Filings made by Charles Lightbody’s attorneys offer a behind-the-scenes look at the legal maneuvering on points large and small that typically occurs in advance of a complex trial.
By Milton J. Valencia GLOBE STAFF
You can call Charles A. Lightbody a felon, just don’t elaborate on his criminal past, and don’t refer to him as a New England Mafia associate.
Don’t mention King Arthur’s, the adult entertainment club in Chelsea. If you do, describe it as a bar and nightclub, and definitely don’t refer to defendant Dustin DeNunzio’s visit to a similar establishment in Boston. In fact, don’t refer to his social life at all.
And, of considerable importance, please limit discussion of Lightbody’s jailhouse conversations with reputed New England Mafia soldier Darin Bufalino, because it might unfairly link his codefendants to La Cosa Nostra. Especially DeNunzio, whose name is similar to high-ranking Mafia figures Carmen and Anthony DiNunzio.
Those demands are just a few in a lengthy list made by lawyers for DeNunzio, Lightbody, and codefendant Anthony Gattineri and filed with a federal judge this week. The filings, called motions in limine, are meant to resolve last-minute legal disputes, and they offer a behind-the-scenes look at the legal maneuvering on points large and small that typically occurs in advance of a complex trial.
The three men are charged with fraud for allegedly trying to conceal Lightbody’s lucrative financial interest in an Everett property that was sold to Wynn Resorts to build a casino. Federal authorities allege Lightbody wanted to conceal his ownership because he is a convicted felon, and therefore barred by the state from profiting from casino-related business. His attorneys dispute that interpretation of the law.
US District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton will work with lawyers on both sides of the case to establish evidentiary rules before the trial begins in April; the 14 motions filed by defense lawyers seek to establish narrow parameters for what type of evidence will be presented to a jury, and the lawyers appear to be particularly concerned about unflattering details that could color jurors’ views of the defendants.
One motion, for instance, seeks to prevent government prosecutors from “making inflammatory and gratuitous reference to [DeNunzio’s] social life,” saying prosecutors have made past references to “aspects of Mr. DeNunzio’s social life that jurors might find unflattering or distasteful.”
Such information, which the lawyers fear would cause “seriously unfair prejudice,” includes DeNunzio’s discussion with Lightbody about an hours-long visit to the Centerfolds adult entertainment club in Boston, where, the lawyers argue, DeNunzio planned to conduct “research” in advance of buying a similar business in Chelsea.
Lawyers for DeNunzio also want to block the testimony of a witness who was previously asked about her romantic relationship with DeNunzio — which was short-lived because he did not want to settle down, she said — and about a night she spent out with him in Florida, when they got bottle service at a dance club.
“There is simply no proper purpose for the prosecution to probe into ‘the nature’ of her friendship with Mr. DeNunzio, to elicit details about Mr. DeNunzio’s desire to remain a bachelor, or to ask for descriptions of Mr. DeNunzio’s nightlife,” the lawyers argued. “Such unnecessary probing would serve only to inflame the jurors’ passions by painting Mr. DeNunzio as some sort of despicable playboy.”
Establishing what evidence will be allowed during a trial lays the groundwork for a case. Martin Weinberg, a criminal defense attorney in Boston, said judges invite such requests from both sides because establishing the rules in advance helps streamline a trial.
Without the judge setting those parameters, defense lawyers might jump up to object every time a prosecutor attempted to enter testimony about DeNunzio’s past.
Weinberg also said a defendant’s requests are often shaped by the government’s case, and how broad prosecutors will be in presenting evidence to a jury. The defense may argue that much of the evidence is irrelevant, as part of a strategy to weaken the government’s case before the trial even starts.
In the cases against DeNunzio and the other two defendants, Weinberg hypothesized, “The defense is confident that they have a rational chance of acquittal if the case is tried narrowly based on the white-collar type of allegations, and would have a more challenging trial if the case is permeated with references to prejudicial information that they contend is inadmissible.”
Several of the motions refer to technical matters. Defense lawyers, for instance, want to prevent prosecutors from using the term “backdating” when referring to the defendants’ adjustment of dates on paperwork, saying the term implies fraud.
But other requests are clearly intended to protect the defendants’ image in front of jurors. For instance, the defense wants to prevent prosecutors from suggesting that the acronym used in the name of the defendants’ company — FBT Everett Realty — contains an expletive in reference to a business opponent.
“There is no evidence that any of the three defendants in this case had anything to do with selecting or approving that name,” the defense lawyers argued.
Other documents seek to limit what prosecutors can say about Lightbody’s criminal history and his ties to organized crime figures such as Bufalino. Prosecutors say they uncovered the alleged fraud scheme partly because of Lightbody’s conversations with Bufalino. Lightbody had visited Bufalino in prison.
And several documents seek to preclude the government from making “non-probative, inflammatory descriptions of the King Arthur’s club” — a Chelsea club that has historically been associated with criminal rackets and scene of crimes including murder.
DeNunzio, Lightbody, and a third man considered taking over and redeveloping the Chelsea club, giving them an obvious financial interest in the development of the proposed casino that would go up in Everett. But they argued in the court filings that their interest was no different than that of the nearby pizza parlor, or Dunkin’ Donuts. The lawyer reasoned that calling King Arthur’s a “strip club” in front of jurors would be irrelevant.
“The fact that the local business in question provides adult entertainment is not of consequence in determining the wire fraud charges,” the lawyers argued.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.