Courts & Crime

The lawyer and the mafioso: A South Florida saga

MIAMI — It was a meeting straight out of a Mario Puzo novel: The Miami wine peddler and the New York meat wholesaler gathering in a Pompano Beach social club in July with other Italians, purportedly to settle a turf war between the Gambinos and the Colombos -- two of the mafia's main families.

At the center of the ``sit-down'' was Roberto Settineri, 41, a reputed Sicilian mafia associate and naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Miami since the mid-'90s. Brokering on his behalf, the FBI says, was Gaetano Napoli Sr., 71, a ``made'' man in New York's Gambino operation.

Both men were arrested on federal obstruction of justice charges last week, Settineri by virtue of his coincidental association with disgraced lawyer and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

But long before the men crossed paths, Settineri had seeming success pursuing the American Dream. He married, had three daughters, invested in real estate across Miami-Dade, drove a 2010 Audi A7 and sold wine to Italian restaurants in South Beach.

He lived well but not garishly -- impressing some clients as a regular nice guy who they never would have suspected of being a major Sicilian mobster, as the Italian National Police said when charging him and 19 others with attempted murder, extortion and drug trafficking in Palmero last week.

"I remember this guy as a gentleman, the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet,'' said Rocco Mallardi, owner of Soprano Cafe on Lincoln Road, who knew Settineri. "He used to come here for lunch with his daughters.''

That was before FBI agents came knocking at Settineri's Brickell Key condo at dawn last Wednesday. They rousted him out of bed on charges that he shredded documents and laundered money during an improbable sting operation starring none other than Rothstein.

His arrest came just hours before he was set to fly to Italy.

"I was shocked,'' Mallardi said Tuesday. "It was like a pain in my heart.''

U.S. authorities say in court records that Settineri sought to carve out new criminal territory for the Sicilian mafia in both New York and South Florida, but he and an associate had a "dispute'' with Colombo crime family members over turf in the Miami area.

According to recorded phone conversations last June, Settineri asked Gambino soldier Napoli to travel from New York to represent him at the Pompano Beach "sit-down'' -- mafia lingo for inter-family meetings. As a "made'' man, Napoli has been formally inducted into the mafia and had the clout to protect Settineri's interests, the feds said in court documents.

Napoli owned Napoli & Sons Meat in West Babylon.

Speaking in Italian, the men talked in code and referenced mafia protocols that the FBI says are recognized by those who operate in that underworld.

Settineri used the Italian phrase "come sono combinato'' to describe his affiliation with Sicilian organized crime, authorities say. The phrase generally translates to "how I am joined.''

In more conversations preparing for the meeting, Napoli warned Settineri to be "100 percent'' sure about his associate and to be wary of "sbirri'' -- Italian slang for "cops'' or "informants,'' the FBI said.

On July 1, Settineri, Napoli, the Colombo family member and others met at the social club while the FBI had it under surveillance, according to court records.

Later that same day, Napoli called his son, Gaetano Napoli Jr., to report that he ``successfully negotiated a resolution to the Settineri-Colombo dispute.'' Napoli's sons, Napoli Jr. and Thomas Napoli, were also arrested.

The FBI had been investigating Settineri for three years but struggled to make a case against him, sources familiar with the case said. The agency's fortunes turned when Rothstein, who ran a $1.2 billion investment scam, returned from Morocco in November.

Hoping to cut a deal, Rothstein agreed to wear a wire to set up Settineri, whom he came to know through the operators of Five Star Executive Protection and Investigations, a Broward company he had hired for protection and security.

The Five Star partners, Daniel Dromerhauser, 39, of Miami, and Enrique Ros, 33, of Pembroke Pines, were charged along with Settineri last week. Dromerhauser was arrested. Ros is still at large.

Pretending he needed to stay ahead of investigators, Rothstein allegedly talked Settineri into tearing up two boxes of documents and laundering $79,000 from the lawyer's Ponzi scheme, sources said.

"Settineri fell in their lap,'' a law enforcement source said. "They were able to get him through Rothstein.''

At the U.S. attorney's office in Miami last week, Raffaele Grassi, a senior official with the Italian National Police, said Settineri had ``important ties'' to both of the American crime families, Gambino and Colombo.

In recent years, Settineri had several businesses that opened and shut in Miami Beach and Miami. They included Seven Business Consulting, Italian Wines Collection, Centro Sociologico Italiano, Next Entertainment Group, Blue Oceans International and V.I.A.S. Imports, state records show.

In a 2004 divorce settlement, he deeded over a two-story residence on Miami Beach's La Gorce Drive to his ex-wife, Ivette Settineri Perez.

Settineri continued to support his daughters, bought a waterfront condo in Miami and got remarried in November to Ana Carolina Kokke Salas.

"He's a real hard-working guy,'' said his Miami defense attorney, Jeffrey Weiner.

"His ex-wife says he's a loving father and his new wife thinks the world of him.''

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