By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
At first it all seemed a predictable homily about a talented celebrity victimized by those he trusted.
But a review of the evidence affirms the world is a very unpredictable place. There appears to be no basis for the theft charges. The purported extortion threat is murky at best. And the defense says that Sanz had a very strong motive to muzzle the couple.
Sanz is one of the hottest contemporary Latin singers right now. His recent duet with sinuous Colombian phenomenon Shakira, "La Tortura," topped the Latin music charts and hit number 23 on Billboard's "Hot 100" list in the United States, one of the highest showings ever for a Spanish-language song. Currently posters promoting Sanz's June concert at American Airlines Arena are plastered on bus stops throughout the city. And yet, as this case has shown, he is fiercely protective of his privacy.
Here's the record: On Thursday, December 7, Juan Ramirez, financial manager for two of Sanz's production companies, contacted the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. He claimed Carlos Gonzalez, former property manager of Sanz's $7.5 million North Bay Road mansion, had threatened to sell compromising photos and videos to the tabloids unless he was paid $500,000.
Four days later the stubble-chinned star, known for his half-smirk and smoky voice, sat down with state investigators and declared under oath that Gonzalez had in effect stolen his boat, a jet ski, and a $300 Acer laptop. As evidence Sanz showed that in September 2005, his $85,000 Renegade power boat and a $12,000 Yamaha jet ski had been registered in Gonzalez's name. The singer claimed this was done without his permission. La tortura, indeed.
The day after Sanz, born Alejandro Sanchez-Pizarro, gave his statement, an investigator with the prosecutor's office recorded a phone call between Ramirez and Gonzalez. In a summary of that conversation, included in Gonzalez's arrest affidavit, investigator Fernando Figueroa paints an incriminating picture of Gonzalez: The ex-property manager discusses "returning Sanchez-Pizarro's property." And in reference to the extortion threat he "stated that he had already spoken about the issue and that he was not going to discuss anything further over the phone. Gonzalez also said he had a firearm." Figueroa added that Gonzalez's wife, Sylvia Alzate, could be heard "directing Gonzalez and participating in the discussion," thereby making her an accomplice.
And that was that. On December 14 authorities arrested the couple, charging Gonzalez with extortion and three counts of grand theft. They slapped Alzate with an extortion rap. Investigators searched the couple's Miami Beach apartment and seized dozens of computer discs, memory cards, a desktop computer, and handgun ammunition.
But, says Lonnie Richardson, the couple's defense lawyer, "When I finally looked at all the evidence the state had against them, I realized they had no proof of anything." Sanz had told Gonzalez to put everything in the latter's name, presumably to protect the rock star's privacy, Gonzalez contends. In fact the Renegade is titled to "Gazul Producciones or Carlos Gonzalez." The six-bedroom waterfront villa at 2050 North Bay Rd., where the couple lived in a guesthouse, is listed as belonging to Gazul Producciones in property records. Telephone service at the house from BellSouth is in Gonzalez's name "d.b.a. Gazul Productions." Accounts at Cingular, Sprint, Atlantic Cable, and DirecTV list Gonzalez, too. (New Times reviewed the bills). The DirecTV bill includes seven receivers, while the Cingular paperwork shows three numbers, indicating this is probably not Gonzalez's personal bill.
Even a contract with a mosquito control company, Mosquito Nix, is in Gonzalez's name.
The boat and jet ski were "recovered" at Sanz's dock. "They were never taken," the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case, Michael Von Zamft, acknowledges. He explains that the basis for the theft charge is simply that the titles were in Gonzalez's name.
"And I have a taped statement that I believe corroborates the statements," Von Zamft adds. But he concedes that he doesn't speak Spanish and is waiting for a translated transcript of the tape.
That transcript might be illuminating. New Times's review of the tape (which is public record) shows that Investigator Figueroa failed to mention in the arrest affidavit that when Ramirez asked Gonzalez about the request for 500,000 euros (on the tape they talk about both euros and dollars), Gonzalez retorted, "No he pedido 500,000 euros. No hemos hablado de dinero." ("I didn't ask for 500,000 euros. We didn't talk about money.") And Alzate, whose alleged role in the extortion scheme is that she was "directing" Gonzalez during the taped phone call, is simply heard screaming in the background something to the effect of, "Tell him Sanz has no balls."
There are other problems with the case: The gun Figueroa ominously mentions is legally licensed. The laptop purportedly stolen has not been found. Gonzalez can be heard on the tape saying he's going to make a big scandal, but never asks for money to stop it.
One point is in question. Von Zamft has a sworn statement from Manuel Riveira, a friend of Sanz. Riveira claims Gonzalez met him at the airport, showed him the compromising videos and pictures on a laptop, and demanded money not to release them to the media. "I'm never dropping the extortion charge," the prosecutor asserts.
But on the tape Gonzalez denies meeting Riveira at the airport.
Defense lawyer Richardson offers an alternative version of events. Gonzalez and his wife had been working for Sanz for six years. In exchange for about $30,000 a year as well as housing in the estate's guesthouse, they cared for the property and boats. They grew disillusioned with their employer's behavior, which they claim became increasingly erratic and abusive. (Apparently the feeling was mutual: Sometime in 2006 Sanz fired Sylvia Alzate. Gonzalez then quit in late November.)
Angry at their treatment, the couple offered to sell their story to a tabloid (Richardson declined to say which one) sleazy perhaps, but not illegal. As the arrest affidavit puts it, Gonzalez claimed "to know many things that could hurt Sanchez-Pizarro's reputation." Somebody from that tabloid then contacted Sanz's people. That's when Sanz reached out to authorities.
What exactly Gonzalez knows has not yet been made public, but presumably it has something to do with a rock star partying, well, like a rock star.
Von Zamft says they've found items copied from Sanz's computer in the couple's apartment. Presumably this is the embarrassing stuff the couple was preparing to sell. Now Von Zamft has asked the judge to seal some of the discovery evidence the state has collected in order to protect Sanz's privacy. If that motion is denied, the embarrassing material about Sanz may become part of the public record.
The hearing on the motion is scheduled for March 14.