Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lawyers Seek To Block Death Penalty In Genovese Family Whacking

Two defendants from Western Massachusetts and a New York City crime boss are still facing the death penalty in connection with two alleged murder plots in 2003, while a fourth defendant skirted capital punishment by fleeing to Italy before charges were brought earlier this year, according to lawyers in the case.

Lawyers for brothers Fotios and Ty Geas, accused of helping plot the murders of mob boss Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno and ex-convict Gary D. Westerman traveled to Washington on Nov. 1 to argue to U.S. Justice Department officials that their clients should be spared lethal injection if convicted.

Attorneys for Arthur Nigro, the alleged former acting boss of the New York-based Genovese crime family, have a separate meeting scheduled to make a similar statement.

Italian-born Emilio Fusco – a Longmeadow resident savvy enough to flee to his native country before charges were brought against him – will dodge the same potential fate even though the accusations against him are identical.

“The (U.S.) attorney general has determined that the death penalty is not being sought against (Fusco),” said William Aronwald, Fusco’s defense lawyer in New York, where indictments against the four were unsealed in U.S. District Court tin Manhattan on July 23.

Fusco, 42, was arrested a week later by Italian authorities posing as utility workers in Sorrento, a town of 16,500 in southern Italy where he had been hiding. He has been imprisoned there while Italian and American officials sort out the matter of the potential penalties he faces if extradited to the United States for prosecution.

 “We are the only western country that is barbaric enough to have the death penalty, and European countries will not grant extradition to a country where the accused may face the death penalty,” Aronwald said earlier this week.

A lawyer for Fotios Geas, Harvey Fishbein, said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has up to 60 days to decide whether to seek the capital punishment for the remaining so-called “death-eligible” defendants.

They are scheduled to be tried in the federal court in Manhattan starting March 8. Whether the government decides to pursue the death penalty for any of the defendants, and whether Fusco’s return to the U.S. is delayed, could affect the trial date.

While New York state abolished its capital punishment statute, certain federal crimes still can trip a lethal injection, namely, murder in aid of racketeering and murder to obstruct justice, both of which are included in a lengthy criminal indictment against the men.

The Bruno and Westerman prosecutions originated in Springfield when Westerman, a low-level mob associate, disappeared in early November 2003, and Bruno, the region’s ranking mob boss, was gunned down in a parking lot outside his regular Sunday night card game later that month.

The investigation has taken countless twists ever since.

Investigators charged the gunman, Frankie A. Roche, in Hampden Superior Court in 2007. Roche, 36, a tattooed fringe player, ultimately told federal investigators Fotios Geas paid him $10,000 to kill Bruno, 57, and pave the way for a new power elite (such as it was) in local organized crime.

Roche struck a deal with federal prosecutors, implicating Fotios Geas, and averting the death penalty in U.S. District Court, Springfield. Roche has been held in witness protection since pleading guilty to murder in 2008.

Fotios Geas, 42, was poised to be tried for murder in U.S. District Court last March. However, just before the trial, the case was transferred to the New York court and five more men have since been charged in the Westerman and Bruno plots.

The indictment states the Geases, Fusco and Bruno’s successor, Anthony J. Arillotta, a reputed “made man” in the Genovese family, went on a violent tear in 2003 to brand themselves as the new guard.

The charges state they viewed Bruno as a weak leader and suspected he was a government informant. Similarly, there was a theory that Westerman was a police informant, and as a former co-defendant of Fotios Geas in a truck heist and Arillotta’s brother-in-law, may have run afoul of the mob crew in a number of ways.

Westerman’s remains were unearthed in April in Agawam by FBI agents and state police in 8-foot makeshift grave in . His body had been buried nearly seven years earlier in the wooded area off Springfield Street, according to investigators. He had been shot twice in the head.

Nigro, and another aging Western Massachusetts gangster, Felix L. Tranghese, were charged as those who allegedly sanctioned the pair of killings. Investigators say Nigro also ordered the murder of a union official in New York the same year, but the man survived after being shot through his car window several times. The defendants have also been charged in connection with that.

Despite seven men facing indictment for the alleged murders, it appears likely only four will be at the defense table while the remaining three are expected to take the witness stand for the government.

The prosecution’s prime witnesses against the Geases, Nigro and Fusco are expected to be:

• Arillotta, 41, of Springfield, who ascended to power after Bruno was killed. Arillotta was a longtime ally of Bruno who made a sanctioned bid for Bruno’s spot. He was arraigned on murder and racketeering charges in March, but disappeared from the federal prison system into witness protection the following day. Investigators began digging for Westerman’s body days after Arillotta went underground. The Geases were labeled by law enforcement as his closest associates and “the muscle” behind the power play.

• Tranghese, 58, of East Longmeadow, was charged along with Fusco and Ty Geas in indictments in July. He had not been charged with a crime since the early 1980s when he served prison time for gaming and loan-sharking. Still, investigators say he also was a “made man” and maintained power quietly over the years until Arillotta’s crew put him on the back bench in 2006. He went the way of Arillotta, disappearing from prison system the day after his arraignment. Sources familiar with the case say he is cooperating with federal investigators and will likely appear on the government witness list at trial.

• Roche, formerly of Westfield, was the first to turn against his future co-defendants. Court records have shown he and his wife were paid more than $100,000 in relocation costs by the government in exchange for his cooperation. A state murder case and other charges against him were recently dismissed in Hampden Superior Court, according to assistant district attorney Carmen W. Picknally. Roche also was paid $150,000 in a civil settlement by the FBI after he was accidentally shot in the back during his arrest in Florida in 2005.

• John Bologna, age unknown, a New York resident, has reportedly pleaded guilty in a closed proceeding to Bruno’s murder and other charges, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Bologna, or “Big John,” as he was called, appeared on the local scene in 2002, overseeing shakedowns of local bar owners for mob higher-ups in New York. Often spotted by state police investigators surveilling Bruno and Arillotta, Bologna abruptly stopped coming as soon as police sought court approval to bug Arillotta’s car, prompting grumbling among state police that he had been tipped.

Several sources with knowledge of the investigation say Bologna was a confidential informant for the FBI as far back as the 1990s.

Frederick Cohn, a second defense lawyer for Fotios Geas, said he expects the four will be among the weapons in the government’s arsenal at trial.

“None, of whom appear to be very frightening, I might add,” said Cohn. “Those are the ones who appear obvious to us, but there may be more because the government may be hiding them.”

Prosecutors in New York have refused to comment on the case.



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