The most recent time he got caught, he was fuqing a 17 year old girl. You thrust weakly into a sock.
Con man who bamboozled Miami Beach hoteliers has long history
Every night of his adult life, James “Jimmy” Sabatino has laid his sizable frame on the bed of a prison cell or a hotel suite.
In his fleeting moments of freedom, Sabatino, 36, lives large. His latest caper found him racking up five- and six-figure tabs for fine Champagne, haute cuisine and posh digs — that he never paid for — at swanky South Florida retreats.
Life is good for Sabatino as long as he stays ahead of police, which is rare.
Since the age of 19, Sabatino has spent all but a few weeks behind bars, in jailhouses from Miami to New York to London, snagged for running one con after another.
Police caught up with him again late last month, holed up at a Coral Gables Hyatt with a 17-year-old girl.
A wannabe high-roller who has previously represented himself in legal matters, Sabatino this month declared himself indigent to a Miami-Dade County judge and requested the court appoint him a public defender. He faces more than 60 years in prison if convicted on new charges that include organized fraud, grand theft and sex with a minor.
“I think everyone regrets what they do after they get caught,” Sabatino told a judge during a 2003 sentencing on fraud and identity theft convictions. “I know this may sound strange, but there is a part of me that just does these things, and I can’t control it.
“My family thinks I like it in prison,” he continued. “They look at me and think that I like it in prison, and the truth is, I don’t, your Honor.”
On May 20, nearly 10 years after Sabatino made that statement in court, he walked out of a federal prison. It was his first taste of the free world since 1998, and it didn’t last long.
Police say Sabatino checked in to the Eden Roc in late July, claiming to work for Warner Bros. and requesting a block of rooms. Posts on Sabatino’s Facebook page show him posing for a photo with the Rev. Jesse Jackson — “crazy night,” Sabatino captioned the shot — at the Eden Roc on July 29. Jackson had been at the hotel that day with the mother of Trayvon Martin, pressing for a repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
(The part about Jesse and Travon's mammy is kind of interesting)
After a three-day stay and a $7,000 unpaid tab, Sabatino ditched the Eden Roc and zipped down Collins Avenue in a black Honda Civic to the SLS Hotel. There, police say, he claimed to be with Roc-A-Fella Records, and the hotel fronted him two private villas and a room, letting the bill zoom to $16,000 before Sabatino split.
His freeloading jaunt continued in August and September down South Beach, to the Hilton near South Pointe Park. For five weeks, Sabatino allegedly posed as a Sony executive — a scam he’s run many times before — and guzzled $100,000 worth of Champagne and tallied $74,000 in other charges before skedaddling.
The fun finally stopped at the Hyatt Regency in Coral Gables on Sept. 27, when an alert manager recognized Sabatino — a hard-to-miss figure at 5-foot-5 and 360 pounds — from a wanted bulletin posted at the hotel. Officers say they found Sabatino in bed with the teen and that he had naked photos of her on his phone; he also had $50,000 worth of Champagne in his car.
Sabatino, who was born in Brooklyn and moved as a teen to Boynton Beach, has a standard operating procedure for his hotel scams, as explained in “ Con Kid,” a 1999 cover story on Sabatino in the Miami New Times:
“The first thing he does is write a letter to a major company such as Disney or Polygram,” the article notes. “The response invariably comes back on the company’s letterhead and is signed by a company official. A few days before checking in, he’ll fax the hotel’s front desk with a letter from the official at the company announcing that James Sabatino will be staying at the hotel and that the company will be paying all his charges. Usually it’s no more complicated than that.”
Hotel representatives declined to discuss how Sabatino fleeced them for such large amounts before anyone caught on. The staggering amounts of his unpaid bills are “extremely rare,” even by South Beach standards, said Sgt. Bobby Hernandez, a Miami Beach Police spokesman.
“Hotels could prevent these types of scams if they had a point of contact with the corporation that is being billed,” Hernandez said, after speaking with detectives handling the Sabatino case. “This way, when someone arrives and claims to be an authorized user of the pre-existing corporate account, they can verify with the point of contact. Not just take their word and request no documentation to prove they are who they say they are.”
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.”
Indeed, some of Sabatino’s scams have been bizarre trips.
He ran an infamous Super Bowl ticket ripoff in 1995, where, claiming to be a Blockbuster executive, finagled his way into 262 free tickets to the game, selling them for a big profit. And he forged FBI documents while in prison that fabricated the roots of the deadly feud between rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., leading to a flawed 2008 investigative report by the Los Angeles Times that the paper had to retract.
Some of his exploits were downright boneheaded. Like the time in 1998 that he called the FBI in Miami from a jail cell outside London, threatening to kill, among other people, then-President Bill Clinton and federal prosecutor Paul Schwartz.
“You old skinny f---, I’m going to cut your head off,” Sabatino was recorded as saying in a call to Schwartz. “You Jew f---, I’m going to kill you.”
Sabatino’s lawyer said his client thought that making the threats would force British authorities to send him back to the United States to face new charges. (“Prison life in England was difficult for Mr. Sabatino,” a court-ordered psychological report noted at the time. “The only food he had access to was not appetizing to him.”)
But his plan backfired: British authorities made Sabatino serve his full sentence there before shipping him back to face charges at home for the menacing phone calls. He assaulted a guard at Miami’s Federal Detention Center within 24 hours of his return, and was later sentenced to serve four years for the death threats and the assault.
Sabatino was months away from finishing his jail term when, in August 2002, Secret Service agents raided his cell, charging him with defrauding phone carrier Nextel out of more than 1,000 cell phones, costing the company millions of dollars.
That con, which Sabatino carried out from behind bars by pretending to be Sony and Viacom bigwigs, earned him another 11 years of lockup.
Sabatino maintained a website in his name from prison. Records uncovered by The Smoking Gun website in 2008 revealed that Sabatino was far from a model inmate: Guards disciplined him more than 30 times for fighting, weapons and other violations.
When he got out in May, Sabatino wasted little time reverting to one of his earliest scams: getting free stuff from fancy hotels.
In 1997, when he finished his sentence for the Super Bowl scam, Sabatino immediately went to New York and threw himself a $54,727 welcome-back party at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. He didn’t pay, of course, and police arrested him.
While he was out on bail for the Marriott incident, Sabatino fled to London, claiming to be a Paramount Pictures honcho to get into the Four Seasons. He was arrested for that unpaid bill, too, which led to his British prison time.
Attempts to contact Sabatino were unsuccessful, as were attempts to reach his father, who used to manage Bobby Rubino’s restaurant in Pompano Beach.
A cousin, Josephine Sabatino, said Sabatino has “been this way pretty much all his life.”
“I think if he used his ability to be so convincing at a legit job, he could have been extremely successful in the business world,” she wrote in an email to el Nuevo Herald.
“I wish he would have made better choices so he could be involved with his family and live outside of prison, but I guess that’s not the case.”
TIMELINE: James “Jimmy” Sabatino
• Arrested as a juvenile in Florida, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Several ncidents stemmed from then 17-year-old Sabatino posing as a Coca-Cola executive, complete with a corporate-issued American Express card, to get hotel rooms.
• Claimed to be Blockbuster executive to obtain 262 free tickets to Super Bowl XXIX, played in Miami. Sold tickets for nearly $1,000 a pop. Also acquired 55 pagers worth more than $12,000 by posing as Sony Music executive’s nephew. Pleaded guilty to fraud and dealing in stolen property, sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution.
Then 21, he threw himself a $54,727 welcome-back-from-prison party at the Marriott Marquis in New York’s Times Square. Police arrested him on theft charges after he failed to pay.
• January: Out on bail from the hotel-theft charge, he fled to London, staying at the Four Seasons, where he claimed to be a movie-studio executive. Arrested in London, sentenced to several months in prison there.
• May-June: From his British prison cell, he called the FBI in Miami, threatening to kill then-President Bill Clinton and his brother, Roger Clinton, decapitate a federal judge and two prosecutors, and blow up the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
• August: Deported to U.S. and, within 24 hours, charged with assaulting guard at Miami’s Federal Detention Center.
• Pleaded guilty to making telephone threats from London, sentenced to four years in prison for the threats and the assault on guard.
• Secret Service agents raided Sabatino’s prison cell, charging him with defrauding phone carrier Nextel out of about $3 million.
• Sabatino pleaded guilty to fraud and identity theft charges in the Nextel case. A judge sentenced him to 11 years in prison.
• Sabatino forged documents from prison, purported to be from the FBI. He used them to file an $18 million lawsuit against rap mogul Sean Combs, and to con the Los Angeles Times, which published a 2008 report about another rapper’s shooting based on the fake documents.
• May: Released from prison.
• July-September: Stayed at the Eden Roc Hotel and SLS Hotel and South Beach Hilton in Miami Beach, racking up unpaid tabs nearing $275,000.
• Sept. 27: Arrested at the Hyatt Regency in Coral Gables. He was allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old girl when officers stormed the room.
It was near midnight on a Saturday in late August when a thin 25-year-old in a Miami Dolphins cap flexed the platinum chain around his neck, hoisted a two-inch-thick stack of hundred-dollar bills, and giggled at the absurdity of it all. Just two months ago, the young rapper had been eking out an existence at his girlfriend's house off 183rd Street in Miami Gardens, rolling on a line cook's salary. Now, he was lounging in the back of a blue 2014 Jeep Laredo cruising south at 75 miles per hour toward Miami Beach. In the vehicle's front seat, drenched in more bling than Lil Wayne, sat his benefactor: Jimmy Sabatino.
Thomas Troop had just met Sabatino in July, but they'd hung every day since. Sabatino said Troop was going to be the next Puff Daddy. Sabatino said Troop was the man. Stick with me, Sabatino told Troop, and you're going places. Over two solid months, everything Troop wanted to hear — that his rhymes had silky flow, that he wasn't just another punk kid from the projects — Sabatino affirmed. And Troop believed him. Every last damned word.
"We swaggin'," Troop deadpanned into his iPhone's camera, closely scrutinizing the thousands of dollars in his hands. "We crossin' bridges y'all niggas don't even see. Right now, I'm riding with the big homie. He's gonna pull out a couple stacks."
"Wanna see the baby one or the big one?" Sabatino slurred over the din of a blaring hip-hop song, brandishing a tightly wound wad of hundred-dollar bills. "This is the big one right here." Sabatino, wearing a diamond-encrusted pinkie ring and watch, began to flip through the hundreds like a card dealer. "It's all hundreds!" he erupted in a Brooklyn accent. "It's all hundreds! No frontin' over here. It's all hundreds! We gettin' money. This is Troop. And you already know who the fuq I am."
When the men arrived at the Hilton Bentley in South Beach, sinking into the splendor of Sabatino's suite overlooking the ocean, Troop had no reason to suspect anything was amiss. Sure, Sabatino wasn't much to look at: He was only five-foot-six, weighed 360 pounds, and couldn't do much without wheezing. But he presented himself as a major player in the music industry. He said he'd launched the meteoric careers of Puff Daddy, Mark Wahlberg, the Notorious B.I.G., and Method Man. And now he said he wanted to do the same for Troop.
Later, a pair of black-haired escorts from Clearwater arrived, stripped to their thongs, and gyrated against the men. Troop looked at Sabatino. He was popping bottle after bottle of Cristal Champagne, clutching one in each hand. Man, Troop thought, Sabatino's living large. All of this has to be real.
But of course, it wasn't. For 36-year-old Jimmy Sabatino, who police say conned his way into the hotel by masquerading as a Sony executive, the opulence of the night was just the latest scam in a lifetime teeming with them. He's fond of saying that he made his first million by the time he was 16, and that isn't far from the truth. What Tom Ford is to high fashion or Jonathan Franzen is to story craft, Jimmy Sabatino is to conning. His scams bear an artist's touch.
At age 18, he pocketed $235,800 selling stolen Super Bowl tickets. Within years, he was also scamming some of the toniest hotels from Miami to New York of hundreds of thousands' worth of suites and fine dining. Seven years later, while working the phones in federal prison, he bamboozled more than $1 million worth of cell phones out of Nextel. Then, in 2008, he brought the Los Angeles Times to its knees when he fed the paper fake FBI documents — which it printed — linking him to a 1994 assassination attempt on Tupac Shakur.
The most remarkable aspect of Sabatino's scams, however, isn't the profit. It's his methodology. With no proof beyond his word, Sabatino asks for incredible things — and gets them. "The easiest scam to pull off," Sabatino recently told New Times in his first public interview to date, "is tell someone something they already wanted to believe."
No one wants to believe his cons more than Jimmy Sabatino. He desperately — obsessively — wants to be a big shot. It's all he thinks about. All he talks about. All he cares about. The lights of fame, the sheen of success, the millions. He'd do anything for that life.
But today, that dream is further away than at any time in Sabatino's criminal career. In late September, only four months out of prison, he was arrested on charges of conning more hotels. That part doesn't bother him, he says. What does, however, is the cops' final allegation. Miami Beach Police say he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and kept pictures of her nude on his phone — a crime in Florida.
Sabatino doesn't mind saying he's a criminal, but a sex offender? He mulls the allegation day and night, sifting for holes in the state's case, but even South Florida's most notorious con man may not be able to talk his way out of this one.
At civilization's edge, where exurbs meet Everglades, the sun had just fallen behind the trees around Metro West Detention Center when Jimmy Sabatino, wearing beige Crocs, clacked into a room full of windows. It was a slow, painful movement. The still-young man leaned upon a steel, four-pronged cane, and a faint wince came across his face. The elastic around his extra-large orange prison pants was too loose, and every few steps, he had to hitch them up.
Despite Sabatino's remarkable track record of getting people to do whatever he wants, he is not a classically handsome man. A delicate, upturned nose anchors a melon-shaped face. His hair, what little is left, easily adopts a greasy shine, so he normally sweeps it back. His health vacillates from bad to worse. He's diabetic and seizure-ridden, and four strokes have left him with a pair of crooked brown eyes so lazy they're practically asleep.
"Who's this?" Sabatino barked at a reporter he'd been expecting for days, eyes swiveling wildly behind a pair of thick glasses. "Who's this?" Then, for a man as loquacious as Sabatino, he did something unexpected: He shut up. "Sign a piece of paper right now saying this is off the record or else I won't talk," he said. Once demand was denied, he pulled up his pants, gripped the cane, and limped out of the room.
Jimmy Sabatino almost never turns down an opportunity to talk about Jimmy Sabatino. During hours of interviews with New Times over the telephone before this recent October meeting, Sabatino couldn't stop talking, even when family and legal counsel advised him to stop. For Sabatino, it's like a tic. If there's attention to be had, he has to have it.
Born in 1976, Sabatino grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst, raised by a loving father named Peter Sabatino. Beyond that, Sabatino is reluctant to give any more specifics. Did he have any siblings? "I was an only child," Sabatino says. "Just me and my father." Did he graduate high school? "I went to St. John's Villa before graduating from industry school." What's the word on his mom? "She's dead. I don't know anything about her. I never had a mother. My father was both my mother and father."
But those claims are all untrue, according to family members and federal documents. Sabatino, whose family has ties to organized crime in New York, never graduated high school, and he was not an only child.
He has a brother and a sister, and his mother was very much in the picture. At least at first. With dark Italian looks, Madeline Sabatino was enamored of show business. She did everything she could to get onto the big screen but was mired in "B movies," claimed Peter Sabatino. Her biggest role was a bit part in 1971 in The French Connection with Gene Hackman. "She had always had aspirations of being famous but had never really made it as far as she wanted," Peter Sabatino wrote in a letter to a New York federal judge in 2003 in support of his son. "When James was born she projected all of her dreams of fame and fortune onto her son."
She thrust Sabatino and his sister, Dawn, into the modeling business, where both thrived in the New York market. Sabatino spent every moment with his mother. But his father, whom federal documents describe as a onetime "liaison" to the Gambino crime family, was troubled by the work. One day, when Sabatino was 7, the mother and son "arrived home one day from a modeling shoot," recalled the senior Sabatino. "You could hear the kids playing baseball outside. James ran to the window and turned to me and asked, 'Daddy, what are those kids doing?' I was dumbfounded." The father realized his wife's aspirations for stardom were costing his son's childhood. He canceled the modeling shoots.
His wife took it hard. "She always had problems with alcoholism," Peter Sabatino wrote. "It worsened as James aged, and her career dwindled. After I put an end to James' modeling, she turned inward and withdrew from life and James." When he turned 11, James came home from school one day to find an empty house. His mother was gone; she left a note saying she wouldn't return. "Not only did she not return," his father lamented, "but she never called or wrote."
James internalized the abandonment, but it soon manifested itself in strange and disturbing ways. Weeks later, Peter Sabatino got a call from a concerned teacher of his son's. The boy had told her his mother had died in a car accident. "It was his way of resolving the matter," his father wrote. "And from that moment, James' antics would only escalate." He was expelled from 12 schools over the following years and tore through a smattering of baffled therapists. At age 12, he clocked 30 days at the Staten Island Psychiatric Facility and was later diagnosed with an impulse control disorder that, according to a psychological report, "was unlikely to change in the near future."
Talk with Sabatino, however, and he'll mention none of this. "Listen," he told New Times one afternoon on the phone, "I know where you're going with this. You want me to say that I've done everything for attention or something. But that's not how it was. I had a very happy childhood. I never had any problems with friends. I was always one of the most popular kids in my schools."
But his favorite cousin, 24-year-old Joyce Anne Femia, recalls a story that casts some doubt on that assertion. "Jimmy would get picked on by kids when he was really young in high school," she says. "So one day, to make it stop, he conned somebody into giving him a hundred beepers and then went around the whole neighborhood giving them to all the kids."
The anecdote would seem apocryphal if this weren't Jimmy Sabatino. While his once model-worthy looks atrophied, Sabatino developed an extraordinary grace with people. He had an irresistible cockiness that made every lie believable. "You know how the blind can hear better?" asks best friend Stanley Belot. "Sabatino doesn't look so good, but he sure can talk." In those years, Sabatino became addicted to hip-hop and would spend hours watching TV, just for the credits. Then, at a frantic clip, he'd fill notebooks with the names of producers and actors. "He soon realized that by calling restaurants, hotels, theaters, and other businesses [and masquerading as these people], he could go anywhere he desired," his father recalled.
It's impossible to calculate the number of scams Sabatino orchestrated between the ages of 16 and 22 using that methodology. Posturing as the nephew of Sony Music President Tommy Mottola, he defrauded Mac Warehouse of $60,000 in laptop computers, then took New York's Waldorf-Astoria for $16,000 in rooms and services and later scored $20,000 more at Marriott Marquis. In L.A., he bamboozled the Ritz-Carlton for $16,000.
Other hotel cons were substantially more brazen, if not outright insane.
Let's say Sabatino wanted to stay at a Marriott hotel. First he'd pen a note to a major company like Disney. Then, when Disney responded, he'd take its official letterhead and fax it to the hotel, announcing the imminent arrival of Disney executive James Sabatino. Naturally, the note would read, Disney was to cover all expenses.
Sometime in the early 1990s, he moved his operation down to Ocean Ridge, a community hugging the Atlantic in Palm Beach County, to live with his felonious uncle, Richard Sabatino, who pleaded guilty in 1995 to receiving $250,000 worth of stolen Italian shoes. (Richard Sabatino declined comment: "Not my style.") Once ensconced in Florida, Sabatino again posed as Mottola's nephew and scored some serious one-on-one time with Julio Iglesias at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in 1994. The singer expressed great dissatisfaction at his lack of popularity among the nation's youth.
With every score, every scintillating brush with fame, the boy was emboldened. In 1995, South Florida reporters salivated when he manipulated FedEx into giving him 262 Super Bowl tickets by claiming to be Miami Dolphins President Eddie Jones. "The next morning, there were 50 classified ads in USA Today for ticket brokers, so I sold them for $1,000 a pop," says Sabatino today, contemplating the score for two nanoseconds. "Yeah, that was a big one."
So big it caught up to him. That year in December, he pleaded guilty in Broward County Circuit Court to three counts of dealing in stolen property. "It was the only thing they could get me on," he says. "They'd willingly given me the tickets."
His father wasn't so cavalier about his son's growing notoriety. "He's a disturbed young man who needed attention like a drug," the now-72-year-old Fort Lauderdale man wrote in his letter. "He was consistently being positively reinforced for his negative behavior."
Indeed, the day of his release two years later, Sabatino again suckered the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square for $55,000 in services, then bolted to London, where he did the same thing at the Four Seasons.
That time, however, police sniffed him out. So in a wild gambit to force extradition back to the United States, the 21-year-old dialed the White House, then the Fort Lauderdale federal courthouse, and cryptically threatened to kill prosecutors, a judge, and President Bill Clinton because, he jokes, "I couldn't stand the food in the London prisons — just fish and chips." The authorities weren't laughing.
Charges involving the president were dropped. Others weren't. For saying he planned to "eliminate" the Fort Lauderdale courthouse "by means of bomb," he got 51 months in federal prison, where, one might assume, his antics would stall. But Sabatino was only getting started.
What makes Jimmy Sabatino such a good con man? It's simple. He's damned likable. Preternaturally easy to talk to, Sabatino is funny, intelligent, self-deprecating, empathetic, and endearingly vulnerable. He seems the furthest thing from a con man. He seems like a pal, someone you can trust. Someone you might even, if the conditions were right, give hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But with Sabatino, everything is calculated and measured, from the minute he gets on the phone to the moment he executes a close. He speaks of conning with the thoughtfulness a pickup artist applies to bedding women. "I know within five minutes whether someone's going to bite," he says, adding that he can gauge with shocking accuracy who will be most amenable to a well-placed suggestion. "I can't honestly tell you what made me this way," he says. "I truly have no idea. I'm just able to convince people of things."
To friends and family, however, his deftness with scamming represents the tragedy of Jimmy Sabatino. It's no secret he obsesses over attention. He keeps a mental catalog of every newspaper article, magazine piece, and blog post that's ever mentioned him. He has combed Google Books for tomes that carry his name and remembers precisely how he was described in each of the five books. He's almost comically thin-skinned. "I hate how they called me a mobster in that book," he says, referencing The Crime Buff's Guide to the Outlaw Rockies. "I never said I was a mobster." He also beseeched New Times not to publish any drawings of him because "I'm a very serious person. I don't want any fuqing cartoons. They're retarded."
And though Sabatino describes himself as a power broker in American hip-hop, nothing in cyberspace substantiates that claim. Researching the name Jimmy Sabatino only unspools article after article logging his criminal past.
"He's so smart, but he doesn't use his brain very well," cousin Femia recently wept. "I love everything about him; he's funny and kind-hearted. But he likes to be like he's a big deal. He does this because he thinks then people will want to be around him. He wants friends and girls flocking all over him, just so he can get the satisfaction that he's important."
In 2002, while Sabatino was incarcerated in New York's Westchester County Jail, he came into contact with a Bronx woman named Marcilee Vega. She had a dark complexion and straight black hair. Sabatino was in love. "Back then," he says, "she was a real looker." He claims she needed money, and Sabatino knew exactly what to do.
According to a federal complaint that year, he called Nextel representatives nationwide, pretending to be Sony Pictures executive Jack Kindberg (who does exist). Sabatino said he needed phones for an upcoming shoot. Soon Sabatino — who was then just months away from release — put together what he calls his prison "office."
"I had notepads, a chair, and a desk. By 6 a.m., I was making calls, and I was there until dinnertime." Indeed, surveillance videos were entered into evidence depicting Sabatino jabbering on the telephone to God knows who for eight hours per day.
Sabatino somehow obtained an authentic Sony account number and provided Nextel with genuine tax information. Without putting forward a penny, he had Nextel ship more than 1,000 phones to Sony's "corporate office" — which was really a FedEx shop in Manhattan. The phones vanished into the black market, the profits divvied among Sabatino's accomplices, whom, beyond Vega, he'd never met. Over the course of five months, authorities said he'd conned Nextel of more than $3 million, including service charges.
Sabatino barely saw a dime of the profits; he said he did it all just to "see Marcilee smile," according to federal court documents. "Nothing about this crime makes sense," his attorney, Mary Anne Wirth, wrote in a letter to the court, "unless viewed in light of a diagnosed impulse control disorder. He was clearly not motivated by greed." Judge Charles Brieant, who described Sabatino as "extraordinarily intelligent," agreed. "He seems to have acted out of a need for attention," he said. "I have real concern about whether this need will ever go away, and therefore the impulse to commit these crimes."
Sabatino, who was then 27, got 11 more years. His father mourned the sentencing. "I know my son feels as though these are victimless crimes and he never meant to harm anyone," he wrote in a letter. "But he is no longer a small boy acting out, but rather a grown man who has made some terrible mistakes."
But his worst (and strangest) was still ahead — a con that would humiliate one of the nation's most iconic newspapers and abruptly inject Sabatino into hip-hop's greatest drama: the bicoastal music-industry war between Puff Daddy and Tupac Shakur.
In October 2007, Sabatino, who's long posited close ties to Bad Boy Records, sued Sean Combs for an astonishing $20 million in Miami federal court. He claimed that in December 1994, he'd flown Combs' protégé, the Notorious B.I.G., to Miami, where he laid down 17 minutes and 54 seconds of freestyle rapping at South Beach Studios.
Friend Stanley Belot says he recalls meeting Sabatino and Biggie that night. "Sabatino lies all the time, but some of it's true. He did know Biggie. That night, we went back to [Biggie's] suite, and Biggie was smoking blunts." Belot does not, however, remember any freestyle sessions.
In his lawsuit — which he filed acting as his own attorney and which was later dismissed — Sabatino said that he sold the recordings to Combs for an agreed $200,000 but that Combs never ponied up. Then, suddenly, Sabatino entered into evidence what he claimed were FBI reports proving his business ties to Combs and the Notorious B.I.G. At five pages, the documents described Sabatino as a powerful, feared player in hip-hop. Among other claims, they alleged Sabatino was present on November 30, 1994, when Tupac Shakur was shot — but not killed — at a New York recording studio. The records say Sabatino called Tupac "a piece of shyt."
After he filed the purported FBI documents, Sabatino picked up a phone. He called veteran Los Angeles Times reporter Chuck Phillips. The Pulitzer Prize winner had been researching Tupac's 1994 shooting, which ignited a bicoastal rap war, eventually culminating in unknown assailants gunning down Tupac in Las Vegas in 1996. Phillips was working on the definitive account of the saga.
Over the phone, Sabatino informed him of the FBI records, Phillips later explained in the Village Voice. The reporter was ecstatic. Sabatino's documents corroborated much of his independent research, which had hinged on anonymous interviews with one of Tupac's New York assailants, Dexter Isaac. "I did not know Sabatino, but soon came to trust the inmate," Phillips wrote.
He shouldn't have. The L.A. Times leaned heavily on Sabatino's documents in its explosive 2008 account of the rap war. Phillips fingered Sean Combs' pal James Rosemond, a felon, as having orchestrated the feud with Tupac.
But the story that the Times expected to spark astonishment and awards instead spawned humiliation. Combs immediately called the story "beyond ridiculous." And it only got worse from there.
One week later, the Smoking Gun revealed Sabatino's typo-festooned records as frauds. They'd been written on a typewriter — and the FBI hadn't used typewriters for decades. In one of its most embarrassing episodes to date, the Times retracted its investigation, Phillips was laid off, and Sabatino was cooked.
Yet Sabatino denies to this day any subterfuge. The scammer claims he never contacted Phillips. "This was the one con I didn't do," he asserts. In a convoluted theory, he says James Rosemond had masterminded the fake documents and "set me up."
What is clear: Sabatino and Phillip's informant, Dexter Isaac, who later came out in support of the embattled reporter's investigation, shared the same Pennsylvania prison, a spokesperson tells New Times. What's more, inmates there have access to typewriters.
Nonetheless, Sabatino obsesses over the Smoking Gun takedown, disputing every detail, and doing his best to ignore the fact that his most indelible mark on the hip-hop industry isn't as kingmaker but as con man.
This past July, the light of a bright afternoon filtered inside a whitewashed room at Broward Health North. Inside, with his considerable girth spilling across the bed, Jimmy Sabatino was discovering Facebook, a novelty that delighted him no end. He'd been released from prison weeks before, but the transition from 14 years of incarceration to a new, technological world had left him confused and unsure. He'd tried out a job at his father's Boca Raton supermarket, Western Beef, hawking ads, but had quit within weeks. Around that time, he suffered another stroke. So now here he was, feet propped up at the hospital, chatting on Facebook.
"I had a relapse," he wrote on July 17 to his friend Stanley Belot. "But I will be OK."
"You need to lose some weight at your age," responded Belot, now living in Nimes, France, with his girlfriend and son. "Do whatever it takes, but do it quickly."
Sabatino, who granted New Times access to his Facebook page, changed subjects. He reminisced about a weekend of hookers and booze they shared at a Las Vegas hotel, enabled through one of his scams. "Do you remember?" Sabatino wrote. "How crazy was it?" He manically rattled off his sexual exploits, but Belot quickly lost interest. His son had just woken up from a nap, and he didn't have time to talk over a life he abandoned a decade before.
"I'm sad for him," Belot tells New Times now. "He's running around trying to be like a young cat, and I told him he's too old for that shyt."
Ignoring the advice, Sabatino slowly melted into his old habits. At his dad's Fort Lauderdale condo, he trolled Facebook profiles until one day he came across a young rapper named Thomas Troop. Sabatino thought he had genuine talent. "One thing that's not a con is my stature in the music industry," Sabatino says. "I wanted to make a star out of Troop."
Sabatino set up a meeting. "Do you know who I am?" he asked Troop's girlfriend in a Facebook chat. "In the [hip-hop] industry, I'm a beast. I know everyone there is to know. I can walk into ANY major label based off respect. And I also put a lot of money behind my artists."
Days later, at exactly 6 p.m., a black stretch limousine rolled to a stop before a six-story apartment building on 183rd Street in Miami Gardens, and out stepped Sabatino in dark glasses, tan slacks, and a button-down. From a cramped apartment above, Troop peered down at the unusual man — "To me, he looked like a nerd," Troop says — and bounded down the steps. "Right out the bat, he embraces me like a friend I hadn't seen in years," Troop says. "That's what drew me in. In my family, we don't have close ties, and he called me 'little brother.' "
They slid into the limo and, several Grey Gooses later, arrived at the posh Fontainebleau hotel, where Sabatino regaled the young rapper with his acumen in the hip-hop industry. Troop was impressed. "I'd never met anyone like Sabatino," Troop says. "Not before and not since."
Sabatino introduced Troop to a world of limos and Cristal that the youth had never known. As days gave way to weeks, the two became inseparable. Troop quit his cooking job, and Jimmy paid for some studio time. Every night was a fresh blur of clubs, South Beach hotel suites, and wads of hundreds that Sabatino seemingly pulled from the ether. (Sabatino almost aggressively declines to specify the source of the cash beyond saying, "There's just so much money in the music business.")
But as his affair with opulence deepened, so did a familiar fantasy. In late July, Sabatino suddenly announced that Roc Nation, the New York-based recording label behind Jay Z, had named him its "Executive Vice President." He updated his social-media profiles to reflect the abrupt hire. Then he created a fraudulent Roc Nation email address through godaddy.com and anointed himself the leader of its "Miami office."
On Facebook, he messaged random women in their early 20s, imploring them to hang out with him. "I'm telling you this is Roc Nation," he crooned at one. "We are on some shyt here... Popping bottles and shyt till 3-4. We got villas in one of the most exclusive hotels in South Beach. You staying the night? We'll come through in the limo and get you." This woman accepted his offer; most did not.
From Nimes, Stanley Belot was closely monitoring his friend's behavior. "I see you will never change," he wrote his friend at 2 a.m. on August 9. "You still running them scams on people and hotels. When you going to stop that bullshyt? You could be doing some legitimate shyt, but no, you're still up to your old tricks."
Sabatino again ignored him, plunging deeper into the lifestyle. He mimicked Jay Z's wardrobe and assumed what became the Sabatino uniform: Adidas jumpsuit, chains, a pinkie ring, bracelets, and a series of very austere expressions. Bedecked in such accoutrements, he arrived one night in September at the Delano Hotel in South Beach with Troop for a Method Man concert. "I made Method Man," Sabatino yelled at Troop as they pushed their way inside. "He wouldn't be anywhere without me."
When Sabatino approached the hip-hop star, there was indeed a moment of recognition between the two, Troop says, and for several minutes, the two discussed their past. Sabatino snapped several photographs of the encounter, which he quickly uploaded to Instagram and contends substantiate his prominence in hip-hop.
Reached for comment, Method Man denied he met the con man. "I don't know who you're talking about," he wrote in an email from his screen name, pinkyphatphat. Pressed on the point, Method Man assures, "I don't know that nigga, 100 percent."
The lies were catching up with Sabatino. He was juggling too many hotels simultaneously, staying up too many hours, putting on weight. One night this summer, he met an urbane, sleekly dressed woman named Ebony White at the nightclub Bamboo in South Beach.
Sabatino, in white unlaced tennis shoes, trotted out his normal opening. "Do you know who I am?" he asked. Then he brandished an iPhone 5 and told her to Google him.
"It says you're a con man," she remembers telling him.
"Don't believe everything you read," he confided.
She found him utterly transparent. "He's like a black cloud without the rain. He said he was some kind of manager at Roc Nation, but when I Googled him, there wasn't any affiliation with them." But she also found him charming. There was a vulnerability about him that evoked tenderness in her. She went back to his suite, where he told her his mother was dead, and they had sex. "I did all the work," she says. "But it wasn't bad. I hadn't had sex in four months."
He told her he loved her. But then he did something odd. He granted her access to his Facebook account, which clearly showed scorned women deriding Sabatino for saying he loved them — and then disappearing. What bizarre behavior, White thought. Why would he claim to love her, then give her information proving he's a fraud? It was like he wanted to get caught.
Around that same time, a petite manager at South Beach's SLS hotel, Nicole Ormeno, was also beginning to suspect that the strange guest who said he worked for Viacom wasn't everything he appeared. After spending four days at a suite, during which he consumed $16,000 worth of goods, the man had just requested ten more nights, so she went upstairs for a chat. The suite was vacant, she found, except for keys to a nearby Eden Roc suite as well as a pawn shop receipt.
Ormeno, according to a police report, called an Eden Roc manager who said the same thing had happened there, except the mysterious man had said he worked for Warner Bros. Soon, after sleuthing on Google, Ormeno realized her guest wasn't "James Sabat," as he claimed — but con man Jimmy Sabatino. She called police.
At 11 p.m. on September 27, Miami Beach police arrested Sabatino at the Hilton Bentley. Inside the hotel room was a 17-year-old girl. "The female stated she had been living with [Sabatino] for approximately three weeks," the report states. "During this time, [Sabatino] and the female juvenile became engaged in sexual conduct (fellatio) one time only." Miami Beach Police asked to search Sabatino's phone. The con man, who claims he didn't know the girl was only 17, did them one better: He forked over his password. Police found nude pictures of the girl on the phone. "He stated the female was a friend, and would neither admit nor deny any sexual activity," their report says.
Over five weeks, police found, Sabatino had snookered $150,000 worth of services at the South Beach Hilton — $100,000 of it on Champagne alone.
The next morning, Troop, who had been expecting to go shopping at Aventura Mall with Jimmy, called his new friend. A detective answered and told him what happened. The reality of Sabatino's true identity shattered Troop. He'd quit his job to roll with Jimmy, and now he had nothing. He went back to square one, hoping for discovery.
"U claimed we were family," he wrote Sabatino in a Facebook message. "U took an artist, lied to him, screamed Roc Nation with no ties and nothing but lies. U a nobody playing a somebody. U a fat, broke, white boy who wishes he had industry connects. How it feel to live your whole life being a fake?"
On Halloween morning, Jimmy Sabatino, hands cuffed, sighed as he settled into the defendant's chair in a Miami courtroom. For the moment, Sabatino didn't want to talk. He grimaced slightly when the state confirmed it wouldn't drop any of its allegations against him.
Given his past, if convicted of all three grand theft charges, Sabatino faces 80 years in prison and may well die there. The state hasn't filed formal charges against him involving the alleged sexual offense, and Sabatino doesn't think it will. As he sat listening to the judge drone, Sabatino liked the thought he may beat the sex-offense rap. The idea of crime — long stints in prison, even — doesn't trouble him. Prurience, however, does. Even liars and cheats, he professes, have their boundaries.
So leaving the courthouse that morning, Jimmy Sabatino wasn't in the doldrums as he leaned upon his walking cane. "I wouldn't say I'm unhappy in prison," he said. Two hours passed. Then Sabatino picked up a phone at Metro West Detention Center, looking for someone to call.
Miami con man sentenced to five-year prison term
Don't know why they think he will ever pay them back. Idiocy.
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.”
Florence, Coloradoâ€™s infamous â€śSupermaxâ€ť penitentiary houses the worst criminals the country has to offer: Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Ted â€śThe Unabomberâ€ť Kaczynski. Traitor spy Robert Hanssen. Zacarias Moussaoui of the 9/11 attacks.
The latest addition to this veritable legion of doom? Florida conman Jimmy Sabatino.
Sabatino was sentenced Monday by federal Judge Joan Lenard to 20 years in solitary confinement after he told the judge that the only way to truly put a stop to his felonious capers is to cut off his access to the outside world.
The trialâ€”the latest in a long line for the 41-year-old Sabatinoâ€”was for masterminding a $10 million fraud whereby the conman called luxury retailers from cell phones smuggled into his jail cell and convinced them to send him valuable jewelry and watches that he would feature in music videos and other films shot in and around Miami.
Of course, Sabatino represented no such actual endeavors, but successfully directed the items to his Gambino crime family accomplices and others on the outside to fence and pawn. A portion of the profits went to Sabatinoâ€™s commissary account at the prison.
The silver-tongued con artist even managed to rope in a couple of corrections officers, whom he talked into providing the 5 cell phones that he used. (The crooked officers have since been fired.)
Lest Sabatinoâ€™s admission that he needed to be locked away to protect society from himself be mistaken for contrition, the career criminal stated prior to sentencing: â€śI donâ€™t apologize to nobody.â€ť
â€śAs far as the government is concerned, they allowed this case to happen â€¦ they should be embarrassed,â€ť he went on.
In addition to the rigid sentencingâ€”which would restrict Sabatino from letters and phone calls and allow him contact only with his attorney and his stepmother going forwardâ€”the conman was directed to repay the businesses heâ€™d swindled. The victims included such big names as Van Cleef & Arpels jewelers, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik and Piaget watches.
Sabatino has a long history of running similar scams, dating back to his posing as a Coca Cola executive to get hotel rooms when he was just 17 years old. His primary targets through his career have been hotels, and as recently as 2014 he scammed $600,000 worth of rooms and goods from Miami hotels while pretending to be a bigshot with a music label.
For all his wit and ingenuity, thereâ€™s one skill Sabatino has failed to master in his criminal endeavors: not getting caught. Heâ€™s been in and out of prisons in both the U.S. and the U.K. his entire adult life, typically offending again immediately whenever released.
Prison has been a minor inconvenience for Sabatino. On a prior stint, he successfully defrauded a phone company out of $3 million from his jail cell.
Time will tell if the Supermax is up to the task of curtailing his activities.
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