An Imperfect Murder

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

Soon, investigators discovered that they were handling much more than a murder mystery. The case represented an apparent intersection between the Mafia and ATF investigations into illegal arms dealing.

As it turned out, Moretto met Martinez through Boca Raton businessman Mike Umile. Martinez had told Umile that he had $10 million to invest in South Florida real estate and businesses. Moretto was looking for such an investor.

But Martinez was playing both ends against the middle, working simultaneously as a con man and as a paid snitch. On July 8, 2003, Martinez told the ATF that Umile was a member of the Gambino crime family, according to ATF reports obtained by New Times. He alleged that the Mafia was trying to acquire U.S. military arms, which the group would then exchange for narcotics with Caribbean revolutionaries. "Individuals from Trinidad-Tobago were interested in purchasing LAW missiles, M-16 rifles, and M-16 rifles with attached grenade launchers," according to an ATF report based on Martinez's information.

Thom Zahler
Luis Martinez had two jobs: con man and ATF informant.
Luis Martinez had two jobs: con man and ATF informant.

It's unclear whether organized crime outfits in the United States were indeed trying to partner with Caribbean extremists. Neither Umile nor the ATF would comment for this article. What is clear is that Martinez left investigators clues that seemed to connect him to the murder.

Authorities linked Moretto's Breitling watch and the title to his Bentley, both missing from the mansion, to Martinez. The watch was sold on eBay by one of the Cuban's friends. The car title was later destroyed by the same friend. What's more, on the day of the murder, cellular tower records indicated that Moretto's Nextel phone was in close proximity to Martinez's MetroPCS handset, leading detectives to believe that the con man had likely taken the phone following the murder.

Alligator Alley cuts across the swamps and marshland of South Florida like a 100-mile-long knife wound. On October 30, 2003, the morning after Moretto's body was found in Lighthouse Point, Martinez traveled across that road and pulled off Interstate 75 at an exit in Naples. He was there to meet an old friend: ATF Special Agent Richard Zayas.

When on assignment for the ATF, Martinez would earn $800 per week or $250 per piece of information. On May 30, 2003, he had helped Zayas apprehend a Fort Lauderdale man named Rohan McKay and four of his associates in a staged plot to steal cocaine from a stash house in Naples. McKay received a nine-year federal sentence in January, and Martinez walked away with a $3,000 bonus check from the federal government.

That afternoon in October, Martinez was in Naples to help Zayas ensnare Max Charlot, a 24-year-old Haitian-American from Miami who also went by the name Demauntri Dumantis. They were to use the same MO that the government had used to catch McKay.

Charlot would receive a call around noon with the address of the house storing about 50 kilograms of Colombian cocaine. Then Charlot and five of his boys would rob the place, split the loot, and live like kings.

Near a Cracker Barrel restaurant, Zayas talked with Charlot while Martinez waited in a car. The Haitian-American was on edge. It was past noon. They were awaiting a phone call to Zayas' pager that would be the signal. It didn't come.

Charlot wanted to know why. "You tryin' to send a nigga to prison or something, man," Charlot told Zayas.

"Dude, bullshit, dude," the undercover ATF agent said. "If you go down, I go down too."

"Look here, man, what do you think, we some fucking rookies?" Charlot said.

"Fuck no; that's why I'm with you guys."

A few minutes later, Zayas' pager went off. "Dude, I'm getting paged," he said, opening the car door. "I'm gonna go make that phone call, bro. I'll be back in two seconds. You guys get ready, man."

Zayas walked back to the car where Martinez was seated. "What the hell is going on?" Martinez asked. If indeed he had murdered Moretto, he must have been nervous.

"The guy is paging me right now," Zayas answered, dialing on his cell phone. "Hey," he said into the telephone, "you got, uh, you got three guys in the other car. You got three guys in the other car. You got three guys in the first car. Total of six guys. Total of six guys. Six guys in there. They're hinked up. They're hinked up. Be prepared. Six guys."

"They show you their weapons?" Martinez asked.

"No, I didn't see them," Zayas answered.

Then came the noise. ATF agents, guns drawn, stormed in and surrounded the two cars.

"Fuck this!" Martinez yelled.

"Shh," Zayas said, calming him down. "Shh."

Charlot and his associates were arrested. Charlot was later convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and use of a firearm in relation to a drug crime. He received 26 years in prison.

But he wasn't the only one in trouble. Back in Broward, detectives were slowly piecing together the evidence that linked Martinez to Moretto's murder. On November 20, 2003, after a brief interview with detectives, the Cuban man was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Now the ATF won't publicly confirm that Martinez was on the federal payroll. But that reticence only confirms how dubious a business it can be when the government employs criminals to nab other criminals.

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