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Cadillac Combat

Of all the turkeys Fred Rosenberg ever ate, none tasted better than the one he carved on Thanksgiving Day, 1993. It certainly surpassed the bird he was expecting to be served in the Broward County jail, where, just hours earlier, he had been locked up, facing the prospect of a long weekend in the company of felonious thugs, drug-addled thieves, and other misfits with little appreciation for him or his professional accomplishments. Fred had no prior record; in fact, he didn't even believe he had committed a crime. Still, his lawyer had told him that nothing could be done. Fred's bird was cooked. He was spending Thanksgiving in the slammer.

His wife, however, had other plans. As soon as Cindy Rosenberg returned to their home in North Miami after holiday shopping and discovered that her 53-year-old husband had been arrested -- up in Broward and by a full-fledged FBI task force -- she swung into action. She called her brother, who, though he lived out of state, was quickly able to direct her to a Miami law firm with sufficient clout to spring Fred from the holding tank in Fort Lauderdale. The process took awhile; she and her son didn't pick up Fred until 6:30 the next morning -- sixteen hours after the arrest.

On the drive home, the three decided to keep their mouths shut. Why put a damper on the traditional Thanksgiving family gathering? Besides, none of them relished the thought of telling Fred's mother or the other children about his squabble with his ex-boss and how that apparently caught the attention of law enforcement authorities, who then grabbed poor Fred and threw him in jail. No, better to avoid the sordid subject altogether.

But as he sat at the dining room table contemplating his forkful of white meat and the family members around him, Fred grew increasingly annoyed at the thought that his ex-boss might have intentionally tried to ruin Thanksgiving for him and his loved ones. For eight years Fred had sold cars for Alan Mandel, not just any cars but Cadillacs, those glamorous showboats of the American highway. Fred sold them better than almost anyone on the planet, which is why, when he quit selling for Mandel, he believes Mandel tried to sabotage his career. In his own way, Fred struck back. Then he got caught. And then he got arrested.

Little did Fred know then, as he savored the three-potato pudding Cindy is so famous for, that a night in the Broward County jail would be nothing compared to what lay ahead, that for two full years the Dade State Attorney's Office would be relentless in prosecuting him on felony criminal charges, and that an unusual insurance claim filed by Mandel might be linked to even more serious criminal charges that would be brought against him. As he finished dessert, all he knew was this: He was in a serious jam.

After the table had been cleared and the family had settled in to relax, an exhausted Fred Rosenberg sat back in his chair. He looked at the expectant faces of his mother and niece. Glancing across the table at his wife, then to all three of his grown children, he adjusted the frames of his wire-rim glasses and sighed deeply. Then, as he knew he must, he began to tell his family what had happened.

A. You've got to know Fred. Fred is an individual, an aggressive individual. And as a salesman, you'd better be aggressive.

Q. Was he a good salesperson?
A. Yes. Very good.
A Deposition of Bernard Lippy, former Ocean Cadillac salesman

A couple sits across from Fred Rosenberg in his cubicle on the showroom floor of University Cadillac in Hollywood. They want to buy a Sedan DeVille, one of the better cars in the Cadillac stable. They could be looking for a stripped-down Cimmaron and Fred would still treat them with the same dignity he'd extend to a man buying a top-of-the-line Seville STS with custom wheels, a sunroof, and an engraved nameplate on the glove box. That's one of the reasons he is the best.

Staring into their eyes, he tries to figure them out. Which one really calls the shots? What is their comfort level on price? Is there some unspoken problem brewing? What will really make them happy? Fred's psychology classes at the University of Miami help at times like these. As he probes he also hammers home the big message: "When you buy a Cadillac, you get up in the morning and you know that when you turn the key, the car will start. And you know that from the moment you step on the gas until you get to your destination, you will be traveling in luxury. It really is a great car."  

South Florida happens to be one of those places where great luxury cars are an easy sell. More than 24,000 Cadillac drivers live here, making this one of the best Cadillac sales regions in the entire world. What's more, Cadillac customers are a stupendously loyal breed. It is not uncommon, for example, to find owners who've stayed with the product for 25 years or more. Every two or three years the faithful will renew their leases or trade up to a new car. Cadillacs, it seems, are habit-forming. "They have a tie with these cars," Fred theorizes. "They are comfortable with the touch of luxury and they don't want to give it up."

With such a popular car in such a lucrative market, most salesmen come to local Cadillac dealerships with previous experience, with a list of clients they have developed and nurtured over the years. "I want a salesman who can bring some customers into the dealership," says University Cadillac sales manager Mark Collins. "I don't want a green pea."

Fred Rosenberg was the rare exception. When he started selling cars ten years ago, he was as green a pea as anything Del Monte ever sold. After many years producing women's handbags as part of the family business, he felt he needed a change of pace. He considered playing the stock market, but decided sales was his forte. So he walked through the doors of Ocean Cadillac in Bay Harbor Islands and simply asked for a job. General manager Alan Mandel considered Fred's commanding frame and warm greeting, his enthusiasm and his strong local ties, and decided to give the green pea a chance.

Within six months, Fred was selling 22 cars per month, almost twice as many as the average Ocean Cadillac salesman. By the end of his first full fiscal year, he had sold more cars than anyone in the Miami region, which was the country's number-one sales region. That made Fred the top dog out of some 17,000 Seville-sellers nationwide. He was the best. Numero uno. The absolute finest green pea in the history of car sales.

Q. How did the defendant rank among your salespersons?
A. The best.
Q. Was he consistently the best?
A. Yes.
A Trial testimony of Alan Mandel

One of the reasons Fred got to be the best so quickly was this: He was selling in familiar territory. He grew up in Bal Harbour, where his mother still keeps an apartment. Biscayne Elementary, Beach High, University of Miami -- Fred is about as local as they get. People whose towels he collected as a cabana boy at the (defunct) Bay Harbor Pool began coming to Ocean Cadillac to buy their cars. Old Miami Beach friends responded to his cold calls to step up to a "touch of luxury."

Fred remained the best by caring about his customers, by remembering the little details. Birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs A he would send a card. If a customer's spouse passed away, condolences were in the mail. Almost every morning he would spend an hour or two calling his customers whose leases were due to expire, just to remind them to stick with Cadillac and to stick with him. "Fifty years ago you could walk into the corner store and Mr. Jones knew everybody by name and he knew everything about everybody," Fred often says. "We should still have all that. Why do we have to be so cold to one another? So I send them birthday cards. Why not?

"Look here," he continues as he opens a small cardboard box sitting on the corner of his desk. "This is a grill ornament. One of my customers, he's been buying Cadillacs for 25 years, so I got him this little anniversary ornament. He'll put it on his car and he'll love it. Why not? I try to have a relationship with them."

He allows that some of his success may stem from personal attributes he was born with, but most of it, he believes, comes from his dedication to a simple principle: service to the customer. "What I really try to do is solve problems," he says. "If a customer has a problem, I will fix it. If, say, the exhaust isn't working, I will drive over to the customer's house and pick up the car personally. I've done it too many times to remember. I also stop to help people who have broken down on the highway, especially women. It's a great time to sell."

For such devotion, Fred expects to be his customers' Cadillac salesman of choice, though he isn't pushy about it. One time, for instance, a repeat customer called Fred to express his interest in upgrading to a new Cadillac Fleetwood. Fred completed the deal over the phone and had the car ready within the week. As is his custom, Fred personally drove the Fleetwood to the customer's house, but when he arrived he discovered that the wife had talked the customer into buying a Mercedes instead. "That's too bad," Fred told them. "This sure is a beautiful car. But Mercedes is a great car, too. Be sure to keep me in mind when you come back to Cadillac." No pressure whatsoever. No grief at the misunderstanding: "My philosophy is that if I help them out -- even if they don't buy from me -- they'll remember the good service they got from me. When they decide to buy Cadillac, or if any of their friends want to buy a Cadillac, they'll come to me. It works out."  

It certainly does. On a wall at University Cadillac, where Fred currently works, hangs a collection of plaques, each of which contains twelve nameplates heralding the top salesman for each month of the year. A larger nameplate in the center announces the salesman of the year. "Fred Rosenberg" is engraved on almost every nameplate on every plaque. "If you can have a model employee, Fred would be it," boasts Mark Collins, the sales manager. "In every deal he does right for both the customer and the dealership. I won't give you an exact figure, but you can say that Fred makes at least $40,000 more than any other salesman in the dealership. He's just that good."

Alan Mandel, Fred's former boss at Ocean Cadillac in Bay Harbor Islands, disagrees with this assessment. Oh sure, Fred sold more cars than anyone else when he worked at Ocean. Many more cars. But according to Mandel, he didn't become successful by staying in touch with customers or from remembering their birthdays. Most customers who walked into Ocean Cadillac came to see the general manager; Fred was just the first person to grab them as they came through the door. "He had higher sales because he ran faster than the other salesmen," Mandel has testified.

Of course, Mandel has good reason to knock Fred Rosenberg. When he left Ocean Cadillac in September 1993, Fred was selling four of every ten Cadillacs. A salesman that effective doesn't come along every day, and when someone that good leaves for a rival dealer A well, it can be downright scary to someone like Mandel, who is responsible for generating dealership sales.

Ironically, it was Mandel's fault that Fred left. He had been happy at Ocean Cadillac. He was selling on his home turf, near his mother and his own home in North Miami. He was pushing plenty of cars at Ocean and there was no reason to leave. But in late 1993, Mandel had a brainstorm, an idea he later admitted was "ineffective" and "did not work." He wanted to radically change the way cars were sold at Ocean Cadillac. Instead of salesmen cruising the lot in search of commissions, he decided to hire ex-bankers and former insurance company executives, people accustomed to working for a fixed salary. According to Mandel's scheme, Fred would become the "closer," the man who would sit in an office and complete the sales begun by the bankers and insurance brokers. Mandel thought it would be a great system and that Fred could make even more than the $60,000 or $70,000 he was earning at the time.

Fred wanted no part of it. He was a salesman, the master of his own destiny. If he made the sale, he got the money. If he made more sales, he got even more money. For four weeks he and Mandel argued the pros and cons of staying, but in the end, Fred wished him good luck with the new system. "I'll stick around and help you with the transition," he told his boss. "Just give me two weeks' notice before you change everything over, then I'm going away."

That was Labor Day weekend 1993, and it seemed like a good time to take a break from a schedule that was hectic under normal circumstances (six and sometimes seven days per week). The added stress of finding a new job prompted him to cash in a sales-incentive prize he had earned for a few free days at Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale.

As it turned out, that was the wrong weekend to be away. When he returned to Ocean Cadillac, Fred discovered that he had "resigned." His services were no longer needed, Mandel told him. Stunned but not completely surprised, he went to his office to retrieve his personal files. That's when his shock turned to anger. Instead of an orderly drawer packed tight with invoices, records, and years of personal notations, there was only a gaping empty space. His files were gone.  

Q. What were in the cabinets to the best of your knowledge that you saw?
A. Files.
Q. Files of?
A. Fred Rosenberg.
Q. Okay, and did you see Alan Mandel physically take them out?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Where did he put them?
A. I believe he put them in a box.
Q. What did he do with the box?
A. Threw it into the Dumpster.
A Deposition of Ocean Cadillac salesman Frank Ramos

Professionally, those files meant everything to Fred. They contained the names of all his customers, when they bought their cars, what price they paid, and more. If he knew the customer well, the files might include the names of the customer's children, and even their pets. They were an invaluable repository of the little things that helped Fred to solve problems and provide first-rate service. Without them, he could easily lose track of his many customers, and that could mean losing future sales. "Throwing those files away was a direct attack on my livelihood," Fred declares today.

Angry and embittered, he took his sales skills to University Cadillac in Hollywood. Within four months, he was the top salesman at the growing dealership, his name engraved on another set of plaques and his new bosses heaping accolades on him. But initially, amid the anxiety of the move, he sought revenge against Mandel for destroying his prized files. Fred remembered that Mandel kept invoices of every sale in an office on the second floor at Ocean Cadillac. Each invoice recorded who bought the car, how much was paid, the model, and where the customer lived. Although it wasn't as much information as Fred kept in his personal files, at least it was something. Fred realized that if he wanted to, he could have somebody nab the invoices for him. "Getting those invoices was my way of getting back at [Mandel]," Fred admits. "I took them because they never should have been taken away from me. You can't let the big people walk on the little people, and yet that's exactly what happened."

Two weeks after Mandel kicked him out, Fred called Ronna Rose, an Ocean Cadillac office worker. After explaining his plight, he asked if she might get hold of the invoices stored in the front office. Rose agreed, saying later that she didn't see anything wrong in borrowing the records because they were open and available to all salesmen. That night when she left the dealership, she took home a box containing the invoices of every car sold at Ocean Cadillac in 1992.

Fred met Rose at her North Miami home that evening, grabbed the files, and headed for a nearby copy shop. To save time, he says, he copied all the invoices, even those from sales that were not his. Two hours later he returned the originals to Rose. On a chair by her front door, he dropped a $50 bill. "You could use this," he said as he walked out the door.

Ronna Rose, it seems, could also have used some organizational skills. Instead of returning the box of invoices to its proper file, she placed it in a closet. It was only a matter of time -- one month, to be exact -- until a supervisor discovered the error. Mandel was informed, and he soon traced the infraction to Rose, who confessed everything.

Mandel contended that the invoices were not merely slips of paper recording car sales; they represented a means by which Fred could steal away from the dealership millions of dollars in future sales and lucrative maintenance and repair service. They had real value, at least $50 each on the open market, he estimated. (Mandel declined comment for this article. Statements attributed to him were drawn from more than 300 pages of depositions, trial transcripts, and other documents.)

As soon as he learned what had happened, Mandel called a long-time friend, Robert Lamont, who happens to be the head of the economic crimes unit at the Metro-Dade Police Department. Among other things, that unit investigates grand theft, embezzlement, forgery, and theft of trade secrets, the last of which Mandel seized upon. Commander Lamont also happens to have purchased several Cadillacs from Mandel over the years. In addition, the two men are regular golfing partners. Someone from Lamont's office promptly dispatched a detective to investigate.

Det. Stuart Abolsky spent four and a half hours at Ocean Cadillac that Friday evening, October 22. He even recruited Ronna Rose for a sting operation by having her call Fred at University Cadillac to see if they could elicit incriminating information. She phoned at 6:20 p.m., but Fred was out on the lot. At 6:35 she called back. This time he was in the middle of a sale, but Rose explained that it was an emergency.  

"The police have been here today," she said when he stepped into his sales manager's office to take the call. "They haven't talked to me, but they have talked to certain people. Now what do you want me to do?" Fred didn't know that at the other end of the line Rose was sitting in a room with Detective Abolsky, Alan Mandel, and a tape recorder, but he could tell that she was nervous. "And what about that $50 you gave me?" she asked.

According to transcripts of the call, Fred responded forcefully: "Listen, do me a favor. If you want to talk to me, you meet me in person, with a lawyer or something else. But don't call me on the phone and tell me about money that I gave you and about all those invoices that are missing. That's wrong. Okay?" With that he hung up, but as he walked back to his customer, he knew something was up. "I thought the police were putting a case together on me," he recalls today. And he was right.

Alan Mandel informed his boss, the owner of Ocean Cadillac, about the invoice incident. The owner in turn called Ed Morse, owner of University Cadillac. According to sworn testimony, Mandel wanted Fred fired from University, but Fred's new supervisors wouldn't comply. Instead they asked him to return his photocopies of the 1992 invoices. Fred went a step further; he also returned a list of his Ocean Cadillac sales that had been compiled by a Cadillac dealership organization. Every salesman was offered such lists, and many used them from their homes to call customers and to prepare their income tax form. Fred was among those who had kept his list at home. "I wanted to completely wash my hands of Ocean Cadillac," he says. "I turned over everything." A month passed without any further developments, but Fred still expected the worst.

It came on the day before Thanksgiving. Detective Abolsky had obtained from a Dade County judge a warrant for Fred's arrest on one count of theft of trade secrets, a third-degree felony. Given that Fred had no prior criminal record, that he is a well-established homeowner, and that he was accused of a nonviolent crime, Abolsky could have called Fred and simply asked him to surrender at the Dade County jail for booking. Instead the detective chose a slightly more dramatic approach: He enlisted the aid of the South Florida FBI Fugitive Task Force. Four men -- two FBI agents, a Hollywood police officer, and Abolsky -- converged on University Cadillac in search of their prey.

Fred recalls the arrest: "I was sitting in my office and four men walked in the side door. They walked over to one of the salesmen and that person pointed toward me. I could tell they were police officers by the way they were carrying themselves. I got up and said to them, 'Do me a favor. Please don't handcuff me here in front of everybody.' I was embarrassed. It looked terrible.

"We got outside and someone read me my rights while one of them patted me down. Everybody was standing there in the window looking at me. These were all the people I work with every day. One of them ran out and the officers told him to keep back. They handcuffed me, put me in the back seat, and drove off."

Being arrested in Broward County is nothing like being arrested in Dade County, according to Gary Hodus, the Miami bail bondsman who eventually got Fred released. In Dade a suspect can be booked and released in about one hour. In Broward the process takes much longer, up to ten hours. Fred had to be transported from the Hollywood police station, where he was initially booked, to the Broward County jail, where he was placed in a holding pen with 40 other men. In Broward, as opposed to Dade, prisoners' fingerprints are run through a national database to catch criminals using aliases. The search drags on forever.

That's on a normal day. On a holiday, Hodus says, things are even worse. In Fred's case, most of the jail staff was sent home before midnight to avoid holiday double-time pay, and only one judge was available to set bail. When Cindy Rosenberg returned from the grocery store loaded with Thanksgiving food, she got a call from Fred's first lawyer, who asserted that Fred would most likely spend the entire long weekend in jail.

"Busting him in Broward was just to fuck him around," says Gary Hodus, a veteran bail bondsman. "It was deliberate and intentional. A Metro detective would have loved to go to get him. They do it every day; they do it hundreds of times a day. The detective would get mileage. It would burn hours. He could have picked him up and transported him to the Dade County jail and probably saved thousands of dollars. Somebody went through a lot of trouble for nothing. Busting him in Broward was to fuck him around A absolutely. It's called busting balls." (Neither Lamont nor Abolsky could be reached for comment, but Metro-Dade police spokeswoman Stephanie Cohen denies there was anything unusual about Fred's arrest. Asserts Cohen: "I can't just call an officer I know and say, 'I hate somebody like poison and can you please arrest her.'")  

Desperate to have her husband released from jail (where he was trying his best to be inconspicuous, even though he was the only person dressed in a business suit), Cindy Rosenberg called her brother in Houston, who knew someone who connected her with Greenberg Traurig, one of Miami's p remier law firms. Normally a case like Fred's would be declined by Greenberg Traurig, whose attorneys more commonly represent corporations or the wealthiest of wealthy individuals. But Holly Skolnick, a partner at the firm, agreed to accept Fred's case because it seemed so straightforward A she'd simply file a few quick motions and it would be dismissed. So she contacted Gary Hodus, who went to work trying to spring Fred from the pokey. He finally succeeded at 6:30 in the morning, Thanksgiving Day.

From the beginning, Skolnick and another Greenberg Traurig attorney, Randy Shaw, tried to persuade the State Attorney's Office to drop the case. "We told the prosecutors, 'Look, before you start spending the money, it's not a criminal case. If a boss disputes Fred taking the invoices, let him start a civil case, but not a criminal case,'" Skolnick recalls. "Of course, from our experience, if Mandel had gone into civil court, he would have lost. The case would have been thrown out."

Skolnick, who has significant experience in trade-secret cases, argued that the names on the Ocean Cadillac invoices were never confidential; every salesman had the opportunity to view every name in the files. Furthermore, the information could be obtained by searching public records. "One particular company, American Advertising, charges $50 for mailing labels with the names of 1000 car owners in the State of Florida," Skolnick points out. "The company can provide the names of vehicle owners of any make, model, and year purchased. It can also search by geographic area such as by city, by county, or by zip code." This wasn't a case of a man stealing trade secrets from a company; this was a case of a man trying to protect his livelihood using public information.

On April 7, 1994, Skolnick filed a motion to dismiss the case. Over prosecutors' objections, the court agreed with Skolnick. Case dismissed. The assistant state attorney handling the case at the time met with her supervisor and decided that an appeal was not in the best interests of the state. But the office's legal division disagreed and decided to appeal.

The district court of appeals overturned the judge on technical grounds and returned the case for trial. Now, however, it wasn't just a charge of theft of trade secrets; a new and more serious charge had been added -- grand theft of more than $100,000. "By the time we waited for the appeal to come back, a lot of time had gone by," explains Assistant State Attorney Michael Gilfarb. "When the case started to be prepared for the trial court, more facts came to light." The new charge elevated Fred's alleged misdeed to a first-degree felony, only one step below murder and rape on the nasty-crime hierarchy. Possible penalty: 30 years in prison.

While the legal process dragged on slowly, Alan Mandel was busy with other matters. Two days after Fred returned the invoice photocopies and his home files, Mandel filed a claim with Ocean Cadillac's insurance company. The dealership's losses, he stated, could potentially reach into the millions of dollars, and therefore he sought the full amount of the policy's provision regarding employee theft -- $100,000.

The Dallas-based insurance company balked. When adjusters asked for more information, Mandel sent them the arrest report and repeated his demand for full payment. The insurance people held firm. In a letter dated December 28, 1993, a company official wrote, "There is no known or established monetary value of any actual loss as a result of this alleged theft."

Besides, even if the insurance company were to agree with Mandel that the 1992 invoices were confidential and their copying constituted actual theft, their value of $50 each as computed by Mandel would not exceed $25,000. (In court documents, Mandel admitted that only 400 or 500 cars were sold in 1992.)  

Nevertheless Mandel pursued his claim. On February 24, 1994, he sent another letter to the insurance company demanding payment. This time he asserted that the invoices and Fred's personal customer list (the list he kept at home like other salesmen but which now was being treated as stolen property) were only the tips of a vast iceberg. Something else had been stolen as well, something far, far more valuable.

For the first time since the investigation had begun five months earlier, Mandel now claimed to have suffered the loss of something known as the "master list." This mysterious list, which he later admitted he hadn't seen in years, apparently had the potential to financially sink Ocean Cadillac. As described by Mandel in an attachment sent to the insurance company and in court documents, the master list was a tabulation of 4165 sales, which included the description of the vehicle, the service record, and the phone numbers and addresses of the customers. The company kept the list in a cupboard in the same office where the 1992 invoices had been stored. It served as a backup should the dealership's computers ever fail. The list was apparently updated every six months.

Q. But there is a master list which is taken or is missing, according to you?

A. Missing. We assume it left at the same time. We have no proof, but we assume it did.

Q. How do you know that the list was taken by Fred Rosenberg as opposed to thrown out by Ronna Rose or [another officer worker] or something like that?

A. I don't know, but it was missing at the same time the other things were, so I just assume.

A Deposition of Alan Mandel
In his written communications with the insurance company, Mandel did not mention that the original investigation by Detective Abolsky turned up nothing amiss beyond the 1992 invoices. Nor did he inform the insurance company that Ocean Cadillac had not been financially injured by the alleged theft. And he did not say anything about the fact that he expected to personally profit from the insurance settlement. It took the trial to bring that out.

Fred Rosenberg and his Greenberg Traurig attorneys saw so little reason for a trial that they actually presented their entire case to the State Attorney's Office -- in advance. This past July, in an 18-page memorandum complete with 100 pages of depositions and supporting documents, Skolnick laid out exactly what she intended to do to prove Fred's innocence. "It is very unusual to present the entire case, but we just laid it all out for them," says attorney Randy Shaw, who assisted Skolnick. "We said, 'This is what we are going to argue,' and 'This is why we think we will win,' and yet they still didn't buy it."

Adds Skolnick: "The State Attorney's Office is overwhelmed with work. They are so understaffed that they actually have private bar attorneys volunteering to help them out. Because they continued to pursue this case shows that someone at the State Attorney's Office had a case of misplaced priorities. Mr. Mandel had somebody's ear."

Assistant State Attorney Michael Gilfarb, one of three prosecutors who worked on the case, says that while he is busy, he wouldn't have prosecuted if he didn't believe the charges against Fred were justified. "It's an ethical violation for us to prosecute cases that don't have a factual basis, that we don't believe are the truth," he says. "Do you think an assistant state attorney, with the caseloads we have, we don't have other things that we want to prosecute and that we want to just pick on Mr. Rosenberg and screw him?" he asks rhetorically. "I believe Mr. Rosenberg committed a crime."

The State Attorney's Office offered up a plea bargain: Fred would admit his guilt in exchange for no prison time. Holly Skolnick refused. The case came to a trial this past month, two years after it began. "This is a company, Ocean Cadillac, that decided to put me out of business because I'm only one individual," Fred says by way of explaining why he wanted a trial. "Nobody has a right to take my dignity, and yet that's what they tried to do. Nobody has a right." He slaps his palm on his desk and the ten diamonds in his Cadillac ring -- one for every year he was a champion seller -- sparkle with the movement. "It's all about goddamn dignity."

The trial lasted just three days. Arguing before Judge Lauren L. Miller, the State Attorney's Office asserted that Fred Rosenberg stole trade secrets that jeopardized the continued financial viability of Ocean Cadillac. But unfortunately for the prosecution, most of the testimony supported Fred. Ronna Rose, who also had been arrested for her role in obtaining the 1992 invoices, said that Fred had asked for a list of his own customers, nothing more. And she testified that he gave her $50 only after he had made his copies, not as part of some prearranged payment. Detective Abolsky, the investigating officer, stated that he did not know of or hear anything about a "master list" at the time he investigated the reported crime.  

Q. And so at the time, on October 22, the only thing that you knew had been taken was customer invoices, brought home by Ronna Rose, copied, and then brought back. Was anything else missing, [Detective] Abolsky, according to Mr. Mandel?

A. No.
Alan Mandel was the prosecution's star witness. When he took the stand, he tried to make eye contact with Fred, but his former supersalesman would not acknowledge his presence. "To me he doesn't even exist any more," Fred sniffs. Cindy Rosenberg sat on a courtroom bench rubbing lucky stones and holding onto her son while Mandel testified that it was in his own personal interest to attempt to collect on the insurance policy.

Q. . . . When your company collects on an insurance policy, do you gain any contingency or personal value on that claim?

A. Yes.
Q. How so?
A. I get paid on the dealership's profits.

Crucially important to the successful collection of that insurance money was Mandel's proof that his dealership actually lost business. In his February 24, 1994, letter to the insurance company, he stated, "You will see that the loss that Ocean Cadillac has suffered may well reach into the millions of dollars . . . . More importantly, it is evident from ongoing activity, i.e., the contacting of customers on that list by the perpetrator of the theft, that the list is still being used by him to steal customers from Ocean Cadillac."

In fact, the insurance company did pay in full A $100,000 A but when Mandel later sat on the witness stand, under oath, he testified that neither Fred's copying of the 1992 invoices, nor his supposed theft of the master list, had hurt Ocean financially.

Q. Mr. Mandel, in our discussions of potential losses that Ocean Cadillac would suffer as a result of Mr. Rosenberg having these invoices, you are assuming, are you not, that he would win the customer over from Ocean Cadillac?

A. Yes . . . .
Q. . . . Now, the persons you say you have learned were contacted by Mr. Rosenberg, do you know if their names are in those invoices?

A. I know for sure that two-thirds of them are not.
Q. Did any of them go to University Cadillac and buy their next Cadillac from Mr. Rosenberg instead of you?

A. No.
After two days of listening to the prosecution's case, attorney Holly Skolnick was ready with a bevy of defense witnesses prepared to attest to Fred's innocence. Two former Ocean Cadillac salesmen and University sales manager Mark Collins were slated to testify. Fred himself was set to repeat that he did not take the master list, that he had returned all of the 1992 invoices, and that copying the invoices or keeping home files was not a criminal activity.

However, after the state rested, Judge Miller stepped in and did something highly unusual. Even before the defense had a chance to present its case, the judge acquitted Fred of all charges.

He was free and vindicated, though hardly ecstatic. His wife and family had been put through unnecessary stress, he says today. And there's no telling what the final bill from Greenberg Traurig will come to; all that skilled lawyering doesn't come cheap. "I'm too angry to say that I am happy with the verdict," Fred stresses, leaning forward in his office chair to sell the point as if it were a new car. "I felt all along that I was the victim. There is nothing to be happy about. They took two whole years of my life and they had the state help them and the police help them -- and it was wrong."

Skolnick chastises the State Attorney's Office for persisting in a case she feels it had no business advancing, but she also reserves some of her contempt for Alan Mandel, who attempted to use the criminal courts to settle his beef with a former employee and who may have cynically used Fred's arrest to bolster his insurance claim. "This is an example of where the little guy could have been trampled by the system," she says. "Fred is only a salesman at a car dealership. If he didn't have somebody like us representing him, he would have pleaded out. He would have had a conviction on his record."  

The Rosenbergs aren't cooking this Thanksgiving. "I don't think we're up for it this year," says Cindy Rosenberg with a tired laugh. Fred has had another typically good year, so there are more Cadillac sales bonuses to cash in. The whole family made plans to spend the holiday together back at Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort. They will be thankful that Fred has a good job and no felony convictions on his record.

And as far as Fred is concerned, all other car salesmen around the country have reason to be thankful as well: "I was fighting for the right of everyone who earns their living in sales to hold onto a little bit of dignity and keep what belongs to them. They had no right to take away what I worked for."

Alan Mandel's Thanksgiving plans are not known. At the least, though, he can be thankful that Ocean Cadillac got that $100,000 settlement from its insurance company. And thankful that he hasn't had to give it back.

Q. How much did you collect from the insurance company?
A. One hundred thousand dollars.
Q. Have you offered to give the money back to the insurance company?
A. Why should I? On what basis?
A- Trial testimony of Alan Mandel


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