The whistler, p.35
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       The Whistler, p.35

           John Grisham
 

  screaming about for twenty years. Unfair as it seemed, the law was the law, and the auction netted $3.3 million. The first drop in what would become a very large bucket.

  A week later, the receiver sold a shopping center for $2.1 million and the assumption of debt. The dismantling of the Dubose syndicate was under way.

  Watching closely was a lawyer who represented Verna Hatch. After the auction, he filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit under the civil RICO statute, and notified the receiver that he intended to place a lien against the estate. The receiver really didn’t care. It wasn’t his money. Following Verna’s lead, Lacy filed a lawsuit for her own injuries.

  Tracking the assets of Claudia McDover and Phyllis Turban was not quite as complicated as chasing the dirty money used by the syndicate. Once the FBI had all of Turban’s records, the trail became clear. Fronted by offshore companies, the ladies had purchased a villa in Barbados, the apartment in New Jersey, and a home in Singapore. The real estate was unloaded in an orderly fashion and netted $6.3 million. They controlled eleven corporate bank accounts hidden around the world, with an aggregate balance of just over $5 million. Under court order and pressure from the State Department, a bank in Singapore opened a lockbox owned by the two. It was filled with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, rare coins, and ten-ounce gold bars. The appraisal was $11 million. The same pressure was applied to a bank in Barbados, and it produced the same type of loot. Its appraisal was $8.8 million. The four condos in Rabbit Run were sold for about $1 million each.

  Around the FBI offices in Tallahassee, the impressive loot acquired by the ladies was referred to as the Whistler Fund. Its assets were slowly sold off by the receiver, and a year after their arrests the Whistler Fund had a balance of $38 million. On paper, the figure was astonishing, though as it slowly increased over the months the shock wore off.

  Attorney Greg Myers filed a claim for a reward from the Whistler Fund. Court-appointed attorneys for McDover and Turban filed the standard objections to the selling of the assets, with no luck at all. Once everything had been forfeited, and there was nothing but a pile of cash, the attorneys had no real argument. What could they say? The money was not stolen? So they retreated, then disappeared.

  Attorneys for the Tappacola argued the money belonged to the tribe, and the judge agreed. However, the money would never have been found, and the entire web of corruption exposed, if not for the courage of JoHelen, Cooley, and Greg Myers. The Tappacola were not blameless. They had elected and reelected a crooked Chief. Of the $38 million, the judge awarded $10 million—half to JoHelen, and 25 percent each to Myers and Cooley. He also left no doubt they would be entitled to an even larger award one day in the distant future when all of the assets from the Dubose syndicate were finally found and sold.

  On January 14, 2013, fifteen months after they were arrested, the five Cousins were put on trial in the federal courthouse in Pensacola. By then, they knew that Clyde Westbay and Zeke Foreman would testify against them. They knew that Clyde had pled guilty to first-degree murder the day he was arrested, and that he would serve a lesser sentence, yet to be decided. They had no idea where Zeke Foreman was hiding, and didn’t really care. Their party was over. They were concentrating on their grim futures.

  In a courtroom with a lot of spectators, Paula Galloway, a lawyer who still loved the arena, presented the government’s case. Her first witness was Verna Hatch. Lacy was the second. There were photos and videos of the accident scene. She was on the stand for an entire day and found the experience exhausting. She hung around, though, and sat through the entire trial with Verna. Many of Hugo’s friends and family came and went during the eight-day trial. They watched the video of the Dodge Ram being stolen, and the one from Frog’s store. Zeke Foreman was an excellent witness. Clyde Westbay nailed the convictions, though he was nervous and refused to look at any of the defendants. None of them testified. Their defense remained unified throughout. All for one, one for all. If they went down, they would all flame out together.

  The jury deliberated six hours and convicted all five. The following week, Paula Galloway pursued her quest for the death penalty, but came up short. The jurors had little trouble sentencing Vonn Dubose and Hank Skoley to death. Vonn had ordered the hit. Hank had arranged the details. But it was never made clear if the Maton brothers or Ron Skinner even knew about the plan. Under the law, a gang member is guilty for the crimes of his gang, whether involved in them or not, but the jury could not bring itself to sentence the other three to death. Instead, they were given life with no parole.

  With the Cousins convicted and banished forever, Paula Galloway was more willing to cut deals with the other RICO defendants. Most agreed to plead to reduced charges and received, on average, sixty months in prison.

  One, a longtime, trusted gofer named Willis Moran, wanted no part of prison. He had a brother who’d been raped and murdered in one, and he, Willis, was terrified of the possibility. During several interrogations, he hinted that he knew something about the murders of Son Razko and Eileen Mace, and even the disappearance of Digger Robles, the jailhouse snitch. The FBI had little interest in busting Moran with a long sentence, or a short one for that matter, and a plea deal was negotiated in which he would serve only the time he’d already spent in jail.

  Over the years, Moran had at times worked with Delgado, who was Vonn’s favorite hit man. It was known, at least among the veterans, that Delgado was very accomplished at taking people out, and that he was the most likely killer of Son and Eileen.

  Reluctantly, Allie Pacheco opened yet another chapter in the Dubose story.

  Two months after the murder trial, Claudia McDover and Phyllis Turban were brought into a courtroom in the federal building in Tallahassee, surrounded by their lawyers. Both had already pled guilty to bribery and money laundering. Now they would be sentenced. The judge addressed Phyllis first and, after a good scolding, sent her away for ten years.

  His attack on Claudia was one for the archives. In a prepared text, he lashed out at her “astonishing greed,” her “sickening dishonesty,” her “cowardly betrayal” of the trust given to her by the voters. A stable society is built on notions of fairness and justice, and it’s left to “judges like you and me” to make sure all citizens are protected from the corrupt, the violent, and the forces of evil. At times scathing, at times caustic and sarcastic, and never for a moment the least bit sympathetic, the judge’s sentencing tirade raged for thirty minutes and startled many in the courtroom. Claudia, frail and much thinner after seventeen months of jailhouse food, stood as straight as possible and absorbed the blows. Only once did she seem to waver, as if her knees were losing strength. Never did she shed a tear, nor did she take her eyes off the judge.

  He gave her twenty-five years.

  In the front row, Lacy, with Allie on one side and JoHelen on the other, almost felt sorry for her.

 
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