Miami-Dade County

Serial Miami con man sentenced yet again to prison

Jimmy Sabatino, shown in this 2014 file photo, notorious for fleecing local hotels, was sentenced Thursday, April 7, 2016, to a two-year federal prison term for violating his probation.
Jimmy Sabatino, shown in this 2014 file photo, notorious for fleecing local hotels, was sentenced Thursday, April 7, 2016, to a two-year federal prison term for violating his probation. Miami Herald staff

Jimmy Sabatino, an incorrigible con man who has spent half of his life in prison, says he just wants to be a “normal person.”

But that has proved elusive for the 39-year-old New York native — most recently jailed for posing as an entertainment honcho while swindling a string of Miami Beach hotels. On Thursday, Sabatino confessed to a federal judge that he’s never learned how to live a regular life because he’s spent so much time behind bars.

“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.”

The surreal exchange in Miami federal court persuaded Scola to go a little soft on Sabatino, who was sentenced to two years in prison for violating his probation on federal crimes after his conviction on state fraud charges.

Sabatino has been serving a five-year prison term for the state offense. But because of credit for time served so far, he will probably end up being imprisoned for another three years in total.

The federal judge, who did not find Sabatino mentally incompetent before his latest sentencing, still ordered him to undergo therapy when he is released from prison into a halfway house for six months.

Whether Sabatino will be able to avoid his penchant for prison is anyone’s guess.

Federal prosecutor Karen Stewart, who sought a five-year sentence in addition to his state time, called Sabatino “the very epitome of a recidivist.”

But defense attorney Joseph Rosenbaum, seeking lenience, described him as a “confused, young man.”

That might be an understatement.

Sabatino’s latest caper, in the summer of 2013, saw him run up an unpaid tab of nearly $600,000 at Miami Beach and other local hotels.

But his crimes also violated probation he had received 15 years earlier for federal charges, which included calling the FBI from a prison cell in England after his arrest in 1998. He threatened to kill then-President Bill Clinton and to decapitate a federal judge and two South Florida prosecutors.

While back in a U.S. prison in 2003, Sabatino was sentenced to an additional 11 years for running a cell-block scheme that defrauded phone carrier Nextel out of $3 million.

Because of his prison misconduct, Sabatino was held in near constant solitary confinement for seven years at the federal “supermax” facility 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-Qaida member Zacarias Moussaoui.

Sabatino’s attorney expressed concern that federal prison authorities might put him back there after he finishes his state sentence.

Said Rosenbaum: “They are going to hit him hard because of who he is.”

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