Guilt-Edged

Pugnacious defense attorney Frank "Tony" Fabbri never backed away from a fight. Then the lawyer ran afoul of the law.

And then there was the young woman Fabbri had secretly married in Havana two months earlier.

Cuba had become an obsession in the five years Fabbri had been visiting the island nation. He became an expert in cigars, salsa and las muchachas, as well as in the nation's history. The place fascinated him, and he idealized it.

"There's something to be said for the fact that two kids on opposite sides of the country open the very same math book to the very same page every day," he marvels. "There's something to be said for communism and the equalizing effect it has on life, or the fact, for example, that there is no racial discrimination.

"God love Tony," one ex-cop observes of Fabbri. "But he's a guy of excesses."
jennifer silverberg
"God love Tony," one ex-cop observes of Fabbri. "But he's a guy of excesses."
Friends, colleagues and adversaries wrote to U.S. District Court Judge William Stiehl on Fabbri's behalf. A PDF sampling of the letters is available online at here.
Friends, colleagues and adversaries wrote to U.S. District Court Judge William Stiehl on Fabbri's behalf. A PDF sampling of the letters is available online at here.

"It's '50s life," he goes on. "You come home at five, the children are there, the wife is there, you eat dinner together, you help the kids with homework, and there're no distractions: no TV, no video games. I saw a guy once walking down the street with his thirteen-year-old son, and he kissed the son on the lips. He did that because he loved his son. I was moved. If he'd done that here, people would say, 'That's sick.' It's hard to explain, but thinking about all of that was very intriguing to me."

Belkis, Fabbri's new Cuban bride, and her extended family were constantly in need of things, from medical care to a new telephone, and Fabbri relished the role of provider. After they married in September 2004, Belkis wanted to move to the U.S. Getting her a green card would be yet another expense.

On that November night, Fabbri took the two bags of money from the car trunk and drove away. Two days later, after waiting out a federal holiday, the attorney brought the bigger bag to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"I honestly thought I was being a good soldier by bringing it in," he says today.

Upon being presented with the cash, a surprised federal prosecutor requested that an IRS agent, who happened to be working on the premises, join him to ask a few questions. Chief among them: How much money was in the sack, and where exactly had it come from?

Fabbri said he was not sure of the amount: $60,000 to $80,000, he estimated.

He then lied about how he'd come to possess the money. He told the federal officials that he'd gone to Trober's mother's house late at night, let himself in, gone to the basement and used a ladder to climb into the rafters, where, Edward Trober had told him, an ammunition box filled with cash was stowed. He said his client had supplied a map of the basement, showing where the money was hidden.

Later that day IRS agents called on Trober's mother, who told them that as far as she knew, no one had entered her house the previous two evenings. Prosecutors requested that Fabbri be removed from the Trober case. A judge granted their motion, and a federal investigation into Fabbri's activities was initiated.

IRS agents persuaded Trober, who was still awaiting sentencing, to wear a wire for a jailhouse conversation with Fabbri in January 2005. "Mr. Trober was in a position to help himself," says Kevin Stallard, who worked the case for the Illinois State Police.

During the conversation Fabbri referred to his $36,000 fee and urged Trober to stick with the ammunition-box story.

Fabbri: "Your family is important to you."

Trober: "Of course, they're important to me.'

"Well, OK."

"Yeah."

"You want 'em? You want to give 'em up? Come on, Ed."

"...What I don't understand, what the fuck is the difference whether they brought it out or handed it to you, what the fuck's the difference? What I'm saying is the fucking story to begin with I told you is so lame."

In August 2005 Trober was sentenced to ten years in prison.

For two years, investigators probed into Fabbri's affairs. Fabbri & Zotos were asked to turn over the law firm's accounting ledgers, in which the fees Trober had paid had been entered.

The agents from the DEA and the IRS agents who investigated Trober and Fabbri declined to comment for this article, citing federal protocol. Illinois State Police investigator Kevin Stallard, who since has retired from the force, indicates that the probe was wide-reaching, but he won't comment beyond that. "I can't refer to [its nature] because there've been no charges filed," says Stallard.

In the end, the U.S. government charged Frank Fabbri with only one offense: Failure to file Form 8300.

"I almost feel like it was selective enforcement – that he pissed somebody off over there [in Illinois]," says Fabbri's ex-cop friend Dan Stewart. "Because, you know, Tony could piss off the pope."

"Judge, I never stole the money," Fabbri said at his sentencing, referring to his fee. "I received the money from his family. [Edward Trober] knew it. He knows it. I filed taxes on it. There was no deceit. Except me, when I said where I got it."

Why did the veteran attorney fail to jump through a bureaucratic hoop he knew was required by law? And why did he lie to investigators about how he acquired Trober's cash?

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