Lake Worth attorney Timothy McCabe packed a suitcase for a routine overnight trip to Tampa early on the Tuesday morning after Easter. It was nothing unusual. His foreclosure defense clients were scattered statewide and he sometimes traveled for court hearings.
Then he vanished, his law firm’s bank accounts drained of millions of dollars.
Friends, clients and colleagues have since churned over every detail of the days leading to McCabe’s disappearance, searching for clues in his actions, their conversations, anything that would push the 55-year-old to suddenly leave his wife and three girls — the oldest barely a teenager — with such a burden to bear.
By all accounts, McCabe was a doting husband and father, a Catholic, who counseled younger colleagues to turn their cellphones off between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. for family time, a loving son who was devastated last April when his mother died, a smart guy who graduated magna cum laude from the College of Holy Cross.
He seemed an unassuming man who lived in an unexceptional Boca Raton home.
But the image emerging since his disappearance is more complicated. And it starts with emails he sent that same Tuesday at 4:32 p.m. to his colleagues and seven minutes later to his wife.
“I have done things unknown to any of you that have been financially devastating,” he wrote to his law partner Steve Samiljan and two employees in a message introduced by the subject line “absence.” “I made people millions of dollars the past several years (they know who they are) but none for us.”
The Boca Raton Police Department, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and FBI are all investigating, but the few details revealed so far have come mostly from friends and a Florida Bar investigation that led to McCabe’s emergency suspension from practicing law Thursday.
A longtime friend and client, Marie Pupke, said McCabe told one of his daughters that he would be back in two months, and in his emails he said he is trying to set things right “over the next few days.” A colleague said that McCabe had a round-trip ticket booked to Costa Rica during the week he disappeared, but that he never made the plane — a tip that purportedly came when a travel agent called to inquire about the missed flight.
And there are reports of unpaid debts on personal loans. Boynton Beach resident Howard Ginsberg told a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy that he loaned McCabe $200,000 seven years ago and had been collecting repayment plus interest every month.
A handful of McCabe’s clients have retained Fort Lauderdale attorney Jeffrey Sonn, who specializes in investment fraud. From his preliminary investigation of the case, Sonn said McCabe may have been operating a Ponzi scheme, getting people to invest in real estate or other companies and sending them monthly returns that he couldn’t keep up.
“The last time he came to my house, he told me he had made some sort of an investment and that if it did not pay off, his life would be over,” said Pupke, who said she has more than $1 million invested with McCabe. “I don’t know this side of Tim. I know an upstanding man.”
The fact that something was amiss on April 2 was quickly evident.
In the time it took McCabe’s wife, Donna McCabe, to drive her children to school, McCabe had placed the deed to the house signed over to her where she could find it. He took off a religious piece of jewelry he always wore, but a rosary that his deceased mother had given him was missing. He left $9,000 in proceeds from the sale of his car, according to Pupke.
While the general belief has been that McCabe ran off with millions of dollars, Shane SantaCroce, who worked for McCabe for two years, said Samiljan told him that McCabe lost the money in business ventures. Samiljan is under investigation by the Florida Bar for accounting practices that came to light after McCabe’s disappearance.
“I thought, ‘What the hell could he have gotten himself into,’” said SantaCroce about McCabe. “To know he had such a separate life is hard to grasp.”
Florida Department of State records show McCabe as the manager or corporate officer of several companies, including his business Ringstar Inc. with world kick-boxing champion Steve Shepherd. McCabe is listed as CEO of Ringstar, which makes specialized fighting shoes and gear.
McCabe is also listed as manager of companies including Black Ball LLC, Safety Kick LLC, Defense Services Group LLC and the Cruise Superstore LLC. The Cruise Superstore is a Deerfield Beach-based company incorporated in November that books discounted cruises, according to its website. Its phone wasn’t answered Friday..
And there were other investments, such as the purchase of thousands of dollars in Iraqi currency, SantaCroce said.
“I got the impression that he was into some strange stuff,” said Palm Beach Gardens-based Realtor Vickie Meyer, who has clients who lost tens of thousands of dollars they had in escrow with McCabe’s firm. “With the shoe company, it was like, ‘what the heck is this?’”
SantaCroce said McCabe told him he didn’t want to do foreclosure defense anymore. The Florida Bar was pursuing disciplinary action against McCabe in relation to an end-run he attempted on the bank in his own foreclosure case. McCabe had at least two investment properties in foreclosure.
On March 27, less than a week before McCabe sent the cryptic emails, the Bar filed a formal complaint to the Florida Supreme Court that also named Samiljan.
Still, SantaCroce said they had just opened a new business, hired employees and moved into a new office — not something a man readying to run away would do in SantaCroce’s mind. The Defense Services Group, which was incorporated in July last year, lists the same Deerfield Beach address in state records as the Cruise Superstore.
“Myself, friends and family are all out money,” said SantaCroce about losing money to McCabe. “At the same time, I knew Tim to be a good man.”
Email sent to colleages April 2:
I love each of you. You are all victims of my very bad business decisions. I have done things unknown to any of you that have have been financially devastating. I am trying to set it right over the next few days. I am to solely blame for any wrongdoing that may be discovered at the firm. I hope and pray that I may set this right within the next few days. I will contact you later this week. I believe it will be resolved. I am truly sorry for any pain that I may have caused to you or your families. If I can not set this right then I will set my affairs in order. It was never my intent to harm any of you in any way. I have done so many things and kept them secret from each of you and my wife. If I can rectify them this week so be it. If not then I alone should suffer any consequences. I can without reservation say that none of you had any idea what I was doing secretly. I assure you that it was not for personal gain. I have left my wife and children without penniless. I have ruined their lives and yours. I made people millions of dollars the past several years (they know who they are) but none for us. I am truly sorry. May have God have mercy on my sole. Please forgive me. Tim
Oct. 12, 2012: Final foreclosure judgment in favor of the bank is made on one of the McCabe’s investment properties. It is dismissed following a short sale.
Dec. 19, 2012: A home equity loan of $386,000 is paid off on McCabe’s primary residence.
March 27: Florida Bar sends formal complaint to the Florida Supreme Court regarding McCabe’s actions in his own foreclosure case. That case is still pending.
March 28: Warranty deed signed to make Donna McCabe sole owner of Boca Raton home.
March 29: Client and friend Marie Pupke speaks with McCabe for the last time before his disappearance. She’s concerned about escrow money and tells him she’ll see him in the office April 2.
April 2: McCabe packs suitcase for an overnight trip to Tampa for a hearing.
April 2, 4:30 p.m.: McCabe sends e-mails to his wife and colleagues saying he’s had secret dealings that have been financially ruinous, and that he’s trying to “rectify” the situation.
April 3: Law office partner Steve Samiljan has someone check the firm’s bank accounts, which are missing between $3 million and $4 million.
April 4: Samiljan asks for advice from his attorney on how to notify the Florida Bar.
April 5: Samiljan contacts the Florida Bar.
McCabe’s wife files a missing person’s report with the Boca Raton Police Department.
McCabe calls his best friend, David Rorabeck, and tells him he’s depressed about his financial situation. Rorabeck tells the Boca Raton police, who tell him the call came from North Carolina.