Miami-Dade County

Miami con man sentenced to five-year prison term

Miami Herald staff

Just as he wanted, Jimmy Sabatino had the media’s attention at his sentencing Tuesday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

He mugged for the cameras, showing off his surgically repaired lazy eye, then asked one of many TV reporters covering the brief hearing if they were still on for a jailhouse interview later.

Sabatino, 37, received a five-year prison sentence followed by three years of probation as part of a plea agreement for a South Florida hotel scam he ran last year. He also must repay the $594,000 he owes to the downtown Miami Hilton ($400,000), the Hilton Bentley South Beach ($174,000), the SLS Hotel ($16,000) and the Eden Roc ($4,000): charges for presidential suites, Champagne and room service that he racked up but never paid for.

“They’ll have to get in line,” Sabatino said to the Herald about the hotels’ likelihood of seeing their money back. Sabatino also owes restitution to the tune of seven figures in various state and federal cases dating to 1995.

In his latest case, Sabatino pleaded guilty to several counts of grand theft and fraud stemming from a luxurious romp he led from July through September of last year, just weeks after his release from federal prison.

Sabatino posed as a music-label executive, checking in to posh Miami and Miami Beach hotels and using his VIP status to rack up massive unpaid tabs.

At the Hilton Bentley, Sabatino and his entourage guzzled $100,000 in booze and tallied $74,000 in other charges before skedaddling after a five-week stay. When police caught up with Sabatino, he had about $50,000 worth of Champagne stashed in his car.

It was, at the time, the latest in a lifetime of cons Sabatino had pulled, including an infamous 1995 caper that had him posing as a Blockbuster executive to score 262 free tickets to Super Bowl XXIX in Miami that he sold for a big profit.

Most of Sabatino’s scams involve him posing as a record-label or movie-studio executive to score free VIP treatment at hotels.

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.”

Jimmy Sabatino claims his most recent caper came at the expense of Miami-Dade County taxpayers. While in Miami-Dade Corrections custody, Sabatino underwent surgery Aug. 28 at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute to repair a lazy right eye that has plagued him since his youth.

He recounted with amusement and disbelief how he talked his way into the operating room.

“I kept saying I was having these headaches, and how can we make them stop?” Sabatino said of his visits to the Corrections Health Services clinic. “Next thing I know, they approved the surgery.”

In one of many calls to the Herald in recent weeks, Sabatino said he believed the cost of the procedure, plus pre- and post-op appointments, totaled $247,000, although he did not provide billing documentation. He provided other documents, as well as handwritten letters, and he requested assistance in letting other media know about his sentencing.

He said the judge presiding over his case, Ariana Fajardo, “blew up” in anger during a hearing this month when she learned the size of Sabatino’s medical bill — to be paid by taxpayers.

She made no such statement on Tuesday, although she was firm in her response when Sabatino — who wore a red jail jumpsuit, had shackles around his sizable frame and used a walker to steady himself — asked if the terms of his plea deal meant another appearance in Miami-Dade court.

“Not here, sir,” Fajardo said. “You’re not coming back here.”

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