Mr. Big Shot

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

"Against my direct orders," Russell says. "Everybody in the world knows you don't put your hand in your pocket when you're being arrested. So I grabbed him by the neck and said, 'If you do that again, you're gonna get shot. '"

To his surprise, Hirschfeld did it again. When that happened, Russell recounts almost apologetically, "I handcuffed him in, uh, an aggressive manner."

"Very roughly," Loretta corroborates.

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.

It was a Friday afternoon. Loretta's middle son was getting married the following weekend, an event the couple was eagerly anticipating. As Hirschfeld was marched out the front door, he turned around and said to his wife, "Don't let this affect the wedding."

What did he have in this pocket? A gun? A knife? A cell phone to flag down his helicopter?

All Hirschfeld carried were two friends who'd seen him through a near-decade of successful sub-rosa solitude: a wad of cash and an international calling card.

Hirschfeld held one last card in his depleted deck. After his arrest, Business Wire reported that in 2003, Hirschfeld's telecommunications company, Global Telesat, helped pioneer revolutionary new eavesdropping technology. The company, with Hirschfeld's concurrence, had supplied equipment to the Pentagon, which used it to find and capture Saddam Hussein. Hirschfeld appealed to President Bush for clemency, to no avail.

Cooter says he had no idea Hirschfeld was in Florida until his arrest. "Frankly, I think there's a reason for that. I would have been very critical with Richard about any decision to live in Lauderdale. I would have found that reckless. Jeez, he bought himself a $4 million mansion and lived in an ostentatious way -- I mean, you can't thumb your nose at these people."

Fort Lauderdale attorney Alvin Entin did what he could. "I had many different, inventive strategies that I think could have worked," he says.

"Yeah," Loretta deadpans, "we've been hearing that for years."

As a fugitive, Hirschfeld was denied bail. His options slowly dwindled. Regardless, Entin says he never spotted depression in his client. "But I'm a criminal defense lawyer, not a shrink," he says. "He was always hyper and upbeat around me."

Backed into a legal corner, all the attorneys he could muster writing furious petitions, Hirschfeld was unable to persuade the government to keep him in Miami. In early January 2005, a federal judge ordered him transferred to Virginia to stand trial. "There's no question about it," Loretta says quietly. "We knew all along that it was a personal vendetta. Don't piss off anybody in the government. That's exactly the way they operate -- because they can."

In a letter from jail sent to Norfolk, Virginia, reporter Bill Burke, he pleaded: "Pray for my wife -- the noblest person I've ever known -- and my family. Today it actually hit me I will never receive justice."

On the morning of January 11, prison phone transcripts showed, Hirschfeld called Loretta to pledge his undying love and to ask forgiveness, begging her not to hate him.

"How could I hate you?" Loretta asked.

"For giving up," he said.

Shortly before 10 a.m. that day, Hirschfeld's body was discovered in a laundry room. He had fashioned a noose from some rope and tied it to a pipe. A sheet of cellophane that had covered his last meal was pressed against his face. He had knelt and bent forward -- a tough way to die, requiring lethal determination.

"I was shocked," Tweel says, "but his letters to me made it be known he was not going back to prison. I think he would not have done this if they'd let him stay in Florida, where he would have been treated impartially. But still, he called the final shot."

In Iraq, Russell got a phone call from his supervisor in Miami. "You know all that work you did?" his boss asked. "The guy's dead." Says Russell: "I figured he got killed by another inmate."

Detective Morrow offers more compassion. "I really sympathize with the family," he says. "It's a very sad story with a very sad ending."

The people Hirschfeld left behind, especially his wife, contend that the vendetta begun in Virginia in the 1970s dogged him to his grave. Loretta says her husband courageously risked everything, ultimately his life, to be with his family. Even when the game was up, he didn't surrender -- he escaped.

"That's just the way Richard was," Loretta says, trying to staunch tears. "He'd give you the shirt off his back, which had a lot to do with his downfall, because he was so good to people. And it was incredible how people took advantage of him. There's something wrong with that picture."

To Loretta, Richard wasn't quite the larger-than-life character he appeared. "He was about as unflamboyant as you can get," she insists. "He was just a really down-to-earth guy with a heart of gold. His life was such a love story -- he loved his parents, he loved my parents, his kids and grandkids, and he always told me that I would never find someone who would love me as much as he did. And I'm sure that's true. I mean, he just adored me -- and I don't mean to sound obnoxious, but he loved me to death. For 30 years."

Loretta Hirschfeld recently sold the house on Brickell, and she's considering returning to Virginia. "One of the things that makes me very, very sad is that Richard didn't stick around to write his own story," she says. "Because nobody writes like Richard Hirschfeld."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help