My guest today is businessman and author Stephen Caputi, whose controversial memoir, I Should Have Stayed in Morocco, was just released by Twilight Times Books. Caputi took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about the series of unfortunate events that cost him his liberty and led, ultimately, to the writing of this book, which he worked on while in prison. Readers may find more about his candid, compelling account from his website at http://www.stevecaputi.com or at Amazon.
Welcome to BloggerNews, Stephen. Why don’t you start by telling us about your background?
I’ve had a long and wonderful thirty-plus year career in the Hospitality business—creating, building and managing nightclubs. Decades of experience in the industry and the good fortune to work with a succession of the best performers in the world gave me a broad base of skills that were instrumental in my entrepreneurial quest and subsequent successes. In the early 1990’s, I had the privilege of serving as President of Michael J. Peter’s gentlemen’s club empire, featuring the world-famous Solid Gold, Thee DollHouse, and Pure Platinum. I then became a partner in South Florida’s most successful long-term nightclub chain ever, Café Iguana.
My college experiences played a significant part in preparing me for the future. I was an Ivy-league student-athlete, graduating from the renowned Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 1979. Rostered as the ‘smallest player in NCAA Division 1 football’, I lettered under George Seifert, world-champion coach of the San Francisco 49’ers. I also played centerfielder on Cornell’s EIBL championship team of 1977, led by hall of fame coach Ted Thoren. I had the good fortune of setting several all-time team and NCAA records, one of which still stands to this day thirty-seven years later. I learned how not to quit.
I understand your life changed in 2009 when you got tangled up in Scott Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme. Can you tell us how this happened?
What happened in 2009 was an accumulation of all the events precedent to the now-infamous trip to Morocco, which was the tipping point leading directly to the legal snafu that ensued. My relationship with Scott dated back several decades to the early 1990’s, and in addition to being my lawyer we became good friends and business partners as well. By that time, my life was inextricably linked to his in a number of areas… the bulk of which had been concealed from me. The particular machinations of how this all manifested itself into the loss of my liberty is the focus of the book.
The media storm was unbelievable! I went from being a respected nightclub and business owner to being viewed as an underworld character—a nefarious accomplice of Scott Rothstein’s $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme in South Florida history. Guilty by association, overnight. Every facet of my life spiraled downhill from that point, catalyzed by the fact that I became a target for the prosecution.
How and when did you find the courage to write a book about it?
It was kind of an accident, really… the result of unfortunate circumstances resulting from the protracted legal process that followed my return from Morocco. I found myself stranded in the “Hole”, (slang for solitary confinement) in a dingy federal prison in Jesup, Ga., with literally nothing to do but ponder the past. I had nothing to read, nothing to do, nothing to look forward to until the next bowl of gruel was tossed into the cell through a flap in the door, and nothing to watch since the tiny three-inch window slit was old and yellow and glazed. Total emptiness, which was driving me crazy. For a career claustrophobe, being thrust into a seventy two square-foot space that contained only a bed, toilet and sink constituted the worst case scenario. My worst nightmare had materialized, and there was no getting away from it. No relief. I knew why I was in prison, but I didn’t know why I was in the Hole.
Honestly, I began writing out of desperation. My mind was still scrambled from the shock of being thrown in the Hole. As a last resort I started to chronicle everything that happened… which wasn’t much. I wrote down every item served at every meal, everything that the guards did and said, and kept a diary of sorts that was chocked full of their shenanigans. I figured that there was no way people knew how inmates were treated in prison… and wondered if anybody cared.
The process of reflection prompted me to search for answers… about my life, about the sequence of events that led me to federal prison, and about the system that put me away. It evolved into a full-fledged quest for the truth.
What topics did you specifically want to include in the book?
Several things were important to me. For one, I wanted to tell the story of my two-decade long friendship with Scott Rothstein, and the events leading up to and including the climax in Morocco. I was there, and as you might imagine, the experience of it was somewhat different than what was reported in the mainstream media. I Should Have Stayed in Morocco should be a required read for ambitious entrepreneurs of all ages, since it describes in great detail how even a person of intelligence and education could be unwittingly roped into the schemes of others. Manipulated and used. My primary goal was to widen the eyes of everyone in business, in the hopes that enlightening my horrific personal experiences would prevent future catastrophes for others.
Along the same vein, I set out to expose the prison system for its inhumanity, as well as the criminal justice system that drove it. To showcase its archaic, ineffective and predatory policies regarding the mass incarceration of Americans for profit… possibly the most un-American thing that is happening in America today. The perpetual prisoner money machine needs to be shut down, and the prison industrial complex disbanded. I wanted to know and share the truth, about why and how this all happened—and why this nonsense still existed in our ‘free country’. People of intelligence need to know what’s real and what’s hype… and sometimes the truth is ugly.
Was the writing of this book cathartic? In what way?
Yes, for all the reasons stated above, and more. Writing the book was a much-needed distraction when I was in prison. It gave me the time to reflect upon my life, to review the great, good, not so good and horrific experiences that comprised it. I took full responsibility for where I ended up and for what happened to me, but still I was disappointed to find a broken criminal justice and prison system. This led me to look for more answers… and to share them with as many people as possible in the hopes that they might be able to avoid a similar fate as mine. It was good for my head to believe that my writing might be of service to someone, someday.
What was the reaction of your family and friends when you decided to open up your past for the world to know about it?
For the most part, they were mortified, and for this reason I had little support at the beginning. The consensus was that I would be taking too great a risk by exposing the system for what it was, and they feared retaliation against me. They all advised me to cease and desist. However, after they got into the second and third drafts, they could see and understand how the story needed to be told, and why I was compelled to tell it. By then, they understood what I meant when I said that I was all done with being intimidated, scared, humiliated and bent over by the system. They were afraid for me!
Did you discover things about yourself you didn’t know before you started?
I wouldn’t say “discover”, but telling my story in this way forced me to open up to what was really going on inside my head. To look at the things that I never had the time or inclination to expose to myself or others. As I found out, the truth can sometimes be ugly. That being said, it was a good time to stand up and face the “music”.
Who is your target audience?
I envisioned I Should Have Stayed in Morocco to be a required read for ambitious entrepreneurs of all ages, since it describes in great detail how even a person of intelligence and education could be unwittingly roped into the schemes of others. Manipulated and used. My primary goal was to widen the eyes of everyone in business, in the hopes that enlightening my own horrific personal experiences would prevent future catastrophes for others.
What is one thing you hope readers will gain from your book?
Several things were important to me. For one, I wanted to tell the story of my two-decade long friendship with Scott Rothstein, and the events leading up to and including the climax in Morocco. I was there, and as you might imagine, the experience of it was somewhat different than what was reported in the mainstream media. I wanted to augment the forensic, sterile accounts of what had happened with some humanity.
Along the same vein, I set out to expose the prison system for its inhumanity, as well as the criminal justice system that drove it. To showcase its archaic, ineffective and predatory policies regarding the mass incarceration of Americans for profit… possibly the most un-American thing that is happening in America today. The perpetual prisoner money machine needs to be shut down, and the prison industrial complex disbanded. I wanted to know and share the truth, about why and how this all happened—and why this nonsense still existed in our ‘free country’. People of intelligence need to know what’s real and what’s hype… and like I said, sometimes the truth is ugly.
How has the writing of this book changed you?
My situation forced me to better control my own emotions, which was of paramount importance. I had to keep my sense of humor intact and my wits about me in order to maintain at least some semblance of objectivity while I was writing… as well as to survive the experience!
The biggest challenge I faced in my writing exploits was finding the best way to properly and effectively communicate the emotion of the roller-coaster ride I was on… while I was on the ride! I had no alternative but to write about all the horrible things that were happening—to me and other inmates—while I was suffering the indignities that I was writing about in real time. The awful physical conditions, inedible meals, harsh treatment, lack of medical attention, arcane and oppressive rules and regulations, lack of exercise, heavy-handedness and the calculated, dehumanizing protocols of the Federal Bureau of Prisons were overwhelming. I struggled every day to balance giving an accurate representation of what was happening… without it being overridden with emotion and dripping with hate by the time my thoughts were scribed to paper. Controlling my own emotions was of paramount importance, since I had to keep my sense of humor intact and my wits about me in order to maintain at least some semblance of objectivity.
Any last words?
Of course… every writer loves to get in the last word!
Despite what happened to me, I haven’t given up on friendship, love and trust… which doesn’t have to be treated as if it were a four-letter word. However, people who have a trusting nature (like I do!) need to learn to place limits, keep reasonable checks and balances intact, and listen to their instincts—their ‘guts’. If you’re in tune with your intuition, you cannot go wrong.