After that the pair drove to Steckel's house, where he said he needed to pick up a few things. Steckel asked Melissa to wait in one room while he went off to another, but she kept coming in to see what he was doing. It was during one of those intrusions, Steckel would later speculate, that Melissa saw the money. Tens of thousands of dollars piled high on a table. An assortment of jewelry, too.

And what was Steckel doing with so much cash? As he later explained, he had intended to deposit the money in the bank and had arrived about five minutes before closing. When the teller realized he had such a large cash deposit, he was asked to come back another day. "Everybody wanted to leave early," he says today. "They told me to just come back after Christmas." Steckel, however, refuses to identify the bank. The cash, he says, came from legal fees owed him, though he won't say if the money came from a single client or more than one client. Nor will he explain why he was being paid in cash, bundles of tens and twenties.

After stuffing the money and jewelry into his two briefcases that Christmas Eve, Steckel and Melissa drove back to the Hyatt Regency. By the time they arrived, sometime around 11:30 p.m., Steckel was so tired all he could do was take several Advil and fall asleep. Melissa, however, was feeling restless. She began making a few telephone calls.

For one night at least, Lisa Lobman had decreed there would be no beepers. She was sick and tired of her boyfriend's pager interrupting them wherever they went. Enough was enough. In fact, she had smashed it earlier in the evening. If he wanted to buy a new beeper after the holidays, fine. But she wasn't going to compete for his attention on Christmas Eve.

This holiday was to be a special time for 21-year-old Lisa and her beau Alverony Formeza, known by his nickname "A.V." They had recently gotten back together after a nasty fight in which A.V. had been arrested for allegedly assaulting Lisa. While 25-year-old A.V. had a long history of run-ins with the law, Lisa had never been arrested. She had been attending community college and one day hoped to become an architect. When her parents moved to Broward, she stayed behind and lived with a roommate at the family home in Kendall.

Lisa knew A.V. dealt drugs, but as long as he didn't do it in front of her, or use drugs in her presence, she tried not to think about it. "I'm a bad guy," A.V. candidly admits. "I mean, I'm not a real bad guy, but I do some bad things. If you've got something that's stolen, I'll sell it. If you want some pills or you want some marijuana, I'll get you the best pills or marijuana money can buy."

Among the Christmas Eve parties Lisa and A.V. attended was one hosted by Joaquin "Wacko" Agrenot, a long-time friend of A.V.

Also at Wacko's party was Miami criminal defense attorney Stephen Glass, who had represented both Wacko and A.V. in the past. Wacko handed Glass two bottles of Scotch as a gift. Everyone seemed to have a good time.

Lisa and A.V. returned to her Kendall house around 1:00 a.m. "When we got home, the phone rang and it was Melissa," recalls Lisa. A.V. answered and was talking about meeting her at a hotel, Lisa recalls. He was saying something about a Rolex watch.

When A.V. told Lisa he was going to the Hyatt Regency to meet Melissa, she became angry and jealous. "I've been friends with her since I was about eleven years old," Lisa says of her friend Melissa. "I was the maid of honor at her second wedding. I know her. I know her. And there was no way my boyfriend was going to a hotel room alone to meet her." So together Lisa and A.V. drove from Kendall to downtown Miami. "I didn't really ask what we were doing," Lisa says today. "A.V.'s not the kind of person who you can sit there and question."

After reaching the Hyatt and parking in the hotel's circular driveway, A.V. realized he'd neglected to ask Melissa for her room number, so from a lobby pay phone Lisa dialed her beeper. Melissa called back and told them to come up to room 2128.

According to Lisa and A.V., Melissa met them in the hallway outside the suite. As if offering Christmas gifts, she held out Steckel's two briefcases and gave them to A.V. She also handed over her purse. "She told me she was going to make it look like a robbery," A.V. recalls, "and that I should take her things as well."

In the elevator on the way down, A.V. took a quick look inside the black leather briefcase, which was unlocked. It was brimming with cash. Lisa had her first glimpse once they got in the car. "I was shocked," she says today.

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