Crime

Miami businessman convicted of jailhouse plot to murder witness, his own lawyer

Miami businessman Adam Barnett after he was convicted Thursday of jailhouse plot to murder a key witness, and his own defense lawyer. He faces up life in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 15.
Miami businessman Adam Barnett after he was convicted Thursday of jailhouse plot to murder a key witness, and his own defense lawyer. He faces up life in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 15. Miami Herald

Adam Barnett, a polished Miami penny-stock salesman with a penchant for beautiful women and expensive sneakers, spent weeks on trial accused of paying a fellow inmate to arrange the murder of a key witness and his ex-defense lawyer.

When he took to the stand, Barnett tried to sell the jury on a convoluted conspiracy theory that he was framed by a jailmate who tortured him for months and bilked him of over $40,000.

“I don’t like to use the word slave, but I was his B-I-T-C-H,” Barnett testified, a pained look on his face. “He owned me.”

The jury didn’t buy it.

After nearly two days of deliberations, jurors on Thursday convicted Barnett of conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering, charges for which he faces up to life in prison. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alberto Milián will sentence him on Sept. 15.

“We’re very pleased, it was a difficult case. It took us five-plus weeks to get here,” said Assistant State Attorney Michael Von Zamft, who tried the case with cybercrimes prosecutors Tom Haggerty and Derek Ko. “It was a diligent jury — a hardworking jury, and I think it was a very clean, hard fought trial.”

Barnett’s attorney, Elio Vazquez, plans to appeal the verdict.

“It’s shocking,” he said of the jury’s decision.

Thursday’s verdict capped an unusual trial that included testimony from jail informants, two of Barnett’s former defense lawyers, his former personal assistant — and dozens of hours of recorded jail calls that helped investigators piece together his scheme.

Barnett’s company, OMDA Oil and Gas, billed itself as an emerging “serious player” in the energy business, but federal prosecutors said it sold millions of shares of worthless stock to unwitting investors who shelled out at least $1.9 million. Although several of his associates were indicted over a decade ago, Barnett escaped prosecution.

But in court documents, former associates painted him as part of the financial scam. 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.

Prosecutors say that Barnett, in 2012, conned a 17-year-old girl — identified in court as “J.E.” — into sleeping with him by posing as a Hooters waitress named “Janet Rodriguez” on Facebook. He falsely promised her $20,000 and a Rolex watch.

After he was arrested for the illicit rendezvous, Barnett remained in jail, where he met inmate Roman Thomas — himself facing charges for trafficking an underage girl.

Thomas told jurors that Barnett, itching to beat the case, hired him to murder the girl as well as his former defense attorney, David Seltzer. Barnett hoped Thomas would have his associates on the outside kill the two, and also shoot a former business associate, Rich Inza, the victim of an earlier stalking case.

He wanted Inza shot in the legs — to prevent him from running any more marathons.

Thomas was the star witness. After three days of testimony and a nine-hour cross examination, Thomas admitted he milked Barnett, never intending to have his associates murder anybody out on the streets of Miami.

“That was his goal all along,” prosecutor Ko told jurors. “To take the money and run.”

Barnett’s personal assistant, Maggy Caceres, told jurors that she delivered thousands of dollars to Thomas’ family, ultimately paying him around $40,000. Thomas told Barnett that J.E., was killed, even presenting him with a photo of a sham tombstone in her name.

In his defense, Barnett took the stand to say there was no murder plot and that Thomas threatened him for the money using physical violence — knocking out a tooth, injuring his left shoulder, and smacking his private parts.

His defense lawyer, Vazquez, told jurors that Thomas was nothing more than a conman and an extortionist.

“He became his punching bag in the jail,” Vazquez said of his client during closing arguments. “This man here is the victim of atrocious violence put on him by Roman Thomas.”

But prosecutor Von Zamft said Barnett provided no evidence that he was beaten up.

“No doctor, no medical records, no nothing,” he told jurors, adding: “It is overwhelmingly clear that he is guilty of the crimes.”

Seltzer, his former defense attorney who was targeted, testified in the trial. “We thank the jury for their time and respect the verdict,” he said.

As for Inza, the former business associate who was targeted, he said he feels he will no longer have to look over his shoulder while out in public.

“And I absolutely will be running at least one more marathon,” he said.

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