There are days when Ellis Rubin's law office is the center of the universe for everything that is weird about South Florida. At any given time you might bump into Johnny Carson's black granddaughter, the bald-headed man with the cure for AIDS, the girl who killed her father, the boy who murdered his neighbors after watching too much television, the guy who electrocuted the burglar, the man who loved Merv Griffin, the condo commandos with the illegal door decoration, or the wife who butchered her husband.
But you don't often see the serene, neoclassic house-turned-office bathed in floodlights and swarming with news reporters, traffic-control cops, and gawkers. That sort of Rubinesque scene normally takes place on the steps of some courthouse or another. So this was unusual, and the old community just east of Biscayne Boulevard, along NE 23rd Street, was filled with curiosity. The folkz n the hood stared wide-eyed from porches and driveways and street corners at the carnival. What now hath the maverick lawyer wrought behind those iron gates?
This night the focus of Ellis Rubin's appointment with the press was not the old pin-up queen nabbed for shoplifting, or the stripper whose new breasts had turned to stone, or even the former Catholic schoolgirl who suffered from nymphomania and I-95 orgasms. This time it was Rubin himself, the acclaimed attorney of the oddly afflicted, who was the accused.
A thick vine stalk of microphones and cables stood at ground zero. Like guns leveled and aimed for an execution, a dozen large video cameras were arranged in formation, on standby, ready to fire at the slightest movement of the front door. Rubin was late.
A light-stepping, white-shoed man with a mop-top haircut brazenly walked past the restless crowd, up the steps, and knocked on the front door. He peeked inside and then turned with a flourish toward the assembled masses. "Settle down, sharks!" he shouted in an arrogant, booming voice. "Feeding time will be in exactly two minutes."
You could feel the ill wind of a lynch mob rise from the crowd, threatening to pull the rope tight around the neck of this freaky stranger, who seemed to revel in the animosity and catcalls he elicited. And then, as suddenly as he had appeared, he trotted off-stage carrying a gaily wrapped package in a bag under his
The date: September 10, eve of Kathy and Jeff Willets's plea-bargain hearing at the Broward County courthouse.
The time: A little past 8:00 p.m., three hours after Channel 7 reporter Jane Akre told the world that a crime may have been committed right inside Rubin's law office. Her report stirred up the muck of camera crews prowling around Broward and Dade counties in search of the Willetses, and sent them hurtling in the direction of Rubin's office.
The crime: Attempted sale of a videotape that purportedly shows a nude former Fort Lauderdale vice mayor named Douglas Danziger exercising with different parts of Kathy Willets's head and body.
The would-be seller: Handsome young Guy Rubin, son of Ellis, who was secretly taped as he did the dastardly deed.
The would-be buyer: Overweight, ambitious, 39-year-old tabloid television reporter Steve Wilson of Inside Edition, a man whose world is one big spy-cam. And it is rolling before he walks in your door.
The snitch: The same Wilson. He tricked Guy Rubin into thinking Inside Edition wanted to purchase the tape, reported the alleged crime to Broward prosecutor Joel Lazarus, and then got set to broadcast the story all over the land.
The rub: A legal melee. Attorneys hire attorneys. Scores of men named John Doe hire more attorneys. The Willetses lose their plea bargain. Rubin's law office is raided and he becomes the subject of criminal and ethics investigations. The former Fort Lauderdale politician admits he had sex with Kathy. Channel 7 picks up Inside Edition. And Jane Akre and Steve Wilson ask for a restraining order against George Martin-Trigona.
"It was strange," recalls a free-lance cameraman who was videotaping the Rubin press conference. "There was this strange guy hanging around that nobody seemed to know. He seemed to be a real fan of Steve Wilson. He kept coming up to everybody and saying stuff like, `Did you know the great Steve Wilson is going to be here?' We were saying, `Yeah, yeah,' ignoring the guy."
Moving through the crowd with a sense of authority, the white-shoed man talked to anyone in his path, issuing orders and offering advice. When Wilson arrived, the "strange guy" saw him first. As the Inside Edition reporter got out of his car, a bellowing voice heralded his arrival: "Ladeeez and gentlemen! Now arriving is the world's greatest television reporter, from Inside Edition, Mister Steeeeeeve Wilson!"
No one applauded. A sheepish look crawled over Wilson's face. It was a disorienting moment for the man of the hour, as all eyes turned his way. And before he could sidle up to someone, anyone, and ask, "Who the hell said that?" a hand was thrust nearly in his face: "I'm George Martin-Trigona." Steve Wilson, pursuer of news stories, stared into the Cheshire-cat grin of his worst nightmare: George Martin-Trigona, pursuer of human beings who appear on television.
"It would be very easy to write me off as some TV-crazed psychopath," Martin-Trigona says with cool detachment, "but there is much more to me than that." Articulate and disciplined. A researcher, not a voyeur, more nerd than night stalker. A sincere bearer of gifts and praise. A thinker whose monologues are peppered with footnotes and webs of complex theory, often colored by historical attributions and military allusions.
"I am one of the most battle-tested men on the planet. I have fought the Communists in Vietnam, the drug smugglers in Key West, the rebels in Nicaragua." This is a pronouncement he makes, unabashedly, all the time. "I am not bragging," he says. "I am just stating a matter of fact. That is what I was trying to tell Wilson at the press conference." And short of corroboration from the secretary of defense, it mostly seems to check out.
Before September 10, Steve Wilson had never set eyes on the 43-year-old Martin-Trigona, but he knew him from several eerie phone conversations over the past few weeks. At least one of those phone conversations was filled with Wilson's anger. During another, Martin-Trigona offered to invest money in one of Wilson's video projects. In yet another, Channel 7 news reporter Jane Akre figured prominently. The voice on the phone seemed to know everything about Wilson's life, including his on-again, off-again personal relationship with Akre.
Ellis Rubin's press conference was about to begin, and the reporter cordially begged off chatting with Martin-Trigona to attend to other duties. Then suddenly a woman's voice rang out sharply. "Leave me alone! Get away from me!" Jane Akre meant business, and she meant it right at George Martin-Trigona, who was holding out the package he had been carrying.
"Jane...Jane...Wait a minute. Hear me out," Martin-Trigona stammered.
Wilson bolted up, finger pointing: "I told you to leave Jane alone. Don't take another step towards her or your next step will be to the police station!"
"Wilson, do you know who you're talking to? No you don't, do you? Do you really know who you are talking to?" Martin-Trigona launched his tirade, inquisitor turned intimidator. Perhaps it was the manic smile that never left Martin-Trigona's face that influenced Wilson to back off and disappear into the throng of reporters. "He really didn't know what he was up against," Martin-Trigona observes in retrospect. "I've been in so many combat situations that my reactions are spontaneous. I can act without even having time to think. I could have grabbed his wrists and cracked them both in an instant."
No one who witnessed the incident knew exactly what was going on. Akre had stood calmly behind the men, as if nothing were happening, her camera face transfixed on the blurry cue-card distance. A radio reporter approached Martin-Trigona and asked him what was in the package. "It's a gift for the greatest female television reporter in the world," he said, loudly enough for Akre to overhear. No reaction. "It's a copy of Ellis Rubin's book, Get Me Ellis Rubin."
The front door opened. Rubin, his sons Guy and Mark, and another attorney walked side by side to the microphones. Ellis Rubin did the only talking, denying that anyone in his office had attempted to sell information. He accused Wilson of extortion. Then, without answering any questions, Rubin and company abruptly turned en masse and walked back inside.
The sharks had not been satisfied. Rubin had only given them a toe when they wanted a whole leg. A chant arose: "We want Wil-son. We want Wil-son." All eyes and microphones turned toward the Inside Edition star, and he played the role of reluctant interviewee. He told the story he would put on the national airwaves one week later: The secret tape starring Doug Danziger. The $100,000 "package." Sixty thou for half. The list of John Does. Kathy in the buff. Guy Rubin trying to ice the deal.
Akre stayed to the back of the pack. She already knew all of this because Channel 7 had put together its own package with Wilson and Inside Edition. Akre (pronounced eigh-kree) had been in on the story since the weekend, when Wilson arrived at the house the two of them jointly own in an exclusive subdivision of west Broward's Weston development. She strolled up to a policeman and inquired, in a voice that turned more than one head in the vicinity: "Sir, can I have a police escort to my car?" The cop seemed amused. If any part of Miami was well-lighted right then, the environs of Rubin's street was it.
"Where's your car?" he asked.
She pointed to it. "I have reason to believe there is someone out there who might try to hurt me."
"You know why she said that?" Martin-Trigona would later say. "She wasn't scared. She wanted to hurt me. It was as if she was saying, `Here I am, George, so close to you but you can't have me.'"
But George Martin-Trigona knew where Jane Akre would be the next day -- right in the thick of the electricity and chaos and sleaze of the Willets hearing, where, thanks in no small part to her reporting, prosecutors would withdraw a plea bargain that would have given Kathy probation and her husband some weekend furlough time.
The overflow of reporters who couldn't fit in the small courtroom lounged around a conference area next door, watching the proceedings on several small monitors. Akre sat at a large table, directly across from Al Goldstein of Screw magazine, and idly looked on as courthouse security stopped Martin-Trigona from entering the room. He didn't have a press pass.
Ellis Rubin was in mid-soliloquy: "Am I about to commit a crime?" he implored the judge. "Consider my past." A great roar went up in the press room. Akre shook her head in disgust.
A huge, crab-walking phalanx of photographers escorted Rubin and the Willetses back to the parking lot, running over innocent people and colliding with cars along the way. Photographers climbed atop newspaper boxes to get better views. All the while, the drill-sergeant voice of George Martin-Trigona barked out admonishment, reprimand, and denunciation: "Clear the way! Act your age!" He still held the gift-wrapped book.
After the Willetses and Rubin drove away, Martin-Trigona returned to the courthouse, strolled through the metal detector, and spied a reporter he knew. In his customary stentorian voice, he wove a tale of conspiracy and intrigue in which Wilson and Akre were ganging up on his "friend" Rubin. Just then, by a coincidence worthy of Martin-Trigona's obsession, Akre herself walked past. Martin-Trigona made a slight move toward her, but she was ready. Screwing up her face like Jamie Lee Curtis, Akre unleashed a short but lethal burst of verbal fire and quickly headed for a bank of telephones. Channel 7 reporter John Turchin, who was with Akre, hissed a warning at him.
The man with the package didn't miss a beat. Immediately his narrative to the reporter rose in volume and pitch: "She doesn't want to talk to me because she knows I have proof that she is having illegal sex with Steve Wilson!" Heads spun. The reporter, embarrassed, walked away. "That's right!" roared Martin-Trigona, abandoning his composure for the very first time in the six years he has sought an audience with Jane Akre. "Illegal sex and illegal fellatio!"
Akre would later say she didn't hear what Martin-Trigona shouted. She also refuses to comment about him except to make this statement: "It's gone beyond reason. He's shown a total, complete inability to reason." The next day Martin-Trigona would express dismay: "I lost my cool. I never lose my cool. Only Akre could make me do that. Do you see what kind of woman she is? Do you see why I simply can't give up?"
On the morning of September 10, the cast of characters inside Guy Rubin's office included Steve Wilson, free-lance cameraman Steve Shapiro, and Inside Edition producer Donna Howell. A sound man worked from a van parked on the street nearby.
As his hidden Panasonic Elmo 8mm camera rolled silently, Wilson questioned the youngest Rubin about the $100,000 "package" for the names of Willets's clients, a "clothed or unclothed" one-day photo session with Kathy, and the sex tape supposedly featuring Doug Danziger. "You could tell it was Kathy Willets," Shapiro recalls, referring to the videotape. "You could tell there was sucking and fucking and what have you. Whether you could see through the [bedroom closet] louvers and tell beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Danziger, I don't know. I was only 70 or 80 percent sure it was Danziger. Wilson kept saying, `How do we know it is Danziger?' Guy kept saying, `Don't worry. Trust me, it is Danziger.' You could hear his voice, and I suppose if you knew Danziger's voice, you could recognize him easier.
"In the middle of everything, the phone rang and Guy came back and said it was Hard Copy," Shapiro continues, "that they were interested in buying the tape. He said we needed to get this deal taken care of in the next five minutes or he was going to call them back. I was flabbergasted. No one had to trick that guy [Rubin] into anything. His attitude was cocksure. He was cocksure about everything we talked about. All we needed was Monty Hall and someone in a chicken suit."
Minutes later Shapiro earned his pay (about $600 if he and the sound man split the fee equally). He picked up his Betacam and began taping as Wilson ambushed Guy Rubin. "Is this ethical? Is what you're doing ethical? You proud of this? Selling evidence in a case?" Wilson asked. Rubin quickly ended the meeting, walked out, and soon called Miami police to have Wilson removed from the premises.
That was the end of the taped segment as broadcast on Inside Edition, but Guy Rubin says much more took place later, off camera. "After the meeting ended, when I walked out of the room, he [Wilson] followed me up to my office and tried to extort the tape from me," Rubin claims. "He said, `Let me have the tape for free, or else.' He wanted to know what the Florida Bar or the state attorney would think about it.
"He threw his card on my desk and said we had until 2:30. He repeated that phrase in front of several people, including [brother] Mark and my wife, who was sitting in the reception area. Also, when the police officer arrived, he repeated that again and the officer noted that in his report." (The officer, who is not identified in the report, did include this cryptic note: "Mr. Wilson then stated, `I hope to hear from you before 2:30 or I'm going to do what I have to do.' Mr. Wilson then left the building.")
Wilson agrees with Guy Rubin on these points: The scene moved upstairs as Wilson followed Rubin to another office. Rubin shut the door and Wilson tried to interview him through the closed door. Rubin then asked if Wilson still had a camera and tape recorder running. Wilson said he did. Rubin told him to remove the camera and recorder, whereupon Howell and Shapiro went downstairs. Wilson went into the office alone.
Once inside, like a scene from Spy vs. Spy, each man asked the other if he was recording. No, each said. "Then Guy asked, `What's going on?'" Wilson recalls. "I said, `I'm doing an investigation of the law firm, of you and Mr. Seligman [civil attorney for the Willetses].'" Then, according to Wilson, Rubin got Guy Seligman on the speaker phone, and brother Mark Rubin joined the conversation. "Seligman asked, `Isn't this about getting a better price for the tape?'"
Wilson says he replied, "Let me make it very clear what I want. The reason I'm standing here is that you have every right to say what you want to say, or to say nothing." He says he then took out a business card and wrote his cellular phone number on it. "I said to call me if any of them wanted to make a statement."
After some discussion about the possible legal issues at stake, Wilson says Seligman repeated his question: "`Isn't this really about trying to get the tape for a cheaper price?' I said, `I don't want the tape. If you give me the tape now, I won't take it.'"
Wilson claims Guy Rubin then tested him on that point, allegedly asking, "How about this? If we give you the tape, will you just go away and say nothing?"
"You guys don't get it. This isn't about the tape," Wilson recalls answering. As for the 2:30 ultimatum, Wilson says that was his deadline as set by Inside Edition's producers. If any further explanation from the Rubins was to make his report, he would have to have it by then.
Guy Rubin remembers the events differently: "What he [Wilson] wanted to do was get the tape for free after he had already offered to pay for it. If we would have given it to him, he would have had a different type of story." Mark Rubin's account of the exchange affirms his brother's version.
Wilson says he left the Rubins' office and "immediately" drove up to see Broward Assistant State Attorney Joel Lazarus, who is prosecuting the Willets case. Wilson says he questioned Lazarus about various points of law, including illegal videotaping, and that Lazarus told him that if he had witnessed a crime, he could not use a reporter's First Amendment protection to conceal the information from law enforcement officials. After consulting with Inside Edition's attorneys, Wilson says he met again with Lazarus and described what had occurred at the Rubins' law office earlier that day.
Wilson also placed a call to Ellis Rubin that afternoon. The elder Rubin had not been at his office during the confrontation with Guy, and Wilson wanted him to comment. But Ellis was busy and distracted. He told Wilson he didn't know what he was talking about, and hung up.
At four o'clock, prosecutor Joel Lazarus called Rubin to tell him the Willets plea agreement was off.
The story Jane Akre put together for that afternoon's five o'clock broadcast raised questions in Ellis Rubin's mind. She had taped her segment in front of his law office a little after 2:00 p.m. In it, she revealed that Channel 7 had learned of negotiations between Steve Wilson and Guy Rubin that had taken place the night before. She also was aware that, just hours earlier, Guy had shown to Wilson and his crew the secret sex tape, "a tape that no one has ever seen," Akre reported, "a tape that no one knows exists." But Akre had not interviewed either Ellis or Guy Rubin about the meetings with Wilson. So how did she know they had occurred? And how had she learned of it as early as 2:00 p.m.?
For the moment, the links between Inside Edition's Wilson and Channel 7's Akre remained a mystery to the Rubins, but the effects of Akre's broadcast were immediate. The phones in the Rubin law office began to ring off their hooks.
A press conference was scheduled for 8:00 p.m.
For 39-year-old Akre, it was a great scoop in a great story, the sort of work that would look good in any television reporter's demo tape when it came time to scout for another job, and Akre knew about job hopping. A graduate of the University of New Mexico, she had moved from Albuquerque to Tucson to St. Louis before getting her first big break in 1985 -- an anchor position on CNN's Headline News. The time slot wasn't great (3:00 to 7:00 a.m.) but the exposure was: she had an audience that circled the globe.
From CNN Akre moved west to join KICU-TV in San Jose, California. It wasn't exactly the big time. KICU was a UHF station with a relatively weak signal and a pitifully small block for news. But it was a legitimate anchor position nonetheless. It was also Steve Wilson's stomping grounds.
Akre and Wilson had met ten years earlier at a conference of investigative reporters, while she was working in St. Louis. Their acquaintance blossomed into a friendship, then into a romance. And then they found themselves working in the same market: Wilson had taken a job with KGO-TV in San Francisco, an ABC affiliate and a Bay Area powerhouse. They made the most of their proximity by buying a home together in Fremont, a suburb midway between San Jose and Oakland. But complications were inevitable: Wilson was going through a bitter divorce and child-custody battle.
In December of 1988, Akre landed a reporter/anchor position with Miami's Channel 7. The next month Wilson was hired by Inside Edition. Together they bought a home in Weston.
Steve Wilson was not the only man attracted to Jane Akre. She had also caught the attention of George Martin-Trigona.
The obsession was born at three o'clock in the morning on January 10, 1985, when Akre appeared on Martin-Trigona's television set. At the time, he was preoccupied with subjects other than late-night TV; he had been studying and writing about the World War II Battle of Kursk. But the moment was, as Martin-Trigona likes to say, "the hand of fate intervening in my life once again." Something clicked, and in an instant he knew he was looking at a "very tightly put together person. She had no outward visible faults."
Martin-Trigona immediately picked up the phone and traced the image on his screen to CNN's studios in Atlanta. Before she had left the air at 7:00 a.m., he had tried to call her five times. He left messages, but she did not respond. Most people would have given up right there.
"Akre is a very extraordinary, unique woman. There is no one else on the planet like her. I think I am right about this," Martin-Trigona says confidently. "She has more fire in her than any woman I have ever met. The nursing homes are full of old-age versions of Jane Akre. They are women so full of fire they incinerate any man who comes near them, and they are left alone with no one to care for them. I know you might think this is strange, but I am fully certain that if Jane Akre and I ever got together, I would be facing 50 years of pure hell. But I can take it. I would just let it bounce off me."
Sex? Martin-Trigona says it's not really part of his thing. Kathy Willets, for example, "does nothing for me. When I see her I see a s-l-u-t." He reports his last serious affair was a former Miss New Orleans he quit sleeping with in 1986. A childhood sweetheart was his main squeeze for seventeen years, "until she got married, divorced, and fat." Still, he keeps a copy of the woman's high school yearbook picture framed on his desk. "I have a weakness," he notes, "of falling for a woman and sticking with it through hell or high water."
He likens his pursuit of Jane Akre to the intense "searches" he often conducts in the Library of Congress, and says he has not dared allow himself to imagine anything further than "Round 1" -- meeting and talking, "reaching" her. But even this, he concedes, has been a frustrating endeavor: "Sometimes, the way she looks at me, well, it's like I raped her just by trying to give her a gift."
George M-T, as he signs his love letters to Akre, was born and reared in a well-to-do section of Middletown, Connecticut. His father was a successful businessman, his mother a university professor. His sister is a linguist and interpreter who is fluent in five languages. His brother, Anthony Martin, is a well-known maverick Republican politician from the Tampa area who ran for governor of Florida in the last election. His cousin is the ex-prime minister of Malta.
He admits his family is uncomfortable with his longstanding interest in Akre, but what can they do? "My brother told me not to talk to any reporters about Jane Akre," he laughs. "But I don't always listen to him. We've always gone our separate ways. When my mother asked me why I won't give up, I tell her the same thing I told her when she couldn't understand why I wanted to enlist in the Marines and go to Vietnam: There have to be some people willing to fight for this country against the Communists. And there has to be somebody to love the [Jane Akres] of the world."
As a teen-ager, baseball was Martin-Trigona's passion. He flew to St. Petersburg in 1965, walked up to Casey Stengel, and asked if he could pitch for the New York Mets. The Old Professor put him on the mound, clocked his fastball at 78 mph, and told him to find another line of work. Classic photos of Martin-Trigona standing next to Stengel and pitching great Warren Spahn adorn the walls of his bedroom. From a drawer he pulls out an odd collection of snapshots that show him perched atop a light tower at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., on the day the old Senators ballpark was demolished.
A limited-edition 1987 University of Miami national championship clock hangs on one wall. Hiding behind a foul ball hit by Rickey Henderson is a rare photograph of Ty Cobb. A depiction of Napoleon on horseback shares a military- heroes gallery with German field marshal Erich Von Danstein. In the kitchen is what remains of fifteen cases of raspberry soda he brought back from a recent trip to New England.
His two-bedroom apartment near Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale is layered with orderly stacks of files, which seem to fall into three main groupings: Vietnam, World War II, and Jane Akre and Steve Wilson.
Documents from Martin-Trigona's personal military file, meticulously kept all these years, show that after high school he completed Marine training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and served seventeen months in Vietnam, nearly half of that time in the DMZ. He won eight medals for valor and bravery, including the Cross of Gallantry and the Vietnam Gold Pin. "I was considered invincible in Vietnam," he says matter-of-factly. "No one could understand it. I stood up against the superior officers over there as much as I stood up against the enemy."
A news magazine clipping from his mother, received by Martin-Trigona in the jungle, lured him to Florida. It was an article about colleges where average students could do well. The University of Tampa was on the list, and following an honorable discharge, he enrolled. After a few semesters, he transferred to the less patrician University of South Florida, where he earned a degree in history. But not before instigating the largest scandal in USF history. It began when the dean of arts and sciences punched him during an argument over a grade. It ended with the forced resignation of the dean and USF President Cecil Mackey.
"I discovered so much fraud in the way that university did business. I was a regular at the Board of Regents meetings, handing out stacks of paper proving all of this," Martin-Trigona says, unable to fully explain what drove him to escalate a dispute over a grade into a statewide scandal. (In 1977 he accepted a $9000 settlement to end the battle.) "Mackey used to cringe every time he saw me in the same room," he recalls with a smile. "I used to wait for him out in the parking lot. That's where I discovered the great value of a parking lot. It is a neutral zone between a person's work and a person's home. It's a great place to run into people you would never be allowed to see otherwise."
Martin-Trigona says he now makes a living in the import/export business -- jade from South America, textiles from Guatemala, and bartered shrimp from the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua. Atop a filing cabinet in his apartment are several beautiful objects -- jade figurines and colorful wall hangings -- he plans to give to Akre some day.
One bedroom is converted into an office and is filled with priceless World War II research material, much of it concerning one particular conflict. Considered by many to be the greatest tank battle of all time, the Battle of Kursk, says Martin-Trigona, was the straw that broke the Fuhrer's back. Since graduation from USF, he says, he has been writing a book titled The Battle That Doomed Germany in World War II.
The chapters are in manila folders, put aside for the time being, he says, while he concentrates his energies on Jane Akre. Author William Manchester (Death of a President, The Glory and the Dream, American Caesar) once lived next door to Martin-Trigona's family in Connecticut. Manchester, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors John Toland and William Craig, he says, have urged him to finish the book: "Those three men are the finest World War II writers and researchers alive today. They know what I've got here. They told me that my book would put me right up in their company.
"That's why I can't understand Akre avoiding me. I've told her that she's not going to be able to last that long in the television business and she's going to need something else. I've offered her co-authorship on my book," he says sadly, "but she's never replied."
A few days after his sleuthing stint at the restaurant, Martin-Trigona was observed by a Broward Sheriff's Office deputy, suspiciously rummaging through an unmanned Wackenhut guard shack near where Wilson lives in Weston. "Our assumption was that he was going through the card files, getting addresses and phone numbers," recalls BSO Sgt. John Fleming. "We thought we might be dealing with a burglar here. If I remember right, he may have told us he was a schoolteacher." But Martin-Trigona was sent on his way without so much as a police report being filed -- just a warning not to trespass in these parts any more.
With a degree in history and the fledgling beginnings of his book project, Martin-Trigona "followed the ghosts of Hemingway and Tennessee Williams to Key West." He laughs. "I figured the atmosphere there would be conducive to writing a book." But he had to earn a living, so not long after arriving, he paid $50,000 for a boat and began commercial shrimping. Within a year he got his money back, he says, by chartering his vessel as part of the 1980 Mariel boatlift. He took 38 people on a rescue mission to Mariel, was detained three weeks by Cuban authorities, and brought back 240 refugees to Key West. "I was fined $185,000 by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for bringing illegal aliens into the country," he says proudly. "I walked into court with a tape recording of President Jimmy Carter praising and giving his support to the `outlaw freedom flotilla.' The judge threw out the charges and the fines, and five of us captains walked."
Another charter, this time involving influential Key West attorney Nathan Eden, landed Martin-Trigona in court once again in 1983. Eden's clients, who leased the boat for a shrimping expedition, reportedly took it out of safe waters in stormy seas, where the hull began to split apart. (The boat was later destroyed in a storm.) After unsuccessful efforts to recover money for the loss of the vessel, Martin-Trigona filed a federal civil suit alleging that Eden's clients were actually using his boat to smuggle drugs, and that the prominent attorney was acting as their "investment advisor." With his habitual flair, Martin-Trigona distributed a press release and copies of his lawsuit to the media. (He says he had declared a personal war on Key West's drug smugglers, openly criticizing them so much that tavern owner -- now mayor -- "Captain" Tony Tarracino warned him his life was in danger. It seems Martin-Trigona had been rude to one of the alleged dealers: "I told him I was going to kill his mother first so she wouldn't be around to cry for him.")
At Eden's urgings, the Monroe State Attorney's Office arrested Martin-Trigona and charged him with extortion and libel. "I was worried," he recalls. "I was facing twenty years. I went to see a Catholic priest friend of mine. He listened and gave me the best four words of advice I've ever heard: ~`Go see Ellis Rubin.'" On June 20, 1983, he drove to Rubin's Miami law office, where he was startled to see the attorney sitting outside in a chair. Several television camera crews were lurking nearby, readying equipment. "I thought to myself, `Is this guy crazy? What is he doing seeing clients on his front lawn?'"
Rubin leaned over and whispered to Martin-Trigona. It was his birthday, he explained, a day when he traditionally sat in the front yard -- often with the news media at hand -- and dispensed free legal advice to anyone who stopped by. "I told him my story and he didn't say anything for five minutes. He just stared up in the sky." Then Rubin lowered his gaze, turned toward the cameras, and pronounced his decision: "George, I will take your case. And I will win your case. When Ellis Rubin shows up in Key West, they'll all go running for cover."
Rubin got the two libel charges dismissed in a hurry. And on December 12, 1984, a Key West jury acquitted Martin-Trigona of the extortion charge. His suit alleging drug smuggling, also handled by Rubin's office, was settled favorably out of court, Martin-Trigona says. "Ellis Rubin and I have a mutual defense alliance," he says today. "He saved my life. I was facing twenty years and he freed me. I will do anything I can for the man. I will do anything I can to prevent Akre and Wilson from tearing him down."
For more than a year after discovering Jane Akre on CNN, Martin-Trigona observed her on his living room TV set and attempted to contact her through long, involved letters in which he referred to both himself and Akre in the third person: "I do believe that when Jane Akre meets George Martin-Trigona for the first time, it's going to be a very extraordinary experience for both of us and one we will not likely ever forget," reads a copy of one such correspondence. He wrote just as many letters to Akre's supervisors at CNN, praising her performance and urging them to move her into a prime-time slot: "Someone as brilliant and professional as Jane Akre does not belong on the 3 to 7 a.m. graveyard shift."
Driven by an insatiable curiosity, he conducted an extensive genealogical search that traced Akre's family back hundreds of years to a treeless island -- Akreham -- on the southwest coast of Norway. Martin-Trigona says Akre responded to him only once -- on her personalized stationery, which he still has. She commended him on his research. "I've tried to tell her that I would teach her everything I know about research," he says, "how to use the Library of Congress, how to go into public records. But she doesn't seem interested. It's a mistake on her part, because when she is out of television, what else is she going to do?"
The "relationship" cooled when Akre left CNN in 1986. Though he tried hard, quizzing dozens of CNN staffers, Martin-Trigona could not track her down. "I lost her for two years," he laments. "Then, would you believe it, out of 50,000 cities in the United States, she moves to my town. Once again the hand of fate intervenes."
Akre's ageless good looks, resonant voice, aggressive reporting style, and past experience in smaller markets and the CNN dues cellar made her a perfect match for Channel 7's "tabloid TV" challenge to the staid South Florida network affiliates. And for George Martin-Trigona, her arrival in Miami was the perfect opportunity to begin anew his mission to reach her. He sent Akre things he thought she'd find interesting (scuba diving catalogues, for example) and wrote letters to her (one was six pages long, typewritten, single-spaced). No reply. In fact, after more than six years of effort, Martin-Trigona can only recount two positive experiences with Akre. They occurred twenty months apart.
On March 12, 1989, he finally reached her by phone. They discussed scuba diving -- he is an expert diver -- and astrology. She was very cordial, he says, "with a hard edge that I really liked. I asked her if I could bring her down a gourmet lunch and she said no." He says he was quick with his response: "You've got guts. I've got character. Take some chances." According to Martin-Trigona, Akre asked for time to think about it. (Akre now says she regrets she ever gave him the time of day.)
"I felt on top of the world," he recalls. "I had finally made contact." But further efforts to reach Akre by phone or letter proved unsuccessful. Still, Martin-Trigona made sure he was near a television whenever Channel 7's news came on, staring and studying her movements, gauging both her psychological and physical feelings: "You know, when you develop an affection for someone, you begin to notice every little twitch, every mood swing. I can tell when she is happy, sad, everything about her."
In the early evening of December 21, 1990 -- the winter solstice -- Martin-Trigona experienced what he says was his only other positive contact with Jane Akre: "I waited for her in the Channel 7 parking lot. It was 6:50 p.m., the time she normally leaves. We met there and walked back to the lobby, where we talked about 30 or 40 minutes." He didn't tell Akre that he had staked out her movements for several days until he knew her routine comings and goings. He didn't tell her that he had followed her to her home in Weston and sipped his raspberry soda while he observed another man visiting her. He didn't tell her about his forays into the Broward County courthouse computer system, hunting for her name on various documents.
Instead they talked about her work and, Martin-Trigona says, she accepted three literary gifts, including a book about astrology, inscribed to her from his mother. He left the meeting with a high-stepping feeling: "She seemed very impressed with me. I'm the kind of guy with a lot of guts. That's the kind of guy she likes. I thought to myself, `I've made it onto the beach with Jane Akre. Now I need to go for the beachhead.'"
Three days later, on Christmas Eve, he tried again, but says she refused to answer his call. Undaunted, he tried yet again. "I called her the day after Christmas," he recalls. "But I was not prepared for the vicious tirade she gave me: `Don't call me again. Don't ever set foot in this station again.' There was a very intimidating tone to her voice. I told her, `Jane, I don't think I can go along with that.'"
Despondent, urged by family members to give up the quest, Martin-Trigona drove to Key West, where he says he jumped into the ocean and swam around the island twice, at night, trying to use physical stress to beat the demon off his back. It didn't work. Neither did his efforts at self-persuasion. "You know, I have tried to talk myself out of this. I have sat down and logically tried to talk myself away from her," he sighs. "But I just can't break away. I'm imprinted on the woman." The counsel of his close friends, who told him the presence of "the other man" in Akre's life doomed his efforts to failure, was no deterrent, either. "So I decided to look into who this guy was," Martin-Trigona recalls, "and what their relationship was all about."
While stalking Akre one night this past January, Martin-Trigona says he followed her into the Bangkok Cafe in Davie. Like Inspector Clouseau slinking low in his seat, Martin-Trigona wore dark glasses, a fake goatee, and hid behind a newspaper while munching on Oriental shrimp and "researching" Akre. Suddenly, he says, "this repulsive-looking character comes waddling in, checks out the whole restaurant, then sits at Akre's table. He looked about five-nine, five-ten, 270 pounds. I couldn't figure this out. I had imagined someone more dashing, more debonair."
A glance outside at a green Mercedes confirmed to Martin-Trigona that he had his man. He'd seen the car at Akre's house, had traced its registration and other documentation, and had identified its owner as someone named Steve Wilson. Beyond that, he knew nothing about the portly gentleman at Akre's side. Within a month, however, he had secured both of Wilson's telephone numbers, a copy of the deed to his property, and discovered that Wilson was a nationally known television reporter.
A brush with the law, however, did nothing to dissuade him from his painstaking pursuit of information about Steve Wilson. After more than 70 phone calls to California, and hundreds of dollars spent on court documents he had shipped from the West Coast, Martin-Trigona knew plenty about Wilson, not the least of which was the fact that he was in the same profession as Akre, but much more famous, a winner of Emmy awards. "A light bulb went off," he says in describing the theory that came to him. "Suddenly I understood. So that's what she sees in him -- a great contact, an opportunity to go from a class-two market to a class-one market."
Martin-Trigona then decided to take a bold step: he would contact Wilson directly. As an excuse for calling Wilson at home, he prepared a couple of story leads he thought would interest Wilson as a journalist. The reporter seemed agitated at the intrusion into his personal life. "I was surprised at the electricity of this man," says Martin-Trigona. "He really wanted to know who I was, how I got his phone numbers, how I knew so much about him. I know I really surprised him when I asked him to give Jane Akre a message."
The next night he called Wilson again. This time, according to Martin-Trigona, Wilson's agitation grew to profane hostility. Undeterred, he tried once more, but this time he laid a trap. He called the following day, during a time his research told him Wilson would not be home, and left a "disarming" message on Wilson's answering machine, promising to "come clean and explain the real reason I had been calling him. I told him I would let him in on the secret, how I knew everything I knew about him and Jane."
It worked. A curious Wilson called back and listened as Martin-Trigona explained his impassioned devotion to Akre. Wilson didn't curse him and didn't abruptly hang up. Martin-Trigona says he took that as a positive sign that Wilson would not block his efforts to reach Akre. "I really felt encouraged," he recalls, "I felt buttressed." But a week later, on Valentine's Day, Martin-Trigona received an ominous letter from Channel 7's attorneys. He was advised to stay away from Akre and WSVN's studios. "Govern yourself accordingly," the terse, one-page note warned.
Martin-Trigona grabbed the material he had gathered about Wilson and Akre and went to visit Channel 7 attorney Bruce Iden. "He told me, `Akre doesn't want you in her presence,'" Martin-Trigona says. "We spent a few minutes intimidating each other and I left." Then he penned Akre a postcard: "I have tried to talk myself out of this, but I feel strongly there will be a Round 2, then a Round 3, Round 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 until I get tired of it or you give up." As usual, he received no reply.
A few days before Akre's August 31 birthday, Martin-Trigona visited Ellis Rubin's law office. He asked Rubin if he would autograph a copy of his autobiography as a gift for a friend. "What do you want me to say, George?" Rubin asked.
"I want you to inscribe it to Jane Akre. She's told me you're one of her idols. I want to personally present this to her on her birthday."
Through his research, Martin-Trigona discovered that Akre would be in New York for the U.S. Open tennis tournament during the week of her birthday. So he waited, and on Friday, September 6, he appeared where he had been told never to appear again: in the parking lot of Channel 7. Right on time, Akre began walking from the lobby. She spotted Martin-Trigona waiting by her car and quickly went back inside. "I left right away," he laughs. "I figured the goons would come after me. I felt I'd better get out of there to fight another day."
Two days later, just after noon, he put on his finest suit, picked up the gift-wrapped book, evaded the Weston guards as he always did, and parked in front of Akre's house. (Though Akre and Wilson jointly own a house, she also owns a separate home in the development.) He knew ahead of time, of course, she would be there. After ringing the doorbell several times, he left, then returned. According to BSO Sgt. John Fleming, Akre at that moment was inside calling the cops. "The third time I went up to the door," Martin-Trigona says, "I looked around and I was swarmed on all sides by policemen. I told them, `You guys don't know who you're dealing with.' I figured I would be walking into a hornet's nest out there. A young woman [Michelle Davis] had been murdered on the next block, and I knew that security might be tighter than usual."
Sheriff's deputies asked Martin-Trigona to come to the Weston substation a few blocks away. There his driver's license was run through the computer, and he was sent on his way with a warning not to come back and not to bother Akre again. "My recollection is that this was a domestic," recalls Sergeant Fleming, adding that officers did not consider Martin-Trigona a possible suspect in the still-unsolved Davis murder. "He was an ex-boyfriend or admirer who had been jilted by her and was trying to get back in. The victim [Akre] gave us no indication it was any more than that. We gave her information on restraining orders and that was that."
Fully expecting that he was about to be served with a restraining order that would prevent him from approaching Akre, Martin-Trigona boldly walked into the Channel 7 executive offices the next morning to speak with controller Mark Mayo. "I told him I was only trying to give her a present," he says. "I told him that someone who is in the public eye like Akre has a responsibility to her fans to treat them decently."
The next afternoon, September 10, Martin-Trigona moved a pile of research material out of the way and flopped onto his living room couch. It was 5:00 p.m., time for the Channel 7 news. Judging from the hyperbolic opening teasers, the station was about to break something big regarding Ellis Rubin and the Willets case. Martin-Trigona perked up. Then he was stunned to see Jane Akre standing on the steps of Rubin's law office, reporting the sensational story of Steve Wilson's meeting with Guy Rubin and the alleged attempt to sell a secret sex tape. Akre announced that Rubin would answer the charges at a hastily called press conference in front of his office at eight o'clock that night.
Something snapped. Wilson...Akre...
Rubin. Martin-Trigona's mind began to spin. "It's a conspiracy," he says he quickly deduced, "and Ellis Rubin has no idea." He raced around his apartment, gathering up all the material he could find relating to Akre and Wilson. He snatched the still-undelivered present, jumped into his battered 1978 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and high-tailed it down to Ellis Rubin's office.
Martin-Trigona was rebuffed by Akre, confronted by Wilson, and jeered by reporters for his antics. But after the brief press conference he stayed put. Arms and microphones stretched toward the Rubins' backs as they turned and walked inside. So furious was Ellis Rubin's visage that no one dared follow him inside. No one, that is, except white-shoed George Martin-Trigona. He tapped on the door and slipped into the Rubin lair.
The white-haired attorney leaned back in a chair as his former client spread documents and allegations over a table in the office foyer. Looking on were Rubin's sons Guy and Mark, and a writer of Rubin's acquaintance.
A tense and confused atmosphere pervaded the inner sanctum. All eyes seemed to be stealing glances at the old man after his turn before the cameras. But he just sat silently. Outside, the media frenzy was almost over. Television crews were pulling up duct tape and packing away light kits. Most of the reporters had left.
"Okay, George, what is it that you've got?" drawled the senior Rubin, his words slow and tired.
Martin-Trigona's fire for Jane Akre now burned in a different direction. He wanted to show the world what he knew to be true: Akre and Wilson were conspiring to get Rubin. He had brought with him hundreds of pages of court documents relating to the pair, documents he believed Ellis Rubin needed to see -- copies of driving records, IRS reports, mortgage notes, scurrilous statements at child-support hearings, even maps of the Weston neighborhoods where they lived.
"These are immoral people," Martin-Trigona claimed. "They have lived in sin. Look, Akre didn't change her California plates for two years. That violates Florida law 320.38. And both of them have repeatedly broken Florida law 798.01 and 798.02."
"And what law is that, George?" Rubin asked wearily.
"`Living in Open Adultery' and `Lewd and Lascivious Behavior.'" He read Rubin the state law, which prohibits unmarried people from sleeping together.
Rubin seemed irritated. "But is that law enforced?"
"It's enforced every day. That is the excuse the cops use, if all else fails, to get into crack houses."
"Hmmm," Rubin mused as he leaned back again.
Martin-Trigona continued his litany, pulling out page after page from the documents he had spent months gathering, tossing them on the table.
Guy Rubin looked at his watch. "Well, what are we going to do here? We still have time before the eleven o'clock news."
Suddenly his father came to life, jerking forward in his chair. "No, no, no, no! We're not going on the eleven o'clock news." He put his hands on the table and rose half out of the chair. "George, tell me, what is your interest in all of this?"
"I am in love with Jane Akre."
Steve Wilson readily acknowledges what George Martin-Trigona uncovered in his months-long investigation. "Do I have a relationship with Jane Akre? Absolutely. I've never denied it," Wilson says. "Did I make that decision [to share information with Channel 7] because Jane Akre and I have a relationship? Absolutely not. I was working with Channel 7 and they were privy to some information that they wanted to go with. And they did." (At the time Wilson was preparing his story about the attempt to sell the secret Willets sex tape, Inside Edition was not being broadcast in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. Channel 6 had dropped the show in August. Channel 7 purchased local rights to the program and began to air it on September 17, just in time to carry Wilson's sex-tape expose. Joel Cheatwood, WSVN's vice president for news, did not return calls asking for comment regarding negotiations for the purchase.)
Jane Akre also denies that her relationship with Wilson led to her getting the big scoop. "I was the reporter in the right place at the right time, and that's how I got on the story," she says. "I do what they tell me to do. If you assume Steve's my only source on this, you couldn't be more in error."
Some local journalists, aware of the personal relationship between Akre and Wilson, have questioned whether Akre could have fairly judged Ellis, Guy, and Mark Rubin's claim that Wilson attempted to extort the secret Willets sex video. "I have always had a good relationship with Ellis Rubin," Akre says in response to the speculation. "And the same with his son Mark Rubin. There is nothing personal about my reporting. I am reporting the news. I'm no part of any conspiracy against the Rubins.... [Ellis Rubin] never presented a police report [alleging attempted extortion]. He never followed through on it." (The Rubins' allegations of extortion are, in fact, noted several times in the Miami police report regarding the incident.)
This past Thursday, after a marathon hearing in which he retained the right -- at least temporarily -- to represent the Willetses, there was a noticeable measure of pride in Ellis Rubin's stride as he left the Broward County courthouse, surrounded by reporters. At his shoulder, whispering in his ear, was George Martin-Trigona. "George is a smart fellow, a faithful and grateful former client who has volunteered to expose these apparent conspirators," says Rubin. "But I had no idea he had any connection to Wilson or Akre. He did ask me to autograph a book for her. I put a nice inscription on there, too. I didn't know that all the while she was plotting to get me."
Rubin has this to say about Steve Wilson and his alleged attempt at extortion: "The only person who committed a criminal act in my office has been granted immunity," a reference to Wilson's having been subpoenaed by the Broward State Attorney's Office for a sworn statement. Rubin also promises civil action after the Willets case is resolved: "I don't intend to let them [Inside Edition and Wilson] get away with this."
Channel 7 was represented at the Thursday hearing not by Jane Akre but by John Turchin. Microphone in hand, locked at the hip with a cameraman, he marched backward as Rubin and Martin-Trigona made their way to the street. But Rubin wasn't quite ready to talk to the press. "Come on," Turchin implored, somewhere between begging and baiting, "take a shot. Take your best shot."
Rubin paused. "Okay," he said. "What does Rick Sanchez's driving record have to do with all this?"
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Vintage Rubin, and like the secret sex tape, a juicy snippet the news-hungry viewers of Channel 7 would probably never see. Turchin looked puzzled, but would later boast how well the sound bite would play to the crew back at the station.
Upon hearing the tale, Akre smiles thinly. No comment. And again, no comment about George Martin-Trigona, even though she should have reason to smile at the mention of his name. On Monday of last week, her persistent suitor was served with a 30-day restraining order that prohibits him from approaching within 500 feet of her, Steve Wilson, or Channel 7's studios.
Despite the ban, Martin-Trigona is also smiling. He has decided to fight the court order. In fact, the initial legal steps have already been taken, beginning with the filing of official notice to question Jane Akre in a sworn deposition, scheduled for October 8. He has hired an attorney, of course, a man whose skills and experience he trusts implicitly: Ellis Rubin.
As he and Rubin left the Broward courthouse this past Thursday, Martin-Trigona took a moment to point out an irony contained in the restraining order he clutched in his hand. The very document that was designed to separate Akre from Martin-Trigona had actually accomplished precisely the opposite. "Now we are locked in stone for the rest of our lives," he said. "All you have to do is go in the courthouse, punch the little keys on the computer, and it will come up on the screen: Jane Akre and George Martin-Trigona. Together forever.