Charlie Tuna Does Swimmingly Well In Mob Garbage Case
Charles (Charlie Tuna) Giustra, a Luchese associate with two drug raps on his resume, was one of the bigger fishes reeled in by the feds in their most recent investigation of the waste hauling industry. An alleged major player in the indictment of 29 mobsters and reputed associates of three crime families, Giustra, 53, was looking at eight years in prison after he pleaded guilty to drug dealing in a deal that covered a slew of charges, including labor racketeering.
But last month, Charlie did swimmingly well before Judge Colleen McMahon, a usually tough and pro-government jurist. McMahon, after listening to Giustra's lawyer, sentenced him to just 46 months, less than half the time prosecutors had sought. The decision made Giustra the 18th defendant in the case to receive a sentence that was less than what prosecutors had asked for and more lenient than the prison terms recommended in their plea agreements.
The last convicted gangster, Genovese associate Anthony (Tony Lodi) Cardinalle, cooperated with the feds, and is awaiting sentencing. Cardinalle is the owner of Satin Dolls, the topless joint in Lodi that was the setting for the Bada Bing during Tony Soprano's eight-year run as America's most famous mobster. The charges against 10 others in the 16 count indictment were dropped.
McMahon gave Charlie Tuna his break after his attorney convinced her that Giustra was cajoled and coerced into drug dealing and other crimes by an FBI informer who cooperated with the feds after pleading guilty to soliciting sex from "a 15-year-old girl." The drug case stemmed from the same Papa Smurf garbage probe, but his guilty plea and sentencing was handled by a different judge.
In what the judge said was an "eloquent presentation," lawyer Thomas Lashley — using tape-recordings made by FBI operative Charles Hughes — established that Giustra had rejected several requests to score coke for Hughes after he began driving a garbage truck for MC Waste, a carting firm that Hughes ran during the FBI's three year sting operation.
His client, Lashley told McMahon, was a loving husband and father who worked hard to support his family, which included his wife's ailing father and mother. He often toiled long hours for his "longtime friend … with whom he thought he had a legitimate business relationship." Giustra did not seek to "involve Hughes in any kind of illegal activity" and he never "threatened any violence" against anyone, the lawyer said.
In March of 2010, said Lashley, his client "was flat broke (and) Hughes played on that" by telling Giustra that they "would be partners in this legitimate venture, that they were going to make money and that all he had to do was work hard, never implying that there was anything illegal."
At the time, Lashley noted, a trucking company that Giustra formed in 2001 had recently folded and he was working for Hughes around the clock to make ends meet. "My client worked consistently, day and night, to drive for him, to work for him in all legal matters," said Lashley.
Hughes, Lashley asserted, did everything he could to enlist Giustra in criminal activity in a bid to avoid a mandatory 10 year prison sentence for the crime of soliciting a 15-year-old girl to have sex with him.
Hughes got Giustra to hook him up with a loanshark, for which his client earned no money, said Lashley. Then, the undercover operative used his supposed influence over a non-existent supplier of untaxed cigarettes (smokes that were supplied by the FBI) to pressure Charlie Tuna into discussing a coke deal — but only after he rejected the notion four times, the attorney said.
The first time Hughes tried was in July of 2011, said Lashley, who quoted his client, obviously recalling two 1990s drug raps, as stating, "I honestly don't want to get involved with that. It's a big thing. I don't like to effin' deal with that. We got good things coming up, businesswise."
That September, Giustra agreed to inquire about getting Hughes a half a kilogram of cocaine but only "to placate" Hughes, argued Lashley. His client's true feelings were revealed in December, he said, when Giustra told Hughes: "Listen, he wants coke? I can't get him coke. It's too expensive. What am I going to make, 500 or 1000 dollars on it? Are you going to risk that? Nobody and their mother is. Tell the guy that."
But Hughes, who was apparently informed by his FBI handlers that Giustra had had served five years behind bars for two prior drug collars, was relentless in his efforts to make a drug case against Charlie Tuna. At one point, said Lashley, he told his client, "Well, I'll take the plea if we get caught."
Even though Giustra ultimately furnished a small sample of coke to Hughes, he never intended to get involved in a drug caper, the lawyer said, noting that his client repeatedly deflected Hughes away from the subject. On one occasion, Charlie Tuna lied, claiming the drug supplier had died; another time he said that his dealer would not sell him half a kilogram, only a full 2.2 pounds.
In February of 2012, two years after Giustra began working for MC Waste, he used a different ruse to get Hughes off his back: "Listen," Giustra was recorded saying, "tell him I want cigarettes and then we'll do the drugs."
His client stuck around, the lawyer explained, only because he needed to earn a legitimate paycheck in the trucking business. "He doesn't want to walk away," said Lashley, "because he feels in his heart that he has a legitimate shot at making a significant living legitimately." His one lapse, the lawyer conceded, was getting "involved" in lesser criminal activity, namely the distribution of untaxed cigarettes.
Even then, Hughes insisted that Giustra also commit to a drug deal, Lashley said. The undercover agent told Charlie Tuna that his supplier insisted that there would be no untaxed cigarettes unless Giustra provided some drugs, the lawyer said.
In his own exchange with the judge, Giustra said he was ready to face the music. But he argued that his maximum sentencing guidelines of eight years were "far-fetched" and would exact a very heavy toll on his family.
"I was there to help this guy," he said. "He told me his wife had cancer, 'Run my business, I'll give you 30 percent.' That's what I did. I took it to heart."
The incriminating words he was taped saying to Hughes, were uttered merely "to yes him, like (you would) any other boss," said Giustra. "If your boss tells you to go do this, (you say) 'Yes, all right, I'll take care of that some other time.' That's all I did your Honor. That's it. And I'm paying a price for it."
time for you to think about how that was going to impact your family was
before you did the deal," responded McMahon.
"I did," said Giustra. "On one occasion I did say, 'I promised my wife I would never do this. But it was five different times that he asked me."
"It doesn't get any more legal because he asked you five times," said McMahon, who noted that her sentence was "a lot less, four years less" than his guidelines and that he would be smart not to violate his three years of post-prison supervised release when he gets out, because she usually puts recidivists back behind bars.
As part of his plea deal, the feds dropped labor racketeering and other charges filed against Giustra last year. McMahon also softened the blow by letting Giustra begin his sentence the Monday after Thanksgiving Day. Charlie Tuna's not out of trouble yet, however. In Newark, he faces sentencing in December for hijacking a trailer load of bootleg cigarettes as part of another sting – this one orchestrated by FBI agents in the Garden State.
In that case, Giustra was linked to the 2010 heist of $1 million worth of butts from an Edison New Jersey warehouse by tape recordings made by the late Gambino soldier Nicholas (Nicky Skins) Stefanelli, who wore a wire for two years but killed himself when FBI agents told him they were about to end his undercover work and prep him for a stint as a trial witness.
Ex-Yuppie Don Tells Of Halloween 'Blood Oath' To Mob, And His Redemption, On Big Screen
It was Halloween night, 1975, when a young, up and coming mobster took the "blood oath" to the Colombo crime family, swearing to kill any enemy of his new brotherhood. That night, there was every expectation that Michael Franzese, whose father was one of the family's leaders, would someday step into his shoes. But tomorrow, 39 years later, Franzese will describe that day and its aftermath in a new documentary movie — the first ever by a made member of the Mafia — and explain as well why he later walked away from the life he swore never to betray.
The R-rated film (for blood, not sex), God The Father, will open on big screens from New York to Los Angeles. Michael Franzese not only stars, he also served as producer and narrator.
"They asked me one question, 'If you ever had to kill anyone, could you do that?'" Franzese says in the film, recalling the night of the goblins in 1975 when he followed his father, John (Sonny) Franzese, whom he always viewed as a "man's man," into the Colombo family and became a "made man."
"I thought about it for a minute. I said, 'Yeah, I could do that.'"
Franzese, who attended a screening of God The Father for a select invitation-only group in New York under tight security on Tuesday, told Gang Land that while he now renounces his father's way of life and preaches the teachings of Jesus Christ, he still loves his old man and hopes he survives his current prison term and gets out at 100 years young in 2017.
Even though he has been preaching for decades, and has made numerous trips to his old haunts in New York without incident, Franzese still looks over his shoulder and is safety conscious, especially at public appearances with family members, like his wife Cammy and two children, who attended the special screening.
"I don't think any of my former associates are going to do anything so public as to try and whack me, but I never like to take anything for granted," he explained. "There's a lot of wannabe heroes out there that think they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I am careful. I have never been arrogant or cocky about this because I don't sell anybody short. I know there are still people a little upset, so I pay attention."
Noting that Jesus teaches love and compassion for sinners, the born-again Christian said he plans to "put in for a compassionate release" for his 97-year-old father. He is pessimistic, however, that the Bureau of Prisons will go along. "They don't seem to focus on compassion at the BOP," he said.
"As I say in the documentary — it's a true life drama, everything in the movie is true — when I was in the hole I became convinced beyond any doubt that Jesus was not only a real man, but that he was persecuted, he hung on a cross and died for my sins, and he is my savior," said Franzese.
"We did not take any dramatic liberty with anything," said Franzese. "It's got real insight into mob life and it shows people that no matter how bad you are in life, redemption is always a possibility, and the real solution. For me, my faith has been the answer, and I think that really comes through in the movie."
Franzese is disappointed that the Motion Picture Association of America gave God The Father an R rating for graphic images of violence. The MPAA cited photos and old crime scene footage (the murder of Carmine Galante, and fatal wounding of Joe Colombo) but based the R rating primarily on a recreation of Christ's Crucifixion that appears during the prison epiphany that transports Franzese from a life of crime to a life with Christ, said Franzese.
"They told me, 'It's bloody,' and I said 'There's a crown of thorns, a scourge, and hung on a cross, it's very bloody. There's going to be some blood in a documentary.' They said, 'No, it's not suitable for all audiences.' It's the photographs, the stock footage, and Jesus."
"It's hard to disagree with them, but I do," said Franzese. "I'm very happy though that the Dove Organization, which reviews faith based films, has approved it for ages 12 and up, so we're optimistic about getting the message out to a broad audience, especially young people: Avoid the pitfalls of drugs and crime, and if you stray, redemption is always a possibility."
In the New York area, God The Father will be playing at the AMC Empire 25 in Manhattan, the AMC Clifton Commons 16 in Clifton, NJ, and the AMC Loews Gardens 20 in Elizabeth, NJ. It also opens at 22 other theaters in six other states across the country.
Mob Prince And Feds Face Off Over Withdrawal Of Guilty Plea
The court calendar says Brooklyn Federal Judge Sandra Townes will finally sentence mob prince Michael Persico today for loansharking charges he admitted 28 months ago when he copped a sweet plea deal rather than face murder charges that could have put him behind bars for life. But that's unlikely to happen, according to those familiar with the four and a half year old case.
What will happen is that Townes will hear arguments from defense and government lawyers regarding Persico's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. It's possible that the judge will make a final decision on the withdrawal issue. But the prevailing wisdom is that she will put that off for another day.
Persico claims the government breached its agreement with him by slyly pressing Judge Townes to give him the maximum five years he faces, rather than a term between his recommended guidelines of 37 to 46 months. He also says his guilty plea was defective because he never admitted that he intended to commit a crime during the proceeding.
It's still unclear why Persico is seeking to get out from a plea deal that is the envy of gangsters everywhere. The plea, negotiated in June, 2012 covers a host of racketeering crimes, including two murders. Regardless, Persico is now looking to take his chances at trial, even though he faces life behind bars if convicted.
The government's reason for not joining in his motion as a way to get out of a plea deal that it has regretted for years is also a mystery. Publicly, prosecutors Nicole Argentieri and Allon Lifshitz stated it would be "prejudiced" by "having to reassemble its witnesses and prepare anew for trial" and would have to "expend scarce and valuable resources." That seems a bit hollow.
That's exactly what their office has had to do in the past when convictions have been overturned, and retrials ordered, and what they will have to do again, if Judge Townes agrees with the legal reasons submitted by Persico attorney, Marc Fernich. His more persuasive argument — that seems to be borne out by a transcript of the sentencing proceeding — is that Persico never stated that he had any intention to commit a crime when he agreed to loan $100,000 to three cohorts in 2009.
In a final shot at Persico's motion, prosecutors also made a pretty persuasive argument that his efforts to withdraw his plea — even if they are not successful — may be very hurtful to Michael's cousin and codefendant, capo Theodore (Skinny Teddy) Persico Jr., because their plea deals were linked together as part of a "global agreement."
Citing language stating that if any defendant "seeks to withdraw his guilty plea" prosecutors may void "any or all" of the plea agreements, "the government is no longer bound by its agreement" not to prosecute Persico Jr. for "certain crimes," including murder, for which he had previously "received coverage from prosecution," prosecutors wrote. Teddy Persico, is currently serving 12 years.
Michael Franzese hasn't been paying close attention to the trials and tribulations of Michael Persico, but the ex-wiseguy knew his fellow mob prince "very well" back when Franzese was known as the Yuppie Don, and is not surprised that Michael Persico allegedly got involved in Colombo crime family business.
"I knew Michael very well," he said. "I knew all the Persicos very well. Michael was really a clean cut, college bound, business kind of guy back then. A good kid. But so was I, and I followed my father. People were surprised when I got involved, but I'm not surprised about Michael. Any son of Carmine Persico would be hard pressed not to get involved."
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