A courtroom showdown over an accused mobster's pretrial release has been postponed in Massachusetts as the defendant remains marooned in a New York City prison.
Ralph Santaniello, 49, of Longmeadow, has been held behind bars since his arrest on Aug. 4 along with four other men with reputed Mafia ties. Santaniello faces charges in connection with extortion, loansharking and illegal gaming schemes and investigators say a government witness reported that Santaniello threatened to behead him if the witness did not agree to pay thousands of dollars in kickbacks from his towing business.
Santaniello slapped him in the face, according to the witness, only identified in court records and during hearings as "Victim One."
Also arrested in August were were Giovanni "Johnny Cal" Calabrese, 53; and Gerald Daniele, 51, both of Longmeadow; Francesco "Frank" Depergola, 60, of Springfield; and Richard Valentini, 51, of East Longmeadow. All pleaded not guilty to the charges at their arraignments. And, all but Santaniello, won pretrial release and are out on bail.
Santaniello and Depergola also face RICO conspiracy charges in federal court in Manhattan in connection with an $30,000 extortionate loan to an unnamed witness at a Chicopee pizza shop at the behest of New York Genovese crime family capo Eugene "Rooster" O'Nofrio, 74. O'Nofrio had a long history of negotiating with Greater Springfield-based gangsters, according to law enforcement sources.
The New York charge - where Santaniello and Depergola are bit players at best - is the root of why Santaniello has been stuck in a Brooklyn prison since early September. He was transferred there by the U.S. Marshals Office that month for a routine arraignment and hasn't returned.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson questioned lawyers and marshals during hearing in August, to ensure Santaniello wouldn't get stranded in the prison system. But, it appears he has.
A second bail hearing scheduled before U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman in Worcester for Nov. 18 has been indefinitely postponed, according to the court docket.
Despite the magistrate judge's specific inquiry, the reason for the delay in Santaniello's transfer is unclear as yet.
In terms of the underlying debate of Santaniello's pretrial release, lawyers have already made their positions clear in court filings.
Daniel D. Kelly, a lawyer for Santaniello, has argued prosecutors have overstated his client's role in the organized crime world and that there are simple measures to assure his client's safe pretrial release.
"He is not alleged to have a membership in the LCN (La Cosa Nostra) but rather was noted as an associate," Kelly's motion challenging Santaniello's continued pretrial detention reads.
An FBI agent previously testified in court that Santaniello and Depergola were teed up for sanctioning, or "being made," which carries significant benefits in the mob world, but the Genovese crime family had shut down membership.
"Currently the books are closed with the Genovese crime family. Therefore no one is being made," Agent Robert Zanolli testified in August.
Prior to the Santaniello hearing that was scheduled before U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman on Nov. 18, Assistant U.S. Attorneys filed a motion to oppose his release.
The opposition motion notes that Santaniello towed the classic Mob line of threats and violence, providing highlights of recorded conversations with Victim One.
"He also threatened Victim One, telling him that this was his 'last warning,' but
that he was 'going to be nice' before I [Santaniello] blow up again.' When Victim One equivocated about whether he would pay, the Defendant said 'See, when you
talk like that you're going to get your f***ing head cracked.' Unbeknownst to the
Defendant, this entire confrontation was recorded by law enforcement, who were hiding on the premises," read the government's response.
A notation on Santaniello's court docket indicates the delay in his case is "indefinite" because he is not in the state.
Kelly calls the delay "inexplicable."
A magistrate judge previously ruled Santaniello should be held pending trial because he exhibited a "casual brutality" toward the tow company owner and appeared to be a leader in the Springfield faction of the Genovese crime family.