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Tuesday, September 16, 2014: Florida Mob news and notes

Biogenesis and the Mob: One of the biggest steroid scandals in Major League Baseball history blew open last year when the Miami New Times, aided by documents obtained by a whistleblower, revealed that a host of ball players, including Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun and New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, were taking steroids and performance-enhancing drugs prescribed by Biogenesis of America. The clinic in Coral Gables, Florida, became the target of investigations by Major League Baseball and various law enforcement agencies.

The whistleblower had additional documents he was going to bring to the New Times. One afternoon, while transporting the documents, he stopped off at a tanning salon in Boca Raton. While he was inside, the documents were stolen out of his car. They ended up in the hands of Gary Jones, a tanning bed repairman with a checkered past. Jones then brokered a six-figure deal with Major League Baseball for the documents.

In early August 2014, law enforcement officials in South Florida arrested Jones and two other men. One of them was Anthony Carbone, the owner of Boca Tanning Club, the place where Fisher’s documents were stolen. The other was Frank Fiore, the owner of Havana Nights Cigar Bar in Boca Raton. The men were not arrested for any crimes relating to the Biogenesis scandal. Rather, they were arrested on charges of drug possession with intent to distribute. Some of the trio’s activities were described in a Sun-Sentinel article: “The (FBI) agents and the trio exchanged thousands of dollars for thousands of counterfeit pills, officials said. … Eventually, Fiore told agents he could also provide them with different types of steroids, and Jones offered to sell them marijuana, officials said.”

The story takes a stranger turn from there.

Just last week, it was reported that former Philadelphia Mob boss Skinny Joey Merlino, who now lives in Boca Raton, may have violated his probation by meeting with a mobster and two convicted felons over the summer. Merlino supposedly met with the new boss of the Philly Mob, Joey “Chang” Ciancaglini, at Havana Nights Cigar Bar. Joey Chang was there with two other men, one of whom – yep, you guessed it — was Frank Fiore. It’s possible that Merlino and Chang were unwittingly caught up in the surveillance of Fiore for his alleged drug operations.

Regardless, being seen with Joey Chang and Fiore may cause big trouble for Skinny Joey. He is scheduled to return to Philadelphia in early September to answer the parole violation charges.

But Fiore’s underworld ties don’t end there. Before opening Havana Nights Cigar Bar, Fiore owned a business with alleged New Orleans Mob figure Joseph Gagliano. I wrote about Gagliano last month in a Museum blog post titled, “Big Easy Mobster Busted in Assassination Vehicle.” Gagliano’s late father, Fat Frank, was the one-time underboss of the Marcello crime family. Gagliano was arrested in May, along with Dominick Gullo, a former casino officer with ties to Las Vegas. The men were found in a van customized with gun slots and reinforced side panels. Law enforcement officials described it as an “assassination vehicle.”

So, to recap, Frank Fiore was seen meeting with known Philly wiseguys, had business ties with a recently arrested New Orleans crime figure, and is now facing charges for selling drugs with two men tied to the Biogenesis scandal and who were involved in selling stolen medical records to Major League Baseball.

This story is far from over.

Florida governor’s race: As Florida’s gubernatorial campaign between Democratic challenger (and former governor) Charlie Crist and current Governor Rick Scott gets into full swing, the usual negative ads from both sides have started clogging up the airways. The most recent ads from the Scott campaign have targeted Charlie Crist’s ties to Ponzi scheme mastermind Scott Rothstein.

Rothstein was a Miami lawyer who organized a Ponzi-like lawsuit-settlement scheme that made him millions. Rumors about possible ties to organized crime swirled around Rothstein. He wore Mob-style suits and supposedly bragged about connections to organized crime, including a close friend who is the son of an Israeli organized crime figure. While it was never shown that Rothstein was tied to the Mob, he certainly cultivated that image.

Regarding the campaign ad, it’s true that Crist knew Rothstein. Crist was the recipient of not only a birthday party thrown in his honor by Rothstein, but campaign donations, all before Rothstein’s arrest in 2009. Crist maintains he was as duped by Rothstein like everybody else, and has accused the Scott campaign of teaming up with Rothstein to attack him. It’s unclear if this will have any effect on the election, but you know it won’t stop the flood of negative ads from both sides.

Scott M. Deitche is the author of five books on organized crime. He is the senior writer for Tampa Mafia magazine, and has also written dozens of articles on organized crime for local and national magazines and newspapers. He has been featured on the Discovery Channel, History Channel, A&E, C-SPAN and both national and local news and radio shows.