Baba's Big Bucks

African millionaire Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko opened his checkbook and stole Miami's heart. Not surprisingly, that wasn't the only thing he stole.

That single act garnered him a priceless amount of favorable publicity from the Miami Herald and local television stations. The remarkable story of the generous African was picked up by national news media and spread across the nation. Soon tales of his generosity were cropping up all over town. A woman told reporters that Sissoko had just bought her a Range Rover. Other people talked about how he handed out hundred-dollar bills to homeless people.

Unreported by the Herald and local television stations, however, were the accounts of people who had worked for Sissoko's fledgling airline. Last year several of them told New Times horror stories about being abused and mistreated by Sissoko's airline managers. They complained that they had been held against their will, hadn't been paid for months, and that his planes were unsafe to fly.

In addition, the Herald never reported Sissoko's heavy-handed attempts to have the bribery charges against him dropped. In addition to a team of powerful local attorneys, he also employed former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh to pressure Justice Department officials. During the process, Bayh and others sought to destroy the reputations of the prosecutors in Miami who were handling the criminal case.

Sissoko even enlisted the support of several current members of Congress, most notably Jacksonville's Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who personally spoke to Attorney General Janet Reno on Sissoko's behalf. Brown's actions have come under intense scrutiny in recent months, after the St. Petersburg Times reported that, following Brown's contact with Reno, her daughter received a $60,000 Lexus from Pouye, Sissoko's chief financial officer.

Ellison says it appears the money used to purchase that car came from the Dubai Islamic Bank. In Ellison's opinion, Representative Brown's conduct in the Sissoko case has been "highly immoral and a breach of her duty to her constituents." Brown has denied she did anything wrong.

Ellison had looked forward to going after the car given to Brown's daughter, but earlier this month, as a result of the controversy, the car was sold and the proceeds donated to a Washington charity.

Sissoko did not leave his fate completely in the hands of attorneys and bureaucrats. Perhaps conjuring up some of those same forces he may have used on Ayyoub, Sissoko attempted to use black magic to make the bribery case disappear. According to Ewa Adamek, a former member of Sissoko's Miami entourage, he arranged for evil spells to be cast over the prosecutors and presiding judge. Adamek says she was asked by one of Sissoko's aides to carefully spell their names over the telephone for a woman in Africa, who then delivered the names to a remote village in Mali, where a prayer service was conducted. "They prayed that the power of the judge and the prosecutor would be destroyed," she recounts.

That wasn't all. A special mixture of powders and a bottle of violet-color water were brought to Miami by courier from Africa. Some of the powders were surreptitiously spread around the downtown federal courthouse before the hearings, Adamek says. Sissoko poured the rest in the bay waters around Brickell Key, along with milk and salt. "He would watch the way the water carried the milk for a sign of what to do," she recalls.

As for the violet-color water, Sissoko was instructed to wash behind his ears with it twice a day to stave off any danger from those trying to imprison him. "In their minds, this was the most powerful thing they could do to the prosecutors and the judge," Adamek explains. "And they were shocked when it didn't work."

Sissoko spent 43 days in jail and had begun serving the remainder of his time under house arrest on Brickell Key when U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore abruptly decided he could go home. As New Times reported this past November, Moore had secretly orchestrated a $1.2 million donation from Sissoko to Camillus House earlier that month. Within 48 hours of Sissoko's writing the check to the homeless center, Moore signed an order permitting him to leave the country, even though three months remained on his sentence. At the time, Moore was criticized by legal experts for creating the perception that Sissoko bought his way out of confinement.

Now it seems Sissoko did it with someone else's money.

Since being hired four months ago, Rob Ellison has pored over Sissoko's canceled checks and credit card statements for purchases he made in the United States, and he confirms that the tales of his exorbitant spending were no myth.

In addition to approximately a dozen cars he bought in Miami for his attorneys and other supporters, Sissoko also purchased 74 automobiles he loaded into cargo containers and had shipped by freighter to Africa. Bank records, included in court papers filed in Miami, show that he charged millions on his Visa credit card at Miami shops, mostly in Bal Harbour. At Mayor's jewelers alone, for example, Sissoko spent $3.4 million between August 1996 and January 1998. He spent $471,000 at Escada Boutique, a women's clothing store; $575,000 at Cartier; $160,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue; $275,000 at Pratesi Linens; and $125,000 at Tiffany.

"He would go to the Bal Harbour mall and would spend tens of thousands of dollars in each of these stores at a time," Ellison says. "He was like a kid in a candy store -- grabbing stuff off the shelves and giving it to his friends. It's easy to be extravagant, it's easy to be generous, it's easy to be charismatic under these conditions. I could probably be quite charismatic as well with $242 million of other people's money."

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