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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Missing Letter Describes Fate of Franzese Surveillance Records From Storied Bank Robbery Trial

A letter from 1976 written by former District Attorney Bennett Cullison Jr. to Michael B. Pollack, attorney for John “Sonny” Franzese following his 50-year conviction in 1970 for “masterminding” a series of bank robberies, raises questions regarding the fate of surveillance records of the legendary gangster taken by several law enforcement agencies.

Pollack, who has since been disbarred, was not available for comment. As the trial took place about 40 years ago, it has been difficult finding law-enforcement sources to comment. Some key figures involved in the trial have died and long and careful searching failed to turn up any sources' contact info. A voicemail has been left with the press departments of some agencies. This report will be updated if new information arises.

The letter by admits that surveillance records were, as of then, either “destroyed” or in storage in the D.A.’s office, which Cullison had departed to pursue private practice before writing the letter to Pollack.

Franzese was convicted and sentenced to 50 years for managing a series of bank robberies across the nation which were committed in the mid-1960s by John Cordero, Jimmy Smith, Richie Parks and Charles Zaher.

Over the years, high-profile journalists have come forward and expressed doubt regarding the strength of the case against Franzese, whether he was really guilty or a convenient scapegoat, and whether the FBI had overstepped its bounds.

According to an article by J. R. de Szigethy posted on Rick Porrello’s AmericanMafia.com site, former New York Post columnist Jack Newfield had penned a detailed report on various crimes committed by FBI agents to set up Franzese for the bank robbery. "One disturbing aspect of this case was revealed years later when Michael Gillen, the prosecutor made a startling confession to Sidney Zion, the New York Times reporter who covered the trial; 'Gillen admitted to me that he intentionally went drinking with me one night in the hotel bar to keep me distracted while two FBI agents broke into my car and photographed my notes and files.'"

Aside from the media, all four witnesses who had fingered Franzese recanted their testimony at one time or another.

A sworn affidavit by the wife of one of the robbers stated that Franzese and other defendants convicted in the 1967 trial were not involved in the robberies. It also stated that the supposed getaway driver, Anne Messineo, was not the driver at all; she too was framed.

Surveillance evidence, as the letter indicates, was either destroyed or put in storage. It was never turned over to the Franzese defense team, according to sources close to the case. Judge Mishler, a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, who presided over Franzese’s trial, refused to rule in Franzese’s favor after several appeals – one of which included the results of a lie-detector test Franzese had taken and passed -- at Mishler’s own suggestion. No appeal, said Mishler.

Tina Franzese, wife of Sonny Franzese, is still working on appealing the verdict, which she says, “destroyed my family.”

“When Gillen was asked if there were any surveillance records related to Sonny, he said, ‘Nothing that I have received.’

“We started trying to find out what happened to the surveillance records.

“They did such a job on Sonny. He got 50 years, every one else was out in five to six years.

“This letter tells us they all lied when they said there was no surveillance. Michael Pollack knew about this letter, and we never got it.” Tina Franzese believes Pollack buried the letter for any one of a variety of reasons. “We think he used it for his own reasons,” she said.

The reason Franzese’s appeal team wants the surveillance evidence is that they believe it will vindicate the 93-year-old mobster. If it implicated him, Tina said, “they would have showed it in court and gave it to us. 

“If it showed the robbers with Sonny, it would have helped prove their case. But we didn’t get any of it. They denied information to us. Lawyers were denied the material.”

Director/producer Chris Selletti, a friend of the Franzese family, has been assisting Tina in putting together another appeal and is also producing a documentary called “Framed,” which will detail the Sonny Franzese story through reenactments and interviews with people close to the case.

“This letter proves there were surveillance records,” Selletti said.

“Some were destroyed, some were put in storage. Michael Pollack, for some reason, didn’t use them in the appeal.” In fact no one had ever seen the letter from the former D.A. confirming that surveillance records did or still exist until Selletti got hold of several crates of trial transcripts and other materials. He found the letter among the papers.

Tina Franzese said she has affidavits from 500 people who had seen the Franzeses under constant surveillance back in those days, when the robberies were taking place.

A 1975 appeal on Franzese’s behalf was bolstered by the affidavit dated Oct.19, 1974, by Eleanor Cordero, wife of John Cordero, one of the four confessed participants in the robberies. In summation, it reads that the testimony of these four was the principal, indeed almost the sole, basis of the government's case. The thrust of Mrs. Cordero's affidavit was that the 1965 robberies had been committed by some or all of the confessed participants, as testified at the trial, but with Eleanor playing an important role and Anne Messineo playing none (Messineo was named by the robbers as their driver, a role which in fact Eleanor had played). Further, the affidavit stated that Franzese and other defendants convicted in the 1967 trial were not involved in the robberies.

The affidavit went on to say that after the arrest on Oct. 1, 1965, she met with her husband on a number of occasions at the West Street Detention Center and at the office of the Assistant United States Attorney, Mr. Gillen; that "during this time" John told her that he, Parks, Smith and Zaher "concocted a story to involve the Polisis [small-time gangsters of that era] as the masterminds of the robberies" and had substituted Anne Messineo for her "to give further credence to their story, since she (Anne) was associated with the Aqueduct" Motor Inn which Anthony Polisi owned.

Later, when the four learned that the sole benefit they would receive for involving the Polisis was that they would get only 25 years rather than 125, they devised a scheme to implicate Franzese, a gangster of major importance in both the mob and law enforcement. Eleanor Cordero had never met Franzese; John Cordero had never mentioned his name in connection with the robberies in question; there were no floor plans and no central organization devised escape routes or procured stolen cars for the participants' benefit.

The smoking gun in this case, according to Tina Franzese and Chris Selletti, is the letter written and delivered to former Franzese attorney Michael B. Pollack decades ago in answer to a request initially sent to the D.A.’s office by Pollack regarding the status and location of the surveillance evidence gathered for use against Franzese.

During the course of the trial, the D.A.’s office never produced surveillance evidence, relying solely on the words of the four bank robbers, according to Tina Franzese, which agrees with Eleanor Cordero’s affidavit. 

Franzese has spent about 25 of the past 40 years behind bars for the bank robbery conviction back in 1967. Sentenced to 50 years, Franzese served part of his time and was eventually released on parole -- but he was sent back to prison five times for violations.

Last year Franzese was hit with eight years in prison for extorting Hustler and Penthouse magazines for $150,000. With time off for good behavior, the 93-year-old gangster should be out by February 19, 2017, which is his 100th birthday.

Tina also used last year’s trial to distribute a press release about “Framed,” the documentary that Selletti is making about the controversial Franzese bank robbery case.

The film contains interviews with Tina Franzese, among others, and also features re-creations based on affidavits by four trial witnesses who later recanted their testimony and fingered FBI agents as architects of the plot to frame Franzese. A small preview edited from what so far has been shot was shown last November to select members of the media.


Al Bruno murder case goes to jury, with Geas brothers, Artie Nigro facing life sentences

After three weeks of testimony in a Western Massachusetts mob murder case, jurors in a federal court in Manhattan began their deliberations just after 3 p.m. on Thursday.
Facing life sentences if they are convicted on charges of murder, racketeering and extortion are onetime organized crime enforcers Fotios "Freddy" Geas, of West Springfield, Mass., and brother Ty Geas, of Westfield, Mass., along with Arthur "Artie" Nigro, of Bronx, N.Y., reputed former acting boss of the New York-based Genovese crime family.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours before being dismissed. They will resume deliberations Friday at 10 a.m.
Over three weeks, witnesses – including four Mafia turncoats – offered testimony about violent shakedowns from Springfield, Mass., to New York, Connecticut and Florida, plus the grisly murder of Springfield drug dealer Gary D. Westerman in 2003 and the contract hit on Massachusetts mob capo Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno the same year.
Those murders, a third attempted murder of a Bronx union boss and unsuccessful murder plots against Springfield mob associates Guiseppe Manzi and Lou "the Shoe" Santos played out as "an epic spasm of violence" by a crew of young upstarts looking to wrest power from 57-year-old Bruno, according to federal prosecutors.
The violent tear by the Geases and Anthony J. Arillotta, of Springfield, who sought to succeed Bruno as regional boss, with an assortment of minions, was encouraged and endorsed by Nigro, who expected higher “tribute” payments in return, the prosecution says.
Arillotta was the prosecution’s star witness after “flipping” last year and joining forces with the government almost immediately after his arrest.
Over the course of several days on the witness stand, Arillotta dispassionately told jurors of beatings, murders and shake-downs of Western Massachusetts business owners in his pursuit of power, including threatening Springfield vending machine owner Carlo Sarno with “getting runned over 85 times with a car” if he didn’t fork over a chunk of his business.
In another 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.
That and other testimony about Kelly’s alleged interference with witnesses in criminal cases prompted the prosecutor, assistant U.S. attorney Elie Honig, to label Kelly a “corrupt” conduit for the mob during a closing statement to jurors on Wednesday.
Also providing graphic testimony during the trial was Bruno shooter Frankie A. Roche, who also turned government witness when faced with a federal death penalty in 2008. Roche told jurors he relished shooting Bruno six times on Nov. 23, 2003, at the behest of Arillotta and the Geases because Roche had coincidentally gotten into a beef with Bruno over a bar fight two weeks before.
When Geas defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein asked Roche on cross-examination whether his heart beat faster or his palms grew sweaty in a fit of nerves as he filled Bruno with bullets from a .45-caliber gun in a dark parking lot, Roche repeatedly answered: “Nope.”
Defense lawyers skewered Arillotta, Roche and other wiseguys-turned-witnesses during their closing statements to the jury, painting them as opportunists at best and as lying murderers trying to escape the same fate that threatens their clients: lives behind bars.
Frederick Cohn, a lawyer for Freddy Geas, observed that Arillotta would “sell out his own wife and children” and Roche was “reckless ... bordering on insanity.”
Jurors will consider whether Fotios Geas is guilty of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, Bruno’s murder, Westerman’s murder, the attempted murder of union official Frank Dadabo, the plots against Manzi and Santos, extortion, extortion conspiracy and interstate travel in aid of racketeering.
Ty Geas faces the same counts but for interstate travel in aid of racketeering.
Nigro faces charges of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, Bruno’s murder, the attempted murder of Dadabo, the plot against Santos, loan-sharking, extortion conspiracy and interstate travel in aid of racketeering.

Prosecutor's closing argument in Al Bruno murder trial: Geas brothers, Artie Nigro involved in 'epic spasm of violence'

Lawyers for three defendants accused in an organized crime murder and racketeering case in lower Manhattan took their parting shots at the prosecution's prime witnesses: government cooperators who admitted to murder and other misdeeds on the stand in exchange for lighter prison sentences.
Standing trial are jailed Western Massachusetts alleged mob enforcers Fotios "Freddy" Geas, of West Springfield, Mass., and his brother Ty Geas, of Westfield, Mass., along with Arthur "Artie" Nigro, of Bronx, N.Y., the reputed onetime New York Genovese crime family boss. They stand accused of the 2003 murder plot against Springfield, Mass.,Genovese boss Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno, the attempted murder of a union boss the same year and a series of extortion attempts from Springfield to Hartford,
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elie Honig told jurors that the defendants made their marks in the mob world through "an epic spasm of violence" that peaked in 2003, when the Geases and two other mobsters shot, bludgeoned and buried street criminal Gary D. Westerman in an eight-foot grave in Agawam, Mass.
The defense's prime target during closing arguments on Wednesday was Anthony J. Arillotta, of Springfield, Mass., a made man in the Genovese family and onetime sponsor of the non-Italian Geas brothers into the inner circle of the Mafia. Arillotta turned cooperating witness immediately after his arrest in 2010, and spent days on the witness stand telling the panel of a startling array of violence including the murder of Westerman in 2003, who had recently married Arillotta's wife's sister.
In a particularly cringe-inducing moment on the witness stand, Arillotta admitted he had sex with his sister-in-law on two occasions when he and his wife were "separated."
Bobbi Sternheim, a lawyer for Ty Geas, suggested Arillotta was jealous that Westerman had married the woman.
Arilllotta testifed that he, the Geases and a fourth man, Emilio Fusco, killed Westerman on Nov. 4, 2003, because they learned he was a police informant.
Frederick H. Cohn, a lawyer for Freddy Geas, said the notion that he client was part of the mob think tank plotting murders was "a bunch of nonsense," and that Bruno shooter Frankie Roche, who testified the Geases put him up to shooting Bruno, was "impulsive, nuts and proud of it."
Of Arillotta and Roche, Cohn told jurors: "Those slime bags who testified, they have no loyalty. They sell out their wives, their children ... you can't convict because of a general feeling of badness," Cohn said.
The defendants face life in prison if convicted on any of the murder counts.
The judge is expected to give jurors their instructions by late morning on Thursday and the panel will begin deliberations sometime Thursday.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

John Travolta set for Gotti

John TravoltaImage via WikipediaIt's official: John Travolta will portray John Gotti Jr., known as the "Teflon Don," in Fiore Films biopic "Gotti: Three Generations."
The indie producer has set an April 12 news conference in New York with Travolta, Gotti's son John A. Gotti, director Nick Cassavetes and Fiore Films topper and producer Marc Fiore.
Travolta had been rumored to be the leading candidate for the part of one of the Gottis for several months. Actor-writer Leo Rossi wrote the screenplay, described as revealing the relationship of a father who lived and died by the mob code and a son who chose to leave that world behind and redeem himself.
The film will be shot entirely in New York. Marty Ingels is an exec producer.
John Gotti Jr. was the flamboyant head of the Gambino crime family who spent the last decade of his life in prison. In his last visit to his father, the son said he was ending his life of crime and getting out of the family business.
Fiore announced the project last fall after securing the rights to Gotti's story (Daily Variety, Sept. 22).
Travolta is repped by WME.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Al Bruno murder trial update: Felix Tranghese is cross-examined; expected to be final prosecution witness

Western Massachusetts mobster Felix Tranghese underwent cross-examination on Tuesday in the federal court trial involving the murder-for-hire killing of Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno in 2003.
Tranghese, 58, of East Longmeadow, is expected to be among the final prosecution witnesses in the U.S. District Court trial of Arthur “Artie“ Nigro, 66, the reputed onetime acting boss of the Genovese crime family who allegedly “green-lighted“ the hit on Bruno, Fotios “Freddy“ Geas, 42, of West Springfield, and his brother Ty Geas, 39, of West Springfield.
The trial is in its third week in a Manhattan court; along with Tranghese, Anthony J. Arillotta, a Genovese soldier from Springfield gunning for Bruno’s spot, turned government informant almost immediately after being arrested in 2010. Arillotta testified Bruno ordered a hole to be dug in a wooded lot in Agawam meant for Tranghese, with whom Bruno was at odds.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Genovese informant Felix Tranghese talks about tough life in Mafia

Even being a long-established soldier in the Mafia can be a dicey business with no job security.
Longtime allies can order a hole to be dug with plans to have you bumped off after a few misunderstandings. Upstarts outside "the family," despite time-honored rules, can show up at construction sites and rough you up in broad daylight even if you're a made guy.

Such were the later years of the tenure of Felix Tranghese, 58, of East Longmeadow, Mass., who was formally inducted into the New York-based Genovese crime family in 1982 at a house on Acushnet Street in Springfield, Mass., according to his own testimony in an ongoing mob murder trial in federal court in Manhattan.
Standing trial for the 2003 contract hit on crime boss Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno are Arthur "Artie" Nigro, 66, the reputed onetime acting boss of the Genovese crime family who allegedly "green-lighted" the hit on Bruno amid a power play and rumors the Springfield boss was rubbing elbows with FBI agents. His codefendants, Fotios "Freddy" Geas, 42, of West Springfield, and brother Ty Geas, 39, of West Springfield, were, as Tranghese called them, the "scary guys" accompanying Anthony J. Arillotta, a Genovese soldier from Springfield gunning for Bruno's spot.
Arillotta also was charged in this case and, like Tranghese, turned government informant almost immediately after their arrests in 2010. Whereas Tranghese gave direct testimony for less than one day on Monday, Arillotta testified for days about Bruno's murder, the murder of his brother-in-law Gary D. Westerman in 2003, the attempted murder of a New York union boss, and a list of shake-downs he spearheaded at Nigro's urging from Springfield to Manhattan – sometimes as triggermen and sometimes as wheelmen.

Arillotta also testified Bruno ordered a hole to be dug in a wooded lot in Agawam meant for Tranghese, with whom Bruno was at odds.
Tranghese, on the other hand, told jurors he was a longtime bookmaker and numbers guy who in 2003 acted as a conduit between the "Springfield Crew" and New York higher-ups when suspicions about Bruno's loyalty came to pass. He testified he delivered a copy of a presentencing report for another gangster poised for prison that alleged Bruno told an FBI agent someone had "been made" in 2001.
The revelation prompted a furor in Springfield's mob circles and the document made the trip almost 200 miles south to the Bronx, where Nigro lived. Tranghese and Nigro met in front of a laundromat there, where Nigro often called powwows with underlings, testimony has shown.
"Artie told me that I should go back to Springfield to take care of Bruno and to make sure ... it would be better if the body wasn't found. And I shouldn't be involved," Tranghese said under direct questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elie Honig.
But under cross-examination by defense lawyers, Tranghese conceded that Bruno was killed in spectacular public fashion on Nov. 23, 2003, in a hail of bullets outside his regular Sunday night card game at an Italian social club in Springfield's South End neighborhood. He was shot by paid gunman Frankie A. Roche, who pleaded guilty to the shooting in 2008 and testified at trial following Arillotta.
"This was about as close as you can get to a public execution, wasn't it?" asked Frederick Cohn, defense lawyer for Freddy Geas.
"Yessir," Tranghese responded.
Tranghese told jurors that there was a marked lag between the time Nigro gave the order to kill Bruno and when Roche, Freddy Geas' "crash dummy" prison buddy, shot Bruno six times. In the summer of 2003, he testified he made a joke to his co-conspirators at Arillotta's baby daughter's christening in Southwick, Mass.
"I said: Does anyone have a gun? We can just do it here," Tranghese said.
Also under cross-examination, Tranghese testified that Bruno was put on the "pay no mind" list in 2003 according to Nigro's right hand, a New Yorker named John Bologna who was simultaneously working for the FBI as an informant, unbeknownst to the wiseguys at the time. Tranghese told jurors that he himself was frozen out by Arillotta and the Geases years later.
"I wasn't making hardly any money on the streets," Tranghese told Nigro's defense lawyer, Murray Richman.
"So why were you a gangster?" asked Richman, a veteran New York mob lawyer who has represented clients from all of the city's five crime families. "I don't mean to be funny but ... are you saying crime doesn't pay?"
Tranghese testified that he was beaten by a gang of men Freddy Geas brought to a construction site on Tiffany Street in Springfield in 2006.
"Freddy said: 'I have a message from your friend in New York,' before a guy jumped me from behind me and then three or four of them started beating me for a few minutes," Tranghese said.
He denied anything happened when FBI agents knocked on his door the next day, and told hospital personnel who diagnosed him with a cracked vertebrae that he fell off a ladder.
The prosecution is expected to present two more witnesses and then rest its case-in-chief. The defense may put on a small case, but closing arguments are expected in U.S. District Court before Judge P. Kevin Castel on Wednesday. The jury will likely have the case by Thursday.