Smooth talker with a past leaves trail of ruined deals

April 21, 1991|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

CUMBERLAND — An article in Sunday's editions of The Sun about Anthon Sarivola, a former organized crime enforcer and loan shark, incorrectly reported the occupation of Stanley Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro is a Wheaton businessman.

The Sun regrets the errors.

CUMBERLAND -- Alfred D. Nicholson was looking for someone to save his troubled Cumberland Airlines. He thought a Wall Street Journal ad might attract the kind of savior with deep pockets he sought to keep the commuter service alive.

Instead, he got Anthony Sarivola, alias Anthony Steele, a former organized crime enforcer and loan shark, alleged FBI informant recently involved in a major U.S. Supreme Court decision on confessions, and accused con artist now facing federal charges of wire fraud in connection with his aborted purchase of Cumberland Airlines.


Cumberland Airlines was easy pickings for Mr. Sarivola, 36, a man who has perfected the art of portraying himself as a well-heeled financier, complete with limousines and impeccably dressed entourage, when his assets are worth next to nothing.

It is an act he has taken across the country, trying to buy Braniff Airlines and De Laurentiis Entertainment Group with little more than an attitude and worthless paper -- all while apparently under the cover of the Federal Witness Protection Program.

"Yes, he was very smooth," said Paul Stocker, an attorney taken in by a loan scam Mr. Sarivola allegedly ran in Washington state. "He fooled me."

Mr. Sarivola read Mr. Nicholson's Feb. 1, 1990, advertisement and, as Anthony Steele, launched into his routine, according to a federal indictment. He called Mr. Nicholson to express interest in buying the airline, saying he was head of Coastal Maine Holdings Corp., a Florida corporation that specialized in rescuing businesses in trouble.

The next day, Mr. Sarivola sent Mr. Nicholson a stock purchase agreement and a Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K, the indictment states. An 8-K report lists any events or corporate changes not previously reported by the company.

The report claimed the shareholders' equity in Coastal Maine was more than $43 million and the company's total assets were $56 million, the indictment states.

The purchase agreement promised to pay Mr. Nicholson and three other shareholders in Cumberland Airlines $50,000, together with 250,000 shares of Coastal Maine stock. Mr. Nicholson said he was led to believe the stock was worth about $4 a share.

Three days later Mr. Nicholson signed the agreement, and Mr. Sarivola had his hands on the airline and its assets, which primarily consisted of a flight school and about 13 single- or twin-engine airplanes.

But the Coastal Maine stock was worthless, the indictment states. Mr. Sarivola never paid any money to Mr. Nicholson and came to Cumberland to assume control of the assets, which he mostly depleted by traveling around the country at the company's expense, the indictment states. The planes were later repossessed by Mercantile Bank.

"It devastated us," said Mr. Nicholson, who never questioned Mr. Sarivola's overture. "It just ruined us financially. I can't believe I got taken like that."

Mr. Sarivola then sold the airline, even though he did not actually own it because Mr. Nicholson had voided the deal when he was not paid. The buyer, Wheaton physical therapist Stanley Shapiro, lost $7,500 he gave Mr. Sarivola toward the purchase but later bought what was left of the air service from Mr. Nicholson.

Mr. Shapiro was unable to get the airline operating successfully after meeting resistance from local officials. The airline was based at Cumberland Airport, which is owned by the city of Cumberland and was leased by the Allegany County commissioners, despite having its headquarters just across the Potomac River in Wiley Ford, W.Va. Another operator was selected by a newly formed airport authority, and only recently was it announced that commuter service will be restored to the area.

Mr. Sarivola was arrested on wire-fraud charges involving the Cumberland Airlines deal on March 12, 1991, by FBI agents at his newest venture, the Newark, N.J.-based Film Life Corp., which Mr. Sarivola describes as a film restoration business.

In an interview, he called the Cumberland Airlines charges "absolutely ludicrous. The company went belly up and I tried to . . . make something out of it. I wound up losing money and getting a lot of bad publicity out of it. America does not want to let the past lay."

The past to which he referred includes his role as a jailed loan shark working for the FBI who coerced a confession from a fellow inmate, a past that became the subject of a Supreme Court decision that made front-page news across the nation last month.

When the court ruled 5-to-4 on March 26 that criminal convictions based partly on coerced confessions do not always have to be thrown out, its decision arose from the murder case of Oreste C. Fulminante of Mesa, Ariz.

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