BY JIM NORMAN
TRENTON — A high-ranking member of the Joseph Lucchese crime family and two of his sons — including a 46-year-old Wyckoff man — were sentenced to prison Thursday for their parts in an international criminal gambling scheme, authorities said.
The three were identified as Ralph V. Perna, 69, of East Hanover, and his sons, John G. Perna, 38, of West Caldwell and Joseph M. Perna, 46, of Wyckoff. State Superior Court Judge Salem Vincent in Morristown sentenced the father to eight years in state prison and the two sons to 10 years each, acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in a release.
Hoffman said the sentences are a culmination of “Operation Heat,” an investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice that uncovered a gambling enterprise nearly a decade ago involving billions of dollars that relied on extortion and violence to collect debts.
The Pernas were among six top members of the Lucchese crime family who pleaded guilty last June to racketeering charges, Hoffman said.
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The others included John Mangrella, 73, of Clifton, a senior member of the Lucchese crime family, who was sentenced in October to eight years in state prison, Hoffman said.
Martin Taccetta, 64, of East Hanover, the former New Jersey underboss for organization, who was sentenced to eight years, is already was serving a sentence of life plus 10 years as a result of a prosecution in the 1990s.
The third man sentenced earlier is Matthew Madonna, 80, of Seldon, N.Y., a member of the three-man ruling panel of the Lucchese crime family, who was given five years in state prison.
“Operation Heat exposed a multibillion-dollar criminal gambling enterprise and underscored the fact that traditional organized crime remains a corrosive presence in New Jersey,” Hoffman said. “By putting its leaders in prison, we struck a powerful blow against this crime family and put other criminal syndicates on notice that we’ll continue to pursue them aggressively with far-reaching investigations and prosecutions under our tough racketeering law.”
Elie Honig, director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice said that “Putting this top New Jersey capo behind bars along with two of his sons represents another red-letter day for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice in its decades-long tradition of fighting organized crime.”
“We’re proud of that strong tradition, and we’re letting these mob bosses know that we intend to keep it strong,” Honig added.
The defendants were initially arrested and charged in Operation Heat in December 2007. According to records seized in the investigation, the organization was instrumental in transacting an estimated $2.2 billion in wagers, primarily on sporting events, during a 15-month period. The gambling operation received and processed the wagers using password-protected websites and a Costa Rican “wire room” where bets were recorded and results tallied, Hoffman said in the release.
The operation involved agents or “package holders,” who brought in bets from a group of gamblers, Hoffman said, adding that the enterprise and all of its packages involved hundreds or even thousands of gamblers. Records showed that one high-rolling gambler bet more than $2 million in a two-month period.
Collection operations at times took the form of threats or acts of violence, Hoffman said.
The proceeds were divided by the package holders and the members they worked under, including the Pernas and Taccetta, who in turn made tribute payments to the New York bosses, including Madonna, Hoffman said.
Charges in the case are still pending against Joseph DiNapoli, 80, of Scarsdale, N.Y., whom Hoffman described as another member of the crime family’s ruling panel.
The acting attorney general said the Operation Heat investigation also uncovered a scheme in which Joseph Perna and a now-deceased Lucchese member worked with a former New Jersey corrections officer and a high-ranking member of the Nine Trey Gangsters set of the Bloods street gang to smuggle drugs and pre-paid cell phones into East Jersey State Prison.
In addition, Hoffman said, Joseph Perna sought assistance from the street gang chief to stop an individual associated with the Bloods from extorting money from a man with ties to the Luccheses.
Charges in that case are still pending against Edwin B. Spears, described as a “five-star general” in the Nine Trey Gangsters, and Michael T. Bruinton, a former corrections officer at East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge, Hoffman said.