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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Unknown verdict reached at fraud trial of Scarfo Jr

It looks like the jury has voted to convict in the FirstPlus Financial racketeering fraud trial.

But at this point we don't know which one -- or how many -- of the seven defendants have been found guilty.

Jury deliberations resume today in the six-month old trial. But questions submitted by the anonymously chosen jury panel to Judge Robert Kugler last week offer some insight into the process and have given rise to speculation that the panel has voted to convict someone.

In a note sent Thursday afternoon, the last day of deliberations last week, the panel wrote: "We are unanimous on some counts, but we are  not unanimous yet on others (the word "yet" was underlined twice in the note). Are we under any time constraints to reach unanimity?"

That question, coupled with an earlier inquiry about the way to respond to the racketeering conspiracy charge, has led to speculation that the jury has voted to convict at least one and possibly more of the defendants on the principal count in the 25-count indictment. All seven defendants are charged with conspiracy.

"It doesn't look good," said one member of the defense camp last week.

The six-month trial has focused on government allegations that mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and mob associate Salvatore Pelullo secretly took control of FirstPlus Financial, a troubled Texas-based mortgage company, in 2007 and siphoned more than $12 million out of the company through a series of bogus business deals and phony consulting contracts.

Five other defendants, including the former CEO of the company and four lawyers, are also on trial.
All seven defendants have been charged with racketeering conspiracy. A number of other charges, including wire fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud and money-laundering are part of the case, but not every defendant faces every charge. 
In response to Thursday's question, Kugler told the jury there were no time constraints. The deliberation process will resume today with an alternate being seated to replace one of the jurors who was dismissed at the end of last week's deliberations because of a pre-planned (and pre-paid) vacation.

A male alternate will take the place of the female juror who was let go. Technically, the panel is supposed to begin deliberations from scratch when an alternate is seated, but the reality is that the alternate will be quickly brought up to speed on the status of deliberations and, barring any major objection on his part about the findings thus far, the process is expected to move forward quickly.

One source in the defense camp predicted verdicts before the end of the week. The panel has opted not to sit on Fridays and this Friday, July 4, a holiday.

While it is impossible to determine what the jury has already decided, a note sent to Judge Robert Kugler earlier last week indicated the panel had reached a unanimous decision on at least two of the predicate acts that support the conspiracy charge against one or more of the defendants.

The law requires a jury to find at least two of those acts proven before it can find a defendant guilty of conspiracy. The number of predicate acts each defendant faces varies. Scarfo and Pelullo are each charged with eight.

In a question submitted early last week, the jury wanted to know if the panel had reached unanimity on two of the predicate acts, was it required to find on the others. The only scenario in which the other acts could be ignored was if the panel had found two of acts proven, thereby supporting a guilty verdict and making the other predicate acts moot.

Pessimism rose in the defense camp as defendants and their lawyers analyzed the two questions posed by the jury last week. One source speculated that the jury has reached verdicts in the cases against Scarfo and Pelullo and possibly John Maxwell, the CEO of FirstPlus, and his brother William, a lawyer who worked for FirstPlus and who is accused to funneling company funds to Scarfo and Pelullo through phony consulting contracts.

Observers believe the jury could be wrestling with the charges against lawyers David Adler, Gary McCarthy and Donald Manno. Those three were not directly tied to the day-to-day operations of FirstPlus. Adler was involved in SEC filings for the company, filings that the prosecution alleges were based on false information. McCarthy was involved in business and financial deals that the government charges Pelullo orchestrated to advance the fraud. And Manno, Scarfo's long-time defense attorney, was charged with bank fraud and obstruction of justice.

Manno, who defended himself, offered a "are you fuckin' crazy" defense, using the prosecution's own evidence to support his argument that Pelullo and Scarfo continually lied to him about financial issues. In his closing argument, he highlighted a secretly recorded phone conversation picked up on an FBI wiretap in which he argued with Pelullo.

The conversation dealt with information being submitted in a mortgage application by Scarfo's wife, Lisa Murray Scarfo, for a $715,000 home outside of Atlantic City. Pelullo and Scarfo kept Scarfo's name off the application and lied about Murray Scarfo's income and financial status.

Manno is heard on the tape telling Pelullo there was no reason to lie and that to do so would be a red flag that would attract investigators because of Scarfo's mob history. Pelullo ignored the advice with Manno at one point asking him, "Are you fuckin' crazy?"

Lisa Murray Scarfo is one of six defendants in the case who pleaded guilty rather than face trial. She has yet to be sentenced.

Because of prior convictions, Scarfo, 48, and Pelullo, 46, face jail terms of from 30 years to life if convicted of the racketeering conspiracy charge and related offenses.

The penalties for the other defendants could be substantially less, but convictions for the four attorneys in the case would result in the loss of their licenses to practice law, a potentially career-ending outcome that could overshadow or at least be as devastating as any jail time.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Genovese associate gets sweet sentence

It was a bittersweet sentence for a reputed Genovese mob associate convicted of conspiring to keep a rival union local from organizing workers at a Long Island chocolate factory.

Robert Scalza, 60, the former secretary treasurer of Local 713 of the International Brotherhood of Trade Unions, will serve six months of house arrest at his Manhasset home instead of the one year behind bars that he faced.

But Scalza lost his lucrative $260,000-a-year post and is barred from holding any union position for three years.

“The loss of my life’s work and the humiliation has cost me dearly,” Scalza told Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis.

Scalza sought the help of powerful Genovese capo Conrad Ianiello when another union local tried to organize the unidentified chocolatier workers. Ianiello sent an emissary to threaten the secretary treasurer of Local 621 to back off from organizing the workers, according to court papers.

“Organized labor protects the rights of hard-working people, and unfortunately, Mr. Scalza, you made a mistake with your associating with someone who did not have those same interests,” Garaufis said.

Scalza was also fined $15,000, but he’s worth a reported $5 million, putting him in a category where union workers are not members.


Monday, June 23, 2014

State trooper turned mob enforcer cuts sweetheart deal to avoid jail

A retired state trooper busted for allegedly working as a mob enforcer while on the job has cut a sweetheart deal with prosecutors that will keep him out of jail — and wipe his record clean, The Post has learned.

Mario Velez, 46, agreed to the deal that requires him to do nothing more than stay out of trouble for three months. Velez of Peeks­kill was set to go to trial June 16 with three reputed mobbed-up associates also accused of making threats of force and fear to extort a trash hauler into turning over his business to them in 2011.

But under last-minute “deferred prosecution agreements” offered with the feds, they’ll avoid jail and future prosecution simply by remaining “law-abiding” citizens, agreeing to restricted local travel and following other terms over the three-month period.

“We feel this was the right and just thing for the government to do, based on his background,” Velez’s lawyer, John Meringolo, told The Post. “He’s a good citizen, a good trooper and a good father.”

Velez was mum about the deal — and his arrest.

“I took a beating, and I just want to get back on my feet,” he said.

Also arrested in 2013 were Pasquale P. Cartalemi Jr., 51, and his son, Pasquale L. Cartalemi 28, both of Cortlandt, at their company AAA Carting in Peekskill.

The trio had faced up to 40 years behind bars on extortion charges.

Another associate who caught a break, Andrew McGuire, 30, of Hawthorne, had faced up to 20 years on an extortion conspiracy charge.

The US Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

The suspects allegedly shook down and took control of Capital Waste Services in Hawthorne. McGuire is currently listed as the CEO of the carting business, according to state records. They all claim they’re innocent.

Sources said Velez retired under fire as a state trooper in 2012 after the FBI notified his bosses that he was a target of a probe that found rival Mafia families had banded together to circumvent official efforts to clean up the trash business. The state police had been looking separately into Velez’s actions at the same time that the feds were investigating,

An indictment said the suspects used strong-arm tactics to shake down the owners of legitimate companies and secretly assume ownership of their operations.

In January 2013, 32 people were indicted as a result of the probe, including Velez and his crew and alleged ringleader Carmine “Papa Smurf” Franco, 78. Franco was sentenced to a year in jail last month after copping a plea to a separate shakedown scheme.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Judge refuses to toss Bonanno crime family indictment

A judge refused Wednesday to toss out the indictments against eight reputed members of the Bonanno crime family.
Nicholas “Nicky Mouth” Santora, the alleged captain of the gang, appeared in Manhattan Supreme Court with seven co-defedants facing charges of extortion, loan-sharking, gambling and drug dealing, WCBS 880′s Irene Cornell.
Prosecutors say the case proves that traditional organized crime persists and that the illegal activities have even branched out to include online crimes. For example, the crew operated a Costa Rica-based online gambling operation that took in $7 million in illegal bets over six months, according to prosecutors.
The reputed Bonanno members, who were seen laughing together in court, are also accused of using one their associates, Nicholas Bernhard, a president of a local Teamsters union chapter, to support the crime family’s gambling operations. Union members were allegedly recruited to borrow money from the mob loan sharks and then gamble it away.


New England mafia captain released after 10 years in federal prison

Matthew “Matty” Guglielmetti – a reputed capo regime in the New England crime family – is now on home confinement.
A spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons confirmed for Target 12 that Guglielmetti was released from Fort Dix Federal Prison in New Jersey last Tuesday.
The 65-year-old Cranston man spent roughly 10 years behind bars after pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges. Investigators said Guglielmetti pledged to protect a shipment of cocaine as it moved through Rhode Island.
Guglielmetti was a close associate to former mob boss Raymond “Junior” Patriarca, according to law enforcement officials. As Target 12 first reported, his notoriety even made its way into the informant files of James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.
After a massive round of busts and convictions of high-ranking mobsters and associates in 2011, the mob is very different from the one Guglielmetti left a decade earlier.
Jeffrey Sallet – the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Boston office of the FBI – said organized crime in New England has been “decimated.”
“The environment in the state of RI right now is you have very limited strength from Rhode Island in the ranks of La Cosa Nostra,” said Sallet. “We had our thumb on them, we will not take our thumb off them.”
“This is not a friendly environment for them to do business,” he added.


Canadian gangster asks judge to grant him a separate trial in murder of Bonanno mobster

Raynald Desjardins wants his trial severed from co-accused in Montagna murder
A plan to hold one trial for the murder of Mob boss Salvatore Montagna beginning in January appears to be in doubt as the alleged head of the plot, Raynald Desjardins, wants to be tried on his own in French.
Three different motions were filed to Quebec’s Superior Court in advance of a hearing held Monday at the Gouin courthouse in northern Montreal. Desjardins, 60, is seeking to have his case severed from those of seven co-accused so it can be held in the language he is more comfortable in.
Another of the accused, Vittorio Mirarchi, 36, has been seeking to have a trial in English since April and, on Monday, lawyers representing the other six men charged in connection with Montagna’s murder said they also want to be tried in English. For its part, the Crown wants one trial to be held before a bilingual jury.
Desjardins and Mirarchi face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy along with five other men; Calogero Milioto, 43, Steven Fracas, 29, Jack Simpson, 72, Pietro Magistrale, 62, and Steven D’Addario, 36. Felice Racaniello, 29, is only charged with being an accessory after the fact to murder.
Montagna died, on Nov. 24, 2011, after he was shot in Charlemagne, a town just east of Montreal. At the time, the Mafia in Montreal was involved in a complicated internal conflict.
The eight accused were arrested at different points in time following Montagna’s death. They were originally charged in Joliette court but, in January, a Superior Court judge agreed to a change-of-venue request and the case was transferred to the Laval courthouse. For security reasons, Monday’s hearing was held at the Gouin courthouse, which WAS specially designed for cases involving many accused.
Most of what was discussed during Monday’s hearing cannot be reported on because of a publication ban. For the most part, Justice Michael Stober used the pretrial conference hearing to sort through, and update the status of, several legal motions that will be argued before the trial begins.
Under the current timetable, the jury trial would begin on January 5 and could last anywhere between six and 12 months. But Stober said Monday that at the rate the list of motions is growing he might still be hearing legal arguments well into early next year.
Stober was also informed that Desjardins’s lawyer, Marc Labelle, likely won’t even be available for a trial if it is held in January. Labelle is already scheduled to be one of roughly four dozen lawyers who will represent clients in two trials related to Project SharQc, an investigation involving the Hells Angels, which are expected to begin in the coming months. Stober, who was assigned to the Montagna murder case in April, said Monday was the first time he was informed of the major scheduling conflict. Labelle was not available to explain his side of the story Monday morning because he represented Emma Czornobaj, 25, at the Montreal courthouse in her jury trial on charges she caused the death of two people after stopping her car on a highway in Candiac. The jury in Czornobaj’s trial received instructions from the presiding judge, Justice Eliane Perreault, on Monday.


Retrial of Philadelphia mob soldier scheduled for next year

It looks as if Anthony Nicodemo's retrial in the 2012 slaying of Gino DiPietro in South Philadelphia won't be happening until early next year.
At a status conference hearing late last week, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart scheduled a new pretrial conference for Dec. 1, but the retrial - Nicodemo's first trial ended May 20 in a mistrial amid rumors that someone had approached a juror - did not get a firm date.
Before the mistrial was declared, the jury had already lost two alternates because of exposure to pretrial publicity. When juror No. 8 was dismissed, the panel was reduced to 11. Although a criminal trial may continue with 11 jurors, both sides must agree. That did not happen in the case of the 42-year-old reputed mob soldier.
Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo said there is an ongoing investigation into possible jury tampering, although no one has been charged.
DiPietro, 50, was gunned down shortly before 3 p.m. Dec. 12, 2012, as he stood by his pickup truck in the 2800 block of South Iseminger Street.
Although DiPietro did time in prison for drug and gun violations, his family denied he had any connections to the mob. Furthermore, authorities have never alleged that he was a member of South Philadelphia's La Cosa Nostra crime family.
Before the trial opened, Minehart ruled that prosecutors could not talk about a connection to organized crime unless they could prove that it had been a mob hit.
Consequently, in his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo did not mention organized crime, nor did he offer a motive. Instead, Zarallo said that DiPietro was "executed in the street" by an assailant who was still at large, and that Nicodemo's job was to help the shooter escape and ditch the weapon.
Nicodemo was taken into custody at his home the day of the murder, and a search of his SUV turned up the .357-caliber Magnum revolver used to gun down DiPietro.
Defense attorney Brian J. McMonagle has maintained that Nicodemo was the victim of an aborted carjacking by a masked gunman who apparently stashed the revolver in Nicodemo's vehicle.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Judge orders feds to stop reading emails of Bonanno boss

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi
A Brooklyn judge has ordered federal prosecutors to refrain from reading email communications between reputed Bonanno crime boss Thomas DiFiore and his lawyer until she makes a ruling on the issue.

DiFiore’s lawyer, Steve Zissou, went ballistic after he obtained a memo from the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s criminal division chief stating the prosecutor’s office intends to review all emails between inmates and their lawyers that came through the Bureau of Prisons computer system.

Zissou told Federal Judge Allyne Ross last week he plans to file papers arguing the practice is unconstitutional. She granted his request for the feds to avoid the mobster’s electronic messages — at least for now.

“Frankly I had no idea they (prosecutors) were already doing this,” Zissou told the Daily News. “It’s immoral and unprofessional.”

According to the memo, the feds are on firm legal ground because the inmate waives any confidentiality privilege every time the computer system known as TRULINCS is used to send emails.

“Inmates at the (Metropolitan Detention Center) and their counsel are provided with ample notice that their emails are being monitored,” Assistant Brooklyn U.S. Attorney James McGovern says in the memo obtained by The News.

“Thus, no attorney-client privilege attaches to such communications,” the memo says.

That notification is contained in the TRULINCS user agreement page that appears on the computer screen after logging in to the system and includes a “consent to monitoring” condition, McGovern pointed out.

The inmate must consent to “monitoring and information retrieval for law enforcement and other purposes” before using the system.

The Bureau of Prisons does not monitor in-person visits between lawyers and clients.

McGovern declined to comment, but a law enforcement source with knowledge of the memo said it did not signal a new policy but was merely a reminder to defense lawyers that the emails are subject to monitoring and prosecutors intend to do so.

Peter Kirchheimer, chief of the Brooklyn federal defender’s office, said he intends to make a request to each judge presiding over every one of his cases to order the government not to snoop on email communications between him and his jailed client.

Kirchheimer said it is not clear to him that the notification to inmates of monitoring is adequate to waive the confidentiality privilege.

DiFiore was arrested last year on extortion charges and is being held without bail.


Sopranos actor admits to counterfeiting

‘Sopranos’ actor cops to counterfeiting
A wannabe bad-boy actor who played the burly mobster “Muscles Marinara” on “The Sopranos” was slapped with five years’ probation in Manhattan on Monday for passing $100 bills that were as fake as his Mafia image.

Louis Gross avoided a trip up the river as part of a no-jail deal after pleading guilty last April to charges of criminal possession of a forged instrument.

Gross, 29 — who spent one season on the hit HBO show as Tony Soprano’s driver, Perry “Muscles Marinara” Annunziata — was busted last August with eight counterfeit C-notes after buying a burger at a Third Avenue bar.

On Monday, he said he hoped to put his criminal escapades behind him and get back into acting.

“I’m nearly 30,” he said. “I have things career-wise I want to get done, and this is a distraction.”

Gross’ girlfriend declined to watch as Manhattan Supreme Court Justice A. Kirke Bartley handed down the sentence. She instead waited outside with a look on her face that could kill faster than a Mafia hit man’s bullet.

“She’s as supportive as they come, but she’s had to deal with a lot from me,” Gross said. “I love her to death.”

Gross would have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the felony counts against him.

He initially claimed ignorance about the bills.

“I ordered a hamburger and went to pay at the bar,” he had claimed.

“[The owner] said this is fake. I said I’m really sorry and started walking down the block, and the police jumped out.”

In the past Gross has praised Gandolfini for supporting him and helping his career.

“He was one of the best people I met in the industry,” he said of the beloved actor who died at age 51 of a heart attack last summer.


Jury set to begin deliberations in mob trial

After nearly six months of testimony and more than a week of detailed and grueling closing arguments, jury deliberations are set to being in the FirstPlus Financial racketeering fraud trial of mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and six co-defendants.

Donald Manno, Scarfo's former criminal defense attorney and a co-defendants in the case, is expected to complete his closing arguments this morning. Manno, who is representing himself, will be the final defense attorney to address the anonymously chosen jury panel.

A rebuttal closing argument this afternoon from the prosecution will complete the argument phase of the trial, setting the stage for the start of deliberations either late today or tomorrow. 

Manno was detailed and highly effective yesterday afternoon when he spoke to the jury for about an hour. The one-time federal prosecutor, who referred to himself in the third person, told the jury to consider the facts and not the "diversions, distortions and false circumstantial evidence" around which the prosecution has built its case.

"Don Manno was not involved in any conspiracy," he told the jury. 

But he made it clear that he couldn't say the same thing for some of his co-defendants. In particular, he singled out Salvatore Pelullo and Scarfo, both of whom, he said, rejected his advice and lied to him. Manno argued that he was kept in the dark about many of the financial dealings involving FirstPlus, a troubled Texas-based mortgage company that authorities allege Pelullo and Scarfo secretly took control of in 2007.

Pelullo, described as the "key figure" in the fraud by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen D'Aguanno, used bogus consulting contracts and phony business transactions to siphon $12 million out of the company, the government alleges. Much of the money was used to finance a luxurious lifestyle that included the purchase of a $850,000 yacht, a $207,000 Bentley and a home near Atlantic City for $715,000 for Scarfo and his new wife, Lisa.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Lucchese gangster asks to be released on bail in civil lawsuit

A reputed mobster wants ​a get-out-of-jail-free card, whining in a new civil lawsuit that a Manhattan criminal judge is unfairly keeping him in the clink as he awaits trial for assaulting his porn star ex-girlfriend.

​Attorney Bruno Gioffre Jr. says he argued to Justice Charles H. Solomon that “despite having a prior criminal record” his client Thomas Gelardo was basically a model citizen who has “lifelong ties to the community” and “always returned to court” for past offenses.

Gioffre suggested a $250,000 bail supported by a condo Gelardo, 31, owns with his sister, according to court papers.

But Solomon denied bail, ordering Gelardo to stay in jail because he repeatedly violated a restraining order by obsessively contacting his former gal pal.

Gelardo called his curvaceous actress ex​,​ Trista Geyer​,​ 60 times in one day despite restraining orders, prosecutors said.

He was arrested for roughing up Geyer in November 2013 and later charged with burglary, assault, strangulation, aggravated criminal contempt and tampering with a witness.

Gelardo, who is reportedly connected to the Lucchese crime family, filed a civil suit against the Department of Correction on Wednesday claiming Solomon’s decision to keep him in the clink instead of setting bail is “arbitrary and capricious.”

The buxom bottle blonde has graced the pages of Hustler and Playboy magazines.

But Gioffre says he handed the court a tape of Geyer giving “conflicting statements as to how she was injured.”

He also told Solomon that Geyer “was uncooperative, living in Florida” and “had sent a letter to the court indicating that she did not want to pursue this matter.”

Still Solomon did not budge.

A spokeswoman from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gambino associate Vito Love denied house arrest

A mobster nicknamed “Vito Love” wasn’t shown any by a judge in Brooklyn federal court Tuesday.

Judge Sandra Townes denied Gambino associate Vito “Vito Love” Cortesiano’s bid for home confinement to care for his disabled young son.

His crimes — including gambling and loan-sharking — require jail, the judge said in sentencing him to 15 months behind bars.


Man turns self in after deadly fight at the Drunken Monkey in Staten Island

Man turns self in after deadly fight at bar of ‘Mob Wife’
A Staten Island man surrendered to cops on Tuesday for allegedly killing a man outside the bar run by “Mob Wives” star “Big Ang” Raiola.

Stephen Fasano, 23, of Midland Beach, was charged with manslaughter for fatally punching Abdou Cisse, 46, in the Sunday brawl outside the Drunken Monkey, cops said.

Police are still seeking Fasano’s pal for an earlier assault that night on another man inside the bar.

Fasano and his pals had been arguing with another group over a woman, and punches began to fly, police sources said. Fasano and one other man attacked one of the patrons before they were thrown outside, sources added.

That’s when Cisse, who had nothing to do with the dispute, stepped in and tried to put a stop to the two-against-one brawl, the sources explained.

Cisse, a Senegalese immigrant who worked as a machinist and frequented the Drunken Monkey, cracked his skull on the pavement and died at the scene, authorities said.

“We think he tried to calm Fasano down and that’s when he got hit,” a police source added.

Fasano was charged with one count of assault for the alleged attack on the unnamed victim inside the bar. Police have not released the name of his friend whom they’re seeking for that same assault.

Cops do not believe Fasano’s pal played any role in Cisse’s death.

Big Ang, from the reality hit series, lends her name to the Staten Island establishment and said she was heartbroken over the tragic loss of the beloved regular.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dismissed Philadelphia mob trial juror shares insights

She listened to two days of testimony in the Anthony Nicodemo murder trial last month and said she wasn't buying the defense argument that Nicodemo was carjacked and became an unwitting getaway driver in the murder of Gino DiPietro.

"The story about the carjacking was absurd," the former Common Pleas Court panelist wrote in one of several e-mail exchanges with Bigtrial.net. She also said she surmised the shooting was a mob hit even though the judge had barred any mention of organized crime. And she correctly assumed that Nicodemo was being held without bail and that he was able to afford a high priced defense attorney.

The juror agreed to share her insights from the two days she heard testimony, but asked to remain anonymous. She was the first of three jurors dismissed during the case which ended in a mistrial on May 20. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution are to meet with Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart Thursday for a status conference during which a new trial date could be set.

Nicodemo, 42, has been held without bail since his arrest on the day of the shooting, December 12, 2012.

"During opening remarks, Brian McMonagle (Nicodemo's lawyer) was wearing a suit that was very, very expensive...and a watch that cost more than my 2011 car," the juror wrote. "Therefore, I deduced that he was not a public defender."

Using the same reasoning, she said, led her to believe that "the defendant had the access to cash necessary to employ" an expensive attorney. And she wondered, "Where did this money come from? I had my suspicions."

She said she assumed Nicodemo was being held without bail because while he appeared each day in court in a dress shirt and slacks ("business casual clothes" in the words of the juror), she noticed that he was wearing "a pair of pristine white sneakers."

"I couldn't imagine Mr. Nicodemo would come to court in sneakers unless he was being kept in jail," she wrote. "Why wouldn't he be out on bail? I knew he had access to money, so he either was a flight risk or a very dangerous person (or both)."

The panelist said Nicodemo had smiled at her during the jury selection process. But during the trial, which included testimony about the gangland-style slaying of DiPietro in the 2800 block of South Iseminger Street, she said she would look toward the defense table and Nicodemo "confronted me with a smug, steely gaze."

The juror said "he appeared unmoved by the heinous details of the crime and the disturbing testimony of several witnesses."

The juror was one of 14 chosen to hear testimony in the case. Judge Minehart opted to go with just two alternates during the trial, a move that would eventually lead to the mistrial when a third juror was dismissed on Dec. 20. She heard the bulk of the prosecution's case before being dismissed, including the testimony of two witnesses who saw the shooter.

One witness, a letter carrier working in the neighborhood, said he heard a shot, ran toward the sound, heard a second shot and then saw a gunman in a hoody fire four more shots into DiPietro who was lying in the street beside his pickup truck. The shooting occurred shortly before 3 p.m.The gunman then fled in the opposite direction, the mailman testified.

At that point, the shooter ran past another witness who said he saw the gunman jump into a black Honda Pilot SUV which appeared to be parked with the motor running. The vehicle sped away, but the witness got the license tag.

The Honda Pilot was registered to Anthony Nicodemo at his home in the 3200 block of South 17th Street. Less than 30 minutes after the shooting, police were knocking on Nicodemo's door. He said he had been working inside his house. He was taken into custody. After obtaining a search warrant for the Honda Pilot, which was parked behind Nicodemo's home, police found a .357 magnum wrapped in a jacket behind the driver's seat.

Evidence entered during the trial indicated that the gun was the murder weapon. It was, Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo said in his opening statement, the "smoking gun" that tied Nicodemo to the murder. Zarallo said the prosecution did not have to offer a motive for the shooting. He did not provide one. But he twice mentioned Domenic Grande, a mob associate and close friend of Nicodemo's, as the possible shooter. Grande has never been charged.

DiPietro, 50, was a convicted drug dealer who, according to some underworld and law enforcement sources, was cooperating with authorities at the time he was killed. His murder was described by one investigator as the "dumbest" mob hit in the history of Philadelphia.

No one, the investigator said, uses their own vehicle as the getaway car. And any experienced hitman knows that the first order of business after a shooting is to dispose of the murder weapon. The shooting occurred as mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants were being tried in a racketeering case in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. A shooting during a mob trial is also considered bad underworld form.

Those factors apparently came into play as McMonagle prepared his opening statement. In it, he told the jury that Nicodemo happened to be in the neighborhood on the day of the shooting because he had an office nearby and because his parents lived there. The defense lawyer said a masked gunman jumped into the car, forced Nicodemo to speed away and then, at some point, jumped out of the Honda Pilot, but not before stashing the gun behind the driver's seat.

The explanation begs several questions that may or may not have been answered had the trial been completed. One was whether Nicodemo would take the stand in his own defense to expand on the "carjacking" story. At that point, he would have been faced with another difficult question. Why didn't he report the carjacking to police or mention it when they came to his door that afternoon?

Instead, Nicodemo has sat in jail, denied bail, since his arrest on first degree murder and related charges that could land him in jail for 30 years to life.

The juror, a Philadelphia resident who works as a media consultant, said she was not aware of all the background at the time she sat on the panel, but has since learned more about the case. At the time, she said, testimony that Nicodemo told authorities he was working on his house "made no sense with the facts presented."

"Now that I know about the big mob trial that was going on during the DiPietro murder, it seems suspicious," she wrote. "The fact that the prosecution wasn't able to substantiate a motive in intriguing."

The juror said she was also troubled by media reports that she had been dismissed because she had read something about the trial in the newspapers. That was not true, she said. She said she was told she was dismissed because a member of either the victim's or the defendant's family had recognized her.

Law enforcement sources said it was a member of Nicodemo's family who belatedly claimed to have recognized the juror. The sources said they were skeptical of the claim and thought the family had targeted the woman because she appeared to be paying close attention to the prosecution's case and appeared sympathetic to DA's position. In fact, the juror said she knew no one from either family and was puzzled about why she had been let go.

Her dismissal, after the lunch break during the second day of testimony, left the panel with one alternate. On May 19, a second juror was let go. And on May 20, amid reports of suspected jury tampering, a third juror -- a man who lived on Second Street in South Philadelphia -- was released. That reduced the panel to just 11 members and led the judge to declare a mistrial.

Whether the defense comes up with another explanation when the new trial begins is open to speculation. With the facts in evidence fairly straightforward, Nicodemo is hard pressed to offer any story that would reasonably explain how his Honda Pilot was the getaway car and how the murder weapon was found inside of it.

The juror, a film buff, said watching a trial is like watching a movie.

"A film and a trial attorney's arguments are distorted depictions of `the truth,' and of course bias,'" she wrote.

Her approach while watching a movie, she wrote, was to "think beyond the frame...Is the person telling the story withholding relevant background information so that the viewer is unable to see an event or character's behavior within its larger context. This is why it's always necessary to ask, `What aren't they telling me? Why aren't they telling me?'"

She said she employs "the principle of Occam's razor" in looking for the truth: "(in most cases) the least elaborately constructed narrative is probably the closest to `the truth.'"

In the Nicodemo trial, she said, her conclusions were: "There was no carjacking. Mister Nicodemo wasn't working on his house. He did a bad thing. He panicked and he got caught. It happens every day."

While she said she weighed and assessed the information provided during the trial, she quickly surmised that Nicodemo "was a mobster" who was involved in the crime. She wrote that she considered different scenarios that were placed before the jury by the defense. These included McMonagle's arguments that it made no sense for Nicodemo to use his own car, go to a familiar neighborhood and carry out a hit. The defense also pointed out that Nicodemo had driven his two young children to school that morning and had gone shopping and purchased $150 worth of frozen shrimp for a planned Christmas Eve Seven Fishes dinner that day. These were not the kind of activities that usually come before a gangland shooting.

The juror said she thought about those seeming incongruities, but she wrote "I ultimately decided that AN [Anthony Nicodemo] was simply a run of the mill sociopath; he could effortlessly move between that banality of his everyday life and his job as an amoral thug."

In one final note, the juror said she was struck by the date of the murder, December 12, 2012.

"The date 12/12/12 seems like a corny date for a planned execution," wrote the jurist. She wondered if the date was "a coincidence," adding that "the 12 card in the Italian Tarot is the Hanged Man."


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Defense attorneys fight assertions against their gangster clients

He wasn't a gangster. He was a turnaround expert.

And if the government had just left him alone, Salvatore Pelullo would have turned FirstPlus Financial, a struggling Texas mortgage company, into a profitable business enterprise.

Do the math!

That was the message, accompanied by nearly 100 slides and a heavy mixture of passion and sarcasm, that Pelullo's lawyer, Michael Farrell delivered to a federal jury today in a highly charged summation that offered a decidedly different view of the testimony and evidence from the one presented by the prosecution during the five-month trial.

The government, Farrell said repeatedly, failed to back up its charge that Pelullo and mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo looted the company after secretly taking control of its board of directors in the summer of 2007.

"The government never gave these people a chance and they want you to convict them of crimes," said Farrell, the first of seven defense attorneys to offer closing arguments. Farrell will be back in front of the jury when the trial resumes Monday. He is expected to take most of the day to complete his summation.

"This is a guy with a track record of immense business success," Farrell said of his client, pointing to businesses Pelullo had started in the past, to a newspaper article identifying him as one of the top 40 businessmen under 40 and personal financial records that listed properties and assets that at times exceeded $1 million.

Farrell described Pelullo, 46, as a high school dropout with intuitive business acumen who had developed a "business model" for taking distressed companies and turning them into successful operations. He was, Farrell added, a "risk taker" who had run afoul of the law in the past. Pelullo has two prior fraud convictions.

But the defense attorney, contradicting a major premise in the prosecution's case, said there was never any attempt to hide Pelullo's role as a consultant to FirstPlus or to defraud the company.

"Loot the company?" he nearly shouted at one point. "They were trying to grow the company."

Farrell's summation came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen D'Aguanno wrapped up nearly six hours of closing arguments shortly after the lunch break today. D'Aguanno described Pelullo as the "central figure" in a scam built around "a fraudulent set of legal and consulting agreements."

He said Pelullo and Scarfo use fear, intimidation and the reputation of the mob and their links to it to advance a scheme that netted them millions while running the company into the ground. Both Pelullo and Scarfo, through companies they controlled, had consulting contracts with FirstPlus. A third defendant, lawyer William Maxwell, had a legal contract with the firm.

Maxwell was being paid $100,000-a-month plus expenses. The government contends he set up consulting contracts for Pelullo, at $100,000-a-month, and Scarfo, at $33,000-a-month, as part of an insider move to siphon cash out of the company.

Other defendants on trial are Maxwell's brother, John, the CEO of FirstPlus, and lawyers David Adler, Gary McCarthy and Donald Manno.

Using slides and charts that flashed on large screens around the courtroom, Farrell challenged the goverment's contention that after Pelullo and Scarfo took control of the company board of directors, its assets dropped from about $11 million to $1,700. In fact, he contended, companies that were purchased by FirstPlus had tangible value of millions and were not the straw entities that the prosecution alleges.

The purchases -- the government has charged that Pelullo and Scarfo controlled most of the companies that FirstPlus bought -- were part of a plan to turn the company around, part of a business model that Pelullo had developed and used successfully over the years.

Farrell also chided D'Aguanno and FBI Agent Joe Gilson, the lead investigator in the case. The defense attorney implied that the two law enforcement officials lacked the financial background and training to accurately assess what was taking place.

He said the FBI targeted Scarfo, the son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, because of his suspected mob ties. The younger Scarfo was on probation in 2007 after serving more than three years in prison for a conviction in an orgnaized crime gambling case. He has another conviction for racketeering.

The organized crime investigation into Scarfo, dubbed "Son Block," morphed into a probe of white collar corruption, Farrell said, and went off track because the government didn't understand the financial world.

The government "wants you to believe Scarfo was a mobster," Farrell told the jury. The evidence and testimony indicate he was "a computer nerd," the lawyer said.

Both Pelullo and Scarfo had criminal records and were cognizant of the fact that those records could create problems with government regulators and shareholders. But neither attempted, as the government alleges, to hide their involvement as consultant to the company, he said.

"They had strikes against them," he said of their criminal pasts. "They had obstacles. But they believed they could succeed."

Returning to another theme that has been part of the defense throughout the trial, Farrell said a series of FBI raids in May 2008 in which FirstPlus records were seized and Pelullo and Scarfo were identified as targets thwarted any attempt for the company to succeed. It wasn't fraud, but the government's actions, he argued, that deep sixed FirstPlus Financial.

He urged the jury not to buy into the government's arguments.

"They believe you'll convict solely because of the Mafia smoke," he said. But it's smoke, he said, with "no fire."


Prosecutors use gangster's own words against him at mob trial

A federal prosecutor used mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo's own words today to describe the alleged  takeover and looting of a Texas-based mortgage company that is at the heart of what authorities charge was a $12 million scam orchestrated by Scarfo and his business partner Salvatore Pelullo.

"Layers upon layers, like an onion," Scarfo, 48, said in a secretly recorded telephone conversation with Pelullo, 46, that was picked up on an FBI wiretap back in 2007 as authorities contend the takeover of FirstPlus Financial was unfolding.

For nearly three hours today, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen D'Aguanno, the lead prosecutor, detailed the allegations in the racketeering conspiracy case against Scarfo, Pelullo and five co-defendants. D'Aguanno said underneath those layers of the onion -- false SEC filings, phony stockholder reports, bogus consulting contracts and fraudulent business purchases and expenses -- was the financial scam that poured millions into the pockets of the two lead defendants.

"They're joined at the hip, from their criminal activities to their alleged business activities," D'Aguanno said of Scarfo and Pelullo, who frequently referred to each other as cousins even though there was no blood relationship.

In a closing argument that signaled the beginning of the end of the five-month long trial,
D'Aguanno called Pelullo the "de-facto" head of FirstPlus Financial. He said Pelullo "controlled" the company and that he "reported" to Scarfo. Both men had lucrative consulting contracts once they secretly took control of the company's board of directors in the summer of 2007, the prosecutor alleged.

Co-defendant William Maxwell, a lawyer on a retainer of $100,000-a-month to FirstPlus, helped set up those consulting agreements with Seven Hills Management, Pelullo's company, and Learned Associates, Scarfo's front, according to the prosecution who spoke for nearly three hours to the 16-member (four are alternates) jury panel.

D'Aguanno is expected to complete his arguments tomorrow. He will be followed by attorneys for the seven defendants. Jury deliberations are likely to begin late next week or early on the following week.

The prosecutor, who spearheaded the FBI investigation that began seven years ago, said Pelullo had a contract similar to Maxwell's that paid him $100,000-a-month. Scarfo's contract called for $33,000-a-month. He later had another contract with Maxwell for $150,000-a-year, the prosecutor said.

None of those deals were ever disclosed in SEC filings or reported to company shareholders, said D'Aguanno who then asked the jury a question that he repeated again and again - "Why?"

The answer, he said, was because the deals were part of a massive fraud set up by Scarfo and Pelullo, both of whom had criminal records that would have had to have been disclosed had their names been listed on company filings. Pelullo has two prior fraud convictions and was cited in the past for lying to the SEC, D'Aguanno said. Scarfo has two prior convictions linked to organized crime gambling and racketeering cases.

In their closings, defense attorneys, as they have throughout the trial, are expected to argue that the failures of FirstPlus were not caused by fraud, but by a poor economy. Defense attorneys have also argued that the government has interjected the presence of organized crime in the case to sensationalize what would otherwise be mundane financial charges that have little basis in fact. They also have contended that any chance FirstPlus had of succeeding ended when the FBI staged a series of raids in May 2008, seizing company records and assets.

Michael Farrell, one of two court-appointed attorneys representing Pelullo, is scheduled to offer the first defense closing after D'Aguanno completes his address. Farrell, a high energy litigator with a loud and aggressive courtroom style, is expected to take three or four hours. With no court on Friday, Farrell's closing could roll into Monday. The closings from the other lawyers could take the remainder of the week. The prosecution gets a final rebuttal closing before the case goes to the jury.

Today was a clearly one-sided prosecution summation of evidence and testimony that began back in January and finally concluded last week.

D'Aguanno told the jury that the criminal enterprise at the heart of the FirstPlus fraud was not the mob, but the Scarfo-Pelullo organization. He said, however, that both men used the reputation of organized crime to bolster the threats and extortion that allowed them to take over the company in the summer of 2007.

Scarfo's father, jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, and Vittorio "Vic" Amuso, the jailed leader of the Luchese crime family, were named as unindicted co-conspirators in the case. The elder Scarfo exercised "influence and control" over his son and Pelullo, D'Aguanno said, adding that both mob leaders -- even though they were in jail -- were to share in the financial benefits of the takeover.

Scarfo Sr. and Amuso were fellow inmates at a federal prison in Atlanta in 2007. Pelullo and Scarfo Jr. visited the elder Scarfo several times and discussed the FirstPlus takeover with him, D'Aguanno charged. Scarfo Jr. has been identified as a made member of the Luchese organization.

D'Aguanno also said a prison phone conversation between the two Scarfos in which they mentioned taking care of "Uncle Vic" was a coded reference to Amuso and his potential share in the looting.

Scarfo Jr. was on probation at the time the fraud unfolded, D'Aguanno said. He said that Pelullo, William Maxwell and Donald Manno, a co-defendant and longtime criminal attorney for Scarfo, were part of a scheme to lie to the probation department about Scarfo's associations and job opportunities in an fraudulent attempt to have his probation restrictions lifted.

If Scarfo had gainful, legitimate employment as a consultant for FirstPlus, why not just tell that to the probation department, D'Aguanno asked? The reason, he said, was that that disclosure might have led to government inquiries into what he was doing and disclosed his relationship with Pelullo.

Ironically, D'Aguanno said, authorities were already investigating those connections while Scarfo and the others tried to hide them.

Other defendants in the case include William Maxwell's brother, John, who was the CEO of FirstPlus after the alleged takeover and attorneys David Adler and Gary McCarthy who handled business and SEC filings for the company.

D'Aguanno opened his remarks by playing a tape for the jury in which Scarfo and Pelullo laughed and joked about the untimely passing of J.D. Draper, a FirstPlus insider who authorities said helped the two plan the behind-the-scenes takeover.

Draper, who was named compliance officer of the company, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in December 2007. On the tape, Scarfo and Pelullo mockingly talk about how they are broken up by his passing.

D'Aguanno said Draper was one of the few insiders who knew all the details of the scam and his passing eliminated any concerns on the part of Pelullo or Scarfo that he might turn on them and go to authorities.

"I'm crushed, tears are coming to my eyes," Pelullo said on the tape which was played twice during the trial and a third time today.

After more mock comments about sorrow and condolences, Scarfo told Pelullo that Draper's death was "one thing I know you can't take credit for."

But the government contends that Pelullo, in secretly recorded conversations and in emails, took credit for nearly everything else that brought him and Scarfo behind-the-scenes control of the company. And all of it, D'Aguanno said today, was based on fraud.