By Matthew B. Cox
EX-DEA TASK FORCE AGENT Donald Nides, placed his Taurus .357 revolver to the right-side of his head. He pushed the steel cylindrical barrel against the soft tissue of his grey temple; then pulled the hammer back until it clicked into the locked position and wrapped a finger around the trigger.
It was November 5, 2014, a sticky, grey, Wednesday morning in the Big Easy. The humidity was so thick, it was as if the levees had never been repaired. Inside the single-story brick house with the well-manicured lawn, Nides sat on a stool in the half-lit tool-room of his garage. He tightened his grip on the handle of the weapon and applied a bit more pressure to the trigger. The taut conspiracy was unraveling.
He’d been indicted months earlier by a federal grand jury on conspiracy to illegally dispense controlled substances, accepting bribes, obstruction of justice, making false statements to federal agents and a slew of other charges.
Nides had spent most of the day in a courtroom—with his wife sitting in the gallery—listening to federal prosecutors and colleagues lay out the lurid details of how the ex-DEA agent had accepted sexual favors and cash, to provide protection for pill mills that churned out painkiller prescriptions to anyone with a pulse.
Despite the damning testimony Nides felt he could beat the case. Then he read the email his defense attorney had forwarded; a request from Dennis Caroni’s appellate lawyer for discovery material—material Nides knew would send him to prison. Then, of course, there were the “accidental overdoses” of multiple witnesses.
Nides squeezed his eyelids shut. It was all coming apart and he refused to go to prison with the man he’d framed. Nides pulled the trigger and the hammer slammed into the round. The .357 caliber projectile blew through his cerebrum and out the left-side of his cranium; sending grayish-pink, jellylike tissue and skull fragments onto his workbench.
Hours later, the medical technician would find the slug on the floor as he inspected Nides’ body lying slumped on the cool concrete in a pool of blood. The powder burns and tissue damage. The blood splatter.
That’s the way Caroni imagines the scene played out. Like Red*, in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, reflecting on the warden’s suicide; Caroni can’t help but think the last thing to go through Nides head—other than that bullet—must have been how could Dennis Caroni have gotten the better of him.
* Footnote: The character Red was played by Morgan Freeman.
“I’M INNOCENT.” It’s January 2016, several years into his 20 year prison sentence and Caroni is telling me his story from deep within the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Florida. At 39, he’s wiry and athletic with a head of unkempt black hair. He has the presence of someone that drinks nothing but Red Bull and Starbuck’s cappuccinos. The buttons on his prison issued green shirt are misaligned and he hasn’t shaved. “None of that matters,” Caroni tells me as he pulls reams of documents out of dozens of rumpled manila envelopes. “I’m on a mission from God*, bro.”
I should mention Caroni—who suffers from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder) and Aspergers syndrome—is easily distracted and prone to blurting out dialogue from obscure pop culture movies.
* Footnote: Quote from Elwood (played by Dan Aykroyd) in The Blues Brothers.
He stacks thousands of pages of transcripts, motions and numerous other court records on the table before me. All of which, according to Caroni and his high-powered attorneys, prove that he’s the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice; framed by a crooked DEA Task Force agent, an overzealous, politically ambitious, U.S. prosecutor and a biased, misguided, federal judge doing everything in her power to keep the truth from coming out.
I wonder out loud if it’s truly a conspiracy; Caroni throws up his hands in frustration and snaps, “Do the Kardashians like black cock?! Of course it’s a conspiracy; can’t you see it?”
As I scour the documents, a blueprint of government corruption and collusion worthy of Machiavelli begins to emerge; and after two weeks of reading sealed indictments, autopsy reports and many other documents—I have no doubt the U.S. Attorney’s Office never imagined Caroni could, or would, be able to acquire—I’m convinced that Dennis Caroni is indeed innocent.
AT THE AGE OF SIX, according to his mother, Carol, Caroni was a quiet child that spent most of his time reading and playing with Legos in his room. The death of his twin brother and his parents’ recent divorce had left her bright outgoing child withdrawn.
Over the years things didn’t improve much. Unlike most of his Jewish friends from Ecole Classique Day School who dreamed about what they’d be when they grew-up, Caroni was indifferent. Then, sometime after his twelfth birthday, his mother gave him Donald Trump’s The Art Of The Deal.
Two days later, he stepped out of his bedroom waving Trump’s hardback in the air. “This,” he told his mother, “is what I wanna do.” He wanted to be rich.
“My mom ruined me,” says Caroni, recalling the memory. “I tell her that all the time, when she comes to visit…she cries.”
Like any mother with a hyperactive child, Caroni’s was desperate to find an outlet for her son’s seeming inexhaustible energy. Pool, however, wasn’t what she had in mind.
Caroni’s father introduced the boy to the game; and he began spending his summers working at his uncle’s pool hall, Sticks & Stones, in West Palm Beach, Florida. He cleaned toilets and mopped the floors, but during his free-time, Caroni played straight pool and billiards with legends like Steve “Miz” Mizerack and Bill Kennedy. By his late-teens Caroni could run multiple racks and he was regularly playing for money.
At 16, his mother found $500 cash in her son’s pocket. “Where’d you get this?” she asked. “Is this drug money?”
“What? No. I won it playin’ pool.”
“No… It’s not gambling when the other guy can’t win.”
The doctors had prescribed the hyperactive teen Ritalin, Lithium and Valium, but nothing seemed to help. Caroni didn’t have the social skills or patience necessary to cope with high school. He longed to escape the snail-like pace and rigid curriculum. Eventually, Caroni convinced his high school’s Headmaster to allow him to take the exit exams. Just before his seventeenth birthday, Caroni received his high school diploma and a full academic and tennis scholarship to Tulane University.
“YOUR HONOR, your Honor!” Caroni blurts out, quoting Carlito Brigant from the movie Carlito’s Way, “Your Honor, I’d like to assure this Court I’m through walkin’ the wild side… Did I tell you about the speech?” He’s told me about the speech. Once his conviction is overturned—if its overturned—Caroni plans on reciting the speech in open court. “You have to put the speech in the article.”
He won’t continue until I agree to include the speech. So I agree.
THE ROCK STAR’S girlfriend’s sister, Kristy*, was a gorgeous French-Haitian coed—a younger version of Naomi Campbell—that Caroni met in late 1996. Her sister was dating Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. Kristy had been the only consistency in Caroni’s life since entering Tulane. He had changed his major multiple times, finally settling on Music Composition and Finance.
* Footnote: Name has been changed.
Caroni was working at Nothing Studios and partying with Keith Hillebrandt—the keyboardist for Nine Inch Nails—and the band at Tipitina’s in the French Quarter and Rick’s Cabaret. Mostly, says Caroni, he was a gopher for Keith. “Get me some coffee!” Keith would bark; or someone would want “lunch” or some “blow.” Caroni was with the band during the making of The Fragile album and a lot of partying. “Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.”
Eventually Caroni hooked-up with one of the rock star’s girlfriend’s sister’s girlfriends; Melanie Dowing, a tall, thin, Irish chick, cut with some Korean. “There was a cat fight with some hair pulling and…” Mid-sentence Caroni gets sidetracked and begins telling me about a drop-dead New Yorker, wearing black leather pants, he met on a street car once. I ask him to stay focused and he snaps, “Listen bro, there were a lot of girls!” Ultimately Caroni chose Melanie. “I’m Jewish and Kristy was Haitian. I couldn’t marry her,” admits Caroni. “I’d be ostracized.”
He and Melanie were a couple in 1999, when her elderly stepfather died; leaving her mother over 50 restaurants and night clubs throughout New Orleans and Atlanta. She was overwhelmed, and wanted to get rid of some of them. Caroni convinced her to owner finance Parlays, in Lakeview, and eventually Tyler’s Beer Garden, in Mid-City, and Buffa’s, in the French Quarter.
With the help of his music industry associates, the businesses became the bars where patrons could regularly spot artists from Korn, Phish and Nine Inch Nails. Before long the places were jumping and the money was flowing in.
LIKE THE ANTI-SOCIAL schizophrenic genius, John Forbes Nash**, in the movie A Beautiful Mind, Caroni’s perception of his life is somehow intertwined through various events and people he’s met; by what most of us would consider obscure coincidences. He tells me about a string of girlfriends that led to multiple investments over the years through various friends, family members and associates. He threw $40,000 into a Unicity distributorship. Unicity then merged with GNC and ultimately Caroni sold the stores for $500,000, plus a significant portion of GNC stock. As Caroni flails his arms and excitedly tells me about purchasing a condo for $749,000 in Trump Towers at 1 Central Park West, which he eventually flipped for $1.5 million, I look down and realize he’s wearing one black Nike tennis shoe and a New Balance sneaker. Suddenly—like Nash—I imagine him frantically running bits of colored yarn connected to random pictures pinned to a wall. In an oddball way, Caroni is an endearing, quirky, character.
* Footnote: Brigant is played by Al Pacino.
** Footnote: The character of John Nash was played by Russell Crowe.
By 2002, Steven Cardwel—a childhood friend of Caroni’s deceased brother and Caroni’s friend by proxy—began calling about an opportunity to invest in a weight loss clinic. Phen-phen was the newest miracle drug. According to Caroni, Steven said, “Look around, there’s a lot of fat people in New Orleans.”
Steven insisted that if Caroni invested $50,000 they would easily bring-in over $750,000 a year. The plan was to split the profit between Caroni, Steven and Dr. Joseph Mogan—a staff professor at LSU medical school who had agreed to license the clinic. Steven and his wife would manage the staff and the books. They would specialize in weight loss, nutrition counseling, physical therapy and pain management. However, by the time Steven opened the clinic Phen-phen had been banned by the FDA; and Steven decided to focus on pain management.
“I’d never heard the term ‘pill mill’ before,” says Caroni. “So I gave Steven the money for the clinic… Why wouldn’t I?”
They incorporated Global Physical Management and Pain Management; and found a location in Metairie, Louisiana. However, because Steven had a felony on his record, his shares of the company were held in his wife’s name, Tiffany Miller Cardwell. Tiffany was a slim, attractive little blonde, in her early 30s; and according to Caroni, she was also a gold-digger that never particularly liked him.
Shortly after the clinic opened, Caroni stopped by to see Steven, and noticed Tiffany standing outside smoking a cigarette, and talking to an older gentleman in his 50s. “Steven said the guy was his old probation officer, but he was now working with the DEA Task Force.” That was the first time Caroni met Donald Nides. “I thought it was a good thing Steven and Tiffany were buddies with Nides; Steven said, he would make sure the clinic met all the federal and state guidelines and everything… That’s a good thing, right?”
IN 2003, CARONI WAS sitting at the bar in Buffa’s. Money was coming in from a variety of businesses and real-estate holdings he’d invested in, he was driving a red Ferrari 355 Spider, and living in a posh three-story apartment next to the Shim Sham Club.
Life should’ve been good, but he was aimless and unhappy. The song Going to California, by Led Zeppelin, came on the juke-box and Caroni thought, That’s what I’m supposed to do. He had a friend that lived in Los Angeles, so Caroni packed a couple bags, and the following night he was in a suite at Chateau Marmont, in LA.
Through a friend, Caroni met Brian Zuriff and the two started buying and selling movie scripts. Mostly, according to Caroni, they played high stakes poker at Zuriff’s place in Brentwood or in the basement of the Viper Room with Tobey McGuire, Darren Feinstein, Bruce Parker, and Jamie Gold—years later Gold would win the World Series of Poker.
Caroni bought a high-rise condo in the famed Sierra Towers, in Hollywood… Life was good.
JUST BEFORE THANKSGIVING 2003, Caroni’s stepfather, Ted, told Caroni there was a problem at the clinic. By this point Tiffany, Dr. Mogan and Caroni were dividing up roughly $50,000 per month; and Tiffany was upset. Despite having provided the startup capital for the business, Tiffany felt Caroni wasn’t doing enough for his third.
“By the time I flew into New Orleans—a week later—she and Steven had opened their own clinic [Omni Pain Management in Metairie] and convinced three of the doctors to go with them—including Dr. Mogan. They’d stolen the bulk of the patients’ files,” says Caroni. “Steven told me, ‘What am I supposed to do, man? She’s threatening to divorce me if I don’t go along with ‘er. Everything’s in her name. You know how crazy she can get… I’ll never see my kids again!’…”
Caroni had one doctor that was willing to stay, no medical staff and an empty clinic. “I wanted someone reputable to manage it for me,” says Caroni, so he hired Franz Zibilich, the New Orleans City Attorney. “Zibilich told me for $25,000 he’d get the clinic compliant, get the books in order and get everything back on track; and for $8,000 a month, he’d run the clinic’s day-to-day operations.”
Caroni found a second doctor to work at Global, hired an office manager and a receptionist; and within a few months the place was making money again. Sometime in September 2004, he and Zibilich opened a second clinic in Covington, Louisiana.
According to Nides, Tiffany and Dr. Mogan’s indictment, from day one of the Omni clinic, Tiffany and Mogan conspired to write prescriptions for non-medical purposes outside the bounds of professional medical practices; and DEA
Agent Nides accepted cash and sexual favors from Tiffany in exchange for protecting their pill mill from the DEA Task Force. The conspirators quickly opened a second Omni clinic in Slidell; and Nides began spending a considerable amount of time with Tiffany.
Eventually Nides’ superior at the New Orleans DEA field office, Special Agent George Cazenavette, started asking questions. To divert Cazenavette’s suspicions Nides lied; saying Tiffany was a CI (Confidential Informant) helping him build a case against other pain clinics.
SOMETIME IN LATE 2004, Caroni, and several of the guys from Alice in Chains, attended a party in the Hills; where Caroni met Sean Lennon. “I’d been listening to his father’s music my whole life,” Caroni tells me. The house on the hill was packed with ridiculously rich music executives and rock stars. “There were gorgeous models everywhere. Sean and I proceeded to get wasted. After that night we became really good friends.”
Shortly thereafter, Les Borsai sat in on one of the Viper Room’s after hours games. Over several rounds of Texas Hold’em Les and Caroni started talking. “We hit it off,” says Caroni. “He kept busting, so, I lent him some cash to stay in the game.” By 6:00 a.m. the loans had come to $2,500.
Weeks later the two gamblers met up in Malibu—so Les could return Caroni’s cash—at Jeff Kwatinetz’s house.
Les told Caroni he’d just received a $2.5 million investment into his company, Modern Artists Management, from Electronic Artist. “About the money I owe you…” Les said, “I figure we’re friends, so, I’ll give you a couple of points on the deal.” He then offered to cut Caroni in for ten percent of the company for $250,000.
“I’m in, bro,” replied Caroni. Over the next several years Les and Caroni turn MAM into GridMob, and eventually SongLily; a licenser of major music to video game developers. Les handled the day-to-day operations and Caroni handled business development.
Six months later Caroni was at his and Les’ office on Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Blvd. when Shawn Fanning approached Kwatinetz’s company, “the firm,” about buying the Napster brand, which he and Sean Parker had started. Napster was in the midst of being sued out of existence by A&M Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Atlantic Recording Corp, etc. for violation of copyright infringement for the illegal sharing of music.
* Footnote: Kwatinetz is a talent manager, representing names like: Leonardo Di Caprio, Cameron Diaz, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, etc.
Kwatinetz passed on purchasing the brand, Caroni tells me, but Fanning was also interested in putting together a Sublime reunion—which Les managed. So Caroni flew up to San Francisco and met Fanning at his Trocadero penthouse; Fanning, Parker and Caroni began going to shows together and hanging out at underground clubs. They were all into the three Ms—models, music, and money.
IN EARLY 2005, Caroni’s banker connected him with Dr. Robert Ignasiak—a general practitioner out of Pensacola, Florida. Ignasiak was retiring and needed someone to take over his lease. The banker suggested Global open a pain management clinic in Ignasiak’s office space.
It sounded like a great idea. On March 21, 2005, Caroni opened Global Pain Management, LLC, in Pensacola. Unfortunately, within a few days, Caroni began getting conflicting numbers regarding the number of patients the clinic was seeing.
“I realized the office manager, Mark Artigues along with Dr. Gerardo Klug (the doctor who had licensed the clinic) were planning to fuck me out of the clinic—just like Tiffany had done in New Orleans.”
After only six days, Caroni ordered Artigues to close the clinic. Artigues immediately incorporated Control Pain Management, LLC. He and Dr. Klug then changed the criteria established by Global for prescribing pain medication—essentially turning the clinic into a pill mill—and continued to operate in the same location. Artigues, Dr. Klug and two other doctors were later indicted for operating Control Pain Management, LLC, as a pill mill.
“Listen bro, I was so fed-up with the whole pain management business, that when Katrina hit—in August 2005—and one of the clinics flooded, I was going to close the doors on both of them.” Zibilich, however, convinced Caroni to keep Global open. “He was making $8,000 a month,” snorts Caroni, “so of course he wanted to keep them open.”
SOMETIME IN MID 2005, around 4:00 a.m., Caroni was playing no limit Texas Hold’em at the Hollywood Park Casinos, when he got a call from Zibilich in New Orleans. He’d received a subpoena from the LSBME (Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners) regarding one of the clinic’s patient files*.
“Should we be worried?” asked Caroni. “The clinics aren’t doing anything wrong are they?”
“No, of course not,” replied Zibilich. “These things happen.” Zibilich assured Caroni he would “ratchet down” on the patient drug protocols; requiring more drug testing, X-rays, MRIs, documentation verification of injuries, etc. “I’ll take care of everything,” he told Caroni.
Caroni wasn’t the least bit concerned. Months later, the clinic received a letter from the DEA Task Force stating they were investigating a complaint regarding a patient. As a result of the complaint Zibilich and the staff went through the clinic’s records and compiled over 350 questionable patient files. Patients that the clinic had turned away for drug-seeking behavior.
“I called Nides myself,” says Caroni; he then flew out to New Orleans and personally handed over the files to Nides and several other agents. “I wanted him to know we had nothing to hide. Nides assured me it was all just procedural stuff. Nothing to worry about.”
* Footnote: Patient, Justin Naquin’s mother, Theresa Naquin, had filed a complaint with the LSBME, stating her son was a drug addict and that she had written two letters to Global requesting Dr. Gerard DiLeo and Dr. Joseph Pastorek stop prescribing Justin medication. However, during the trial it was proven that Global, nor the doctors, never received the letters.
Caroni didn’t hear anything else about the complaint after that; Zibilich said he was taking care of it and over the next few years Caroni focused on surfing, buying and selling real-estate in New York and LA, and investing in several start-ups. “I dumped $75,000 into an idea my lawyer, P. Vincent Mehdvizadeh, and I had to start a medical marijuana infrastructure provider.” They turned Medbox into one of the leading vending dispensary systems in the nation.
What Caroni didn’t know at the time, was that DEA Agent Nides was spending a considerable amount of time having sex with Tiffany in the kitchen of the Metairie Omni clinic; and accepting envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars in cash on a weekly basis.
It’s unclear who broached the subject of setting-up Caroni and Global, based on Nides’ indictment and the trial transcripts. However, on January 9, 2006, information provided by one of Nides’ CIs* led the DEA Task Force to launch an undercover operation at Global Northshore. They wired-up an undercover agent and sent him into the clinic with an MRI report reflecting a back injury, yet complaining about his shoulder and neck. Based on the disparity and standard medical practices, Dr. Dileo refused to write a prescription.
The task force then sent a confidential informant into Global Metairie, on March 6, 2006. This time the CI provided a normal MRI and complained of lower-back pain. The CI was told her MRI didn’t reflect a need for pain medication, and, in accordance with standard medical practices, she was turned away.
In addition to the two failed attempts to orchestrate the illegal dispensing of prescription painkillers by the DEA, Nides had arranged to have a CI, Kimberly Cochrane, get a job as an employee of Global. However, according to the trial transcripts and the DEA’s own interviews—after several months of employment—Kim had nothing negative to say regarding Caroni or the doctors. Global was just a regular pain clinic as far as she could tell.
That really should have been the end of the investigation.
THE PERFECT STORM was brewing. On November 24, 1997, five month old Sabrina Aisenberg was reported missing by her parents, Steven and Marlene. A frantic search of the area and intensive interviews of the Aisenbergs’ friends and neighbors yielded no leads as to the child’s whereabouts. Eventually the investigators focused their suspicions on the Aisenbergs. With the help of Supervising Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen Kunz and AUSA Rachelle Bedke, local investigators got search warrants to bug the parents’ residence.
For nearly three months investigators listened and recorded over 2,600 conversations between the Aisenbergs, however, they didn’t yield a single incriminating statement. But that didn’t stop the U.S. prosecutors.
Nearly two years after the toddler disappeared Kunz and Bedke presented a federal grand jury with forged transcripts of Marlene Aisenberg, stating: “The baby’s dead and buried… The baby’s dead no matter what you say—you just did it” and Steven Aisenberg saying: “I wish I hadn’t harmed her. It was the cocaine.”
The actual recordings themselves were conveniently unavailable. However, Kunz and Bedke had hired an “expert” witness, Anthony Pellicano**, which had no formal training in audiotape examination. According to the Aisenberg’s complaint, Pellicano was seemingly retained because of his willingness to fabricate evidence and mislead the grand jury, which is precisely what he and the assistant U.S. attorneys did.
* Footnote: The CI in question was most likely Tiffany.
** Footnote: Shortly after Pellicano testified, he was indicted for possession of illegal explosives.
On September 9, 1999, the grand jury indicted the Aisenbergs and they were immediately arrested.
After a year of fierce opposition from the government, the Aisenbergs were able to convince the court to listen to the tapes. On February 14, 2001, after thoroughly reviewing the audiotapes, Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo concluded that Kunz and Bedke distorted the truth, fabricated evidence, deceived the grand jury, and recklessly framed the Aisenbergs. Shortly thereafter, all charges against the couple were dropped*.
Then, in an unprecedented settlement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, paid nearly $3 million to the Aisenbergs for Kunz’s mishandling of their case.
U.S. Attorney Paul Perez pulled Kunz into his office and gave him an ultimatum, take a demotion to the civil division or find another job. “You’re not going to be a criminal prosecutor here.”
Within a few months Kunz had found a new job…as the Supervising Assistant U.S. Attorney overseeing the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in charge of prosecuting pill mill cases for the Justice Department—by all accounts it was a promotion.
In an interview with USA Today, Steven Aisenberg said, “It’s kind of a travesty, [Kunz] fabricated information, and he still has a job doing what he did. Now he lives to do it again, to someone else.”
The DEA Task Force—and its agents—are responsible for investigating pain management clinics; and the New Orleans field office’s investigation of Global was now directly underneath Kunz’s supervision. Agent Nides was taking cash and sexual favors from Tiffany and his superiors were asking questions. To protect the cover story that Tiffany was a CI, and Nides’ job with the task force, he had to make cases.
“So why not frame me?” asks Caroni. “Tiffany couldn’t stand me and I was the only person she had a direct link to that owned a pain clinic; and obviously Kunz is more than willing to manufacture evidence… Guilt and innocence don’t factor into these peoples’ equations; it’s all about convictions.”
At 8:00 a.m., on February 12, 2008, based on information provided by a Nides’ CI—most likely Tiffany—the DEA raided Global’s clinics. They came in hard with their guns drawn; screaming at patients and staff to “get up against the wall!”
Caroni received a call from the office manager, Marlene Agnetti. “The DEA is here,” she said. “They’ve got us up against the wall. I called Franz [Zibilich] and I thought I should call you.”
Caroni immediately called Agent Nides and asked why the clinics were being raided. “This has nothing to do with me,” lied Nides. “These people are from out of town. I’m just assisting.”
In addition to carting off patient files, the DEA seized nearly $400,000 in Global and Caroni’s bank accounts. Zibilich wanted to re-open the clinics the following day, but Caroni insisted they shut them down permanently. According to Caroni, they weren’t worth the trouble.
Within days Kimberly Cochrane, Nides’ own CI, stated: Global’s not a pill mill; and, as far as she could tell, Global’s doctors weren’t over prescribing medication.
Nides was questioned a second time by Agent Caznavette, shortly after the raids. Once again the head of the task force asked about Nides constant presence at the Omni clinics and there was a new allegation regarding another pain clinic, Advantage Medical Management—owned by the son of a fellow DEA Task Force agent. Nides denied any wrongdoing on his part, but Caznavette wasn’t satisfied. In March 2008, Nides was dismissed from the task force and his partner DEA Agent John Johnson was placed in charge of the Global investigation.
* Footnote: In 2005 the Florida Bar found Kunz guilty of misconduct, for recklessly inflaming the grand jury by providing unreliable sham excerpts from various recordings in the Aisenbergs’ case.
Here is where things get complicated; Nides now knew the DEA was actively investigating his relationship with Tiffany, his “CI.” However, other than the raid on Global, no cases had been developed based on Tiffany’s work as a CI; and due to Kim’s DEA-6 statement it was very possible Caroni and Global’s doctors would never be indicted or convicted.
Nides was reassigned by the DEA, however, according to court records, he continued to work with Tiffany to insure the clinics kept raking in over $1.5 million per year, and stayed under the DEA’s radar.
Then, in September 2009, the Northern District of Florida’s U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a status report regarding their intention to indict Caroni and Global’s doctors by January 2010. To hear Caroni tell it, Nides knew Kim would be called to testify at trial “and he couldn’t let that happen.”
On September 18, 2009, sometime after 10:00 p.m., Kimberly Cochrane died of a drug overdose. Her body was found by her boyfriend the following morning. She was lying in bed in her blue and grey nightgown; and she wouldn’t be testifying for anyone.
I ASK CARONI if he was concerned about being indicted and he snaps, “Why would I be?! Even if the clinics had over prescribed medication, I’m not a doctor, I didn’t prescribe any medications. Hell, I wasn’t even the one running the fuckin’ places, Zibilich was… I hadn’t broken any laws. All I was concerned with was getting my four hundred thousand back.”
On September 22, 2010, under the direction of Supervising AUSA Kunz and AUSA Randall Hensel, DEA Agent Johnson and a confidential informant—the CI in question is most likely Tiffany—testified in front of a Pensacola grand jury regarding the Global “pill mill” operation. In a move eerily similar to the Aisenberg case, Kunz and Hensel arranged for an “expert,” Dr. Arthur Jordan, to review 120—incomplete—patient files from Global’s 3,300 files. Files “cherry picked” by Agent Johnson—less than 40 of which he actually reviewed. Inexplicably, all of the files were missing the prerequisite documents needed to prescribe pain medication.
In addition to the doctor’s questionable report and the CI testimony, Hensel told the jury that Caroni and Global’s doctors were responsible for several patient deaths due to overdoses—an inflammatory charge that was later proven to be untrue. What Hensel failed to mention to the grand jury was the fact that Dr. Jordan had been caught impersonating a U.S. Marshal in order to carry firearms on commercial flights; and in exchange for his “expert” reports and testimony, the government had agreed to withhold, and eventually drop, his charges. As a result of the charges, just before the the grand jury convened, the AUSA Kunz and Hensel switched out Dr. Jordan’s report with a report “prepared by” Dr. Theodore Parran, Jordan’s business partner. Like Jordan, Parran concluded Global Pain Management was nothing more than a pill mill.
Dennis Caroni, Gerard DiLeo, Theodore Aufdemorte—Ted was later dropped from the indictment—and Joseph Pastorek were indicted for conspiring to dispense controlled substances that led to one or more deaths and conspiracy to launder the “pill mills” illegal proceeds.
Amazingly, 99.5 percent of the alleged criminal conduct occurred in New Orleans, however, Caroni and his “co-conspirators” were indicted in the Northern District of Florida; where Kunz had an ace in the hole—U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers.
“YOKO ONO AND MODELS, bro,” says Caroni. That was his life on October 3, 2010; sitting in the basement of the Kenmare nightclub, in New York, with Parker, Chris Robinson (lead singer for the Black Crows), Alexis (Parker’s girlfriend at the time), and some other friends. “Parker invited me to hookup with him, Shawn Fanning, and Sean Lennon in Reykjavik, Iceland for John Lennon’s 70th Birthday celebration. Yoko Ono was gonna be there and everything.” Caroni is giddy when he tells me, he and “the three Seans” were all going to fashion week in Paris, following the party. “Fashion week, bro!”
The next morning Caroni was getting on Parker’s XOJet, to retrieve his Passport in LA, when he received a text from his lawyer stating: I just spoke with the U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Florida. They’re not interested in pursuing the case against you. I think I’m going to be able to get your money back too.
“My life couldn’t have gotten much better…” Thirty minutes into the flight the pilot announced they were landing at Chicago’s Midway International Airport to refuel. “The pilot said it would take a few hours, so I stepped off the plane for lunch and…six marshals grabbed me.”
Caroni knew it was serious when one of the marshals told him he’d been charged with at least one death. Weeks later a Magistrate Judge in Chicago released him on $200,000 bond.
“You’re not gonna believe this,” Caroni tells me. “Somehow, on the same day I was arrested, my case was transferred to U.S. District Court Judge Casey Rodgers; whom happens to be personal fuckin’ friends with Assistant U.S. Attorney Kunz. Rodgers was a former AUSA with the same U.S. attorney’s office where Kunz works… He and Rodgers used to have lunch together!”
I ask Caroni if he thinks it’s a coincidence and he scoffs. “The second she heard I was out—on November 4—for no reason at all, Rodgers had my bond revoked… She’s a prosecutor in a black robe.”
CARONI’S CRIMINAL defense attorneys, Warren Zinn and Edward Shohat, planned to have Steven testify, he and Tiffany had started the Global clinic and all Caroni had done was give them the initial $50,000. In addition, says Caroni, “Steven agreed to testify that Tiffany was fucking Nides.” Months earlier one of Omni’s employees had told Steven that his wife was having sex with Agent Nides. “[Steven and Tiffany] were in the middle of a nasty divorce; fighting about child custody, ownership of the clinics and Tiffany sucking off Nides in the parking lot… No doubt Steven told Tiffany he was planning on testifying and she told Nides…”
Sometime after midnight—on January 10, 2011—Steven L. Cardwell died, due to a cross-reactive overdose of cocaine (an amphetamine) and Xanax. His body was found by a friend, strewn across his bed, at approximately 8:00 a.m., sitting on the windowsill were two half full bottles of prescription drugs.
Months later, after receiving the DEA-6 statements from the government; where Kimberly Cochrane, a member of Global’s staff and one of Nides’ CIs, stated: Caroni lived in LA and hardly ever came into the clinics… He’d call to check on things, but she almost never saw him… Franz Zibilich ran the office.
A week after they found out that Nides’ own CI wasn’t willing to back him up, Zinn’s private investigator discovered Kim had died in September 2009; dead of an “accidental” overdose—a lethal combination of Didrex (an amphetamine) and Xanax. There were two half empty bottle of pills sitting on her dresser.
“Amphetamines and Xanax, it’s Nides’ calling card,” says Caroni. “He couldn’t let Steven and Kim take the stand; they knew the indictment was a lie.” I look up from Steven’s toxicology findings and ask, if Caroni seriously thinks Nides killed both of his key witnesses, and he snaps, “Bruce Jenner’s a tranny, Jarred—the spokesman for Subway—is a pedophile and Bill Cosby’s been drugging and raping women for decades; anything’s possible!” Nides lived less than five minutes from both Steven and Kim. Their deaths are either a remarkable coincidence or something much more sinister. Caroni stares out the barred windows and sighs, “At this point I knew Nides was dirty and, he and Tiffany set me up, but how do you prove that? It’s not exactly a legal defense.”
Caroni, Zinn and Shohat were certain Tiffany was the CI who’d testified before the grand jury, but they needed proof in order to subpoena her as a witness. So, on April 1, Zinn filed a motion with Judge Rodgers to unseal the grand jury minutes and identify the DEA’s Confidential Informant. Rodgers immediately struck the motion down.
According to Caroni, in May—after months of trying to get a hold of Zibilich—Zinn tracked Global’s attorney down at his New Orleans office. There Zibilich handed Caroni’s criminal defense attorney a copy of cannon law, which essentially states: No person seeking or holding the office of Judge, can be compelled to testify in a civil or criminal trial. Zibilich told Zinn, “I’m sorry son, but I’m running for parish judge*…and I’m not testifying.”
“I’d paid Zibilich almost half a million dollars to make sure Global was compliant and he wouldn’t even help me.” After some thought, Caroni tells me, the move made sense. “He didn’t want to get on the stand and say, ‘I ran the clinics.’ The government might’ve indicted him.”
Around the same time Zinn and Shohat’s private investigator informed them Nides had been conveniently re-assigned to a federal judge’s protection detail. Due to “national security concerns” the ex-DEA agent in charge of Global’s case was now unavailable to testify at trial—a feat Caroni believes Kunz and Hensel were behind.
* Footnote: Zibilich is currently a sitting Parish Criminal Circuit Court Judge.
THE DEFENSE ATTORNEYS found the missing referrals in four boxes hidden in a corner at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They never got an explanation as to who’d removed them from Global’s patient files which subsequently poisoned the grand jury. Zinn and Shohat immediately requested a meeting with Kunz, Randall Hensel and several other key players involved in the government’s prosecution—DEA agents, AUSAs and the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Florida.
Over the better part of an hour Zinn and Shohat went over the facts of the case and tried to convince Kunz to drop Caroni from the indictment. The way Caroni tells it, Kunz shrugged the facts off, looked at Hensel and asked, “Can you get a conviction?”
“Yeah,” replied Hensel, “I can convict ‘im.”
Then Kunz turned to Zinn and Shohat, leaned back in his chair and grunted, “That’s good enough for me.”
THE TRIAL WAS A FARCE, according to Caroni’s attorneys and just about every document I’ve read. From the first day, Judge Rodgers stacked the deck in the government’s favor; allowing the lead U.S. prosecutor, Hensel, to question Dr. Parran, their “expert” witnesses—with no experience in pain management—regarding Global’s incomplete files. Parran immediately proclaimed the clinic a pill mill.
Caroni and his codefendants’ qualified expert witness, Dr. Carol Warfield—a Harvard professor and a founder of Harvard’s pain management center with over 30 years experience treating chronic intractable pain—determined that the prescriptions and treatment Global had administered to its patients was well within acceptable standards for pain management.
Hensel called roughly half a dozen of the clinics’ patients—all of which had been arrested by the DEA and threatened with prosecution—to say they had illegally obtain painkiller prescriptions from Global’s doctors. However, none had been prescribed medication by Caroni, and most were caught in multiple lies.
One such witness, Amanda Lauten, testified that on March 30, 2007, Caroni had personally told her to go to another clinic, get methadone and come back to Global; and on her second visit to the clinic, April 11, 2007, Caroni had given her an OxyContin pill. However, during the questioning of DEA Agent Johnson—in a Perry Mason like move—Zinn presented Johnson with Caroni’s credit card statement proving that Caroni had been in Los Angeles, California, eating lunch at Petit Lefeur on March 30, 2007. “So it appears, based on the credit card records, that Mr. Caroni was not in fact at the clinic on March 30, 2007, correct?”
“And then on April 11, 2007, there’s a charge for Malibu Car Wash, do you see that, in California…and on April 11, Barney’s [in] Beverly Hills, California, you see that?”
“So Mr. Caroni was not in New Orleans when Amanda Lauten came back for her next visit, was he?”
“Doesn’t appear to be, no.” Like all the other witnesses, Lauten was lying.
Zinn then got the agent to admit that the files reviewed by Dr. Parran didn’t contain all the documents necessary to accurately gauge whether Global was a pain clinic or a pill mill. “So it appears, Agent Johnson…that Parran didn’t always get the rest of the story, correct, that the files he received were not complete, correct?”
“There was additional information, yes.”
Johnson never could explain how he chose the files to be reviewed by Dr. Parran or how the referrals were removed and hidden. “So when Dr. Parran was testifying about an absence of referrals from other doctors, there wasn’t; they’re just in the boxes that were at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, [and] when you testified to the grand jury that there was a complete lack of referrals from doctors at the clinics, that’s not true, is it… [T]here are samples…” Zinn began pulling out complete files from multiple evidence boxes. The first was O’Neal Oubre, labeled 481. “In [O’Neal’s] file there’s a letter, ‘Prescription order request: Consultation for pain management evaluation and treatment.’ You see that?”
“Caroni 482, [Rhonda] Sanchez… The doctor referred her for pain management… Wasn’t sent to Dr. Parran was it?”
“Here is Charles Dufrene’s chart and EKG…from a VA hospital… Any VA documents in any of the boxes that you sent to Dr. Parran?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
Over the next few hours Zinn hammered away at Agent Johnson and the overwhelming amount of referrals in Global’s patient files. “Maureen Williams…[referral] requesting frequent use of narcotic-type pain management. Do you see that?” Zinn would ask and the agent would reply, “Yes.” The referrals were all there in the files and they went on and on.
When it was Shohat’s turn to examine the agent, regarding the numerous discrepancies in the DEA’s investigation, he was able to extract that Task Force Agent Nides had a CI, Kimberly Cochrane, working in one of the clinics. However, Kim had never reported anything illegal going on at Global.
During AUSA Hensel’s cross-examination he asked, “Ms. Cochrane, what’s her current status?”
“And that would preclude Mr. Nides or anybody else from asking her questions about what went on at Global, agreed?”
Just as it was becoming obvious the government had manipulated evidence, duped their own “experts” and coerced witness testimony, the judge decided to take matters into her own hands; by letting Justin Naquin and Frank Rickoll’s mothers testify about letters they had written to the doctors regarding their sons’ drug addiction. Letters that Naquin’s mother hadn’t sent to the clinic at all, and Rickoll’s mother had mailed her letter to the wrong address. None of the doctors had ever received the letters, yet Rodgers allowed Rickoll to yell at the doctors while the jury watched, “the Bible says ‘thou shalt not commit murder.’ DiLeo, by prescribing these narcotics under the guise of medication, you’re a murderer just the same as if you put a gun to these people’s heads!”
Caroni recalls Shohat turning to him and saying, “You can’t win from here.”
Over fierce objections by Caroni and his codefendants’ attorneys the judge allowed multiple government “experts” and witnesses to testify that Caroni and his codefendants were responsible for the deaths of two of the clinics’ patients—James Preen and Ethel Avaritt. However, during cross-examination of the “experts” and witnesses, their stories quickly crumbled; as it turned out, Preen had died of an overdose related to methadone he’d been prescribed at a Tennessee clinic, not Global.
After allowing emotional testimony regarding Avaritt’s drug addiction and the fact that she had cervical cancer, the prosecution admitted it couldn’t prove Avaritt’s cause of death.
Only after AUSA Hensel advised the judge that the Justice Department had directed him to concede the inadmissibility of Preen and Avaritt’s death, did the judge begrudgingly instruct the jury to “disregard the circumstances surrounding the cause of the deaths…” By that point, however, the damage had been done; the prosecution with the help of the Judge had poisoned the jury.
The strangest issue of the trial was the fact that Caroni and his codefendants had been indicted in the Northern District of Florida, despite having only opened one Global clinic in Pensacola—a clinic which operated for less than a week. A clinic where neither Caroni nor his codefendants had worked. A clinic where the government hadn’t proven any part of the alleged conspiracy had occurred. Regardless of the fact that the Constitution states “the trial of all crimes…shall be held in the state where the said crime shall have been committed” the judge refused to instruct the jury to consider the legality of the indictment or allow the defense attorneys to argue venue.
“The judge overruled or subverted every single objection our lawyers made,” says Caroni. “It was as if we were enemies of the state, on trial in Nazi Germany, in Judge Roland Freisler’s courtroom.” Caroni and his codefendants didn’t have a prayer. “Zinn told me ‘There’s no legal basis for her rulings…other than to sway the jury.'”
Despite the charges of the patients’ deaths having been dropped, the judge growled, “[T]here were two patients at these clinics who died of drug overdoses while under the care of these physicians…” She then turned to Caroni and snarled, “There’s no doubt in my mind…that you were the driver of this pill business…” The judge seemed to become confused, regarding the facts of the case and she snapped, “The harm that occurred in the Pensacola community with the Controlled Pain Management clinic (Caroni never owner or ran the Controlled Pain clinics).” She accused Caroni of setting up Controlled Pain with “your partner, [Mark Artigues]. I had the benefit of sitting through a trial about that clinic and the operation of that clinic, and in that trial I learned all about these clinics that were set up here as extensions of Global Pain clinics…”
She blamed Caroni for “destroying” the “lives of the five physicians who joined you (There were only two physicians indicted with Caroni and none in Pensacola).” With that said, the judge sentenced Caroni to 20 years; then turned around and praised the two doctors—who’d prescribed the medication—as “pillars of the community.” She sentenced Dr. DiLeo to 24 months (with one year to be served on home confinement) and Dr. Pastorek to one year—both were released from prison within 8 months.
“THE FACT IS, all lies, all evil deeds, they stink,” says Caroni; quoting Dalton Russell* from the movie The Inside Man. “You can cover them up for awhile, but they don’t go away.”
* Footnote: Dalton Russell is played by Clive Owens.
On February 21, 2014—in the middle of Caroni’s appeal—Donald Nides, Tiffany Cardwell and Dr. Joseph Morgan were indicted for conspiracy to dispense controlled substances and a slew of other charges. Nides specifically, was charged with accepting bribes, obstruction of justice and making false statements to a federal agent.
Caroni had been screaming that Nides was crooked since his arrest in late 2010; and he was sure the ex-DEA agent’s trial would vindicate him.
Then, in late 2014, a combination of events occurred: in September, Tiffany and Mogan agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors, plead guilty and testify against Nides in exchange for a lighter sentence—a month later they pled guilty. On October 29, Caroni’s appellate lawyers Nathan and Alan Dershowitz requested the U.S. attorney’s office furnish all material related to Nides’ case—material that Caroni was certain would show Nides and Tiffany had conspired to setup Caroni and his codefendants. On November 3, Nides’ trial started and over the next two days he sat at the defendant’s table and listened to federal prosecutors and colleagues lay out the lurid details of how he had accepted “blow jobs,” sexual favors and cash, to provide protection for multiple New Orleans’ pill mills.
Just after midnight on November 5, 2014—knowing that Tiffany would take the stand within hours—ex-DEA Agent Nides tossed and turned in bed next to his wife. No doubt Tiffany would testify about their sexual liaisons and the hundreds of thousands of dollars she’d paid him, but what else… Would she confess to helping frame Caroni, lying to the grand jury, Steven, Kimberly…
According to the parish sheriff’s investigators notes, Nides’ wife was concerned about her husband’s mental state. She thought she’d removed all of the weapons in the house. She tried to keep an eye on him, but sometime around 4:00 a.m. she drifted off and Nides slipped out of bed, crept into the garage and retrieved his Taurus .357.
The ex-DEA Task Force agent pushed the steel barrel against his temple and pulled the hammer back. He squeezed his eyelids shut. It was all coming apart and he refused to go to prison with the man he’d framed. Nides pulled the trigger and blew his brains out.
The following morning Caroni was on the inmate payphone with his mother when she asked, “Have you been watching the news. Nides killed himself.”
Knowing that Nides was corrupt, Caroni genuinely thought that the conspiracy would come unraveled and the government would concede, but that’s not the way the system works. Like an Orwellian Ministry, the U.S. Department of “Justice” actively began covering up the truth; and the coil of the conspiracy only tightened. The day after Nides’ suicide, Judge Susie Morgan sealed all documents related to the ex-DEA agent’s case.
“In a case like Dennis Caroni’s,” said Howard Srebnick, Caroni’s current criminal defense attorney, “instead of having over thirty years of cases be subject to review, the government would rather have an innocent man sit in prison for the next twenty… It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen the U.S. Attorney’s Office bury the truth.”
“I TOLD MY APPELLATE attorney, Dershowitz, I wanted to file a Rule 33 (a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence),” says Caroni. “But he wouldn’t do it; Dershowitz insisted the appeal was a slam dunk.” The famed appellate attorney was certain Judge Rodgers had committed so many violations there was no way the justices wouldn’t overturn Caroni’s conviction.
“This is one of the most egregious miscarriage of justice I’ve ever seen,” said Nathan Dershowitz, regarding Judge Rodgers’ sentencing. “The judge showed a clear bias toward Dennis [Caroni] by imposing a sentence twenty times that of his codefendants.”
Then on September 1, 2015, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Caroni’s conviction, by two to one; with Circuit Judge Martin stating the following regarding Judge Rodgers’ actions: “The indictment alleged a conspiracy in both the Northern District of Florida and the Eastern District of Louisiana, and the jury’s guilty verdict did not necessarily incorporate a finding that the defendants committed any act—criminal or otherwise—in the Northern District of Florida. Thus, the District Court should have provided a jury instruction on venue and permitted defense counsel to argue venue… [The] critical question was whether patients received prescriptions that were made ‘outside the usual course of medical practice,’ the jury only heard from one Global Pensacola patient who had visited the clinic a single time and had not been treated by any of the defendants… Under these facts, I respectfully dissent.”
A month later Dershowitz filed a Petition for Rehearing; and in January 2016 the appeals court declined to answer it. Caroni’s only recourse now is the United States Supreme Court.
I ask him how he felt when he got the news of the appellate court’s decision. He tells me, “Obviously I was upset, cause, you know… I really wanted to do the speech,” and then, in a passable imitation of Pacino as Brigant, he blurts out, “Your Honor, Your Honor… I’ve been cured. Like the Water Gaters. And it didn’t take no thirty years like Your Honor thought, but only five.” Over the weeks I’ve spent with Caroni I’ve learned not to interrupt him. It’s better to just let him get it out of his system. “Five years Sir, I’ve been cured of the social ails of the ghetto in the sterling correctional facilities of Sing Sing and Green Haven… I’d like to thank a lot of people. I see that man over there, Mr. Norwalk. I’d like to thank him for making the tapes in an illegal fashion. And I’d like thank Your Honor, for letting the tapes in in an illegal fashion. And I’d like to thank the appeals court, for reversing you, Your Honor. Oh and before I forget, I’d like to thank Almighty God, whom without, no case gets tossed…”
THESE DAYS CARONI spends his time sinking dull, chipped, pool balls in the prison’s leisure center; hustling the other inmates out of the only form of currency available—commissary and stamps—while waiting to find out if his newest defense attorneys, Roy Black and Howard Srebnick, can somehow get him a new trial—the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear Caroni’s case. He has even put in a petition for clemency to President Obama. Still, the felt is frayed and the tips of the pool sticks are worn.
“I’m stressed out,” says Caroni, when I ask him how he feels about his chances. He reminds me that he was indicted by a Supervising U.S. Attorney with a history of framing defendants in the Northern District of Florida; for a pain clinic that was opened for less than a week, that Caroni had never been to. There are lying government experts and two of his key witnesses are dead and Nides—the guy with all the answers—has a hole in his head, Tiffany isn’t talking and the government is actively covering it all up. “I’ve got the best criminal defense attorneys money can buy, and yet, I’m shootin’ pool in prison… How do you think I feel?”