For the past few years, the man known as "Frankie D" was a fixture at the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler firm.
Former law firm employees say Frankie, a street guy from Brooklyn, started out as Scott Rothstein's driver and more recently worked was a jack-of-all-trades, helping in any way Rothstein asked. More than one law firm source told me it was common knowledge that Frankie D did time in prison before getting the job. When asked why he did time, he told at least one source that it was because he didn't tell the feds what they wanted to hear. One source at the firm said he learned that he'd been imprisoned on a drug-related offense.
Well, this morning I got an earful from Frankie D, whose name is actually Frank DiGiovanni. I found him at his out-of-the way apartment off AIA in Hollywood. DiGiovanni is 51, matching the age of the Frank DiGiovanni who was released from federal prison in 2004. That Frank DiGiovanni was sentenced to 135 months in prison for his role in a cocaine distribution ring that stretched from Texas to New York City. His alias at the time was "Frank D," according to appellate records.
I learned from some cursory research before meeting DiGiovanni that another man with his name had been caught by police on the streets of New York in 1980 with stolen cash and $20,000 worth of jewelry. That Frank Giovanni had been injured in the ensuing scuffle when the officer's gun fired.
After I knocked on his door about 11 a.m., the heavyset and bullish Giovanni, who is balding with dark hair, answered wearing only a pair of shorts. He had tattoos on both arms and clearly visible mottled scars on his left shoulder.
I introduced myself and told him I was covering the Scott Rothstein case and wanted to talk to him about it. In his thick Brooklyn accent, he told me he knew my name and he
didn't feel up to an interview. He said that he was a cancer patient at Jackson Memorial Hospital and that he didn't feel well. But we wound up talking outside his door for a solid 15 minutes.
He wouldn't say exactly when he started working at the firm and said he got the job because he had known "Mr. Rothstein" -- he unfailingly referred to the firm's former president in that formal way -- for many years.
He said he'd been "practicing law" for many years.
"You're a lawyer?" I asked him.
"No, but I studied law for many years," he answered.
We got around to Rothstein's crimes.
"Remember, Mr. Rothstein hasn't been convicted of anything yet," DiGiovanni said. "How do you know he won't pay these people back, with profits? Look there's another side to this. Mr. Rothstein didn't take these people's money. They gave it to him. It's the same with Madoff.
"I could get [Madoff's victims] on the stand and say, 'Isn't it true that you wanted to give Mr. Madoff money and he told you no? Isn't it true that a year later, you went to Mr. Madoff and practically begged him to take your $3 million?' Who's really at fault?"
He went on with this line of thought for a while before I asked him what his role was at the law firm. "I did courier work; I was the guy that went to get the hazelnut coffee," he said. "I had a good job. I'm still a little devastated by what happened, to tell you the truth. I didn't have nothing to do with no Ponzi. You kidding me? I can barely read and write. I got the IQ of a houseplant."
He started complaining about the coverage, saying there was a lot of untrue stuff that had been published. "You have to be careful what you say," he said, holding his thumb and first two fingers together up to his mouth. "You hold your life on the tip of your tongue. It can be dangerous."
I asked him about his prison time and the suspicions to organized crime.
"What are you talking about?" he said with an annoyed grimace. "I don't admit to anything like that. I ain't saying nothing. I'd like to know who told you that. I can't believe you heard that."
He kept asking me not to write anything about him.
"We can meet at your office like gentlemen, do it the right way," he said. He held his hands up and rubbed them together. "Have some coffee. I don't want nothing out there like this."
I said something about my office, and he said, "I know exactly where your office is. It's in that alley thing off Third. I've seen it."
When I refused to say I wouldn't write anything, he turned to another tactic.
"You better not write nothing that you don't know about," he said. "That's libel. I'll own that New Times office where you work."
I asked him about his tattoos. The one on his left arm said "Frankie D" and was surrounded by a holiday-like wreath. The other I believe said "Ann Marie." I asked him about the scars on his shoulder.
"That? That's nothing, that's stretch marks," he said. Then he lifted his other arm to show me that it looked the same. That shoulder did look similar, except that it didn't have noticeable scars on it like the other one. "Yeah, that's just stretch marks."
"There's three sides to everything," he said. "There's my story, there's your story, and there's the truth. You hear about George Levin? Well, maybe he isn't what he seems. Maybe he wasn't necessarily on the good side of things, you know?"
I asked him if he ever met Levin.
"I never met Levin in the office," he said.
He went back inside after beseeching me again not to write anything. I got back and found this document online about the Frank DiGiovanni case. It listed his co-defendants, John "Johnny Goo" Peretta, Horacio Davila Moreno (AKA Joe), Hector Pedraza, and Stanley Miller.
Then I found another, more in-depth New York Times article about the Frank DiGiovanni who was shot by police in 1980. Turns out the officer that shot him was actually charged with assault. Here's an excerpt from the article:
According to the police account of the incident, Officer Schirripa and Detective George W. Boefer were on burglary patrol in civilian clothes on May 16 when they spotted a parked car owned by a man they had previously arrested for burglary. Checking nearby residences, they noticed a second-floor terrace door open at a private house. Soon afterward, they saw a man, later identified as Frank DiGiovanni, jump from the terrace to the street.
Officer Schirripa, the account continued, drew his gun and shouted, ''Police, stop!'' Mr. DiGiovanni then allegedly grabbed the officer's gun hand and a struggle ensued, with Detective Boefer joining in. The three men fell to the ground and Officer Schirripa's gun fired, wounding Mr. DiGiovanni slightly in the left shoulder.
A search later disclosed that Mr. DiGiovanni had $2,276 in cash, $20,000 worth of jewelry, $850 in savings bonds and a number of credit cards he had allegedly stolen minutes before.
(I have to go to an interview, so this will have to do for now.)