His Father's Jailer
A few hours later, father and son were toasting their reunion with champagne. Now they wish they had never met. Frederick Louis Ablon, 59, faces up to 11 years in federal prison and $750,000 in fines when he appears for sentencing this month following his guilty plea to three counts of a 43-count indictment for federal and state tax fraud. "Ablon is a world-class thief," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Hinshelwood, who prosecuted him. And who worked undercover collecting evidence against Ablon? None other than Farrell Gordon, his son.
The story started 35 years ago, when a then slim-and-handsome Fred Ablon, son of a Miami Beach used-car dealer, married pretty Muriel Gordon, a 21-year-old University of Miami student, with all the splendor her father could afford. Since Jack Gordon had made a bundle back in New York City from his plumbing supply and trucking businesses, that was plenty. Alter a lavish Miami Beach reception, the newly-weds slipped away for four weeks at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan.
Even then there were signs of trouble—Ablon flew his mother up to join the couple on the honeymoon. A few months later, the marriage was apparently broken beyond repair. "Things just didn't work out," Gordon was told by his mother, who died of cancer last February. After Gordon's birth on July 2, 1958, Ablon signed a notarized statement giving up all claim to his son. Gordon says his grandfather paid Ablon $100,000 to stay away forever.
Gordon was indulgently reared by his mother and grandmother Sally (Jack died in 1959) in their sprawling house on Bay Harbor Islands, just off Miami Beach. At his bar mitzvah he praised Muriel, who never remarried, as "my mother, father, teacher and friend." Until he was 16 or 17, Gordon says now, "I never thought about a father." He drifted through a series of schools, at one point spending six months in jail for writing bad checks before Muriel squared his debts.
"I always thought everyone would handle it for me," says Gordon of what he maintains was his only trouble with the law. For the most part, he admits, he lived off "Nana Sally's" money. The gravy train came to a hall, at least temporarily, when his grandmother died in early 1988. Which is what brought Gordon and a briefcase containing what he estimates was $100,000 to $150,000 of family jewelry to the offices of Antique Galleries Inc. in Orlando, where he and his mother had moved a few years earlier.
Although the once slender Ablon weighed 350 lbs., he still had the old charm. After Gordon identified himself, the pair hugged and quickly began catching up on three decades. Then, Gordon says in his deposition, Ablon suggested that instead of selling the jewelry, his son leave the collection so he could "scud it off to Sotheby's" to have the items cleaned. As Gordon went to leave, Ablon shook his hand and slipped him 10 $100 bills, which the father refused to allow his son to return.
When Gordon told his mother about the meeting, she "went totally, 100 percent berserk," he recalls, begging him not to see his father again. But he did. From the start, the flashy Ablon boasted about his wealth, which he claimed was between $30 million and $40 million. Ablon proudly showed off his luxuriously furnished two-story condo in an apartment complex that he claimed he owned. And soon Gordon said his father began to brag about how he had acquired his money—by scamming customers and, in Gordon's words, "ripping off the IRS."
"I didn't fall in love with this man....I was shocked, nauseated," Gordon says. He also began to suspect that Ablon was angling for a slice of Nana Sally's still-to-be-settled estate, which Gordon values at several million dollars.
During their first meetings, Gordon says he listened with a mixture of horror and fascination as Ablon detailed some of the ways he duped clients, especially the defenseless elderly. Among his props were a Bible and a framed family portrait. "If people think you're religious and a family man, they'll trust you more," Ablon reportedly told his son. Says Gordon: "Believe me, I had to bite my tongue and hold back tears watching what he was doing."
The breaking point came just a few weeks after the pair had met, when Ablon allegedly tried to enlist Gordon in a plot to harm an elderly woman. The proposed victim was a rich widow in her 70s whom Ablon had allegedly already fleeced out of over half a million dollars. "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," says Gordon. Instead he excused himself and raced to the Federal Building in downtown Orlando to see Orlan Smith, a special agent in the IRS's Criminal Investigation Division, with whom Gordon was acquainted. Says Chandler Muller, Ablon's lawyer: "Fred feels that his putative son has broken into his life and has used whatever motives he may have to get revenge on Fred for leaving him."
Special Agent Smith knew about Fred Ablon—as did many law officers in the area. Ablon had been the subject of numerous complaints from customers who contended they had been cheated, and he had also been named in several civil suits. But no one had been able to make a criminal case. (Several complainants won civil judgments against Ablon but were unable to collect because he had no traceable assets.) Soon afterward, Gordon was outfitted with a tape recorder, which he concealed in a black leather tote.
Carrying the wire off and on over a three-month period, Gordon collected enough incriminating evidence to launch an investigation by a team including FBI Special Agent Joseph Judge and the office of the U.S. Attorney in Orlando. Gordon also discovered he himself had been a victim. When he finally asked his father where the jewelry he'd brought in was, Gordon says his father told him, "Oh, it got lost in the mail. I forgot to insure it." By then Gordon says he was so intent on trying to nail this dangerous criminal that the financial loss seemed almost incidental.
During four years of painstaking work, Ablon's records were subpoenaed and studied, and his income and sales-tax filings were compared with actual transactions as determined partly by interviews with people he had conned. Though Muriel Gordon died four days before her ex was indicted, her son says she was proud of what he was doing: "That was the only thing keeping her alive."
As outlined on the tapes and by his victims, Ablon's numerous scams ranged from such crude but effective tricks as switching cheap zircons for his customers' diamonds to complex long-term swindles like bleeding the elderly widow he had allegedly planned to hurt. Rather than contest the charges against him, Ablon pleaded guilty to three of the 43 counts.
Father and son haven't met in over three years, though Gordon claims he's gotten a few messages. Just before the indictments, he says, there were threatening phone calls, and he and his girlfriend, Teri Thomas, 20, discovered a fish nailed to their front door. The shaken couple, who expect a baby next February, have beefed up their security system and hired a 6'9", 380-lb. bodyguard.
And what does Gordon plan to tell his children about their grandfather? "I'll probably tell the truth and let them read the indictment." he says with a bitter laugh.
DON SIDER in Orlando