Feeding Frenzy

Police have charged the gang known as the Sharks with everything from extortion to kidnapping. Only one charge, against leader Rusty Feder, has stuck.

Charges filed during the past few years against members of the group have often been weak and hard to prove. A former Shark named Shawn Caravelli was charged with aggravated battery in 1997. The charge was never prosecuted. Another named Michael Destefano was twice charged with aggravated battery in 1996. Those charges were also dropped. Feder himself was arrested in 1995, on charges of cocaine possession and marijuana-dealing. He was acquitted.

Feder boasts that, despite dozens of felony charges filed against members of the group, none has produced a conviction. He says he made it policy to revoke the membership of any Shark who broke the law. For instance, Caravelli, who beat charges of violent crimes, was convicted on several felony fraud and drug charges. Feder says Caravelli was unanimously ousted from the group.

Cobb acknowledges that major successful cases against the Sharks have proven elusive. Many of the cases filed against Sharks hinged solely on photo identification by witnesses. A Shark named Kevin Trotter was charged last year in a beating that was allegedly ordered by the mobster Cerrella. That case is based on a witness photo-identification, with no physical evidence. Robert Getchell, a onetime Mob associate, was also charged in the beating. When contacted last summer by New Times while out on bond, Getchell admitted to his own participation but laughed when Trotter's name was mentioned. Trotter wasn't there, Getchell said.

On January 1, 1998, five Sharks, including Feder and Trotter, were charged in the vicious beating of off-duty Metro-Dade police officer Rick Edwards at the Chili Pepper nightclub in Fort Lauderdale, where Sharks routinely work security. Edwards picked out the Sharks from the MIU photo album. Charges against Trotter and another Shark have since been dropped because it was determined they weren't involved. Feder admits he was in the club, but adamantly denies he ever hit Edwards. The case has yet to go to trial.

Feder's attorney, Richard Geraci, refused to comment on the current kidnapping case. The Shark leader's former attorney, Gabe Grasso, who has also represented other members, has told New Times that he believes the cops have been on a witch-hunt all along, trumping up charges against the Sharks because of their intimidating appearances and the shady people they work around at nightclubs.

But Feder is worried about the armed kidnapping case, in which Caravelli and Trotter have also been charged.

"They did a good job," Feder says of the task force that jailed him. "It's gonna be hard to beat. They threw so much shit on the wall that some of it's bound to stick.... But I'm not guilty, and I believe I can win."

Feder has never been convicted of a felony in the United States, though he was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon in Canada several years ago. Feder says he's worried that Trotter, a fellow Shark who has never been convicted of a felony, might be about to turn state's witness against him to save himself from prison time.

If convicted, Feder faces from six to eleven years in prison, Cobb says.
From behind his pane of glass at the detention center, Feder says he'd rather die first.

He shows no pride when he looks at his Shark tattoo, just shakes his head. "That was a mistake," he says. Feder says the Sharks no longer have meetings. Even if he beats his kidnapping charges, he insists the group is defunct. "There's nothing good about being a Shark anymore," he says. "It's over."

But several Sharks still live and work at clubs in Broward County. And at a recent bond hearing for Feder, a handful of them came to support their old leader. When the FDLE's Tony Pineda, who was the lead agent in the case, went to the bathroom during the hearing, a few Sharks hovered behind him as he urinated, according to Cobb. As the musclebound bouncers walked out of the bathroom, one of them flicked out the lights. Cobb believes it was a message. "That is the way they operate -- by intimidation," the prosecutor says. "Their intimidation is over."

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address:
Bob_Norman@newtimesbpb.com

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