James M. LaRossa, Defender of Mob Bosses in Court, Dies at 82


James M. LaRossa outside court in Brooklyn in 1996. Credit Wally Santana/Associated Press
James M. LaRossa, who numbered himself among “the last of the gladiators” — his characterization of defense lawyers — and proved it in decades of spirited courtroom battles on behalf of mob bosses, politicians, labor leaders and judges, died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan Beach, Calif. He was 82.
The cause was esophageal cancer, his daughter Susan LaRossa said.
In a career that included defending hundreds of white-collar criminals and establishing an important precedent of criminal law in the United States Supreme Court, Mr. LaRossa’s best-known cases involved Mafia chiefs. He represented Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino crime family, after Mr. Castellano was indicted in 1985 with other heads of Mafia families charged with taking part in a so-called commission that ran organized crime in New York.
Mr. LaRossa met with Mr. Castellano on Dec. 16, 1985, shortly before he and an associate were murdered near the entrance of Sparks Steak House in Midtown Manhattan.
John Gotti, the infamous mobster, succeeded Mr. Castellano as the Gambino boss. In 1989, federal investigators taped a conversation that they said had revealed “that Gotti intended to ‘put out a feeler’ to Mr. LaRossa to act as co-counsel for him in his anticipated prosecution for murdering Castellano.”
In a letter to a judge, the investigators wrote that “if Mr. LaRossa refused, Gotti would kill him.”
When The New York Times asked Mr. LaRossa about this seemingly ominous remark in 1991, he said:
“There is no doubt in my mind this was meant as a joke and no more than that. He and I have known each other for 15 years, and he wouldn’t say anything like that about me other than in jest.”
Mr. LaRossa decided not to take the case when prosecutors told him he might be a witness because of his association with Mr. Castellano. He later represented Vincent Gigante, the boss of the Genovese family and a bitter rival of Mr. Gotti, in a 1996 racketeering and murder trial.
In an interview with People magazine in 1978, Mr. LaRossa said he did not mind defending someone he knew was guilty. “I’m not proving their innocence,” he said. “I’m attempting to stop the prosecution from proving their guilt.”
Among Mr. LaRossa’s many well-known cases was his defense in the mid-1970s of Judge Ross J. DiLorenzo of Civil Court, who was charged with perjury for denying he had tried to interfere with an investigation of corruption on the New York waterfront. He won the judge’s acquittal.
In 1979, Mr. LaRossa represented Anthony M. Scotto, the leader of the International Longshoremen’s Association, who was charged with extorting $200,000 from shipping companies. Mr. LaRossa enlisted two former mayors, John V. Lindsay and Robert F. Wagner Jr., and Gov. Hugh L. Carey to praise Mr. Scotto’s character.
“He’s a considerate, good family man,” Mr. LaRossa said. “He’s not a common thief and he shouldn’t be treated as such.”
Mr. Scotto was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to five years in prison.
In the 1980s, Mr. LaRossa twice defended Mario Biaggi, a Bronx congressman. The first case involved charges that Mr. Biaggi had accepted free vacations from the Brooklyn Democratic leader, Meade Esposito, in exchange for favors. Mr. Biaggi was convicted and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
The second case involved charges that Mr. Biaggi had accepted bribes for helping Wedtech, a Bronx defense contractor, get federal contracts. Mr. Biaggi was convicted of 15 counts of obstruction of justice and accepting illegal gifts and sentenced to eight years.
In 1971, Mr. LaRossa represented John Giglio, who had been convicted of passing forged money orders. Evidence emerged that the federal government had failed to disclose that one prosecutor promised a witness that he would not be charged if he testified against Mr. Giglio. But the prosecutor who tried the case did not know about the agreement, and thus could not inform Mr. LaRossa about it.
The United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction, establishing the precedent that a prosecutor’s office must maintain a system ensuring that all lawyers in a prosecutor’s office have access to all information about promises to witnesses.
James Michael LaRossa, the son of a mailman, was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 4, 1931. He graduated from Fordham University and its law school, and served in the Marines during the Korean War. He chose the legal profession, he once said, because if “you really worked, you could grow without the obvious family connections.”
He worked for several years on the staff of the United States attorney in Manhattan, which he said was excellent experience for a defense lawyer. Despite his success in murder cases, Mr. LaRossa’s preference was handling more complex cases against white-collar defendants.
In 1991, the New York State Bar Association named him outstanding criminal lawyer of the year.
Mr. LaRossa’s marriages to the former Gayle Marino and the former Dominique Thall ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Susan, he is survived by another daughter, Nancy LaRossa; a son, Thomas; a sister, Dolores Nelson; and four grandchildren.
Mr. LaRossa had a commanding bass voice, and a sense of humor. In the Wedtech trial, he hammered away at a witness’s bad memory. The witness then suggested there might be a memo of the conversation. Incredulous, Mr. LaRossa suggested that there might also be a rabbit where this memo lurked.
The prosecutor objected. “About the rabbit?” the judge asked. Yes, the prosecutor responded.
Mr. LaRossa said, “I withdraw the rabbit, your honor.”

Dozens arrested had mob ties in gambling ring bust, authorities say


This story was originally published in the Thursday, Dec. 2, 2004 edition of The Record.
The Genovese crime family controlled an offshore gambling venture through which members of four area mob groups placed millions of dollars in illicit sports bets, authorities charged Wednesday.
Prosecutors accused more than 40 alleged mobsters, associates and wannabes of running the ring, which they said boasted more than 12,000 customers nationwide and raked in about $300,000 a week for the nation's most powerful Mafia family.
Capping an investigation by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey State Police, more than 100 officers fanned out across North Jersey early Wednesday, executing 25 search warrants at homes and businesses.
Those arrested included Joseph "The Eagle" Gatto, who controlled one of two Costa Rican "wire rooms" that accepted the bets from associates of the Genovese, Lucchese, Bonanno/Massino and Gambino crime families, authorities said.
Gatto, the 60-year-old son of legendary North Jersey Genovese mobster Louis "Streaky" Gatto, was quickly led in handcuffs from his Paterson town house atop Garret Mountain to an unmarked police car.
Also taken into custody were more than a half-dozen former area high school athletes, including Edgar Puzio, 23, of Garfield, a onetime football player and wrestler at St. Joseph's in Montvale, and former Rutgers and Bergenfield High School fullback Marc Demyen, 28.
Investigators also seized more than $1 million in cash, 25 guns, and "distribution quantities" of cocaine, said Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli.
"This was a large, substantial operation, and these arrests will have a significant impact on the group," said Nick Theodos, acting deputy superintendent of the state police.
Still at large Wednesday was 73-year-old Carmen Cicalese of Short Hills, a reputed longtime Genovese associate who authorities said operated a second wire room in Costa Rica called DataWagers. Cicalese was in Costa Rica, Molinelli said.
Authorities seized $670,000 from a safety deposit box held by Cicalese and his wife, Rose, 72, who was also charged.
The investigation began in April 2003 as a probe into gambling at Caffe Roma, a small Italian dessert shop on Park Avenue in East Rutherford, where authorities said gamblers could place bets as they sipped cappuccinos. The further detectives delved into the operation, they said, the clearer the scope became.
Authorities raided the café, a nearby restaurant and an Italian bakery around midmorning Wednesday. At Caffe Roma, investigators loaded a "joker poker" video gaming machine into a white van as other detectives searched inside the small shop.
"It was a base of operations for a certain faction of the Genovese crime family," Molinelli said, adding that authorities believe the owner was not involved. "I don't think that when we started we knew it was going to be as big as it was."
Louis Amendola, 71, of Totowa ran the Catalina Sports wire room with Gatto, the prosecutor said. Paul Mancuso, a 38-year-old Fair Lawn real estate developer, led the Bonanno/Massino family participation in the gambling cooperative, and Frank Legano, 65, of Tenafly acted as the point person for the Lucchese clan, he said.
All three, like Gatto, were charged with a variety of racketeering and gambling offenses.
Most of those arrested in the sting, code-named "Operation Jersey Boyz," are accused of being bookies, or "agents."
Bettors, each assigned a user ID, placed their wages with bookies, Molinelli said. The bookies then either phoned in the bets to the wire rooms or entered them via a Web site, he said.
A series of runners visited each bookie and collected a fee of $25 to $30 from each per week. With 12,000 regular bettors, the fees reached about $300,000 per week - but were only a fraction of the total amount wagered, the prosecutor said.
"There were millions and millions and millions of dollars changing hands," Molinelli said.
Twenty-four alleged Genovese associates and bookmakers operating under Gatto were charged with a litany of criminal offenses, including racketeering, gambling, drug distribution, money laundering, arson for hire, extortion and trafficking in stolen property.
Police said members of the crew also operated a truck-hijacking enterprise. Investigators received cooperation from Target, Home Depot, Circuit City and Best Buy in the investigation, which included loading a tractor-trailer with fake electronic equipment for a successful sting operation, Molinelli said.
Gatto's rank in the Genovese crime family was not clear Wednesday night.
In May, the State Commission of Investigation claimed he filled the captain's role vacated by his deceased father, who had been in prison, and reported directly to family leaders in New York. The FBI also named him a captain in a 1998 federal racketeering indictment.
But law enforcement officials on Wednesday said Gatto controls much of his father's old numbers rackets but isn't one of the Genovese family's three New Jersey captains. Gatto, released from federal prison last year after serving a 61-month term, remains a soldier, said state police Detective Mark Doyle.
In any case, "Joe Gatto is one of the higher operatives for the Genovese crime family," Doyle said.
"Streaky" Gatto, who controlled a multimillion-dollar gambling empire until he was sent to prison for 65 years in 1991 for racketeering and murder conspiracy, was a favorite of imprisoned Genovese boss Vincent "The Chin" Gigante. Gatto died of cancer in 2002.
State authorities said three captains control New Jersey for the Genovese family: Angelo M. Prisco runs the Jersey City and Bayonne waterfront; Ocean County resident Ludwig "Ninny" Bruschi, who awaits trial on a 2003 racketeering charge, controls Northern New Jersey and Silvio DeVita controls the Newark area.
The Genoveses are considered New Jersey's preeminent La Cosa Nostra group. The family reportedly operates three to five "main crews," and has about 40 active soldiers, as well as a network of more than 400 "criminal associates," primarily in North and Central Jersey.
Authorities hope the charges will hurt the gambling operation.
"With 12,000 weekly bettors, one would hope to put a dent in it for the near future," Molinelli said.
Puzio was charged with illegally distributing painkillers, and Demyen was charged with racketeering and promoting gambling.
Other former athletes charged with conspiracy to promote gambling, or racketeering, or both: Sean Alberti, 36, a former Lyndhurst High School basketball coach and player; former Garfield High School football player Randy Calderio, 24; former Nutley wrestling champion Vito Mielnicki, 34; former Saddle Brook football player Tomasso Scaduto, 24, who was the manager of Caffe Roma, and former Montclair State University linebacker and Clifton resident John Turi, 25.

Juan Gonzalez, 35, of Lincoln Park and David Pille, 44, of Paterson, were each also charged with torching the car of a indebted gambler.

Son of Bonanno mobster involved in infamous Lufthansa heist pleads guilty to moving rotting corpse from Queens house

Jerome Asaro, 56, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court on Friday to moving the body of Paul Katz during the 1980s.



Jerome Asaro, 56, after his arrest earlier this year. He pleaded guilty Friday to moving the body of Paul Katz, who was murdered by Luchese mobster James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke.
The son of a longtime Bonanno gangster charged in the spectacular 1978 Lufthansa heist pleaded guilty Friday to digging up the rotting corpse of a gangland victim allegedly buried there by his old man.
Reputed capo Jerome Asaro copped to the charge of accessory after the fact of the 1969 murder of Paul Katz, admitting that he exhumed the body from the basement of a Queens house sometime in the 1980s and moved the remains elsewhere.
“Did you act to hinder the apprehension of the person who committed the murder?” asked Brooklyn Federal Judge Allyne Ross.
“Yes I did,” Asaro, 56, replied.
Prosecutors have charged Jerome’s 80-year-old father Vincent Asaro with killing Katz as a favor to legendary Luchese mobster James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke who was immortalized by actor Robert De Niro in the film “Goodfellas.”
Burke was also the mastermind of the $6 million robbery at the Lufthansa warehouse at Kennedy Airport.
JOE MARINO/NEW YORK DAILY NEWSVincent (Vinnie) Asaro, 80, is scheduled to go on trial next year.
Vincent Asaro was implicated by a rat — his cousin Gaspare (Gary) Valenti — and allegedly received a cut of the proceeds from Burke as tribute to the Bonanno family.
Although Jerome Asaro will not have to testify against his father, law enforcement sources said the guilty plea proves that Valenti’s information was solid.
“It’s every man and every son for himself now, regardless of family or not,” a source said.
Asaro, who also pleaded guilty to torching a Queens building in 1981, faces up to eight years in prison.
Prosecutors contend that Katz was marked for death because Burke believed he had tipped off cops to raiding a Richmond Hill stash house for stolen property where Vincent Asaro was arrested in the late 1960s.
Vincent Asaro told his cousin that he and Burke had killed Katz with a dog chain and enlisted his help in burying the body in the basement of a house in Ozone Park owned by Burke, according to court papers.
Sometime in the 1980s, Burke sent word from prison to Vincent Asaro that he wanted the body moved. Valenti and Jerome Asaro dug up what was left of Katz — a skull, bones and some corduroy scraps of clothing — and poured a fresh cement floor over the hole.
Father and son are apparently still on good terms despite the guilty plea. Defense lawyer Lawrence Fisher requested the government lift the separation order at the Metropolitan Detention Center so they can see each other behind bars.
Vincent Asaro is scheduled to go on trial early next year, but other sources say his mental condition has deteriorated since his arrest last January and he may not be competent to defend himself.

Fed with ties to mob pushes for release after Miami murder case overturned


 Nearly five months after an appeals court reversed his murder conviction in Miami on a legal technicality, ex-Boston FBI agent John Connolly remains behind bars as prosecutors fight to keep him imprisoned.
At issue: Prosecutors immediately asked Miami’s Third District Court of Appeal to reconsider a May ruling in favor of Connolly, whose relationship with notorious Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger became the basis for the 2006 crime drama movie The Departed.
But so far, there’s been no word from the appeals court. Now, Connolly’s frustrated lawyers are asking the Florida Supreme Court to force the Miami appeals court to hurry up and rule — and free the 74-year-old former agent.
“Despite having prevailed on appeal, Mr. Connolly remains incarcerated,” Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Manuel Alvarez wrote in a court filing this month, “as this cause languishes, in rehearing limbo.”
The state, however, is in no hurry.
The Miami appeals court “knows this is a very serious case and is treating it that way, being very deliberate,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Tuesday. “A just result is far more important than a speedy decision.”
Connolly is currently housed at a state prison in Northern Florida. In 2008, Miami jurors convicted him of second-degree murder for the July 1982 slaying of former World Jai-Alai executive John Callahan. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
A star FBI agent in the 1970s and 1980s in Boston, his twisted relationship with the so-called Winter Hill gang became crime lore in New England.
Bulger, after 17 years on the lam, was recaptured in 2011 and is now doing life in prison for his years of crime.
A federal jury in Massachusetts had convicted Connolly in 2002 for his dealings with Bulger’s gang, mainly protecting them from prosecution and tipping them about informants in their ranks. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in that case, a sentence already completed.
In the Miami case, prosecutors say Connolly told gang leaders Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi that jai-alai executive Callahan might cooperate in the probe of an earlier mob murder. The mobsters dispatched notorious hitman John Martorano to shoot Callahan dead, leaving his corpse in a Cadillac trunk at Miami's airport.
During a riveting trial in Miami in 2008, Flemmi and a host of underworld figures testified against Connolly. That included Martorano — who has long since been released from prison.
Connolly had originally been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, which carries no statute of limitations. But the Miami-Dade jury found him guilty only of a lesser charge: second-degree murder with a firearm.
Defense attorneys challenged the verdict, saying Connolly should be freed because the statute of limitations for second-degree murder, in 1982, was only four years.
Prosecutors argued that the use of a firearm during the crime was an “enhancement” that rendered it a felony punishable by up to life in prison — with no statute of limitations.
That applied, they said, because Connolly carried his service weapon while revealing the sensitive information that doomed Callahan during a meeting in New England several weeks before the fatal shooting.
But the Miami-Dade judge refused to toss Connolly’s conviction because the ex-agent’s lawyers waited too long to file their objection.
Miami’s Third District Court of Appeal seemingly agreed; in March 2011, a three-judge panel upheld the conviction in a decision with no written opinion. Connolly’s lawyer, Alvarez, asked the court to reconsider the decision.
But the case lingered for more than three years. It was only after Alvarez asked the Florida Supreme Court to force the Third DCA to make a decision on that request that the court finally issued an opinion.
For prosecutors in Miami and Boston — and victims of the Winter Hill gang — the May opinion was a stunner.
Unusually, two of the same three judges who had originally voted to uphold Connolly’s decision changed their minds. Judges Richard J. Suarez and Frank Shepherd now agreed with the defense, saying that prosecutors had indeed been mistaken in asking that the murder charge be upgraded to second-degree murder with a firearm.
“It is beyond question that Connolly’s service weapon was neither available for use nor was it used in the murder; it had absolutely no spatial or temporal relationship to the discrete crime,” the judges wrote.
And so, the judges ruled, Connolly should be freed because the statute of limitations for second-degree murder, without the firearm, had long since ran out.
But Judge Leslie Rothenberg, in a lengthy dissent, said that nothing was wrong with the “reclassification” — and that jurors heard plenty of evidence that Connolly, while armed with his own gun, was a key player in the events that led to Callahan’s fatal shooting.
“The jury’s verdict sufficiently supports the firearm reclassification of the second degree murder,” Rothenberg wrote, adding that the decision to reverse was a “grave error.”
In immediately appealing the May decision, prosecutors insisted that the jury’s verdict was legally sound. They asked the entire appeals court — all 10 judges, not just the three initially selected for the case — to reconsider the ruling.
But so far, the appeals court has not ruled.
Connolly’s lawyers insist that the court has no choice but to “finalize” the appeal and let him go home.
“No reasonable grounds exist to justify the continuation of the rehearing process in this case,” Alvarez wrote.

Mobster get 40 months

By Donita Naylor
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A New England mob associate from Johnston pleaded no contest to operating an illegal gambling ring and was sentenced to serve 40 months of a 20-year sentence, the Attorney General’s Office said in a news release Tuesday.
Under terms of the agreement, Vincent “Tootsie” Tallo, 53, of 12 Poppyhill Drive, Johnston, will serve about 16 years of his sentence on probation. He was sent to the Adult Correctional Institutions by Superior Court Justice Jeffrey A. Lanphear to begin serving his 40 months.
“Hollywood may have glamorized the mob lifestyle, but Vinny Tallo is nothing more than a common criminal hanging on to the fantasy of being in the game with a ‘made guy,’” Atty. Gen. Peter F. Kilmartin said in a news release. “There is nothing glamorous about selling drugs, bookmaking or prison.”
Tallo was arrested in May, 2011, with 22 other suspects after a six-month investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the Rhode Island State Police. He has been out on bail.
A court-authorized wire intercept of Tallo’s cell phone recorded thousands of incriminating conversations, the news release said. The investigation established that Tallo was accepting illegal sports wagers on professional and college sports and arranging for payouts and collections.
Tallo was further suspected of buying and selling prescription narcotics from his residence and of being in possession of a firearm while in possession of a controlled substance, the news release said.
Two people involved in Tallo’s operation were identified as Edward C. Lato and Frank L. “Bobo” Marrapese Jr., both members of the Patriarca organized crime family.

Gangster John Gilligan heading for home

By Emma McMenamy
Shot crimelord risks his life to go to funeral of ‘close relative’

Notorious gang boss John Gilligan walked free from prison after 17 years behind bars

Mobster John Gilligan could return to Ireland this week following the death of a close relative.
The former drug baron, 62, fled the country earlier this year after narrowly escaping being shot dead.
It is believed the pint-sized thug, who was released from high security Portlaoise Prison last October, will return to Dublin to pay his final respects to Bernard Gilligan – believed to be his brother – who passed away on Saturday.
The criminal, once a suspect in the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, has not set foot on Irish soil since going into hiding in the UK after the failed assassin-ation attempt at another brother’s house in Clondalkin on February 28.
It is understood he has been warned he is a “dead man walking” and will be killed on his return.
A source last night said the criminal will try to sneak back quietly into the country to pay his respects.
The source added: “Gilligan hasn’t been home to Ireland since he left earlier this year. He is still not 100% after the shooting and has had medical care in the UK.
“He has been moving between safe houses in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
“It is likely he will return for the funeral, which will take place later this week. He’s a big family man and no doubt will have been devastated by the news.”
The source added: “He will be taking a huge risk in returning.”
Friends and family of the deceased man took to Facebook on Saturday to offer their condolences. One relative posted: “RIP uncle Bernard heaven gained a true gentleman. Heartbroken.”
Gilligan was freed from Portlaoise on October 15 last year after serving more than 17 years of a 20-year sentence.
The gangster achieved infamy in the 1990s while running a massive international drug-dealing operation.
But it fell apart after the 1996 murder of journalist Veronica Guerin. Gilligan was cleared of her murder but served 17 years behind bars for drug dealing.
The fallen crime boss fled Ireland in March just 24 hours after his “minder” and close associate, Stephen ‘Dougie’ Moran, was shot dead.
At the time sources said the murder of the 46-year-old sidekick was a warning to Gilligan that his days were numbered.

Since the assassination attempt Gilligan has undergone extensive rehabilitation and fitness training to recover his ability to walk without assistance.

Man with mob ties receives prison time as part of plea on gambling ring

Dan Kittridge, Editor

A Johnston resident prosecutors describe as a mob associate will serve more than three years in prison as part of a plea agreement entered in Superior Court this week.
Vincent “Tootsie” Tallo, 53, with a last known address of 12 Poppyhill Drive in Johnston, entered a plea of no contest on charges he operated an illegal gambling ring. Under the terms of the agreement, he was sentenced to 20 years with 40 months to serve, and the remainder of the sentence was suspended with probation.
“Hollywood may have glamorized the mob lifestyle, but Vinny Tallo is nothing more than a common criminal hanging on to the fantasy of being in the game with a ‘made guy.’ There is nothing glamorous about selling drugs, bookmaking or prison,” Attorney General Peter Kilmartin states in a press release.
According to Kilmartin’s office, Tallo was arrested in May 2011 after a six-month joint investigation by the attorney general’s office and Rhode Island State Police.
The probe, which the attorney general said involved a court-authorized wire intercept of Tallo’s cell phone, also led to the arrest of 22 other individuals prosecutors say have ties to organized crime and were involved in an illegal gambling ring.
“Detectives monitored and recorded thousands of incriminating conversations as well as conducted physical surveillance,” the attorney general’s release states. “The investigation established that Tallo was conducting an organized criminal gambling operation by accepting illegal sports wagers on various professional and college sporting events. Tallo further arranged for payouts and collections of the wagers won or lost by his customers.”
Prosecutors say detectives also learned Tallo was involved in the illegal purchase and sale of prescription drugs from his residence and also possessed a firearm while in possession of a controlled substance.

According to the attorney general’s office, the investigation additionally identified “made members” of New England organized crime who were involved in the gambling operation. Two were identified as Edward C. Lato and Frank L. Marrapese, who prosecutors say are members of the Patriarca crime family.