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The 'Cotton Club' Killing : Five years after the bullet-riddled body of a flamboyant New York producer was discovered in a remote canyon of Los Angeles County, sheriff's homicide detectives arrested a woman and four men in the case linked to a squabble over financing the movie, 'Cotton Club.'

October 09, 1988|TED ROHRLICH and DAVID TREADWELL | Times Staff Writers

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Long just a sleepy town in rural south-central Florida that swelled each winter with the influx of vacationers, Okeechobee in recent years has become a center for the lucrative drug-smuggling trade. Planes loaded with contraband land in isolated fields in the county or on the lake, which is almost 50 miles wide and covers a half-million acres.

Still, it was a shock to learn about Larry Greenberger.

Larry was the scion of an old and respected local family, and few, if any, residents suspected that he was a big-time cocaine dealer.

To all outward appearances, he and his wife, Lanie, were just a well-to-do loving couple living in a fine home with her son, whom Larry reportedly had adopted.

Just Plain Folks

Larry had his real estate and billboard businesses; Lanie ran a plastic surgery referral service. They patronized local stores, sent their 6-year-old son to the local school.

They lived high on the hog, it was true. Their son, Dax, regaled schoolmates about trips to Spain. But they were not otherwise pretentious or ostentatious, and Lanie always had time to chat.

"She was always in here, and just as sweet and nice as she could be," said Mary Porter, who runs a dry cleaning business. She recalled that Lanie sometimes would stay and have a glass of the sweetened iced tea with lemon that Porter serves to refresh her customers. "She was never in a hurry to go. She was very classy, very feminine, with a soft, little voice and a very Southern drawl. . . . I was never so fooled in my life."

Porter and the rest of Okeechobee learned some very different truths about Larry and Lanie three weeks ago, when Larry was found shot to death on the front porch of his house.

Lanie reported his death as a suicide. But the sheriff's department said it just looked that way. They said that Larry had been murdered. And that his death was not Lanie's first brush with murder.

Dealer in Cocaine

Lanie, they had learned during their investigation, had once been a major cocaine dealer in her own right in Los Angeles, and was wanted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for the 1983 murder of New York theatrical producer Roy Radin--whose decomposed bullet-riddled body was found in a remote canyon after he declined to cut Lanie in on his deal to finance the movie, "Cotton Club."

After Lanie's arrest last week for the Radin murder, kind words in Okeechobee evaporated. People started calling her the "black widow," the "coke whore," the "bimbo from hell."

In Los Angeles, a detailed picture of her earlier life emerged in sheriff's investigative reports filed in court in the Radin case. These documents tell the story of a woman bent on forging a link between two volatile worlds--illegal drugs and movie making--and determined to let nothing get in her way.

Ironically, they indicate she was engaged in greedy squabble for rights to a picture that turned out to be a critical and box office bomb.

What follows is based on those reports, which recount numerous interviews with witnesses:

Lanie, strikingly elegant at 36, had two residences in Los Angeles--one for movies, one for drugs.

She owned a house on a secluded cul de sac in Sherman Oaks, where her safes contained hundreds of thousands of dollars that she gathered selling cocaine, mainly by the kilogram, to lesser dealers.

She also had an apartment in Beverly Hills that she used to throw parties for a fast-living show business crowd.

One thing about Lanie was that she believed in her own product. She used cocaine herself--a lot of it. And she shared easily--pulling out her compact to snort with friends.

She told casual friends that she was legitimate--that the expensive clothes and the jewelry, the Porsches, the Jaguar, the Cadillac, the cocaine and the rented private jets came from profits she made importing gems. Sometimes she said she was a dress designer--the owner of a successful Las Vegas boutique. Sometimes she said she was an interior decorator. Other times, she said her money came from ex-husbands. There were six of them, she said.

But some of her friends guessed that her money came from drugs--specifically from her connection to a man she apparently met before Greenberger--Milan Bellechesses, a reputed drug runner living in Miami whose own lawyer once likened him to the violent gangster character portrayed by Al Pacino in the movie "Scarface."

Bellechesses, who is now awaiting trial on drug smuggling charges in Ft. Lauderdale, was the father of Lanie's son, she told intimates.

Lanie, who was known in those days as Lanie Jacobs, moved to Los Angeles to distribute drugs for Bellechesses in late 1982.

Bellechesses got his drugs from Colombians in Miami, according to a man who said he drove them west for him and handed them to her.

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