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Former corrections officer sentenced in nearly $9 million behind-bars fraud scheme

Jimmy Sabatino has spent his entire adult life engineering cons and getting caught.
Jimmy Sabatino has spent his entire adult life engineering cons and getting caught.

Former federal corrections officer Michael Mazar was sentenced Wednesday morning to five years in prison for his role in a nearly $9 million jail-based fraud scheme run by legendary Miami con man Jimmy Sabatino.

Mazar, 39, turned himself in to authorities, along with all the items from the fraud that he still had in his possession in April 2017 and has been cooperating since. He pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud conspiracy for his role in the scheme on March 6.

At his sentencing Wednesday, Mazar was remorseful.

"I didn't mean for any of this to happen," he said. "And I was too embarrassed to tell anybody."

Jimmy Sabatino poses as a music industry executive during one of his many cons.

The scheme, in which Sabatino called luxury retailers from jail and convinced them to lend his associates items for music video and film shoots that were fictitious, was his latest in a string of multimillion-dollar frauds. A previous plot to rack up large hotel bills and dash had gotten him convicted.

This time, the scheme was orchestrated entirely from behind bars. It began when Sabatino bribed then-corrections officer Mazar to smuggle in a cellphone for him at the Federal Detention Center-Miami. Mazar was pulled into the scheme, smuggling additional items in, including headphones and fast food. He then traveled to Atlanta with Sabatino's other co-conspirators to sell more than $3 million worth of luxury items Sabatino had procured and by the end of the scheme was even keeping some of the goods at his house.

In light of his cooperation, Mazar was given three months shorter than the low range of the sentencing guidelines for the charges against him. He was also ordered to pay restitution for the full $8,949,025.11 fraud.

"One of the motives in this case is greed — good old-fashioned greed," said federal prosecutor Christopher Browne in the hearing. "That's not the only motive, but it certainly played a role."

Mazar's attorney, Greg Chonillo, requested the sentence be reduced to house arrest, citing Mazar's cooperation and that much of his participation in the scheme occurred under threat by Sabatino.

As a corrections officer who broke the law, Mazar was considered by the court to have violated the public's trust. Chonillo argued Wednesday that Mazar had not really violated it because he was not in a supervising position and so held little authority.

The lawyer cited a case where a food service worker at a federal corrections facility had gotten a lighter sentence when convicted of bringing cocaine into a prison, an argument the judge did not buy. In her ruling, she noted the extraordinary power corrections officers have over the lives of inmates and the key role Mazar played in the scheme.

"When I look at the scope and scale of this, none of it is possible without this defendant's initial cooperation," said U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke at the sentencing. "To allow this kind of behavior, I think sends the wrong message to our inmate population and to corrections officers."

Mazar worked as a corrections officer at FDC-Miami from July 2009 to April 2017. He had previously served in the Army for 16 years, including two tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait. Though he has multiple prior arrests many years ago, he has never served time.

The jail-based scheme began after Sabatino bribed Mazar to supply him with several smart phones. Sabatino then contacted luxury brand representatives and store managers every way he could — calls, text messages, emails — using the fake name "James Prolima" to pose as an executive for entertainment companies, including rap mogul Jay-Z's RocNation. He told them that if the stores sent his business partners their goods, the items would appear in locally produced music videos and advertisements that would reach a national audience.

Instead, they were fenced.

Sabatino had three main collaborators: Mazar, Anthony "White Boy" Collado, and Job "Cee" Dolce. Mazar initially was unaware of the extent of the scheme until Sabatino revealed it to him as a threat to prevent him from turning Sabatino in.

Under that threat, Mazar accompanied Collado and Dolce on a trip to Atlanta to sell some of the luxury items, during which they stayed at the high-end W Hotel, where Mazar was tasked with guarding a hotel safe of cash from the scam. At the time he turned himself in, Mazar was in possession of approximately 10 pieces of jewelry and some purses. He had used some of the proceeds to purchase a several-thousand-dollar vintage Chevrolet that he said he was attempting to flip so he could pay Sabatino back the money he had come to owe the con artist.

He still has the car, though the FBI plans to take possession of it soon.

Mazar explained in court that when he realized the extent of what was happening and that he would not be able to escape Sabatino's grasp, he went to the authorities and has been cooperating since.

"Sabatino's art of the tongue is well known," said Judge Cooke.

That artist is now serving a 20-year sentence in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. The other accomplices, Dolce and Collado, have both pleaded guilty and are scheduled for sentencing later this summer.