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Flowers For Mrs. Luskin
Who ordered the deadly delivery
for the millionaire's wife?
THE DIVORCE FROM HELL
-- Tropic Magazine,
The Miami Herald
FLOWERS FOR MRS. LUSKIN begins with a flower delivery to the best house in the best part of Hollywood, Florida.
Inside, Marie Luskin was cautious; her husband Paul used to send her flowers but those days had ended more than a year before when she filed for divorce.
She thought it was safe to open the door just enough to accept the pot of azaleas.
She was wrong.
The delivery was a ruse; the man pointed a gun at her and demanded her money and jewelry.
When he left, she fell to the floor, bloodied, thinking he'd hit her with the gun.
Over 40 years, Paul's family had built a business called Luskin's from one store in Baltimore into a chain of consumer electronics stores in Florida.
Coming of age, Paul was taking it over, to run.
He'd already made his first million, and he and Marie were living a life their friends admired.
But between them all was not well.
Then Paul's high school girlfriend moved to town with her husband, and sparks rekindled.
When Marie discovered it she threw Paul out of the house.
For a moment it looked like they would reunite.
She asked Paul to move back in at the end of the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest sale day of the year.
But that was a ruse, too.
That day at the store, her attorneys served him the divorce.
Marie's attorneys were aggressive.
Accusing Paul's parents of shielding his assets, they asked the judge for everything he had -- and even everything his parents had.
And a year later, it looked like Marie would get it.
The divorce was overwhelming and compound stress.
Three times Marie had him arrested for not paying his very high support payments exactly on time; the judge had frozen his assets, and his dad had asked him to leave his high-paying job because he couldn't concentrate both on it and the divorce.
Marie's attorneys wanted Paul's mom to testify for days about the business's finances, but because she had a blood clot that stress could loosen and become lethal, Paul's family asked them to lay off her.
Not long after came the flower delivery.
The Feds indicted Paul for attempted murder-for-hire.
They told the jury:
A Luskin's employee called his brother in Baltimore who was a mob guy, who got someone to come to Hollywood to kill Marie.
Although she thought the gunman hit her with the gun, actually he really shot her -- his bullet grazed her head.
Paul was convicted and sentenced to prison for 35 years.
In prison, Paul married his high school girlfriend.
To me, they protested so insistently that there was no murder-for-hire that it seemed something was truly wrong.
I eventually found there had been a murder plot--but the real question was, who had asked the Luskin's employee to call his brother in Baltimore?
A flipped witness said "Mr. Luskin" ordered the murder.
In his earliest statements, he wasn't more specific than that.
The prosecutor naturally assumed that meant Paul.
But there was a better case that "Mr. Luskin" was Paul's dad.
As a result of his son's divorce he lost his whole business, owed Marie $11 million he didn't have and was facing jail for contempt of court for not paying her, and so had to leave the country.
At the story's turning point, "Mr. Luskin" had to choose between two untenable outcomes: the death of the elder Mrs. Luskin or the younger.
But prosecutors also were forced to make a tragic choice.
Without certainty of which "Mr. Luskin" it was, did they choose the wrong one?
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