Defense puts hopes in disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Gus Boulis murder case

 

jbrown@MiamiHerald.com

A Washington insider once said that Jack Abramoff could sweet-talk a dog off a meat truck.

He was so persuasive, that he could have written the book — and has of sorts — on how to buy a U.S. congressman.

On Wednesday, in Broward County Circuit Court, the defense hopes that the now-disgraced Washington, D.C., lobbyist will be able to use his persuasive skills to convince a jury that a reputed member of the Gambino crime family had nothing to do with the murder of Miami sandwich-shop maven and casino-boat owner Gus Boulis.

Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari, 56, is facing a possible death penalty in connection with Boulis’ Feb. 6, 2011, gangland-style slaying in Fort Lauderdale.

Ferrari — along with alleged Gambino Capo Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello, 75 — are accused of killing the Miami Subs giant as part of a swindle involving the sale of Boulis’ fleet of gambling boats. Moscatiello’s lawyer, David Bogenshutz, has been struggling with a lingering illness, which prompted Judge Ilona Holmes to declare a mistrial last week, severing Moscatiello from the case. He will be tried at a later date.

Abramoff and his then-partner, Adam Kidan, were purchasing the gambling company, SunCruz, from Boulis, and were feuding with him at the time of his murder.

Kidan testified that he hired both “Tonys’’ to help keep an eye on Boulis, who allegedly threatened to kill him and blow the whistle on the pair’s fraudulent business deal. Prosecutors have said that the two partners were not involved in the murder. Although Kidan admitted he learned about it after the fact, and lied to police about what he knew.

Ferrari’s attorney, Christopher Grillo, is trying to show that it was Kidan who was behind Boulis’ slaying, and he hopes that Abramoff will shed some light on Kidan’s motives.

Abramoff was sentenced to three years in federal prison for corruption, money laundering and fraud but was released after three years after he agreed, like Kidan, to cooperate with investigators probing Washington corruption and Florida investigators working the Boulis murder.

In Abramoff’s case, more than 20 Washington insiders, including a congressman and White House aide, pleaded guilty or were found guilty of taking bribes in exchange for tax breaks and legislation favorable to Abramoff’s clients.

Abramoff, now 55, has written a book about his exploits and continues to lecture around the country against the evils he helped perpetuate in Washington.

But it was the $147 million SunCruz deal that precipitated Abramoff’s political freefall. Both he and Kidan admitted that they faked a $23 million wire transfer to hoodwink investors into giving them an additional $60 million to purchase the casino boats.

Boulis found out about the illegal wire transfer and threatened to reneg on the deal and expose them to authorities. Kidan, who has admitted ties to the Gambino crime family, wanted to make sure that Boulis didn’t harm him or damage the fleet. He hired Moscatiello and Ferrari, and paid them hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said “for security surveillance.’’

Kidan said Ferrari came to his condo in Aventura shortly after the hit and told him that they killed Boulis. Prosecutors said the motive was to protect a steady stream of SunCruz profits they were receiving — and kicking up to Gambino crime boss Peter “One Eye” Gotti — from Kidan.

Kidan, who also pleaded guilty in connection to the SunCruz fraud, began cooperating with prosecutors in exchanged for a reduced sentence. He was released after serving three years.

Born in New Jersey, Abramoff’s family eventually moved to Beverly Hills, California, where he was an all-star on the Beverly Hills High School football team. He attended law school at Georgetown University, where he became a member of the College Republicans. He did a stint as a movie producer before becoming a lobbyist.

By the mid-1990s, Abramoff was considered one of the most powerful lobbyists in the country, earning more than $20 million a year plying members of Congress with lavish meals, exotic vacations and primo tickets to sporting events such as the Super Bowl. He was so tangled in the Washington political machine that he had two full-time staffers who were assigned to do nothing but arrange free sports and concert tickets to Congressional members, their friends and campaign contributors.

In exchange, he was able to garner millions of dollars in tax breaks and legislation favorable to his clients, among them, a number of Indian tribes with gambling interests.

It was so effortless, he once said he considered writing “The Idiots Guide to Buying a Congressman.’’

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