Court Tosses Killer's Defamation Suit Over Russell Bufalino Bio

A federal appeals court dismissed a defamation lawsuit last Monday filed by a convicted murderer serving life in prison.

The lawsuit, over the book The Quiet Don, about the late Cosa Nostra boss Russell Bufalino, had caused the defendant depression, and supposedly made other inmates target him for violence.

Coviello was arrested in 1978 for murder.

In its order, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Louis Coviello, the convict who filed the lawsuit, had failed to pay the fee on time to have his case heard.

Coviello was challenging a lower court ruling that had thrown out the $1 million defamation suit against the book's author and publishers: The Berkley Publishing Group and the Penguin Group.

In the lawsuit, the convicted murderer charged that The Quiet Don falsely stated he had confessed to killing a witness by placing a pillow over the man's head as he lay in a hospital bed in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He further denied accounts of his cooperation with authorities investigating alleged mob ties of Louis DeNaples.

Coviello, 59, an inmate at State Correctional Institution — Huntingdon, said he never killed the purported witness and says the witness was not even murdered.

Coviello accused Birkbeck of writing "a completely fabricated piece of fiction" so his book would "resemble a mob story."

"The truth is I did not ever kill the guy that Matt Birkbeck does report in his book, ‘The Quiet Don,’ was killed by me," Mr. Coviello writes in his suit. "This is yellow journalism and does not contain even an iota of truth."

To support his defamation suit, Coviello signed a declaration that stated Birkbeck, the author, had tried to make a deal with the convicted killer, offering him freedom in return for information about DeNaples, a Dunmore businessman.
Read Coviello's declaration.
Coviello said he refused the offer from Birkbeck, who -- he alleged -- claimed to be acting on behalf of state and federal law enforcement officials who owed him for assistance with their investigations of Bufalino’s crime family in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

"I am authorized to make you an offer of a deal: Help the feds, or the state send DeNaples to prison, and you’re a free man. It’s that simple,” Birbeck allegedly told Coviello, according to Coviello...

Coviello said that despite his refusal of the offer, Birkbeck fabricated statements in his book. And as a result of The Quiet Don's false depictions of Coviello as an informant, he was the target of attacks from other inmates.

Birkbeck declined to comment Friday, the Times Leader reported. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Harrisburg said that the office also had no comment.

Asked why Birkbeck would offer such a deal rather than the state or federal government directly through a member of law enforcement, Birkbeck claimed it was for "plausible deniability."

Birkbeck wrote about the encounter in The Morning Call, where he noted that DeNaples, then the owner of the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Monroe County, was the focus of a federal and state investigation into organized crime.

The story reported that Coviello said he testified before a grand jury about his family’s relationship with DeNaples. Coviello also reportedly said he spoke to FBI agents about DeNaples, adding that he often ate at the DeNaples’ home and his father Joseph did business with DeNaples.

As reported in 2011 on Friends of Ours, a grand jury blasted the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in a 102-page report that raised questions about its independence. The report detailed how in 2006, the Gaming Control Board awarded a casino license to DeNaples despite allegations of his links to organized crime, as reported by Matt Assad and Peter Hall for The Morning Call:
DeNaples, 70, founded the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Paradise Township, Monroe County. Early on, questions were raised in publications including The Morning Call about DeNaples' alleged ties to organized crime figures, about his 1977 plea of no contest on felony conspiracy charges for falsifying records to get $500,000 in federal funds after Hurricane Agnes and about his involvement in reselling trucks damaged in Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But much of it never got into the board's investigative report, or was overlooked by the board as unsubstantiated.
One story provided this profile of DeNaples:

The owner of numerous businesses in the Scranton area, ranging from landfills to banks to auto-parts shops, DeNaples also serves on various boards and is a trustee of the University of Scranton. He has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations to a variety of candidates, Republican and Democrat, and also has given millions to charitable causes. During one gaming board hearing earlier this year, he was accompanied by a Catholic priest and vouched for by a nun.

DeNaples' background also includes a no contest plea to fraud in 1978 after a jury couldn't decide whether he bilked Scranton out of $525,000 by submitting falsified reimbursements for cleanup work following 1972's Hurricane Agnes. DeNaples was sentenced to three years' probation and a $10,000 fine, Feeley said.

According to two Pennsylvania Crime Commission reports, in 1983 and 1990, James Osticco, a Bufalino family underboss, and three others were convicted in 1982 with tampering with the DeNaples jury. A juror had admitted she voted for acquittal at the behest of her husband, who in return was given $1,000, a set of tires and a pocket watch.

Coviello identifies the witness as Frank Cooper; Birkbeck did not name the witness in The Quiet Don. The suit does not explain how Coviello would know the witness’ name.

Coviello accused Birkbeck of writing “a completely fabricated piece of fiction” so his book would “resemble a mob story” and only rehashing old stories about Mr. Bufalino, who lived in Kingston and died in 1994.

“The truth is I did not ever kill the guy that Matt Birkbeck does report in his book, ‘The Quiet Don,’ was killed by me,” Mr. Coviello writes in his suit. “This is yellow journalism and does not contain even an iota of truth.”

Cooper died at Clarks Summit State Hospital a year after the book alleges he was murdered, Coviello claimed.

Penguin published the book through its true-crime imprint, The Berkley Publishing Group. Both are also named as defendants in Mr. Coviello’s suit. The suit sought $1 million in compensatory and $1 million in punitive damages from each defendant.

Coviello was convicted in July 1979 of the April 29, 1978, shooting death of bodybuilder Dominick Coroniti, 31, of Dickson City. As per testimony, Coviello lured Coroniti to a shale pit in Dunmore for a drug deal. Prior to the shooting, Coviello had told state police that Coroniti had sold marijuana and uppers. Coviello claims he was present when the murder took place, but that another man, also convicted in the case, actually did the shooting.

Specifically, Coviello disputes a story in The Quiet Don that detailed how Coviello told state investigators how DeNaples obtained a casino license.

Birkbeck’s book does not mention Cooper and does not state when the witness died. It also does not "directly accuse Mr. Coviello of the murder. Rather, it says that is the story he told the troopers. It also says, “The papers said the man died of heart failure..." the Tribune reported.

Coviello also denies ever speaking with the FBI, the Secret Service or the state gambling board’s investigators about DeNaples. The Quiet Don reports that he did, however.

The week of May 16, Coviello said he was shown three “snitch notes” disclosing threats from other inmates at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon.

It is possible that not every inmate serving life in prison is a "stand-up guy" by virtue of the fact he's imprisoned....