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"I feel bad about that," Ciraolo says, his voice lowering. "I kind of feel responsible for his death. I never should've introduced Shatz to that motherfucker Sandini."

Ciraolo also regrets another introduction he made to Sandini, that of Esposito, who quit working for Ciraolo when he started his own car-rental business, called Globe Rentals, near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Ciraolo didn't know that Sandini was also being introduced to the FBI at about the same time.

While Sandini was being interviewed by Coral Springs police about the Shatz murder, he offered to help them solve the case if they could get him out of a 15-year prison sentence in Alabama on a marijuana-smuggling conviction. The police told the FBI about Sandini's eagerness to become a snitch, and the FBI set up a meeting. Sandini wowed them with a story about Paraguayan government officials who wanted to smuggle large amounts of cocaine and cash into the U.S. as a "nest egg" in case their regime were overthrown.

Despite the FBI's knowledge that Sandini was a swindler and suspected killer, they teamed up Mitrione, then a promising agent in his midthirties, with Sandini, who was put on the government payroll at $800 a week. Mitrione, who eagerly joined forces with Sandini, says nobody told him that Sandini was a suspected killer before he went on to persuade an Alabama judge to suspend Sandini's prison sentence. Mitrione also says he found out later that an FBI memo preceding Airlift stated that Sandini should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to work for the FBI again. Apparently Sandini had burned the FBI even before Airlift ever started, says Mitrione.

"[The FBI] created that monster, and they didn't know what they were doing," Ciraolo says. "Sandini should have been rotting in jail, but they let him out. Sandini was the greatest at that. I used to call him 'Houdini.'"

Soon Sandini introduced Ciraolo to Mitrione, who was posing as a Chicago mobster and using the name Danny Micelli. But Ciraolo says he immediately picked out Mitrione as a possible cop. "He was wearing penny-loafer shoes," laughs Ciraolo about the shoes no Mob man would ever wear. "I asked him if he wanted two pennies."

Mitrione, who is now living in Kansas writing books, says it's true: Ciraolo obviously made him as an FBI agent. "He never trusted me at all," Mitrione recalls.

Mitrione and Sandini began meeting smugglers in the back office of Globe Rentals, Esposito's business. Esposito even pops up on some of the early recordings Mitrione made with smugglers. Then the Paraguayan deal was killed by FBI headquarters in D.C. because higher-ups refused to allow the first 50 kilograms of coke involved in the deal to "walk" into the country without seizure. Mitrione -- along with his supervisors in Miami -- argued that unless some drugs were allowed into street traffic, the highest levels of South American smuggling cartels could never be infiltrated. The conflict over drugs "walking" plagued Airlift throughout its existence, with Miami in favor and D.C. against.

But Airlift, which wasn't even an official operation yet, was allowed to proceed, and Mitrione and Sandini continued to use Globe Rentals as a headquarters. David Boner, an agent who was Mitrione's partner for the first few weeks, later told FBI investigators that it was "evident" that Sandini was "the boss and Esposito was in a subservient role."

Ciraolo remembers when a nervous and upset Esposito came to him complaining that he thought Sandini had brought an agent -- whom he knew as Danny -- into his business.

"I told him I didn't know what to say about the fuckin' guy [Sandini]," Ciraolo recalls. "Sandini's a flake, I told him, and you can't trust nothin' about him."

A week or two later, Esposito was gunned down by seven shots at close range behind the counter at Globe Rentals. Sandini was an immediate suspect, said Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO) Sgt. John Goulet, who investigated the murder for the now-defunct Dania Police Department. Mitrione's response to the murder was to ignore it and to lie about Esposito's role in Airlift to superiors, reports show.

Mitrione also hid the fact that he suspected Sandini might have played a part in the murder and used his status as an FBI agent to gain access to the Dania Police Department's murder file on Esposito, sharing the information he got with Sandini, the suspect.

In a memo Mitrione filed to superiors nearly a year after the murder, he acknowledged that Globe Rentals was utilized to "full advantage," but contended that any "business activities conducted by Esposito was completely separate and divorced from any activities involving [Sandini]." Then he notes that Esposito was "killed during an incident unrelated to this investigation. As a result, Globe Rentals was vacated and never again utilized."

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman