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Charlie Moretto's off-white mansion on Millionaire's Row in Lighthouse Point would have been suitable for Al Capone. Nestled along the Intracoastal Waterway, the 7,042-square-foot estate opens onto azure seas and million-dollar yachts. Inside the home, bright-white tiles and pearl walls shine like gems amid the tasteful, earth-toned furniture. Above an ivory pool table, a sprawling circular staircase leads to a large master bedroom and three suites. From the second-story windows, guests can look out over the tiled roof and watch the parade of wealthy sailors pass.
A stout, 58-year-old Italian-American from Boston with light skin and receding brown hair pulled back and puffed up like the head of a sliced mushroom, Moretto was "a tough guy" and "a streetwise guy," according to one family member. He was also eager to sell the mansion. A July 2003 bid for $2.5 million fell through after the buyers pulled out at the last minute. He needed that sale. All his money was tied up in real estate.
But then in October, Moretto thought he might finally have his customer: Luis Martinez, a handsome, six-foot-two Cuban with blue eyes, thick black hair, and a preference for Anglicizing his name to Louis. Martinez told Moretto that he had $10 million to invest in South Florida real estate and businesses. What's more, he'd taken a liking to Moretto's mansion and the yellow 1996 Bentley parked out front.
At 10:30 a.m. October 28, 2003, Martinez arrived at the Lighthouse Point estate to discuss a deal. With Moretto was his cousin Billy Botelho, a standup guy save that incident more than 20 years ago when Massachusetts police busted him for dealing in stolen cars. "[Moretto] wanted me to be there because he was kind of leery with the gentleman he was having the meeting with," Botelho would later tell detectives from the Broward Sheriff's Office.
Dressed in a crisp black suit, Martinez sat down in a chair in Moretto's living room, a black bag clasped in his hands. He had offered $130,000 to purchase the Bentley. Although Martinez wouldn't say anything about the bag he carried, Moretto and Botelho thought they knew its contents: six figures in cash. In fact, they joked about it.
"Let me see what's in the bag," Botelho said. "Let me see the bag."
"Nothing is in the bag," Martinez replied. "Nothing is in the bag."
"Let's go look at the other house," Martinez suggested, referring to another, smaller house around the corner that Moretto owned. The three men piled into the Jaguar, and Stefanovich drove them to the second property. Martinez explained that he had an investor friend who might be interested in Moretto's second house.
"Sell him my house," Botelho joked.
As Moretto escorted Stefanovich around the house, Martinez and Botelho started "shooting the baloney," the cousin would later tell detectives. The Cuban man began to open up. He said he was fresh out of jail: gun charges, something like that.
Then Martinez's cell phone rang. He walked over to the corner, speaking loudly in Spanish. The call ended abruptly. "We can't do this deal today," Martinez explained. "They wired the money into the bank, but the bank says I can't get the money for 24 hours. There's a hold on the bank. I don't know why. That's my goddamned money, and I can't get my own money."
They rescheduled. Martinez would buy the Bentley the next day.
"You want me to be with you tomorrow?" Botelho asked his cousin.
"No," Moretto answered. "Where they wired the money into the account, it's not cash. Everything should be OK."
It wasn't. The next day, Lighthouse Point police found Moretto's lifeless body inside the mansion. A bullet had entered the left side of his head and exited on the right, stopping finally on the carpet below his right leg. Three weeks later, Martinez was charged with first-degree murder.
The crime was shocking for its location alone: a predominantly white and quiet coastal city of roughly 11,000 people. Murder isn't common amid the salty air and manicured lawns of Lighthouse Point.
Indeed, this crime was anything but common. The victim, Moretto, was a convicted Mob associate working with the Genovese crime family. His accused murderer, Martinez, was a career criminal who had become an informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. In fact, Martinez was on the government payroll the day Moretto was slain.
In a jailhouse interview, Martinez maintained his innocence. The mobster was most likely murdered by rival Mafiosi or Caribbean revolutionaries, he alleged. "The guy got killed," Martinez said. "It was a hit."
Born in Havana, Cuba, Martinez immigrated to the United States at age 15 during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, which brought 124,776 immigrants -- some convicted criminals -- to South Florida. He often went by his childhood nickname: "Flaco," or "Skinny." Despite a brief stay in New York City, Martinez had spent most of his adult life in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
In December 1995, Laura Carnes, then a 21-year-old stripper working at Palace Centerfold in Miami, met Martinez. She was sitting at a traffic light near downtown Miami in her 1991 Acura Integra when the tall Cuban pulled up next to her in a fresh-off-the-assembly-line Porsche 993. "We were waving, smiling at each other," Carnes recalled in a 1996 deposition. They exchanged telephone numbers at the intersection, then talked on their cellular phones as they drove west on the Dolphin Expressway.