By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.JULY 30, 2014
Joseph Isgro’s résumé tracks a peculiarly American life, a roller-coaster ride through Hollywood and the underworld, with associates ranging from rock stars to mobsters.
He is a decorated Marine who became one of the nation’s most powerful record promoters in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he was cleared of payola charges in federal court. He went on to produce the film “Hoffa,” which received an Oscar nomination. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to running a loan-sharking business in Beverly Hills.
He has long been a reputed soldier in the Gambino crime family and recently promised to tell all about his life in a film still being developed, titled “Hit Man.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Isgro, 66, added a new line to his biography, as he was arraigned in Manhattan on state charges that he helped run a sports book ring for the Gambino family.
Mr. Isgro, who was arrested last week in Los Angeles, wore a red Marine Corps T-shirt and flip-flops as he pleaded not guilty to gambling, conspiracy and money laundering charges before Justice Bonnie G. Wittner in State Supreme Court.
Mr. Isgro, who was released on $250,000 bond, declined to comment as he left the courtroom. His lawyer, Aaron M. Rubin, said Mr. Isgro “strenuously denies the charges.”
An indictment unsealed last week characterized Mr. Isgro as a Gambino soldier who conspired with Joseph Giordano, a Gambino capo and bookmaker, to set up an operation that used offshore wire rooms in Costa Rica, under the names Elite and Cristal, and took bets from people in the United States. Mr. Giordano died of cancer in prison in October.
Another alleged Gambino associate, Leonard Rapisardi, was also charged in the conspiracy, along with two men accused of managing the wire room in Costa Rica and three people in Arizona who the authorities said developed bookmaking software for the ring.
Mr. Rapisardi and the Arizona residents — Robert Stuart, Susanne Stuart and Patrick Read — were arraigned on July 22 and released on bail. The other two people indicted — Gregory Sapon and Braulio Tate Monge — have yet to be apprehended.
Mr. Isgro, who was born in Philadelphia, has always denied any connections to organized crime. For decades, he was an influential player in the music business, starting out as a local promoter for Decca Records.
At the peak of his power in the 1980s, he was a member of a group of independent record-promotion specialists known as the Network. He owned a company that grossed more than $10 million a year and counted labels like Columbia, Warner Brothers and RCA as clients.
Most major labels dropped independent promoters in the late 1980s, as news articles about the resurgence of payola, or bribing radio stations to spin records, led to a federal investigation.
In 1987, Mr. Isgro and two others were indicted on charges they furnished cash and cocaine to program directors in return for airplay. A judge threw out the charges halfway through a trial in September 1990 because prosecutors had violated evidentiary rules; the dismissal came only after executives at four stations had testified Mr. Isgro or his associate had bribed them.
Prosecutors tried to revive the case for several years, but never managed to indict Mr. Isgro again. He continued to produce music, releasing albums by James Brown, Rick James and even a posthumous album from Tupac Shakur. He also got into movies, producing “Hoffa,” which starred Jack Nicholson.
In 2000, he was accused of lending money at interest rates of up to 5 percent a week and sending thugs to beat borrowers who failed to pay. He pleaded guilty to extortion and was sentenced to 50 months in prison.
Now the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., has said he has evidence that Mr. Isgro, after leaving prison, conspired with Mr. Giordano to help set up the offshore sports book in July 2009.
“These charges go back more than five years,” Mr. Rubin said. “It looks to be an ancient, ancient investigation, so we are looking forward to having our day in court.”