Ralph V. Perna of East Hanover and two of his sons — all top-ranking members of the Lucchese crime family — were given eight- and 10-year state prison sentences Thursday after pleading guilty to running a multi-billion-dollar gambling enterprise.
Ralph V. Perna, 69, received an eight-year state prison sentence. His sons, John Perna, 38, of Belleville, and Joseph Perna, 46, of Wyckoff, were each sentenced to 10 years in state prison. Charges are still pending against a third son, Ralph M. Perna, 43, of West Caldwell.
All three had pleaded guilty in June to first-degree racketeering, admitting that they ran a gambling and money laundering operation as part of an organized criminal enterprise. They were among 34 people originally indicted in the case in 2010.
The three Pernas were among six major defendants who pleaded guilty in the case in June. The other three — Martin Taccetta, 64, formerly of East Hanover, John Mangrella, 72, of Clifton and Matthew Madonna, 80, of Seldon, N.Y. — had all been sentenced previously, according to Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.
Under the plea agreements entered in Superior Court in Morristown before Judge Salem Ahto, all three Pernas were given so-called "flat" sentences, which allow for early release on parole. However, all had lengthy prior criminal records, which will delay their parole possibilities, according to court officials.
The enterprise processed billions of dollars in wagers, mostly on sports, authorities said.
Ralph V. Perna's attorney, Carl Herman, estimated they will likely have to serve roughly half their terms.
The 34 defendants were indicted in 2010 after an investigation uncovered the gambling ring, which transacted an estimated $2.2 billion in wagers, primarily on sporting events, over a 15-months period, authorities said. The operation allegedly received and processed the wagers using password-protected websites and a "wire room" in Costa Rica.
The Pernas managed day-to-day gambling operations under the father's supervision and Ralph V. Perna was a former top "capo" in New Jersey for the New York-based Lucchese crime family, according to the state Attorney General's Office.
Also in court on Thursday, charges were dismissed against two wives who had been accused in the case — Rosanna Perna, 41, who is Joseph's wife, and Vita Cetta, 46, whose husband, Michael, 46, of Wyckoff, died in 2013 while his case was still pending.
Three other defendants — Alfonso "Tic" Cataldo, Gianni Iacovo and Sam Juliano — have also died since the long-running case was initiated, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Charges are still pending against 20 defendants in the case, said Assistant Attorney General Christopher Romanyshyn, who is prosecuting.
Cataldo had been the main cause of the delay. The case was put on hold while the state Attorney General successfully pursued litigation to deny him a public defender
During Thursday's court session, Judge Ahto acknowledged that the eight-year sentence for Ralph V. Perna, a New Jersey "capo," was a "low" number, but added, "I recognize the serious nature of the spouse's condition."
The defense attorneys accepted the sentences, which had been agreed on as part of the plea arrangements, but some objected to the wording of the pre-sentence reports, which they said would affect how the defendants are treated in prison.
All wanted any reference to violence removed, pointing out the defendants hadn't admitted any violent acts when they entered their guilty pleas.
Joseph Perna's attorney, Anthony Iacullo, vehemently denounced a mention in the pre-sentence report of the fact that his client had been accused of helping a member of the Bloods street gang smuggle drugs and pre-paid cell phones into East Jersey State Prison.
"There was no reference" in the guilty plea to cell phones or drugs, Iacullo pointed out. "That is extraneous, superfluous and unsupported," Iacullo charged.
Romanyshyn, the prosecutor, replied, "the evidence in this case" indicates those were the facts, and if the case had gone to trial, "that would have been presented to the jury."
However, Romanyshyh acknowledged the cell phones and drugs were not part of the guilty plea, so he had no objection to removing it from the report, and Judge Ahto ordered it removed.
The year-long probe targeted a $2.2B underground gambling operation that linked the Lucchese crime family, Bloods street gang
Also, Iacullo wanted a section removed that referred to wiretapped conversations involving "the collection of debts and the use of violence."
Ahto said he would take out the reference to violence but would leave in the fact that "they were planning to collect" on debts.
Joseph Perna was the only defendant who chose to address the court.
"I apologize to the court for wasting a lot of time," he said. "I apologize to my family for putting them through this ordeal."