Ron Vinci Was Shot and Stabbed in His Home. Did His Mild-Mannered Girlfriend Finally Snap?

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Police took control of Vinci's body and held it for the medical examiner to inspect. In addition to the plastic bags and fitted sheet in the sleeping bag, authorities would find a black plastic bag around Vinci's legs, paper towels covering his mouth, a brown cardboard paper-towel roll, clear plastic, and a couple of towels. Blue painter's tape was found on his stomach. There were five stab wounds on his torso and a bullet wound in his head. When police rolled back the comforter on the bed, they found "multiple sections of the mattress (pillowtop) cut out." Parts of the mattress, stained red, were later found in the trunk of a car in the garage, with other red-stained items: sweatpants, a small woman's shirt, and inside-out rubber gloves.

Pileggi appeared with Fields at the police station but did not give a statement. The case had not yet been ruled a homicide, and she was released without charges. She returned to the River House condo. According to friends of the couple, that had become her home. While Vinci resided at the house on Las Olas Isles, she mostly stayed in the penthouse. But when he bought the new house on Coconut Drive a few weeks before he died, he wanted to sell his Las Olas house and the condo as well. Vinci's friends say that didn't make Pileggi happy. She liked the condo.

It was a matter of days before somebody recommended Bruce Udolf, one of the best-known defense attorneys in town, to represent Pileggi (Udolf will not say who is paying for her defense). A former federal prosecutor, Udolf had helped Ken Starr dig up dirt on Bill Clinton ("With a Bullet," New Times, August 21, 2008) before running unsuccessfully for sheriff and then settling into private practice. On July 5, once a warrant had been served for the homicide case, he drove Pileggi to the Fort Lauderdale police station, where she turned herself in.

Despite having tens of millions of dollars at his disposal, Vinci enjoyed a cheap good time. He, Gordon, Leipsig, and other buddies were regulars at $1 Taco Tuesdays at the Treasure Trove bar on Fort Lauderdale beach, where dogs wander the tile floor and shirts are optional. He'd go up A1A to Exit 66 nightclub, a raucous spring-break hangout, and act the life of the party despite his 70 years. Gordon recalls that he'd pick the biggest guy in the bar and shout, "You wanna fight?" just for a laugh. One of his former boat pilots remembers him joking with a restaurant server, "You're a waiter? Yeah, my son's a waiter too. He's waiting for me to die." With women, he looked but didn't touch. "You know I've got a dead dick," Gordon remembers him saying gleefully to strangers.

Pileggi lived on the periphery of this raunchy-joke lifestyle. Vinci's friends visited his house on Las Olas Isles nearly every day, calling it the "clubhouse." Pileggi spoke with them but remained withdrawn and quiet, sometimes spending hours watching TV crime dramas. This put her at the mercy of Vinci's domineering nature: Friends recall him commanding her and others to "Make me a drink." Pileggi often fulfilled these requests, though she didn't drink much herself.

"You'd have nothing without me," friends remember Vinci telling her, once he'd had a few.

The couple took frequent boat and air trips to the Caribbean islands, where their divergent personalities became apparent. According to police, Pileggi's journals (which are being held as evidence) mention her fear of the ocean and Vinci's efforts to help her conquer it. Police statements describe a time by the beach when Vinci went out on a dinghy to catch lobsters, but she stayed behind, looking beneath the water through a little periscope, afraid to immerse herself.

"She always wanted to get in the water, but she was always scared," recalled Aaron Brown, who worked for Vinci as a boat pilot between Florida and the Caribbean. "Ron would... basically set the day up, [and tell me] 'You're gonna take her diving; you're gonna make her get in the water.' " Police say she wrote about one incident when she felt like she was drowning and grabbed Brown's body for support, pushing him under in a panic.

If she resented Vinci for pushing her into strange situations, it can't have helped that on December 20, 2009, one of her sisters, Angela Pileggi Silverstein, died during one of Vinci's boating vacations.

According to a ship's registry and police reports, Pileggi, Vinci, and Silverstein arrived in St. Lucia and tied up Vinci's yacht in the Rodney Bay Marina. Silverstein rode off with Shane Christopher, a marina employee, on mopeds. Later, they all met for a party at the marina, but around 10 p.m., Vinci and Pileggi retired to the yacht after Vinci said he'd had too much to drink. Early in the morning, Christopher brought Silverstein back, sick and incoherent; he later told police that she started convulsing. He summoned Pileggi, who tried to perform CPR on her younger sister, to no avail. An ambulance was not available, so they hailed a taxi and went to the hospital, where Silverstein was pronounced dead of "cardi-respiratory arrest" due to "acute intoxication."

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph