Tell It to the Judge
The Armani Scam
“I'm no scamster, Judge.”
These were the first words the defendant said to me. He was nervously energetic like Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, but smaller and younger. He didn't look real good. In fact, he looked like a junkie Â— a little gray-complexioned, in an old nylon jacket with pants that were too big for him and distinctly nondesigner sneakers.
“Judge, I've been in detox, and I'm going to meetings every day. I'm staying out of the North End. That North End is a killer, Judge, Your Honor, Sir.”
“And where do you go to meetings, Mr. Scamboni?”
“I go to the START program every day, Judge. I've got a counselor there, Judge. His name is Joey Z., Judge. And I go to NA meetings in Medford, East Boston, everywhere.” He meant Narcotics Anonymous.
“And where is the START program, Mr. Scamboni?”
“In the North End, Judge.”
“I thought you were staying out of the North End.”
“Ah, Judge!?” he said, lifting both hands to shoulder level in a gesture older than Michelangelo, as if to say, So you got me, Perry Mason! What are you going to do? Kill me?
What he actually said was: “I only go there for meetings, Judge, Your Honor, Sir.”
“Where was Mr. Scamboni picked up?” I asked the probation officer.
“In the North End, Judge.”
I paused. “I am appointing Ms. Sack to be your lawyer.”
“I don't need no lawyer, Judge. I'll come back. They think I scammed them, but I didn't do nothing. I worked at Armani's. I really did.”
My curiosity was so piqued by what he had already said that I looked at the police report in the file. The report read:
The suspect, Rico Scamboni, told the five victims named above that he could get them $1,000 Armani suits for $300 per suit. The victims each gave him $600 except for Gennaro Angelini, the suspect's brother-in-law, who gave him $1,200. The suspect had had a job in the stockroom of the Armani store but was fired after five weeks for excessive absences. The job would have entitled him to a 15 percent discount after nine months.
Rico Scamboni was charged with five counts of larceny over $250. His lawyer, Ms. Sack, asked for time to review the papers. I asked the assistant district attorney what his recommendation for bail would be.
He said, “$3,600, Your Honor,” which not so coincidentally was the amount Mr. Scamboni was alleged to have stolen.
“My client is unable to post any bail,” Ms. Sack said. “He had a serious drug problem for which he is now in treatment at the START Program in the North End. In addition, he goes to AA and NA meetings in Revere, East Boston, and Medford. He has been clean for four weeks and assures me that he will return.”
“Where does he live, Ms. Sack?”
“For reasons that are apparent in the police report, the defendant is alienated from his family. He now lives with a friend in Revere.”
“Can your client post any bail?” I asked.
“He tells me that he has an Armani suit, Your Honor, but no money,” she said, smiling.
Not in my size, a 46 long, I was willing to bet.
The record showed three arrests for possession of heroin, two for cocaine, and one for marijuana. He also had two outstanding restraining orders. The most recent was granted five months before Â— sadly, to Mr. Scamboni's own mother, Giovanna Scamboni.
“The defendant will be released on his own recognizance,” I said, “with the conditions that he abstain from all drugs including alcohol, that he attend at least five AA or NA meetings per week, and that he stay out of the North End except to go to the START program. When can you be ready for trial, counselors?”
The lawyers agreed on a date two months away.
“Thank you, Judge. I'll be back. I swear on my mother's grave,” said Mr. Scamboni.
“Your mother is dead?” I asked. “When did she die?”
“A year ago,” he said.
Six weeks later, in the early evening, I was in Harvard Square at the newsstand reading the latest L'uomo Vogue. It was a beautiful evening, and there were a lot of people wandering around. Suddenly, someone was in front of me, circling me, saying loudly, “I know you! I know you! Who are you?”
The setting sun was in my eyes, so I couldn't see him. It can be nerve-racking to be recognized, but there is also something comic about it. I never know how I'm going to respond. Sometimes, I just say, “A judge? That's my brother. He's a prick.”
“I know you. You're the judge who let me out! He's the judge who let me out,” the man announced to a passerby and a fat man he had been talking to. By this time I could see him. I said, “How are you doing, Mr. Scamboni? Are you going to meetings?”
“I went today in . . . uh . . . Medford.”
“Great. Keep it up.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked, as if Harvard Square was foreign territory Â— his territory, not mine.
I paused, then said, “Actually, I'm meeting a friend who's going to a meeting.”
“I'm meeting a friend who is going to a 12-step meeting.”
“In that church over there,” I said, pointing to the Unitarian Church across the street.
“I know that I am not as important as you guys,” he said. “But can I go to that meeting?”
“Sure you can, but you may not feel too comfortable.”
“Yeah, I know, I know. It's only for you big shots. Say, can you be my sponsor?”
“No, I don't think that would be appropriate, Mr. Scamboni. And that's not it. It's not about big shots. It's a gay meeting. Most of the people there are gay.” They all were, but I didn't want to scare him completely.
With that, I walked across the street to the Coop to wait for my friend. Mr. Scamboni kept looking at me, even pointing occasionally, as he continued his conversation with the fat man, no doubt recounting his triumphant release from custody six weeks earlier. They then walked down JFK Street toward the Charles River. I cracked open a copy of the Herald.
Five minutes later, Mr. Scamboni appeared on my side of the street. He walked up to the phone 7 feet from me and dialed. It didn't matter that there were 15 pay phones in Harvard Square and that most of them were on the side of the street he had just left.
He said into the phone, watching me all the time, “Hey, Asshole, where were you? I got to get to a meeting. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I went at noontime to the meeting in . . . uh . . . Revere, but I'm going again tonight. You know I go twice, three times a day. Yeah, the Judge says I got to go. I do what they tell me. Hey, I'm no scamster.”
As he was saying this, he looked at me and winked.
My introduction to Casey Quinn occurred shortly after I became a judge. She had been arrested for being a “common nightwalker,” one of the many young women picked up while prowling around the Combat Zone in spandex shorts and fishnet stockings at 3 o'clock in the morning.
A few weeks after I first saw her, she was arrested again for the same thing, but during that incident she bit the young, recently married police officer who brought her in, and then told the cop that she had AIDS. She later recanted, but her recantation was, as we say, not reliable. For the next six months, the officer and his bride would have to wait and worry until the virus incubated sufficiently to reveal itself on a test. However, one of my colleagues managed to persuade Ms. Quinn that it was in her best interests to get tested. She proved to be HIV-negative, much to everyone's relief.
Casey was still in her early twenties, small with brownish-black hair and bright, dark eyes. She traveled in a pack, the only girl with four or five bedraggled neohippie males in tow. At first glance she looked like a modern-day Wendy from Peter Pan. A longer view revealed that she was tougher than any of the boys and had not an ounce of maternalism. I'd seen her a couple of times marching down one of the streets on the back side of Beacon Hill, her sorry retinue straggling behind.
In our last case together, a couple of policemen came upon her at the corner of Charles and Mount Vernon streets, outside the package store, just as she was about to deck her boyfriend, who she had pushed up against the wall. One of the rookie officers asked Ms. Quinn, “Can we help you?”
She turned and said, “Fuck you! Get the fuck out of here!”
The policemen were not deterred. Again, one asked, in a stronger voice, if they could help her.
Casey said, “Fuck you! We'll take care of this.”
Her captive nodded in agreement or terror or both.
Casey was arrested for disorderly conduct. She was lucky because she was assigned attorney Kenneth Katz, one of the best of the appointed counsel working in this court. Mr. Katz moved to dismiss the case. She could not be found guilty of disorderly conduct for saying “Fuck you” to a policeman.
Casey stood in the dock as Mr. Katz argued, raising her shackled fists and muttering “Right on” at all his good points. I allowed the motion to dismiss and released her.
Last summer, about 11 o'clock on a Saturday night, I was standing in front of Spiritus Pizza in Provincetown. Spiritus is Provincetown's Via Veneto, its St. Mark's Square, the place to see and be seen on a summer night. I ran into a guy I knew, Andy, a social worker who, coincidentally, had worked with Casey Quinn. He looked wan and irritated, as if he'd eaten a bad oyster.
“I was just watching the 10 o'clock news,” he said. “Casey Quinn was killed, hit by a bus in Copley Square.”
He was obviously distraught and needed to talk to someone who could connect to this information. And there I was. As if she were laid out in front of us at a wake, he began to reminisce about the deceased.
He had met Casey Quinn at the drop-in center for runaway kids at the Arlington Street Church, a progressive Unitarian Universalist Church Â— the Vatican of Unitarianism, as a matter of fact. On his first night as director she came in like a fury, sat on his lap, and said, “Oh, another faggot! You and I are going to get along just fine.”
More than anyone else he worked with, Andy told me, Casey was bent on self-destruction. She'd been a heavy drug user and went with kinky tricks who other, saner prostitutes avoided.
I asked what drugs she used and he said, “Everything, but she really liked crack cocaine.”
He told me of a night Casey didn't want to go to a shelter or out to trick. So she walked across the street to Shreve, Crump & Low, Boston's fanciest jewelry store, broke a window, and waited for the cops to come arrest her.
“Well, she's in heaven now,” said Andy, looking up. “It's because of her that I'm down here in Provincetown selling exotic Asian tchotchkes to rich gay couples. It was too hard up there in the city. I had to get out. I couldn't take it anymore.”
Neither could Casey.
The Nude Descending
Rodney Dell, known as R.D., cannot drink. He takes his clothes off when he drinks and flashes at women who happen to pass by. He is in denial about all that. He also has his poor mother buffaloed about his predilections. I suspect he thinks that because he has her conned, we all should believe him, too.
I came in on the travails of R.D. for a probation surrender after he had been convicted of open and gross lewdness. He had worked out a deal on three cases before another judge. In exchange for pleading guilty, he took the short-term gain of a suspended sentence, keeping him out of jail.
When he appeared in front of me, he was with his mother. They were like birds: He had all the plumage; she was drab and gray.
R.D. was 23, well built, and well dressed in a fashionable Italian sports jacket and a handsome tie. He looked like a musclebound George Clooney. At the time of his arrests, he lived on Anderson Street on the back of Beacon Hill and had a good job as a techie for a financial house downtown, hired straight from college.
R.D.'s first case had involved a nurse from Mass General who was walking home up the back side of Beacon Hill after finishing her shift one morning. She first saw R.D. in red running shorts. When she saw him again a little farther up the hill, the red shorts were in one hand and his erect penis was in the other. He was on the opposite side of the street and was moaning.
“Kiss me, just kiss me,” he was saying.
The second incident occurred at the Park Street T Station. R.D. exited from his sweatpants on a spring afternoon in front of a Harvard coed waiting for the train to Harvard Square. She had walked down the platform to the last bench to read Byron. She noticed R.D. passing by a few times, wearing less clothing each time, until he was down to the sweats. She hadn't worried until his shirt came off. Then he slipped behind a pillar and came out in all his glory, ready to leap into the Bosporus, I assume. Lady Caroline Lamb screamed frantically. The only way out for R.D. was up the stairway, but first he stopped to put on his sweatpants, giving the police time to block his exit.
The third occurrence was observed by a state trooper, who brought a lesser charge of indecent exposure. The police report said R.D. was observed in red shorts, running on Phillips Street heading toward the Charles. He was naked on the return, with the shorts around his neck, and was arrested as he turned onto Anderson Street. This was at 3 in the afternoon in late October, a bit chilly unless you're working up a sweat.
These offenses were packaged together. R.D. admitted to all three charges and received the nine-month sentence, to be suspended for two years. If he violated the terms of his probation during the two years, he would go to jail.
Each of the police reports said R.D. smelled of alcohol at the time of his arrests. After entering his guilty plea, he told his probation officer that he often sat in his apartment drinking rum all day, and that he had blackouts. He did not remember any of these three incidents.
If he took his clothes off in public only when drunk, he needed to learn how not to drink.
A good lawyer would have put him in treatment for alcoholism and exhibitionism right away and would have asked for straight probation during which the treatment could occur. That way if there was a violation of probation, the screw could be tightened a bit with more treatment, but not with nine months in the House of Correction. What the first lawyer failed to do then, I was trying to achieve now. R.D. was before me for failing to report to his probation officer. His excuse was that he'd moved to Plymouth and wasn't able to get up to Boston because he was so busy working. As time went on, it became increasingly clear that he did not appreciate the gravity of his situation.
I appointed Mr. Hayle, a passive, docile lawyer, to represent R.D. because he was the only lawyer in the courtroom when the case arrived before me. Theoretically, Mr. Hayle was qualified because the Committee for Public Counsel Services said he was.
I told Mr. Hayle that R.D. should get treatment for his alcoholism and consult a specialist in exhibitionism. We live in Boston: There's a specialist for every aberration. Then I scheduled another hearing for five weeks later in the hope that they would find the recommended treatment.
Five weeks later, R.D. appeared again with his mother. I'd seen them in the corridor. This time he was wearing a polo shirt with the name of the computer company he was working for embroidered on it. Although she was a young woman, his mother looked dowdy and long suffering, this time overdressed for the weather.
“My client has found a therapist, Your Honor,” said defense attorney Hayle.
“And what qualifies the therapist to deal with your client regarding these problems of exhibitionism and alcoholism?” I asked.
“My client assures me that he's a good therapist. He's a psychiatrist.”
“Do you have his curriculum vitae?” I asked, using the Latin to sound more serious. This lawyer is being led by the nose by his client, I thought, and R.D. is going to end up in the slammer as somebody's boyfriend.
“Yes, Your Honor. The doctor went to Harvard.” He handed the CV up to me with a cover letter on Harvard Medical School stationery. That did not impress me. Almost every doctor in Boston is an adjunct or associate professor at Harvard Medical School. In spite of my skepticism, however, this one looked like he knew what he was talking about.
There was some bad news from the probation officer, however. R.D. had done it again.
Late at night in Brighton, a woman had left an Irish bar by the back door to get to her car in the parking lot. She thought she heard someone in the lot, so she stopped to adjust her eyes. She saw a figure run from one side of the lot to the other; then she saw R.D. begin to run in circles around her, grabbing himself while repeating, “Just a kiss, one kiss.”
As fate would have it, a police car pulled into the lot. Two young officers got out and chased the defendant. They found his clothes behind a stack of empty beer bottles and later found his Jeep in the lot. They found him under a van Â— in his socks.
“What happened to the Brighton case?” I asked.
“The defendant received a probationary term, two years,” the probation officer said.
“Were there any conditions?”
“They required him to get treatment,” said Mr. Hayle, as if all treatment were equal.
In this case, treatment was my goal. Nine months at the South Bay House of Correction was not going to stop R.D. from getting drunk and taking off his clothes. Prison might give him a different audience, and maybe even a more receptive one, but it wasn't going to solve the problem. I wasn't sure that anything would, but I was hopeful.
“Mrs. Dell,” I asked, “does your son have an alcohol problem?”
“Sometimes, not often, he drinks too much. His father was an alcoholic, but R.D. is not that bad.”
“Do you think he has a problem?”
“He just acts up every once in a while. That's all.”
“Has he gone to AA since the Brighton case?”
“Yes, he's gone.”
“I'm not sure. Two or three times maybe. He works a lot since he moved back in with me in Plymouth.”
I wondered if he was the sole support in the family. I would have asked, but there is something so unseemly about having a mother testify against her child. I just wanted this inquiry to be over.
All through his mother's testimony R.D. continued to look up at me impassively. It was uncanny. Could it be that because he blacked out during these episodes, in his mind they had never happened? He certainly didn't seem to realize how close he was to going to jail.
The case was continued again to see if R.D. would comply with the treatment program Â— one-on-one alcohol counseling at a substance-abuse treatment facility near his home; no drugs, including alcohol; AA or some equivalent at least five times per week; and therapy with the doctor who specializes in sexual issues and exhibitionism.
A few weeks later, I inquired of his probation officer about R.D.
“Oh, him? He went to Rhode Island and got arrested again for flashing. He's in default. No one knows where he is, and that includes his mother, but I suspect she's lying. He stopped seeing the doctor after a couple of months and never went to AA. He always said he could do it on his own.”
The Steak-Knife Kid
Joey Ryan stabbed a neighbor who had been one of many kids bullying him for years. Though husky, Joey spent a lot of time with his mother and sisters in their house in Brighton. Other boys would go by, taunt him by shouting, “Fag, sissy, Mary Ryan, Mary Ryan,” and bang on the door or the fence outside. They'd been doing this since he was 12. He was now 17. One day he snapped. He came barreling out of the front door with a knife and started swinging.
At first his antagonists thought he was kidding. He ran after the biggest, Michael O'Shea. Michael O'Shea's friends stood in disbelief as Joey Ryan stabbed Michael O'Shea in the shoulder.
So here Joey was, in front of me, taking his chances on justice and compassion in the court system.
His lawyer convinced him to plead guilty to a charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon Â— the steak knife. Surprisingly, the assistant district attorney was agreeing with the defense recommendation that Joey get probation with psychiatric help. The victim, Michael O'Shea, hadn't shown up, so the commonwealth couldn't go to trial. Neither side was too clear about exactly what the psychiatric help should be. I had to fill in the blank.
I decided to require Joey to attend a 26-week anger-management course and receive individual psychological counseling approved by the probation department. I trusted certain people in probation to know what was good therapy and what wasn't. Joey ought to go to someone who was going to support him, someone who could show him that he didn't have to stab his tormentors.
Before the reading of the sentence by the clerk, I saw Joey tugging at his lawyer's sleeve. She tried to keep him quiet. Finally, she said, “Judge, my client would like to say something.”
Thinking he was going to express regret and that this might be therapeutic, I said, “All right.”
Joey stood up and started. “I'm sorry about this incident. I'm sorry that it occurred and that I hurt Michael O'Shea. I'm grateful that you are doing this. I could benefit from counseling,” he said. “But I want you to know those bastards have been chasing me for years and I'm glad I got him. And if you don't like that, then fuck you.”
Everyone was astonished. After a moment of awkward silence, everyone turned to me. I did what judges always do when they don't know what to do.
“Recess,” I said.
The Russian Steam-Room Invader
Igor first appeared in front of me three years ago. He was short, pale, and obsequious. He had been caught for the third time in the steam room at the Four Seasons Hotel without having any right to be there, according to the Four Seasons. When confronted, he didn't leave, and when thrown out, he wouldn't stay away. He said he likes steam rooms, and he smiled complicitly at me when he said that, or so I thought. One of my colleagues had sentenced him to one year straight probation for trespassing after a visit to the health club at the top of the Ritz-Carlton.
During Igor's case, the police presented a packet of hotel key cards he had on him when he was arrested. The packet was as thick as a deck of cards. Igor leaned over and told his court-appointed lawyer to inform me they were useless because the locks were changed after each use. He also wanted the lawyer to ask me to give them back after I released him. He had beamed proudly as the policeman introduced them into evidence as an exhibit. They were like ribbons at a horse show to him. I didn't give them back.
The issue before me was whether or not to revoke the probation as a result of the new offense and send Igor to jail. Theoretically, I could send him away for up to six months, the maximum penalty for trespassing.
I didn't send him to jail. I extended the probation for an additional year.
His record indicated that he had been arrested all over the state for similar offenses. He was a Russian refugee, yet still a communist when it came to steam rooms, apparently. He was out to liberate the natatoriums.
Not long after this appearance, I started seeing Igor walking briskly in Copley Square. He'd give me a big smile, a wave, almost a salute. “Hello, Judge!” I found his brass amusing.
So when I went to the gym one night, it was much to my surprise that I saw Igor emerge from the glass-enclosed swimming pool, still wearing his goggles, hunched over against the cold in a Speedo. He's a little guy, maybe 5 feet, 4 inches, kind of pixielike and even endearing Â— for a few minutes. At first, I wasn't absolutely sure that it was him. I headed to the locker room, and he followed, keeping the goggles on long after they ceased to be necessary.
As is my wont, because I am old and because the hot water loosens my limbs, I usually take a shower and a little steam before I work out. In the locker room, there are four showers in a row on the left with stationary shower fixtures, and one on the right with a moveable shower fixture, presumably for the handicapped. In that shower, wearing clogs and scraping himself with a brush, was Igor, who had taken off the goggles but now wore earplugs.
He kept his bathing suit on but left the shower curtain open, which seemed a curious modesty until I realized that it wasn't modesty at all but part of the game he was playing. He crouched in such a way that I could not see his face even though I was only 5 feet away.
I hesitated to go into the steam room for fear he would follow me and again say, “Hello, Judge,” but I decided that I wasn't going to let him disrupt my routine. I was off duty. It was hard enough to get me to the gym in the first place. When I got out of the steam, he was at the sink facing the mirror. I could see his reflection, until he quickly turned his head away from my view of him.
I returned to my locker, put on my gym clothes, and went in search of Mike, the gym manager. I found him riding a stationary bike.
“Do you know what I do for a living?” I said, uncertain as to how to begin.
“Yes, I do,” he said, after a pause.
“Well, I think you've got a problem here. There is a man in the locker room. He has appeared in front of me and some of my colleagues in court. He has a bad habit of sneaking into health clubs and locker rooms. I believe he sometimes steals things.”
“I saw that guy come out of the pool! I had never seen him before and wondered what he was doing here. I don't know what's up. I'll go check him out,” Mike said with a look of concern. He dismounted and headed toward the locker room to investigate. I went to the treadmill for my evening constitutional.
Ten minutes later, Mike came back. “I said to the guy, 'Gee, how did you get in here? I don't think I remember you; I don't think you are a member,'” he said.
Igor, who still had the earplugs in his ears, said, “I can't hear you. These are prescription. The doctor ordered them,” pointing to the earplugs.
Mike lingered, folding towels while Igor got dressed. Then Igor headed toward the back door. As he reached it, Mike tried to grab him.
Igor snapped and pulled his arm away. “Don't touch me. I'll sue.”
“The bastard bolted before the security guards could come,” said Mike.
Igor just got out of the Essex County Correctional Facility after serving one month of his suspended sentence. A new arrest could send him back for five months. There are no steam rooms in our House of Correction, and the showers are not so congenial.