Jon Roberts: American Desperado Excerpt
Credit: Photograph by Jamie Chung

Evan Wright: Following a 1970 'New York Times' story that linked Roberts to the murder of a disco promoter, he became entangled, though not necessarily directly involved, in the murder of a New York fashion model who had planned to testify against one of his friends in a heroin-trafficking case, and in the death of a cop, who some claimed had been taking payoffs from Roberts's Mafia associates. None of these homicides resulted in charges being filed against Roberts, but, as he put it, "the heat was all over me. The Gambino family wanted me gone from New York."

Roberts landed in Miami and lay low by working as a gardener and dog trainer. To make ends meet, he started ripping off drug dealers, as he'd done in his youth. But when he robbed a couple of sellers working for a homicidal, cross-eyed Cuban coke dealer by the name of Albert San Pedro, his life changed. He met San Pedro for a possible showdown, and instead they became partners. Roberts began moving the Cuban's coke at the Palm Bay Club, a private Miami Beach yacht and tennis club. He formed fast relationships with celebrities from the club, like actor James Caan, bonding over a shared passion for his coke. And through his friendship with Dolphins running back Mercury Morris, Roberts became the unofficial supplier of choice to the NFL, hosting cocaine- and whore-packed blowouts at his home for the likes of O.J. Simpson and, on the eve of their 1979 Super Bowl win, a significant portion of the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting lineup.

It was during this period that Roberts began running with a young Miami-based mafioso named Gary Teriaca, who soon got him back in the business of murder. When Teriaca's younger brother was shot to death during a drunken dispute with a patron at a Miami steakhouse, Roberts stepped in to help get revenge. Complicating the matter was the fact that Teriaca's little brother had been shot by a man named Richard Schwartz, whose stepfather was the legendary mob figure Meyer Lansky. According to Roberts, he met with Lansky, then in his 80s and living in Miami Beach, to obtain his permission to murder his stepson. "He knew his stepson brought this on himself by shooting Gary's little brother. Nobody wanted to kill Richard Schwartz, but we had to make things right."

Roberts's account of the murder of Richard Schwartz amounts to a confession for his role as accessory. In 1993, Roberts was given immunity for the crime in exchange for agreeing to testify against one of his accomplices.

Jon Roberts: In an ideal world, you want to murder somebody in private. It's safer that way. But Richard Schwartz must have at least suspected somebody was going to kill him, and when a person's expecting to be murdered, it's harder to get close to him in private. On the street, you've got witnesses. Unexpected things can go wrong. The one advantage of shooting somebody in the open is that's where they least expect it. Another advantage we had was that Richard Schwartz was stupid. He parked his car every morning at the same time behind his restaurant in Bay Harbor, off Miami Beach.

There was a dock 75 feet away. We could put a boat there and use it to dispose of the weapon. The first thing you want to do when you shoot somebody is get rid of your weapon. I can't emphasize this enough. Eliminate the gun, and your life will be a lot easier.

Albert San Pedro, my partner in the coke business, gave me his best bodyguard to do the shooting. He was a kid in his mid-20s. He was quiet, not the biggest guy, but he carried himself well. His name was Ricky. When I talked to Ricky about doing the job, he got very excited. He told me he was going to dress up in disguise for the hit – put on a tourist shirt, wear a fake beard – and I got a sinking feeling. I thought, This kid has watched too many spy movies. But, boy, did he prove me wrong.

We killed Richard on a weekday. Gary Teriaca and I docked my Cigarette racing boat before 9 in the morning. We knew Richard would be pulling up in the lot at any minute. We brought some fishing gear and goofed around on the boat, like we were getting ready for an outing. Then, boom, boom. Not 30 seconds later, Ricky came down the path. He had on the tourist shirt and a Panama hat. He carried a shopping bag from the Bal Harbour mall, with the gun inside. When he got a few steps from my boat, I saw a little smile on Ricky's face.

Gary stuck his arm up and waved, like he wanted Ricky to throw him the weapon. Ricky was almost close enough to hand it over, but he threw it. Gary was so high he dropped the gun into the water. I was pissed. The water's not deep, but we had to push the boat back from the dock so Gary could dive in and get it. While we're doing our Three Stooges act on the boat, we start to hear sirens and then this godawful screaming. Some girl was just yelling her guts out in the parking lot. At least we knew Ricky must have done the job right.

Ten miles out in Biscayne Bay, Gary dropped the gun into the bottom of the ocean. He opened a bottle of Johnnie Walker and started whooping and pumping his fist, like we'd won the big game. I heard that Richard Schwartz's teenage daughter was the first to find him after he got his face blown off. I wasn't glad for her, but I hope Richard Schwartz felt good for what he made us do.