Alleged con man’s wife breaks silence. Prosecutors fight to keep computer as child porn evidence

Robert Pearl sits at a table at the Plantation Key Courthouse while his attorney, Jessica Reilly, addresses County Judge Reagan Ptomey.
Robert Pearl sits at a table at the Plantation Key Courthouse while his attorney, Jessica Reilly, addresses County Judge Reagan Ptomey.

The wife of a man on trial on kiddie-porn charges is cooperating with prosecutors in their effort to keep the man's computer as key evidence against him.

Robert Pearl, 41, faces several counts of child pornography based on images found on his work computer that he used when he was the manager of Gilbert's Resort in Key Largo from 2012 to early 2013.

But his defense attorneys, Jiulio Margali and Jessica Reilly, want Monroe County Judge William Reagan Ptomey to not allow the computer to be used as evidence because they say the warrant obtained to seize the laptop was unlawfully obtained.

Pearl's story is a twisted tail that goes far beyond allegedly being caught with child pornography. His is an odyssey of grift that took him from California to the Keys and several places in between, leaving a trail of tears, fake identities and emptied bank accounts along the way.

The child-porn images are the felonious bow on what prosecutors hope is a gift that almost fell into police hands by accident. Without those disturbing photos, Pearl was looking at little more than time served for basically having a fake ID.

That's what happened to his wife, Tamara Asada, who is speaking publicly for the first time since the two were arrested in February 2013. She pleaded guilty to possessing a fake license and was set free in October that year. She says she had no idea that her husband was the con artist and sexual predator cops, prosecutors and his alleged victims say he is.

Asada, who does not want specific details of her ordeal to be public, said her marriage to Pearl was a confusing life of elaborate deception, broken promises and emotional abuse that has left her traumatized to this day. Asada said she didn't realize until she was out of jail the extent of Pearl's alleged crimes.

She and Pearl were arrested because a Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy responding to a vandalism complaint at Gilbert's that was called in by Pearl in September 2012 thought his driver's license looked suspicious.

The deputy initially ran a criminal background search of the name on the ID, Robert Trotter, and nothing came back. Three weeks later, the deputy checked the name with a state and federal database. He could not find anyone with the name Robert Trotter with the same birth date on the license. Nevertheless, no action was taken when he reported the possibility of a fake identification to county detectives.

Break in case

In February, Gilbert's then-owner Reinhard Schaupp contacted a deputy saying he thought Pearl, who he knew as Robert Trotter, was stealing from the business. Schaupp said he did not want to file a police report, but he did give deputies all the photocopied identities Pearl and Asada gave him when they applied for employment.

Again, deputies could not find anyone matching Pearl's and Asada's bogus identities.

Deputies say they needed Pearl's computer to ascertain his real name. They received a warrant for the laptop. They tried giving the computer to the U.S. Secret Service to examine the hard drive. but the agency declined.

After the computer sat in a Sheriff's Office evidence room for several months, deputies gave it to Michael Brabham, a communications contractor hired by Gilbert's, who found the child porn images. He downloaded the photos to a thumb drive, which he gave to police.

Pearl has been sitting in county jail ever since, but his attorneys said the warrant for the computer was obtained under false pretenses.

Detectives applied for the warrant at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 13, 2013, stating in the application they needed to find out who Pearl really was. But Margali argues the detectives already knew that information. The FBI had called detectives at 7:49 p.m. and identified both Pearl and Asada.

"Therefore, the search warrant was issued without probable cause," Margali wrote in a motion to suppress the computer as evidence.

Margali and Reilly also said Brabham corrupted evidence on the hard drive after uninstalling it from Pearl's laptop, installing it in another computer and loading the images to the thumb drive.

"There exists no chain of command for the laptop computer, therefore, any evidence gathered there from is inadmissible as fruit of another illegal search," Margali and Reilly wrote.

The defense's motion was scheduled for a hearing Tuesday. Asada was among the witnesses scheduled to testify for the prosecution, but Ptomey continued the hearing to June 3 because Brabham did not show up.

Continent-spanning cons

Before Pearl and Asada got jobs at Gilbert's, a bar, hotel and marina under the Jewfish Creek Bridge, they were reportedly at the end of a campaign of cons that started in California and ended in North Carolina. Asada maintains that she, too, was being conned by Robert. She said she believed he was involved in a series of legitimate business ventures that went sour.

Pearl's alleged scams were so elaborate that he almost convinced officials from several North Carolina counties that he was a representative from a Botswana gem company looking to open a facility in the state.

The officials never gave Pearl money, but for several weeks, they wooed him with meals and travel hoping theirs would be the county chosen to open the facility. The scheme almost worked until someone discovered Pearl and Asada were wanted on credit card fraud charges in California.

Pearl also faces federal charges in Indiana stemming from a case in which he allegedly convinced investors there that he had connections with Apple Computers and was opening an Apple Store in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The ruse lasted about six months. An attorney for investors Pearl allegedly swindled thought things Pearl said didn't add up. The attorney, John Bowers, confronted Pearl, and he and Asada skipped town, leaving the investors out several hundred thousand dollars.