ONE MORNING LAST JULY, LINDA (not her real name), a flight attendant, then 36, met a tall, dark stranger in a Marina del Rey, Calif., coffee shop. According to Linda’s court testimony, he introduced himself as Gino Sorelle. “This is very awkward for me,” he said. “I’ve seen you a couple times, and I’d like to know if you’d like to have an authentic dinner with an authentic Italian.” Interested in Italy, where she planned to travel with her sister, Linda cautiously accepted his invitation. “He offered to pick me up, but I don’t let anybody come to my house,” she told the court.
Instead, Linda took her own car that evening. At a local restaurant, Gino regaled her with tales of his days as a student at the University of Barcelona. She listened patiently until he told her that the Marlon Brando character in The Godfather was based on his own father. From that time on, she said, she began to feel uneasy.
After dinner and a couple of glasses of wine, she remembered thinking, “We should be getting the check any minute.” Her next memory, she said, is of waking up naked in bed with Gino at his apartment. She was confused. “I asked him if we had sex,” she says. No way, he assured her; he claimed she had developed a bad case of the hiccups after dinner. Then, he told her, she passed out, so he put her in bed. Linda had no recollection of any of it. “I knew something had happened,” she testified. “I was taken against my will from the restaurant.” That same day she reported her suspicions to the sheriff’s department.
Weeks later, on Aug. 6, after obtaining a warrant, deputies searched the two-bedroom Marina del Rey apartment of twin brothers George and Stefan Spitzer and discovered seven boxes of Rohypnol, the so-called date rape drug, and more than 20 homemade videos of the Spitzers having sex with at least 12 different women. George Spitzer—”Gino Sorelle”—a former Toyota salesman, was arrested the next day. Before his own arrest, on Aug. 29, Stefan Spitzer confidently told reporters, “None of the girls here in the tapes are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or sedatives. They were, you know, having a good time.”
Some women, vehemently, beg to differ. Authorities have talked to about two dozen women who had various encounters with the handsome 40-year-old brothers; of these, six claimed to have been sexually assaulted by them. Police say the Spitzers drugged women they were dating, took them home and then forced sex on them, possibly videotaping the proceedings. Their trial, scheduled for June 2 in Santa Monica Superior Court, is one of the most notorious to involve Rohypnol, a foreign-manufactured sleep aid and presurgery sedative 10 times stronger than Valium. In one video seized by authorities, the brothers brazenly characterize themselves as the world’s swingingest lovers. “I think of them as sexual predators,” says prosecutor Mary Hanlon Stone, 36. “It chills my blood to think of the things they’ve done.”
The Spitzers are not the first alleged Rohypnol Romeos to be arrested. Although cases of men turning desired paramours into walking zombies with the painkiller—banned in the U.S. but legal until a year ago to bring back from Mexico for personal use—have been cropping up for the past few years, they are especially difficult to prosecute. One reason is that Rohypnol, which takes effect in as little as 15 minutes, is difficult to trace. But in one case, in which a Florida man slipped a Rohypnol tablet, also called a roofie, into the woman’s drink, the victim awoke mid-rape and was able to recount the attack. In a plea bargain, the defendant received an eight-year sentence.
Among the ammunition that prosecutor Stone has against the Spitzers is the deposition of a witness named Mary (not her real name), a single mother who met Stefan at an L.A. health food store in 1993. He called himself Julian and later said he had trained Jean-Claude Van Damme. After a dinner date with Stefan, Mary, who does not drink alcohol, testified she fell into a “dreamlike frame of mind” during a walk. The two picked up George before heading back to the Spitzers’ apartment, where Julian offered Mary a chocolate-covered cherry. Soon afterward she blacked out. She alleges she was sodomized, although she can’t say which brother did it or whether both were involved.
Stone calls this maneuver the Spitzer switch. In another confiscated video, George Spitzer tells the camera that he will substitute for Stefan with a woman his brother is “tired of f–king.” The woman is then seen asking Stefan, who is 15 pounds heavier than George, why he looks so different. “These guys are con artists,” Stone told the court.
Although neither the brothers nor their lawyers responded to repeated requests from PEOPLE for an interview, the twins’ father, Ladislav Spitzer, 76, who lives in Toronto, was willing to discuss his family’s history. According to Ladislav, a Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivor, George and Stefan were born in Bucharest, Romania, to him and his Romanian-Greek wife, Filofdea. Seeking a better life, the family fled Romania in the early ’70s and lived in Israel and Greece before settling—shortly after Filofdea died of cancer—in Canada in 1975. George and Stefan sold clothing and shoes, and Ladislav was a textile-plant controller. “I did everything possible to make them a good life,” he says.
Ladislav says that, during a trip to California in 1981, the twins decided to move to L.A. and become actors. They were less than successful. Upon arriving, both brothers worked briefly for Liberace. (That job ended, says Ladislav, when the twins refused to sleep with their boss.) More recently, Stefan produced a 1996 porno film, Kisses from Romania. Though failures in showbiz—they went on to sell cars for a living—the brothers began playing parts in real life under the names Gino and Julian. “They make up stories,” their father admits, but he denies that they are rapists. “They don’t have to drug, they don’t have to kidnap, they don’t have to rape,” he says. “They are very handsome. Women are happy just to be caressed by them.”
Certainly some women have found them attractive—up to a point. One, an aspiring actress named Raquel (she asked that her last name not be used), worked as an assistant to Stefan, who said he was a filmmaker. Despite his inability to pay her regularly, Raquel started dating him, appreciative of the fact that “he worked out, didn’t do drugs and appeared healthy.” After George’s arrest, she defended the twins on TV. Now, though, she says she was pressured to do so by Stefan, who she claims had raped and impregnated her a month earlier.
Should they be convicted of all charges, George and Stefan Spitzer could spend the rest of their lives in prison. The indictment against George includes five counts of rape by use of drugs and one count of kidnapping for sexual purposes; Stefan stands accused of one count of rape by use of drugs and one count of false imprisonment, among other charges. But because of Rohypnol’s effect, the case may not be easy to win, despite the videotapes and the promised testimony of a number of alleged victims. One woman who dated Stefan says that she “nearly fell off the couch” after learning of their arrest from TV. “Ever since then,” she says, “I’ve been banging my head against the wall, trying to remember if I was raped or not.”
JEFF SCHNAUFER in Marina del Rey