The Great Pretender

Jimmy Sabatino scammed millions of dollars' worth of goods and services by claiming he was a Hollywood player. But the self-described Mafia kid played too rough when he threatened to kill President Clinton.

In November 1994 the United States had not yet gone loco for Latin pop music. Even so, old-school Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias had just finished the first of four sold-out shows at the Broward Center For the Performing Arts, and he was pumped. In the dressing room, he recalled the faces in the crowd that had paid to hear him sing his trademark ballads as well as contemporary Latin standards such as "Bamboleo" and "Oye Como Va." The hard-core fans had turned out, those who had supported him since he released his first U.S. album a decade earlier. But to his pleasant surprise, the seats were sprinkled with a remarkable number of youthful faces. He smiled at the thought. Even in his fifties he still appealed to the kids.

As he toweled perspiration from his forehead, Iglesias shared the good news with a young executive from Sony Music named Jimmy Sabatino, who sat in the dressing room with him. Sabatino at the time was a plump, baby-faced teenager, carrying 200 pounds on a frame less than five and a half feet tall. He certainly didn't look like an entertainment mogul, what with his shaved head and skin dotted with acne. But he wore a new suit and spoke in a cocky, stream-of-consciousness sort of way that seemed to fit the part. And he carried a gold-plated connection: In telephone calls before the concert, Sabatino had arranged the meeting by claiming to be the nephew of Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola. Iglesias records for Sony, and while talking to Sabatino after the show, he revealed his disappointment with the level of promotion he had received, especially compared with the strong push the label was giving to aging rockers Pink Floyd. "You tell your uncle that the young people love me, too," Iglesias requested, according to more than one person familiar with the encounter.

Sabatino, however, is not the nephew of Tommy Mottola. He is the son of Peter Sabatino, a man described in sealed federal court documents as "reportedly… a captain of the Colombo crime family who acted as a liaison with the Gambino family." Jimmy has never worked for Sony, though he harbors ambitions of breaking into the music business. He's also proven time and time again that he can get almost anything he wants from almost anyone.

Julio Iglesias  is popular with the kids, despite those Pink Floyd bastards and slack promotion by Sony's Tommy Mottola
Julio Iglesias is popular with the kids, despite those Pink Floyd bastards and slack promotion by Sony's Tommy Mottola

Over the course of the next few days, until Iglesias learned the teen's true identity, the two racked up some intensive quality time. During one dinner (just the two of them at the singer's Indian Creek mansion in Miami Beach) Iglesias begged for better marketing of Latin acts. Sabatino discussed his plans for possible joint ventures with the crooner, perhaps something involving Luciano Pavarotti.

The ease with which Sabatino infiltrated Iglesias' camp is no surprise to the security chiefs of some of the United States' largest corporations. They've been tracking his exploits for years, ever since he began traveling the world first class by claiming to be an executive at Disney, or the president of Paramount Pictures, or the head of the music division of Warner Bros.

Today, at the young age of 22, he's already a career criminal believed to have conned millions of dollars in goods and services. More than the dollar value, though, it's the way he's grifted that makes Jimmy Sabatino notorious.

He simply asks for things, and people simply give them to him.

As part of his most infamous caper, in 1995, Sabatino exploited Wayne Huizenga's stewardship (at the time) of both the Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. and the Miami Dolphins football team. He posed as a Blockbuster vice president to ask the Dolphins if they had extra tickets to the upcoming Super Bowl, to be held that year in Miami. His inquiry was so convincing that the team sent him a letter, in Dolphins president Eddie Jones' name, explaining when and where the tickets would be sent.

On shipment day Sabatino called Federal Express, claimed to be Jones, and demanded that all 262 tickets be recalled. A friend of his subsequently picked up the tickets at a FedEx distribution center in Miramar, no questions asked. Sabatino sold his haul to ticket brokers at an estimated $900 per, a tidy take of $235,800. But fans who bought the tickets from the brokers -- unaware they were hot merchandise -- were not allowed into the game.

"He's like Tony Curtis in The Great Impostor," says Thomas Hays, vice president for studio protection at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles. "He's so ballsy, it's almost like a challenge for him. In the movie Curtis posed as a doctor or a professor; it was an obsession to him to be someone else. This Sabatino kid is the same way. He's crafty."

The sheer gutsiness of Sabatino's exploits has won him fans in the most unlikely places. "I know I shouldn't say this, but I can't help it: I love the guy," allows Max, a security consultant to a prominent corporation Sabatino has repeatedly victimized. (Max is an alias.) "I can't help but respect what he's able to get away with. Even when he was 17 he'd just walk into the Waldorf-Astoria with three or four or five or ten people, get them all rooms and room service for a week and limousines. He'd have no credit card and would be dressed like a ghetto kid with the crotch of his jeans hanging down to the floor. He's incredible."

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