MIAMI — The lawyer for Gabriel Delrisco, accused of killing three Homestead children in a January 2009 drunk-driving wreck, says the victims' family attorney hounded him with an unsavory proposition:
Have Delrisco lie about where he drank that night -- clearing the way for a lucrative lawsuit against a Homestead bar and strip mall -- and the grieving Serrano family would sanction a lighter prison term.
But Delrisco's attorney, Michael Catalano, says he resisted and complained to prosecutors. They started a sting operation, having him wear a wire and notarize a bogus affidavit from Delrisco in an attempt to implicate the Serranos' attorney, Ariel Furst, in a potential fraud case.
"In Florida, you cannot trade lighter time in prison for money,'' Catalano said Friday.
Miami-Dade prosecutors declined to comment. But Catalano said Friday they told him the probe is over and no charges will be pursued.
Milton Hirsch, Furst's defense lawyer, said his client did nothing wrong and that Catalano's cooperation with prosecutors was "unprecedented.''
"Setting aside the unattractive prospect of a criminal defense attorney posing as an undercover informer for the police,'' Hirsch said, "I have not heard anything from the state attorney's office to suggest there are law enforcement concerns about criminal misconduct on the part of Ariel Furst or [co-counsel] Luis Stabinski.''
Catalano said he will report the case to the Florida Bar.
"The guy is full of crap and he is despicable,'' Furst said of Catalano.
Prosecutors say Delrisco plowed into the back of a Ford minivan on Jan. 25, 2009, in South Miami-Dade, killing the Serrano children: Hector, 10, Esmeralda, 7, and Amber, 4.
Hector Serrano, their father, survived. Delrisco's blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, authorities said.
Delrisco, 41, is charged with three counts of DUI manslaughter, as well as battery on a firefighter for allegedly fighting with rescue personnel trying to free him from his mangled Chevrolet TrailBlazer. He remains in jail pending trial.
He is represented by assistant public defender Robert Aaron and Catalano, a DUI specialist who is working pro bono.
They have been working on a plea deal for Delrisco, who faces up to 50 years in prison. Usually, the victim's family must approve plea deals.
The Serrano family is represented by civil attorneys Furst and Stabinski. Catalano says that in November, during a meeting at their office, they said the family wanted Delrisco to "rot in prison'' unless he fingered the El Paso bar in a Homestead strip mall as his watering hole just before the 5 a.m. crash.
"I said to myself, 'These guys want me to cheat,' '' Catalano remembered.
But Delrisco maintains he left El Paso at least five hours before the crash, said Catalano, who would not say where Delrisco went after leaving the bar. His high blood alcohol content after the crash suggests he kept drinking elsewhere.
Catalano complained to prosecutors, then agreed to play along while stressing that the story was a fiction. He made several phone calls that were recorded by an investigator. As part of the sting, Catalano also offered to have Delrisco author an affidavit falsely attesting he drank solely at El Paso, a document he said was later drafted by Furst.
But Delrisco never signed the document or knew of its existence -- it was actually signed by a state attorney's investigator and notarized by Catalano. He delivered it to Furst's office, while hiding a digital recorder in his blue suit jacket pocket.
"I made it very clear that I was uncomfortable because it was not true,'' Catalano said. "At no time, did [Furst] back off.''
In December, Furst's firm filed a lawsuit against Delrisco and El Paso, seeking more than $25 million in damages. The suit does not cite the affidavit but claimed that El Paso employees there should have known Delrisco was a habitual drunk. The suit is pending.
The state attorney's office has subpoenaed Furst to return the affidavit; Hirsch said he is keeping the document in his office safe for now.
Catalano said he took the unusual step of approaching prosecutors because he wants to ensure that Delrisco, if convicted, gets a fair sentence.