Mother of Mercy, Could This Be the End of RICO?

Edward G. Robinson as Rico, in the iconic
American gangster film of the 1930s,
"Little Caesar."
No, probably not; the above notable quote from the 1930 cinematic masterpiece "Little Caesar," which launched the career of Edward G. Robinson as an Al Capone-style mobster, probably does not accurately describe the fate of the federal government's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Still federal prosecutors in New York are reeling and have a couple of black eyes following supposed sure-thing Mafia trials in which the charged were found "not guilty" of top-line murder counts levied against them.

Recent examples are the two Colombo family trials of associate Francis “BF” Guerra, for two gangland murders, and earlier, former boss “Tommy Shots” Gioeli, for a half-dozen murders.

These were both trials in which the Feds were certain they would win; and the fact that they did not caused newspapers around the nation to put words like "Reeling" and "Stunning" in headlines to describe the Feds' reaction to the verdicts.

Guerra hid his face (and maybe the smile on his lips?) while his other half sobbed in the courtroom as the jury foreman proclaimed that the jury had found him not guilty of racketeering and of the murders of former underboss Joseph Scopo and Staten Island nightclub owner Michael Devine.

Federal Judge Sandra Townes was confused by the verdict, and reportedly sent the jury back into their debating room so she could re-read the verdict before its public disclosure in the courtroom.
"The jury rejected the testimony of five fakers," co-defense counsel Mathew Mari said of the turncoats who had sought to implicate Guerra in several crimes.

In the end, he was found guilty of five counts of peddling oxycodone painkillers, which could land him a 20-year sentence. So he's not getting out scot-free, but prosecutors still were caught with their pants down by this verdict -- and Guerra's family members still celebrated outside Brooklyn Federal Court.

Likewise, Gioeli and Saracino were convicted only of racketeering counts that also carry a maximum of 20 years in prison instead of life without parole.

"We beat all the murders,” said Gioeli defense lawyer Adam Perlmutter. “The jury rejected the goverment's main cooperator Dino Calabro."

The trend that appears evident and which was alluded to in the above lawyers quotes is clear: juries are basically starting to reject wholesale the tainted testimony of "cooperating witnesses" -- especially when they are found to have been involved in murders almost as bad, if not worse, than the fellas on trial. The Feds trialed to nail Junior Gotti four times and failed, even when their secret weapon from South America, John Alite, came up short in the courtoom.

And look at Junior Pagan, "Mob Wives" Renee's ex, who initially tried to pin a murder on a cohort, who was later revealed to have been driving a crash car. Pagan was the one holding the gun and firing it into a dead body. Well, it was living before Pagan fired into the guy. This, I have read, is the real reason Vinny TV got off so lightly; the Feds, basically, didn't have a case, but threatened to rewrap some old RICO charges to hold him if he didn't cop a plea.

Jerry Capeci was quite prescient when he wrote of the Guerra trial, while still in progress:

"A jury may well find mob associate Francis (BF) Guerra guilty of the 1993 murder of mobster Joseph Scopo. But to get there, it is going to have to wade through some pretty far-fetched testimony from a prime government witness, Colombo turncoat Reynold (Ren) Maragni.

"On the stand, Maragni admitted this week that after he agreed to cooperate with the government, he collected $48,000 in loanshark money, without mentioning it to the FBI. He also wrote notes to people he was tape-recording so that his agent-handlers wouldn’t know about it. And on at least three occasions, he turned off the tape recorder and stowed it in the trunk of his car.

"On cross examination by defense lawyer Gerald McMahon, Maragni allowed that he may have turned off the tape recorder, but not while committing crimes. He said it was news to him that bureau agents suspected him of turning off the recorder at inappropriate times, even when his memory was refreshed with documents indicating that had in fact happened."

So this may not be the end of RICO, but the Feds may be wondering how clever they really were when they decided to use that name for the act.