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

Monday, September 12, 2011

As Al Bruno and Whitey Bulger cases show, mobsters will cooperate and aid prosecutors

Once and still the backbone of Mafia prosecutions everywhere, the FBI’s use of confidential informants is becoming the worst-kept secret in the U.S. Department of Justice.
As more and more gangsters turn government witnesses when faced with lengthy or lifetime prison sentences, their transformations are revealed in public courtrooms. The seemingly most impenetrable soldiers tell stories from the witness stand in exchange for shorter prison sentences, indicating the shift from Omerta – the Mafia’s code of silence – to informant isn’t so difficult after all.
And, with the capture of James “Whitey” Bulger, never has the government’s handling of confidential informants had a higher profile. Bulger’s apprehension in California this summer, 17 years after he fled prosecution in Boston based on a tip from his FBI handler, stunned the nation.
Bulger, 82, now faces prosecution for 19 murders, and many wonder what the former “upper echelon” informant who became one of the FBI’s biggest black eyes will have to tell a jury – or the new generation of the FBI – about the secrets he harbored for the bureau and those it harbored for him.
“It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say. I’m sure he knows about a lot of skeletons,” Springfield defense lawyer Linda J. Thompson said.
As the head of the Winter Hill Gang in Boston, Bulger traded protection for his own rackets as he fed information to the FBI about the Italian-based Patriarca family to his handler, disgraced agent John Connolly.
The now 71-year-old former Boston agent is serving 10 years in prison for racketeering charges related to tipping Bulger and fellow gangster Steven “The Rifleman” Flemmi to pending charges.
The Bulger scandal broke in the late 1990s, prompting calls for FBI reforms in the way it treats its confidential informants, a Congressional committee to probe the bureau’s practices and a criminal prosecution focusing on Connolly.
Bulger’s capture revived the dialogue and questions about whether federal agents have improved policies on dealing with informants – which is a slippery slope, since the most effective ones are already immersed in the criminal world.
“The really good FBI agents are the ones who have those sources on the street,” said lawyer John Pucci, a former federal prosecutor in Philadelphia and Springfield who now practices law in Northampton.
“Typically the best dialogue (between law enforcement and criminals) is on the street. Because once they’re being prosecuted for something, you can’t negotiate except through their lawyers.”
Pucci believes the FBI has tightened up its policies around informant handling since the Bulger implosion, but others disagree.
“Testimony is totally unreliable when it’s purchased from people who are criminals. And I don’t think we ever get full disclosure of what consideration informants get,” said Thompson.
She once represented Brandon Croteau, charged in the state prosecution of the case regarding regional capo Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno in Hampden Superior Court. The case against Croteau was ultimately dropped.
According to court records, “payment” includes actual cash payments for low-income drug informants making “controlled buys” on the street, clothing, cell phones, cars, and very often relocation money for informants who get exposed in court filings, on the witness stand or through other means.
But most often, the most coveted commodity state and federal prosecutors have to offer potential turncoats is time.
Particularly in the world of organized crime, the worst-case scenario for wiseguys once was a three- to five-year stint behind bars for illegal gambling or loan-sharking. In fact, short jail sentences were rites of passage for respected mob associates and considered a cost of doing business.
However, changes in federal sentencing laws, more creative usage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as the RICO Act, and so-called “repeat offender” prosecutions, have boosted significantly the potential for more lengthy prison terms for convicted mobsters and their henchmen.
“Inarguably there’s been a huge erosion of the code of silence within the mob across the country, of not just made members but high-ranking members,” Pucci said. “As the mob became more drug-oriented and violent, it brought them into a different realm than three, four or seven years. Now they’re looking at 20 years to life, so the equation is dramatically changed.”
Al Bruno Murder Case
May 3, 1993, Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno (center) talks with attorneys in the hallway of the Hampden County Superior Court during a recess in his trial for attempted murder. 
So more and more often, the Feds, not the Mafia, are the ones making offers you can’t refuse.
Case in point: onetime tough guys in the Springfield crew of the New York-based Genovese crime family flipped to be prosecution witnesses soon after their arrests in the 2003 murder of Bruno. When that case finally got to trial in March after an eight-year investigation, informants outnumbered the defendants.
Of eight people who could have been tried for the wide-reaching conspiracy, just three went to trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in March: Fotios and Ty Geas, brothers and former mob enforcers from West Springfield, and former acting New York boss Arthur “Artie” Nigro, of the Bronx, N.Y.
Emilio Fusco, identified as a “made member” in the Genovese family, is slated to be tried in April; Fusco was excluded from the Geas trial because he fled to his native Italy and was only extradited back to the United States in June.
Fusco’s case is set for a pre-trial conference on Sept. 13 – one day after his co-defendants will be sentenced to life in prison in the same courtroom.
During the Geas-Nigro trial, two other “made men” in the Genovese family from Greater Springfield testified for the government: Anthony J. Arillotta, 43, and Felix L. Tranghese, 59.
Frankie A. Roche, formerly of Westfield, also testified under a plea deal and told jurors he shot Bruno in cold blood amid a power struggle that left Arillotta and Tranghese on top, and was blessed by Nigro.
Even federal prosecutors in New York City – where organized crime prosecutions are plentiful – said during the Geas-Nigro trial that it was rare to have two “made members” of the Genovese family testifying about a murder conspiracy.
Of the five New York families, the Genovese clan has historically been the most tight-lipped, with Arillotta being only the fifth turncoat, according to mob historians.
In addition to Bruno’s shooting, the defendants were tried for the grisly murder in Western Massachusetts of organized crime associate Gary D. Westerman, also in 2003, and the near-fatal shooting of Frank Dadabo, a union official from the Bronx.
Arillotta, who in 2003 was formally inducted into the Genovese crime family by Nigro, was heading a violent coup in Greater Springfield’s rackets at the time, with the Geas brothers as his muscle. He became the key witness to the trio of shootings.
Arillotta testified for two days at the trial after pleading guilty to the murders and a litany of other crimes including thwarted murder plots against local bookies, extortion and drug dealing.
In one instance, Arillotta testified that he began extorting strip club owner James Santaniello for payments of $12,000 a month, using Springfield attorney Daniel D. Kelly, a former city councilor, to tote the payments from Santaniello to him and the Geases for nearly two years.
While Kelly was also linked to the Bruno case in a defense motion earlier this year, he faces no charges.
With their convictions, the Geases and Nigro face mandatory life sentences, but Arillotta will surely receive far less prison time.
Tranghese and Roche are similarly situated. In Roche’s case, his wife receives thousands of dollars a month from the federal government in exchange for Roche’s cooperation.
When asked during trial when Roche, who testified he murdered Bruno in cold blood on Nov. 23, 2003, and didn’t even break a sweat, hoped to get out after testifying, Roche coolly replied: “Yesterday.”
Arillotta, 43, was slightly more resistant to direct questions about his expectations of the federal witness protection program, but admitted to defense lawyers during cross-examination that he hoped to get out while he was young enough to have children with his new girlfriend.
Federal law enforcement authorities rarely, if ever, discuss informants, and the full extent of their cooperation typically only comes out at trial. The FBI does not release statistics on how many informants are registered.
Officials also say this is no formula dictating how informants are compensated and the ratio of the breaks they receive in sentencing and other largesse seems largely subjective.
Roche, Arillotta, Tranghese and others were forced to be candid about the full extent of their criminal histories, as well their expectations of the quid pro quo they anticipated from the government for bailing out on their co-conspirators.
Meanwhile, the New York FBI went to great lengths to protect another witness: New York gangster John Bologna. Court records show Bologna had been a secret informant for the Feds since the 1990s.
Lawyers in the Bruno prosecution, which originated in Springfield and migrated to New York in 2009, feel the prosecution moved to the Empire State because Bologna was their witness and was emerging as problematic – thus embarrassing to the government.
“I think that was part of the reason the case was transferred, because the FBI wanted to protect some of their informants,” said Fotios Geas’ former lawyer, David P. Hoose, of Northampton.
FBI documentation that became public during the trial showed Bologna first began telling his “handler” in New Jersey about extortion schemes in Springfield in 2003, but claimed to have no part in them.
Bologna remained an informant after Bruno’s death, ultimately admitting he was an integral part of the plot against Bruno, green-lighted by Nigro, who was Bruno’s boss in New York. Bologna ultimately had scant public exposure and pleaded guilty in a closed hearing under a cooperation deal with prosecutors, court records show.
He also pleaded guilty to other crimes involving rampant extortion schemes of Springfield business owners during 2003.
Massachusetts State Police investigators were at the time investigating those schemes and asked New York authorities about Bologna – who had been traveling to Springfield to move around with Bruno and Arillotta every weekend for months, according to police records. After the inquiries were made, Bologna never returned to the city.
Bruno was killed months later, and Arillotta later testified Bologna was at the center of the conspiracy and acted as Nigro’s sole go-between with Springfield mobsters for all manner of crimes. Bologna was never required to testify at trial, the terms of his deal have not been made public and he has yet to be sentenced.
When asked about the agency’s handling of Bologna as an informant, New York FBI spokesman Jim Margolin confirmed Bologna was an on-again, off-again informant since the 1990s. Margolin was careful to make the distinction between confidential informant and government witness.
“Informants are judged on the value of information they provide, whether they can advance various investigations. Whether they’re being completely honest – it’s not that we don’t care – it’s that we’re focused on independently confirming the legitimacy of the information they provide,” Margolin said.
At any rate, Bologna was certainly spared any public outing until shortly before Arillotta’s arrest last year. Testimony later showed Bologna wore a wire to record conversations with Arillotta as investigators prepared to arrest him in the Bruno conspiracy.
According to those familiar with the investigation, learning of Bologna’s betrayal was among the factors that caused Arillotta to crack and join ranks with the government. That, the prospect of a life sentence and a new romance, according to police.
But the truth of it was, Bologna wasn’t able to prod Arillotta into making incriminating statements on the recordings. Without his own admissions, the case against Arillotta wouldn’t have been an easy one to make at trial, law enforcement sources said.
Transcripts of Recordings
By contrast, a casual conversation Bruno had with an FBI agent in Springfield in 2001 was rather carelessly cited as a source in a federal pre-sentence report for Fusco, who was readying to go to prison for loan-sharking and racketeering convictions in 2003. Fusco promptly circulated the report to gangsters in Springfield and New York, winning support for Bruno’s murder from Nigro.
Bruno never was an actual informant for the government, testimony at the Geas-Nigro trial showed. Court records also revealed that another, unnamed informant, wearing a wire around the city while under investigation for real estate fraud, caught a telling conversation on tape – days before Bruno was killed.
At the behest of the FBI, the still unnamed informant on Nov. 21, 2003, recorded Bruno and Michael Decaro, an organized crime associate from Springfield, discussing Roche. Bruno had threatened Roche to make restitution for a bar fight and word on the street was that Roche was defiant, countering with his own threats.
“He’s got ten guns on him,” a transcript shows Decaro told Bruno.
“And you got twenty five. (Expletive) him up. Don’t take a licking. There’s nothing to it. He can shoot but our barrel can shoot too,” Bruno said.
Court records in the murder case shows Bruno was at one point warned by the FBI that his life was in danger. But not on that day, apparently.
Two days later, Roche got Bruno first.



Post a Comment