Barbara Boyer, STAFF WRITER
John Parisi had been a law-abiding citizen most of his life. He had also been a close friend of reputed mobster Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., son of the former Philadelphia organized crime boss "Little Nicky."
In 2007, Parisi's life began unraveling after his friendship with Scarfo turned into a business relationship that scammed millions from a Texas-based financial institution that was forced into bankruptcy.
On Tuesday, Parisi, 54, of Atlantic City, appeared in U.S. District Court in Camden, asking for leniency from Judge Robert Kugler. He faced a prison term of 46 months.
"I'm truly sorry," Parisi said at his sentencing, promising that he was done with crime. "You'll never see me here again."
Kugler cut Parisi a break, sentencing him to serve 30 months, followed by two years of supervision. He also ordered $14 million in restitution, but waived some fines, noting that Parisi did not have the means to pay.
"This is a very serious crime," Kugler said. "A lot of people were affected because of this crime."
Parisi, in addition to 12 others, was indicted for a conspiracy that took over FirstPlus Financial Group Inc., replacing the board with choices of their own who channeled money from July 2007 to April 2008 to the Lucchese crime family.
Scarfo, identified as the group's leader, was sentenced to 30 years in July, when Kugler described the mobster as the man who ruled with an "iron fist." Scarfo and others extorted the millions to buy an $850,000 yacht, a luxury home, a Bentley, and expensive jewelry. Scarfo and other defendants have also been ordered to contribute to the $14 million restitution ordered by Kugler.
At that time, Scarfo left the court in shackles, smiling.
It was a striking contrast to Tuesday's hearing, as Parisi struggled to stand because of poor health. He was described by his federal public defender, Lisa Evans Lewis, as the person who earned a salary for managing money transfers of "hundreds of thousands" for the others, specifically Scarfo, who was his friend and a cousin.
Lewis said Scarfo manipulated Parisi, who had no criminal history or even an arrest. Parisi had a steady work history with various jobs, and raised money for the March of Dimes and volunteered to help the organization, Lewis said.
Among the letters sent to the judge on Parisi's behalf was one from a Vietnam veteran who described having no money when Parisi gave him a job he desperately needed.
Lewis asked that the judge consider probation, rather than prison, partly because Parisi is in poor health and requires treatment for a heart condition, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and other issues.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno acknowledged Parisi's medical needs, which he said the federal Bureau of Prisons could properly address. The prosecutor asked that the judge stay within sentencing guidelines of 37 to 46 months, saying Parisi served an essential role in the conspiracy, and was not a "flunky" among the group as previously described in court.
In fact, D'Aguanno said, Parisi was so close to Scarfo that he was with the mobster in 1989 when he was shot.
"He chose to go along with Scarfo," D'Aguanno said.
Kugler, who presided at Scarfo's six-month trial in 2014, said the conspiracy would have failed without Parisi's help initiating money transfers. Still, the judge noted, Parisi was otherwise crime-free and had showed "exemplary" behavior while under supervised release since he posted bail.
The judge agreed that Parisi - who appeared in court without friends or family present - - could remain free on bail, and surrender on or after March 9 as decided by the Bureau of Prisons.