A fake Hooters waitress, a tryst, a murder plot: An only-in-Miami jail tale on trial

Adam Barnett, a Miami businessman accused of plotting to have a witness and his own defense lawyer murdered, took the stand Friday in his own defense.
Adam Barnett, a Miami businessman accused of plotting to have a witness and his own defense lawyer murdered, took the stand Friday in his own defense. Miami Herald

Prosecutors allege that Miami businessman Adam Barnett, while in jail awaiting trial on a sex charge, hired a fellow inmate to organize a plot to murder the key witness — plus his own defense lawyer.

But Barnett, against the advice of his newest attorney, took the stand in his own defense to spin an elaborate explanation for why he paid the inmate tens of thousands of dollars. The gist of his tale: The inmate beat him up and threatened to frame him unless he forked over cash.

“I don’t like to use the word slave, but I was his B-I-T-C-H,” Barnett told jurors late Friday during his trial for conspiracy to commit murder. “He owned me.”

Barnett resumed his testimony on Monday in Miami-Dade criminal court, insisting that a parade of state witnesses was working together and lying to keep him behind bars. It was the fourth week of an unusual trial that has featured a cast of only-in-Miami characters.

The 43-year-old businessman has a checkered past. In lawsuits, investors have accused him of duping them in a penny-stock scam that cost them millions. State and court records also document numerous stalking allegations by former business associates and even an ex-stylist.

He was convicted on one misdemeanor stalking charge, records show, and put on probation.

But Barnett was arrested again in 2012 after police said he set up a fake Facebook page — purporting to be a Hooters waitress named Janet Rodriguez — with the aim of befriending a 17-year-old Broward County girl known as “J.E.”

Through Facebook messages, “Janet” later arranged a sexual tryst with a “wealthy friend,” who was actually Barnett. The teen testified that she slept with Barnett, thinking she’d get $20,000 and a Rolex watch, but he ditched her without paying anything.

On cross-examination Monday, Barnett insisted that Janet Rodriguez was indeed a real person, a girl he dated and took once to dinner at Macaroni Grill.

“Isn’t Janet Rodriguez a character in [the movie] ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’” prosecutor Michael Von Zamft asked.

“I wouldn’t know that,” said Barnett, who did not call the supposed woman to testify on his behalf.

As for the underage girl, Barnett said he never had sex with her. “She cooked up a story and she taught me a lesson,” he said.

Von Zamft replied wryly: “I guess she did. You’re still in jail, right?”

It was while in jail that prosecutors said Barnett began scheming to get rid of J.E., hiring a fellow inmate named Roman Thomas, with the plan to have one of his associates on the streets kill her on New Year’s Eve 2013.

Barnett also asked Thomas to kill his one-time defense lawyer, David Seltzer, prosecutors said. Thomas testified he never planned to follow through, and even tipped off Seltzer to Barnett’s plans.

Barnett’s former assistant, a college student named Maggy Caceres, also took the stand, helping jurors understand the coded language of jail calls between her and Barnett. Caceres, who took a plea deal for her role in Barnett’s case, admitted to making payments to Thomas’ relatives on Barnett’s behalf.

Barnett has focused his defense on blasting Thomas, a suspected pimp who made news when he was jailed for allegedly forcing a teen runaway to tattoo his street name on her eyelids.

Barnett insisted none of the payments to Thomas’ relatives outside of jail were for any sort of murder plot. Instead, Barnett painted Thomas as a bully behind bars who “got rough and tough” by repeatedly beating him up in a jail bathroom and demanding money for “protection.”

Over months, Thomas suggested he’d find a way to harm Barnett’s family, the defendant claimed, and even frame him for trying to have J.E. killed. Thomas supposed sway was so great that Barnett claimed he had to “get permission” to even entertain a plea deal in his upcoming trial.

Why didn’t Barnett just tell police or his jailers about the supposed extortion?

“I knew from my year in jail, that snitching was not the thing to do,” Barnett said. “Snitching was not an option.”