Mayor's Boy

"But then, Mr. Giulianti was luckier than most teens; he grew up the son of the then and current Mayor of Hollywood, Florida."

There's been a lot in the newspapers, this one included, about Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti's son, Stacey, especially after his former law partner, ex-Hollywood commissioner Keith Wasserstrom, was hit with corruption charges and kicked out of office last year.

But you haven't heard from Hollywood's other favorite son until now. Michael Giulianti, the family's tough guy, has had his own troubles with the law. "I didn't do shit," the stringent 36-year-old attorney told me last week. "I got railroaded but sometimes you have to take it like a man to protect your family. Everybody thinks their life is a movie, but my life is a movie. It's a very interesting story that's going to make one hell of a book."

The denial of wrongdoing is a familiar stance for members of the Giulianti family. Both Mara and Stacey were investigated in the Wasserstrom fiasco and, even though prosecutors found that the mayor had filed false conflict-of-interest forms, they both managed to stay out of handcuffs.

Michael, who works on his mother's campaigns and has been credited by her as a key to her political success, wasn't so lucky. He has been charged during the past year with a number of crimes — including forgery, grand theft, and making criminal threats — in two states.

While he denies he did anything wrong, he pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to probation and ordered into a drug treatment program.

It's not the first time he's been hit with criminal charges. He has a long history of playing on the edge of the law, especially when he was a teenager running around Hollywood.

Even the name of Michael's makeshift California-based law firm echoes his criminal ethos: Outlaw Legal Group. The firm's website is decorated with pistols and bullet holes and promises that Giulianti and his "network of fierce legal guns" will help fix any criminal problem you might have, from a traffic ticket to a murder rap.

In the bio section, which includes a photograph of Michael grimly posing with crossed arms and slitted eyes, he writes of his boyhood:

"While growing up, Mr. Giulianti was no different than most 'normal youths.' He loved skateboarding with his crew, was 'wearin' fat laces and spinning on his back,' playing football and earning an all-county accolade for center, and of course, hustling to make pocket cash. Like most guys his age, he spent his time running with 'The Brotherz,' falling in and out and back in love with his High School sweetheart (now wife), and of course, experienced the typical teenage 'run-ins' with the law!"

Then he tells of how his mother helped him out.

"Thankfully for Mr. Giulianti, his teenage transgressions were settled without much further ado ... But then, Mr. Giulianti was luckier than most teens; he grew up the son of the then and current Mayor of Hollywood, Florida — the Honorable Mara Giulianti."

It has long been rumored that the mayor used her political clout with local police to get Michael out of trouble. The issue even arose in an ongoing lawsuit filed against the city by former Hollywood Police Chief Richard Witt. Witt testified that Michael was arrested for possessing marijuana, "narcotics equipment," and illegal prescription drugs (Percocet) in Lee County in 1993, according to court records.

The former chief said the mayor contacted him, told him the arrest of her son, who was then 22, was a "mistake," and asked him if he knew any officers in Lee County who could "help," Witt testified in a 1997 deposition.

He testified that Mara told him that the Percocet was legal and had been prescribed by either her husband, Donald, a neurologist, or another doctor. When Witt contacted detectives in Lee County, they told him that they would go easy on Michael — but only if he were to give "substantial assistance" in other narcotics investigations.

"I got the impression that it was time for Dick Witt, chief of police, law enforcement officer, to get his nose out of another jurisdiction's business," Witt testified.

Michael Giulianti said the Lee County charges were dropped. "As any loving parent would when concerned about their child's well-being, [Mara] may have contacted Witt for advice at the time of that wrongful arrest," he wrote me in an e-mail.

Witt's testimony indicates far more than a request for advice; rather, it points to an abuse of mayoral power. And in the more recent case, the mayor tried to influence Broward prosecutors to go easy on her son.

Giulianti's latest crime occurred on March 16 of last year, when he walked into a Citibank branch in Hollywood and tried to cash a $5,970 check. The check, made out to Michael, was drawn on the account of a California-based construction company.  

A suspicious bank employee contacted the construction company and learned that the owners had never heard of Michael and that the check had been forged. While Michael insisted the check was valid, the bank contacted the Hollywood Police Department.

Michael was allowed to go free while Hollywood Police Det. Edward Goldbach investigated the case. Michael said he didn't want to give Goldbach the name of the person who provided him with the check because of attorney-client privilege.

"I'm a criminal defense attorney, and when somebody gives me a check, I cash it," Michael explained to me. "Goldbach didn't care about that. He said, 'If you don't tell us something, we're going to put your mom all over the paper and you're screwed.' I should not have said a goddamn word, but I tried to help my mother out."

The detective, a 25-year veteran, calls that claim "ridiculous."

"He kept going around and around in circles, telling me all these stories," Goldbach says. "His mom didn't come into this at all. To be honest, I don't care about politics. I don't even live in the city. I just do my job and go home."

Michael first gave the police the name of one of his criminal clients in California, Shaney Gutierrez, according to court records. Goldbach, however, found that Gutierrez was in jail at the time and couldn't have provided the bogus check. Then the mayor's son gave the name of a convicted forger, Michelle Freeman.

Freeman later wrote the court from her prison cell to take responsibility for the counterfeit check. But Goldbach didn't buy it. Michael was charged with the two felonies.

The police department, which has long been plagued by allegations of corruption, is now in the midst of a sensational scandal. Four veteran police officers were caught in an FBI sting trying to protect and run drugs for men they believed to be mobsters but were actually undercover agents.

But Goldbach's dogged work on the investigation, regardless of the family ties of the man accused, shows that even in one of the most corrupt P.D.'s in the country, there are honest cops.

The Broward State Attorney's Office was just as diligent. The veteran prosecutor on the case, John Hanlon, filed a motion with the court on June 20 letting it be known that he would produce a key witness against Giulianti should the case go to trial: Michael's then-estranged wife (and former high school sweetheart) Holly Giulianti.

Holly said that Michael had also forged four checks, totaling $2,000, on her personal account, according to Hanlon, who now works for Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne. In that instance, Mama Mara apparently did come to the rescue of her son.

Hanlon wrote in the motion that Citibank "urged" Holly Giulianti to file criminal charges against Michael for the lost $2,000. "However, she has not taken that position," Hanlon continued. "According to her, the defendant's parents have urged her not to file charges and have indicated that they will reimburse her for her loss."

Later in the motion, Hanlon wrote, "The fact that [Michael Giulianti] broke into his wife's account through the issuance of four counterfeited checks is relevant to prove intent, preparation, plan... but more importantly, knowledge that the [construction company] check was counterfeited."

During the investigation, Mara contacted Hanlon to try to explain "personal problems" he was having, said State Attorney's spokesman Ron Ishoy. "Hanlon courteously assured her that he was continuing his investigation and at the appropriate time would invite the young man to speak to us," Ishoy explained. "John and an SAO investigator then went to California to investigate that portion of the case further."

Michael Giulianti continues to maintain that he's the real victim and calls Hanlon an "idiot." Yet he pleaded no contest to forgery in December (the grand theft charge was dropped as part of the plea deal) and was sentenced to three years of probation. The court withheld adjudication, meaning that the conviction won't be on Michael's record.

"I did it because it was a great deal," he says of his plea.

Michael also pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges in California, where he lived for several years, that he'd threatened his wife, with whom he has two young daughters, and made "annoying phone calls" to her.

"I don't give a rat's ass about that," he says. "It's making annoying phone calls. I was going through a divorce, my wife wouldn't let me see my kids, she's jockeying for custody, and these charges came down. I had to take a plea. I love my kids, and that's what's most important to me right now."  

Which brings us to the present. Michael is divorced from Holly, has been denied visitation with his daughters, and is living with his mom and dad in Hollywood. He's fighting to save his law license in California, hoping that the withholding of adjudication in the Broward case won't count as a felony conviction there.

And he's trying to clean up.

"Look, I've never done major drugs in my life," Michael told me. "I'm no different than anyone else. I'm a regular guy who got A's all through high school and college. But I decided a year ago, March 24, to quit drinking. I decided it was time to grow up all the way."

I wondered if some of Michael's current problems didn't stem from the "luck" of being the son of the Hollywood mayor. Maybe if he'd been like any other kid — and had to really face up to those "run-ins with the law" he wrote about — he would have been spared the mess he's in now.

Michael's story, whether it will make a movie someday or not, seems to exemplify much of the mayor's political life. It's all there: the greed, the disregard for ethics and honesty, the belief that sheer political power would wash away whatever misdeeds might be committed. And the years of operating in that callous fashion seem to be catching up with Mara and her city now, as scandal threatens to undo the mayor and implode Hollywood's unsavory power structure.

Don't know if the mayor sees any credence in that view, though, since Mara didn't return my calls. She's busy, after all. Someone has to mother Hollywood.

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