The question central to a potential criminal case against Richard Lippner -- the 38-year-old Fort Lauderdale man in whose apartment both Brianna Negron, 23, and Casey DiStefano, 20, died four months apart -- will likely be whether he provided Casey the drugs that killed her.
Casey moved to South Florida from New Jersey in October in hopes of becoming a model. She worked as a VIP waitress at the Fort Lauderdale nightclub the Living Room, where she met Lippner.
A recently released autopsy report calls Casey's death an accident, listing her cause of death as "combined drug toxicity." She had a number of heavy narcotics in her system when she passed.
If police can prove that Lippner, Casey's boyfriend at the time, knew what would happen when a young woman her size combined those narcotics -- perhaps because he had a similar experience in his recent past -- and that he gave her the drugs anyway, he could potentially be charged with manslaughter.
Lippner's attorney, Melody Ridgley Fortunato, says her client never gave drugs to either girl. She says that her firm hired a personal investigator to look into the case and that she believes Casey got drugs from the Living Room. "The employees were encouraged to drink with the customers," Fortunato says. "A witness at the Living Room observed Casey doing cocaine the last night she worked there."
The attorney provided photos of Casey drinking underage and involved in cocaine use. She would not comment on whether the photos were taken by her client or whether he also used any drugs with or without Casey.
Mark Lowe, owner of the Living Room, says Fortunato's assertions that his club gave Casey drugs are "absolutely false." He says there may have been some underage drinking at times -- "find me one nightclub in South Florida where there's not."
"Was there ever cocaine use at the club? Possibly," Lowe says, "but I never saw it at all. I'm normally out in the front, greeting guests. I know that happens at a lot of nightclubs down here. I personally don't do any kind of drugs at all."
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He scoffs at the idea that his employees are encouraged to use cocaine with or without clients. "It's just not true. Plus, Casey's only client for the last few weeks she worked here was Rich."
Fort Lauderdale police say they have several witnesses who can testify to Rich's use of cocaine and prescription pills. "He's like the Candy Man," said one officer.
Casey's friends say that she liked to party like most kids in high school but that meeting Rich intensified everything. They say she changed. Coworkers say that she started missing shifts and that she acted "like a zombie." Several friends say they witnessed Rich doing cocaine and prescription pills with Casey.
One close friend of Casey's I spoke with said, "Rich would buy massive amounts of cocaine and pills" and offered them to Casey and her friends "numerous times."