Saturday, May 11, 2019

Fast Boats & German Cars [2]



Gus Boulis, cruising to nowhere: February 6, 2001


Like Don Aronow, Gus Boulis exemplified the ‘American Dream’ but, as with Aronow, the dream ended in a nightmare. Both men were self-made millionaires, both built fortunes in the boats and on the waters off the coast of Florida, and both met their bullet- riddled fate, sitting in expensive German cars in the mean streets of Miami.

Born in a small Greek fishing village, Boulis dropped out of school and emigrated to Canada where he took a job as a dish-washer in a sandwich shop. Within a few years he had taken over the shop and expanded it to a chain of over 200 stores which he eventually sold. When he moved to Miami at the age of 25, he was already a multimillionaire.

 Upon his arrival he purchased Miami’s most famous Mafia hangout, the Gold Coast Restaurant and Lounge. The Gold Coast was a favorite place for everyone to meet, from John Gotti and Meyer Lansky to Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant; it was mentioned in the Kefauver Committee hearings into Organized Crime and in the JFK Assassination files, as well as being featured in Elmore Leonard’s novel Gold Coast. In May 1994, Boulis turned it into Miami Subs and five years later he sold the expanded chain to Nathan’s Famous hot dog chain for $4.2 million. 

Boulis had also purchased a small shipping company which he operated out of Key Largo. His ‘cruises to nowhere’ would sail three-miles out to sea, where Florida’s gambling prohibitions did not apply. His floating casino empire was extremely successful but unfortunately attracted opposition from various Federal, State and local authorities. Eventually Boulis was forced to withdraw from the gambling business and he sold SunCruz Casinos to a couple of Washington lobbyists for $147.5 million. But the deal was more complex than it appeared on the surface. Firstly, Boulis maintained a secret ten-percent interest in the company and secondly, the lobbyists were Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan, two of the slimiest denizens of the DC Swamp. Relationships swiftly soured, accusations of double dealing and non-payments at one point even led to fistfights. Within just a couple of months, just two days before he was due to appear in Federal court to face questions about his finances and the sale of SunCruz Casinos, Gus Boulis was murdered.

As with the murder of Aronow, the details and precise motivations for the murder are murky. What is known is that there was extreme bad blood between Boulis and the Abramoff/ Kidan partnership. It is also known that Kidan had a business relationship with Anthony ‘Big Tony’ Moscatiello who was also a bookkeeper for the Gambino crime family. Moscatiello in turn had a close working relationship with Anthony ‘Little Tony’ Ferrari, and James "Pudgy" Fiorillo.

Late in the after-noon of February 6, 2001, Boulis was driving home from the office in his green BMW when the road was blocked by a Mazda Miata forcing him to a stop. Seconds later, a black Mustang pulled up to the driver’s side of the BMW and fired several shots. The Mustang then calmly drove away, followed by the Mazda and a red Volkswagen Jetta driven by ‘Pudgy’ Fiorillo. Badly wounded and bleeding profusely, Boulis continued driving a few more blocks until his car hit a tree and he died shortly after.

Big Tony, Little Tony and Pudgy were eventually charged, tried and convicted of the Boulis contract killing but Kidan and Abramoff were never charged with ordering it. On August 11, 2005, Abramoff and Kidan were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on fraud charges relating to the disputed $23 million bank transfer used as down payment for the purchase of SunCruz Casinos. Kidan pleaded guilty on December 15, 2005, Abramoff pleaded guilty on January 3, 2006.

The actual murder trial dragged-on for years, but eventually ‘Pudgy’ Fiorillo pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 2012, and ‘Little Tony’ Ferrari was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. On July 1, 2015, ‘Big Tony’ Moscatiello was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to life in prison following the sentencing recommendation of the jury that convicted him. However, as recently as June 2018, ‘Big Tony’ was awarded a new trial by the Fourth District Court of Appeals.
Abramoff of course, famously had his own problems to worry about. At the time of the SunCruz purchase he was one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. A senior member of the Republican Party, he was the DC ‘go-to man’ if you wanted anything done. He was however notoriously corrupt and involved in all sorts of major Federal swindles, particularly involving the Native American Tribes. But it was SunCruz and the feud with Gus Boulis however that marked the precipitous beginning of his downfall. After pleading guilty in 2006 to the SunCruz fraud and various other scandals, Abramoff was sentenced to six years in Federal prison. But he did not go down alone. His corruption trial resulted in convictions and jail sentences for twenty-one other prominent Washington politicians, attorneys, lobbyists, White House officials and members of Congress including Tom Delay and Bob Ney.

Gus Boulis would no doubt find comfort from the fact that the brutal murder in Miami of a humble Greek fisherman’s son caused unparalleled turmoil and scandal at the highest levels of the American government.

Excerpt from "Miami Murders Most Foul" by Patrick Alexander



Thursday, March 14, 2019

Go Fast Boats and German Cars [1]

Don Aronow, the Cigarette King: February 3, 1987

Don Aronow’s life in many ways represents the American dream. The Brooklyn born, youngest son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he left school without completing his education and tried a variety of jobs before joining his father-in-law’s construction company. After creating his own successful construction company, he was able to retire to Miami as a self-made millionaire at the age of 32. In Miami he developed a taste for racing boats, first as a hobby and then he started designing his own boats, which he built into a successful business. Very soon he was touring the world, winning international races and selling his designs. Aronow's boats won over 350 offshore races and he was a two-time world champion and three-time U.S. champion. He had been elected to every powerboating Hall of Fame in existence and he is one of only two Americans to have ever received the UIM Gold Medal of Honor in Monaco.

Because of his success and fame in the world of power-boat racing, Aronow formed a close friendship with Vice President George H.W. Bush, a fellow aficionado. Bush himself had owned one of Aronow’s most famous designs, the Cigarette boat and was instrumental in Aronow’s Blue Thunder catamarans being adopted by the US Customs Service for chasing drug smugglers in the waters off South Florida.

Very soon, Aronow’s business model resembled a perpetual motion machine, with Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys buying his Cigarette boats to outrun the lawmen and the lawmen buying his Blue Thunders to chase them. Aronow was steadily increasing the speed of the go-fast boats he designed while lawmen and cowboys raced to outmaneuver each other. It was the perfect business model. Aronow was well aware that the drug smugglers were as fond of his boats as the lawmen. “We in the ocean-racing fraternity are flattered that the dope runners prefer our kind of boat,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1979, “but when they get caught, we don’t like it. We have torn emotions. A kid who works for me was offered $100,000 to run out to sea one night and resupply fuel for a dope boat. He refused, but it must have been a terrible temptation. Heck, lately we’ve been getting letters from jailbirds still behind bars, asking for complete specs and prices on our Cigarettes.”

The world of off-shore powerboat racing, not to mention the world of cocaine smuggling is a testosterone fueled, competitive environment of rivalry and violence. Aronow’s boatyard was located on 188th Street, Miami, known as Thunderboat Row, home of all the world’s most aggressively famous racing brands: Apache, Cigarette, Formula, Donzi, Magnum, Squadron, Flight, Nova, Pantera, Cougar, Tempest and of course Blue Thunder. George Bush was not the only famous and powerful customer in Aronow’s boatyard, others included ex-President Lyndon Johnson, King Juan Carlos of Spain, King Hussain of Jordan, the Sultan of Oman, Jean-Claud ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier of Haiti, Christina Onassis and the late Shah of Iran.

Aronow’s social circle encompassed more than just monarchs and presidents, many of his friends had less savory backgrounds. Having made his initial fortune in New York’s construction industry, Aronow was undoubtedly well connected with the city’s organized crime families and when he moved to Miami, he became a close friend of Meyer Lansky, the Mafia’s CFO. He also made new friends in the world of off-shore racing; people like Ben Kramer, Augusto Falcon and Salvador Magluta, or Willy and Sal as they were known. All three men were well known and respected as successful offshore racers. Kramer won the world title in 1984 and had his own boat design and building company, Apache Performance Boats. Falcon won the 1986 Offshore Challenge off the Florida Keys; Magluta had won three national championships and was a member of the commission that oversees the American Power Boat Association. All three men also earned billions of dollars smuggling cocaine and marijuana into the United States, using planes and go-fast boats.

In 1984 Aronow sold his USA Racing company, which built the Blue Thunder boats, to Ben Kramer in return for a Bell helicopter, real estate, various assets and some undeclared cash. However, when the Feds discovered the company was now owned by Kramer, a convicted felon, they threatened to cancel the Blue Thunder contract. To save the government contract, Aronow agreed to buy back his company and he returned the helicopter and other assets to Kramer but, it has been suggested, that he did not return the undeclared cash.  Because there was no record of the cash which had been exchanged ‘under the table’, there was nothing Kramer could legally do to recover it.

On the afternoon of February 3, 1987, Aronow, in his white Mercedes, was leaving Kramer’s office at Apache Performance Boats, when he was approached by a dark blue Lincoln Continental with tinted windows. Both cars stopped in the middle of the street and the two drivers lowered their windows. After exchanging a few words, Aronow was shot at least three times; in the face, in the arm and in the groin. He died shortly afterwards. The Lincoln sped away, never to be seen again.

There was endless speculation about the killer. Was it a jealous husband? Aronow was known as an active ‘ladies’ man’. Could it have been a mob-hit? he knew and conducted business with all sorts of unsavory characters. Was he too close to the Feds – might someone have suspected him of snitching?

In the meantime, Kramer had been arrested on new drug charges and was being held in the Federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in South Dade, near the Everglades. In April of 1989, Kramer was waiting in the prison recreation yard for a friend to collect him with his helicopter. Before it landed, Kramer grabbed hold of the right-hand skid while it still hovered above the prison yard. Unfortunately, his weight tilted the machine as it rose into the air, causing the rotors to snag in the prison’s coiled razor wire and bringing men and machine all crashing to the ground, breaking Kramer’s leg.

Finally, after many years of investigation, Bobby Young, a career criminal and a member of the ‘Dixie Mafia’ admitted to being the triggerman in Aronow’s murder. Although Young refused to rat on Kramer himself, Young’s attorney agreed to testify that Young had been hired by Kramer to kill Aronow. Finally, Kramer himself, if only to regain the comforts of a Federal prison, and escape the horrendous conditions of Dade County Jail, pleaded No Contest to the murder of Aronow.

But there still remain a lot of unanswered questions. Why was Aronow really killed, and who was really behind his murder? Who owned the Blue Lincoln? Kramer isn’t talking, why should he? – he’s serving a life sentence with a broken leg and no possibility of parole.

The only certainty that emerges from this story is that ‘Speed Kills’.

For more Miami murders CLICK HERE

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Death in the City Beautiful [4]


Susan Sutton and the bad son: August 2004

Just a couple of years after the Maggie Locascio murder, in August 2004, another murder case featured a father and son facing each other in a courtroom setting. The cases were also similar in their focus on security cameras. In each case the security camera provided a rock-solid alibi but, ironically the cameras also provided evidence of guilt.

John Sutton, a well-known Gables lawyer, and his wife Susan had hosted a birthday party in their home on Orduna Drive, off Granada Blvd. in the area once known as The Devil’s Den – where Dora Sugg had been brutally murdered exactly one hundred years earlier.

Guests at the party included their son Christopher, his girlfriend Juliette and John’s Law Partner, Teddy Montoto. Soon after the guests left, and John and Susan retired to their separate bedrooms, somebody entered the house and shot both of them where they lay. Susan died immediately but her husband, seriously wounded and now blind, eventually survived.

Moments after police reached the house, Teddy Montoto also arrived. He told police he had been on the phone with Susan when he heard shots. He also told police that he was an expert marksman and had spent the day at target practice with his gun. The police tested his gun and gave Montoto a polygraph test. His gun passed the test, but he did not. After further questioning, Montoto confessed that he and Susan had been having a sexual affair. Another possible suspect was the couple’s 25-year-old son, Christopher. Even ten years later, Christopher still resented his parents for sending him to a brutal reform school as a teenager. Christopher had a long history of violent behavior, death threats and even a journal entry describing how to get hold of his parent’s wealth. At his mother’s funeral, Christopher seemed to know details of the crime known only to the police. But at the time of the murder, Christopher and his girlfriend were both attending a late-night movie as proved by the theatre’s security cameras.

However, the security cameras also showed Christopher leaving the cinema around midnight and immediately calling someone on his cell-phone. Phone records showed that the person he called, and whom he had called 331 times over the previous few days, was Garrett Kopp. Police then discovered that Kopp had been arrested less than 24 hours after the murder for threatening somebody with a gun. Tests soon proved it was the same Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistol that had killed Susan Sutton. After six hours of intense interrogation, Kopp confessed to the murders and said he had been hired by Christopher, who wanted his parents dead.

During the lengthy and emotional trial it was shown that Christopher and Kopp were long-time dope-dealing buddies. It was also shown that Christopher had purchased the gun and had drawn Kopp a plan of the house, marking his parent’s bedrooms. His girlfriend Juliette described how Christopher had spent five years talking about killing his parents and constantly demanding money from them. After a day and a half of deliberations, the jury found Christopher guilty of first-degree murder. Before sentencing, an emotional John Sutton addressed the court but did not request leniency for his son.

"Regardless of the result, this is a bad case," he said. "I lost Susan. I lost Christopher long before that. I lost my eyesight ..." Asked if he still loved Christopher, the father told the court, "I would have to say that I do not. And it's hard...”
Christopher is serving life without the possibility of parole and Kopp will not be eligible for release till 2035. It would appear that despite all the manicured lawns and elegant mansions, the dark shadows of The Devil’s Den still linger to this day.

For more Miami murders CLICK HERE