But his favorite cousin, 24-year-old Joyce Anne Femia, recalls a story that casts some doubt on that assertion. "Jimmy would get picked on by kids when he was really young in high school," she says. "So one day, to make it stop, he conned somebody into giving him a hundred beepers and then went around the whole neighborhood giving them to all the kids."

Sabatino had run up $150,000 worth of service at the South Beach Hilton — $100,000 of it on Champagne alone.

The anecdote would seem apocryphal if this weren't Jimmy Sabatino. While his once model-worthy looks atrophied, Sabatino developed an extraordinary grace with people. He had an irresistible cockiness that made every lie believable. "You know how the blind can hear better?" asks best friend Stanley Belot. "Sabatino doesn't look so good, but he sure can talk." In those years, Sabatino became addicted to hip-hop and would spend hours watching TV, just for the credits. Then, at a frantic clip, he'd fill notebooks with the names of producers and actors. "He soon realized that by calling restaurants, hotels, theaters, and other businesses [and masquerading as these people], he could go anywhere he desired," his father recalled.

It's impossible to calculate the number of scams Sabatino orchestrated between the ages of 16 and 22 using that methodology. Posturing as the nephew of Sony Music President Tommy Mottola, he defrauded Mac Warehouse of $60,000 in laptop computers, then took New York's Waldorf-Astoria for $16,000 in rooms and services and later scored $20,000 more at Marriott Marquis. In L.A., he bamboozled the Ritz-Carlton for $16,000.

Other hotel cons were substantially more brazen, if not outright insane.

Let's say Sabatino wanted to stay at a Marriott hotel. First he'd pen a note to a major company like Disney. Then, when Disney responded, he'd take its official letterhead and fax it to the hotel, announcing the imminent arrival of Disney executive James Sabatino. Naturally, the note would read, Disney was to cover all expenses.

Sometime in the early 1990s, he moved his operation down to Ocean Ridge, a community hugging the Atlantic in Palm Beach County, to live with his felonious uncle, Richard Sabatino, who pleaded guilty in 1995 to receiving $250,000 worth of stolen Italian shoes. (Richard Sabatino declined comment: "Not my style.") Once ensconced in Florida, Sabatino again posed as Mottola's nephew and scored some serious one-on-one time with Julio Iglesias at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in 1994. The singer expressed great dissatisfaction at his lack of popularity among the nation's youth.

With every score, every scintillating brush with fame, the boy was emboldened. In 1995, South Florida reporters salivated when he manipulated Fed­Ex into giving him 262 Super Bowl tickets by claiming to be Miami Dolphins President Eddie Jones. "The next morning, there were 50 classified ads in USA Today for ticket brokers, so I sold them for $1,000 a pop," says Sabatino today, contemplating the score for two nanoseconds. "Yeah, that was a big one."

So big it caught up to him. That year in December, he pleaded guilty in Broward County Circuit Court to three counts of dealing in stolen property. "It was the only thing they could get me on," he says. "They'd willingly given me the tickets."

His father wasn't so cavalier about his son's growing notoriety. "He's a disturbed young man who needed attention like a drug," the now-72-year-old Fort Lauderdale man wrote in his letter. "He was consistently being positively reinforced for his negative behavior."

Indeed, the day of his release two years later, Sabatino again suckered the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square for $55,000 in services, then bolted to London, where he did the same thing at the Four Seasons.

That time, however, police sniffed him out. So in a wild gambit to force extradition back to the United States, the 21-year-old dialed the White House, then the Fort Lauderdale federal courthouse, and cryptically threatened to kill prosecutors, a judge, and President Bill Clinton because, he jokes, "I couldn't stand the food in the London prisons — just fish and chips." The authorities weren't laughing.

Charges involving the president were dropped. Others weren't. For saying he planned to "eliminate" the Fort Lauderdale courthouse "by means of bomb," he got 51 months in federal prison, where, one might assume, his antics would stall. But Sabatino was only getting started.


What makes Jimmy Sabatino such a good con man? It's simple. He's damned likable. Preternaturally easy to talk to, Sabatino is funny, intelligent, self-deprecating, empathetic, and endearingly vulnerable. He seems the furthest thing from a con man. He seems like a pal, someone you can trust. Someone you might even, if the conditions were right, give hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But with Sabatino, everything is calculated and measured, from the minute he gets on the phone to the moment he executes a close. He speaks of conning with the thoughtfulness a pickup artist applies to bedding women. "I know within five minutes whether someone's going to bite," he says, adding that he can gauge with shocking accuracy who will be most amenable to a well-placed suggestion. "I can't honestly tell you what made me this way," he says. "I truly have no idea. I'm just able to convince people of things."

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26 comments
efraim_acosta
efraim_acosta

I knew jimmy in Brooklyn back when he was around 15yo, I remember him to be a little scammer back then, I could tell he did it for the right reasons, but it didn't work out for him then. He just put up his front to make friends. I felt bad for the kid but we stopped hanging out with him. I see it escalated from there. SMH

SoFla
SoFla

Didnt this kid get punked in jail in Passaic County and isnt his father "Fat Pete" a South Florida rat? These two are a joke

SoFla
SoFla

Waste of time writing about a jailhouse snitch who got punked in Passaic County jail and whos father is a South Florida rat !!! Good ole "fat pete" the familys a joke lets get real and erase these punks from the internet> 

tiredofthebull
tiredofthebull

this kid is from a family of rats his fathers in south florida 25 years a purported mafia big wig. A big rat in the 25 years hes been in south florida he's never had so much as a tap on the shoulder from any law enforcement agency despite being in the middle of many mob related events. Not to mention his right hand man Reynold Maragni who he ran around with for several years became a rat and not so much as a glance was thrown his way. Its a joke and its quite obvious the mans an informant

someguyontheinternet
someguyontheinternet

Interesting article. But I think Philips is misspelled, it only has one l. I also would like some insight as to why the whole thing happened. It occurs to me that If Henchman had a heads up on Philips story as Philips said in the Voice article,he gave Henchman in order to comment, then Henchman could have had the guys who did the hit type up a document with enough details that he had heard many times to set Philips. In this scenario, they'd have  up by having Sabatino call with Philips about documents. Sabatino had a credible history of providing documents for a lawsuit in which Sabatino was a plaintiff previously. Or Dexter and company could have written the document to shake down Henchman, who then saw it as an opportunity to screw up Philips story. (Philips gave Henchman a chance to comment on the article pre-publication) so he said in the Voice article. The Miami Times article is interesting but seems to be silent on the why of the whole thing - any thoughts?


frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

..........................and all this matters how ?

actually one issue is lack of security at south beach hotels IF they do not know the real identity of their "guests" then how could ANY visitor feel secure in that hotel ?

how does someone order $100,000 of champagne without the hotel arranging and securing proper payment ? ...............where is management ? ........................where are the appropriate accounting and internal control functions ?....................maybe the whole place is a scam

otherwise, ANYONE can think these things up,  just that most don't want to waste away in prison for years just for a few party nights trying to prove to be someone they are not - who cares - a week from today this guy will be totally forgotten about

Francisco Soler
Francisco Soler

Your stories are so entertaining! You guys should partner up with Michael Bay for the long term....

jgcamp99
jgcamp99

"It took Jimmy Sabatino only four months to work his way back to prison, scamming tony South Beach hotels like this one."

LOL, not that I condone scamming per se, but South Beach hotels and other establishments hardly rate sympathy for what they charge anyone that becomes a victim in that community ?

WhyNotNow
WhyNotNow topcommenter

There is no 183 avenue. A typo, but please fix it. Show you care about the reader. Thank you.

adolfojherrera
adolfojherrera

Who the hell cares? This is just another slug from an infestation of slugs in this city. Line him up next to every member of the L.B.A., every member of the county commission, and Miami city commission, George Perez, and all the other con artists and crooks in this friggin swamp and light them on fire. Miami's only hope is a two mile high tsunami. Maybe whomever tries again may do it right and not let this third world shantytown proliferate.

Monica Matteo-Salinas
Monica Matteo-Salinas

I feel sorry for him, in a way. Probably blames himself for his mom's abandonment. Therapy would do him good.

Bill Cooke
Bill Cooke

...and now he's going back to prison for long time.

Hugh
Hugh

The reporter needs to learn his northwest Miami-Dade geography.  NW 183rd Avenue in the beginning of the article is about 90 blocks west of Miami Lakes if there was development out that far.  In the latter part of the article it states NW 183rd Street "in Miami Lakes" in another stupid mistake because it's at least 13 blocks north of the western side of Miami Lakes and 16 blocks north of the east side of Miami Lakes.  Carol City is closer to the area than Miami Lakes so one could call it "Carol City West."

Stan
Stan

This guy is a relative dope and managed to pull this off...imagine how much crap Wall Street and the gov't are getting away with.

DavidDennis
DavidDennis

Wow, New Times reporting is really first-class nowadays.  Great story!

Cathy
Cathy

Terry, great job. What a tale. 

Louis Wing
Louis Wing

WOW - that guy is good. He uses it for all the wrong reasons, but he's good.

chuck.strouse
chuck.strouse moderator editor

@Hugh We fixed and will correct in print. Sorry for the error.

Rational
Rational

AND WHOOO THE EFF CARES....JESUS......

HughJar
HughJar

@Rational   If the reporter makes stupid mistakes like where the kid lived then who knows how many more mistakes he made in the rest of article.  Maybe an a-hole like you doesn't care but some of us do.

 
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