When Vicki Met Syl, Part Two

Accused of bribery and public corruption, this power pair finds that love and justice prevail

But as afternoon approached on Tuesday, their mood darkened. Green paced alone around the courthouse sidewalk. Lopez talked with her sisters and father.

On Wednesday, with sundown two hours away, jurors sent out a note: "We feel that by 6:00 p.m. we will have reached a decision on anything we are able to."

Sylvester Lukis stood alone, a former Catholic altar boy believing he had come at last to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion.

Epilogue: At 5:49 p.m. on April 16 the jury acquitted Sylvester Lukis on all charges. Vicki Lopez-Lukis was found guilty on one count of mail fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for autumn, when Judge Gagliardi returns to Florida from Vermont.

Though bittersweet, the verdict was an unmistakable victory for the defense. In a temporary office one block from the federal courthouse, attorneys Green and Berenson, paralegal Megan Foley, and trial consultant Michael Barfield passed around cigars and watched TV news reports of the verdict with their clients. The mood was quietly festive. At one point Green raised a plastic champagne glass and toasted Sylvester Lukis, "the next king of Miami."

As New Times went to press, Green filed a motion arguing that jurors misunderstood the mail fraud charge and asking Gagliardi to set aside Lopez-Lukis's conviction. The mail fraud charge relates to Lopez-Lukis's having given misleading responses to a reporter's queries about her relationship with Sylvester Lukis. The question for jurors wasn't whether Lopez-Lukis had been dishonest, but whether her dishonesty furthered a criminal conspiracy. In light of her acquittal on all other charges, the mail fraud conviction appeared to be inconsistent.

Molloy, the lead prosecutor, says he's confident Lopez-Lukis's conviction will hold up on appeal. He agrees, howeer, that the case could drag on for years.

In an interview the day after the verdict, Vicki and Sylvester Lukis were asked to paint a psychological portrait of themselves. Among other things, they said this:

Lukis: Early on I learned how to get close to people in positions of power. I was personable enough to cultivate strong relationships so that if I needed access to anyone, I could get it. I always had, I think, the ability to talk to a person who could talk to a person who could help promote the interest of whatever I was promoting.

Lopez-Lukis: I see two very successful people, professionally, people who get along with people, but unable to escape the dark side that exists in everyone. I look at him and I think, this is the kind of guy you like, that you want to be with. He's successful, he's bright, he's ambitious, he's energetic, he's spunky, but yet ... This experience made us come to grips with the dark side, and make sure that that dark side never rears its ugly head again.

Lukis: We clearly are soul mates, we clearly are people who were meant to be together, and we probably both have each other's crosses to bear because we do have a very explosive relationship. But at the same time it's very passionate and intimate. We can talk about anything. We each love the other's personality and strengths, and we hate our weaknesses. There's a certain amount of love-hate there.

Lopez-Lukis: Sometimes I think perfection will come. I see it at the end of the tunnel somewhere. We've had a long road to haul, and we have an even longer one ahead of us.

The couple spent the morning of Friday, April 18, packing personal effects and legal documents into boxes. At 11:00 a.m. they left town in their 1994 Honda Accord, bearing east toward Miami. These days Sylvester Lukis is rebuilding his lobbying practice and so far has three clients: Island Developers, Ltd., of Miami; Jordan, Jones and Goulding, an Atlanta engineering firm; and Felix Equities, a New York construction contractor. Vicki Lopez-Lukis works as director of financial and administrative services for Family Counseling Services of Greater Miami, a nonprofit organization. The Lukises have no plans to return to Fort Myers.

No one -- not Lee Melsek, investigative reporter for the Fort Myers News-Press, nor Special Agent James Trotter of the FBI, nor Brian Kelley of the Lee County State Attorney's Office -- can say with certainty whether, on the road to Miami, Vicki and Sylvester Lukis exchanged a kiss.

Postscript: Reporter's message recorder, Monday, April 21, 1997, 1:35 p.m.: "Sean, if they've given me the right voice mail, this is Douglas Molloy with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Fort Myers. We missed out on that whiskey we were supposed to have before you left town. I just got back from D.C. Gave a speech, took my kid to the zoo. I hear Vicki's planning to run for public office again -- at least that's what it says in the paper over here. She's got two problems as I see it. One, she's a convicted felon. Two, the sentencing guidelines call for two and a half to three and a half years in prison. Give me a call when you feel like it."

Tuesday, April 22, 1997, 9:57 a.m.: "It's Tom Green, as promised. In seat 1-B, first class, on my way to London and Dubai. Sun shining in over the starboard side through frost-covered windows. My final thought: Thank God for the American jury system and the collective common sense and judgment of the jurors who sat on the Lukis case. So long.

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