Killer Scam

Did Big Jorge close his final real estate deal with bullets?

Just before noon on May 29, a black four-door 2003 Chevy Impala with darkly tinted windows barreled north on Congress Avenue toward John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Atlantis. The front driver's-side tire was shredded, its exposed metal rim slicing into the hot black concrete.

James L. Johnson, a 29-year-old construction worker who was helping to remodel the hospital's exterior, saw the Impala coming. That bare rim, he thought, will cut into the fresh pavement outside the hospital like a chain saw against a cypress tree. Johnson ran toward Congress Avenue and waved at the Impala, trying to stop the car. "That's when I realized the gentlemen in the car were all bloody," Johnson would later tell police.

Blood covered the right side of the driver's body. An elderly man in the back seat had wrapped his arm around the driver's neck, apparently trying to strangle him. In the reclined passenger seat, a third man lay motionless. Blood was everywhere.

Jeremy Eaton

Johnson waved the car into the parking lot, new concrete be damned. The Impala came to a halt outside the emergency room. "Someone get out here!" he yelled, running into the hospital.

Then Johnson heard the horn. The bloodied driver, a rotund Latin man with short black hair and a thin moustache that looked as if it could have been drawn with a pencil, honked ceaselessly. "They tried to rob us!" the driver yelled. "We've all been shot! We need help!" He then broke free of the man in the back seat and exited the car.

"At first, what appeared to me was that he was being robbed and being choked," Johnson said. But then the driver opened the back door and dragged out the man who'd been strangling him. He leaned the old-timer, a slender man standing five feet, nine inches tall, against the side of the car.

"We've been shot! We've been shot!" the driver yelled again. "We were robbed by two Puerto Ricans!"

"Oh boy, I ain't gonna stand by that story," the older man said. "I ain't standing by that."

Emergency room personnel scrambled outside. First came a wheelchair for the old man. He had suffered a gunshot wound to the jaw but was conscious and mobile. Then came another wheelchair for the driver. He'd taken a bullet to the right biceps that had shattered the bones in his upper arm. Finally came a stretcher for the man in the passenger seat. A bullet had put a hole in the left side of his head. His body was covered in blood; he wasn't moving.

"The guy took my gun and shot us," the driver told Alex Correa, a 32-year-old emergency room custodian.

Atlantis police officer Chris Scerbo reported to the scene and confronted the driver, who said his name was Jorge. "I was at SunTrust Bank at Forest Hill and Jog at 10 [a.m.] when two unknown males approached my car," Jorge told the police officer. "They demanded our money, and one male had a gun, and the other male grabbed my gun and shot us, killing both of my friends."

Somehow Jorge didn't realize that the old man he had propped against the car had survived. Although the back-seat passenger had suffered a gunshot wound just below his left ear, the injury wasn't life-threatening.

In fact, the man -- who gave his name as Reginald Argentieri and said he was 75 years old -- was stable and wanted to talk to police, hospital staff told Scerbo. "I was with Jorge and my cousin in Jorge's car at SunTrust bank when Jorge pulled out a gun and shot my cousin and then shot me," Argentieri told Scerbo. "I attempted to choke Jorge with both my hands when Jorge bit me. Jorge thought I was dead. Then Jorge shot himself. I don't know why."

Atlantis police immediately handed the case over to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. John Cogburn, a 37-year-old detective with 11 years' experience, arrived at the hospital and followed Scerbo into an x-ray room where Argentieri was being examined. The older man lay with sheets wrapped around him and an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth.

"Can you tell me who shot you?" Cogburn asked, according to a taped interview submitted to the court.

"Jorge Cortes."

"Cortes shot you? Why do you think he did this?"

"Because he was in a real estate scam."

"Can you tell me where Jorge Cortes is right now?"

"He's supposed to be in this hospital."

"Was he also shot?"

"I think he shot himself accidentally."

"Can you tell me where this took place, where this happened?"

"In his car, somewhere in Greenacres."

Then Cogburn asked where the three men were seated in the car. Cortes was driving, Argentieri said, and he was sitting in the back. In the front passenger seat was Argentieri's cousin from Fort Lauderdale, Richard Ferayorni.

"You guys were involved in some kind of real estate stuff, right?" Cogburn asked.

"Yes, I was involved and another friend of mine with Jorge."

"Do you feel that Jorge was trying to scam you guys today?"

"Yes."

"OK. Do you feel he was going to try to rob you?"

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