Mr. Big Shot

The charismatic lawyer and power broker took one last lap in a New River mansion during his run from the law

In the wake of 9/11, there was good reason to believe the government had more pressing concerns than a big-shot attorney with a checkered past, fugitive or not. Hirschfeld re-entered the country sometime in 2000 and was living in South Florida.

Loretta left Virginia to join him. "At first, I just thought I would go back and forth," she recalls. But in May of 2004, using the name Global Telesat -- a corporation headed by Loretta on paper but by Richard in reality -- the two purchased their dream home at 1310 Brickell Dr. They moved in the next month. In the back of her mind, she knew it was risky. "I'm so thankful for the short time we were together here, because we loved this house so much," she says. "I didn't think about someone knocking on the door."


Hirschfeld's problems with the law began in the 1970s.
Colby Katz
Hirschfeld's problems with the law began in the 1970s.
Hirschfeld and Ali share a happy moment.
The Virginian-Pilot
Hirschfeld and Ali share a happy moment.

On a bright April afternoon, Agent Russell, an imposing man with a tell-tale bulge of body armor under his blue T-shirt, returns to the parking lot. Absent-mindedly tapping the butt of his holstered pistol, he flexes muscles without being aware of it. With a Gordon Liddy gruffness and graying mustache, Russell's shorn scalp looks capable of farming two and a half heads' worth of hair. Without it, he's just that much more intimidating.

Returning to where the big nab went down clearly entertains him. Home only a few days after a three-month voluntary deployment to Baghdad ("a lot of fun!"), where he chased insurgents using black helicopters and Humvees, Russell is now driving his car across the grass of Colee Hammock Park, a prime picnic spot near the confluence of the New and Tarpon rivers.

"Chuck and I do mostly violent crimes," he says. "Homicides. With fraud guys, we usually give 'em an hour, and if we can't find 'em, we can't find 'em. But this was an international bad guy, on the run for years, and it always feels good to get a guy like that."

Pulling the front bumper an inch or two over the seawall, Russell edges the front tires against the stone barrier that separates the park from the water. A fishing boat bobs past as the lunch crowd stares.

On October 1, from this spot two houses east of the mansion, Russell hopped onto a police speedboat that set off for a cove of the Tarpon River a few hundred yards south. There, he and Morrow conferred via walkie-talkie. "We'll make entry in 30 seconds," Morrow said, his team ready to approach the Hirschfeld residence from the front.

"Twenty-nine, 28, 27, 26," counted Morrow as the boat cruised across the river. It pulled up to the dock just as a fleet of Crown Vics blockaded the driveway and street in front of the home.

It was just before 3:30 in the afternoon. Richard and Loretta Hirschfeld chatted inside a first-floor office as Richard sat at a computer and checked his e-mail. Leaning against a wall, Loretta heard an alarm go off. Figuring the wind had blown open a door on the back deck, she was prepared to ignore it when another door alarm sounded.

"Gee, that's weird," Loretta thought. She started to walk out of the office into the front foyer, where through the window she noticed four FBI cars in the driveway.

"I mean, they didn't say FBI on 'em," she recounts in her Virginia accent. "But one of the guys stood up out of the car, and he had FBI across his shirt."

Loretta started down the hall toward the rear of the house. Five large glass doors opened onto an expansive patio with a sleekly modern swimming pool and a drop-off to the dock and river beyond.

Just then, Paul Russell was entering the house. The alarms she'd heard had sounded when he pushed against one locked door and then strolled through the next, quite unlocked, one.

"She was a little in awe," Russell says, "seeing someone as ugly as me coming in her back door."

Russell, with bug-eyed safety goggles, full duty belt, and Kevlar vest with POLICE printed in yellow letters across it, was an unwelcome sight in the Hirschfeld's living room, a place so vast he'd later tell a reporter it was big enough for him and his men to play a game of touch football in.

"The ceilings go up to the roof," he says, pointing at the house. "It looks like the Sistine Chapel. I mean, look at this money!"

Loretta started to head back down the hallway. An agent stopped her and made her sit on the staircase leading to the second floor. "Watch her," Russell ordered.

"Is there anyone else in the house with you?" he demanded.

"My husband," Russell says she answered. "And she points right to where he was -- gave him right up."

Russell raced down the hall and found Hirschfeld inside a huge walk-in closet, where office files and supplies were kept. "I said his name," the FBI man remembers, "and I grabbed him. Scared the shit out of the little fucker."

The five-foot-seven, 160-pound Hirschfeld was dwarfed by the six-foot, 200-pound-plus agent. Russell wasn't impressed. Nor was he pleased. "I was scared," Russell admits, because as the lawyer put one hand through a pair of handcuffs, he quickly stuck the other in his pants pocket.

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