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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Little progress in 2001 murder case of Miami Subs, SunCruz tycoon Gus Boulis

John GottiImage via WikipediaWho killed Gus Boulis?

After almost a decade, there is no answer.

And the case against three men charged with the mob-style hit on the Miami Subs founder and gambling mogul is nowhere near trial.

The three suspects -- Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari and James "Pudgy" Fiorillo -- haven't had a status hearing since May 2009. That's a surprisingly long time for a high-profile, first-degree, capital murder case.

There are several reasons for the delay: The challenges of coordinating schedules of five top-tier lawyers, especially for a lot of out-of-state depositions; a long-awaited ruling on a crucial defense motion; and changing personnel. The case is on its third judge.

But people who remember Boulis, a hard-charger known for his kindness to employees, are impatient for justice.

"We gave the authorities many, many, many leads, and I'm really kind of shocked that no one's been convicted," said Marty Steinberg, a Miami-based lawyer who had a business dinner with Boulis the night before he was gunned down on a Fort Lauderdale street.

"I can't imagine why that's taken so long. It's just amazing," said Steinberg, who represented Boulis and his companies for many years. "I imagine it must be as frustrating as heck for his family."

The state is not stalling, lead homicide prosecutor Brian Cavanagh said.

"We've been ready, willing and able to go to trial," he said. "The defense is not."

Case promises to be a dog fight

Manned by three of the county's busiest and most tenacious defense attorneys, the sprawling, complicated case, steeped in business fraud, mob ties and changing law, is sure to be a dog fight once it does get to trial.

Before that day dawns, however, depositions of the state's star witnesses have to be taken. Also, Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes must rule on a two-year-old defense motion that could knock out crucial evidence putting two of the suspects near Boulis when he was slain.

In the meantime, the alleged ringleader, Moscatiello, 72, is free on bond, traveling to New York nearly every Christmas and for weddings, funerals and christenings. He has the court's permission to leave his Miami home to exercise three hours a day.

"Certainly, if he were incarcerated, the defense would be more likely to push the case to trial," Cavanagh said. "We don't like the fact that he gets to play Peter Pan, flying here, there and everywhere."

Moscatiello's attorney, David Bogenschutz, said nobody is intentionally dragging his feet.

"This isn't fun and games for him," Bogenschutz said of Moscatiello. "He may be out on bond, but he's on an electronic monitor. He has severe restriction on his movement. Every visit requires a court order."

Then there is Moscatiello's underling co-defendant, Fiorillo, 33. Unable to post his $100,000 bond, he writes occasional letters to the judge from jail inquiring about the case's snail's pace and asking her to set "some sort of time table."

"I have a concern about my case in how slow things are takeing [sic] place," Fiorillo wrote in January 2009. "This last year barely got anything done on this case."

Fiorillo's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Dohn Williams, said multi-defendant cases always take longer to prepare for trial.

"All we want to do is get it prepared, but there's a mountain of evidence and leads to follow," Williams said. "Given the trade off of sitting for a while, as opposed to being wrongfully convicted, any rational defendant is going to say, 'I'm going to sit and wait until my case is adequately prepared.'"

Ferrari, 53, has been jailed since February 2008, when his bond was revoked because two of the properties he put up as collateral were in foreclosure.

Ferrari's attorney, Chris Grillo, could not be reached for comment, despite four phone messages.

The case has fallen so far off the radar that Ferrari's and Fiorillo's court files had to be retrieved from court archives for a reporter's review.

"It's a difficult and complicated case," Bogenschutz said. "I don't think that it's all that heart-stopping that it has taken this long."

Boulis' rise and fall

Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, a Greek immigrant who left his home country as a teen, was a shrewd and forceful businessman who rose to tycoon status after founding the Miami Subs restaurant chain and entering the gambling cruise-ship trade.

He built the SunCruz Casinos fleet up to 11 ships in nine Florida cities before federal authorities filed a civil complaint contending that Boulis bought some of the ships before he was a U.S. citizen. He was embroiled in a contentious, fraud-plagued $147.5 million sale of the ships when he was ambushed and killed on Feb. 2, 2001.

That night, as Boulis drove his BMW away from his Fort Lauderdale office on Miami Road, a car cut him off and stopped in front of the BMW, a black Mustang pulled alongside it, and shots rang out.

Hit three times, Boullis, 51, drove a few blocks before crashing into a tree. He died an hour later at a hospital.

Family members declined then, and decline now, to discuss the murder.

The prosecution's theory

It wasn't until September 2005 that Moscatiello, Ferrari and Fiorillo were arrested.

Moscatiello, with admitted ties to John Gotti and the Gambino crime family, and Ferrari, described by investigators as a mob wannabe who once lied about being Gotti's nephew, were both financially linked to Adam Kidan. The New York businessman was buying SunCruz with Republican Washington, D.C., uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and another associate.

At the time of his death, Boulis was suing to regain control of the gambling ships.

The state contends that Moscatiello and Ferrari orchestrated the killing to protect a steady stream of SunCruz money coming to them via Kidan.

A year after the murder, Kidan and Abramoff pleaded guilty in federal court for conspiring to defraud lenders in the SunCruz deal and both did prison time. It was significantly reduced because they cooperated with federal prosecutors in the SunCruz case.

The state's murder theory is that Moscatiello and Ferrari recruited Fiorillo to assist, but the actual shooter was a New York mobster, John Gurino. He was killed in October 2003 by Ralph Liotta, a Boca Raton delicatessen owner who owed him money.

Kidan's deposition began in New Jersey in November 2007, but only one of the three defense attorneys questioned him. They have yet to re-schedule.

The most recent deposition taken in the case, of a Ferrari business associate, was in August 2009.

To move things along, the state has made three requests, Cavanagh said, for the judge to set deposition deadlines. She has not acted.

The fight over cell phone evidence

Hanging in the balance is the state's only strong physical evidence, records showing that cell phones were exchanging calls within 500 feet of the crime scene before and after Boulis was shot. The phones were traced to Ferrari and Fiorillo.

Defense attorneys argue the records should not be used at trial because prosecutors unlawfully obtained them with a subpoena, rather than the required court orders and search warrants.

Prosecutors say the records were properly obtained under Florida law.

Before Judge Holmes can decide the motion, she must sort out a complicated, gray area of the law that may or may not be colored by a ruling last month out of Philadelphia. Whichever side she favors, the other side likely will appeal, further delaying the Boulis case.

Holmes did not respond to two telelphone messages seeking comment. Judges are prohibited from commenting on pending cases, and chief judges do not comment on or interfere with cases or rulings.

Keeping a case in limbo helps the defense more than the state, Cavanagh said. "We always have to worry about witnesses moving, dying, or their memories failing."

Meanwhile, Fiorillo continues to wonder from behind bars when he'll ever have his day in court.

In an August 2009 letter, he asked: "How long does these thing's take. But I guess I would wait to see what take's place once we have a hearing hopefully this year."


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