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When his sons got older, Ken found a job as a gravedigger. But he was laid off several years ago, and the family's finances got tight. To pay the bills, he began going to Leonard Firestein's pawnshop on State Road 84 in Fort Lauderdale to get loans on the family silverware and other valuables. He started bringing Wayne and Danny along to hang out at Firestein's shop and do odd jobs. "My husband will B.S. with everybody and anybody," Roxann says, rolling her eyes. "That's probably how he and Lenny became friends."
Meanwhile Ken's relationship with Roxann was deteriorating. Besides fighting with Roxann about money, Ken was always so exhausted from working that he couldn't help Roxann discipline the boys. To escape the discord, he and his sons spent even more time at Firestein's place. Last year the couple finally split. Ken, Wayne, and Danny moved into Firestein's house in Hollywood for about a month until they found their own apartment.
After Wayne turned 16 last year, he often drove his father to his various jobs, then skipped school and went home to sleep. Although he didn't have behavior problems at school, he was attending irregularly. There was one bright spot in his life: He started going out with Louise Beck, of Sunrise, whom he'd met at school. "He's the type of person who would practically do anything for a person," says the 16-year-old Beck. "He was never a gangster or a thug or anything like that. He didn't even like to see anyone smoking a cigarette. We'd sit for hours in my front yard, just talking. I love him more than anything."
While Wayne was much more wary of Firestein than his father or brother was, all three were nervous about the pawnbroker's careless gun habits. Firestein was always carrying concealed guns in his pockets and would often drop one accidentally, Danny says. He'd leave dozens of loaded guns lying around his shop and house, even when the boys were there by themselves, according to Ken. Whenever Ken visited, the first thing he did was unload the guns. And whenever the boys took Firestein's Corvette out for a drive with his permission, they'd first check for guns in the glove box and under the seats, then put any they found in the house. Firestein entrusted Danny and Wayne with the keys to his shop, house, and car. Danny says he was sometimes "tempted" to steal something but never did.
Ken and his sons grew increasingly angry at Firestein because he never paid them for the long hours they worked nor gave them the merchandise he promised in lieu of cash. All Wayne received from Firestein was a beat-up Volkswagen Rabbit that never ran. "I liked Lenny, but he was more or less using me and my sons," Ken says. "He was always trying to get over hard on us."
Firestein says Ken is just blaming the victim. "The beautiful part is now I'm the bad guy because I gave them the opportunity to steal," he explains. "I trusted Wayne and Danny, and they betrayed me. They crippled me financially."
Ken Dagenais and his sons are only the latest in a long line of people who feel that the 50-year-old Queens, N.Y., native ripped them off. "He's a complete asshole," says Wayne Morris, Firestein's landlord at his last pawnshop location on Dixie Highway in Hollywood, who says Firestein owes him $2000 in back rent plus $600 in water bills. "He's always looking to screw someone." Broward court records show six civil lawsuits in the past nine years against Firestein for eviction, contract indebtedness, and lien collection, including several pending cases.
Firestein also has a criminal record. Eight years ago, according to a Davie police report, he accused an employee, who was angry about not being paid, of stealing some tools from him. Spotting the man on the street, Firestein tried to handcuff him, yelling, "You're under arrest!" When the man protested that Firestein wasn't a police officer, he responded, "Well, I used to be, and I can still arrest you." As the victim fled, Firestein allegedly reached into his pocket, pulled out a gun, and threatened to shoot.
Firestein was charged with false imprisonment, aggravated assault, and battery -- all felonies. But he finagled a plea bargain by admitting to assault, a misdemeanor, in exchange for getting the felony charges dropped. If he had been convicted of a felony, he would have lost the rights to own guns and to operate a pawnshop.
Firestein brags to everyone that he used to be a cop. While that's true, he was fired from the Davie Police Department in 1979 only four months after he was hired. He'd previously lasted about the same length of time on the Wheat Ridge, Colorado, police force. "Patrolman Firestein has maintained an attitude of arrogance and conceit [and] has alienated most of the people whom he works with," his superior officer wrote in a letter recommending his termination from the Davie force. Firestein did not help his case when he hinted to other officers that he'd spotted a police sergeant in a compromising position with a female officer in a squad car.