TRENTON — In a groundbreaking decision seeking “balance” between conflicting interests, the state Supreme Court ruled today that the assignment judge for the Morris County area should decide whether a reputed organized crime associate financially qualifies for representation by a public defender.
The decision sets new rules for future cases, in that the current directive “improperly prevents” the state from prosecuting defendants who “submit false financial information to secure the legal services of the public defender.”
In the Morris case, the state Attorney General’s Office had sought subpoenas to obtain financial records submitted by Alfonso Cataldo, 71, of Florham Park, arguing that he may have “fraudulently represented his assets to obtain public defender representation,” the court wrote.
Cataldo is accused, along with 33 co-defendants, of taking part in an international, $2.2 billion gambling and money laundering operation allegedly operated by the Lucchese crime family in 2007. A 2010 indictment accuses him of charges including racketeering, gambling and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Cataldo was determined to be indigent and was given the services of a public defender after staff members in the criminal division at the Superior Court in Morristown reviewed financial forms he submitted.
The Attorney General’s Office was denied a subpoena for Cataldo’s “intake form” by a Superior Court judge and an appeals court panel, who both ruled that release of the records would violate attorney-client privilege.
Deputy Attorney General Mark Eliades had submitted affidavits listing Cataldo’s assets when he was charged in 2010, including a $659,600 house in Florham Park co-owned with his wife, Lorraine, for which he was paying off a $160,000 mortgage and a $100,000 home equity line; a $750,000 mortgage on a property in Readington and another home in Florham Park owned by his wife that was assessed at $484,300, the court said.
The prosecution also presented a car lease agreement in which Cataldo said he worked as a contractor for Cataldo Construction and his monthly income was $10,500, the court wrote.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said it “recognizes that the financial information sought is integral to the state’s responsibility to investigate an alleged misappropriation of publicly funded legal services.”
“Nonetheless,” the court said, Cataldo supplied his financial information after being advised in writing that it would be used “for the sole purpose of determining indigence, with the understanding that his disclosures would remain confidential.”
Thus, the court concluded, as a matter of “balance,” it would refer the question of determining Cataldo’s indigence to the assignment judge, in this case Thomas Weisenbeck of the Morris-Sussex vicinage, for review.
The court also ordered the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts to modify current procedures. The directive for public defender representation should be changed so that prosecutors may obtain defendant’s financial forms in “appropriate” cases, the court said.
The intake form must be revised to “warn” defendants that at the direction of the assignment judge, the defendant’s statements about financial status “can be disclosed to the grand jury and a prosecutor,” the court wrote.
“Our decision today facilitates the state’s ability to prosecute false swearing and fraud,” the court wrote. “It also ensures that a defendant’s non-financial personal information will remain confidential.”
Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa's office "welcomes" the decision, spokesman Leland Moore said.
The ruling "recognizes that the current process for determining indigence hinders the state in prosecuting individuals who submit false financial information to obtain public defender services, and puts modifications in place to address that concern," Moore said.
He hailed the court's order for a "remand" hearing by the assignment judge to determine whether Cataldo qualifies for a public defender. "That was our chief concern -- protecting the public assets from fraud," Moore said.
Cataldo and his attorney, public defender John McMahon, were unavailable for comment.
Thanks to the success of HBO in the creation of the ever-so-famous television drama, The Sopranos, the Garden State always has interest in anything having to do with the mafia and crime families.
Well all you fans out there, pay attention because Alfonso “Tic” Cataldo is one of 35 people facing multiple charges in connection with an illegal multi-billion dollar international gambling scheme allegedly operated by the Lucchese crime family. But the real reason Cataldo is in the news now is due to prosecutors trying to prove that this particular mobster is in fact cheating taxpayers by using a court-appointed attorney to fight criminal charges – thus the Supreme Court is denying them access to his financial information according to the reports by The Record.
Cataldo, of Florham Park, ran his illegal operation from locations in Bergen County all the way to Latin America and brought in more than $2 billion in wages over a 15 month period, according to prosecutors. They (prosecutors) also discovered that the gambling ring allegedly received and processed bets using password-protected websites and tallied and recorded wagers using a wire room in Costa Rica.
Although Cataldo is on the hook for a few other crimes to go with this billion dollar gambling ring, everything has been on hold since he was indicted in 2010. Since 2010, prosecutors have been investigating whether Cataldo lied about his finances on a form in order to obtain legal representation from a public defender. In the past mobsters always resort to claiming poverty when facing criminal charges – but in Cataldo’s case public records are showing that poverty has not struck Cataldo.
A search of public records published by The Inquirer back in November of 2011 indicated Cataldo and his wife, Lorraine, is the furthest thing away from poor. Their equity includes:
3 properties in Morris County with a combined equity of more than $1.4 million, according to the affidavit.
Records also show they make $3,300 in monthly mortgage payments on the home they live in on Edgewood Drive in Florham Park and that the house has an assessed value of $659,600.
Monthly payments of between $3,200 and $4,700 on a property in Readington Township valued at $1.2 million, according to the affidavit submitted by Detective Noelle Holl of the Attorney General's Office's Division of Criminal Justice.
The third house, also in Florham Park, is mortgage-free and is assessed at $484,300.
The state has alleged that, even with the mortgages, the Cataldo's have more than $1.4 million in equity, as documented on Philly.com.