Fugitive Mob "Rancher" to Return to Idaho

Boston mobster Enrico Ponzo, 47, after participating in a failed hit that was part of the New England Mafia war, fled Massachusetts in 1994, with law enforcement in hot pursuit.

Following years on the run, Ponzo finally settled in a small Idaho town under an alias. And for the next 10 years, the Boston wiseguy successfully played the part of a rancher named Jay Shaw.

A mobster named Jay Shaw? Or a rancher named Enrico Ponzo?
In 2011, he was recaptured -- and two years later, following a trial in which he faced attempted murder and other alleged charges, Ponzo was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in prison. Nevertheless, next month, on Feb. 2, he'll return to his former adopted home state of Idaho to a courtroom to face 16 felonious counts involving unlawful possession of a firearm, aggravated identity theft, and possession of documents for intended fraudulent use.

Ponzo, not a made man (meaning not an inducted member of Cosa Nostra) was described as a renegade member of a violent faction of the New England family that was intent on ousting bosses of the formerly powerful Patriarca family's Boston group in the early 1990s.
In his November 2013 trial, Ponzo was convicted of several federal crimes, including the 1989 attempted assassination of Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme, a top-level member of the New England Mafia amid a factional war that erupted when the Patriarca family finally fractured along a natural fault line that for decades had separated the Boston faction from the one in Providence, Rhode Island. "Cadillac Frank" was supposed to be killed as part of a one, two punch to knock out the bosses of Providence's rival leadership.

As noted, during the war for dominance, many thought the real power in the family was William "The Wild Man" Grasso, who served as Raymond Patriarca, Jr's underboss. Grasso's extensive criminal career made him one of the most feared mobsters in New England. A cunning, ruthless gangster, Grasso ran Connecticut-based crime operations for the Patriarcas from his New Haven headquarters since the mid-1970s.

“He wore bib overalls and straw hats,” said a longtime rancher who'd been one of Ponzo's Idaho neighbors.

“People did wear bib overalls here — in the 1930s.”

Planned One, Two KnockoutIn June of 1989, Grasso's body was found in the Connecticut River. He'd been shot in the head. Hours prior to the body's discovery, "Cadillac Frank" Salemme was shot in a Boston suburb by three gunmen, one of whom was Ponzo. Hit in the stomach and the knee, Salemme survived. The feud between Salemme and the man ultimately behind his shooting, J.R. Russo, continued until New York's Gambino crime family brokered a peace agreement that named a Salemme loyalist boss.

Nicholas Bianco, acting underboss after Grasso's death, was named acting boss. In 1991, he was among the defendants tried for the Grasso murder.

During the 2013 case Ponzo argued to Judge Nathaniel Gorton that his sentence should be limited to 15 years as he was a changed man, having turned his life around while on the lam and living in Idaho.

Apparently not very moved by the fugitive's story, the judge lobbed a 28-year sentence at him, which may explain why Ponzo, who will act as his own attorney at the upcoming trial in U.S. District Court, decided to revamp his defense strategy. The convicted mobster "plans to argue he suffers from a mental defect when he goes on trial," one report noted. There seems to be a legal basis for the argument.

While Ponzo's filing doesn't detail his alleged mental problem, it notes that U.S. District Judge Gorton had ordered the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to treat him for a “mental defect.”

Mob Fugitive Wore Bibbed OverallsOn Feb. 11, 2011, Jay Shaw was in the process of purchasing hay from Bob Briggs, "the man to see about hay. "

Shaw, once he'd glimpsed Brigg's beat-up white Ford, had leaped out of his Dodge Ram to flag the hay man down. Briggs had been plodding down the road on which Shaw had lived at the time.

Briggs pulled to the side of the road and Shaw parked behind him. Briggs gnawed on a toothpick when Shaw approached and asked about buying some hay. He had 12 head of cattle to feed, he'd said.

They'd work something out, Briggs had said.
Ponzo in 1994. This picture was displayed on wanted signs
as well as Ponzo's driver's license.

Suddenly, a big black Chevy with tinted windows sped to a halt beside them. Trailing behind it were unmarked and marked police cars. It was all over. (See Boston Magazine story for interesting information about Ponzo in Idaho.) The Feds and local police finally nabbed Ponzo. Federal agents cornered him as he was purchasing hay and arrested him, which left the townspeople wondering: Who the hell is Jay Shaw?

He was someone who didn't fit in initially -- but he quickly earned a place in the community.

“He wore bib overalls and straw hats,” said a longtime rancher who'd been one of Ponzo's Idaho neighbors. “People did wear bib overalls here — in the 1930s.”

But "Jay Shaw" was one of the first to help anyone in need. He'd help to move furniture or even fix a computer. So great was the community's trust in him, in fact, he was trusted to manage an irrigation system that gave the community its very water supply. He also was responsible for the money paid to him to run the system.

Eventually, he met a woman and the couple had two children, which they raised on their 12-acre farm along with the cattle and cows and vegetables. Jay Shaw was a model citizen who probably never would've been caught.

Except he made one mistake...

Ponzi's Confederates Got to Trial in 1994

After his departure from Boston in 1994, many believed Enrico had been murdered as part of Cosa Nostra internal business.Still Ponzo was charged, along with 14 others, in a 40-count federal indictment that included racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, and plotting to murder and attempting to murder individuals loyal to a rival faction of the Patriarca Family, then headed by Salemme.

According to the indictment, Ponzo and his co-defendants “acted to usurp control of the Patriarca Family,” “violated the rules of La Cosa Nostra by plotting and attempting to murder Salemme” and others, and “intended to replace Salemme as Boss of the Family, and thereby, be able to 'make' new members of the Family from among their group," The United States Attorney's Office of the District of Massachusetts noted in a press release.

Ponzo also was charged with being part of a group who shot Salemme in 1989 at a Pancake House in Saugus in an unsuccessful assassination attempt.

Ponzo's co-defendants went through a 45-day trial in 1998, after which the jury took 13 days to realize it'd never reach a verdict on all charges.
A second trial followed, resulting in two co-defendants being found not guilty while the others either pleaded guilty or were convicted by the second trial's jury.

One died before he was able to testify against the others, according to the Hammel article.

Most of those convicted have completed their sentences, including Leo M. “Chipper” Boffoli of Holden, who got 4 years for his cooperation; and Eugene A. “Gino” Rida Jr. of Worcester, who was sentenced to 10 years by Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton.

But others, including one of the men found not guilty but convicted of a subsequent murder, remain in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys James D. Herbert and Michael L. Tabak prosecuted the case, along with United States Attorney Carmen M Ortiz’s Organized Crime Strike Force Unit, according to the release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts.

Idaho home where federal agents grabbed fugitive Ponzo 

Girlfriend Tipped Feds
Authorities learned about this Jay Shaw guy and his true identity in January 2011, a month after his common-law wife, Cara Pace, moved to Utah with their two children.

Ponzo had filed a domestic relations case against Pace in a Homedale court in December 2010. It was pending when Pace departed.

A one-page FBI report included in a court filing seems to indicate Pace was the tipster, who was never publicly identified, according to reports. Her name is blackened out but the document references that the tipster and "Ponzo have two children together.” The report said the witness was “very concerned” due to threats Ponzo had made to have her “family killed if he was ever arrested on his (Boston) criminal arrest warrant.”

Pace has been subpoenaed to appear as a witness at Ponzo’s trial.

Upon his arrest, law enforcement officials seized 22 rifles, eight handguns and 34,000 rounds of ammunition from his home on Hogg Road, just south of Snake River. Law enforcement also found a forged driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards with the names of around 10 people Ponzo impersonated during his fugitive years.

Police also seized $100,000 in cash and $65,000 worth of gold coins from Ponzo’s Hogg Road home. Most of those items were recovered after officers served a second search warrant on the home in March 2011 to seize Ponzo’s computers. A floor safe in a walk-in closet in the master bedroom had been looted by then and police found that the new owner had made off with the goods.

After he fled Boston, Ponzo had lived quietly in a spectrum of states, including Arizona, Florida, Washington and Oregon, before arriving in Idaho with a fresh identity. Ironically, his driver’s license photo was the same picture that the FBI used on the mobster's wanted poster.

Prosecutors in Boise and Boston agreed to give the ranch to Pace. Also a trust fund was established for her and Ponzo's son and daughter.

If convicted in Idaho, Ponzo faces up to 10 years in prison on each of the weapons charges. For possession of the documents, each charge carries up to five years. Also, each count of aggravated identify theft carries a mandatory two-year sentence that cannot be served concurrently.

As to his initial claim that he was a changed man, a Boston judge had told him:

“After all the posturing, rhetoric, excuses, blaming others, the time has come for you to pay for your crimes.
“You can run, but ultimately you cannot hide from your sordid past in organized crime.”

Enrico Ponzo may well have hid forever from the feds. But he made the mistake of getting involved with a woman and having children.

Based on the cursory profile presented here, Ponzo certainly seems to have been a changed man when he was nabbed while purchasing grub for his cattle.

Ultimately it seems that, more than anything else, it was his love for his two children that exposed him to law enforcement's wrath.

But the full details of the story are not available here. Did Ponzo truly want his children out of love or to spite his former wife, for example, is only one obvious question worth asking before reaching any kind of moral judgment of the man.

In the end what can be said is Ponzo's is an interesting story, a prototypical "fish out of water" narrative in which at the end it was quite possible 'twas beauty killed the beast. Or at least, to keep her kids, she tipped the Feds off to the whereabouts of a wanted former mobster who had many years previously participated in a violent Mafia war.