Hip-Hop Poseur Jimmy Sabatino Can't Stop Scamming — Even From Prison

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Charges involving the president were dropped. Others weren't. For saying he planned to "eliminate" the Fort Lauderdale courthouse "by means of bomb," he got 51 months in federal prison, where, one might assume, his antics would stall. But Sabatino was only getting started.

What makes Jimmy Sabatino such a good con man? It's simple. He's damned likable. Preternaturally easy to talk to, Sabatino is funny, intelligent, self-deprecating, empathetic, and endearingly vulnerable. He seems the furthest thing from a con man. He seems like a pal, someone you can trust. Someone you might even, if the conditions were right, give hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But with Sabatino, everything is calculated and measured, from the minute he gets on the phone to the moment he executes a close. He speaks of conning with the thoughtfulness a pickup artist applies to bedding women. "I know within five minutes whether someone's going to bite," he says, adding that he can gauge with shocking accuracy who will be most amenable to a well-placed suggestion. "I can't honestly tell you what made me this way," he says. "I truly have no idea. I'm just able to convince people of things."

To friends and family, however, his deftness with scamming represents the tragedy of Jimmy Sabatino. It's no secret he obsesses over attention. He keeps a mental catalog of every newspaper article, magazine piece, and blog post that's ever mentioned him. He has combed Google Books for tomes that carry his name and remembers precisely how he was described in each of the five books. He's almost comically thin-skinned. "I hate how they called me a mobster in that book," he says, referencing The Crime Buff's Guide to the Outlaw Rockies. "I never said I was a mobster." He also beseeched New Times not to publish any drawings of him because "I'm a very serious person. I don't want any fucking cartoons. They're retarded."

And though Sabatino describes himself as a power broker in American hip-hop, nothing in cyberspace substantiates that claim. Researching the name Jimmy Sabatino only unspools article after article logging his criminal past.

"He's so smart, but he doesn't use his brain very well," cousin Femia recently wept. "I love everything about him; he's funny and kind-hearted. But he likes to be like he's a big deal. He does this because he thinks then people will want to be around him. He wants friends and girls flocking all over him, just so he can get the satisfaction that he's important."

In 2002, while Sabatino was incarcerated in New York's Westchester County Jail, he came into contact with a Bronx woman named Marcilee Vega. She had a dark complexion and straight black hair. Sabatino was in love. "Back then," he says, "she was a real looker." He claims she needed money, and Sabatino knew exactly what to do.

According to a federal complaint that year, he called Nextel representatives nationwide, pretending to be Sony Pictures executive Jack Kindberg (who does exist). Sabatino said he needed phones for an upcoming shoot. Soon Sabatino — who was then just months away from release — put together what he calls his prison "office."

"I had notepads, a chair, and a desk. By 6 a.m., I was making calls, and I was there until dinnertime." Indeed, surveillance videos were entered into evidence depicting Sabatino jabbering on the telephone to God knows who for eight hours per day.

Sabatino somehow obtained an authentic Sony account number and provided Nextel with genuine tax information. Without putting forward a penny, he had Nextel ship more than 1,000 phones to Sony's "corporate office" — which was really a FedEx shop in Manhattan. The phones vanished into the black market, the profits divvied among Sabatino's accomplices, whom, beyond Vega, he'd never met. Over the course of five months, authorities said he'd conned Nextel of more than $3 million, including service charges.

Sabatino barely saw a dime of the profits; he said he did it all just to "see Marcilee smile," according to federal court documents. "Nothing about this crime makes sense," his attorney, Mary Anne Wirth, wrote in a letter to the court, "unless viewed in light of a diagnosed impulse control disorder. He was clearly not motivated by greed." Judge Charles Brieant, who described Sabatino as "extraordinarily intelligent," agreed. "He seems to have acted out of a need for attention," he said. "I have real concern about whether this need will ever go away, and therefore the impulse to commit these crimes."

Sabatino, who was then 27, got 11 more years. His father mourned the sentencing. "I know my son feels as though these are victimless crimes and he never meant to harm anyone," he wrote in a letter. "But he is no longer a small boy acting out, but rather a grown man who has made some terrible mistakes."

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Terrence McCoy