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

Sunday, September 2, 2012

New Jersey mob associate surrenders after 17 years on the run

Paul Sanzaro, 79, formerly of Hollywood, surrendered to federal authorities in July after spending 17 years on the run.
Soon after federal agents met with Paul Sanzaro in 1995 and told him there was a contract out on his life, he left his family behind and went on the run. It would be 17 long years before the 79-year-old man decided to turn himself in to authorities in Fort Lauderdale.
What Sanzaro wasn't told at the February 1995 meeting was that the feds learned of the threat to his safety because they were operating an undercover investigation of a drug smuggling and distribution ring Sanzaro and seven other men were running out of the popular old Hemmingway's Restaurant on North 21st Street Avenue in Hollywood.
Ten months later, Sanzaro and the others were indicted on federal charges they were part of an organized crime drug ring that imported large amounts of cocaine and heroin to South Florida between July 1994 and January 1996.
The other defendants pleaded guilty and several were sentenced to hefty prison terms, but Sanzaro remained hidden until he chose to surface.
Out of the blue one day in May 2011, Sanzaro walked into the office of Murray Richman, also known as "Don't Worry Murray," a mob lawyer in the Bronx who has also represented New York politicians and the rapper Jay-Z.
"He told me 'Life on the run is no life at all. I can't do this any more,'" said Richman, who knew Sanzaro 30 or more years ago.
The lawyer asked Sanzaro if he knew what he was doing -- facing the criminal charges could mean spending the last years of his life in prison.
Sanzaro told him that he hadn't seen his family since he left, that his grandchildren grew up without knowing him and he didn't want to die without having contact with them. He told the lawyer that he had left his family and gone on the run because he "didn't want to bring heat on them."
"He said, 'I've got a family I want to see again, I'm sick, I have no money, I look like a bum – I want to have a semblance of normality again,'" Richman said.
Figuring out what to do took more than a year. Richman contacted Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer Bruce Lyons and they began negotiating with federal prosecutors to have Sanzaro surrender and finally face the charges of conspiring to import heroin and possessing and distributing cocaine and heroin. The maximum punishment is life in prison and $4 million in fines.
Both lawyers said they have no idea where Sanzaro spent the last 17 years or what he did, but they are pretty sure he remained in the U.S.
The case against Sanzaro and the others featured evidence that drug samples – hidden inside green buttons on traditional African silk outfits and inside the fold of a birthday card – were shipped from Nigeria to South Florida and that bigger drug deals were negotiated at the restaurant, which closed down in the aftermath of the criminal case.
Investigators also had at least one insider – a confidential informant by the name of Mario Adamo who, according to court records, began working with law enforcement in the U.S. after he got in trouble with authorities in his native Italy. Adamo was paid more than $200,000 for his services as a paid informant, worked on more than 50 cases in South Florida and had his application for U.S. residency sponsored by the DEA, according to court records from the 1990s.
Among the evidence compiled against the eight men were dozens of packages of drugs, 40 audiotapes and some video tapes of some of the defendants discussing drug deals, court records show.
The defense lawyers said that during the course of the investigation, federal agents got information that at least one co-defendant was planning to kill Sanzaro because he was being blamed for losing money on a drug deal.
Once the agents found out he was in danger, they had a legal duty to inform him even though it could have jeopardized their operation, the lawyers said.
After his time on the run, Sanzaro has diabetes and possibly some cognitive impairment, his lawyers said.
When the time came to travel from New York to Fort Lauderdale, Sanzaro had to take a Greyhound bus because he didn't have the identification needed to take a commercial flight.
The evening before he surrendered, the two lawyers offered to treat him to dinner. He picked Italian food and they took him to Cafe Vico on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, where he ordered veal and peppers.
"He said 'This is a condemned man's meal,'" Richman said. "He ate up a storm. He told us 'I'm never going to eat like this again where I'm going.'"
The next day, July 24, Sanzaro turned himself in at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale before being brought to the jail.
"[Sanzaro] stated that he surrendered to make peace with God first and with his family. The defendant stated that he had not seen his grandchildren grow up and he was in bad health," two DEA agents who handled his surrender wrote in their reports.
So far, his family members have refused to meet with him, his lawyers said. The attorneys speculated that the family may be afraid of retaliation from others.
"Leave him alone, he's got enough problems," said a woman who answered the phone at a Bronxville, N.Y., phone number linked to family members. The woman wouldn't give her name but said she was Sanzaro's ex-wife. Attempts to contact other family members for comment were unsuccessful and Sanzaro himself was not immediately available for interview at the Broward County Main Jail.
Sanzaro is scheduled for a change of plea hearing in court Thursday when the terms of a negotiated plea agreement are expected to made public.
His lawyers said he was on the run for so long that he has no useful information to share with investigators and is not expected to reap the potential benefits of testifying against others. At least two of his former co-defendants have died.
"It's a long time to be gone and it makes you wonder why someone, at this point, would want to clean the slate," said Lyons. "He realized that before he met his Maker he had to deal with this."



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