Party’s over for con man who bamboozled Beach hoteliers

 
 
James Peter Sabatino
James Peter Sabatino
Miami-Dade Corrections

gsolis@MiamiHerald.com

For one heady summer, “James Sabat” lived the South Florida suite life, flitting from one high-end hotel to the next, ordering magnums of champagne, chomping choice steaks with his circle of pals and running room service ragged.

At various locales, he and his entourage racked up monster hotel bills — as much as $274,000 — on credit, Miami Beach police said.

And then they vanished.

Last week, finally, “Sabat” — real name James Peter Sabatino — was busted at a Coral Gables hotel, while having sex with a teenage girl, according to police.

“He lived like a king,” said Miami Beach police Sgt. Bobby Hernandez.

Now, he’s living the life of a Miami-Dade County jail inmate.

At 5 foot 6 and 360 pounds, the 36-year-old Sabatino hardly cut a regal figure. But somehow he was able to convince a host of hoteliers that he was a big-shot businessman needing to entertain a gaggle of important corporate clients. And that the bill should be charged to his employer.

The name of that employer changed depending on the hotel, police reports said. At the Eden Roc, he claimed to work for Warner Bros. and needed three rooms. Three days and $7,000 in unpaid invoices later, he was gone.

Next stop: South Beach’s SLS Hotel, where he arrived in a black Honda Civic. This time he said he worked for the record label Roc-A-Fella and that he was there to entertain the rapper J. Cole. The hotel hooked him up with two $697-a-night private villas and one $296-a-night room. Once the bill hit $16,000, he and his posse took off.

From there, “Sabat” landed at the South Beach Hilton, posing as a Sony executive. He really outdid himself at the Hilton, running up $150,000 in charges over the course of five weeks — $100,000 of that for champagne alone, police said.

Meanwhile, he was leaving a trail of clues — a hotel key, a pawn shop receipt. Police gathered the bread crumbs and pieced together a picture of a consummate conman.

Soon, with the added assistance of U.S. marshals, the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association was able to send out a bulletin (with photo) warning operators about Sabat/Sabatino.

A manager at the Hyatt Regency in Coral Gables saw the bulletin and recognized him as a guest who had checked in last Friday, asking for several rooms, including the presidential suite.

The manager called police. When officers arrived at 2 a.m., they found their man in bed, having consensual sex with a 17-year-old girl, police said.

Officers found $50,000 worth of champagne in Sabatino’s car.

Sabatino had two outstanding warrants at the time of his arrest, one from Broward County and the other from a federal probation violation.

Sabatino — whose father once managed a restaurant owned by the sons of infamous New York City mobster Paul Castellano — has a history of white-collar crime that began when he was a teenager.

At 18, Sabatino posed as a Blockbuster exec and was somehow able to accumulate 262 tickets to the 1995 Super Bowl in Miami. He sold them for $170,000 then went on the lam, but turned himself in six months later, saying he was tired of life on the run.

When he was 22, according to news accounts, Sabatino threatened to “cut the [bleep]ing heads off” federal prosecutors investigating his uncle and other alleged South Florida organized crime figures.

In a plea deal, federal prosecutors dropped a slew of charges, including ones stemming from Sabatino’s alleged threats to kill then-President Bill Clinton and his brother, Roger, decapitate a federal judge and two prosecutors, and blow up the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Sabatino, now facing fresh charges of grand theft, organized fraud and unlawful sexual acts with a minor, is being held at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on $55,000 bond.

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