South Florida

Infamous Miami conman burnishes legend with latest alleged swindle

Jimmy Sabatino
Jimmy Sabatino

Jimmy Sabatino, a legendary Miami fraud artist whose crimes included posing as a music executive while running up hundreds of thousands in unpaid tabs at Miami resorts and pretending to be an entertainment mogul to acquire hundreds of free Super Bowl tickets, was charged with concocting yet another scheme — this time, from his prison cell.

Through emails and phone calls, the round, hulking prisoner posed as a Sony executive and reached out to a host of luxury store managers to convince them to turn over their jewelry, watches and other goods to be displayed in splashy music videos. The real plan, say prosecutors, was for people working with Sabatino to steal the expensive items and take them to pawn shops.

Sabatino, who is serving time at the Miami federal facility for probation violations and defrauding the luxury hotels, was indicted by a grand jury Thursday with a fellow prisoner and two others on conspiracy, wire fraud and mail fraud charges in the latest in a long string of scams for the 39-year-old Sabatino.

His attorney, Joseph Rosenbaum, said he had not yet read the federal indictment. “I’m numb,” he said. “Right now, these are accusations. I am just hearing about this. I just don't know what kind of evidence they have.”

For years, the Staten Island native has captivated the nation with his brazen crimes, including calling the FBI from a prison cell in England and threatening to kill then-President Bill Clinton, and running a scam from prison several years later that defrauded the phone provider Nextel of about $3 million.

He even managed to convince Miami-Dade corrections officials two years ago to pay to repair a lazy right eye after complaining he was experiencing severe headaches.

His most-recent case was launched from the federal prison in Miami, say prosecutors, after Sabatino and others agreed to target the stores for watches, jewelry, and handbags — some in the exclusive Bal Harbour Shops. The way it worked was simple: Sabatino, using a fake name, contacted brand representatives and store managers through a barrage of emails, text messages, and phone calls.

In some cases, he posed as an executive for RocNation, the famous entertainment firm founded by rapper Jay Z and whose clients have included Shakira, Rihanna and Big Sean.

In each case, Sabatino claimed if the stores sent their wares to his business partners, the jewelry and handbags would be displayed in music videos and advertising materials that were being produced in Miami for wide distribution.

Sabatino, who went by “James Prolima,” told the store managers to ship the items to co-defendants Valerie Kay Hunt, 53, of Davie, and Denise Siksha Lewis, 35, of North Lauderdale, prosecutors stated. Also helping Sabatino: inmate George Duquen, 53, of Davie.

From the prison, Sabatino and Duquen told the two women to haul the wares to pawn shops to be sold, prosecutors stated. U.S. attorney Wilfredo Ferrer credited the FBI, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Bal Harbour police with helping to unravel the caper.

What’s not clear is whether the goods were actually shipped and pawned, or the plot was smashed before any money changed hands. Rosenbaum said the indictment had yet to be posted late Thursday and he was still waiting to learn the details.

For Sabatino, the charges could add more prison time for a man who has spent half of his life in custody.

Three months ago, he confessed to a federal judge that he’s never learned how to live a normal life because he’s spent so much time in prison. “I don’t know what the answer is, but I know incarceration is not helping me,” Sabatino told U.S District Judge Robert Scola. “I want to change. I’m being honest with you.”

His intense soliloquy in Miami federal court persuaded Scola to impose just a two-year sentence for violating his probation on federal crimes after he admitted to state charges of staying at luxury hotels and running up nearly $600,000 in unpaid bills.

The federal judge, who did not find Sabatino mentally incompetent, still ordered him to undergo therapy at the time of his release from prison. In court, prosecutor Karen Stewart pushed for five years in addition to his state time, calling Sabatino “the very epitome of a recidivist.”

While serving a federal prison term in 2003, Sabatino was slapped with 11 more years after he was caught running a cell-block scam that fleeced Nextel of millions. Because of his prison misconduct, Sabatino was constantly held in solitary confinement at the federal “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado.

The prison is home to America’s most violent and controversial criminals, including Boston bomber Dzohkar Tsarnaev and Sept. 11 co-conspirator and al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui.

Rosenbaum said at the time that federal prison authorities might put him back there after he finished his sentence in Florida.