Joseph Crapella, 47, of Fort Lauderdale, was already being rewarded for testifying against his co-defendants in a Fort Lauderdale timeshare resale company that ripped off more than $5 million from 3,000 customers.
Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to a fraud and money-laundering conspiracy charge in a deal with federal prosecutors that called for him to testify against his former business partner, Pasquale "Posh" Pappalardo, who authorities said boasted about having organized crime ties.
In exchange for Crapella's cooperation in the Timeshare Mega Media and Marketing Group case, and for spending a few days testifying in the trial of Pasquale and another defendant, prosecutors agreed to recommend that Crapella spend no more than five years in federal prison for his crimes. Without the deal, Crapella, who previously served seven years for racketeering, could have faced 14 to 17.5 years in prison.
Crapella came prepared to surrender at his sentencing Wednesday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, but hoping for a short reprieve.
"I'm very concerned about my client going into custody today," his lawyer, Kristi Kassebaum, told U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas.
Crapella was taking prescription doses of methadone to treat his addiction to oxycodone pain pills, she said, but his efforts to gradually reduce his dosage had hit a roadblock partly, it seemed, because of the stress of testifying.
Crapella also believed he could be in physical danger from his codefendants and others, Kassebaum told the judge.
"There could be countless unknown people out there that they [prison officials] can't protect my client from," Kassebaum said.
Dimitrouleas took Crapella's concerns seriously and held extensive discussions about his safety at a sidebar with the lawyers and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Crapella clearly hadn't lost his sense of humor. As he went to the restroom, he nodded at Peter Patanzo, the lawyer for one of the men Crapella helped to convict, and asked: "How you doin'?"
When Patanzo returned the pleasantry, Crapella replied: "I'm doin' better than the others."
Crapella also discreetly took a swig of methadone during a break despite his lawyer telling him: "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
The judge eventually decided Crapella's cooperation deserved more of a break and sentenced him to four years and three months in prison, also ordering him to pay almost $950,000 in restitution.
Dimitrouleas rejected Crapella's request to delay going to prison but the marshals made it clear that – for his safety – he would be imprisoned outside of Broward or Miami-Dade counties.