The Last Temptation of George Petrie

He was supposed to turn up dead. His friend, attorney Robert Roth, was supposed to wrap up his affairs. Now they've ended up mortal enemies.

No furniture was left in his room, so Petrie bought a mattress with money from one of the paychecks Roth had given him. "I was paying $400 a month to rent a room in my own house," Petrie says. "It was pretty weird. But I was just glad to have a place to live."

Furst and Foster say when they bought the house, Roth told them it was an estate sale. "Then the story started changing; we heard the former owner was sick, he was dying of AIDS, we heard different stories from different people," Furst adds. "But we liked the house. We should have known something wasn't quite right."

For starters they discovered after closing the sale with Roth that the City of Miami had cited Petrie for numerous code violations, including a carport and a garage constructed without proper permits, and electrical wiring that didn't meet code. "We've hired an architect, and we're just correcting the problems one by one," Furst says. He doesn't know yet how much money they'll finally spend, but the work will be extensive. "I had to go before the code violations board to get an extension of time."

But there were other, more disturbing, surprises for the new owners. "Then we got to the point," Furst groans, "where Roth was showing up at the door with a gun and knife." On September 14 around dinnertime, Roth did indeed appear outside Petrie's former house. According to the three men living there, Roth was calling for Petrie to come outside and talk, presumably about the letter Roth had received some ten days earlier from Petrie's attorney, Joseph Shook. (Roth later claimed he visited Petrie in an effort to make arrangements for returning Petrie's property, thus avoiding involving another attorney.) Jay Mason and the third housemate, David Alvarez, were in the kitchen cooking. Petrie was in his room but went to the front door when he heard Roth's voice. "Robert was yelling for George to come outside," Mason says. "George was talking to him behind the burglar bars on the door, then he decided to go out and calm him down."

"I unlocked the gate to let George out," Alvarez recalls, "and just as I turned around after I locked the gate again, I heard George screaming, 'David, David, he's got a gun! Help me!' I open the gate, I give the phone to my other roommate, Jay, and tell him to call the cops, and I go out. Finally we got him pinned down. I gave the gun to Jay and he put it on a counter inside." During the struggle, Petrie's two front teeth were chipped, a screen door was bashed in, and Roth suffered minor cuts on both hands.

After an hour a Miami Police Department squad car arrived. Ofcr. Ruben Lameira arrested Roth on charges of aggravated assault with a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon. "Def. had in his possession a fully loaded (9 bullets) .25 caliber Beretta," Lameira wrote in his arrest report. "Def. also had a full 8 shot magazine and a pocket knife in his left front pocket. Victim is in fear of his life and fears that def. will shoot him one day.... Note: Inventory of def's 98 Chevy truck revealed 2 extra 8 shot magazines." Roth was released from jail that night on $16,000 bond.

Furst lived in Aventura and wasn't at the house during the worst of the altercation, but arrived as Roth was being hustled into the squad car. After the police left, Furst told his tenants he wanted them to move out. "That was just a little too much," he says. "This house has been bizarre. I have never dealt with such" -- searching for the right word, Furst finally comes up with " -- such human nature." Today he and his wife live in the house, and they say everything is a lot quieter.

Roth will not be prosecuted for the incident. Three weeks ago the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office concluded that it couldn't prove Roth actually pointed his gun at Petrie, the sine qua non of aggravated assault. (The attorney does have a concealed-weapon permit.) Both Roth and Petrie took and passed lie detector tests, but neither was consistent in all retellings of his version of the event; prosecutors also considered the two witnesses less credible because they were "invested in the perspective of George Petrie," according to Assistant State Attorney Don Ungerwrite. "It's impossible for us to say beyond exclusion of a doubt that Robert Roth pulled out a gun and pointed it at someone," Ungerwrite continues. "We're certainly concerned that a member of the bar, armed like he was, would go and visit someone represented by counsel and with whom he has a legal dispute. But that's not a matter for us to resolve; it's for the bar to resolve."

In fact Petrie has lodged a complaint against Roth with the Florida Bar, which is now awaiting Roth's response and hasn't yet opened a formal investigation.

Roth emerged relatively unscathed from an earlier arrest on criminal charges. In April 1995 police encountered Roth standing outside the Miami Arena, allegedly scalping tickets to a Miami Heat basketball game. After they ordered him to leave and he refused, officers arrested him and found a switchblade and a dagger in one of his back pockets. He was charged with trespassing, doing business without a license, and carrying a concealed weapon. Almost one year after the arrest, with the help of a series of continuances and motions filed by defense attorney Richard Sharpstein, and the fact that Roth possessed a concealed-weapon permit, the state dropped the case.

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