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

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Judge to decide whether to unseal evidence in case of murdered Lucchese family turncoat

On Thursday, Passaic County Superior Court Judge Marilyn C. Clark heard oral arguments on a motion to unseal evidence in the Bergen County gambling investigation ‘Operation Jersey Boyz’. Clark had served as the judge who originally authorized the wiretaps that led to the 2004 arrests of dozens of alleged mobsters and their associates from multiple crime families. Also seized were guns, drugs and more than $1 million.

A year after the raid, Clark tossed out all the wiretaps and search warrants and the evidence that emerged from them. Although she sealed her 103-page decision on the matter, Clark sent a letter to the attorneys in the case writing that some of the wiretaps were “tainted because of the failure of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to inform me … of certain information that would have alerted me to serious legal issues.”

She cited the existence of a confidential informant as creating those issues.

Clark, who once worked as an assistant Bergen County prosecutor is a daughter of the best-selling mystery novelist Mary Higgins Clark of Saddle River.

On Thursday, Eric Kleiner, attorney for the Estate of Frank P. Lagano, argued that law enforcement has used its secret-keeping privilege to “conceal legally damaging facts.” Sitting next to Kleiner was Frank P. Lagano, Jr., son of the now deceased alleged mobster.  Lagano, Jr. is a licensed attorney in New Jersey and is the executor of his late Father’s estate.

Lagano’s Estate seeks to unseal the impounded records, wiretaps, and evidence emanating from the ‘Jersey Boyz’ investigation, which, to date, have never been released to the alleged criminal defendants or to the public.

“Years have passed since Operation Jersey Boyz came to an inauspicious end. Ex parte hearings and closed-door proceedings resulted in suppressed evidence, secret judicial opinions, and sealed records. This motion to unseal is about the control of state-held information, and the ever-changing tension between two conflicting values: secrecy and openness”, said Kleiner.

While the 2004 crackdown on illegal gambling at Caffe Roma in East Rutherford netted more than $1 million in cash and the arrests of dozens of alleged mobsters, not a single person was charged or has served jail time.

At the center of the case was alleged Lucchese crime family associate, Frank Lagano. Lagano was later gunned down outside his East Brunswick diner in 2007.

In 2012, Lagano’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office claiming that Michael Mordaga, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office lead detective outed Lagano as a confidential informant, leading to his murder.

In a civil suit pending in federal court, Lagano’s estate alleges that Michael Mordaga, former Chief of Detectives for the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, the "BCPO", had both a personal and a business relationship with Frank Lagano. When Mordaga and Lagano had a falling out, Mordaga and the BCPO allegedly conspired to arrest Lagano on false charges, then disclosed Lagano's status as a confidential informant to members of organized crime, ultimately resulting in Lagano's murder.

In October 2014, a Federal Appeals Court vacated an earlier order that dismissed the civil suit saying the BCPO and Mordaga could not be sued because the BCPO was an arm of the State of New Jersey, and that Mordaga, as BCPO Chief of Detectives, was a state official.

In overturning that dismissal the appellate court found that “In this case, the amended complaint is replete with allegations that Mordaga and others within the BCPO were not performing the classic functions of law enforcement or criminal investigators. -- These allegations support a reasonable inference that neither Mordaga nor the BCPO acted within their classic investigatory and prosecutorial functions with respect to the state-created danger claim”.

Among claims by Lagano’s estate is that $79.900.00 seized from Lagano’s bank safe deposit box, and $54,528.00 seized from his residence was misdirected by the BCPO. Deposit slips show $79,900 and $54,528 transferred into a "CASH FOR PAYROLL" account maintained by the BCPO at Bergen Commercial Bank-not the legally required seized asset trust account held at Mariner's Bank. According to the brief, an additional $130,000 in cash seized from Lagano has never been accounted for.

In October, Prosecutor John Molinelli announced that he was being replaced by Governor Chris Christie. When asked about his decision to replace Molinelli, Christie responded saying, “the fact is that it’s time for a change in Bergen County. It’s long overdue.”

“Unsealing is necessary to examine the alleged nexus between Michael Mordaga, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, the Bergen County Democratic Party, and Frank Lagano's untimely death,” Kleiner wrote in the brief before the court

Allegations against John Molinelli made headlines during the recent corruption trial of former Bergen County Democrat boss Joseph Ferriero. Before becoming County Prosecutor, Molinelli served as Treasurer, and then legal counsel, to the Bergen County Democratic Organization under Ferriero.

Questions were raised about Molinelli’s involvement in the criminal case of Dr. Gangaram Ragi, a Teaneck dermatologist who paid $500,000 to Ferriero after a dozen women came forward with accusations they were sexually abused by the doctor during examinations.

With Molinelli’s approval, Ragi received an unprecedented second entry into Pre Trial Intervention (PTI), a program that allowed him to avoid prosecution and may have helped him keep his medical license.

“The officials who investigated Frank Lagano are connected to extortion, patronage, fraud, trading in influence, and other criminal acts. They have not only abused power for profit; they have trod upon the independence of our judiciary and exploited the public trust. Indeed, United States Attorneys have openly accused the Bergen County Prosecutor of playing an active role in a criminal racketeering enterprise,” Kleiner wrote in the brief.

“This motion details over 10 years of unjust, oppressive, and illegal practices occurring under the direction of Prosecutor John Molinelli and his cohorts. The submission reveals public corruption of epic proportions at the BCPO; corruption that has occurred with the full knowledge or tacit approval of Governor Christie, the Office of the Attorney General, and the US Attorney’s Office. Apparently, the corruption occurring at the BCPO is so lengthy, dramatic, and far-reaching that various state and federal agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting these matters would rather sweep them under the rug by merely dismissing Molinelli from office than address the BCPO's unlawful conduct directly,” Kleiner said in an earlier statement.

“For these reasons, the Estate's interest in discovering the true circumstances surrounding the murder of Frank Lagano is matched only by the public interest in exposing-and eliminating- the scourge of public corruption. In furtherance of judicial integrity, fundamental fairness, and public safety, the time has come to unearth the truth,” Kleiner surmised.

“In addition to the public corruption outlined in this motion, Molinelli declared war on innocent police officers for personal and political gain and all were acquitted. The saddest and most heinous part of Molinelli’s actions was that he knew these men were all innocent but he criminally prosecuted them anyway. Thank God for the jury system; which is our last line of defense in what has become one of the saddest chapters in law enforcement in US history. This includes P.O. Castronova [a 911 responder and hero] who was acquitted twice, Captain Garcia and Sergeant Aletta from the Hackensack Police Department and Officer Jeff Roberts and his codefendant from the Bergen County Police,” Kleiner told the Bergen Dispatch in an interview.

Judge Clark said that she expected to have her decision on the matter within two weeks.



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