Miami's Most Notorious Con Man Busted Stealing Hotel Room to Have Sex With a Minor

For a world-class con man, James Sabatino has a habit of burning out in blazes of self-inflicted pain. As a teenager, he pulled off an incredible run of schemes, including getting close to Julio Iglasias by posing as a Sony Music executive and wrangling more than 200 Super Bowl tickets from the Dolphins by imitating a Blockbuster president. But then he called in violent threats to President Bill Clinton, and the Secret Service swooped in.

Last weekend, Sabatino pulled one of his classic cons: snagging luxury hotel rooms under the name of a big corporation. But this time, the hotel recognized him and called the cops. And when they arrived, they found Sabatino having sex with a 17-year-old girl.

See also: Con Kid: Jimmy Sabatino displayed a talent for confidence games. If he hadn't threatened to kill the president, he'd still be scamming.

Sabatino was busted around 2 a.m. last Friday when he and a group of friends, using the name of corporate clients, checked into the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables and demanded the presidential suite.

But a manager recognized Sabatino from a bulletin sent by the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association and called the police. When they arrived, they found the 36-year-old with a 17-year-old girl, who told officers they were having sex.

The bust didn't come quickly enough to help his previous target, though. Police say Sabatino spent five weeks at the Hilton Miami Beach beginning in August after convincing the hotel he was staying on the Sony Music corporate account. He racked up a balance of $174,000 in that time, including a mind-boggling $100,000 for champagne.

That kind of a scheme should be all too familiar to Miami hotels. A New Times profile in 1999 by writer Robert Andrew Powell tells Sabatino's incredible backstory: His father was a captain in the Colombo crime family and a liaison with the Gambino clan.

The always-hefty Sabatino started smooth-talking and conning his way to millions of dollars as a teenager. His most infamous crime came in 1995, when he talked the Dolphins out of 262 Super Bowl tickets by posing as a Blockbuster exec; he later resold them for more than $200,000.

By the time he was 22, authorities say, he'd scammed millions in profit and free hotel rooms and services, usually with nothing more than his guile and slick talking.

"He's like Tony Curtis in The Great Impostor," Thomas Hays, a Hollywood studio exec, told New Times in 1999. "He's so ballsy, it's almost like a challenge for him. In the movie, Curtis posed as a doctor or a professor; it was an obsession to him to be someone else. This Sabatino kid is the same way. He's crafty."

But Sabatino had a habit of blowing his exploits. In 2000, he earned four years in the federal pen for bizarrely threatening Bill Clinton and then promising to kill the prosecutors and judges handling his case.

"He thinks he's smarter than everybody in the world, and truthfully he is," a security consultant told New Times in the 1999 profile. "I guess he makes mistakes too."

He might not be able to wriggle out of this case. Sabatino now faces charges of unlawful sex with a minor, grand theft, and organized fraud.

(H/T to Random Pixels)

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink