By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
He has even gained national notoriety. Two years ago Firestein was featured in a 60 Minutes segment on pawnshops that buy stolen goods. When Mike Wallace walked into his shop on State Road 84 in Hollywood with a camera crew, Firestein quipped, "Whatever it is, I didn't do it." Wallace played the chagrined Firestein a videotape showing two Fort Lauderdale undercover detectives, disguised as homeless men, selling him two computer monitors marked "Property of Comp-Lease Corp." It was obvious, the cops later told Wallace, that Firestein thought he was buying stolen merchandise. But the state's attorney couldn't prosecute him because Firestein had covered himself by asking the undercover cops whether they had stolen the equipment.
"His place used to scare me," says former landlord Morris. "He always had kids selling him stuff that was stolen." Ken and Danny believe that some of the guns from the warehouse burglary fall into that category. That's why, they say, Firestein gave police the serial numbers on only 34 of the 48 missing guns. "He's a hustler, and those kids got hustled," Morris says, shaking his head.
Despite Firestein's role in exposing the boys to guns, the Broward State Attorney's Office charged Wayne Dagenais with armed burglary (stealing guns qualified the crime as an "armed" offense) and transferred his case from juvenile to adult court. Wayne was denied bond because police accused him of being the leader of a gang called the Cosa Nostra. They later learned this was a group of pubescent wannabes made up of Danny, Wayne, and their friends, who showed no evidence of involvement in criminal activities. Felicia Smith, who had a lengthy juvenile court record including more than one prior burglary charge, also was arrested for armed burglary and transferred to adult court.
In contrast Danny, who had one prior burglary charge (for breaking into the home of a vacationing neighbor who he thought had marijuana), was processed in juvenile court and sentenced to intensive probation and a nonresidential counseling program. A spokesman for the state attorney's office says he can't comment on why Danny wasn't prosecuted as an adult, citing the confidentiality of juvenile records.
But Emilio Benítez, the juvenile defense attorney, has some thoughts. "What's the difference between what the two boys did, other than one was 15 and one was 16?" he asks. "Where's the justice in that?" The arbitrariness of the state attorney's decisions in the brothers' cases, he argues, shows why transfers of juveniles to adult court should be left to juvenile court judges. The Florida legislature largely shifted this authority from judges to prosecutors in 1994.
Meanwhile Patrick Harris -- whom Wayne and Danny consistently identified as the fourth participant but who denied playing any role in the burglary -- was not arrested because of a lack of evidence, says Lauderhill Police Det. Jeffrey Weiner. "He'd been in trouble before and was smart enough to get a lawyer right away," is how Ken Dagenais angrily explains Harris' freedom.
Wayne pleaded not guilty before Judge Ilona Holmes of the Broward County Circuit Court. His attorney, Gary Kollin of Fort Lauderdale, hoped to get the case thrown out on the grounds that the arrest and initial questioning were conducted illegally and that the evidence gathered by the cops was therefore inadmissible. Kollin, who Ken and Roxann believe did a poor job in representing Wayne, never told the judge that Wayne has a learning disability, which might have helped convince her that he didn't understand his rights when apprehended. Prosecutor Dan Losey then compelled Danny to give a deposition in April, in which he again incriminated his brother and Smith, making the due-process defense moot. On the advice of Kollin, Wayne changed his plea to no contest. The sentencing hearing was set for June 9.
Wayne still had one hope. Losey and the cops, who suspected that Wayne and his brother knew where the guns were hidden, said that if his family recovered at least some of the guns and turned them over, Wayne might receive a lighter sentence. So Danny and his parents, completely unschooled in the ways of the streets, made two dozen forays to find the guns. These frightening, postmidnight missions took them to the houses and hangouts of gang members and drug dealers. They even put the word out that they were willing to buy the guns back.
Then Wayne got a tip from a fellow inmate that a dealer named Claude in Cooper City had 27 of the guns. Wayne arranged for the inmate to phone Roxann and have her place a three-way call to Claude. Without Claude's knowledge Roxann listened in as he made several remarks suggesting that he had the guns. But the inmate got cut off suddenly, and Claude realized someone else was listening. He screamed that he would kill whoever was on the line. A frightened Roxann hung up and immediately gave Claude's number to police. She never heard back from the cops about this lead.
Despite the family's desperate efforts, the cops informed Judge Holmes that they had a confidential informant who claimed Danny and Wayne knew where the guns were. Detective Weiner told New Timesthat he suspects someone is still hiding the entire cache of guns, hinting that it could be Danny. If the guns had been distributed or sold, he surmised, some would have turned up in other crime investigations. But he wouldn't discuss details about the alleged informant.