Vanity Press

Dapper in his suit and freshly shined shoes, Marcus Giavanni strides into the New Times offices with his wife Celina and 6-month-old son, Atouro.

He's also proudly toting a 484-page hardcover book entitled Nelson vs. the United States of America: A System in Denial, which went into print late last year. Published by G&B Publishing of Phoenix, it has to be one of the most elaborately constructed vanity books around.

Giavanni says it cost seven of his friends $350,000 for the first printing of 5,000 copies.

"Everyone who put money into this has been burned by the government somehow," he says, not wishing to divulge more, "and they wanted me to get my story out in all its details. I'm not a writer, but I guess I am an author. I'd wake up, go to the computer and start piecing the story together, inch by inch."

It's been more than six years since the Phoenix native -- then a 33-year-old known as Mark Nelson -- had been around the newsroom.

He was far more haggard then, as he tried to convince anyone who would listen that he'd been wrongly accused in a doozie of a high-profile extortion scheme.

The headline in a page-one Arizona Republic story on February 21, 1992, summarized the crime in which Giavanni allegedly had been involved:

"Two held in kidnap-maiming plot. Ring threatened to cut off boy's arms. More arrests likely."

It described how FBI agents had arrested two men allegedly linked to a $250,000 blackmail plot that involved the 12-year-old son of a Paradise Valley businessman. The businessman had gotten a letter in which anonymous bad guys had vowed to kidnap the boy and amputate his legs if the payoff didn't happen.

The FBI arrested three men, including Giavanni, within a few days. The Republic lauded the agency in an editorial that concluded, "One of the best-trained police agencies in the world is quietly doing its job."

Giavanni spent about a week behind bars, then was released on house arrest pending trial on charges of conspiracy and mailing the threatening letter.

Then a housepainter and aspiring rock-concert promoter, Giavanni described how he'd lost many friends and business opportunities as he awaited trial.

"They've got no case against me because I'm innocent," he repeated over and over.

Remarkably, it turned out that Giavanni was right. According to a 1993 New Times story on the case ("Innocent Bystanders," February 24, 1993), he and another co-defendant had been the victims "of tunnel-visioned agents with overactive imaginations, of a bullheaded prosecutor with a controversial track record, and of some remarkably unlucky coincidences."

On the eve of trial in January 1993, federal prosecutors dropped all charges against two of the three men, including Giavanni -- who literally had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Giavanni had been in the proximity of a Saguaro Lake boat ramp where the businessman was supposed to find further payoff instructions.

(The third arrestee pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison.)

But Giavanni wasn't content to disappear into obscurity after his unwanted 15 minutes of infamy. Instead, he sued the government, losing before trial, he says, due to his attorney's incompetence.

Then, after relocating to Virginia Beach, Virginia, he resolved to sort out the whole story, bolstered by a slew of previously unreleased FBI documents that he obtained through his civil suit.

And Giavanni's conclusion, according to his opus:

"Government officials, sworn to protect and serve us and whose wages are paid by taxpayers, can and do commit unconscionable and devastating acts of falsehood with little or no negative repercussions."

He appeared recently on the Jim Bohannon Show, a nationally syndicated overnight radio program, and says, "I think I did really good, based on the number of calls I got. I've uncovered a lot of stuff about the case that is really scary."

Of the 5,000 copies, Giavanni says he's given away about 1,500 and sold about 500 so far. He and his young family are traversing the nation by car seeking publicity.

"Nobody wants to go against the system," he says, in parting. "I wasn't looking to fight nobody. But they made me, and here I am."

Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: [email protected]

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin