New Jersey Board Of Ed Regrets Having Lillo Brancato Speak At High School Anti-Drug Event

Every once in a while we come across a Lillo Brancato story that updates us on his latest doings.
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Last we heard he was trying to relaunch his film career, a long-term, ongoing effort that draws a heated, angry reaction from time to time. In fact, it's somewhat similar to the reaction the Union City Board of Education is currently getting for inviting the former actor/convict to speak at an anti-drug event at one of its high schools.

District Superintendent Silvia Abbato issued an apology last Wednesday night, hours after students at Union City High School got to hear Brancato talk about drug addiction. (Anyone out there attend that event? We'd like to hear from you.)

Brancato got his big break as a teenager alongside Robert De Niro in the 1993 film A Bronx Tale, later landing roles in films like Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State before playing the role of Matt Bevilaqua in six episodes of The Sopranos.

Then in 2005, Brancato and Genovese crime family associate Steven Armento (by then he was actually a former associate owing to drug problems) were reportedly drinking at a Bronx strip club when they got the bright idea to break into a nearby apartment to steal Valium. 

Off-duty NYPD officer Daniel Enchautegui heard the men break in and confronted them, resulting in a shootout during which all three men were hit, with Enchautegui being fatally shot by Armento. Brancato was acquitted on a murder charge, but convicted of attempted burglary, while Armento was ultimately convicted of firing the fatal shot and sentenced to life in prison.

Brancato has said of his troubles: "Here I am. I get the opportunity. I get the shot and then squander it. [I got] addicted to drugs and just make horrible decisions.” 

Brancato was  paroled in January 2014, when he told the NY Daily News that the slaying of the NYPD officer was never far from his thoughts.

The Union City Board of Education called its decision a “mistake.”

Several Union City organizations and officials, including Union City Mayor Brian Stack and the city’s Police Benevolent Association, have been publicly deriding the decision to invite him.

“Lillo Brancato Jr. may have overcome the odds as a former substance abuser, but he is also a murderer. On December 10th, 2005, he murdered a police officer," the Union City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 216 and Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association Local 8 said in a press release.

“Both Union City Police Unions stand by our brothers in the New York Police Department and continue to morn the loss of NYPD Police Officer Daniel Enchautegui."

Union City Police Chief Nichelle Luster said she “unequivocally stands behind both Unions in their condemnation of Lillo Brancato as a choice to speak at our high school,” while Stack added: “An anti-drug message is one that our children need to hear over and over again — Brancato is just the wrong messenger.”

The panel discussion included five speakers, among them a physician and addiction treatment specialist, and centered around the dangers of opioid addiction. Former Governor Jim McGreevy was also a speaker at the event, which was sponsored by the New Jersey Reentry Corporation in cooperation with the school board.

“We had no idea that the New Jersey PBA and FOP was strongly opposed to his participation,” McGreevy said in a statement. “I have always had an outstanding relationship with the PBA and FOP. We are grateful for all they do every day to keep our communities safe (and) I can assure them that Mr. Brancato will not be a participant on any future panel with which I work or organize.”

Brancato has since tried to use his experience to steer young people away from substance abuse. He’s been sober for more than 10 years and is now a national speaker.

Brancato told Fox News in an interview last year that, after a visit from friends after getting sober, he had "made that decision in my mind I can never, ever have another drink or another drug in my life.”

"There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think and wish how I could change that and the outcome of that night. But I can’t do that. What I can do is control myself and my own actions," he said.

“I was a drug addict. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. “And the fact that I have been on the right path and willing to help others and love doing so, I think that is worthy of a second chance and that is worthy of people’s support.”

The actor was released to his family and was under supervision until last year. And he's been talking about his hopes of rekindling his former acting career.

Brancato acknowledged that many of his former colleagues may not want to work with him again, but said he hopes that they “at least, see the person that I am today, see the person that I've grown up into. I definitely had to learn the hard way, but I am no longer that person who was present that night."

In 2014, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, was not supportive of Brancato’s comeback attempt.

Upon the actor’s release from prison, the PBA chief said in a statement that "this union will take any steps necessary to ensure that this miscreant follows the conditions of his parole down to the last letter."