An Imperfect Murder

The sordid tale of a cunning Marielito, an ambitious ATF agent, and a dead mobster in Lighthouse Point

Around the same time, one of Moretto's other children, Richard, started adding lines to his Mafia résumé. In August 1990, a federal grand jury indicted the young Moretto and 50 others for involvement in a drug-trafficking ring led by infamous Boston mobster James J. "Whitey" Bulger. The group imported cocaine from Florida to South Boston. Trial evidence showed that Richard was one of the organization's tough guys, once making a veiled threat to a used car salesman. "You love your father and mother, right?" Richard told him. "Well, keep loving them." He was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 17.5 years. After serving a portion of his prison term, Richard rejoined the Mob on the outside. He then became an enforcer and a packager for a marijuana-smuggling ring, according to a federal indictment handed down in December 2002.

By then, the Moretto patriarch had already started a new life 1,500 miles south of Boston. After Basha gave birth to his daughter, Charly, the trio moved to Broward County in the mid-'90s. As it turned out, Moretto ran in some of the same circles as his incarcerated son. "I can just tell you that Charlie has a very colorful past..." Basha said. "I mean, he probably has a lot of friends that are wise guys. OK, I mean, he definitely does."

Moretto was an associate in the Genovese crime family. In 1996, he had been indicted in Broward County on racketeering charges for his connection to an illegal gambling enterprise headed by local Mob soldiers John "Johnny Sideburns" Cerrella and Vinnie Romano.

Francisco Beltran wanted Luis Martinez to help him murder a judge and a state prosecutor.
Francisco Beltran wanted Luis Martinez to help him murder a judge and a state prosecutor.
Max Charlot fell into an ATF trap set by Martinez.
Max Charlot fell into an ATF trap set by Martinez.

Cerrella and Romano ran a sports-betting operation in a Coral Springs apartment. The investigation into that business led to an Oakland Park nightclub called Club Fever, believed to have been a Mob front for money laundering. Moretto was swept up in the indictment for his interest in the club. He pleaded no contest to conspiracy to violate beverage laws and received five years of probation.

In 1999, Moretto reportedly went straight. As South Florida's real estate market heated up, he started fixing up luxury properties in North Broward, then selling them for a profit. It was honest work. "I think he's a legitimate, hard-working, law-abiding citizen now," Basha said. "I think he decided, you know what, this is the way to be, 'cause the other thing ain't working out."

Though their relationship didn't last, Moretto supported Basha and his daughter. Moretto paid for the woman's black Lexus, and she and her daughter lived in a $316,890 house that Moretto owned in Lighthouse Point. Eight-year-old Charly even attended Pine Crest, one of the area's most elite private schools, on daddy's dime. "We just set aside our differences when it came to her," Basha explained.

But Moretto's bond with his ex-girlfriend had become increasingly strained. Last summer, the two were embroiled in a bitter legal battle. Moretto filed a petition with the court seeking full custody of Charly, alleging that Basha's "use of illegal drugs and alcohol has risen to such a level as to endanger the safety and welfare of the minor child."

Exactly why, at the same time, Moretto was eager to sell his Bentley and Lighthouse Point mansion isn't clear. He didn't discuss his finances, Basha said. But she speculated that money had become tight. "He was definitely trying to liquidate," Basha said, "but Charlie is the type of guy that doesn't liquidate unless he gets what he wants. He'll hang tight."

On October 29, 2003, Basha's flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale was delayed. She had made plans with Moretto to pick up little Charly. She called to let her ex-boyfriend know she'd be late. He didn't answer. "Hi, Charlie, I'm actually on the plane," she said into Moretto's voice mail at 12:53 p.m. "It was delayed 45 minutes, so it looks like I'm getting in at 4:15. I should be home at 5."

Once back in Florida, Basha drove to Moretto's mansion at 3870 NE 31st Ave. in Lighthouse Point. When she pulled up to the house, she noticed the Bentley out front. She beeped. "Usually my daughter will run to the car," she would say later. "I beeped. Nothing." She knocked on the door. No answer. She peered through the glass. No one was moving inside. "I was thinking this is weird, because he would never leave his car anywhere," Basha said.

Still, she reasoned that Moretto and their daughter must have gone out for dinner. She went to her place. The phone rang. It was Pine Crest. "Your daughter, Charly, is here," the person said.

"What do you mean she's still there?" Basha replied.

She was worried. Moretto was getting old. His hearing was going, his health slowly deteriorating. His heart might have finally failed him. She called 911.

At 7 p.m., Lighthouse Point police found Moretto's body lying face up in the master bedroom, a few steps from the entrance to a bathroom.

Moretto's cousin, Botelho, immediately led detectives to Martinez, explaining that the day before, the Cuban man had made plans to purchase the Bentley and possibly the mansion. Moretto was wary of Martinez, Botelho explained. "He was afraid that he was gonna sign the title over to them, and he thought they was gonna -- they gonna whack him in the head and take the money back," he told detectives.

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