Criminal Justice? Separate Verdicts in Gangland Hit

One evening in November 1994, mob associate Michael (Cookie) Durso stopped by the San Giuseppe Social Club in Brooklyn's Williamsburg -- and quite literally all hell broke loose.

A ticking time bomb also was set in motion that night, and while the detonation wasn't as deadly, the reverberations were extensive enough to knock down more than 70 Genovese wiseguys, and for the first time, substantially wound the crime family's boss.

The San Guiseppe, which no longer stands, previously may have been
Sonny Black's Motion Lounge. (Source)

The San Giuseppe, located on Graham Ave., was frequented by Genovese crime family members, associates and knock-around guys. (The San Giuseppe seems to have been located where the Motion Lounge once stood. The Motion Lounge was formerly owned by Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano, a Bonanno crime family capo killed decades ago over the Donnie Brasco case.)

On the night of Durso's 1994 visit, several men were idling away the time playing cards. Their names: Mario Fortunato, Carmine Polito, Gianco Imbrieco and Durso's cousin, a major loanshark named Sabatino "Tino" Lombardi. Anthony Bruno also was there.

Durso picked the wrong night to stop at the San Giuseppe social club.

As Bruno, the gunman who fired a bullet into the back of Durso's head (specifically, behind his ear), later testified:

"I'm combing my hair in the [club's] mirror and I just said to myself, 'Screw it.' I turned around and pulled my gun out (a .38) and shot Mike in the back of the head. I pulled the trigger and I saw Mike's hair split as the bullet went in," Bruno said on the stand (the first time).
"Then Gianco jumped off the wall and started shooting Tino on the side of the head."

After the bullets felled Durso and Tino, everyone who could bolt did so, heading for the stealthily parked car where getaway driver Angelo "Rookie" Cerasulo waited behind the wheel.

Bruno panicked when he discovered that he'd somehow been locked inside the club with the two dead guys. (Though in reality, only one was dead; Durso still breathed. Just one of those freakish things...)

Bruno made his escape via an emergency exit.

He told Polito that both men were dead. And they drove away.

Eight years later, several of the men who were in the social club when Tino bought it were arrested by federal agents in connection to the shooting.

The primary witness was Durso. (Though in time, Cerasulo and Bruno both flipped and testified for the Feds.)

The eatery in question, which some Bonanno guys were curious to know
if they could visit without getting violated...

In 2003, Polito, who owned a pizzeria, and Fortunato, a baker at Polito's pizzeria, were sentenced to life in prison on racketeering murder convictions.

The next year, however, a federal appeals court overturned the verdicts, ruling that the evidence did not show that the two had ordered the Lombardi hit "to increase their status in the crime family," as the federal statute required.

In 2005, Polito and Fortunato faced murder charges yet again, courtesy of Brooklyn's State Supreme Court. And in November, while they both stood before Justice Joel M. Goldberg, Polito requested a jury trial. Fortunato wanted the judge to decide his case.

Which one made the right choice?

Judge for yourself.

Two Different Verdicts
Prosecutors charged that Polito had planned the murder "as a means of escaping his gambling debts." As for Fortunato, he participated in order to avenge a "longstanding grudge." The general consensus at the time was that most of the evidence focused on Polito.

Bruno found himself testifying twice about the shooting. In the second trial, he went into a bit more detail about the happenings that November night in 1994.

"I was standing in front of my grandmother's house" when Cerasulo approached. “He asked me if I was interested in doing a piece of work,” Bruno said.

He also said he'd asked Cerasulo for the name of whoever had ordered the hit.

Polito was behind the hit, Cerasulo told him. (Like Durso and Lombardi, Polito and Cerasulo were cousins).

Bruno agreed to commit the murder -- and  "the one-time mob hit man" was sentenced to 10 years for Lombardi's murder.

At the trial's end, Justice Goldberg had reached his verdict regarding Fortunato but didn't disclose it until the jury reached its separate verdict regarding Polito.

Ultimately, in December, 2007, the jury acquitted Polito -- and Judge Goldberg announced his verdict finding Fortunato guilty of the 1994 murder of Sabatino Lombardi.

Here's something to remember if you're ever facing trial and have the choice of jury or judge:

Here's a stat all mobsters should memorize. 
If you choose a trial by judge, your chances of being found guilty are 99 percent. That's right: Nearly 100 percent of the time, a judge will find a defendant guilty.

A key underlying cause of the discrepancy was that the jurors "hated the cooperating witnesses."

The Wiseguy with the Funny Rolex
Durso was among the men who flipped. Only he went undercover for the Feds, wearing a wire in a $3,000 Rolex.

The Feds used his testimony to go after the entire Genovese crime family. And they managed to nab around 70-something of them. (We wrote about this here.)

Durso, before riding off with his wife into the sunset of the Witness Protection Program, even managed to deal Vincent (Chin) Gigante a blow. As Larry McShane writes of Durso in Chin: The Life and Crimes of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante:

"The obscure Genovese soldier, like (Peter) Savino before him, became the unlikely lynchpin of the prosecution case against the suddenly vulnerable (Vincent "The Chin") Gigante. Much of the boss’s old street insulation was, like him, locked up."

The Chin was vulnerable because, among other things, he'd lost his historical buffers, the guys who'd take a bullet for him. Genovese heavyweights such as Louis "Bobby" Manna, Venero "Benny Eggs" Mangano and Dominick "Baldy Dom" Canterino were no longer around.