Tag: Federal Authorities
A crackdown on the Philadelphia mafia by federal authorities marked a key milestone Tuesday with the sentencing of Damion Canalichio to 11 years in prison in a racketeering conspiracy involving loansharking, extortion and illegal gambling — the 12th leader, member or associate of the city’s La Cosa Nostra family to have pleaded guilty or been convicted in the investigation.
U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said seven of defendants, including Canalichio, have been sentenced, and five are awaiting sentencing.
A reputed South Jersey mobster, Canalichio, 43, was indicted in May along with mob boss Joseph Ligambi and others.
Prosecutors said the evidence included taped conversations in which Canalichio boasts about his use of violence to collect loan-shark debts and in which he identifies himself as a collector for Ligambi.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John S. Han described Canalichio as a “formally initiated member of La Cosa Nostra,” who has an extensive criminal history — including eight arrests and four convictions since 1999. Two of those convictions were for drug trafficking.
On Feb. 5, after a four-month trial, a jury convicted Canalichio of conspiring to conduct and participate in the affairs of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra family through a pattern of racketeering activity. The evidence at trial proved that, in furtherance of the racketeering conspiracy, Canalichio, as a “made” member, engaged in loan sharking and illegal sports bookmaking on behalf of the mob.
Canalichio exploited the violent reputation of the Philadelphia mob family in extending usurious loans and collecting payments on the loans, leaving the borrowers in fear of physical harm if they did not pay promptly, the indictment said. Canalichio also directed and supervised the participation of associates in his crew to carry out the crimes.
The case was prosecuted by Mr. Han and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank A. Labor III and Suzanne B. Ercole of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The mob remains a focus of the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, Pennsylvania and New Jersey state police, Philadelphia police and the Department of Labor’s office of inspector general.
Ligambi is scheduled for an October retrial after the jury deadlocked on that main count in his case.
One is a longtime mob associate, another is a custodian for the Stamford school system — the third is a Stamford restaurateur.
All three men were recently sentenced for their bookmaking roles in a multi-million dollar gambling operation run by members of the Gambino Crime Family in Fairfield County.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant sentenced Anthony “Skinny” Santoro, 49, of Staten Island, N.Y., who federal authorities say is a longtime associate of the Bonnano Crime Family to eight months in prison and ordered him to forfeit $25,000 to the government.
She sent Michael “Peewee” Vitti, 33, of Stamford, a custodial engineer for the Stamford Board of Education, to prison for 10 months and ordered him to forfeit $100,000.
Finally, Bryant sentenced Daniel “Dannyboy” DeGruttola, 33, also of Stamford, who owns the Brickhouse Bar & Grill, Bedford Street, to three months of home confinement and forfeiture of $100,000.
All three previously pleaded guilty to operating an illegal gambling business which carries a maximum five-year federal prison term.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Chen charged that the trio worked for a gambling operation that took in $1.69 million from October 2010 to June 2011. The prosecutor said the operation is headed by Dean DePreta, 45, of Stamford, a reputed Gambino associate and his longtime friend, Richard Uva, 44, of Trumbull.
Their operation included street bookies, an internet gambling website in Costa Rica, and three gambling houses in Stamford and Hamden, according to court documents. Both DePreta and Uva have pleaded innocent to charges and are awaiting trial.
Chen said Santoro is a longtime associate of Vito Badamo, a made member of the Bonnano Crime Family. The two were arrested, convicted and incarcerated following a 1995 attempted New York warehouse break-in with the intention of stealing several pounds of cocaine. The break-in was interrupted by police and a shoot out occurred in which one of the pair’s accomplices was killed, court documents show.
In this case, Chen charged that DePreta and Uva refused to pay off $28,000 in winnings to Santoro’s gamblers because they believed he was manipulating wagers. Chen said they turned over money only after Santoro “enlisted the assistance of his superiors in the Bonnano Family.”
The prosecutor said Vitti’s gamblers lost about $310,000, and DeGruttola’s lost $220,000 to DePreta’s operation from the fall of 2010 to the spring of 2011.
In a Jan. 29, 2011, telephone call recorded by the FBI, DeGruttola complained to Uva of some gamblers who couldn’t pay.
Uva told him to get their names “because they might be guys you can control¦You know what I’m saying?”
He continued: “You gotta make sure they know they can’t do that.”
Nearly three dozen people were charged in what US investigators said was a Russian organized crime operation that included illegal, high-stakes poker games for the rich and famous and threats of violence to make sure customers paid their debts.
Federal authorities in New York City were not naming names but said the poker players included pro athletes, Hollywood celebrities and Wall Street executives. None of them was charged, AP reports.
The money-laundering investigation led to arrests Tuesday in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere in the United States. There also were FBI raids at a US$6 million apartment in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and a prestigious Madison Avenue art gallery owned by two of the defendants.
George Venizelos, head of the New York FBI office, said the charges against 34 individuals “demonstrate the scope and reach of Russian organized crime.”
He added: “The defendants are alleged to have handled untold millions in illegal wagers placed by millionaires and billionaires, laundered millions, and in some cases are themselves multimillionaires. Crime pays only until you are arrested and prosecuted.”
New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said proceeds from the high-stakes illegal poker games and online gambling were allegedly funneled to organized crime overseas.
Among those named in an indictment filed in federal court was a wealthy Russian fugitive, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. He was already under indictment in a separate US case accusing him of bribing Olympic figure skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
In a two-month period beginning in late 2011, the money-laundering ring paid Tokhtakhounov US$20 million in illegal proceeds, the indictment said.
Along with the illegal poker games, the ring operated “an international gambling business that catered to oligarchs residing in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world,” the indictment said.
Prosecutors alleged proceeds were laundered through shell companies in Cyprus and in the United States by a criminal enterprise with strong ties to Russia and Ukraine.
Assistant US Attorney Harris Fischman told a US magistrate judge in Manhattan that Vadim Trincher, 52, directed much of the international racketeering enterprise from his US$5 million apartment at Trump Tower.
“From his apartment he oversaw what must have been the world’s largest sports book,” Fischman said in a successful argument to have Trincher held for trial without bail. “He catered to millionaires and billionaires.”
Trincher’s apartment is located directly below one owned by Donald Trump, authorities said.
Fischman said FBI agents found US$75,000 in cash and US$2 million in chips from a Las Vegas casino in Trincher’s apartment after he was arrested at 6 a.m. He appeared in court in a white t-shirt and jeans.
Fischman said the government had a strong case against Trincher in part because of recorded conversations between Trincher and his customers captured for several months through a court-approved wiretap.
On one of those calls, Trincher could be heard warning a customer who owed money that “he should be careful, lest he be tortured or found underground,” Fischman said. He said the government was in the process of seizing Trincher’s apartment.
Trincher’s attorney, Michael Fineman, said his client was denying the allegations. He said he had lived in the United States since 1989 and in New York City for nearly a decade and also owned property in Las Vegas. He said he earned money through legal gambling, though Fischman countered that the government could only find one instance in which Trincher won US$1 million at a legal poker tournament.
Hillel Nahmad was expected to surrender in Los Angeles, authorities said. Earlier in the day, agents in New York raided the Helly Nahmad art gallery in a Madison Avenue hotel. Among charges against him, Nahmad is accused of conspiring to commit wire fraud in connection with the sale of a painting worth about US$250,000. It was not immediately known who will represent him in court.
The authorities say the games were an offshoot of a massive money-laundering scheme.
FBI agents arrested several people Tuesday in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere as part of the investigation. They also searched a Madison Avenue art gallery.
Prosecutors are expected to detail the case later Tuesday.
Authorities wouldn’t name the poker players.
But with millions of dollars being spent — sometimes in the form of duffel bags stuffed with cash — on horses bearing such names as No. 1 Cartel and Mr. Ease Cartel, it wasn’t long before authorities learned of the alleged scheme and reined it in.
The federal investigation resulted in indictments last year against 18 individuals. Now, at least four of the accused in the money-laundering scheme, including the brother of two of the top leaders of the Zetas drug cartel, are set to go on trial Monday in an Austin, Texas, federal courtroom.
The trial, which could last up to six weeks, is expected to offer insight into the internal workings of the Zetas, as well as highlight what some cartel experts say was a rookie mistake by an organized-crime outfit: drawing attention to your activities.
“It’s just sort of flashy, ostentatious behaviour that is not smart if you are involved in organized crime,” Howard Campbell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso who has studied drug cartels, said of the racehorse-buying operation’s high profile.
U.S. federal authorities have accused Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, believed to now be the leader of the Zetas drug operation, of setting up the horse operation that his younger brother, Jose Trevino Morales, ran from a sprawling ranch near Lexington, Okla.
The operation spent millions of dollars buying horses in California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, prosecutors said.
Authorities allege Jose Trevino Morales and his wife, who had lived in north Texas before moving to Oklahoma, did not have the means to support the ranch operation, which bought, trained, bred and raced quarter horses throughout the southwest, and that drug money paid for everything.
Neighbours said those who worked with the ranch spent lots of cash, bought land and made improvements at a time when others in the industry were struggling financially.
Workers at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino in New Mexico said Jose Trevino Morales’s stables were known as the “Zetas’ stables.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, which is handling the case, declined to comment Friday about the trial.
‘THEY COULDN’T GET THE BROTHERS’
Jose Trevino Morales’s lawyer, David Finn, said his client is not guilty of money laundering, describing him as a hard-working person who learned to raise horses while growing up on a ranch in Mexico.
“This is not about Jose Trevino Morales and his family. This is about his brothers and their alleged criminal activity in Mexico,” Finn said.
“He is not involved in any Zeta activity. … They couldn’t get the brothers so they are focusing on my client.”
Miguel Angel Trevino Morales and another brother alleged to be a top Zetas leader, Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, were also indicted.
However, they — along with five others also charged — remain at large. Three others indicted have pleaded guilty, including Jose Trevino Morales’ wife and daughter.
‘SMARTER PEOPLE’ MORE DISCREET
Campbell said that, while the racehorse-buying operation might have been a creative way to launder money, it was also “really stupid because it was so public.”
“The smarter people launder money more discreetly,” he said.
Campbell attributed the mistake to the Zetas’s relative inexperience as an independent drug-trafficking group. Originally a band of assassins made up of ex-special forces soldiers from the Mexican army, the Zetas worked for the Gulf Cartel before splitting off in 2010.
The Zetas, known for beheading rivals, have been blamed for some of Mexico’s most shocking atrocities and mass killings.
“The Zetas seem to be a little more out of control and not as sort of hip to how they should operate in order to avoid getting caught,” Campbell said.
“They’ve learned their lesson in this case.”
George Grayson, an expert on Mexican politics and drug cartels at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., said the Zetas might have been drawn to the idea of using a horse-buying operation because of their love of such animals, especially thoroughbreds.
“With horses and laundering money, you have a daily double on which they thought they couldn’t lose,” said Grayson, who co-authored The Executioner’s Men: Los Zetas, Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs and the Shadow State They Created.
Campbell called the upcoming trial a “slam dunk” for prosecutors, citing the extensive evidence.
Grayson said he doesn’t think the shutting down of the horse-buying operation was a major blow to the Zetas’s operations.
“It’s a thorn in their side but not a dagger in their heart,” he said.
Erwin Acox, of the 5100 block of North Kimball Avenue, has been charged with bank robbery after police arrested him with nearly $3,000 in cash in his pocket, and traced most of the money to a bank robbery at the TCF Bank branch at 4250 N. Lincoln, according to a criminal complaint.
However, FBI Special Agent Joan Hyde said Acox has been charged only with one robbery. Authorities have yet to determine if he was also responsible for four other bank robberies committed by the so-called “Mummy Bandit.”
Acox allegedly went into the TCF Bank branch inside a Jewel store in Lincoln Park on Sunday. His face was covered with
However, FBI Special Agent Joan Hyde said Acox is charged with only that robbery, and so far has not been linked to the four other bank robberies committed by the so-called “Mummy Bandit.”
According to the complaint, Acox entered the TCF Bank branch inside the Jewel grocery just after 10 a.m. on Sunday, and grabbed cash from a teller’s hand. He then demanded cash from the teller’s drawer. In total, he stole more than $2,700, according to the complaint.
Police questioned two witnesses from the bank who saw the robber in the parking lot as they left the store. Police had recently conducted surveillance on Acox, and when they showed a photo of the bank robber to an acquaintance of Acox, that person recognized the burgundy coat he was wearing during the heist.
Officers later spotted Acox riding a bike near his home and questioned him. They spotted a knife in his pocket, and when he was arrested, police found $2,886 in cash in his pockets, including bills from the bank robbery.
The FBI has not been able to determine if Acox is the same man who also robbed North Community Bank branches at 2000 W. Division St. on March 5; 4701 N. Clark St. on Dec. 20 and Feb. 1; and 1555 N. Damen on Feb. 22. The tape the robber wore in those heists does not exactly match the tape from the most recent bank robbery.
Acox has been ordered held without bail until a hearing on Thursday in federal court.
A Fort Lauderdale investment adviser will go on trial Monday morning for running what federal authorities have described as a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that victimized the Wilton Manors gay community.
George Elia, 69, faces 10 fraud-related charges with prosecutors accusing him of duping clients into believing he was a financial whiz. Elia created phony paperwork for investors, lulling them into believing they were getting high returns through his company, International Consultants & Investment Group Ltd. Corp., according to federal authorities.
Elia raked in more than $9.5 million from October 2004 until his scheme fell apart in 2011, according to federal prosecutors.
Court records show at least $2.5 million of investors’ money ended up flowing to companies controlled by Elia and/or his wife and another $2.9 million went to James F. “Jim” Ellis, who recruited investors using his connections in the gay community.
Ellis, 69, pleaded guilty last month to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He is set to testify at Elia’s trial before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams in Miami.
Elia’s court file offers no hints as to what his defense strategy might be. His attorney, Stephen H. Rosen, argued at an August hearing that many day traders like Elia “took a bath” in the recent recession.
Court records indicate that Elia’s business ran smoothly until 2011 when he started missing payments to investors. A few months after a group of investors filed a $4 million lawsuit against him, he sold his house and left for the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where he was born.
He appeared to be out of the reach of investors and law enforcement until he and his wife flew back to Las Vegas last March. U.S. Marshals met them at the Las Vegas airport.
Elia has been in federal custody without bond since.
His attorney filed paperwork last week indicating he wants to ask prospective jurors if they are gay or would be unable to be fair and impartial toward a defendant accused of defrauding homosexuals.
Rosen argues that such questions are necessary if federal prosecutors intend on presenting evidence that identifies alleged victims’ sexual orientation.
Prosecutors counter that potential jurors should not be discriminated against based on their sexuality. Elia was “an equal opportunity con man” who ripped off anybody he could, wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney H. Ron Davidson.
Williams will rule on Rosen’s request to ask jurors about their sexuality before jury selection begins Monday.
A man who believes he knows where Jimmy Hoffa was buried says he’s been interviewed three times by federal authorities since stepping forward in January.
Tony Zerilli tells Detroit TV station WDIV that the FBI has enough information for a search warrant to dig in Oakland County. He says he answered every question from agents and prosecutors.
The FBI declined to comment Monday.
Zerilli was convicted of organized crime as a reputed Mafia captain. He was in prison in 1975 when Hoffa disappeared from a Detroit-area restaurant but says he was informed about Hoffa’s whereabouts after his release.
Hoffa was president of the Teamsters union until 1971. Zerilli has been promoting a book, “Hoffa Found.” A website says the book will reveal details about Hoffa’s death.
‘Mafia boss’ Joe Ligambi set to walk free after Philly jury hits deadlock over racketeering claim – and CLEARS him of five other charges
Convicted underboss Joseph Massimino and two others of racketeering
13-year investigation into illegal gambling, video poker machines and loansharking in South Philadelphia
Reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph ‘Uncle Joe’ Ligambi will seek bail after a jury deadlocked on a racketeering charge against him, and deadlocked or acquitted him of all eight lesser counts in a gambling and loansharking case.
The federal jury convicted underboss Joseph ‘Mousie’ Massimino and two others of racketeering, and convicted a mob associate of two loansharking counts.
But the jury deadlocked or acquitted the seven defendants on most of the approximately 60 counts.Defense lawyers saw the verdict as a slam of the government’s 13-year investigation into illegal gambling, video poker machines and loansharking in South Philadelphia.
The jury had heard one defendant complain on a secret FBI recording that ‘it’s a broke, broke mob.’
Lead defense lawyer Edwin Jacobs Jr. called the prosecution ‘an enormous waste’ of taxpayer money.
Unlike earlier mob trials in Philadelphia, there was no violence alleged, other than purported threats by debt collectors.
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‘We’re not talking about terrorists. We’re not talking about schoolchildren being shot up. We’re talking about video machines that aren’t hurting anybody,’ Jacobs said after the verdict.
‘The only problem is they weren’t controlled by the state.’
The reputed mobsters also complain on the tapes that legalized state gambling had cut into their video poker and sports betting business.
Federal prosecutors call the case important and say they will consider retrying the unresolved counts.
‘We respect the jury’s verdict,’ Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han said.
‘We will decide whether to go forward with the charges on which the jury was undecided.’
The parties are due back in court today when Ligambi and others not convicted are expected to seek bail after about two years in custody awaiting trial.
The jury also convicted reputed mob soldier Damion Canalichio and reputed mob associate Gary Battaglini of racketeering conspiracy.
It deadlocked on that for Ligambi nephew George Borgesi and Anthony Staino Jr. Staino, who remains free on bail at least until Wednesday, was convicted of two loansharking counts.
The jury acquitted Joseph ‘Scoops’ Licata of the racketeering charge.
The verdict follows a three-month trial and testimony from a series of mob turncoats, including an aging mobster who admitted killing several people before going into the federal witness protection program.
When the trial started in October, there hadn’t been a mob killing in Philadelphia in nearly a decade.
That seemingly changed the day the government rested its case in December.
Hours later, a convicted drug dealer suspected of cooperating with federal prosecutors was gunned down outside his house in South Philadelphia in broad daylight.
Gambling figure Anthony Nicodemo was soon charged with the execution-style slaying.
Nicodemo’s name has come up at trial on FBI wiretaps.
The racketeering trial evidence included testimony from former La Cosa Nostra members, FBI agents who infiltrated a New York crime family and thousands of FBI wiretaps.
Five people pleaded guilty before trial; three more await trial.
Prosecutors believe the quiet, business-like Ligambi assumed control of the Philadelphia crime family after flashy, young boss Joseph ‘Joey’ Merlino went to prison in 1999.
Merlino was released last year and has settled in Boca Raton, Fla.
Merlino’s father died in prison in October.
His mother has occasionally attended the Ligambi trial, joining the outspoken, tight-knit group of friends and family members from South Philadelphia who came to court each day.