Boulis investigation dredges up big names - Friday 14th of October 2005

In life, the rags-to-riches odyssey of slain casino-boat mogul Konstantinos (Gus) Boulis earned him friends and enemies from almost every milieu.

And in death, too, it seems.

Born in a Greek fishing village, Mr. Boulis jumped ship in Halifax in 1968 and went on to prosper handsomely in Toronto, vaulting from sandwich maker to corporate partner in the 180-store Mr. Submarine empire.

His immigration problems solved through marrying a 16-year-old Greek Canadian, Mr. Boulis headed in 1979 for the sunshine of Florida. There, after reaping another fortune in fast food and real estate, he began assembling a fleet of hugely profitable offshore gambling ships. By 1994, he was worth nearly $100-million (U.S.) And it was also there, at the age of 51, that he was slain four years ago, gangland style, behind the wheel of his car.

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Along the way, according to people who knew the hot-tempered entrepreneur in Fort Lauderdale, one of his hallmarks was his constant bragging about how many well-connected people he knew.

Now, with first-degree murder charges laid in Mr. Bouliss death, his boasts seem amply justified.

When three men were charged last month with killing him in 2001, the most familiar name on the indictments belonged to 67-year-old Anthony (Big Tony) Moscatiello, an associate of New Yorks Gambino crime family. John Gotti, once overheard on a wiretap threatening to do Mr. Moscatiello some serious harm if he did not show more respect, headed the Gambino clan.

Charged along with Mr. Moscatiello are Florida residents Anthony (Little Tony) Ferrari, 48, and James (Pudgy) Fiorillo, 28.

But even more well known is the figure with whom Mr. Boulis, at the time of his death, was locked in a bitter business dispute over the sale of his fleet of floating casinos.

That is would-be Washington mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who once raised $100,000 for U.S. President George W. Bush and is a close friend of Republican Congressman Tom DeLay, the House majority leader until last month when a Texas prosecutor accused Mr. DeLay of conspiracy and money laundering.

Mr. Abramoff, 45, has his own legal troubles. So much so, that on Friday, lawyer Timothy Flanigan withdrew his nomination for U.S. deputy attorney-general -- the nations No. 2 law job -- because of congressional concerns over his dealings with Mr. Abramoff.

Casino Jack, as Mr. Abramoff is known, has for months been under investigation by a federal grand jury and the Senates Indian affairs committee after receiving at least $66-million from six Indian tribes to lobby for their casino interests; the tribes later said the fees were excessive.

But more recently, his difficulties multiplied.

In August, he and his former business partner, disbarred New York lawyer and fellow Republican fundraiser Adam Kidan, 41, were charged with fraud and conspiracy over their September, 2000, purchase of Mr. Bouliss 11 SunCruz gambling boats for $147-million.

Those charges accuse Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Kidan of faking a wire transfer that made it appear that they had put up $23-million of their own money in the SunCruz sale. Based on that transfer, two banks agreed to lend the pair $60-million, the charges allege.

Mr. Boulis had retained a 10-per-cent share in his prized casino boats, but the relationship with his new partners swiftly soured, and when he died in hospital after being struck by a hail of bullets near his Fort Lauderdale office six months later, he was trying to regain control of his empire.

There was plenty of reason for the acrimony. Unwisely, perhaps, Mr. Boulis concealed from the buyers the fact that because he was a non-U.S. citizen, the federal government had ordered him to sell SunCruz, which would have lowered the price. Later, when advised that most of the SunCruz staff were going to be fired, Mr. Boulis exploded with anger and stabbed Mr. Kidan with a pen, drawing blood.

(SunCruz collapsed in a sea of red ink later in 2001. Since then it has been revived by Mr. Bouliss nephew, Spiros Naos, whose office did not respond to calls seeking comment.) Then, in September, came the triple first-degree murder indictment.

Those charges allege that the three accused began conspiring to kill Mr. Boulis in November of 2000, a few weeks after the SunCruz takeover.

Beyond saying further arrests are anticipated, authorities in Fort Lauderdale will not say what led investigators to the three suspects.

"There are facts that will eventually come out publicly -- I just cant talk about them at the moment," said assistant state attorney Brian Cavanagh, who heads the prosecution team. "It is possible, as well as plausible that . . . others were involved."

For their part, lawyers representing Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Kidan vigorously insist their clients -- both of whom are free on bail in the fraud charges -- had nothing to do with the demise of Mr. Boulis.

Neal Sonnett, Mr. Abramoffs Miami attorney, did not return calls inquiring whether Mr. Abramoff has been questioned about the death of Mr. Boulis. When the murder indictments were handed down last month, Mr. Sonnett told the Los Angeles Times that "Jack Abramoff has no knowledge of the facts of the murder," adding that his client has no connections to the underworld.

Martin Jaffe, Mr. Kidans Fort Lauderdale lawyer, also did not respond to a message.

But whats indisputable is that Mr. Kidan, whose mother was slain in an unrelated mob hit years earlier, had a business relationship of some kind with at least two of the men charged in the killing of Mr. Boulis.

Court documents filed in the flurry of lawsuits that followed SunCruzs 2001 bankruptcy show that shortly after Mr. Kidan and Mr. Abramoff took control of the casino fleet, Mr. Kidan paid Mr. Moscatiello and his daughter $145,000 for "catering and other work."

He also paid Mr. Ferrari -- who has claimed to be a relative of Mr. Gotti, who is now dead -- $95,000 for "security services."

Mr. Kidan has long been aware of the suspicion stirred by those payments, but scoffed at the notion that they represented payment for a hit.

"There was never any secret about these payments," he told the Miami Herald about four years ago. "If Im going to pay to have Gus killed, am I going to be writing cheques to the killers? I dont think so."

Now, with three alleged gangsters facing Floridas death penalty if convicted of murder, the key question is whether the trio will trade information for clemency.

If so, authorities may yet discover who ordered Mr. Boulis shot dead.

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