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

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Genovese mobster beats 1997 murder rap but still sentenced to 48 months

A reputed Yonkers mobster who pleaded guilty to lesser crimes after prosecutors dropped allegations that he ordered a 1997 murder was sentenced Monday to four years in federal prison. 

John Tortora pleaded guilty to obstruction and gambling charges in 2020 once prosecutors could not back up the allegations that he was involved in the stabbing death of Richard Ortiz outside the Mill bar on Nov 11, 1997. 

"At the end of the day, to go from facing the death penalty for a murder you had nothing to do with to a four-year term, we've come a long way," Tortora's lawyer, Barry Levin, said in a phone interview Monday night after the sentencing in Manhattan federal court. "On the other hand, the government had no case."

But Levin was disappointed that U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein did not sentence Tortora to time served for the two years he was denied bail while the murder charge was pending.  

Tortora was arrested in 2018, charged with murder in aid of racketeering and other offenses in connection with Ortiz's death.

But his lawyers made the case that Yonkers police, the FBI and prosecutors mistakenly relied on Lucchese mobster Carmine Francomano Jr.'s account that Tortora ordered the hit. They contend it was Francomano who directed another man, Abdil Saez, to kill Ortiz after he suspected Ortiz had stolen from mob gambling machines and told authorities about an after hours club run by Francomano's family.

Although prosecutors had agreed to let Tortora plead guilty to the charges that were unrelated to Ortiz’ murder, they had wanted to still have his sentencing based on that killing.

But they backed down when the defense lined up a dozen witnesses, including former Yonkers detectives, who confirmed that Tortora had never been considered a suspect in the killing until Francomano claimed he was involved in 2015.

While investigating Tortora in October 2017, federal authorities learned that Genovese family captain Daniel Pagano had visited Tortora's check cashing business on Saw Mill River Road. When they issued a grand jury subpoena for surveillance video footage, Tortora would not turn it over immediately and eventually arranged for its destruction.

His guilty plea covered that act of obstruction as well as his role in a sports betting operation.

Tortora's lawyers had asked for a significant break from the sentencing guidelines, which called for a prison term ranging from 6 ½ to 7 years. 

In a letter to the judge this month, Levin and co-counsel Richard Levitt called the criminal case "a three-and-one-half-year nightmare of gross accusations coupled with hollow assurances that 'proof' would be forthcoming."

They said such proof was never going to happen because the allegations were false.

They urged Stein to impose no additional prison time, arguing that the nearly two years he was held without bail was punishment enough.

Tortora was held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for nearly two years, including during a blackout that left inmates freezing in their cells for more than six days in early 2019.

The defense cited the inhumane conditions of his time at MDC, Tortora's health problems and an adult daughter who relies on him for care as reasons to spare him from prison.

Prosecutors insisted that even without tying Tortora to the Ortiz murder he should serve the maximum for the obstruction and gambling charges because of his criminal past and the seriousness of trying to obstruct a grand jury investigation.

"Criminal investigations simply cannot function if subpoena recipients are free to destroy and fabricate evidence, like the defendant did in this case, without serious consequences," they wrote.

They suggested Tortora would get adequate medical attention in prison. And if his and his daughter's health did not deter him from committing the crime, they argued, "then they should not justify reduced punishment."



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