Seven years ago, after pumping six slugs from a .357-caliber Magnum into her millionaire husband, Mary K. Haire used a defense devised by Tampa lawyer Frank Ragano to win a stunning acquittal on first-degree murder charges. On Friday, Mrs. Haire presented testimony that could lead to a reprimand or even to revocation of Ragano's license to practice law.
Because of a complaint Mrs. Haire filed two years ago, the Florida Bar Association has accused Ragano, 64, of unethical behavior. Mrs. Haire, 53, claims that Ragano took advantage of her by charging various legal fees and borrowing $75,000 from her to finance a movie on the life of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, one of Ragano's better-known clients.
The Hoffa movie also figures in Ragano's indictments for obstruction of justice and income tax evasion by a federal grand jury in March 1989. The U.S. Justice Department says Ragano sold a share of the rights to the Hoffa movie, failed to report it as income, then tried to persuade a grand jury witness to say the money was a loan.
Charles B. Corces, the attorney representing Ragano on the federal charges, said at a Bar Association hearing Friday that the trial is expected to begin within weeks. But because of "a substantial overlap of certain issues," Corces said, he had advised Ragano to plead the Fifth Amendment at the Bar hearing to protect himself from self-incrimination later.
To prevent a postponement of the hearing, Freeman ruled that Ragano would not be called to testify for the Bar until completion of his federal trial in Tampa.
Instead, Mary Haire took center stage.
Ragano asked to borrow $100,000 for the Hoffa movie, Mrs. Haire testified, the same morning she was to tell a Dade City jury she had shot her husband of 28 years, Ford dealer Ernie Haire Jr., in self-defense.
Ragano's request also came just after the Land O'Lakes mother of three had been released from the hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown upon hearing the testimony of a surprise witness - Ernie Haire's mistress.
Mrs. Haire agreed to make the loan. On June 2, 1983, less than a month after being acquitted of murdering her husband, she had Ragano sign a one-year note for a $75,000 loan and agreed to buy a $25,000 interest in the Hoffa film.
But the year passed, demand letters were written to Ragano, a lawsuit was filed and, in December 1987, a settlement was reached, but the $75,000 was never repaid, Mrs. Haire said.
"He wouldn't give me a dime on anything; he'd buy lunch, and that was it," Mrs. Haire said. "He said he'd been a millionaire once and was going to be a millionaire again, and he was going to do what he had to do to make this movie."
Mrs. Haire also said Friday that Ragano: Demanded 10 percent of the $1.5-million in Ernie Haire's life insurance policies. She said other lawyers did most of the work for the insurance recovery, and Ragano's involvement was minimal.
Agreed to seek reimbursement for trial court costs from Pasco County for no fee. When $10,000 was reimbursed, Mrs. Haire said, Ragano only paid her $7,500, and that check bounced.
At the advice of his attorney, Ragano declined comment Friday on the allegations.