Editor's note: Last week, Bob Norman told the story of Tony Tarantino (the famous director's father) and Tarantino's movie project, called New Horizons. Trying to raise money, Tarantino met with members of a Broward County family called the Rubbos, whom he apparently didn't know were under investigation for boiler-room scams and Mafia ties. Tarantino never signed an agreement with the family, but that didn't stop the Rubbos from trying to raise money for the film. When the Securities and Exchange Commission got wind of the Rubbos' misdeeds, it filed suit against the family. Tarantino is now a leading witness for the prosecution. This week, we explore the bizarre Rubbo family. Next week, we'll tell of the flirtation between the Rubbos and Tarantino.
Make way for Angela "Big Angie" Rubbo. Because she is big, or she was before the stress of a federal indictment caused her to shed 20 pounds. Now, at five foot three, the leader of the Rubbo family weighs in at a rather modest 140 pounds. But she still has big white (or "platinum" as she calls it) hair and a big New York City attitude. And Big Angie is a huge part of the proposed true-crime movie Pulp Nonfiction that I told you about last week.
In many ways, she embodies the pathos of South Florida, with all its devilish double-dealers, twisted dreams, and treacherous smiles for tourists and assorted other suckers. Big Angie -- or simply "Big Anj," as she's often called -- combines money lust with a mother's touch. The feds say she and her brood are nothing but a bevy of con artists; she counters that the feds conned her right out of business. Believe what you will, but the 59-year-old grandmother of five is definitely tortured. She's drawn to drama and prone to nervous breakdowns, and she suffers from manic-depression. Such emotional bankruptcy mirrors her financial state, which was once flush with cash. She says that her white Cadillac was recently repossessed and that her sons have all had to obtain second mortgages on their homes in Parkland and Coral Springs to keep from starving.
During a recent telephone interview, she sobbed and complained that her life is being destroyed by both the forces of good -- law enforcement -- and of evil -- organized crime. From the former, she's facing up to ten years in prison if convicted on federal racketeering charges. The latter, she said, might murder her at any time. On top of that, Quentin Tarantino's father, Tony Tarantino, whom I told you about last week, is cooperating with the Securities and Exchange Commission in a civil case against her family that involves an alleged movie scam.
"Do you want a screenplay? I can give you a screenplay you won't believe," promised Big Angie, who is awaiting trial after her release from federal detention on a $100,000 bond.
Pulp Nonfiction is part farce, but like all good true-crime stories, it's about real problems. And Big Angie, who I'm thinking will be played by Anjelica Huston, has plenty of them. "I don't care anymore -- if they want to kill me, they can kill me," she said between sobs, referring to friends she insists are not hers. "I'm tired of it. As a human being, I just can't let these lies go on. I live in disgust. I live in fear. The police watch me constantly and harass me and my little family. That's all we are, a little family."
So say hello to her little family. The Rubbos come from the Bronx, where Big Angie was born to deli owners Pasquale and Gracie Pappalardo. Big Angie said she learned the value of hard work in the deli, which was named for her mother. In 1989, her parents retired to Broward County; Big Angie quickly followed them with her husband, Nick, and four children in tow. Nick, an electrician, died of a heart attack in 1992, an event that still brings Big Angie to tears. Her eldest son, 38-year-old Joe Rubbo, said the death rallied the family together. "Ever since my dad died, we've gotten closer," he said. "We do business together. Sometimes we do things and we get incriminated in the wrong way.... My mom isn't Ma Barker."
Despite the purported coziness, there has been some heated conflict inside the family, whose pictures look as if they were shot on the set of The Sopranos. A feud between Big Angie and a daughter-in-law has so far produced two restraining orders. Carol Rubbo, wife of 35-year-old son Pasquale (or Patsy, as he's called), alleged in court papers that "Angela says she will murder me in a minute and get away with it because of her bipolar disease and plead insanity."
Big Angie countered that Carol Rubbo threatened to slit her throat, burn her alive, pour sugar into her gas tank, and kill her dog.
Hey, they are in-laws, after all.
Patsy, the middle of her three sons (the youngest is 32-year-old Nicky), seems to be the wildest of the Rubbo boys. He was caught on tape by the FBI talking about physically assaulting Carol and was charged in 1997 with aggravated assault and fleeing the police. (Ultimately, he was convicted only of the latter charge.) According to federal court filings, he had to be temporarily institutionalized under the Baker Act last year after a cocaine and Ecstasy binge during which he complained to police that he wanted to hurt himself. According to a witness, he pushed his mother to the ground during the binge -- but Big Angie insists that never happened.
Violence dogs the family. The only daughter, 30-year-old Little Angie, filed an injunction in 2000 requesting protection from a boyfriend who, she claimed, assaulted her in front of her mother's Parkland house. "I am in fear for my life, my mother's life, my brother and his wife, my dog, all of whom I love," she complained.
Throw in a handful of civil lawsuits -- one of them filed by a Deerfield Beach strip-mall owner claiming that the family wrenched an air-conditioning duct from an office roof -- and an amazing number of traffic tickets (Joe Rubbo alone has collected 20 in the past three years), and it's a wonder the family had time to do any business at all.
But they did plenty. State records show they have been involved in about 20 companies since 1990. Big Angie ran a beauty shop for years (and Patsy, before he became a Mafia wannabe, was a hairdresser). It wasn't barbering, however, that landed the family in hot water; it was four telemarketing operations -- with names like International Fortune Inc. and New World Exchange -- that they ran from 1998 to 2000. The boiler rooms, located in Broward and Palm Beach counties, took in a total of $11.7 million, according to the federal indictment.
Nearly $5 million of it was purportedly raised by a reputed Trafficante mob family soldier named David Cavallo, a telemarketing specialist whose group of salespeople, affectionately known in the underworld as "Little Dave's Group," worked for the Rubbos. Though the salespeople told investors that the money would be put into the foreign currency market, the FBI contends it was circulated through fraudulent overseas companies and returned to the Rubbos. Not a single investor turned a profit, according to prosecutors.
At the same time, Patsy was in what the FBI describes as "constant" communication with a man named Israel Torres, who allegedly supervised the Bonanno crime family's operations in South Florida. The feds say Torres, identified in court papers as a "non-member associate" of the Mafia, answered to Anthony "The Little Guy" Graziano, the reputed high-ranking consigliere of the Bonanno group. Patsy and Torres met with Graziano on occasion -- and there are FBI surveillance photos in the court file to prove it. Patsy allegedly told Torres that he thought Graziano was "nice," though Big Angie's son did complain about having to pick up a $500 dinner tab for the visiting Mafioso. At the same time, federal agents in New York were investigating Graziano and associates for some not-so-nice things: murder and torture, including the blowtorching of one unlucky fellow's face.
In recorded phone calls, Patsy spoke of paying "tribute" to Torres and expressed his desire to "move up the ladder within the Bonanno Family," the FBI alleges. For his part, Torres often boasted in recorded phone calls of stabbing and beating people. The Mafia wanted to copy the Rubbos' "boiler-room method," the feds allege.
Big Angie swears that she tried to resist the mobsters but that they kept muscling in on her telemarketing businesses, which she insisted were originally legitimate enterprises. She said mobsters took advantage of the aptly nicknamed Patsy. "Patsy has a coke problem, and that was the weak link for them to get to my family," she explained. "These [mob] people ruin your life, and when they can't find an in, they find someone who is weak and break in. The mob came in with their people and bullied us."
Here she began to cry.
"All the lies. We've never had anything to do with those kind of people before. We did things by the book."
Big Angie also had law enforcement to worry about. In 1999, the Rubbos decided to try something new, according to the indictment. They wanted to forgo the bogus overseas trading houses and "create their own paper trail to make their businesses appear legitimate."
One of Big Angie's cousins, Geno Parisi, allegedly helped them in this pursuit. The 50-year-old Parisi had recently left prison after serving seven years on federal counterfeiting and drug-trafficking convictions. Parisi introduced the Rubbos to Jim Brock, who operated a company in Tampa called Orissa Trading. Brock supposedly specialized in laundering cash and hiding it in Bahamian bank accounts. The Rubbos embraced Brock and ultimately sent him some $1.7 million. Their allegiance to the money launderer seems to have been blind.
"When Geno comes to me with a good feeling of somebody, like with you, I can go to sleep," Big Angie once told Brock.
"Trust the instinct," Brock replied.
"I never had a second thought."
Big Angie should have done more thinking. Brock, in one of Pulp Nonfiction's stunning plot twists, turned out to be an undercover Tampa police detective. (His real name hasn't been disclosed.) The exchange was one of many he caught on wiretaps during meetings with members of the Rubbo family. Brock set the hook in Parisi's mouth during a discussion in March 2000. "You got those people convinced they're... investing," Brock said to Parisi.
"Yeah," Parisi replied, laughing.
"And we're just sending it to my account, and it's just sitting over there," Brock said.
"Yeah, it's going great," Parisi remarked.
"We both know I'm not investing."
"You hit on a good scam," Brock prodded.
"Yeah," Parisi repeated.
Brock was also able to catch some rather outlandish plans on tape. Parisi told Brock he was not averse to "sticking a gun in somebody's face" if the money was good. According to the FBI, Parisi had plans to kidnap a franchise owner of the Boca Raton-based Hair Club for Men, Jim Bucci, for ransom.
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On tape, Parisi told Brock that Bucci was worth $100 million and wasn't "protected" by the Mafia. But he also noted that Bucci -- who refused to comment on the matter -- lived in a gated community, so "nothing would come easy."
Big Angie insisted that Brock entrapped her family and basically orchestrated the crimes she's accused of: racketeering, money-laundering, and fraud. "There was so much entrapment and bullying going on," she lamented. "Between the Mafia and the police, I was trapped between hell and high water."
In the summer of 2000, the floods came. The FBI raided the Rubbo boiler rooms, froze bank accounts, and shut down their business. It wouldn't be until this past March -- nearly two years after the raids -- that the Rubbos and their alleged mob associates would be indicted both in South Florida and New York.
In the meantime, the Rubbos decided to give moviemaking a shot. Last year, they opened an office for their newly incorporated film company, Make It Reel Productions, on Cypress Creek Road. Oddly, it seems that film production wasn't much different than foreign currency. The Rubbos did the same thing: They jumped on the phones and tried to raise some serious money. Ninety million dollars, to be exact.