There's plenty about the Winter Olympics to make a guy root for global warming: the so-called "Olympic tourists," for example. That's a tag applied to folks who have enough money and leisure time to make up for whatever talent deficiency kept them from competing for their real home country in the Games, and end up representing a nation that has no good reason even to have a Winter Olympic squad.
Gary di Silvestri has gotten as much attention as any member of the latest-model Cool Runnings imitators. Last week, The New York Times wrote about di Silvestri's journey from his native Staten Island to a Caribbean island called Dominica. Di Silvestri, 47, and his Italian-born wife, Angelica Morrone, constitute the entire Olympic delegation for the nation of 70,000 mostly slave descendants in the Lesser Antilles, best known until now for having the world's second largest hot spring. Di Silvestri and his wife are the oldest cross-country skiers competing in Sochi.
According to legal filings from places where the sun is a little warmer, the couple likes to skate, too.
Skate on seven-figure tax bills, that is.
Prosecutors in another tropical playground have linked the pair to a massive tax-fraud case related to the sale of Emerald Cay, a mansion di Silvestri and Morrone built on their own island in the Turks and Caicos Islands, an archipelago located 575 miles south of Miami. A sales brochure says the skiers', um, house features "30,000 square feet of sophisticated interiors" plus "45-foot-high cypress ceilings," a three-story library, a 6,000-bottle wine cellar, two "adjoining swimming pools with a waterfall," a boat house, a guest house, a caretaker's home, and "two private beaches." The estate is automobile-accessible via "a remote-controlled swing bridge and a Turkish marble driveway."
In 2006, the couple sold Emerald Cay to American Tim Blixseth in what was reported to TCI authorities as a $10.5 million transaction. Tax collectors went bananas after finding out Blixseth had actually paid the skiers closer to $30 million, and ordered the buyer to pay TCI $9.3 million — $1.7 million in unpaid stamp tax duty and the rest in penalties and interest. Justice G.W. Martin of TCI's Supreme Court called the sale "a carefully crafted scheme of tax evasion" and asked prosecutors to investigate. Late last year, two attorneys involved in the sale of Emerald Cay were indicted. Gordon Kerr, representing di Silvestri and Morrone in the transaction, was charged with "cheating the public revenue, conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to false account."
Although not indicted, the skiers hardly come off as pure as the driven snow. The charging papers allege that "between the 1st day of January 2005 and the 31st day of March 2007," di Silvestri and Morrone were among those who set out "to cheat the Collector of Stamp Duty" and thereby deprive "the public revenue of stamp duty in the approximate sum of $1,500,000." (Blixseth and his attorney, Timothy O'Sullivan were also in the group, dubbed the "stamp duty fraudsters" by headline writers at the Turks and Caicos Weekly News.) The criminal matter against Kerr is "still under advisement."
Hoping to recoup the money he'd been ordered to pay TCI, Blixseth sued di Silvestri and Morrone in U.S. District Court in Miami, both of whom reside for most of the year in the good ol' USA (sorry, Dominica!). His complaint accused them of being the masterminds behind the low-balling scam. The suit alleges the couple had created a "shell corporation" called Ital Swiss, with the primary purpose being "to evade the claims of creditors and … to evade taxes on at least $12.5 million paid by [Blixseth] in the acquisition of Emerald Cay from the United States Internal Revenue Service." That lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. judge for lack of jurisdiction, and Blixseth was told that no matter where the plaintiffs and defendants reside, the transaction was a matter for the courts in the Turks and Caicos. Asked about the status of his suit against the skiers, Blixseth declined via email to say if he will refile his complaint in TCI, but indicated that he intends on pursuing his legal case against the island-hopping couple.
Morrone was scheduled to compete today in the 10K cross-country classic, but she was the only one of the 76 entrants to put up a "DNS"—"did not start." Di Silvestri is due to make his Olympic debut in the men's classic on Friday.
Medal or no in Russia, there's gold waiting for di Silvestri and Morrone back in the states. L&K Real Estate, a firm in the mountain resort town of Big Sky, Mont., confirmed that a mega-chalet they've listed locally for $20 million belongs to the Olympians. Tax records in Montana show that that property is registered to Holdings LLC, a corporation whose lead agent is Seymour Braun, a New York lawyer who specializes in offshore transactions. There are a lot of skaters in that realm.
Curtis Scott Alva, a West Palm Beach attorney who represented di Silvestri and Morrone in the case, said he could not respond to the allegations against his clients without getting their approval to comment. Told that might be difficult this week since they're in the Olympics, Alva insisted that he had represented "another Gary di Silvestri." When it was explained that, no, that same dude is now in Sochi representing Dominica, Alva said, "I'm shocked. Really? Is this one of those Jamaican bobsled deals?"
Dave McKenna is a writer in Washington D.C.
Photo by AP.