Two men with connections to a New York-based organized crime family carefully and coldly planned the 2001 slaying of a prominent South Florida businessman to guarantee continued lucrative income from a fleet of gambling cruise ships, a prosecutor told jurors Monday as their murder trial opened.
Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, 75, and 56-year-old Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari decided they had to get rid of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis in the midst of a power struggle over the SunCruz Casinos fleet and arranged for a mob hit man to fatally shoot Boulis as he sat in his car on a Fort Lauderdale street, said Assistant State Attorney Gregg Rossman.
One car stopped in front of the BMW driven by Boulis, 51, while the hit man drove up alongside in a black Mustang and fired several shots from a handgun, Rossman said in an opening statement. Others involved in the slaying kept watch on Boulis to let everyone know when he would be leaving his office, he added, and prosecutors have cellphone records to back that up.
"He was stalked, he was blocked, he was ambushed, and he was murdered," the prosecutor said. "This case was planned, planned months in advance. It was not something that just came up that day. It was something that was coldly planned."
Moscatiello and Ferrari could get the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder. Rossman said Moscatiello, reputedly tied to New York's Gambino crime family, gave the orders that led to Boulis' killing to ensure he'd continue receiving thousands of dollars as a SunCruz consultant. Although Boulis had sold the fleet months before, he kept a 10 percent stake and planned to try to take the business back.
"Mr. Moscatiello thought this was going to be his retirement. This was going to be his money," Rossman said. "Mr. Moscateillo, Big Tony, New York Tony, makes the decision."
Cellphone records show a phone linked to Ferrari telephoned Moscatiello's home in New York moments after Boulis was killed.
Moscatiello attorney David Bogenschutz said he would give his opening statement prior to the defense case later in the trial. Ferrari's lawyer, Christopher Grillo, urged jurors to consider the motivations behind many of the witnesses who are testifying under cooperation agreements that could reduce their own potential prison sentences for other crimes.
Grillo said the witness list includes convicted murderers, drug dealers and others with suspect backgrounds.
"You're going to decide what's believable and what's not," Grillo told the panel.
The jury is being sequestered for the trial, which will likely last up to four weeks, because of heavy media attention since Boulis was slain on Feb. 6, 2001.
Boulis, a Greek immigrant, got rich after founding the Miami Subs restaurant chain and then operating the SunCruz fleet, popularly known as "cruises to nowhere" because the ships simply went out to international waters so patrons could gamble freely.
But Boulis had a problem: He wasn't yet a U.S. citizen and was being forced to sell the fleet by the Justice Department because his continued ownership was violating maritime law. So he decided in 2000 to sell to New York businessman Adam Kidan and his partner, former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, for $147.5 million.
It later turned out that Kidan and Abramoff had committed fraud in the deal, leading to both pleading guilty to federal charges. Abramoff also was the central figure in a bribery scandal involving members of Congress and other officials, resulting in 21 convictions on corruption charges.
Kidan, who was running SunCruz when Boulis was slain, is scheduled to testify in the murder case. Abramoff is on the witness list but it's unclear if he will take the stand.
A third suspect in the killing, James "Pudgy" Fiorillo, pleaded guilty last year to murder conspiracy charges and is also expected to testify for the prosecution. Fiorillo said in a previous hearing that he was involved in surveillance of Boulis and helped get rid of evidence, including the black Mustang and .380-caliber handgun used by the hit man.
As for the hit man, authorities have identified him as John Gurino, an associate of Moscatiello's who was himself killed later in a dispute with a Boca Raton delicatessen owner. Witnesses who knew Gurino are expected to tell jurors that he bragged about being called "the SunCruz Kid" and that he had gotten "the work" from Moscatiello.