Entrepreneur Enrico Forti says he owes a life sentence in a Florida jail to being Italian. “If I were Anglo-Saxon I would’ve never seen the inside of a courtroom,” he told Italian daily La Repubblica. “Here they seem to think a successful Italian is necessarily a member of the Mafia.”
Forti, whose friends call him “Chico,” was convicted of murdering real-estate mogul Anthony “Dale” Pike in Miami on February 16, 1998. Forti, ex-windsurf champ and game show contestant from Trento, was the last person to see Pike alive. In a panic, he told police he hadn’t seen Pike despite the fact the two were at odds over a deal Forti had made with Pike’s father. The misstep cost Forti dearly–he eventually told the truth, was convicted for fraud in the hotel deal, acquitted– and then charged with murder in May 2000.
Friends and family in Italy have recently launched a media blitz to drum up funds for a retrial. Forti, who pleaded not guilty to the shooting death, has been interviewed on radio programs, newspapers, been the benefactor of a windsurf tournament and launched a web site which tells the story from his point of view.His lawyers, who say evidence was circumstantial, hope at the very least to have the life sentence (without possibility of parole) commuted to give Forti, 42, the possibility of serving time in Italy.
The story contains any number of elements worthy of a mystery novel. In 1997, Forti bought the houseboat where the murderer of Gianni Versace, Andrew Cunanan, was found dead. Forti planned to produce a TV documentary on whether Cunanan had committed suicide (as police maintained) or whether he was killed. The houseboat was damaged and eventually destroyed because it was a safety hazard–Forti maintains it was destroyed as a cover up. “You’re the Italian who said the Miami police are corrupt?” Forti recounted. “Now you’ll pay.”
Add to the scene US detective Frank Monte, who sustains Forti was a “troubleshooter” for Versace’s dealings with difficult siblings Santo and Donatella. Monte ascribes his insider knowledge to an investigation he carried out for Versace in 1996 concerning the death of a family associate. As for the murder, police say Pike came to Miami to confront Forti about the sale of a hotel in Ibiza, Spain that the Italian had negotiated with his elderly father. When police questioned Forti, he said Pike never arrived in Miami.
Later he told police he left Pike at a restaurant. After a complicated, month-long trial with an intricate weave of documents and satellite testimony from Spain, Forti was found guilty of first-degree murder in June of 2000.Hard to tell where the truth lies–but Forti’s case seems destined to become another crusade against the US justice system, which Italians deem inhumane and often overly harsh.
After years of battle and public pressure, Italian Silvia Baraldini was granted the right to serve the rest of her sentence in a Roman jail in 1999. For Italians, Baraldini was unjustly jailed for ideological reasons; for US authorities she was a dangerous terrorist. She served 19 years of a 43-year sentence to date, but the controversy continues. Baraldini was granted house arrest by Italian authorities in the spring of 2001 to undergo treatment for breast cancer– despite the seriousness of her illness, the US government insists that she be returned to prison by September.