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Edward Graziano, father of Bollea crash victim, arrested in murder-for-hire plot

Edward Graziano

Pinellas County Jail

Edward Graziano

Edward Graziano has been accused of holding a knife to his wife's throat and of punching and kicking her.

In 2004, he said he would hire someone to kill her — and get away with it.

Last December, authorities say, Graziano began to carry out his threat and started looking for a hit man.

It was Christmas time, and the father could have been focused on his son, John Graziano, who suffered a major brain injury in a 2007 car crash and remains hospitalized to this day.

And not just any car crash: The car was driven by Nick Bollea, wrestler Hulk Hogan's son.

Instead, authorities said, Edward Graziano plotted to get rid of his wife, Debra.

He soon found someone who said he could arrange it. Over the next few months, they worked out the details in a dozen meetings in various public locales in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

They negotiated a price, to the penny: Graziano would hand over $1,100 in cash, a personal check for $1,000 and a gift card to Westshore Pizza for $13.06, authorities said.

The method of murder that authorities say Graziano wanted for his wife is eerily ironic, considering the fate of his son.

He wanted Debra to die in a car accident.

Earlier this week, Graziano turned over the cash, the check and the pizza card. But the man who took Graziano's money was not the conduit to a hit man.

He was an undercover Pinellas County sheriff's deputy.

In the latest twist in the strange saga, Graziano was arrested on a murder solicitation charge Thursday and booked into the Pinellas County Jail.

• • •

John Graziano suffered a major brain injury on Aug. 26, 2007, after Nick Bollea lost control of his souped-up Toyota Supra and crashed into a palm tree during a street race in downtown Clearwater.

The crash — followed by Bollea's arrest, court case and incarceration — attracted worldwide attention.

In the glare of the media spotlight, Graziano spoke glowingly of Debra: "My wife is the best mother there is in the world."

In private, court records state, it was the marriage from hell.

Two weeks before the crash, Debra Graziano filed a domestic violence injunction against her husband — the latest of many over a three-year period.

She accused him of telling her: "I know what has to be done now, Debbie. You have to be hurt real bad.''

According to those records, the murder-for-hire plot hatched in December seems to have its antecedents in years of alleged domestic abuse. In the wife's court pleadings, she said he constantly terrorized her.

Edward Graziano, the wife wrote, kicked her in the head and punched her breasts. He beat and threatened her in front of the kids.

He smoked cocaine and went off into drunken rages, she wrote. He once shoved the family dog at her head, the wife said, hoping she would be bitten in the face. He often talked of slicing her carotid artery.

"(He) seems to have an obsession with cutting my throat," Debra Graziano wrote in 2004.

She said that her husband stalked her, even to the courthouse. He robbed her apartment and poured bleach on her clothes, she said. He said he would hunt her down like a dog and put a bullet in her head, she claimed.

Their marriage is also detailed in criminal records dating back to 2004. Edward Graziano has been arrested and accused of aggravated domestic stalking (for calling his wife 75 to 100 times); burglary (for stealing her purse); and battery on a law enforcement officer (he spit on a deputy arresting him.)

He also was arrested for repeatedly violating domestic violence injunctions. Once he was arrested when he entered his son's intensive care room while his wife was there in 2007, violating her protective order. Some of the charges against Edward Graziano were dropped, but some resulted in probation.

Edward and Debra Graziano had filed for divorce in 2004, but her lawyer said she gave up the effort to keep the family together during an upcoming wedding. But inside the divorce file is this letter she wrote to the judge:

"He has said if I get a lawyer for our divorce (if he allows me to live) I'll need a mortician. I don't know what his plans are for me. Destroying my name? Planting something in my car? Ruining my credit? Slandering me? Or just putting the f'n knife ... in my brain?"

• • •

In meetings at shopping malls, a gas station and a hospital, Graziano laid out the details of his plot, the Sheriff's Office said.

He spoke with an unidentified "tipster," who contacted sheriff's deputies, and an undercover detective "go between," who said he could secure a hit man.

It should look like an automobile accident, Graziano directed.

He gave the detective his wife's schedule so the killer would know where to find her, detectives said. It would also ensure he had an alibi.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Graziano was spurred by "divorce related financial issues."

Authorities declined to elaborate, but in 2005 the husband told the court that he was self-employed, making $3,000 a month and with $5,000 in expenses. The wife said he was actually hiding "thousands" while keeping her poor.

The wife said Edward Graziano used to work as a funeral director. He lost a job at a nursing home in 2003, she wrote, for a "violent outburst" and "intimidation" at work.

Besides the allegations of domestic abuse and the trials the family has faced since John's accident, the Grazianos have been embroiled in a bitter civil suit with the Bolleas over money for John's continued care.

Whatever Graziano's motive, his plan unraveled this week, authorities say.

Graziano was arrested at his Palm Harbor home and charged with murder solicitation.

At the Pinellas County Jail, his bail was set at $100,000.

After indicating he might harm himself, Graziano was put on suicide watch, sheriff's spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said.

• • •

Reactions were varied from those involved in the ongoing legal dispute between the Bolleas and the Grazianos.

Attorney George Tragos, who represents John Graziano, 24, in a lawsuit against the Bolleas, said sheriff's deputies told him and Debra of the plot in mid-December. Deputies stepped up patrols in her neighborhood.

"Debbie Graziano is saddened by this. She can't believe this family can continue to suffer more tragedy than it has," Tragos said. "Her primary concern is still for John and will continue to be for John."

Linda Bollea, Nick's mother, referred questions to her publicist, Gary Smith.

"Linda is not surprised that this happened," Smith said. "He's a very violent, very evil man."

Smith said Edward Graziano "hated" Linda Bollea, for the emotional and financial support she provided to Debra prior to John's accident.

He also said he heard that Linda Bollea's "name was dropped'' by Graziano during the investigation.

Nick Bollea served 166 days months in jail for his role in the crash that injured John Graziano.

The attorney who handled Nick Bollea's criminal case, said the turn of events was "bizarre."

"After years of disparaging remarks against the Hogan family, we have a classic case of karma," Kevin Hayslett said.

Debra Graziano said she didn't have enough details about the alleged plot to comment.

But, she said, "It couldn't be any worse than what's happened to my son.''

Staff writers Demorris Lee and Lorri Helfand and news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

February 1993 Edward and Debra Graziano marry.

January 2004 - Debra Graziano files her first domestic violence injunction

February 2004 Debra Graziano files for divorce

November 2005

Divorce proceedings are dismissed after neither party attends hearings

August 2007 Debra Graziano files her fourth domestic violence injunction against her husband

August 2007 The Grazianos' son, John, is critically injured in a Clearwater car accident involving Nick Bollea, son of former wrestler Hulk Hogan

August 2007 Edward Graziano is arrested on charges of violating a domestic violence injunction after going to the hospital and being in the same room as his wife

October 2007 As part of a modified domestic violence injunction, Edward Graziano is awarded exclusive use of the couple's marital home in Dunedin

November 2007

Police arrest Nick Bollea on charges of reckless driving with serious bodily injury

March 2008 Ties between the two families are split after lawyers for the injured Marine filed a negligence lawsuit against the Bolleas

May 2008 Nick Bollea is sentenced to eight months in the Pinellas County Jail

October 2008 Nick Bollea released from jail after serving 166 days

December 2008

Pinellas County Sheriff deputies begin investigating Graziano, who they say wanted his wife to die in a car crash. Debra Graziano is told of the alleged plot.

Feb. 26

Police arrest Edward Graziano on charges that he tried to hire someone to murder his estranged wife

Edward Graziano, father of Bollea crash victim, arrested in murder-for-hire plot 02/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 11:10am]
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