Gambling doesn't destroy people. People destroy people. The gentleman or gentlewoman who decides to gamble makes that decision of his own free will. It's a free market industry, and that appeals to conservatives.
AT ABOUT 8 p.m. on the night of September 26, a homicide detective with the Ft. Lauderdale police department entered the home of Anthony Moscatiello in the Howard Beach section of Queens, New York. Once inside, he placed the 67-year-old "caterer," aka "Big Tony," under arrest. Around 11 p.m., a thousand miles away in North Miami Beach, police stormed the condominium where Anthony Ferrari lived with his wife and two children and took the 48-year-old "security consultant," aka "Little Tony," into custody. And the next morning, in Palm Coast, Florida, police arrested 28-year-old James Fiorillo. Fiorillo, aka "Pudgy," worked at the Builder's First hardware store in Bunnell. "Everybody loves him," Fiorillo's supervisor, Kurt Wright, told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
Not everybody, it turned out. A few days earlier, a Broward County grand jury had indicted all three men on charges of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder. In addition the grand jury had indicted Moscatiello and Ferrari on charges of solicitation of first degree murder. All have pled not guilty. All are in prison, having been denied bond.
The murder in question occurred over four years ago, on February 6, 2001, in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. The victim was Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, a 51-year-old Greek immigrant who had made a fortune as a restaurateur, real estate developer, and casino operator. Boulis was a legend in South Florida and, in his own way, a pioneer. It was Boulis who in 1994 bought a luxury yacht, turned its interior into a casino, and began to operate "cruises to nowhere" in which passengers would ride the refitted vessels into international waters where Florida state gambling prohibitions did not apply. There, out on the sea, passengers would spend millions at poker and blackjack and slots. Boulis called his fleet of 11 ships the SunCruz Casino line. By the time he sold the company in 2000 SunCruz Casinos was earning tens of millions of dollars in annual profits and employed over 1,000 people. What Boulis probably did not know when he was shot was that those who allegedly plotted and executed his murder were on his company's payroll.
Moscatiello, Ferrari, and Fiorillo are not the only men who have been arrested lately in connection with the SunCruz Casino line. Adam Kidan, the former owner of the Washington, D.C., Dial-a-Mattress franchise and for nine months (September 27, 2000, to July 9, 2001) the president of SunCruz, turned himself in to Ft. Lauderdale police on August 12. The day before, Jack Abramoff, the ex-lobbyist, former movie producer, and for virtually the same nine months (September 27, 2000, to June 22, 2001) the vice president of SunCruz Casinos, had been arrested in Los Angeles. A grand jury had indicted both men on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in their purchase of SunCruz. Kidan and Abramoff are free on bail. Their trial is scheduled to begin on January 9.
And the plot thickens: For over a year now the Washington press corps has followed with much interest the ongoing Justice Department investigation--unrelated to SunCruz--into Abramoff and his associate Michael Scanlon, former press secretary to former House majority leader Tom DeLay. Investigators are looking into potential violations of lobbying-disclosure and tax laws in Abramoff and Scanlon's work for several Indian tribes, which paid them upward of $80 million in lobbying fees, as well as the laundering of that money through tax-exempt foundations and charities. The Justice Department inquiry nabbed its first suspect in September, when David Safavian, the former White House procurement director, was arrested and charged with making false statements and obstructing justice (see my "Scandal Season," October 10). Last week the Justice Department filed a criminal information against Scanlon charging that he did "knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree with Lobbyist A"--that would be Abramoff--"and with other persons known and unknown to the United States to commit offenses against the United States." Additional arrests are likely. Senator John McCain, chairman of the Indian Affairs committee, is quietly wrapping up his own investigation into Abramoff, and a report from his committee staff is expected early next year. Once McCain concludes his investigation, Iowa Republican senator Charles Grassley's Finance Committee is expected to hold additional hearings on Abramoff's manipulation of the tax code.
Yet little attention has been paid to Abramoff's relationship with Adam Kidan, or to Kidan's relationship with the mob. At first blush this is understandable. Between Boulis's murder in early 2001 and the recent arrests of Moscatiello, Ferrari, and Fiorillo, little was known about the circumstances of the shooting. But it is now clear that Gus Boulis links all these men. He sold SunCruz to Kidan and Abramoff six months before he was murdered. The sale was highly irregular, and afterwards Boulis feuded constantly with Kidan and Abramoff about how the company should be run. Kidan, moreover, had known Anthony Moscatiello, the man allegedly at the center of the conspiracy to murder Boulis, since the early 1990s.
In fact the story of SunCruz Casinos is less remote from the better-known tale of Abramoff's Washington wheeling and dealing than one might think. There are three chief similarities. Leading players in the Washington saga make cameo appearances in re SunCruz (Michael Scanlon, Scanlon's old boss Tom DeLay, and Ohio Republican congressman Bob Ney). In both stories the action unfolds against the backdrop of casino politics. And the moral in both is the same: the blinding allure of money; the black depths of human avarice and greed.
KONSTANTINOS BOULIS was born in Kavala, Greece, in 1949. His father was a fisherman, and his family was poor. In 1968 the young Boulis joined the Merchant Marine. It was an escape route. Boulis jumped ship in Nova Scotia that year. He settled in Toronto, where he took a job as a dishwasher at a Mr. Submarine sandwich shop. Within five years he had bought the shop and had become Mr. Submarine's CEO. Eventually, under Boulis's leadership, the chain grew to over 200 stores. The sale of the company in the mid 1970s made Boulis a multimillionaire. He was 25.
In 1978 Boulis moved to Florida. At first he thought he was moving south to retire; but by 1983 he had started to put his fortune to work, buying another sandwich franchise, Miami Subs, and also buying property throughout south Florida, including apartment buildings and hotels and restaurants. Boulis started SunCruz in 1994, and sold Miami Subs--which had grown to over 150 franchises throughout the United States--to Nathan's fast-food company in 1998. The price: $4.2 million. That sum probably seemed like small fry to Boulis, whose net worth then hovered around $40 million. His was, needless to say, a success story, an example of the plasticity of American life--Boulis could reinvent himself at will, from Greek to Canadian to American, from restaurateur to Ft. Lauderdale Donald Trump to casino impresario, rising from dishwasher to powerbroker in a few decades.
But there was a problem. Boulis was not a U.S. citizen. On August 3, 1998, he was indicted on charges of violating the U.S. shipping code, which forbids foreign nationals from owning American commercial vessels. Boulis had clashed with the authorities before. SunCruz boats had been raided by police, who argued that gambling had occurred in Florida waters. And community activists in Hollywood Beach, Florida--midway between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, where Boulis had a home--had fought the basing of a SunCruz boat in their community. Boulis had won those battles.
Not this time. It took over a year to reach settlement with the government, but Boulis was able to work out a deal in which he would pay a fine, sell his interest in SunCruz, and thereby escape a jail sentence. So that Boulis's selling position would remain uncompromised, the deal with the feds would be kept a secret. It was January 2000. Boulis needed a buyer.
He discussed possibilities with his attorney, Art Dimopoulos. Dimopoulos worked at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, a megafirm in Washington, D.C. One day in the winter of 2000, Dimopoulos discussed his client's plight with the firm's star lobbyist, the vice president for government affairs, Jack Abramoff. Abramoff mentioned to Dimopoulos that he might know someone who would be interested in purchasing the casino line.
That person was him. Abramoff had represented Indian gaming interests for some time; why not get in on both ends of the action? After all, casinos held a lot of profit for little work, and Abramoff had many contacts in the industry. Besides, his most recent venture, Potomac Outdoor Advertising, a small company that placed ads on Potomac River water taxis, had sunk like a rock. The casino line seemed much more promising.
But there was a catch. Preston Gates ethics rules prevented employees from entering into business deals with entities represented by the firm. SunCruz Casinos was such an entity. Abramoff's solution was to not tell his employer about the deal. Instead he floated the idea to his partners on the water taxi scheme, Adam Kidan and Ben Waldman. Both had known Abramoff since his days as national chairman of the College Republicans, and both were enthusiastic.
So Abramoff got started. He went back to Dimopoulos and told him that Adam Kidan was interested in buying SunCruz. Dimopoulos and Kidan flew to Ft. Lauderdale to meet with Boulis. Though he was not present at this initial meeting, it was always understood that Abramoff would be an equal partner with Kidan. Waldman's share would be minor.
The three began negotiations. They agreed on a price early on: $145 million. This was far more money than Abramoff and his friends could produce. They would have to seek outside financing. Meanwhile, Boulis began making demands of his own. He was behaving like a businessman, not a man under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office. At this, according to Susan Schmidt and James Grimaldi's reporting in the Washington Post, Abramoff and Kidan were annoyed. It became necessary for them to pressure Boulis. It became necessary for them to show him that he had the weak hand, they the strong.
ONE DAY IN MARCH 2000, Michael Scanlon, who had moved on from his job in DeLay's office to a job with Abramoff at Preston Gates, approached Ohio congressman Bob Ney. Would Ney mind inserting some comments into the Congressional Record, Scanlon asked? Ney agreed. This is what Ney entered into the Congressional Record on March 30, 2000:
Mr. Speaker, you hear many arguments surrounding the gaming industry in America. Some have merit, some do not. Some criticism is deserved, some is not. Mr. Speaker, before I make my statement today I want to make it abundantly clear that while I am not an ardent proponent of the gaming industry nor an ardent foe of the gaming industry, I am an ardent foe of illegal activity in the gaming industry. Furthermore, I am an ardent supporter of consumer rights and consumer rights is exactly what I intend to discuss today.
At the heart of my comments today is how certain gaming companies treat their patrons and how they conduct business. I believe that the vast majority of casino owners play by the rules, treat their patrons fairly, and provide quality entertainment for individuals and families. I have talked with many of these businessmen over the years who have conducted themselves in such a professional manner. However, there are a few bad apples out there who don't play by the rules and that is just plain wrong.
One such example is the case of Suncruz casinos based out of Florida. Florida authorities, particularly Attorney General Butterworth, have repeatedly reprimanded Suncruz casinos and its owner Gus Boulis for taking illegal bets, not paying out their customers properly and has had to take steps to prevent Suncruz from conducting operations all together. In fact, a few years ago the Broward County Sheriffs Office, under the supervision of Mr. Butterworth, raided Suncruz ships, seizing their equipment.
There was more:
Mr. Speaker, how Suncruz Casinos and Gus Boulis conduct themselves with regard to Florida laws is very unnerving. But the consumer rights issue is even more disheartening. On December 1, 1998, the Broward County Sheriffs department announced that they had uncovered evidence that dealers on SunCruz ships were "cheating passengers by using incomplete decks of cards." This type of conduct gives the gaming industry a black eye and should not be tolerated.
Mr. Speaker, I want to repeat myself again. The vast majority of casino owners and operators are good honest people, but when an owner or operator stoops to this level to make a buck it hurts the public and it hurts the industry as a whole. I believe we can strike a balance here and our first step is to ensure that the average citizen is not hoodwinked by a dishonest casino operator.
There should be clear codes of conduct that are adhered to by every casino owner and operator. On the Ohio River we have gaming interests that run clean operations and provide quality entertainment. I don't want to see the actions of one bad apple in Florida, or anywhere else to affect the business aspect of this industry or hurt any innocent casino patron in our country.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that steps will be taken by the industry, and in the case of lawbreakers by the appropriate authorities, to weed out the bad apples so that we can protect consumers across the country.
One day in early November, I called Rep. Ney's office to discuss how these comments came to be, why an Ohio congressman felt it necessary to comment on a Florida casino, and what, exactly, Ney stood to gain from entering this speech into the record.
Ney's staff declined to speak on the record. They referred me instead to past statements the congressman has made in which he regrets his association with Jack Abramoff and says he has been "duped." Ney's apologists--there aren't many--claim that he did not know Abramoff had anything to do with SunCruz when Scanlon approached the congressman with the prefabricated speech. That it might be questionable for a congressman to enter into the record whatever a lobbyist hands him is a possibility left unmentioned. Congressmen do this all the time, I was told. It's perfectly ordinary.
The Ney speech was meant to demonstrate to Boulis both the seriousness with which Abramoff treated the purchase of SunCruz Casinos, and the power of Abramoff's connections in Washington. It seems to have worked on both counts. In June 2000, Abramoff and Kidan--Waldman, it would seem, was more or less passive in the deal--approached Foothill Capital, a lending company based in California, to provide financing. Foothill, in turn, brought in Citadel Equity, another lender based in the Cayman Islands. The parties began to work on a financial arrangement that would allow Abramoff, Kidan, and Waldman to purchase SunCruz without getting into too much debt.
In the meantime, Abramoff continued to use his political connections to gain favor with his new targets, Boulis and Foothill Capital. Congressional records show that on June 9, 2000, six days after House majority whip Tom DeLay returned from a golf junket to Scotland with Abramoff, the whip's office sent an American flag that had flown atop the Capitol to Boulis. Less than a week later, on June 15, Abramoff, Kidan, DeLay's deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy, and Joan Wagner, Boulis's chief financial officer at SunCruz, flew on SunCruz's private jet from Ft. Lauderdale to Pebble Beach, California, to watch the U.S. Open golf tournament. (Rudy never mentioned the trip in his congressional disclosure reports.)
In order to obtain a loan, Abramoff and Kidan would have to meet a certain financial threshold. On June 20, Abramoff faxed a financial statement to Kidan, who by this time had moved to Florida. A month later, on July 25, Kidan sent his own financial statement to Foothill offices in California. According to the indictment filed against Abramoff and Kidan, both statements were riddled with errors. Abramoff said that he was worth $13 million and provided a list of references including California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher. ("I don't remember it, but I would certainly have been happy to give [Abramoff] a good recommendation," Rohrabacher told the Post last spring. "He's a very honest man.") Kidan said that he was worth $26 million. But Kidan specifically accounted for only about $874,000, and said the rest of his money was in "closely held corporations."
Such errors seem to have been intentional. The indictment alleges that Abramoff and Kidan repeatedly misled representatives from Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity. The indictment specifically mentions an August 8, 2000, meeting in New York City at which Abramoff told the bankers that he was a partner at Preston Gates (he was not) and Kidan claimed to have had experience in running a casino (he had none).
But none of the money lenders knew that. On September 18 there was another meeting in New York. There, Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity agreed to extend a $60 million loan if Abramoff and Kidan put up $23 million of their own money. Everyone seemed pleased at this arrangement. To celebrate, Abramoff, Kidan, and Foothill Capital vice president Greg C. Walker flew to Washington, where they watched the Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys from Abramoff's skybox at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The skybox that night had been reserved for Tom DeLay. Walker later told the Washington Post he had met the majority whip at the game. DeLay's office says the congressman doesn't remember the encounter.
Three days later, Abramoff and Kidan signed an Asset Purchase Agreement that outlined, in detail, how they would buy SunCruz for $147.5 million. Here, according to the agreement, is how the deal was supposed to have been structured:
At the Closing, Buyer shall pay to Seller the amount of Buyer's financing plus Buyer's equity contribution in the sum of Twenty Three Million Dollars ($23,000,000), reduced by Buyer's closing and acquisition costs, by means of a cashier's check or wire transfer . . .
Abramoff and Kidan then put their names to a Loan and Security Agreement containing similar language:
agent [Foothill Capital] shall have received evidence satisfactory to it that Adam Kidan and Jack Abramoff have made an equity contribution to [SunCruz] in cash in an amount no less than $23,000,000 on terms and pursuant to documentation satisfactory to the lender group.
This was the deal--before Abramoff, Kidan, and Boulis began to alter it.
On September 22, in secret, Abramoff and Kidan convinced Boulis to accept IOUs for $20 million in exchange for a 10 percent interest in the newly reorganized SunCruz Casinos. The deal was doubly illegal: Abramoff and Kidan were violating the terms of their purchase agreement with their financiers, and Boulis was violating the terms of his settlement with the government, which required that he separate himself entirely from his company.
They would have to move quickly to escape detection. According to the indictment, there was a flurry of activity on September 22. That day, Abramoff and Kidan put their names to an "Equity Contribution" document, which stated, "they have made a cash equity contribution to SunCruz Casinos LLC . . . in an aggregate amount of not less than $23,000,000." They sent a fax containing "closing documents" signed by Abramoff to their lenders' offices in New York. And they couriered the hard copies of these documents to their lenders' offices in New York. Finally, Kidan created two promissory notes, one for $5 million and another for $15 million, and sent them, via fax, to Boulis's representatives in New York.
But there was more work to do. On September 26 Kidan drew up another "closing statement" that read, in part, "CASH FROM BUYERS in the amount of $23,000,000 . . . has been received by the Sellers," which "closing statement" Kidan then faxed to New York City. And which "closing statement," it now appears, was only one part of an elaborate fraud. The next day, according to the indictment of Abramoff and Kidan, "the defendants" forged a document purporting to show evidence of a $23 million wire transfer from an account at Chevy Chase Savings bank in suburban Maryland to Boulis's account at Ocean Bank in Miami Beach, and faxed that forgery to Foothill representatives in Boston. The forgery was titled, clumsily, "Funds Transfer Notification."
But no such transfer occurred. No such funds existed. Nothing had happened--nothing, that is, except the transmission of forgeries and two flimsy IOUs.
Upon receipt of the forged documents, Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity released a $60 million line of credit towards the purchase of SunCruz Casinos. Jack Abramoff was in the casino business.
IT IS HARD TO SAY how much involvement Abramoff had in the day-to-day operations of SunCruz Casinos. We know that he remained in Washington while Kidan moved to Florida. We know that Abramoff and Kidan began to pay themselves salaries of $500,000 a year, that Kidan bought a 30-foot boat and a Mercedes S 500 and moved into a condo for which he paid $4,300 a month. We know that SunCruz quickly hired Michael Scanlon as its "public affairs specialist" and spokesman, and that the company began to pay for Abramoff's $230,000-a-year skybox at FedEx Field. We know that Kidan soon fired many of Boulis's hires, members of the Boulis family and the larger South Florida Greek community who depended on their benefactor's largesse. "We fired his friends, we fired his family, and he wasn't happy with it," Kidan would later tell the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
We know that Boulis and Kidan did not get along. Boulis loudly voiced his opposition to his new partners' way of managing the business, and on October 24, 2000, Boulis wrote a letter demanding those partners pay him the $20 million they had promised. The letter was a flop. Boulis never saw any money.
But he did see, a few days later, the following statement, which Rep. Bob Ney entered into the Congressional Record on October 26:
Mr. Speaker, a few months ago I felt it necessary to speak out against alleged abuses in the gaming industry. I did so not to express disapproval of the gaming industry as a whole but to express my frustration with those in the gaming industry who may unfairly take advantage of their patrons. My earlier statement was related to the previous actions of SunCruz Casino at the time and based on the findings of Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth and several news reports.
I was concerned that some individuals who participate in gambling for entertainment and recreation can unwittingly fall prey to unethical practices by a few rogue casino owners. I said then and will repeat now that I am not anti-gaming, and I would not call myself pro-gaming either. I do, however, strongly believe in the concept that those who choose to gamble should be able to do so in the establishments of respected gaming interests who treat their customers and their communities fairly.
Given the Attorney General's findings and the record of SunCruz under the previous owner, I did not believe that the casino was operating a fair and responsible establishment.
But things change:
Since my previous statement, I have come to learn that SunCruz Casino now finds itself under new ownership and, more importantly, that its new owner has a renowned reputation for honesty and integrity. The new owner, Mr. Adam Kidan, is most well known for his successful enterprise, Dial-a-Mattress, but he is also well known as a solid individual and a respected member of his community.
While Mr. Kidan certainly has his hands full in his efforts to clean up SunCruz's reputation, his track record as a businessman and as a citizen leads me to believe that he will easily transform SunCruz from a questionable enterprise to an upstanding establishment that the gaming community can be proud of.
Mr. Speaker, the purpose of my statement is not to criticize or promote the gaming industry or to favor one casino owner over another, but rather stand by the consumers who patronize casinos as a form of entertainment. I believe that every individual who visits a gaming vessel in Florida, should know that they are gaming in an establishment that represents the community well, and gives every individual a fair shot. I hope that all casino owners and operators share in this philosophy. I look forward to the positive changes Mr. Kidan is more than capable of bringing to the gaming industry and I hope that others will follow his lead when he brings positive changes to SunCruz.
Once again Michael Scanlon had approached Rep. Ney with a statement that he wanted entered into the Congressional Record. And once again Ney had done exactly what Scanlon had asked him to do. And yet at no point did anyone think it necessary to ask: Just who is Adam Kidan?
KIDAN IS 41. He grew up in New York, and went to college at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He was a young conservative. At GW he joined the College Republicans, and got to know the group's national chairman, Jack Abramoff, who was studying law at Georgetown. The two became friends.
After graduation, Kidan returned to New York, and began taking classes at Brooklyn Law School. He seems to have known exactly what he wanted to do in life: go to school, get good grades, work in politics, make a whole lot of money. He volunteered on George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign, got his law degree in 1989, and took a job as president of the Four Freedoms Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit or "private sector initiative" meant to "assist Eastern Europe and other democratically emerging nations around the world." The foundation appears to have been a tax shelter disguised as an exercise in conservative benevolence. "Government cannot be expected to bear the financial burden of assisting countries that have chosen to adopt democratic principles," Kidan said in the February 14, 1990, press release announcing the venture. "The private sector must assume some responsibility if these countries are expected to compete in today's world market."
Kidan's association with the foundation was short-lived. In the early 1990s he went into business for himself, starting a chain of bagel joints in ritzy neighborhoods on Long Island. Kidan's partner in the bagel business was one Michael Cavallo, now deceased. In October 2005, NYPD officials told the Miami Herald that Cavallo was "an associate" of known gangsters. In all probability one of those known gangsters was Anthony Moscatiello, aka Big Tony, who began to frequent Kidan's bagel shops. "I had advice from him occasionally because I was in the food business," Kidan told lawyers for the Boulis estate in a 2001 deposition. Moscatiello owned a catering company, Gran-Sons Inc., in Queens.
"This is someone I know who has experience in feeding large groups of people," Kidan has said of Moscatiello. In fact some of the large groups of people that Moscatiello had experience feeding were members of the Gambino crime family, including legendary mob boss John Gotti, who would often hire Big Tony to cater family weddings. Moscatiello has a relationship with the Gambinos going back at least two decades. On August 23, 1983, he was indicted on charges of heroin trafficking, along with several others, including Gotti's brother Gene. Gene went to jail. The charges against Moscatiello were dropped. In 1989 the New York Times printed excerpts of a phone conversation between Moscatiello and Gotti recorded eight years earlier by the FBI:
Gotti: Listen, I called your [expletive deleted] house five times yesterday; now if your wife thinks you are a [expletive deleted] dunsky or if she's a [expletive deleted] dunsky and you're gonna disregard my [expletive deleted] phone calls, I'll blow you and that [expletive deleted] house up.
Moscatiello: I never disregard anything you . . .
Gotti: Well you call your [expletive deleted] wife up and you tell her, or I'll get in the [expletive deleted] car and I'll go over there and I'll [expletive deleted] tell her.
Moscatiello: All right.
Gotti: This is not a game. I'm not gonna have to reach for you for three days and nights here. My [expletive deleted] time is valuable.
Moscatiello: I know that.
Gotti: And you get your [expletive deleted] ass down here and see me tomorrow.
Moscatiello said he would be there tomorrow.
Gotti: Yeah, never mind you'll be there all day tomorrow. And don'ma, [sic] let me have to do this again, cause if I hear anybody else calls you and you respond within five days I'll [expletive deleted] kill you.
It was a stormy friendship. But the two persevered. In 1991 Moscatiello was photographed accompanying Gotti into court.
Kidan denies ever having known about Moscatiello's involvement in organized crime. Whether that is true or not--and it probably isn't--the mob is a recurring motif in Kidan's life.
CONSIDER KIDAN'S MOTHER, Judy. Remarried to one Samuel "Sami" Shemtov, she lived with her husband in a stately home on Staten Island. Shemtov was a businessman with interests in New York and Miami. He had fought in the Israeli Army. Although Judy didn't know it, a substantial part of his fortune was in pornography and sex shops, including a chain of stores called "Sensations." ("It's very clean, very nice," Shemtov told the Miami Herald in 1995.)
One night in February 1993, a Mercury sedan sat outside the Shemtovs' house, the engine running. The driver, Chris Paciello, aka "Binger," aka Christian Ludwigsen, was a low-level associate of the Bonanno crime family. A few weeks earlier he had heard from a friend, Joe Eisenberg, who had heard from a former girlfriend, Carol--former wife of Sami Shemtov--that the pornographer kept thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in a safe in his house. Shemtov had not told his second wife about the safe, where he kept the money he had made in his sleaze shops.
Paciello and a few of the boys from his crew wanted to break into the house and find the safe. But the job went horribly awry. While he waited outside, three of Paciello's associates stormed the house. In the chaos that followed, a member of Paciello's gang shot Kidan's mother in the face. She died on the spot. Her murder made the front-page of the New York Daily News. The headline: "Death at the Door."
At her funeral at New York City's Temple Emanu-El, according to Michele McPhee's Mob Over Miami, Kidan delivered the eulogy:
My sisters, our stepfather, and I are all completely emotionally distraught by all this. It's getting worse rather than better. It's bad enough losing someone close, but then to lose them in this way, and even worse, not to know why it happened. . . . If there was one aspect of my life that I always relied on to be there for me, it was my mother. She was very happy with Sami. She had a great marriage and great friends. She was never happier.
Shemtov put up a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of his wife's killers. But the killers remained free until 1999. By the time of his arrest, incidentally, Paciello had become semi-famous for co-owning and operating a series of Miami Beach nightclubs with pretentious one-word names like "Liquid" and "Joia." He had dated Madonna and MTV-deejay-turned-model Daisy Fuentes and was once seen with his hands on Jennifer Lopez's behind. He is now in prison.
Within a few months of Judy Shemtov's death, Kidan's bagel business had gone under. He looked for other opportunities. In 1992 he had started to do legal work for Dial-a-Mattress, the famous New York City company that rush delivers bedding to people's homes. The company wanted to expand.
On February 14, 1994, a few months before the Republicans took over Congress, Dial-a-Mattress announced the opening of its first Washington, D.C., franchise--Adam R. Kidan, proprietor. The press release marking the occasion is notable mainly for Kidan's use of exclamation points and lame puns. "I went to school at the George Washington University and always dreamed of coming back to D.C. to work. Now, I'm actually helping other people dream a little easier with a good night's sleep!" Kidan said. "We knew the D.C. area was a great choice. This was a decision we didn't have to sleep on!"
Kidan did his best to become a local celebrity. He cut his own radio advertisements, 30-second-long exercises in commercial sadism in which Kidan would holler at potential customers and repeat, mantra-like, the Dial-a-Mattress slogan: "Leave off the last 'S'--that's for 'Savings'!" He made philanthropic contributions, donating $25,000 in bedding to southern Virginia charities. ("We like to help the shelters as often as we can," he told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. "We do this on a regular basis.") And he became a fixture of D.C. nightlife. He attended for example the 1995 Bartender's Ball, a charity event noted for its trashiness. A February 7, 1995, Washington Times article on the ball reported that Kidan had offered a "great" pickup line--"I can have a mattress here in two hours"--and then told a story about the Clintons: "The Clintons ordered a mattress and then didn't pay us for six months, but things are picking up with the new Congress. We sold 34 new Republican congressmen mattresses, and they all paid on time. Sonny Bono bought four!"
Kidan liked this story so much that he told it to the Washington Times's "Inside the Beltway" columnist John McCaslin two weeks later:
"A funny thing about the Clintons," [Kidan] disclosed. "The White House told us we could not use their purchasing a mattress from us for press purposes, and we agreed. But when six months went by and I didn't get paid I called the White House and said not only will I tell the press the Clintons bought our mattress, but that we didn't get paid. The next day I got a check."
That this story was in all likelihood apocryphal was beside the point. It satisfied a dual need: Kidan's need for press, and the press's need for stories that made the Clintons look cheap. He reappeared in McCaslin's column on March 14, 1997, peddling another fiction:
Adam Kidan, the chairman and chief executive officer of Dial-A-Mattress, tells us that the queen-size Serta Perfect Sleeper his company sold to the White House in January 1993 for $549 is obviously holding up well for all the wear and tear.
"When the White House called our 800-number, they told us it was for the Lincoln Bedroom and Mr. Clinton's mom would be sleeping on it," Mr. Kidan reveals.
He quips: Dial-A-Mattress' slogan "has always been 'Leave off the last S, that's for savings,' but maybe it should be changed to 'Leave off the last S, that's for solicitations."
Note the date. There was no Dial-a-Mattress franchise in Washington when the Clintons moved into the White House in 1993.
What may seem like a small error or a little white lie is in fact indicative of a broader truth: Kidan's public demeanor was increasingly at odds with private reality. Behind the press mentions and charity drives, behind the appointments to the Greater Washington Urban League and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee, behind the radio commercials and the speeches to undergraduates at George Washington and the rose-tinted business projections, by the end of the '90s Kidan was mired in litigation, and his business was at risk.
In 1995 Kidan had filed a 29-count lawsuit against the Dial-a-Mattress franchiser in New York. He lost. In 1995 Kidan had declared personal bankruptcy. In 1999 he was forced to sell his Dial-a-Mattress franchise, and his online mattress company, eMattress.com, collapsed. The same year, Sami Shemtov sued Kidan for stealing $250,000 from a business deal as well as the $15,000 Shemtov had put up as reward money after Judy Shemtov was murdered. Kidan was forced to repay him. In 2000 New York state had Kidan disbarred.
Kidan told people that he had founded Dial-a-Mattress. He had not. Kidan told people that he had been a "principal" in and "general counsel" to the St. Maarten Hotel Beach Club and Casino. No such establishment exists. Kidan told people that he was a "former partner" at the law firm "Duncan, Fish, Bergen & Kidan." I have found no evidence that there was ever such a firm. Kidan told people that his friend Anthony Moscatiello was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Moscatiello was not. Adam Kidan is a bold and unapologetic liar.
This is the man whom Rep. Bob Ney described as having a "renowned reputation for honesty and integrity."
IT IS UNCLEAR why Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity lent over $60 million to, as the Washington Post put it, "someone such as Kidan." It has been reported that Foothill Capital performed a background check on Kidan that confirmed his many failed businesses, lawsuits, and bankruptcies. Why take such a chance? Perhaps Foothill Capital chose instead to focus on Kidan's partners, Abramoff and Waldman. In September 2000 Abramoff was at the height of his power in Washington. Earlier that year he had been the subject of a celebratory front-page profile in the Wall Street Journal. Tom DeLay had described him as one of his "dearest friends." His lobbying clients brought his firm millions of dollars in revenue.
Waldman also must have seemed a sure bet. Like Kidan, Waldman met Abramoff in College Republicans, but unlike Kidan he went into government. He worked in the Reagan administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and in the West Wing as the head of the Office of Public Liaison. In the mid-'80s he ran some outside nonprofits--the Foundation for the Private Sector, the Reagan-Bush Jewish Coalition--and in the 1988 Republican presidential primaries he flacked for Pat Robertson. After Robertson's candidacy failed Waldman moved to West Virginia. He ran twice--in 1992 and 1994--as the Republican candidate in that state's third congressional district. He lost. After his losses he went into the computer business. He had never worked in a casino.
Last May, Susan Schmidt and James Grimaldi of the Washington Post asked Greg Walker, the vice president of Foothill Capital, why he extended the loan to Abramoff, Kidan, and Waldman.
Well, Walker replied, "You'd have to be there at the time."
The SunCruz deal collapsed in the space of a few months. The company was fraught with infighting. By December 2000 Kidan and Boulis were no longer speaking. On December 5 Joan Wagner, Boulis's lieutenant, called a meeting. All the principals attended except Abramoff, who was traveling overseas.
The meeting was a disaster. Witnesses later told police that Kidan began to scream, threatening and insulting Boulis and Wagner. Furious, Boulis assaulted Kidan. Someone called 911. Kidan filed a police report in which he accused Boulis of stabbing him in the neck with a pen.
That night Wagner sent Abramoff an email:
The crisis at suncruz took on new meaning today with gb [Gus Boulis] and ak [Adam Kidan] getting physical. Money is being wasted and lost and it shouldn't continue. . . . I'm telling you that you must address the issue asap. Your delay is only emboldening Adam and he is really on the edge.
I liked Adam and thought I would be working with all of you to build an empire to be proud of and make us all alot of money too.
At the end of her email Wagner suggested that Abramoff join Boulis and Ben Waldman to vote Kidan out of SunCruz.
Abramoff forwarded Wagner's email to Kidan.
"We need to shut her down," Kidan replied. To which he added: "Jack, you need to act above all of this."
And here we reach something of an impasse. While the Washington investigation into Abramoff and his dealings with Indian tribes has opened a gusher of material to the public--emails, documents, testimony, and so forth--the Florida criminal investigation has not. A few emails have been published here and there. Documents are hard to come by. Testimony so far is nonexistent. It is difficult to reconstruct events.
HERE IS WHAT WE KNOW. After the December 5, 2000, meeting Kidan and Abramoff exchanged a flurry of emails. Kidan suggested a "concerted press effort" targeted at Boulis. "I was the victim of family violence before," Kidan wrote. "Let's use that in our favor (my mother wouldn't mind) to show how we can't tolerate violence and the likes of criminals. Let's get the protective order. By painting the picture we box him. The negative is that his profile shows that he will retaliate against me."
Abramoff replied: "I agree with this completely."
Then Abramoff sent an email to Boulis's attorney Anthony Damianakis: "It is my belief that Gus and Adam need to resolve the issue of what Gus is owed and Gus needs to move on out of the company."
Kidan began to behave as though his life were in danger. He obtained the restraining order against Boulis that he had mentioned to Abramoff. He hired bodyguards. He purchased a $180,000 lease on an armor-plated Mercedes. And in his emails to Abramoff, Kidan began to refer to a "friend in NY," who he said was "acting out of concern for my safety." "By sending security I am afraid it will make things worse," Kidan wrote Abramoff, somewhat cryptically. "And I will ask him today to remove them. I appreciate his efforts, but the situation is at a critical point."
Meanwhile, Kidan's media strategy took shape. When he obtained the restraining order against Boulis in January 2001, Kidan made sure to contact Jeff Shields, a reporter at the Sun Sentinel covering SunCruz. "This guy is violent--he's sleazy," Kidan said. Later, describing his December 5 fight with Boulis, Kidan would tell Shields, "If someone's going to jump across at me in a business meeting, that's when someone shows they're violent--they don't care. That's when what happened with my mother hits home with me."
Around this time Kidan put Anthony Moscatiello--presumably his "friend in NY"--on the SunCruz payroll. In December 2000 he sent $20,000 in checks to Jennifer Moscatiello, Big Tony's daughter. Between December 13, 2000, and June 8, 2001, Kidan authorized $145,000 in checks to Anthony Moscatiello's daughter and his company Gran-Sons Inc. Also in December 2000 Kidan sent $40,000 in checks to Moon Over Miami Beach, a mysterious company incorporated by one Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari, who was known around town for bragging that he was John Gotti's "cousin." Ferrari had been arrested several times, most recently in 1999 for attacking a lawyer who had brought suit against his business partners, Frank J. and Thomas L. Pepper. Between December 7, 2000, and March 29, 2001, Kidan authorized $95,000 in checks to Moon Over Miami Beach, which amount does not include the $10,000 in free poker chips Kidan provided Thomas Pepper and three associates on July 5, 2001.
Asked about the checks to Moscatiello in 2001, Kidan said they were for catering and "food and beverage" services that Moscatiello had provided. There is no evidence any such services were provided. Asked about the checks to Anthony Ferrari in 2001, Kidan said they were for security operations. There is no evidence that Kidan's life was ever in danger.
Why did Adam Kidan pay over $200,000 to known mobsters?
THE NIGHT IT HAPPENED, February 6, 2001, Boulis had two meetings, one at 5 p.m., the other a few hours later. The first was in Hollywood Beach, where Boulis had a few business properties. This meeting was about acquiring one more. In Hollywood he sat and talked with Joe LaBarca inside LaBarca's restaurant, Ruffy's Restaurant and Marina. LaBarca wanted a buyer; Boulis wanted to bulldoze the restaurant and use the land as a parking lot for a hotel he was hoping to build. Noncommital, Boulis left Ruffy's, right along the water, and drove to Ft. Lauderdale, to an office building he had purchased some time before. There he had his second meeting. It lasted a few hours.
By the time that meeting was over, around 9:15 p.m., night had fallen, and Boulis was ready to go home. He said goodbye to his business associate, left the office, and walked outside to where his BMW was parked. He took out his keys, unlocked the door, and got behind the wheel. He pulled out of the lot and turned south, heading home. It was a cool night, and there was a breeze off Lake Mabel, and Boulis rolled down his window.
A few blocks later, at the corner of Miami and 20th, a car pulled in front of Boulis, so he had to slow down, then stop. The car in front of Boulis didn't budge.
He waited. And as he waited, another car--a black Mustang in the oncoming, northbound traffic--pulled alongside him without stopping or even slowing. The Mustang's driver had opened his window, too. Boulis turned to look at the driver. Whereupon he made the grim discovery that the man in the Mustang was pointing a gun at him, and that raising your hand in front of you is not enough to stop three hollow-tip bullets--the man in the Mustang fired many more, forensic evidence shows--from burrowing deep into your chest.
Suddenly the car in front of Boulis sped away. The black Mustang was gone into the night. Bleeding and barely conscious, Boulis pressed the accelerator, headed south a few blocks, then turned a corner . . . and then, mid-blackout, lost control of his car--spinning across the median into oncoming traffic, and finally crashing into a tree next to a Burger King.
The first ambulances arrived in minutes. They took Boulis--who, the paramedics determined, was in cardiac arrest--to nearby Broward General Medical Center, where he died on an operating table. It was 10:20 p.m.
AT THE TIME OF BOULIS'S DEATH, a small army of government agents and outside litigators were already peeking inside SunCruz's complicated financial structure. About two weeks before the murder, on January 19, a Florida judge had held Boulis in contempt of court for not extricating himself fully from SunCruz Casinos. Also, Boulis was scheduled to testify about his finances in divorce court two days after he died--which testimony would almost certainly have involved detailed answers to questions about Boulis's stake in SunCruz and about the circumstances surrounding the sale to Abramoff and Kidan. The day Boulis was killed, several lawsuits were filed in Florida courts that involved him and Adam Kidan: In one, Kidan accused Boulis of stealing slot machines; in another, one of Boulis's former business partners accused him of cheating so he could sell to Kidan; in another, Boulis accused Kidan of stealing his money and driving SunCruz toward bankruptcy; and in yet another, Kidan accused Boulis of conspiring to kill him.
Boulis's death did nothing to slow SunCruz's unraveling. Lawsuits continued to multiply, with the Boulis estate first suing Kidan for ownership of SunCruz, then suing him for conspiring to kill Boulis. On June 22, 2001, SunCruz filed for bankruptcy. Abramoff and Waldman signed over their stake to the Boulis estate, making Boulis's heirs the majority shareholders. Kidan was left with 20 percent. But not for long. On July 9, Kidan cut a deal in which he would give up his stake in exchange for $200,000 and an end to the civil suit against him. Almost as quickly as they had entered the casino industry, Abramoff and Kidan made their exit.
By 2002 the investigation into the murder of Gus Boulis had stalled. "Boulis Slaying Investigation Loses Impetus," read the front-page headline in the Sun-Sentinel. The problem was that police had not been able to secure the cooperation of key witnesses. Moscatiello and Ferrari refused to talk to the authorities. Kidan answered questions, but Ft. Lauderdale police told the Sun-Sentinel that they felt he had not been "totally candid with us." The police had also scheduled several appointments to talk to Jack Abramoff. Abramoff broke each appointment.
Years passed. Then last summer Abramoff and Kidan were arrested, and things began to look different. Within a week of his arrest police sent Abramoff's attorney a letter requesting his cooperation in the Boulis case. The attorney, Neal Sonnett, told the Miami Herald that Abramoff had "always been willing to cooperate." The problem was that the police "never followed through." The story reporting Abramoff's cooperation appeared in the Miami Herald on August 17. A little over a month later Moscatiello and his co-defendants were under arrest.
How quickly the ground can shift beneath our feet. In 2000 Jack Abramoff was the capital's best-paid lobbyist. In 2005 he is under indictment on two counts and potentially faces indictment on who knows how many others. In 2000 Tom DeLay was majority whip of the House of Representatives and one of the most feared, respected, and effective conservatives in American history. In 2005 he, too, is under indictment, no longer majority leader, and fighting for his political life. In 2000 Bob Ney was an obscure Ohio congressman. In 2005 he is the first lawmaker to have been subpoenaed in connection with the Justice Department's Abramoff investigation and was forced to return contributions he had received over the years from Adam Kidan. In 2000 Adam Kidan was a not very successful businessman. In 2005 he is a not very successful businessman who, along with Abramoff, faces up to 10 years in jail and a $500,000 fine. In 2000 Anthony Moscatiello and Anthony Ferrari and James Fiorillo were free men. In 2005 they languish in prison.
A decade ago articles written about Jack Abramoff called him one of Washington's "biggest winners" (National Journal). Today articles written about Jack Abramoff suggest his exploits are "like an episode of The Sopranos" (the Washington Times), "straight out of Goodfellas" (the Washington Post), and could form the plot for a television drama called Sleaze in the City (the American Prospect). A decade ago Adam Kidan's mother was murdered by small-time mobsters. Today Adam Kidan is connected to the small-time mobsters charged with murdering the accomplice in fraud with whom he violently clashed.
A decade ago Republicans stormed Washington with plans to establish a "new order," shrink government, and drain the swamp of public malfeasance. Today Republicans look warily over the horizon, and nervously await a midterm election in which voters will be asked to evaluate whether the party has lived up to its ideals.
Matthew Continetti is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.