Mob affiliate pleads guilty in gruesome Sunny Isles murder of exotic dancer

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Ariel Hernandez, an affiliate of South Florida’s Gambino organized crime family, will serve 30 years in prison for the 1999 murder of an exotic dancer whose body was dumped in the Everglades.

Thursday’s guilty plea to second-degree murder means Hernandez, 47, will be spared the death penalty.

Hernandez was part of a South Florida-based Gambino crew that was arrested in a sweeping federal crackdown in 2000.

He is already serving a life prison term — in 2002, a federal jury convicted him of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, passing counterfeit checks and bank fraud.

A Miami-Dade grand jury in 2004 indicted him for the strangulation murder of Jeanette Smith, 22, of Pembroke Pines, who performed under the stage name “Jade” at Thee Doll House in Sunny Isles Beach.

Prosecutor Michael Von Zamft told a judge Thursday that the state only agreed to waive the death penalty because Hernandez is serving life in federal prison for essentially the same crime. And Smith’s family agreed to the deal to avoid “torture by going through another trial,” Von Zamft said.

Hernandez also pleaded guilty to sexual battery.

According to investigators, the mob members mistakenly believed Smith was a FBI informant.

Hernandez killed Smith in a motel room, then stuffed her in a cardboard box that was discovered near Alligator Alley in West Broward County. He claimed Smith died during rough sex.

The federal investigation also targeted Frederick J. Massaro, of Hollywood, and the “made” man he reported to in the Gambino family, Anthony “Tony Pep” Trentacosta, of suburban Atlanta.

Investigators said Massaro’s crew operated out of the Beachside Mario’s restaurant in Sunny Isles Beach.

Massaro, and others, would offer struggling businessmen, gamblers and others short-term loans at illegal high interest rates. When borrowers fell behind, Massaro would send musclemen like Hernandez and others to collect the debts.

A task force of federal, state and local organized crime agents also discovered an elaborate counterfeit check-cashing scheme.

Massaro and Trentacosta died in federal prison.

Read more Afternoon Update stories from the Miami Herald

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