Two inmates hanged for yakuza slayings

Two inmates were hanged in Tokyo on Friday in the second round of executions to be approved by the Liberal Democratic Party-led administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The inmates were Yoshihide Miyagi, 56, and Katsuji Hamasaki, 64, the Justice Ministry said.
Members of a yakuza syndicate, the pair were convicted of conspiring with an accomplice to gun down two rival gangsters at a family restaurant in Chiba Prefecture in 2005.
The human rights watchdog Amnesty International immediately condemned the hangings, saying the fast pace of executions by the LDP-led government tells the world that Japan is determined to ignore calls by the international community to abolish the death penalty.
With the executions, the number of death-row inmates dropped to 134.
At a morning news conference after the executions, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki described Miyagi and Hamasaki’s crime as “nefarious and cruel,” especially given that they fired eight shots in a place crowded with innocent bystanders.
Tanigaki also said the pair unleashed their hail of gunfire to “save the face of their organization,” a motivation he described as typical of yakuza.
“The two were sentenced to death by courts after careful scrutiny, and I myself repeatedly mulled over their cases before signing the final order,” Tanigaki said.
Throughout the news conference, Tanigaki repeated that he carefully assessed their culpability and that he made his decision independent of any external circumstances.
Asked about the rising number of death-row inmates in recent years, Tanigaki said this did not spur his decision.
Also, asked whether the pace of executions under the LDP — the two Friday came two months after three inmates were sent to the gallows in February — represents a significant difference in policy with the Democratic Party of Japan, Tanigaki said policy differences between the two parties were never part of his concern.
Capital punishment was carried out at a snail’s pace during the three-year rule of the DPJ. Japan went a full year with no hangings in 2011, the first time that had happened in 19 years.While acknowledging he is keenly aware that the death penalty entails grave consequences and that the global trend is toward abolishing capital punishment, Tanigaki stressed that the practice still exists in some countries and that his responsibility boils down to giving each case serious consideration.
Amnesty International issued a statement condemning the expeditious pace with which the LDP-led administration has carried out executions so far.
“We consider this a declaration by the Japanese government and the Justice Ministry that Japan is determined to turn its back on calls by the international community and carve out a path to massacres, and for this, we are strongly disappointed,” it said.
In December, the United Nations adopted by an overwhelming majority a nonbinding resolution calling for a worldwide halt to capital punishment, further highlighting the increasing global pressure on Japan to end the practice.
The resolution, the fourth of its kind since it was first discussed in the U.N. in 2007, won support from a record 111 countries, including Canada, the Philippines and Brazil.
Currently, Japan and the United States are the only countries among the Group of Eight richest nations that still execute criminals.

Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider stands by wife Suzette at trial of LI killer gym rat


A gym owner who moonlighted as the boss of an “ultra-violent robbery crew” on Long Island was sentenced to three life sentences yesterday for launching a coldblooded killing spree to eliminate associates — including the brother-in-law of “Twisted Sister” frontman Dee Snider.
Christian Tarantino, 46, was so successful “making money hand over fist” in a series of daring armed robberies that Gambino crime-family scion John “Junior” Gotti tried to shake him down for a taste of the profits, a source told The Post.
But Tarantino’s downfall came after he began to kill off associates who he feared might talk.
One was his longtime friend Vincent Gargiulo, 33, who was gunned down in broad daylight at 30th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.
Justin Bressman, a gym employee whom Tarantino promised $35,000 to carry out the hit, drew a .22-caliber pistol with a silencer and shot Gargiulo point-blank in the face, Long Island federal prosecutors say.
Six weeks after committing the August 2003 murder for Tarantino, Bressman disappeared, officials say. His burned-out car was abandoned in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and he has never been found.
Yesterday, Gargiulo’s sister, Suzette Snider — the wife of the ’80s hair band’s singer — watched the proceedings from the back row of the crowded Central Islip courtroom.
Then Dee Snider joined Suzette at a podium, as she spoke about the loss of her brother.
“Vinnie would have died for Chris — and it’s ironic, because Vinnie did die because of Chris,” she said.
Before his death, Gargiulo secretly taped Tarantino discussing several murders — hoping the recording would serve as insurance when he suspected that Tarantino might finger him for two murders, officials said.
“It was like a movie. His best friend tape-recorded [Tarantino] confessing to two murders, and then tried to blackmail him with the tape — and was found dead, executed, shortly thereafter,” said another source involved in the case.
After Gargiulo’s death, the tape was mailed anonymously to investigators.
Tarantino also was convicted of participating in a 1994 armored-car robbery in Syosset, LI, where guard Julius Baumgardt was shot in the back of the head as he lay on the ground.
His accomplice on the armored-car heist, Louis Dorval, helped sell the loot through his connections with the Luchese crime family, sources said.
But Tarantino worried that Dorval was a liability, so he lured him to his death, then stuffed his body into a tool chest and dumped it in the Atlantic. Days later the tool chest floated to the surface, where the Coast Guard recovered it.
Yesterday, Tarantino, who has Parkinson’s disease, told victims’ relatives he would pay for his crimes.
“Talk about suffering?” he said as his arm shook. “You can count on it. I am.” He also apologized.
“I feel sorry for the [victims’] families,” he said.
Federal Judge Joanna Seybert said it was apparent Tarantino was not truly remorseful, describing him as a “violent, cruel, cunning person who chose to commit these crimes

60-month prison term for cocaine sales

STAMFORD -- A city man swept up along with 19 others nearly a year ago in a federal gambling and drug dealing operation linked to the Gambino crime family was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for cocaine dealing. 
Elliot Chiappetta, 61, was sentenced by Judge Janet Hall in New Haven District Court, according to a press release from David Fein, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut.
According to court records and statements made in court, Chiappetta was part of a drug-trafficking ring based in Stamford from 2009 and 2010. 
The investigation, which used court-ordered wiretaps and physical surveillance, showed that Chiappetta and others charged in the operation acquired cocaine and sold it in smaller quantities to customers in Fairfield County. 
In April 2010, Chiappetta traveled to southern Florida to buy a kilogram of cocaine, the release said. 
Stamford police Capt. Richard Conklin said city officers in the Narcotics and Organized Crime unit worked with federal agents during the investigation. 
"We are very happy that we were able to help take down a large number of these people. Their sentencings are coming up now," Conklin said. 
On Jan. 28, Chiappetta pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. 
Chiappetta's criminal history includes state felony convictions in 1992 for sale of narcotics and possession of narcotics and a federal conviction in 2004 for conspiring to conduct an illegal gambling business. 
The investigation was conducted by the FBI Fairfield County Organized Crime Task Force and the Stamford police department. 

Steven Seagal's Trip to Court Against the Gambino Crime Family

What follows is an excerpt from ' Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge,' a book where I try to explain life on the bench and the unknown parts of our legal system.
At the beginning of the fourth week of the trial, Steven Seagal took the witness stand, raised his right hand, and swore to tell the truth. The courtroom was packed. There were reporters all over the place -- many from L.A. -- who were champing at the bit to write about Seagal's involvement with the Gambino family. The 58th count of the indictment charged Cassarino and Ciccone of conspiring to extort money from the movie star, and the 59th count charged them with actually attempting to do that. They were not the most important charges in the case--and had nothing to do with Peter Gotti or the Gambino family's control of the waterfront--but they certainly brought out the crowd.

Conscious of his public persona, Seagal -- with his painted hairline and red bracelets dangling from his neck -- was clad in a chocolate-brown silk kimono, jeans, and construction boots. He testified that he was licensed to carry a gun and always carried one when he was in New York. I made sure that he did not have one with him in court. He had just flown back from Thailand--where he was making his latest movie, Belly of the Beast--for his court appearance. He described himself as an "actor, producer, director, musician, songwriter." At first he was very combative, befitting a self-proclaimed martial arts expert. However, under aggressive cross-examination his testimony started to get shaky and evasive. I told him that he had to be more responsive: "Listen to me, I don't have any experience in martial arts but I have other powers here. Just listen to the question and answer it." I then took an early lunch break "so people can cool off a little bit." When he came back into the courtroom for continued cross-examination, his tough-guy image was totally shattered. He brought two red shawls with him and asked me if he could place them over his lap to warm his chilly knees. The audience laughed.

In his testimony, Seagal told the jury that he had had a sit-down with Cassarino and Ciccone in a private room at Gage and Toliber, a popular restaurant in downtown Brooklyn. His onetime best friend and former producer, Jules Nasso, was with him. Nasso had ties to the Mafia and enlisted Ciccone to resolve an ongoing dispute that he had with Seagal over money which Nasso claimed that the movie star owed him. Seagal told the jurors that Ciccone began talking to him about "monies that I owed Jules," and "went into the fact that he wanted me to work with Jules." Seagal told Ciccone, "I'm trying," at which point Ciccone ordered him to "look at me when you are talking." Ciccone then said: "Look, we're proud people and work with Jules ... Jules is going to get a little and the pot will be split up ... We'll take a little." The meeting ended with Seagal stating that "he would try to work with Jules." Seagal testified that as he walked out of the restaurant, Jules started walking with him and said, "You know, it's a good thing you said this and didn't say that because if you would have said the wrong thing, they were going to kill you." Seagal told the jurors that he had broken up his relationship with Nasso because Nasso was using mood-elevating drugs and "going into psychotic rages." Nonetheless, he testified that he paid Nasso between $500,000 and $700,000 -- he was not too good with numbers -- after he had escaped with his life.

As Seagal recounted his real life adventure, he seemed to regain his composure and warm to the audience. He began making dramatic faces -- complete with his famous furrowed brow -- in response to questions. He grinned at a juror. When he finished his testimony and I told him that he could step down, he bowed twice to the crowd and said, "Thank you all." The media event was over. It was time to get back to the rest of the trial.
Frederic Block has practiced law for 34 years. He was appointed to the federal district court as a judge in 1994 by President Clinton. Block is the author of Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge.

Gambino mobster guilty in 1981 Queens bar killing, multiple other crimes

A high-ranking member of the Gambino crime family who literally got away with murder years ago has finally been found guilty of that crime and others and could go to prison for life.
Bartolomeo Vernace, 64, variously known as "Bobby Glasses," "Pepe" and "John Canova," was found guilty on April 17 of a racketeering conspiracy that included his participation in the 1981 murder of two Queens bar owners — a killing sparked by a spilled drink.
Vernace and two Gambino associates gunned down John D'Agnese, 22, and Richard Godkin, 35, at the Shamrock Bar, located at 86-06 Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, on April 11, 1981.
D'Agnese had asked patron Frank "The Geech" Ricardi to leave after he argued with another customer who had spilled a drink on the woman Ricardi was with. But instead of just leaving, Ricardi returned with Vernace and another alleged mobster, Ronald "Ronnie the Jew" Barlin. Together they killed D'Agnese and Godkin in front of dozens of witnesses.
Afterward, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Vernace went into hiding, while another Gambino associate "tried to question" witnesses to the killing, intimidating them. Vernace later returned to Queens, operating a Mafia crew out of a club on Cooper Avenue in Glendale for years.
In 1998, Vernace was charged with the Godkin-D'Agnese killings in state court, but he was acquitted in 2002 after a trial.
During this year's federal racketeering trial, one eyewitness testified that he had lied during the state trial out of fear of retribution. "Two men were dead over a spilled drink," the witness said. "That was reason enough to be afraid."
Vernace was rearrested in 2011, along with more than 100 other suspected members of the Mafia, in what was touted as the largest coordinated takedown of organized crime figures in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was at the time one of three people who had been running the Gambino crime family since 2008, the government said.
“The 32 years since Vernace took part in the ruthless double murder of two good men represent half his lifetime," New York FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos observed in an announcement of last week's conviction. "They have not been years spent atoning for those murders. It has been time spent living the life of a mob soldier, capo, and overseer — half a lifetime committing and directing crimes for the Gambino crime family. We expect that Vernace’s remaining years will be spent behind bars where he belongs. There is no expiration date on the FBI’s resolve to see justice done.”
In addition to the Godkin-D'Agnese murders, Vernace was found, as part of the racketeering conspiracy, to have been involved in heroin trafficking, robbery, loansharking and gambling. He was also found guilty of separate firearms and gambling allegations. The government said he had been involved in the Mafia since the early 1970s and eventually became a captain, or capo, in the Gambino family. The racketeering charge covered his activities from 1978 through 2011.
One of the Five Families that dominates Sicilian-American organized crime in New York City and its environs, the Gambino group was for a time considered the most powerful Mafia conglomerate in the country, led by Carlo Gambino, then Paul Castellano and then, perhaps most infamously, John Gotti of Howard Beach, the "Dapper Don," who was sent to prison for life in 1992 and died there 10 years later.

Yakuza who stabbed famed wrestler Rikidozan dies in Tokyo

TOKYO (TR) – The former organized crime member who stabbed famous wrestler Rikidozan five decades ago has died at the age of 74, reports the Sankei Shimbun (Apr. 13). Katsuji Murata, once a member of the Sumiyoshi-kai, died of natural of natural causes on April 9 after suffering from diabetes. Rikidozan rose to immense fame by defeating foreign opponents in the immediate aftermath of World War II. On the evening of December 8, 1963, the wrestler was confronted by Murata inside the New Latin Quarter club in Tokyo’s Akasaka district. A fight erupted in the bathroom, and Rikidozan was stabbed by Murata in the abdomen with a knife. One week later, he died in a Tokyo hospital as a result of complications from peritonitis. He was 39 years old.

Mob probed in Pompeii restoration project

Anti-Mafia prosecutors say they have ordered an inspection into restoration work at the Pompeii archeological site to make sure that the organized crime has not infiltrated the project.
Prosecutors said in a statement Tuesday that the daylong inspections were carried out on areas being restored as part of a $136-million project funded by the Italian government and the European Community.
The inspections were carried out by prosecutors along with military and financial police.
Several collapses in the ancient Roman city have raised concerns about the state of the historic cultural attraction, including that of a 2,000-year-old house once used by gladiators to train before combat.

Evidence in mafioso Bobby Vernace's racketeering trial stumbled upon by FBI agent

An FBI agent was taking a stroll through Forest Park in Queens when he saw Vernace and criminal accomplices meeting near a playground. The evidence collected there puts known crime family operators together.
After 32 years and two trials, bringing a top Gambino mobster to justice for killing two men in a Queens bar may be a walk in the park after all.
The feds obtained crucial evidence for the racketeering case against Bartolomeo (Bobby) Vernace when an FBI agent strolling in Forest Park in Queens luckily stumbled upon a meeting between Vernace and two supporting characters in the case.
FBI agent Gerard Conrad was simply taking a break from his work supervising 15 agents who investigate the Gambino crime family, he testified.
And then, he got a stroke of good luck on that warm 2006 day: “I saw three made members of the Gambino family and two associates of the family in the park,” he said.
 It was Vernace, Joseph (JoJo) Corozzo and Alphonse Trucchio, the son of Gambino thug Ronald (Ronnie One Arm) Trucchio, in the woods near a playground.
Conrad called for backup agents with a camera — and the resulting photos are a crucial piece of evidence because, prosecutors argued, they keep Vernace in a mob timeline that dates back to a 1981 killing in Corozzo’s Ozone Park social club.
Vernace had beaten the murder charge in 1998 — but the photos show that eight years later, the wiseguy, who is now a member of a panel running the crime family, is still with Corozzo and capo Alphonse Trucchio in a criminal enterprise and worthy of a racketeering conviction, prosecutors argue.
The case begins on April 11, 1981, when Vernace, then a low-level hood, was hanging out at Corozzo’s club when another mob associate called on him to go to the Shamrock Bar to exact revenge over a spilled drink, authorities say.
The bar owners were shot in cold blood and a key witness, bartender Joseph Patrick Sullivan, was scared into silence for three decades by Ronnie One Arm Trucchio, authorities say.
But last month, Sullivan admitted he lied to cops and jurors for more than three decades about who was responsible for the senseless murders of Richard Godkin and John D’Agnese by Gambino gangsters.
This week, as the jury resumes deliberating the charges against Vernace, agent Conrad’s walk in the park may seal the deal.
“That was certainly fortuitous,” widow Catherine Godkin said of Conrad’s stroll. “He’s my hero.”

Mafia hitman reveals he’s gay in court

A hitman for the Mafia shocked a New York court today by revealing he was gay and had renounced his life of crime.
Robert Mormando, 44, a hitman-turned-informant, was being sentenced for the murder of a Queens bagel store owner in 2002.
According to the New York Daily News, his lawyer Nancy Ennis said he joined La Cosa Nostra that year and was given the task of killing Angelo Mugnolo a month later.
Mormando carried out the killing, Ennis said, but found it to be “so disagreeable” he chose to leave the mob and was forced to live in hiding.
Ennis then revealed that Mormando had been quietly living with his partner since leaving the Mafia, describing it as “a peaceful working life”.
Mormando’s partner has refused to take part in a witness protection programme but the couple have moved to another part of the country.
Federal judge Jack Weinstein asked him to renounce the blood oath he took on joining the mob and was astonished when Mormando said he already had done so.
Weinstein said he frequently asked mob members to do the same but it was the first time any had agreed.
When asked by the court why he decided to join the Mafia, Mormando said that as a boy, he was seduced by the lifestyle he saw mobsters leading, but now “regretted” joining up.
Mormando was sentenced to time already served, which was nothing. He faced up to 17 years in prison.
There are no specific rules prohibiting homosexuality in the Mafia but it is not tolerated.
John D’Amato, the former boss of the DeCavalcante family, was murdered in 1992 when rumours surfaced he was gay. His body has never been recovered.

US: Lesbian daughter of New York mafia boss pleads mercy for her ‘supportive’ father

The daughter of a high-ranking New York mafia boss has pleaded for mercy on his behalf, saying he supported her and her same-sex partner and he deserves to spend time with their son.
Dennis Delucia, 71, pleaded guilty last year to extortion and faces 46 months in prison. Delucia is renowned as a capo of the Colombo crime family, one of the “Five Families” that dominate organised crime in New York.
According to the New York Daily News, his daughter, Donna Delucia, has written to Judge Kiyo Matsumoto at Brooklyn Federal Court to ask for her father to be let off with a light sentencing.
She writes that although her father was a “chauvinist”, forbidding her brothers to help with chores on the grounds that they are male, she was surprised to find he accepted her when she came out as a lesbian.
“I finally came out at 22 years old,” she wrote. “My mother did not handle it well and pushed me away …. I was scared, frightened and afraid of my dad’s reaction.
However, she adds: “My dad was the one who told me he would love me no matter what I would do or tell him.”
Ms Delucia wrote that her father had cried when he learned that she and her partner wanted to have a baby.
He gave financial support to allow the couple to move from Philadelphia to New York, where same-sex couples have more extensive parenting rights. The two are now raising a 9-year-old son in Kentucky.
“My dad accepted me, embraced me and has supported me. His love and acceptance helped me through the rough times and growing pains,” she wrote. “Please let him come home. I want my son to spend long days with his grandfather.” 

US Justice Department will not see death penalty for Colombo crime family consigliere

The US Justice Department won't seek the death penalty for a Colombo crime family consigliere accused of sanctioning the 1997 murder of NYPD Officer Officer Ralph Dols.
US Attorney General Eric Holder issued the course-reversing directive -- made public today -- without citing a rationale for his shift.
Now Colombo wiseguy Joel "Joe Waverly" Cacace, 72, will face a maximum penalty of life in prison if he's convicted at his upcoming mob murder trial in Brooklyn federal court.
Cacace is already serving a 20-year sentence for other mob crimes that has him scheduled to be released in June 2020, according to
Back in Feb. 2011, Holder authorized Brooklyn prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for Cacace, who's charged with ordering the carefully planned Aug. 25, 1997 hit on the off-duty officer in Brooklyn.
Investigators believe that Cacace sanctioned the murder because he was angry that Dols had married the mobster's ex-wife, Kim Kennaugh.
Last May, a jury at another Brooklyn federal court mob trial cleared Colombo crime family street boss Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioeli and soldier Dino "Little Dino" Saracino of participating in the murder of Dols, but convicted them of conspiring to commit other mob murders.

Gambino family captain convicted of double-murder

A federal jury in Brooklyn on Wednesday convicted Bartolomeo Vernace, an upper-echelon member of the Gambino Organized Crime Family -- one of the five families of La Cosa Nostra in New York -- for a racketeering conspiracy spanning 33-years between 1978 and 2011, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
As part of the racketeering conspiracy, the jury found that Vernace participated in all nine racketeering acts alleged in the indictment, including the 1981 double-homicide of Richard Godkin and John D’Agnese, heroin trafficking, robbery, loansharking, and illegal gambling.
The Gambino crime captain is facing life imprisonment without a chance of parole.
The evidence at trial established that the 64-year-old Vernace, a/k/a “Bobby Glasses,” “Pepe,” and “John Canova,” had a long career in the mafia beginning in the early 1970s and culminating in his induction and rise to become a powerful Gambino family captain who served on the three-member ruling panel overseeing the family that was established in 2008.
Vernace was arrested on Jan. 20, 2011, as part of a national sweep of almost 100 members and associates of organized crime led by the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Among the crimes he committed for the Mafia, Vernace, together with two Gambino soldiers, murdered Richard Godkin and John D’Agnese in the Shamrock Bar in the borough of Queens on April 11, 1981, after a dispute arose between a Gambino family associate and others in the bar over a spilled drink, according to court papers.
The associate left the bar and picked up Vernace and a third accomplice at a nearby social club. A short time later, the three men entered the bar and gunned down Godkin and D’Agnese -- the owners of the bar --as the bar’s patrons ran for cover.
In the weeks after the murders, Vernace went into hiding while one of his close associates, Ronald “Ronnie One-Arm” Trucchio, a rising star in the Gambino family who would later become a powerful captain, sought to question witnesses from the Shamrock Bar that night, placing those witnesses in fear.
While in hiding, Vernace was indicted under the alias “Pepe” in the Southern District of New York on heroin trafficking charges. Years later, Vernace, who had avoided state charges for the murders and who had never been identified in connection with the heroin trafficking indictment, returned to Queens and to an active role in the Gambino family.
Over the next two decades, his power within the Mafia grew as he became actively involved in robbery, loansharking, and gambling, while operating a large and profitable crew from a café in the Glendale neighborhood of Queens.
In 1998, Vernace was charged in Queens County Supreme Court with the Godkin and D’Agnese murders but was acquitted after trial in 2002, with witnesses admitting they were too terrified to testify.
The eyewitness in the federal trial described how, moments before the murders, he saw Vernace pointing a gun at Godkin’s head and taunting him and that he saw one of Vernace’s accomplices threatening D’Agnese with a gun. According to the medical examiner, Godkin was killed by a gunshot to the chest fired from point-blank range, and D’Agnese died from a gunshot to the face.


30 years after the heinous murders, a GAMBINO crime family boss was finally convicted by a Federal jury.
Bartolomeo (Bobby) Vernace, now 64, had previously beat a state murder rap in 1998 for killing Richard Godkin and John D’Agnese to avenge a drink accidentally spilled on the dress of Gambino mobster Frank Riccardi’s girlfriend in the Shamrock Bar on Jamaica Ave in Queens, New York.
Riccardi was tried separately in state court and acquitted.
A state indictment against the third alleged gunman, Ronald (Ronnie the Jew) Barlin, was dismissed in 1981.
Those key prosecutions were hindered by lack of cooperation from two key witnesses — Linda Gotti, the niece of the late Mafia boss John Gotti, and bartender Joseph Patrick Sullivan.
After 30 years, both were finally ready to tell the truth, and as The ENQUIRER reported previously Gotti’s daughter was never sworn in despite being called three times to the ready room.
Sullivan took the stand, and his testimony about possible mob retribution sealed Vernace’s fat

NY authorities deal Russian mob a losing hand

NEW YORK (AP) — It's a case teeming with colorful characters: a reputed Russian mob boss once accused in an Olympic scandal, a wealthy art world impresario who hung out with Leonardo DiCaprio and a woman named Molly Bloom who gained a celebrity following by hosting them at high-stakes poker games.
U.S. authorities allege all had roles in a sprawling scheme by two related Russian-American organized crime enterprises. Prosecutors say in recent years the operations laundered at least $100 million in illegal gambling proceeds through hundreds of bank accounts and shell companies in Cyprus and the United States.
The sprawling case against more than 30 defendants, announced this week by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, illustrates the insatiable appetite for sports betting around the globe — and the enormous potential for illicit profits. The steep rise in wealth among the upper class in the former Soviet Union has driven that potential to new heights, said Mark Galeotti, a Russian organized crime expert at New York University.
"We're seeing higher-rolling businessmen involved in these types of cases," Galeotti said. The high rollers' bookies are left with the problem "of trying to figure out what to do with suitcases full of cash, and that leads to the money laundering," he added.
The tentacles of the scheme reached into Trump Tower, the high rise on Fifth Avenue where prosecutors say a U.S. ringleader was living in an apartment one floor below Donald Trump's own place. There, he oversaw a network of Internet sites that formed "the world's largest sports book" that catered "almost exclusively to oligarchs living in the Ukraine and the Russian Federation," prosecutors said.
On one of the thousands of conversations intercepted on the defendants' cellphones, the leader could be heard warning a customer who owed money that "he should be careful, lest he be tortured or found underground," a prosecutor said.
The ring paid Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov — already under indictment in a separate U.S. case accusing him of bribing Olympic figure skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City — $20 million in gambling proceeds in a two-month period alone, court papers said. In another transaction in late 2010, the same man wired $3 million from a Cyprus bank account to another account in the United States, the papers said.
The new indictment naming Tokhtakhounov called him a "vor" — a term roughly translated to "thief-in-law" and comparable to a Mafia godfather. His role, the papers say, was to use his "substantial influence in the criminal underworld to resolve disputes among criminals."
U.S. investigators following the trans-Atlantic money trail also uncovered a related scheme involving a swank Manhattan art gallery and high-stakes illegal card games in New York City — one played in the Plaza Hotel. The games attracted professional athletes, Hollywood luminaries and business executives, some who ran up debts in the hundreds of thousands.
Authorities didn't name the players. But press reports linked actors like DiCaprio and Ben Affleck to the games run in Los Angeles by Bloom. And DiCaprio has been photographed with Hillel "Helly" Nahmad, a friend charged in the case.
A spokesman for both film stars declined to comment on whether they had been cooperating with authorities. Playing poker isn't a crime, but it's illegal to profit by promoting it.
Nahmad, 35, comes from an art-dealing clan whose collection includes 300 Picassos worth $900 million, according to Forbes. FBI agents on Tuesday raided his gallery on Madison Avenue — a seller of works by Chagall, Dali, Degas, Monet, Matisse and Warhol — and seized computers and records.
Prosecutors allege that, along with laundering tens of millions of dollars, Nahmad committed fraud by trying to sell a piece of art for $300,000 that was worth at least $50,000 less. He also wired more than $1 million from his father's bank account in Switzerland to a U.S. bank account to finance gambling, prosecutor said.
Bloom, 34, moved her poker games from Los Angeles to New York to cater to Wall Street financiers, prosecutors said. But she reportedly went back to the West Coast in 2010 after two men — described as "Eastern European thugs" in one report — roughed her up at her Upper West Side apartment. Her lawyer at the time said she decided give up poker for her own safety.
Both Nahmad and Bloom pleaded not guilty Friday in a federal courtroom in Manhattan that could barely accommodate all the defendants. Bloom, the only woman charged, entered her plea after rising to stand from the back row. Both she and Nahmad remain free on bail.
"We do not believe Mr. Nahmad knowingly violated the law," his attorneys, Benjamin Brafman and Paul Shechtman, said in a statement. "We anticipate that he will be fully exonerated."
Bloom's attorney declined to comment.
A judge set a trial date for the summer of 2014. But there's one defendant no one should bet on being there: the reputed vor.
The 64-year-old Tokhtakhounov has been living in Russia, where media reports call him one of the leaders of the nation's underworld. He has extensive connections among the Russian business and cultural elite, but has shied publicity.
"We know he's certainly leading a comfortable life with vast amounts of money coming his way," Galeotti said. "No one's going to touch him there."

A former high-ranking Montreal politician alleged

MONTREAL -- A former high-ranking Montreal politician alleged to have been a key figure in city hall corruption has dismissed the notion he has ties to the upper echelons of the Italian Mafia.
Frank Zampino's long-awaited appearance before Quebec's corruption inquiry began Wednesday and saw him grilled about his attendance at the wedding of a mobster's son in July 1991.
Zampino acknowledged that, in hindsight, going to the wedding of Frank Cotroni's son and Joe Di Maulo's daughter was perhaps not the best idea.
"It wasn't the most brilliant decision of the century to go to the marriage, but I'm telling you I had no ulterior motive," said the man who served as former mayor Gerald Tremblay's right-hand man for several years until 2008.
"Perceptions are worth more than facts in politics."
Zampino has frequently been mentioned at the inquiry as being close to various players involved in corruption.
The former head of the city's powerful executive committee is currently charged with fraud stemming from a 2008 land deal involving city-owned property that was sold to a developer.
Zampino said he was invited to attend the wedding by a Di Maulo family member, Mario Di Maulo, a political organizer.
He added he didn't know Joe Di Maulo, who was killed in his driveway near Montreal last November.
Di Maulo was described as a middleman between the Cotroni and Rizzuto clans and kept a low profile while having ties to the rival groups.
As for Zampino, he was acquainted with another brother, Jimmy Di Maulo, but insisted at the time he was unaware of the family's Mafia links.
Zampino said he didn't know Cotroni well. Both Cotroni and Di Maulo were central figures during another public inquiry in the 1970s into organized crime.
"I knew Mr. Cotroni from the newspapers like other Quebecers," Zampino told the Charbonneau Commission. "I didn't know him personally."
Zampino also denied knowing Vito Rizzuto, the man considered to be in charge of the Mafia in Montreal following the demise of the Cotroni family.
The inquiry indicated it was in possession of a photo of Zampino and Rizzuto together, but Zampino said he wasn't sure whether any such photo was ever taken.
His first day of testimony often took on a testy tone. Zampino told the probe he took offence to the suggestion he was tied to the Mafia based on his participation at the wedding. He said he attended the marriage in good faith and without other designs.
As mayor of the largely Italian suburb of Saint-Leonard, he was invited to as many 50 weddings a year. But Zampino said he didn't dig up the background of those inviting him.
"I often was invited to weddings, it was part of the culture," said Zampino, adding he refused the majority of invites.
"If I accepted to go to all of those weddings, I'd be divorced."
The longtime municipal stalwart also took issue with an allegation he exerted huge influence at city hall, particularly in the awarding of contracts.
One witness, Rosaire Sauriol of the engineering firm Dessau, previously described Zampino as "the most powerful man in Montreal."
Inquiry witnesses have described how companies inflated the cost of public projects and divided up the extra cash among the Mafia, corrupt bureaucrats and Union Montreal, Zampino's old party.
But Zampino maintained he wasn't involved at all in political party financing and he disputed there was a two-headed administration at city hall. Witnesses have testified Zampino was in charge while Tremblay was largely left in the dark.
Earlier on Wednesday, Zampino, a chartered accountant, said he got into politics in 1986 purely by chance after being approached to run as a councillor.
In 1990, he became mayor of Saint-Leonard. He was then acclaimed in 1994 and 1998.
He ended up spending 22 years in municipal politics in Montreal and Saint-Leonard.
He became involved in Montreal politics in 2001, when the province merged small cities into a megacity. Zampino says he wasn't in favour, but didn't want to be left on the outside looking in.
That's when he decided to get onboard with Tremblay, who had ambitions of becoming mayor of Montreal and wanted Zampino, who was respected among other suburban mayors.
Zampino said he was proud of his time with the city and said he left it in better financial condition than when he started.
When the questions briefly turned to electoral financing, Zampino said he was unaware of the existence of "turn-key" elections when he started in politics. He said he learned of them through the papers.
So-called "turn-key" elections occur when companies provide everything and candidates step right into their privately financed campaign operation in exchange for post-election favours for the firms.
The witness before Zampino, ex-party fundraiser Bernard Trepanier, said that type of election financing was the norm.
Trepanier and Zampino are close friends.
Zampino downplayed, however, the number of calls between phone numbers belonging to the two men. The inquiry put the number at 1,800 over a four-year span.
Zampino countered that closer to 200 was more accurate and not out of the ordinary considering their friendship.
"Saying he called me 1,800 times is fundamentally dishonest," Zampino said.

Top French gangster in spectacular jailbreak

SEQUEDIN, France, Apr 13 – One of France’s most dangerous gangsters, known for brazen attacks on cash-in-transit vehicles, on Saturday blasted his way out of jail after taking several wardens hostage, officials said.
Redoine Faid, who risked a heavy sentence over the 2010 death of a policewoman, used explosives to blast through five prison doors and break free in the northern town of Sequedin.
Police and helicopters were trying to track the 40-year-old, who set fire to his getaway car in the south of the city of Lille before getting into a second vehicle.
State Prosecutor Frederic Fevre said Faid, who had already been France’s most wanted a few years ago, was a “particularly dangerous prisoner” and was still armed and in possession of explosives.
Fevre said Faid had four hostages with him during the jailbreak. One was released just outside the prison, another a few hundred metres away and then the final two were left along a highway.
Wardens unions described the prison break as “an act of war” and also argued that the Sedequin jail was inadequate for such dangerous convicts.
“This escape and hostage-taking were methodically prepared,” the CGT union said, complaining that searches on detainees were not thorough enough.
A woman who was visiting her imprisoned son described the chaos caused by Faid’s spectacular escape.
“I thought my last hour had come. Suddenly, everything started blowing up. The walls started shaking, as did the windows and the doors. I was really scared,” Rose Lafont said.
Prison union leader Etienne Dobremetz said Faid had received a visit from his wife earlier on Saturday morning.
Contacted by AFP, her lawyer vehemently denied any suspicion of involvement in her husband’s escape.
“It happened very quickly, it was clearly very well organised, we are still busy putting the facts together,” a local administrative official said.
Faid is also known for co-authoring a book in 2010 upon his release on parole after a decade in prison for robbery, about his delinquent youth and rise as a criminal in Paris’ impoverished crime-ridden suburbs.
He said his life of crime was inspired by American films such as ‘Scarface’ and ‘Heat’ — in which actor Robert de Niro carries out an armoured car heist.
After his first robbery, Faid, of Algerian extraction, fled to Israel where he wore the Jewish skullcap and picked up Hebrew to blend in.
Despite vowing he had turned his back on crime Faid was in 2010 suspected of being the mastermind of an armed robbery in which a young policewoman was killed in a shootout.
Faid, nicknamed Doc, landed back in prison in 2011 for failing to comply with his parole conditions and was due to serve the remaining eight years of his original sentence.
He faced 30 more years over the policewoman’s death however.
“I wasn’t surprised when I heard about his escape although there were no signs that anything was in the works,” his lawyer Jean-Louis Pelletier told AFP.
He described his client as an extremely intelligent and well connected person.