An Imperfect Murder

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The next month, federal prosecutors indicted the prisoner for his role in the murder for hire. Beltran pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten additional years in prison.

Martinez's reasons for selling out a fellow inmate were anything but altruistic. "It was plain English," Zayas said in a May 14 deposition. "He wanted cooperation."

The ATF pulled strings, and Martinez was released from prison on November 4, 2002, 25 years before the expiration of his sentence. Three months later, he married a long-time girlfriend, real estate agent Nadezda Stefanovich, and settled into a suburban life in Lauderhill as a husband and stepfather of two teenage girls.

But there was a catch. "Part of the agreement with him being released from prison," Zayas admitted in a deposition, "was that he was going to work with us."

Charlie Moretto always knew the score. As a businessman, he could be cutthroat. "He's a real gambler, and he's a very brilliant man," 46-year-old ex-girlfriend Deborah Basha remembered in a statement to police. "There's nobody like him."

Overweight at five-foot-six and 190 pounds, the 58-year-old Moretto carried his money in an alligator clip and was fiercely independent. He was known for always being the guy behind the wheel during outings. "Charlie, nobody picks up Charlie," Basha recalled. "He takes his car everywhere."

Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Moretto spent most of his life in or around Boston, near his cousin and good friend Billy Botelho. The father of seven children, Moretto was a lifelong entrepreneur. He owned two clubs in North Reading, Massachusetts -- Maverick and New York Disco -- before finally making his money from the sea. More than 20 years ago, Moretto started Fleet Yacht Charters of Boston, which charters luxury yachts on Boston Harbor for events and dinners. By November 1990, Moretto had met a new girlfriend, Basha, and had handed control of the yacht-chartering company to two of his children, Christine and Gary, both of whom declined to comment for this article.

Around the same time, one of Moretto's other children, Richard, started adding lines to his Mafia résumé. In August 1990, a federal grand jury indicted the young Moretto and 50 others for involvement in a drug-trafficking ring led by infamous Boston mobster James J. "Whitey" Bulger. The group imported cocaine from Florida to South Boston. Trial evidence showed that Richard was one of the organization's tough guys, once making a veiled threat to a used car salesman. "You love your father and mother, right?" Richard told him. "Well, keep loving them." He was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 17.5 years. After serving a portion of his prison term, Richard rejoined the Mob on the outside. He then became an enforcer and a packager for a marijuana-smuggling ring, according to a federal indictment handed down in December 2002.

By then, the Moretto patriarch had already started a new life 1,500 miles south of Boston. After Basha gave birth to his daughter, Charly, the trio moved to Broward County in the mid-'90s. As it turned out, Moretto ran in some of the same circles as his incarcerated son. "I can just tell you that Charlie has a very colorful past..." Basha said. "I mean, he probably has a lot of friends that are wise guys. OK, I mean, he definitely does."

Moretto was an associate in the Genovese crime family. In 1996, he had been indicted in Broward County on racketeering charges for his connection to an illegal gambling enterprise headed by local Mob soldiers John "Johnny Sideburns" Cerrella and Vinnie Romano.

Cerrella and Romano ran a sports-betting operation in a Coral Springs apartment. The investigation into that business led to an Oakland Park nightclub called Club Fever, believed to have been a Mob front for money laundering. Moretto was swept up in the indictment for his interest in the club. He pleaded no contest to conspiracy to violate beverage laws and received five years of probation.

In 1999, Moretto reportedly went straight. As South Florida's real estate market heated up, he started fixing up luxury properties in North Broward, then selling them for a profit. It was honest work. "I think he's a legitimate, hard-working, law-abiding citizen now," Basha said. "I think he decided, you know what, this is the way to be, 'cause the other thing ain't working out."

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson