“The first thing he does is write a letter to a major company such as Disney or Polygram,” the article notes. “The response invariably comes back on the company’s letterhead and is signed by a company official. A few days before checking in, he’ll fax the hotel’s front desk with a letter from the official at the company announcing that James Sabatino will be staying at the hotel and that the company will be paying all his charges. Usually it’s no more complicated than that.”
Hotel representatives declined to discuss how Sabatino fleeced them for such large amounts before anyone caught on. The staggering amounts of his unpaid bills are “extremely rare,” even by South Beach standards, said Sgt. Bobby Hernandez, a Miami Beach Police spokesman.
“Hotels could prevent these types of scams if they had a point of contact with the corporation that is being billed,” Hernandez said, after speaking with detectives handling the Sabatino case. “This way, when someone arrives and claims to be an authorized user of the pre-existing corporate account, they can verify with the point of contact. Not just take their word and request no documentation to prove they are who they say they are.”
Sabatino’s father once told a judge that his son’s criminal behavior stems from Sabatino’s mother abandoning the family. Peter Sabatino described his son as “a disturbed young man who needed attention like a drug.”
Indeed, some of Sabatino’s scams have been bizarre trips.
He ran an infamous Super Bowl ticket ripoff in 1995, where, claiming to be a Blockbuster executive, finagled his way into 262 free tickets to the game, selling them for a big profit. And he forged FBI documents while in prison that fabricated the roots of the deadly feud between rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., leading to a flawed 2008 investigative report by the Los Angeles Times that the paper had to retract.
Some of his exploits were downright boneheaded. Like the time in 1998 that he called the FBI in Miami from a jail cell outside London, threatening to kill, among other people, then-President Bill Clinton and federal prosecutor Paul Schwartz.
“You old skinny f---, I’m going to cut your head off,” Sabatino was recorded as saying in a call to Schwartz. “You Jew f---, I’m going to kill you.”
Sabatino’s lawyer said his client thought that making the threats would force British authorities to send him back to the United States to face new charges. (“Prison life in England was difficult for Mr. Sabatino,” a court-ordered psychological report noted at the time. “The only food he had access to was not appetizing to him.”)
But his plan backfired: British authorities made Sabatino serve his full sentence there before shipping him back to face charges at home for the menacing phone calls. He assaulted a guard at Miami’s Federal Detention Center within 24 hours of his return, and was later sentenced to serve four years for the death threats and the assault.
Sabatino was months away from finishing his jail term when, in August 2002, Secret Service agents raided his cell, charging him with defrauding phone carrier Nextel out of more than 1,000 cell phones, costing the company millions of dollars.