An Imperfect Murder

Page 5 of 7

Though their relationship didn't last, Moretto supported Basha and his daughter. Moretto paid for the woman's black Lexus, and she and her daughter lived in a $316,890 house that Moretto owned in Lighthouse Point. Eight-year-old Charly even attended Pine Crest, one of the area's most elite private schools, on daddy's dime. "We just set aside our differences when it came to her," Basha explained.

But Moretto's bond with his ex-girlfriend had become increasingly strained. Last summer, the two were embroiled in a bitter legal battle. Moretto filed a petition with the court seeking full custody of Charly, alleging that Basha's "use of illegal drugs and alcohol has risen to such a level as to endanger the safety and welfare of the minor child."

Exactly why, at the same time, Moretto was eager to sell his Bentley and Lighthouse Point mansion isn't clear. He didn't discuss his finances, Basha said. But she speculated that money had become tight. "He was definitely trying to liquidate," Basha said, "but Charlie is the type of guy that doesn't liquidate unless he gets what he wants. He'll hang tight."

On October 29, 2003, Basha's flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale was delayed. She had made plans with Moretto to pick up little Charly. She called to let her ex-boyfriend know she'd be late. He didn't answer. "Hi, Charlie, I'm actually on the plane," she said into Moretto's voice mail at 12:53 p.m. "It was delayed 45 minutes, so it looks like I'm getting in at 4:15. I should be home at 5."

Once back in Florida, Basha drove to Moretto's mansion at 3870 NE 31st Ave. in Lighthouse Point. When she pulled up to the house, she noticed the Bentley out front. She beeped. "Usually my daughter will run to the car," she would say later. "I beeped. Nothing." She knocked on the door. No answer. She peered through the glass. No one was moving inside. "I was thinking this is weird, because he would never leave his car anywhere," Basha said.

Still, she reasoned that Moretto and their daughter must have gone out for dinner. She went to her place. The phone rang. It was Pine Crest. "Your daughter, Charly, is here," the person said.

"What do you mean she's still there?" Basha replied.

She was worried. Moretto was getting old. His hearing was going, his health slowly deteriorating. His heart might have finally failed him. She called 911.

At 7 p.m., Lighthouse Point police found Moretto's body lying face up in the master bedroom, a few steps from the entrance to a bathroom.

Moretto's cousin, Botelho, immediately led detectives to Martinez, explaining that the day before, the Cuban man had made plans to purchase the Bentley and possibly the mansion. Moretto was wary of Martinez, Botelho explained. "He was afraid that he was gonna sign the title over to them, and he thought they was gonna -- they gonna whack him in the head and take the money back," he told detectives.

Soon, investigators discovered that they were handling much more than a murder mystery. The case represented an apparent intersection between the Mafia and ATF investigations into illegal arms dealing.

As it turned out, Moretto met Martinez through Boca Raton businessman Mike Umile. Martinez had told Umile that he had $10 million to invest in South Florida real estate and businesses. Moretto was looking for such an investor.

But Martinez was playing both ends against the middle, working simultaneously as a con man and as a paid snitch. On July 8, 2003, Martinez told the ATF that Umile was a member of the Gambino crime family, according to ATF reports obtained by New Times. He alleged that the Mafia was trying to acquire U.S. military arms, which the group would then exchange for narcotics with Caribbean revolutionaries. "Individuals from Trinidad-Tobago were interested in purchasing LAW missiles, M-16 rifles, and M-16 rifles with attached grenade launchers," according to an ATF report based on Martinez's information.

It's unclear whether organized crime outfits in the United States were indeed trying to partner with Caribbean extremists. Neither Umile nor the ATF would comment for this article. What is clear is that Martinez left investigators clues that seemed to connect him to the murder.

Authorities linked Moretto's Breitling watch and the title to his Bentley, both missing from the mansion, to Martinez. The watch was sold on eBay by one of the Cuban's friends. The car title was later destroyed by the same friend. What's more, on the day of the murder, cellular tower records indicated that Moretto's Nextel phone was in close proximity to Martinez's MetroPCS handset, leading detectives to believe that the con man had likely taken the phone following the murder.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson