundle.  Long after people like Scruggs are gone and forgotten, it's going to be Rundle's legacy that's harmed by these idiotic prosecutions and despite what the negative public perception of Rundle might be right now, I don't think it's fair.  At this point considering everything that's happened not only with the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct during the case but with the way prosecutor Scruggs has behaved after the case was dismissed with attacks against defense attorney Peter Raben which ultimately further humiliated the state attorneys office, I can only hope their will be a full investigation into his actions both by the State Attorneys Office and the Florida Bar.  Can the Bar and the SAO stand by and do nothing after hearing something like this...
"they both said they were lied to and defrauded and tricked by the prosecutor"
I should hope not.  Let's not forget though, the overwhelming majority of prosecutors in the SAO are hard working, fair and underpaid people that are actually there working to see that justice is done, but there are a few who are blinded by their need to "win at any cost" who have resorted to breaking the law themselves, these people need to be dealt with.  The actions of Prosecutor Scruggs are not unique, in fact they closely mimic the M.O. of another prosecutor that we've written about at length, Bill Kostrzewski, illegal wiretaps at attorneys offices, coercing witnesses, fabricating evidence, hiding exculpatory evidence, cutting immunity deals with cooperating witnesses without disclosure, etc.  Way too much misconduct and illegal activity to quietly shove under the rug.  The question is, once all these allegations come to light and are proven, will their be any consequences?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grand theft charges dropped against suspended City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.


Incredible.  There's plenty of people writing about the charges of Grand Theft against former city of Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones getting dropped yesterday, so no need to rehash the story here.  The crux of the case against Spence-Jones was the allegation that she forged a letter on former commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler's letterhead authorizing the release of $50,000 to companies controlled by Spence-Jones but during a deposition, Spence-Jones defense attorneys showed a Carey-Shuler a draft copy of the letter with her handwriting on it after which Carey-Shuler changed her story and said that indeed she did sign the letter releasing the funds to Spence-Jones.  With that, the state should have thrown out the case against Spence-Jones as the one and only witness for the prosecution made an admission that destroyed the states case, even worse, the letter with Carey-Shuler's handwriting on it came from the states own case file.  Could that state have been hiding the letter from Spence-Jones then somehow forgot to remove it from the discovery file handed over to the defense?  Certainly a posibility.  Or could the state have had the letter all along and simply over looked it?  Unlikely in my opinion.  

Regardless, as we all know, the state forged ahead with the case after this fatal blow was struck to their case and we were even lead to believe that despite the lack of evidence against Spence-Jones that the state was going to move forward and take the case to trial.  Now that the charges have been dropped, the public corruption prosecutor on the case, Richard Scruggs, addresses the matter of the handwritten Carey-Shuler letter that exonerated Spence-Jones in the cases close out memo by suggesting that the defense team somehow slipped the letter into the boxes of evidence that they were allowed to examine after Spence-Jones was arrested.  Take a look at this excerpt from the close out memo...

Really?  Is that the best veteran prosecutor Richard Scruggs could do?    Spence-Jones and her attorney played some elaborate game to get the states records custodian out of the room so that they could slip this letter in?  He's laying the blame for this bungled case at the feet of the defense somehow magically getting this letter into his case file?  That's an unbelievable statement and hopefully grounds for a serious bar complaint against the prosecutor.  You can read the states close out memo in it's entirety here...

Michelle Spence-jones Close Out Memo                                                                                                   

As if all of this wasn't bad enough, what makes all this even more unbearable are the comments from the Reverend Richard Dunn who was appointed to take over Spence-Jones' commission seat while she was suspended.  During several interviews yesterday, Mr. Dunn suggested that although he was appointed then later elected to Spence-Jones' vacant commission seat he would begrudgingly step aside and let her have her job back.  There's a minor detail though, tacky zoot suit wearing Reverend Dunn believes that since he was elected (after promising the city of Miami that he wouldn't run for election) that he believed that he was entitled to his $60k per year salary and benefits till 2013!  THE FUCK YOU SAY!?

Honestly, why not?  Considering all the other former City of Miami employees that have recently departed with golden parachutes, why shouldn't he get his?  Typical Miami bullshit, this is precisely why we're the laughing stock of the nation, if not the world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Missing receipts in the Plantation cops mortgage fraud trial and our friend and fellow blogger Al Crespo gets banned from a public building on his quest for public information!

Throughout the ongoing saga that is the Plantation cops mortgage fraud trial, one of the governments contentions is that the alleged mastermind of the mortgage fraud scheme, Joe Guaracino, pocketed nearly $1.2 million dollars from escrow withholds and other credits at the closings for the properties that are the subject of the federal indictment.  As we mentioned last Friday, this week was going to be Mr. Guaracino's chance to explain everything while on the stand, from the hearing yesterday...
Q: Did Joseph Guaracino of Home Buyers Group get money back on these occasions?

A: Yes, on most occasions we did.

Q: What was the purpose of getting money back?

A: To do whatever was state, remodeling, upgrading, in some cases, buying furniture.

Q: What did you do with that money?

A: Exactly that.
Pretty simple, right?  There were credits given to the buyers from the sellers for various improvements to the homes and the money was disbursed to the buyers at the closing, these would be the same funds that the government alleged was misspent or misappropriated by Guaracino and/or his group.  Before the indictment, Guaracino was asked to produce evidence of the money from these transactions being used for their intended purpose, there's a small problem though, take a look for yourselves as defense attorney Michael Walsh and Guaracino go through and compare the receipts the government produced to the court versus the receipts that Guaracino produced to the government...
Q: Let's do this, let's take our time and go through the Government's evidence.  Do you see a receipt on the Government's for 8443?

A: I do not.

Q: Is there a real receipt in there for 8443?

A: Yes, sir, on the second page.

Q: Do you know why those two receipts are missing from the government's chart?

A: It goes to the quality of the investigator.
WHOOPS!  You get the idea, this search for receipts that are somehow missing from the governments evidence goes on and on and on.  Somehow the receipts for the home repairs were given to the investigators pursuant to a subpoena yet somehow they never made it into the case files.  As we discussed before, the difference between what the government came up with and what was really spent came up to roughly around $600,000.  That's a rather large discrepancy isn't it?  Why would the governments investigator play so fast and loose with these receipts?  I mean, this is a paperwork intensive case where one of the main allegations against the lead defendant is that he misused funds that were credited back at closing, receipts are provided pre-indictment that shows were nearly every penny went yet the investigator and the prosecutors conveniently leave out nearly $600,000 worth of receipts?  What gives here?  Is it just me or is this starting to sound like some sort of set up?

There's something else though regarding the recent court proceedings regarding the second phase of the Plantation cops trial that's rather interesting.  Out of the three men on trial, only Joseph Guaracino is putting up a defense, neither one of the other defendants, Dennis Guaracino or Steven Stoll, are putting up a defense.  Could the governments case be so weak that a proper defense isn't necessary?  Obviously the defense thinks so, it remains to be seen if the jury agrees.

Now, onto something even more disturbing, we caught this on the news last night...

That's City of Miami Assistant Manager Luis Cabrera banning or friend and fellow blogger Al Crespo from entering the Miami River Center, a City of Miami building that's open to the public!  What a crock of shit.  Here we have a blogger that's gotten a little too close to the real story and is finding the skeletons in peoples closets, unearthing the back room deals between incompetent boobs that make up our city government and what happens?  They do whatever they can to shut you down.  We're no stranger to this bullshit, as some of you already know, our work here has caused some of the people that we've written about to go to the MDPD, FBI, FDLE, etc to initiate investigations against us.  No worries though, despite their best efforts, we're still here.  Now that everyone's back from summer vacation, we'll have time to discuss some of the lengths that Assistant State Attorney Bill Kostrzewski and his boy Detective Baluja have gone through to get us shut down.

Stay tuned.

Monday, August 22, 2011

No time today...

With getting the kids ready for school and preparing for a f-cking hurricane that's a couple of days away, I've got no time today to put together a proper post.  In the meantime, check out this fantastic article from 1993 by then Miami New Times writer, Jim Defede, regarding a former prosecutor, a current prosecutor, missing briefcase and everything in between...

A prominent attorney. A briefcase full of cash. A scheming girlfriend. And a severely manipulated legal system. They all come together in the bizarre tale of The Missing Briefcase

This was not going to be a particularly pleasant holiday season for Simon Steckel. Just two days before Christmas 1992, the prominent Coral Gables attorney had injured his back badly enough that he would later need surgery. Adding to his discomfort was the sorry state of his marriage, which appeared to be heading for divorce. He had been separated from his wife for nearly a year, and the thought of spending the holidays alone at his Kendall home was unbearable. To ease his suffering, Steckel had checked into a suite at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami. He had been residing there since December 16. A hotel room may not have provided the most festive atmosphere, but at least the 37-year-old lawyer did not lack for companionship.
Simon Steckel, after all, was a powerful man, and powerful men have needs. Melissa DeLeon could appreciate that. A bleached blonde with bright sapphire eyes and an alluring figure, Melissa was experienced beyond her 24 years. She had already been married and divorced twice. She'd never held a job and instead lived off a trust fund left by her deceased father, Larry Tritsch, one of the great Opa-locka flea-market barons.
Over the years Melissa's relationship with her mother had become strained. "Her mother keeps telling me to forget her, but how can I? She doesn't have anyone else," her grandmother Roberta would say. "Melissa has always run with the wrong people. Hasn't had much luck with men, either. When she was younger, we hoped she might go to college, but..." The thought would trail off with a shrug, followed by: "But she's a good girl."
Good girl that she was, Melissa was dismayed to learn that her Yuletide lover was still married during the time they were together. "I didn't know," she would say later. "He always referred to her as his ex-wife."
Simon Steckel and Melissa DeLeon were an odd-looking pair. She of the dangerous curves, he rail-thin and quite tall. At six-foot-seven-inches, he towered over her by more than a foot, though given her penchant for high heels, she was often able to meet him halfway. Except for his taste in fine jewelry and gold watches, he was a black-and-white photograph next to her Kodachrome radiance.
Heading into the holidays emotionally hobbled and physically injured, Steckel nonetheless was at the peak of his professional life. As a successful prosecutor he had moved quickly up the ladder at the Dade State Attorney's Office. Over four short years he had risen from intern to supervisor, then division chief. In 1983 he left the office and "flipped," as they say, opening a practice as a criminal defense attorney, representing the sort of people he had once put in jail and facing off against prosecutors who had been his colleagues.
His most celebrated case was one he initially lost. In 1988 Derrick Robinson was charged with killing a Dade man. Despite steadfastly proclaiming his client's innocence, the best Steckel could do was to cut a deal in which Robinson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison. If Robinson had gambled and gone to trial, he could have faced the death penalty.
But Steckel continued to believe Robinson was innocent and hired his own detectives to reinvestigate. Eventually they uncovered the evidence needed to exonerate Robinson, who walked out of prison in 1991.
Perhaps if he had told Melissa that revealing story of persistence and determination, she might have realized that Simon Steckel was not a man to cross. And perhaps she would have reconsidered what she was about to do.
By Christmas Melissa had been dating Steckel for two months. During that time, one thing about him struck her as odd: his perverse attachment to his briefcase. Wherever they went, the attache accompanied him. Even when they went to a movie, Steckel would carry his black leather briefcase with him into the theater.
Though she didn't dare ask, Melissa wondered what could be so important that her boyfriend would never let it out of his sight. Her curiosity was heightened when, on Christmas Eve, she met him and he was bearing not one but two briefcases. In addition to his usual black leather case, Steckel was toting a second one made of metal and clearly locked. Her inquisitiveness was only sharpened when Steckel, citing his sore back, asked her to carry them.
That evening the two drove around town attending to last-minute errands. Steckel had suddenly remembered a 60 Minutes segment that had aired some months earlier and which featured a Miami doctor who had adopted a number of retarded children. Touched by the spirit of Christmas, he decided to play Santa and rushed with Melissa to a Toys R Us store just before closing time, where he filled several shopping carts with presents for the kids -- "even though I could barely walk," Steckel would later recall. "This will give you an idea of the kind of person I am." He anonymously dropped off the toys at the doctor's home, and then he and Melissa enjoyed a late dinner and a couple of bottles of wine at a Thai restaurant in South Miami.
After that the pair drove to Steckel's house, where he said he needed to pick up a few things. Steckel asked Melissa to wait in one room while he went off to another, but she kept coming in to see what he was doing. It was during one of those intrusions, Steckel would later speculate, that Melissa saw the money. Tens of thousands of dollars piled high on a table. An assortment of jewelry, too.
And what was Steckel doing with so much cash? As he later explained, he had intended to deposit the money in the bank and had arrived about five minutes before closing. When the teller realized he had such a large cash deposit, he was asked to come back another day. "Everybody wanted to leave early," he says today. "They told me to just come back after Christmas." Steckel, however, refuses to identify the bank. The cash, he says, came from legal fees owed him, though he won't say if the money came from a single client or more than one client. Nor will he explain why he was being paid in cash, bundles of tens and twenties.
After stuffing the money and jewelry into his two briefcases that Christmas Eve, Steckel and Melissa drove back to the Hyatt Regency. By the time they arrived, sometime around 11:30 p.m., Steckel was so tired all he could do was take several Advil and fall asleep. Melissa, however, was feeling restless. She began making a few telephone calls.
For one night at least, Lisa Lobman had decreed there would be no beepers. She was sick and tired of her boyfriend's pager interrupting them wherever they went. Enough was enough. In fact, she had smashed it earlier in the evening. If he wanted to buy a new beeper after the holidays, fine. But she wasn't going to compete for his attention on Christmas Eve.
This holiday was to be a special time for 21-year-old Lisa and her beau Alverony Formeza, known by his nickname "A.V." They had recently gotten back together after a nasty fight in which A.V. had been arrested for allegedly assaulting Lisa. While 25-year-old A.V. had a long history of run-ins with the law, Lisa had never been arrested. She had been attending community college and one day hoped to become an architect. When her parents moved to Broward, she stayed behind and lived with a roommate at the family home in Kendall.
Lisa knew A.V. dealt drugs, but as long as he didn't do it in front of her, or use drugs in her presence, she tried not to think about it. "I'm a bad guy," A.V. candidly admits. "I mean, I'm not a real bad guy, but I do some bad things. If you've got something that's stolen, I'll sell it. If you want some pills or you want some marijuana, I'll get you the best pills or marijuana money can buy."
Among the Christmas Eve parties Lisa and A.V. attended was one hosted by Joaquin "Wacko" Agrenot, a long-time friend of A.V.
Also at Wacko's party was Miami criminal defense attorney Stephen Glass, who had represented both Wacko and A.V. in the past. Wacko handed Glass two bottles of Scotch as a gift. Everyone seemed to have a good time.
Lisa and A.V. returned to her Kendall house around 1:00 a.m. "When we got home, the phone rang and it was Melissa," recalls Lisa. A.V. answered and was talking about meeting her at a hotel, Lisa recalls. He was saying something about a Rolex watch.
When A.V. told Lisa he was going to the Hyatt Regency to meet Melissa, she became angry and jealous. "I've been friends with her since I was about eleven years old," Lisa says of her friend Melissa. "I was the maid of honor at her second wedding. I know her. I know her. And there was no way my boyfriend was going to a hotel room alone to meet her." So together Lisa and A.V. drove from Kendall to downtown Miami. "I didn't really ask what we were doing," Lisa says today. "A.V.'s not the kind of person who you can sit there and question."
After reaching the Hyatt and parking in the hotel's circular driveway, A.V. realized he'd neglected to ask Melissa for her room number, so from a lobby pay phone Lisa dialed her beeper. Melissa called back and told them to come up to room 2128.
According to Lisa and A.V., Melissa met them in the hallway outside the suite. As if offering Christmas gifts, she held out Steckel's two briefcases and gave them to A.V. She also handed over her purse. "She told me she was going to make it look like a robbery," A.V. recalls, "and that I should take her things as well."
In the elevator on the way down, A.V. took a quick look inside the black leather briefcase, which was unlocked. It was brimming with cash. Lisa had her first glimpse once they got in the car. "I was shocked," she says today.
Steckel, who had slept through the arrival and departure of A.V. and Lisa, was awakened by the sound of Melissa frantically tossing clothes and makeup onto the floor. "I was sitting there on the bed mesmerized," he remembers. "Finally I said, 'What the hell are you doing?' and she just freaked out."
Startled by Steckel's sudden consciousness, Melissa began babbling about going down the hall for ice and coming back to find the room in disarray. When he realized his precious briefcases were missing, he immediately made two calls: to hotel security and to police at emergency 911. "She broke down and confessed in about 90 seconds," says Steckel. By the time police arrived, Melissa was telling anyone who would listen that A.V. and Lisa had the briefcases.
A.V. and Lisa first drove to his house in Kendall, where they counted the cash A $52,000 A and broke open the metal briefcase, in which they discovered a bounty of jewelry later estimated to be worth another $50,000. In addition to the cash and valuables, the black leather attache also contained legal files. "I just flipped quickly through them to make sure there wasn't any cash hidden in any of them," recalls A.V. Though he didn't take time to read any of the documents, he says he remembers that some of the folders were labeled with a name. The name was "Gersten." Says A.V.: "The name Gersten was marked on at least two of the files." (Simon Steckel's relationship with ex-County Commissioner Joe Gersten spans nearly a decade. In the mid-Eighties, while Gersten was serving as a state senator, he and Steckel shared office space. Today Steckel's Coral Gables office is located in a building owned by Gersten. According to Melissa DeLeon, during the time late last year when she and Steckel were dating, they would occasionally encounter Gersten in social settings.)
Sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., A.V. and Lisa drove to Lisa's house, where A.V. removed the cash and most of the jewelry before carrying the briefcases to a nearby canal. Lisa says she watched as her boyfriend threw the two attaches into the murky water, where they floated momentarily then sank out of sight. Cash and jewelry in hand, A.V. then left. Lisa went to bed.
Shortly after sunrise Lisa was awakened by someone pounding on her front door. It was Melissa, and she was in a tizzy. Steckel knew everything, she blurted out as Lisa let her in, and they had better give back the briefcases or there would be big trouble. Lisa listened but told her friend she didn't have the briefcases. After about half an hour, Melissa made a startling admission: The police were waiting outside.
And wait they did. For the next eight hours on Christmas Day, half a dozen uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives, along with their assorted police vehicles, camped out on Lisa's front lawn.
A frightened Lisa contacted A.V. He told her not to worry, that he would call Stephen Glass, the defense attorney they had seen the night before. A short time later Glass phoned Lisa, who explained what was happening. Glass assured her that at worst she would be charged with theft. If the police arrested her, she recalls him saying, she would be out of jail on bond within a day. That, of course, was before Glass learned the name of the victim.
"A detective gets on the phone and tells me he has the victim there and that it is somebody I know, and he puts on Simon Steckel," Glass remembers. "Now, I've known Simon for many years as a friendly acquaintance, somebody I would say hi to. He gets on the phone and tells me he's so glad that these are my clients because he knows I'm a good guy. He's throwing all the flattery he can on me. And he asks me if I can help him get him back his stuff."
Steckel explained to Glass that for several days he'd been collecting money owed him by clients and he hadn't had a chance to deposit it in the bank. "He had also gotten all of his jewelry together recently," Glass recalls. "He mentioned something about a divorce and that he didn't want to leave it at his house. So he had a briefcase full of jewelry, some private papers, and a briefcase full of cash." Glass told Steckel he would make a few calls to see if he could track down A.V.
In the meantime, Miami Police Department detective Boris Montecon asked Lisa if he could search the house. As soon as she agreed, four officers went to work. She had expected such a team of detectives to conduct the search. But she did not expect to find Simon Steckel rummaging through her belongings. "I walk into the living room," she recounts, "and Simon is going through my closet. I said, 'What are you doing?' Since when do the police allow the alleged victim to take part in the search of a suspect's house?
"We were yelling at the detectives to get him out of the house," she continues. "So they finally take Simon outside." A few minutes later Lisa looked out her window. "And I can see Simon is in my car, searching it, lifting out the floor mats, looking under the seats," she says. "I told him, 'Simon, there's nothing in the car.' What makes me mad is that the cops are letting him do that." The search turned up nothing incriminating.
Finally at 4:00 p.m., after waiting at the house all day while attorney Stephen Glass tried unsuccessfully to recover Steckel's briefcases, detectives decided to arrest Lisa and Melissa.
Once at the police station in downtown Miami, the two women say Steckel met with them separately, without any police officers present, and made it clear that if his briefcases weren't returned, he would see to it that they didn't get out of jail. But this didn't make sense to Lisa and Melissa, given that Glass had assured them they would be able to make bail in the morning.
That assurance, however, was based on Glass's assumption that the women would be charged with simple theft, an assumption that turned out to be wrong. As Lisa recalls, "Simon said, 'If you don't get me my stuff back, I'm going to say there was a gun in the briefcase and I'm going to put you away for three years, minimum mandatory.'"
If Steckel claimed there was a gun in one of the briefcases -- even though it didn't belong to Lisa, Melissa, or A.V. A the charge would be armed burglary, not simple theft. One of the most serious crimes on the books, armed burglary is usually reserved for home invaders who break into houses and terrorize the occupants with weapons. Not only can it carry a life sentence, defendants facing such a charge do not have an automatic right to be released on bond.
Lisa, Melissa, and A.V. all insist there was never a gun in either briefcase. The two women being held at the police station believed Steckel was using that claim to keep them locked up and to pressure A.V. into returning his property. "When I heard it," Lisa says, referring to the gun allegation, "I told Detective Montecon, 'Why don't you go see if the gun is in Simon's car.' Melissa had told me Simon usually keeps the gun in the glove compartment of his Cadillac." In fact, Melissa says she's sure the gun was locked in the glove compartment because she had seen Steckel place it there the day before. According to Lisa and Melissa, Montecon refused to check Steckel's car. Steckel confirms that Montecon did not ask to search his car. (Montecon was on vacation last week and unavailable to comment for this article.)
Today Steckel asserts there was indeed a gun in his black leather briefcase and that it wasn't an issue with the two women until after they were in jail, not before. But he refuses to describe the gun or to provide its serial number. Montecon's police report of the theft, prepared Christmas Day at the station, does mention a gun, but it does not include any description -- no brand name, no model, no caliber, no serial number, no indication whether it was a revolver or an automatic. In contrast, Steckel did provide police with all similar information regarding the cellular phone he said was stolen as well.
Defense attorney Stephen Glass says he heard nothing about a gun until after Lisa and Melissa had been arrested. "Before then," he recalls, "when Simon was telling me what was missing, all he said was cash, jewelry, papers. He never mentioned a gun. And then all of a sudden they are charged with an armed burglary." Glass simply doesn't believe there was a gun, a view that was reinforced in the weeks after Christmas. In all his many discussions regarding recovery of the briefcases, Glass says Steckel never once inquired about the gun. "Nobody is asking, 'Where the hell is the gun?'" he recounts. "Everything else is being requested back, but there is not a word about the gun. That to me was strange."
With Lisa and Melissa now in jail on armed burglary charges, and A.V. still on the loose, Steckel's best hope of recovering his belongings lay in the hands of Stephen Glass. In the days following the arrest of the two women, Glass and Steckel were in constant contact by phone. Initially Steckel stressed his demand that everything be returned, but before long he seemed willing to relinquish some of the money in exchange for the missing files.
A series of offers and counteroffers was exchanged between Steckel and A.V., with Glass acting as middleman. (Glass says he was not in direct contact with A.V. and did not know his whereabouts. Messages were passed through A.V.'s friend Joaquin "Wacko" Agrenot.)
The first deal called for Steckel to receive his files, jewelry, and $25,000 in cash if he wouldn't press charges against A.V. and would drop the charges against Lisa and Melissa.
Then the amount of money Steckel was to recover dropped to $10,000, according to Glass. "You know what my feeling is, Simon?" Glass told Steckel during a December 27 telephone call. "You sign those papers, you aren't going to see a penny. That's my gut feeling. He doesn't want to give up any of the money. I feel as a friend I have to warn you about that."
"This guy has got balls," Steckel replied.
"He does, he does," Glass affirmed.
"He does the crime and then he's got the nerve to try and extort money out of me," Steckel said.

"My feeling is he's going to run with whatever money is left," Glass continued. "That's my gut feeling."
As the conversation continued, Glass reminisced for a moment. "It's funny, Simon, that I always wind up in a situation where I have to tell you something to protect you," Glass mused. "Remember when I was in the Keys A"
"Yeah, I remember," Steckel interrupted. "That funny thing that happened down in the Keys."
"And I always will, I always will," Glass said. "I would never hurt a brother attorney."
That, however, was one credo to which Steckel did not adhere. While Glass was apparently trying to help him, Steckel was secretly recording all his conversations with Glass and then turning over the tapes to the State Attorney's Office. Though the State Attorney's Office has the power to authorize a private citizen to secretly tape-record telephone conversations, it is rare. Rarer still to grant broad authority, as in Steckel's case -- unsupervised and from any location.
The State Attorney's interest in Glass's comments, however, may be the least of the defense attorney's concerns. Those tapes could end up in the hands of the Florida Bar, which has investigated Glass four times since July 1991, according to Bar records: twice for neglecting client interests, once in a fee dispute, and once for allegedly "interfering with justice." All complaints were dismissed due to insufficient evidence. This time, however, Bar officials might take a dimmer view of Glass's expressed interest in protecting his friend at the expense of his clients.
"Those girls will never leave the jail until all of the jewelry, documents, everything is in your hands," Steckel threatened at one point.
"That's fine, that's fine," Glass replied. "I don't have any problem with that."
By the afternoon of Tuesday, December 29, both men seemed to be growing weary of A.V.'s recalcitrance. "The longer this goes on, the more complicated it's going to be," Steckel chided.
"Yeah," Glass agreed. "If they don't do this quickly, I'm going to withdraw from representation. I don't like the position they're putting me in. Plus they haven't paid me anything."
"Well, I want to get my shit back from them," Steckel said. "With each day I get more and more angry at these people."
"Well, I got a suggestion," Glass offered. "This is a little strange suggestion and it has nothing to do with the criminal case at all. A promise of no prosecution does not include a promise of no civil liability. You could always sue them."
"Oh, come on," Steckel moaned.
"My point is, I'm not going to ask for any release of liability for them from civil liability," Glass confided. "And from what I'm told, this girl has money in a trust fund or something like that. You could get a judgment against her."

But Steckel's interest in his missing files remained constant, and he pressed Glass to find out what he could about the black briefcase, which contained them. Late that night Steckel received the bad news. "The bag's gone," Glass reported.
"The bag's gone?" Steckel asked.
"The bag's gone."

"They will give you the location of where everything was dumped," said Glass, "but you are not going to like where it was dumped, because it was a watery grave."
The term "watery grave" didn't make an impression on Steckel. "I want to know tonight where the grave is," the attorney demanded, "because I'm afraid the shit is going to be blown away."
Glass told Steckel he needn't worry about the wind. "It's in the water," he explained.
"In the water?" Steckel groaned.
"They put it in a canal," answered Glass.
"I got to get this bag!" Steckel huffed.

As Steckel reiterated his demand, the tape he used to record the conversation ran out. By the time he popped a new cassette into his recorder, Glass was telling him that A.V. was afraid Steckel was going to have him killed. "I said, 'I hope he does. I hope he does kill you,'" Glass bragged to Steckel. "And I said, 'But that isn't part of the deal. The deal isn't that he promises not to kill you. The deal is he promises not to prosecute you criminally.'"
Glass again emphasized the beauty of the agreement. By deliberately failing to protect his clients from a civil lawsuit, Glass was leaving an opening for Steckel to sue them.
"But I can break his neck," Steckel said half-joking.
"You can do that and you can probably nail them civilly, too," Glass reminded. "Please don't let them know I told you that."

"No, no, no," Steckel assured him.
"I'm doing that as a favor to you so you can recover," Glass said.
But Steckel seemed unconvinced Glass was doing him a favor and said it would be futile to sue any of the defendants because none of them had anything aside from what they had stolen.

"Not true," Glass shot back. "I'm finding out that your little blondie Melissa has plenty."
"Well, let me tell you something," Steckel replied. "I've heard that, but I don't know if that's real, either. If it's real, great. But if it's not real, you know."
"Several people from her family have called me very concerned, offering beaucoup bucks to get her out of there," Glass said.
"That is certainly something I'm going to look into," Steckel responded. "But again, that is between me and you, and I don't want you to share that with her."
"No, no," Glass said. "And please don't let them know I told you that. I'm trying to give you a way to recover because I don't like what they've done. They have made me look like a fool, too."
As the conver-sation continued, Glass summarized the problem for Steckel: Was the return of his valuables and the location of the dumped briefcases more important to him than prosecuting Lisa, Melissa, and A.V.? "You've got to make the choice of, Is it worth walking away from these guys?" Glass concluded.
"Well, put it this way," Steckel answered. "Do I really have a fucking choice?"
"No," Glass said. "Unfortunately you don't. You're in the stage now where you have to minimize your loss. And you can get your revenge. You can do what you have to do. And please don't let me know about it. I don't need to have a Bar problem on this one. And I've already probably developed one because I've been helping you."
"At this point I've got to get back whatever I can get back," Steckel repeated.
"Do me a favor, though," Glass interrupted. "As your word as a gentleman, don't tell them what I've told you."
"How am I gonna tell them?" Steckel asked incredulously. "It's not like they are going to call me up tomorrow."
The next day, December 30, Stephen Glass and Joaquin "Wacko" Agrenot were sitting in Glass's white Mercedes in the parking lot of the Waldenbooks store on North Kendall Drive near 111th Avenue. All morning Glass and Steckel had exchanged calls, firming up final details of a trade: the jewelry for an agreement from Steckel not to pursue prosecution of Lisa and Melissa.
Steckel pulled into the parking lot in his silver Cadillac at about 3:30 p.m. Initially he had been "wired" by investigators so his conversations with Glass could be recorded. But at the last moment he ripped off the wire, fearing it would be discovered.
"As Simon shows up, we see he's being followed by what I presume are police," recalls Glass. "These guys are like Keystone Kops; they were right on his tail. When he turns, though, they miss the entrance, go half a block down, skid in the street, turn around, and come back into the parking lot, where they hide behind some bushes in their car. It was so obvious! So I get pissed off at Simon. I figure I'm doing everything legitimate."
As Steckel walked over to the Mercedes, Glass and Wacko got out of the car and Glass handed Steckel a package containing most A but not all A of his jewelry. Wacko then passed long a message from A.V.: The briefcases are in the canal at 129th Avenue near Miller Drive. In return, Steckel handed over a form from the State Attorney's Office verifying his commitment not to press charges against Lisa and Melissa.
But Steckel had pulled a fast one. The form had not been filled out. It was blank -- and useless to the two women. Although he clearly hadn't kept his end of the deal, Steckel still wanted Wacko to show him exactly where the briefcases had been dumped.
At Glass's prodding, Wacko agreed. While Steckel followed in his Cadillac, Glass drove Wacko in his Mercedes. "We get into the car and start driving, and I see this other car following," Glass recalls. "I'm now fit to be tied. I'm being put into the middle of this and I'm just tired of it. So I pull the car over." Steckel followed suit.
As automobiles loaded with post-Christmas bargain hunters whizzed by, Glass marched over to Steckel's car and demanded to know what was going on. Steckel said he had no idea what Glass was talking about. Using his car phone, Glass then called Andy Hague, the assistant state attorney in charge of the case. Hague, according to Glass, denied any knowledge of police surveillance. For nearly an hour Steckel, Glass, and Wacko remained parked by the side of the road, arguing about the bizarre situation. Finally Wacko, afraid he was about to be arrested, began screaming that he wanted out and that he now refused to guide Steckel to the canal.
At last Steckel and Glass parted company. A few hours later, shortly before 7:00 p.m., Steckel called Glass to discuss the day's events. Once again Glass was unaware that his words were being recorded.
His voice was frantic. He claimed that after the botched trade, A.V. was looking to get even with him. "Right now I'm in trouble with these people. I'm in trouble," Glass cried. "And believe me, I haven't been paid anything. This kid is wild now. I've got three threats already." Glass added that he was even afraid to drive his Mercedes because A.V. could identify it: "I'm driving my fuckin' Lincoln so I don't get killed!"
"All I want to do is get my stuff back," Steckel responded coolly.
"Okay, listen, I don't care if you let these people out of jail or not," Glass said, referring to his clients. "You don't understand. I wanted you to get this stuff. The point is, don't set me up so it looks like I'm in bed with you."

"All I want to do is get my stuff back from these people," Steckel repeated.
"I'm trying to help you," Glass said, pleading for understanding. "I don't like people I like -- and I like you -- getting ripped off. I told you that the first day. I didn't like this, I didn't like the fact that it was my clients. If you were a stranger, I could care less."

Glass then let on that he knew Steckel was going to double-cross A.V. and refuse to spring Lisa and Melissa from jail. "I knew you weren't going to do it. I'm not stupid. I knew you weren't going to do it. I wouldn't do it either," Glass said, his voice rising with emotion. "The point is, if you want the rest of that shit back, you've got to work with me a little bit and make me look a little good with these people."
"I will work with you," Steckel replied. "My only interest, like I told you from the very beginning, is to get all of my stuff back."
"I don't mind the cops being there for safety but they were so fucking stupid," Glass muttered.
"Listen," Steckel commanded, "all I want you to do is just help me get my stuff back. That's what should have been done the first day."
"They had to be the dumbest cops in the world," Glass continued, ignoring Steckel's comment. "Next time have them hide at least."
At a minimum, two officials from the State Attorney's Office listened to these recorded conversations soon after they were taped: prosecutor Andy Hague and Chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hogue. Both of them heard Glass relaying offers to return portions of Steckel's property in exchange for dropping charges against Lisa and Melissa. As a result of those statements, Kathleen Hogue acknowledges that an investigation was begun to determine if Glass was committing extortion against Steckel. That investigation, says Hogue, remains open.
The 21st tape-recorded call took place on New Year's Eve. By this time Glass had composed himself, and his anger toward Steckel was palpable.
Steckel asked Glass to have Wacko tell him exactly where the briefcases had been dumped. "Why should he, though?" replied Glass indignantly. "Why should he? This is at the point where he felt betrayed. I felt betrayed. Why should he help you? I mean, I helped you and what did it get me? What did it get me? Now I'm stuck defending two girls in jail, no fee, and a wacko guy running around on the street. That's what it got me."
"There is a very simple solution. They can return the bag and the money," Steckel reiterated.
"A.V. is splitting, that's the word I'm getting," Glass hissed. "And he's pissed off at me and I'm losing a fee. And I'm at risk whenever he shows up or whenever his friends decide to drive by my house and put a couple of bullets into it, like they've been known to do to people. You made me look like a total moron."
"I'm taking the position that unless I get complete restitution from these people, I'm not doing anything," Steckel said flatly.
"Well, that's the way it ends," Glass countered.
"If Melissa wants to dip into her trust account --" Steckel began.
"Then that's the way it ends," Glass interrupted. "That's the way it ends."

"-- and then she can recover the money from A.V. when she gets out," Steckel continued.
"That's nice that you can think so, but that isn't going to happen," Glass now said defiantly, adding that he'd get Lisa and Melissa out of jail in a week.
"We'll see," Steckel said smugly.
Steckel then warned that if Wacko didn't come forward and reveal everything he knew, Steckel would come after him as well.

"Simon, I don't care. I don't care!" Glass shouted. "I haven't been paid. I haven't made a penny. I've spent a week on this thing negotiating for both sides, back and forth. Running around like something out of a James Bond novel yesterday. For what? So that I can get my house shot at or something? So you can tell me you're not happy and make like you are going to get this client or that client? I don't need this shit. I've been put in the middle and I've gotten nothing from it. I didn't even get a thank you from you for getting you your damn jewelry -- which I thought was rude on your part. I didn't have to do this. I could have represented them and said, 'No, there is no deal,' and just represent the girls, let them keep everything, and gotten paid. And instead I tried to do what was right by you because I considered you a friend and get you your jewelry back and I don't even get a thank you. I get trailed by cops. I've got some wacko threatening to kill me. Wonderful. Wonderful!"
In subsequent days, the Miami Police Department dispatched a team of divers to search the canal near 129th Street and Miller Drive. They came up with nothing. Then Steckel hired his own diver to scour the watery grave in search of his lost files. Still nothing.
With fading hopes of recovering the documents, and having exhausted Glass's usefulness, Steckel and the State Attorney's Office then set their sights on Joaquin "Wacko" Agrenot in the belief he could lead them to A.V. Squeezing 23-year-old Wacko was no problem given that he was on probation for a drug-related conviction. When he showed up at the probation office the second week of January for his required monthly visit, investigators were waiting for him. They told him that unless he rolled over on his friend A.V. and set him up to be arrested, they were going to claim he had violated his probation by helping A.V. and would immediately be sent to jail.
The pressure tactic was successful. Detectives learned from Wacko that A.V., despite the intense interest in his whereabouts, had not left Miami. They began to narrow the list of his possible hiding places. But detectives weren't the only ones on the prowl. According to A.V., he began hearing from friends that at least one ominous-looking figure was offering $10,000 to anyone who could provide information about his location. "Sure, I asked a bunch of people to ask around," Steckel acknowledges, but he denies offering a reward. Steckel's own attorney, George Yoss, says he hired private investigators as part of the case, but he won't divulge their mission.
Though A.V. was doing his best to stay hidden, he couldn't resist the temptation to make a few public excursions. After all, he had suddenly found himself in possession of a large sum of money A which for A.V. meant it was time to buy a new car. He had his eye on a used Corvette for $23,000, but when he announced his intention to pay in full, in cash, the dealer began asking more questions than A.V. wanted to answer. So he ended up at a more obliging and less inquisitive Nissan dealer, who sold him a new charcoal-gray 300-ZX with a twin turbo engine and leather interior. The price: $29,000. "It was a sweet car," A.V. says today. In an effort to throw off snoopy investigators, A.V. asked that the car be registered in the name of a friend, 26-year-old Ronald Speers, who accompanied A.V. to the dealership.
With Wacko's reluctant assistance, police now had several fresh leads to pursue in locating A.V. The only problem was manpower. Boris Montecon, the Miami police detective handling the case, had gone on vacation. Steckel, however, wasn't about to wait for his return. He wanted action now. But that meant he needed a new squad of investigators. "I believe I suggested names of people that I knew," Steckel says. "I think I suggested a whole bunch of people."
Steckel was in a position to know police officers and to call in favors. During his years in private practice, he had defended officers in trouble with the law. His best-known client of late was Miami police officer Carl Seals, whose aggressive use of a chokehold left Antonio Edwards in a long-term coma and cost the City of Miami seven million dollars in settlement.
Although Steckel, a private citizen, now seemed to be directly involved in internal police affairs, he maintains he wasn't doing anything improper. "I wasn't running the show," he says. "I do not carry that kind of weight." Yet his "suggestions" were usually followed. The officers he recommended, for instance, were assigned to the manhunt for A.V., even though they weren't members of the robbery unit, which officially should have been investigating the case.
If, as Steckel asserts, he was not running the show, he certainly was afforded a front-row seat. For example, on January 13, the night A.V. was finally captured, Steckel was personally driven to the scene of the arrest by Assistant State Attorney Andy Hague, whose assignment to the case was itself unusual. (Hague normally prosecutes murderers.) In fact, Hague and Steckel had been cruising around that night, searching for A.V. on their own. "I was babysitting Simon," Hague explains, dismissing any suggestion that Steckel was being given preferential treatment. "He was very emotional about this case. We didn't want him going off on his own, so he was riding with me. That way we could control his movements." Later that night, when detectives decided to visit several of A.V.'s family members to see if they had information about the briefcases, Steckel and Hague again tagged along.
Today Hague says A.V. is lucky he wasn't killed when he was arrested, and so were the police officers who risked their lives to apprehend him. The cops had under surveillance several of A.V.'s suspected hideouts. At about 10:00 p.m. they spotted him driving the 300-ZX and followed him to a gas station. When A.V. pulled in, they followed, drew their guns, and cornered him. Though for a moment he contemplated using his powerful car to make a run for it, A.V. surrendered without resistance. He was unarmed.
Officially Steckel was at the arrest scene to see if he could identify any of his belongings. But since nothing was found in the 300-ZX except an expensive leather jacket that A.V. had purchased, Steckel's role seemed to be more that of a celebrant. According to A.V., the attorney arrived and began slapping high-fives with the arresting officers. Steckel then grabbed the jacket from A.V.'s car, searched the pockets, and placed it over his arm as if he was going to keep it. A.V. says he hasn't seen the jacket since. (Both Steckel and Hague say they don't remember seeing a leather jacket that night.)
A.V. was taken to the Miami police station, where he was charged with armed burglary and questioned for several hours. "The main thing they kept asking me about were the files. They didn't even ask me about the money, just the files," he recalls. While refusing to provide a formal statement to police, A.V. did A off the record A agree to help them, so the next morning he was taken back to the canal, where he pinpointed the exact spot he had dumped the briefcases. A team of police divers stood at the ready. For the second time their search turned up nothing.
In a case filled with bizarre twists, that morning provided yet another. "While A.V. was there at the canal, my house got burglarized and searched, thoroughly searched," says Lisa Lobman, who was still being held in jail. "They didn't just look around, they thoroughly searched my whole house. They moved the refrigerator. They turned over mattresses, removed the pillow cases and sheets. All of the pockets of all my pants were turned inside out. All the papers I had in a briefcase were scattered."
Lisa was told of the damage by her roommate, and a police report confirms their house was burglarized and ransacked on January 14. In order to break in, the burglar had to pry off a tightly secured framework of metal bars so he could force open a rear window. "That's some coincidence," Lisa notes sarcastically. "In 22 years, my house had never been robbed A until then." In addition to turning the place inside out, the burglar made off with a television set, a VCR, and a strongbox containing about $1800 in cash.
With all three suspects now in jail, Steckel took Stephen Glass's earlier advice and went after Melissa DeLeon's trust fund. He began by negotiating with Melissa's new attorney, Barry Shevlin, who was brought into the case by Melissa's family. As for A.V. and Lisa, neither had any substantial money, but Steckel quickly learned that Lisa's mother owned the Kendall house in which Lisa and her roommate lived.
One day while Lisa's mother, Bonnie Giacobbi, was sitting in court awaiting a hearing in her daughter's case, Shevlin approached her and said Steckel wanted to speak with her in the hallway. "They were very, very interested in the property I owned," she recalls. "They kept asking me questions like, 'Did I bring the mortgage deed with me?' They wanted to know what my house was worth and what the market value on it was. They kept trying to push me [into signing over the house to Steckel]. And they said that if I didn't do this, there was a possibility that Lisa would stay in jail a very long time. I was very nervous and very upset. But I knew this wasn't right, that I shouldn't do this. Simon was miffed at me when he realized he wasn't getting anywhere. Lisa did commit a crime. But the way this has been handled was really wrong."
Steckel denies that the encounter with Bonnie Giacobbi ever took place. Undisputed, however, was his success in obtaining money from Melissa's trust fund. In a deal struck with Steckel and prosecutors, Melissa agreed to pay Steckel $50,000. She also agreed to testify against A.V. and Lisa. In return she would be released from jail and all charges against her would be dropped.
On February 5, Melissa's attorney presented a $50,000 check to Steckel, who promptly told prosecutors to have her released. When they came for her, she was sitting in court, handcuffed to Lisa. As the bailiff led Melissa out, Lisa remained behind, alone, exactly where Steckel wanted her.
Every working day for the past six years, attorney Tom Payne has spent much of his time at the criminal courthouse, representing the usual assortment of woebegone clients for the Dade County Public Defender's Office. But on this day, February 5, two odd things caught his eye. He couldn't help but notice Simon Steckel in the courtroom and soon discovered the former assistant state attorney was there as an alleged victim. Although this sparked Payne's curiosity, he didn't have time to inquire further; he had far too many cases of his own to worry about.
As the day progressed, though, Payne's attention was drawn to another figure in that same courtroom: a pretty young woman sitting off to the side, handcuffed and crying. Payne thought she seemed even more lost and confused than the sorry souls who normally march through the pens each day.
In a few minutes of conversation, between heavy sobs, Lisa Lobman described to Payne the events of the previous six weeks. "Something stunk," Payne says. "You could tell immediately something very funky was going down in this case, that something clearly wasn't right." Payne's suspicions grew when Assistant State Attorney Andy Hague entered the otherwise deserted courtroom.
Hague appeared surprised and concerned that someone from the Public Defender's Office was speaking to Lisa. He hurried over and interrupted them. "He said something to me to the effect of, 'Don't worry about her case. It's going to be worked out.' And I told him I was worried about it," Payne recalls. "I was mad and I was very pissed off. I see all these big hitters in there -- Andy Hague and Simon Steckel -- and I'm thinking, 'Somebody better take care of this girl before she gets walked all over.'"
Hague asked to speak with Payne outside, alone, attorney to attorney, but Payne refused. Instead he continued talking to Lisa, and promised her he would keep an eye on her case and would make sure that the next week, when she was scheduled to appear again in court, an attorney from the Public Defender's Office would be by her side.
Although the Public Defender's Office hadn't been officially appointed to represent Lisa, and Stephen Glass was still listed as her attorney of record, Payne saw to it that her case file was routed to one of the senior lawyers in his office, Suzanne Driscoll.
The following Friday, February 12, when Driscoll walked into the packed courtroom searching for her new client, she had no trouble picking out Lisa from the crowd. "She looked overwhelmed and just pathetic," Driscoll remembers. "She was hysterical and crying. I took her in the back and started talking to her and she was telling me things I just couldn't believe.
"She was not the type of person we usually see come through the system. She didn't belong in jail and she shouldn't have been in jail all that time," Driscoll argues. "Normally a case like that comes along and you're out the next day with supervision. Guys with a page full of priors get out within a day of being arrested. And here is this little girl, who has never been in trouble before, sitting in jail almost 50 days. I've never seen anything like it."
Driscoll says she was amazed Lisa hadn't been granted a bond hearing much earlier. Stephen Glass had missed at least two scheduled hearings, which caused them to be further delayed. (Glass says he didn't attend because he was still trying to work out a deal with Steckel, and that it was Steckel who asked to have the hearings delayed.)
Among Driscoll's other complaints was her belief that the State Attorney's Office should have done a better job reigning in Steckel. It was clear to her, she says, that he was directing the case and negotiating directly with the defendants and their families. "That's the role of the State Attorney's Office," she contends. "The victims are not supposed to be the prosecutors.
"I understand the relationship between Simon Steckel and Andy Hague," Driscoll continues. "I know Simon was formerly an assistant state attorney and I understand that as a result they felt close. I understand how things like that happen. It's not unusual. But when we started trying to negotiate some sort of plea to work this thing out, you couldn't tell who was in charge. Andy Hague would be talking to the judge, and you could see Simon pulling on Andy's coat, telling him to add this or add that and telling Andy what conditions he wanted set. It was ridiculous. It was a dog-and-pony show. It was the most ridiculous behavior I have ever seen in court. After listening to Andy Hague and Simon Steckel in court that morning, I was nauseated. I finally asked the judge, 'Who's the prosecutor?'"
What particularly galled Driscoll was the fact that Melissa had been released from jail a week earlier, while Lisa was still in custody. "I was trying to get the judge to realize that something strange was going on here," says Driscoll, who emphasized her argument in court by using some colorful language. "I wanted to know why Steckel's concubine, the woman who planned the whole thing, was free while my client was still in jail," Driscoll recalls with a smile. "I was mad and it just came out. When I said it, the judge lost it and started laughing." Nearly everyone in the courtroom also began laughing -- except Steckel. Later, while passing in the hallway, Steckel nodded at Driscoll and deadpanned, "Nice choice of words."
Though her tone may have flip, her point was serious: "I told the judge that if Lisa had a whole bunch of money like Melissa, then Lisa wouldn't be in jail, either."
That was only the beginning of the fireworks. Driscoll stressed to both Hague and Steckel that as committed as Steckel may have been to keep Lisa in jail, she was equally determined to get her out. The first thing she did was prepare a subpoena to question Steckel. Driscoll was shocked to learn that Steckel had never given a formal sworn statement to anyone connected with the case. He hadn't even been seriously questioned. If Lisa wasn't released immediately, Driscoll warned, Steckel would be in her office for a sworn deposition the following week.
Apparently the prospect of testifying under oath held little appeal for Steckel. Within hours Hague and Steckel agreed to a plea bargain in which the state would drop the armed burglary charge and Lisa would plead guilty to second-degree theft. She was sentenced to a year's probation and ordered to turn over to Steckel the $3000 insurance check she was scheduled to receive from the burglary of her house. After seven weeks in jail, Lisa was released.
"I was happy she was out of jail," Driscoll says. "That's what she wanted, and as her attorney that's what she wanted me to do for her, and so that's what I did. I think she probably should have fought the case. She took the deal to get out of jail. Personally, I don't think she was guilty of anything except being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person."
A.V., who also had hired a new attorney, struck his own deal this past August, after seven months in jail. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of theft and was given five years' probation. As part of the bargain, he owes Steckel $25,000 in addition to the $6000 in cash he relinquished shortly after his arrest. A.V. also abandoned any claim to the Nissan 300-ZX. (The car is now in Steckel's possession. The attorney says he received a court order allowing him to retrieve it, but prosecutor Hague claims not to know how Steckel got the vehicle, and the judge refuses to discuss the case. The 300-ZX's titled owner -- A.V.'s friend Ronald Speers -- says he wants the car. Barring that he wants its value deducted from the $25,000 A.V. owes Steckel.)
And what of the missing files, some of which were reportedly labeled "Gersten"? Steckel vehemently denies that any of them concerned ex-county commissioner Joe Gersten. The files, he says, contained original accounting and legal papers that would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace.
That explanation evidently hasn't deflected the interest of another group of law enforcement officials. Investigators from the U.S. Attorney's Office reportedly have contacted a number of people involved in the Steckel case. Both Lisa and A.V. say they have been questioned. Public defender Suzanne Driscoll also confirms she was approached by and discussed the case with federal authorities -- the same investigators who for months have been probing Joe Gersten's conduct during his tenure as a county commissioner.
Though the U.S. Attorney's Office will not comment, it is apparent that some sort of investigation concerning Steckel's case -- by some agency -- has been under way for several months. Prosecutor Andy Hague will only say the case file has been "well traveled." Chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hogue refuses comment except to acknowledge the existence of an extortion investigation. The principals themselves are no more specific. Simon Steckel will not comment. Glass says he is unaware of any interest on the part of the U.S. Attorney's Office, but he suspects the State Attorney's Office is still in pursuit. "I've heard they were looking at me," he says. "They think somehow I've got Simon's missing papers or his money and I was controlling the situation. I offered to take a lie-detector test."
One aspect of Glass's involvement that could be subject to scrutiny is the matter of his fees. In many of his recorded conversations with Steckel, Glass insisted he had never been paid a dime as part of the case. But A.V. has told authorities that in fact Glass received at least $10,000 of the stolen money as a retainer to defend Lisa and Melissa after their arrest. The cash, A.V. says, was delivered by Wacko's brother-in-law. Glass flatly denies the allegation and is quick to direct attention elsewhere. "I heard they were looking into Simon," he offers. "I mean, just the idea that this guy has $50,000 in a briefcase and all that jewelry and is just walking around with it is highly unusual. That's not a normal thing."
Walking around with $50,000 in cash may not be normal, but to some people involved in the case, it was no less strange than Steckel's subsequent actions. Lisa Lobman, for example, continues to be amazed at the time and effort expended by the Miami Police Department and the State Attorney's Office. "Simon has a lot of pull," she observes. "For anyone else would they have gone to this extreme? If it was an ordinary citizen, they would have gotten a little card with the case number on it and that's it."
Prosecutor Andy Hague continues to deny that Steckel was given special treatment. "I don't think there was anything inappropriate done in this case," he says. "I was just following orders, doing what I needed to do." Hague's supervisor, Kathleen Hogue, explains the unusual nature of Steckel's participation by saying the case involved "sensitive-type things" and needed to be handled carefully.
Simon Steckel himself can only shake his head wearily. "If you think I feel like I got special treatment, you're wrong. The only thing I did was act as a catalyst to get the system to work the way I know it can work.
Nice, huh?  Mr. Glass has been since disbarred and even re-arrested recently for practicing law without a license while Mr Steckel is still practicing law.  Even worse, the prosecutor implicated in this mess is still practicing as an assistant state attorney.  So much for justice!