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Editor's note: Last week, Bob Norman told the story of Tony Tarantino (the famous director's father) and Tarantino's movie project, calledNew Horizons. Trying to raise money, Tarantino met with members of a Broward County family called the Rubbos, whom he apparently didn't know were under investigation for boiler-room scams and Mafia ties. Tarantino never signed an agreement with the family, but that didn't stop the Rubbos from trying to raise money for the film. When the Securities and Exchange Commission got wind of the Rubbos' misdeeds, it filed suit against the family. Tarantino is now a leading witness for the prosecution. This week, we explore the bizarre Rubbo family. Next week, we'll tell of the flirtation between the Rubbos and Tarantino.
Make way for Angela "Big Angie" Rubbo. Because she is big, or she was before the stress of a federal indictment caused her to shed 20 pounds. Now, at five foot three, the leader of the Rubbo family weighs in at a rather modest 140 pounds. But she still has big white (or "platinum" as she calls it) hair and a big New York City attitude. And Big Angie is a huge part of the proposed true-crime movie Pulp Nonfiction that I told you about last week.
In many ways, she embodies the pathos of South Florida, with all its devilish double-dealers, twisted dreams, and treacherous smiles for tourists and assorted other suckers. Big Angie -- or simply "Big Anj," as she's often called -- combines money lust with a mother's touch. The feds say she and her brood are nothing but a bevy of con artists; she counters that the feds conned her right out of business. Believe what you will, but the 59-year-old grandmother of five is definitely tortured. She's drawn to drama and prone to nervous breakdowns, and she suffers from manic-depression. Such emotional bankruptcy mirrors her financial state, which was once flush with cash. She says that her white Cadillac was recently repossessed and that her sons have all had to obtain second mortgages on their homes in Parkland and Coral Springs to keep from starving.
During a recent telephone interview, she sobbed and complained that her life is being destroyed by both the forces of good -- law enforcement -- and of evil -- organized crime. From the former, she's facing up to ten years in prison if convicted on federal racketeering charges. The latter, she said, might murder her at any time. On top of that, Quentin Tarantino's father, Tony Tarantino, whom I told you about last week, is cooperating with the Securities and Exchange Commission in a civil case against her family that involves an alleged movie scam.
"Do you want a screenplay? I can give you a screenplay you won't believe," promised Big Angie, who is awaiting trial after her release from federal detention on a $100,000 bond.
Pulp Nonfiction is part farce, but like all good true-crime stories, it's about real problems. And Big Angie, who I'm thinking will be played by Anjelica Huston, has plenty of them. "I don't care anymore -- if they want to kill me, they can kill me," she said between sobs, referring to friends she insists are not hers. "I'm tired of it. As a human being, I just can't let these lies go on. I live in disgust. I live in fear. The police watch me constantly and harass me and my little family. That's all we are, a little family."
So say hello to her little family. The Rubbos come from the Bronx, where Big Angie was born to deli owners Pasquale and Gracie Pappalardo. Big Angie said she learned the value of hard work in the deli, which was named for her mother. In 1989, her parents retired to Broward County; Big Angie quickly followed them with her husband, Nick, and four children in tow. Nick, an electrician, died of a heart attack in 1992, an event that still brings Big Angie to tears. Her eldest son, 38-year-old Joe Rubbo, said the death rallied the family together. "Ever since my dad died, we've gotten closer," he said. "We do business together. Sometimes we do things and we get incriminated in the wrong way.... My mom isn't Ma Barker."
Despite the purported coziness, there has been some heated conflict inside the family, whose pictures look as if they were shot on the set of The Sopranos. A feud between Big Angie and a daughter-in-law has so far produced two restraining orders. Carol Rubbo, wife of 35-year-old son Pasquale (or Patsy, as he's called), alleged in court papers that "Angela says she will murder me in a minute and get away with it because of her bipolar disease and plead insanity."
Big Angie countered that Carol Rubbo threatened to slit her throat, burn her alive, pour sugar into her gas tank, and kill her dog.
Hey, they are in-laws, after all.
Patsy, the middle of her three sons (the youngest is 32-year-old Nicky), seems to be the wildest of the Rubbo boys. He was caught on tape by the FBI talking about physically assaulting Carol and was charged in 1997 with aggravated assault and fleeing the police. (Ultimately, he was convicted only of the latter charge.) According to federal court filings, he had to be temporarily institutionalized under the Baker Act last year after a cocaine and Ecstasy binge during which he complained to police that he wanted to hurt himself. According to a witness, he pushed his mother to the ground during the binge -- but Big Angie insists that never happened.