Enrico 'Chico' Forti: A divisive case

On 15 June 2000, ex-windsurfing champion and Italian television producer Enrico ‘Chico’ Forti was sentenced to life in prison without parole in Florida for the murder of Dale Pike.

20 years later Italian officials are re-expressing interest.

Four days ago, on 16 July 2020, Italian actor and Director Enrico Montesano held a sit-in in Piazza Montecitorio in Rome. The reason? To get Italian politicians to vocalise their opinions about the case of Enrico Forti.

Matteo Salvini, Federal Secretary of the Lega political party, attended the demonstration and said that the case of Enrico Forti goes beyond Italian politics and that he must be returned home.

Enrico Montesanto and Matteo Salvini in Piazza Montecitorio. Ph: AdnKronos

The political party Fratelli d’Italia , similarly stated on the same day, but in a different location, that “All political forces in a unitary and transversal way are active to commit the Government to do everything possible so that our compatriot can serve the remainder of the sentence here in the homeland.”

So what happened in the case of Enrico Forti and why is his case attracting attention again?

The victim

Image of Dale Pike

The body of Dale Pike was found on Virginia key in Miami, Florida by a beachgoer on 16 February 1998. Pike, a man of 42 when his body was found, was the son of late hotelier Tony Pike who owned Pikes Hotel in Ibiza where the likes of George Michael and Freddie Mercury partied.  

Tony Pike and Freddy Mercury

Freddy Mercury and Tony Pike

Officials confirmed that the cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the back of his head with a calibre 22.

The events before 15 February 1998

The story begins with a real estate deal being made between Tony Pike and Chico Forti.

Tony had signed a contract to sell the Pikes hotel to Chico. The two had met on Williams island in Miami through Tony’s old friend, Thomas Knott. According to Chaive Mesmer, a local shop owner who had briefly been married to Knott, the two had ‘hit it off’ becoming close friends (as reported by CBS).

Nevertheless, Tony had been diagnosed with having AIDS dementia in January 1997, just under a year before the deal was made. This was what propelled Dale to fly from Ibiza to Miami. Brad Pike, brother of Dale and son of Tony, told CBS news that he guessed Dale was suspicious because his father (Tony Pike) was ‘not mentally together’ and that any deal had to be ‘checked and looked at’.

Dale flew into Miami airport on the 15 February 1998 with the intention to meet with Chico and talk about the deal.

The afternoon of 15 February 1998 – Chico’s version

In a version told by Chico Forti to Erin Moriarty of CBS, Chico had organized to pick Dale up from the Miami airport when he had landed. Dale’s flight was late and the two communicated via the airport telecom system for an hour and a half.

Chico stated that he was already pressed for time because he had to pick up his father-in-law from Fort Lauderdale airport, aproximately 25 miles away. 

Eventually the two had connected and Chico said that Dale had requested to stop and buy some cigarettes from a gas station. It was there that Forti mentioned Dale had made a phone call using the phone booth.

Dale then requested if Chcico could drop him off at a party on Key Biscayne. Enrico declined as he had to collect his father-in-law, but dropped Dale off halfway at a high-end restaurant , The Rusty Pelican. Chico said Dale was going with friends of Thomas Knott.

Chico then continued to say that when they arrived at The Rusty Pelican, Dale got into a white Lexus with an unfamiliar driver. He said that not once did they discuss the hotel deal.

Forti did not tell his wife that he had picked up Dale from the airport.

Dale’s body was found less than 24 hours later.

Evidence against Forti

Enrico was found guilty by all jurors for two principal reasons.

Firstly, Chico had told the same lie to the police as he did to his wife: that he did not pick up Dale Pike from the airport.

Secondly, grains of sand matching the beach where Dale's body was found were found in Chico’s car. This evidence was proven by geologist Doctor Maurrasse.

Nevertheless, not everyone involved in Enrico’s case believed that this was enough evidence to sentence him to life in prison.

Lack of further evidence and questionable procedures

In his 2019 three-hour special on the Chico Forti case, Gaston Zama of Le Iene documented information on the inaccuracies on the procedures taken during the trial. Joe Tacopina, Forti’s lawyer and Sean Crawley, ex-NYPD homicide squad captain and consultant on the case, criticized the procedure the justice system had taken with this case.

Check full video from "Le Iene" here.

Tacopina stated that when Forti was initially taken in by the police, they had lied to him intentionally and suggested that Tony Pike had also been found dead. Tacopina went on to surmise that this was to panic Enrico. 

Chico later told Erin Moriarty of CBS that it was in this moment and under those circumstances that he told the lie about not picking up Dale because he realised he was a suspect.

Futhermore, the detectives had reportedly requested that Chico write every single word of a conversation that he had with Tony Pike from 5 months prior on a blank piece of paper. Tacopina quoted ‘it sounds like a comedy but it isn’t’.

Other suspicious procedures, as told by Tacopina, included the illegal act of police driving Forti’s car whilst it was in custody and the police searching for the wrong phone transcripts as to who Dale Pike called at the petrol station phone booth on 15 February 1998.

Detective Carter, who was the same detective that initially interrogated Forti, searched for phone records in February 1999 not February 1998 which was when Dale was murdered. She confessed that she had ‘got the wrong year’. To this day no one knows who Dale Pike called at the petrol station.

Tacopina suggested however, that the real miscarriage of justice occurred when it was supposed that Ira Loewy had forged Chico’s signature on a conflict interest waiver. Loewy was Enrico’s defence attorney but was also working part time as a prosecutor for the same office that was prosecuting Forti.

In order for Loewy to proceed, Forti needed to sign a conflict of waiver. However, Forti denied having visitors on the date that it was signed as the prison was in quarantine because of an epidemic and even denied ever seeing the waiver.

Sean Crawley also communicated that at the beginning of Enrico’s questioning with the police, they had denied him access to an attorney. He said that any statement given during that time was inadmissible as evidence.

An overlooked suspect

Speculations have been made as to whether Tony Pike’s aforementioned friend Thomas Knott was responsible for the death of Dale Pike. Knott had moved from a German prison to Williams island. He was previously convicted of fraud.

Image of Thomas Knott

It had also been discovered that Knott had stolen $45,000 from Tony Pike and Dale Pike knew about it. Albeit a biased statement, Sean Crawley professed in the Le Iene documentary that Thomas Knott fits the profile of Dale Pike’s killer.

Next steps

Whilst bigger steps need to be made, the Italian government is still evidently eager to look into the case of Chico Forti.

In October 2019 Roberto Paccher, President of the Regional Counsil of Trentino Alto-Adige, where Enrico is from, wrote to the Italian President Sergio Mattarella. The letter requested that Mattarella speaks to U.S. officials on the behalf of Chico on his upcoming U.S. trip.

It stated that:

“I take the liberty of turning to your always kind attention to submit a case already present to our Diplomatic Corps. This is one of our compatriots, Enrico Forti, detained following a conviction for murder for almost twenty years. The position and the procedural procedure has left and leaves ample room for doubt about the actual guilt of our compatriot and countless positions have been taken in his favor over these years, without however having any effect. Knowing your exquisite sensitivity, I take the liberty of requesting your direct interest or your Entourage from the US administration in order to obtain at least the repatriation of our compatriot, while maintaining the state of detention, in order to allow family members certainly a more assiduous presence and frequency, also in consideration of their advanced age ”.

On top of this, on 12 May, Italian Minister of Foreign affairs Luigi di Maio tweeted …”There is also the Chico Forti dossier, a priority for us”

Chico Forti is still detained in the South Florida Reception Centre. He has yet never pleaded guilty, if he had he would have been allowed to serve his sentence in Italy.