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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Use of public defender holds up massive Lucchese gambling trial

A sweeping investigation into an alleged multibillion-dollar international gambling scheme allegedly operated by the Lucchese crime family has become bogged down in a fight over whether one of the defendants can afford his own lawyer.
A public defender for Alfonso "Tic" Cataldo, a reputed mobster from Florham Park, argued before the state Supreme Court on Thursday that prosecutors should not have access to financial information he provided while seeking to be represented at taxpayers' expense.
Giving that information to prosecutors would set a dangerous precedent and damage "the smooth operation of the criminal justice system," said John J. McMahon, Cataldo's public defender. He noted that the document that the state is seeking, known as an intake form, also includes questions about drug use and mental illness and is used to determine whether defendants qualify for pretrial diversion programs.
Two lower-court rulings have agreed, saying the records are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Cataldo faces 17 counts in connection with the gambling scheme, which prosecutors allege operated in locations from Bergen County to Latin America and netted more than $2 billion in wagers over a 15-month period. The ring allegedly received and processed wagers using password-protected websites and tallied and recorded bets using a wire room in Costa Rica.
He is one of 35 people — including two alleged heads of the family — charged in connection with the gambling ring and a separate scheme to smuggle drugs and prepaid cellphones into East Jersey State Prison in Avenel in partnership with a faction of the Bloods gang.
Cataldo, dressed in black pants and a black leather jacket, sat quietly in the front row of the public seating area during the hearing, occasionally fiddling with a hearing aid he held up to one ear. He declined to comment.
The indictment against Cataldo, returned in 2010, arose from a state investigation dubbed Operation Heat that led to an earlier wave of arrests in 2007 in connection with the same alleged gambling scheme. That sweep netted many of the same defendants who were arrested in 2010 — including Cataldo, who posted $350,000 bail in connection with the earlier proceedings.
Real estate equity
The case against Cataldo has been put on hold until after the Supreme Court rules on prosecutors' subpoena request.
It's not unusual for reputed mobsters to claim poverty when facing criminal charges. What is unusual is Cataldo's alleged real estate holdings.
Prosecutors say he owns three houses in Morris County with combined equity of nearly $1.5 million. Cataldo's attorneys say one of those houses was put up to meet his $100,000 bail in the case and that another is owned by a trust over which he has no control.
Yet Supervising Deputy Attorney General Mark G. Eliades told the justices that he couldn't square Cataldo's holdings with tax filings, in which he reported less than $2,000 in taxable income over three years beginning in 2007.
"This is an ongoing crime if it is a crime," he said, adding that prosecutors have "a duty and obligation to act."
But several of the justices seemed unconvinced.
"You're subpoenaing these documents to be used in the very case in which you are prosecuting the defendant," said Justice Barry T. Albin, who along with several of his colleagues seemed concerned that prosecutors had not sought the intake form through a separate grand jury investigation.
Eliades said prosecutors "always viewed this as a long road." He promised the state would not use financial information gained through its subpoena against Cataldo in his current trial and said he would be open to having a judge privately review the documents before turning them over to prosecutors.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, for his part, seemed concerned with McMahon's argument that court rules curtailed any prosecution when a defendant lies about his income to gain representation by a public defender.
"Is there nothing to be done about that?" he asked.
McMahon said that a judge who determined that a defendant was lying about his finances could force the defendant to hire a private attorney but that the courts, not prosecutors, were responsible for investigating this type of fraud.
The information prosecutors are seeking "can't be used before a grand jury or at trial," he said.



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