The Bad Bet

It turns out murdered gambling boss Gus Boulis had plenty to hide

Through an FBI-documented confidential informant, FDLE discovered that Boulis was using the Mafia to protect and expand his gambling operation. The confidential source told FDLE that Boulis "was very friendly" with two men named Huey Steinhart and Joseph Defazzio. The FDLE report indicates that Steinhart was a known bookmaker and gambler, while Defazzio was an associate member of the Bonanno crime family.

Law enforcement also discovered that Boulis tried to leverage his Mob connections to expand Sun Cruz into New York State. He had no such luck. He "met with opposition from traditional organized crime members there," FDLE states.

"Boulis went back to Florida with his tail between his legs," the confidential source told FDLE.

Sun Cruz buyer and lobbyist Jack Abramoff (next picture) and U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (above) helped each other become Beltway powerbrokers. They've since been indicted on separate charges of, respectively, fraud and criminal conspiracy.
Sun Cruz buyer and lobbyist Jack Abramoff (next picture) and U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (above) helped each other become Beltway powerbrokers. They've since been indicted on separate charges of, respectively, fraud and criminal conspiracy.

Despite the failure, Boulis' gambling enterprise continued to flourish. He expanded from Hollywood to Key Largo, Port Canaveral, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, the Tampa Bay area, and South Carolina. And as Boulis' business grew wider, so did the state investigation. In 1998, in feeble attempts to shut down Boulis' enterprise, FDLE used confidential informants and undercover agents to document violations that, in hindsight, appear minor. Among Boulis' alleged crimes were sailing his gambling boats overcapacity to boost profits, starting gambling operations before entering international waters, and in some cases continuing gambling operations all the way into the Fort Lauderdale port jetty.

At the time, Boulis' personal life was in trouble. He and Hren were separating, and in court papers, his longtime girlfriend said that she feared Boulis might kill her. He had become increasingly violent, she alleged. On October 27, 1997, that violence peaked. Following an argument, Boulis grabbed Hren outside her Hollywood home.

"He punched me in the leg and then knocked me down and started hitting me in the head and upper body," she told the court. "My kids were standing there watching this. He then sat on top of me, holding my hair and ear and screaming at me [and] made me agree to his sick ideas about how he saw things. I told the kids to go inside, which they did for a while. My youngest son came out, and Gus told him to go and get Aris too because this was the last time they were going to see me. He told me he was going to smash my head into the ground so that all [the] blood would come out and then he was going to shoot himself... He has also told me on several occasions that he was going to kill him and the kids so I would suffer for the rest of my life."

Hren filed a restraining order against Boulis and eventually took him to court for child custody and assets of the businesses she helped build. His personal life was crumbling, and not surprisingly, so was his professional one.

In 1998, the federal government filed a lawsuit against Boulis, alleging that he attempted to conceal the true ownership of Sun Cruz. By owning the boats registered in the United States, the government alleged, the noncitizen Boulis violated the 1916 Shipping Act. As part of a settlement agreement, the government ordered Boulis to divest himself from the gambling-boat business.

Among the suitors to buy Sun Cruz were Adam Kidan and Jack Abramoff. Kidan is a disbarred lawyer who founded the Dial-A-Mattress company, and Abramoff is an influential lobbyist in Washington, D.C., who earned the nickname "Casino Jack" for representing the interests of casinos on Native American reservations. Abramoff is a longtime friend and associate of Tom DeLay's. The former Republican House majority leader, DeLay has been indicted on charges of money laundering and conspiracy in a case that alleges he helped funnel corporate contributions to state political candidates in Texas.

To be sure, Kidan and Abramoff had powerful friends in Washington. During a point in the Sun Cruz negotiations, when Boulis was being particularly difficult, the pair seemed to leverage one of those friends.

In March 2000, U.S. Rep. Robert Ney, a Republican from Ohio who is closely associated with Abramoff and DeLay, used the Congressional Record to attack Boulis. "I don't want to see the actions of one bad apple in Florida, or anywhere else, to affect the business aspect of this [gambling] industry or hurt any innocent casino patron in our country," Ney told Congress in March 2000, referring to Boulis. (A congressional probe is now investigating Ney's connections to Abramoff as part of a larger investigation of the prominent lobbyist.)

Finally, in September 2000, Boulis agreed to sell Sun Cruz to Kidan and Abramoff for $147.5 million. Not long after, Kidan and Abramoff failed to make good on a $23 million payment. According to a recent indictment, Kidan and Abramoff never had the money. Federal prosecutors allege that the pair committed bank fraud in purchasing Sun Cruz.

How much Boulis knew about the alleged fraud is unknown. But soon after selling Sun Cruz to Kidan and Abramoff, Boulis' relationship with the new owners deteriorated. In one widely reported incident, Boulis stabbed Kidan with a pen at a business meeting on December 5, 2000.

Two months later, Boulis was murdered on Miami Road.

Last month, Fort Lauderdale police arrested alleged Mafia associates Anthony Moscatiello, Anthony Ferrari, and James Fiorillo and charged them with Boulis' murder. Two of them have documented ties to Kidan.

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