I Think, Therefore I Scam

America gave Franco Nicoletti opportunities and riches beyond belief. But it didn't give him a conscience.

"What's happening?" said Ramos, whose real name is Angel Cruz. "Are they going to take them down right now?"

"That's the plan," replied the secretary, really an undercover cop named Laura Medley.

"Let's get the hell outta here."
Ciao Bella had started to fill up. Guidotti was enjoying a bowl of penne a la vodka when the detectives burst through the front door. They grabbed Nicoletti, twisted him around, tightened handcuffs on his wrists, and hauled him outside. Some of the men wore shirts emblazoned with the letters DEA. "I know I'm screwed this time," Nicoletti told an agent en route to the DEA's Fort Lauderdale office. "But why is the DEA here? This don't have anything to do with cocaine."

After his arrest Nicoletti was held without bail in the Federal Detention Center, a menacing bunker in downtown Miami. Shortly thereafter the government went after Lillian's mansion, and Nicoletti and she were divorced to protect her assets. Last May he was convicted of attempting to launder $7 million in drug money and just last week was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison. Federal prosecutors had discovered upon close inspection that the bearer bonds seized from a safe-deposit box on Galt Ocean Mile were counterfeit. The entire deal had been a sham. Prosecutors believe Nicoletti never intended to pay back the loan. Instead, they say, he intended to skip town with his millions, leaving the banker and his drug-trafficking client with a handful of worthless paper. But the drug trafficker never existed and neither did the $7 million. It was all a fiction concocted as part of a federal sting.

It's a few minutes before afternoon roll call, and soon Nicoletti will gather with the other inmates and be counted. He grows increasingly exasperated as holes are punched in his story. Why has no one come forward to defend his good name? And how can he explain the lavish lifestyle he's led these past 30 years? Why have all his businesses gone bust? Where is the evidence he ever was a legitimate businessman?

Nicoletti squirms and, slowly and cautiously, gives an inch, but even now, with no apparent way out, he will only admit so much.

"It might not be incorrect to say that maybe I've done some deals where I've come out ahead and somebody else has come out behind," he says. "Sure, maybe that's happened. But does that mean I should spend so many years in prison? Does that mean they can hound me like I'm some big gangster? They want to bury me. I swear to you, I have never maliciously tried to harm anyone. Just ask my wife Lillian.

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