Officially Steckel was at the arrest scene to see if he could identify any of his belongings. But since nothing was found in the 300-ZX except an expensive leather jacket that A.V. had purchased, Steckel's role seemed to be more that of a celebrant. According to A.V., the attorney arrived and began slapping high-fives with the arresting officers. Steckel then grabbed the jacket from A.V.'s car, searched the pockets, and placed it over his arm as if he was going to keep it. A.V. says he hasn't seen the jacket since. (Both Steckel and Hague say they don't remember seeing a leather jacket that night.)

A.V. was taken to the Miami police station, where he was charged with armed burglary and questioned for several hours. "The main thing they kept asking me about were the files. They didn't even ask me about the money, just the files," he recalls. While refusing to provide a formal statement to police, A.V. did A off the record A agree to help them, so the next morning he was taken back to the canal, where he pinpointed the exact spot he had dumped the briefcases. A team of police divers stood at the ready. For the second time their search turned up nothing.

In a case filled with bizarre twists, that morning provided yet another. "While A.V. was there at the canal, my house got burglarized and searched, thoroughly searched," says Lisa Lobman, who was still being held in jail. "They didn't just look around, they thoroughly searched my whole house. They moved the refrigerator. They turned over mattresses, removed the pillow cases and sheets. All of the pockets of all my pants were turned inside out. All the papers I had in a briefcase were scattered."

Lisa was told of the damage by her roommate, and a police report confirms their house was burglarized and ransacked on January 14. In order to break in, the burglar had to pry off a tightly secured framework of metal bars so he could force open a rear window. "That's some coincidence," Lisa notes sarcastically. "In 22 years, my house had never been robbed A until then." In addition to turning the place inside out, the burglar made off with a television set, a VCR, and a strongbox containing about $1800 in cash.

With all three suspects now in jail, Steckel took Stephen Glass's earlier advice and went after Melissa DeLeon's trust fund. He began by negotiating with Melissa's new attorney, Barry Shevlin, who was brought into the case by Melissa's family. As for A.V. and Lisa, neither had any substantial money, but Steckel quickly learned that Lisa's mother owned the Kendall house in which Lisa and her roommate lived.

One day while Lisa's mother, Bonnie Giacobbi, was sitting in court awaiting a hearing in her daughter's case, Shevlin approached her and said Steckel wanted to speak with her in the hallway. "They were very, very interested in the property I owned," she recalls. "They kept asking me questions like, 'Did I bring the mortgage deed with me?' They wanted to know what my house was worth and what the market value on it was. They kept trying to push me [into signing over the house to Steckel]. And they said that if I didn't do this, there was a possibility that Lisa would stay in jail a very long time. I was very nervous and very upset. But I knew this wasn't right, that I shouldn't do this. Simon was miffed at me when he realized he wasn't getting anywhere. Lisa did commit a crime. But the way this has been handled was really wrong."

Steckel denies that the encounter with Bonnie Giacobbi ever took place. Undisputed, however, was his success in obtaining money from Melissa's trust fund. In a deal struck with Steckel and prosecutors, Melissa agreed to pay Steckel $50,000. She also agreed to testify against A.V. and Lisa. In return she would be released from jail and all charges against her would be dropped.

On February 5, Melissa's attorney presented a $50,000 check to Steckel, who promptly told prosecutors to have her released. When they came for her, she was sitting in court, handcuffed to Lisa. As the bailiff led Melissa out, Lisa remained behind, alone, exactly where Steckel wanted her.

Every working day for the past six years, attorney Tom Payne has spent much of his time at the criminal courthouse, representing the usual assortment of woebegone clients for the Dade County Public Defender's Office. But on this day, February 5, two odd things caught his eye. He couldn't help but notice Simon Steckel in the courtroom and soon discovered the former assistant state attorney was there as an alleged victim. Although this sparked Payne's curiosity, he didn't have time to inquire further; he had far too many cases of his own to worry about.

As the day progressed, though, Payne's attention was drawn to another figure in that same courtroom: a pretty young woman sitting off to the side, handcuffed and crying. Payne thought she seemed even more lost and confused than the sorry souls who normally march through the pens each day.

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