Finally at 4:00 p.m., after waiting at the house all day while attorney Stephen Glass tried unsuccessfully to recover Steckel's briefcases, detectives decided to arrest Lisa and Melissa.

Once at the police station in downtown Miami, the two women say Steckel met with them separately, without any police officers present, and made it clear that if his briefcases weren't returned, he would see to it that they didn't get out of jail. But this didn't make sense to Lisa and Melissa, given that Glass had assured them they would be able to make bail in the morning.

That assurance, however, was based on Glass's assumption that the women would be charged with simple theft, an assumption that turned out to be wrong. As Lisa recalls, "Simon said, 'If you don't get me my stuff back, I'm going to say there was a gun in the briefcase and I'm going to put you away for three years, minimum mandatory.'"

If Steckel claimed there was a gun in one of the briefcases -- even though it didn't belong to Lisa, Melissa, or A.V. A the charge would be armed burglary, not simple theft. One of the most serious crimes on the books, armed burglary is usually reserved for home invaders who break into houses and terrorize the occupants with weapons. Not only can it carry a life sentence, defendants facing such a charge do not have an automatic right to be released on bond.

Lisa, Melissa, and A.V. all insist there was never a gun in either briefcase. The two women being held at the police station believed Steckel was using that claim to keep them locked up and to pressure A.V. into returning his property. "When I heard it," Lisa says, referring to the gun allegation, "I told Detective Montecon, 'Why don't you go see if the gun is in Simon's car.' Melissa had told me Simon usually keeps the gun in the glove compartment of his Cadillac." In fact, Melissa says she's sure the gun was locked in the glove compartment because she had seen Steckel place it there the day before. According to Lisa and Melissa, Montecon refused to check Steckel's car. Steckel confirms that Montecon did not ask to search his car. (Montecon was on vacation last week and unavailable to comment for this article.)

Today Steckel asserts there was indeed a gun in his black leather briefcase and that it wasn't an issue with the two women until after they were in jail, not before. But he refuses to describe the gun or to provide its serial number. Montecon's police report of the theft, prepared Christmas Day at the station, does mention a gun, but it does not include any description -- no brand name, no model, no caliber, no serial number, no indication whether it was a revolver or an automatic. In contrast, Steckel did provide police with all similar information regarding the cellular phone he said was stolen as well.

Defense attorney Stephen Glass says he heard nothing about a gun until after Lisa and Melissa had been arrested. "Before then," he recalls, "when Simon was telling me what was missing, all he said was cash, jewelry, papers. He never mentioned a gun. And then all of a sudden they are charged with an armed burglary." Glass simply doesn't believe there was a gun, a view that was reinforced in the weeks after Christmas. In all his many discussions regarding recovery of the briefcases, Glass says Steckel never once inquired about the gun. "Nobody is asking, 'Where the hell is the gun?'" he recounts. "Everything else is being requested back, but there is not a word about the gun. That to me was strange."

With Lisa and Melissa now in jail on armed burglary charges, and A.V. still on the loose, Steckel's best hope of recovering his belongings lay in the hands of Stephen Glass. In the days following the arrest of the two women, Glass and Steckel were in constant contact by phone. Initially Steckel stressed his demand that everything be returned, but before long he seemed willing to relinquish some of the money in exchange for the missing files.

A series of offers and counteroffers was exchanged between Steckel and A.V., with Glass acting as middleman. (Glass says he was not in direct contact with A.V. and did not know his whereabouts. Messages were passed through A.V.'s friend Joaquin "Wacko" Agrenot.)

The first deal called for Steckel to receive his files, jewelry, and $25,000 in cash if he wouldn't press charges against A.V. and would drop the charges against Lisa and Melissa.

Then the amount of money Steckel was to recover dropped to $10,000, according to Glass. "You know what my feeling is, Simon?" Glass told Steckel during a December 27 telephone call. "You sign those papers, you aren't going to see a penny. That's my gut feeling. He doesn't want to give up any of the money. I feel as a friend I have to warn you about that."

"This guy has got balls," Steckel replied.
"He does, he does," Glass affirmed.
"He does the crime and then he's got the nerve to try and extort money out of me," Steckel said.

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