Wiseguys Who Were Felled By COVID-19 Or Who Filed For Compassionate Release

COVID-19 doesn't discriminate... Whether in jail awaiting trial or serving a bid based on a conviction, imprisoned wiseguys are leveraging the threat of COVID-19 to argue for “compassionate release" and get out of prison.

Boopsie Castelle
Alleged Luchese wiseguy Boopsie Castelle was released on April 3.

Those lucky enough to not be in prison during the onset of the deadly virus have been struggling to earn, as various reports have highlighted. With novel coronavirus shutting down most of the economy, more wiseguys are considering a leap into the illegal drug business to compensate for the cash they haven't been earning from other things, like gambling (In fact the cancellation of major sports has wiped out tens of millions of dollars in illegal gambling income, a “historic” blow to the Mafia, law enforcement sources told The Post.)

The drug business, however, ain't what it used to be either, these days.

 Dealers can't hawk their wares the usual ways right now because, like just about everything else, all the restaurants, bars, and strip clubs have been shuttered or are limited to takeout in New York City by order of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Pause New York campaign to stop the spread of COVID-19. (The campaign moved into a new phase: "The Un-Pause NY approach, " which is designed to open businesses in phases of priority.)

Construction rackets had been bringing in the bucks for a time after most of the economy was shut down. But then that too was halted with all other non-essential projects. And with all construction paused, wiseguys can't profit off ventures related to construction, like trucking and the ports.

As for the situation in the nation's prisons, according to the BOP, as of April 25, 730 federal inmates and 317 BOP staff have confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide. (Twenty-two inmates and seven staff members tested positive for COVID-19 at the Danbury facility alone, as per data from BOP.) So far, 383 inmates and 124 staff have recovered. There have been 26 federal inmate deaths and 0 BOP staff member deaths attributed to COVID-19 disease. In total there are 142,663 federal inmates in BOP-managed institutions and 10,442 in community-based facilities. The BOP staff complement is approximately 36,000.

Several figures in gangland reportedly have died from the novel coronavirus malady. Felled by COVID-19 were longtime Bonanno soldier Ronald (Ronnie Mozzarella) Carlucci, who died on April 16 at age of 77. He's unique in that he's a veteran mobster who never had convictions — or any arrests for serious crimes, as Gang Land reported. (Even though Gang Land doesn't need a hyperlink from an insignificant little blog like this one.)

Also felled by COVID-19 were Joseph Zito, a powerful Genovese soldier, who died on April 7 at the age of 83, and Gambino soldier Augustine (Augie) Guido, who died on March 28 at age 79 and was buried April 2 at the Moravian Cemetery in Staten Island.

On the other side of the bench, long-serving Southern District Federal Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy, who oversaw many notable cases, died of coronavirus. Duffy was the judge during the 1985 trial of Gambino crime family members, a trial that was complicated by the December 1985 execution of Gambino boss Paul Castellano and his driver/underboss outside Sparks restaurant in Manhattan. Over a career as a federal judge that spanned decades and began when Duffy was 39 years old, he developed a reputation as a tough issuer of sentences who was a beloved mentor to his clerks.

We've heard that alleged Genovese powerhouse Anthony (Tough Tony) Federici, owner of the excellent Corona, Queens, Park Side restaurant, was seriously ill with COVID-19 but survived and was released from the hospital earlier this month.

Alleged Chicago mobster Paul Schiro, who was convicted as part of the historic Family Secrets mob prosecution, is seeking a compassionate release. Journalist Jon Seidel reported in the Chicago Sun-Times that the request is not based on the COVID-19 outbreak, but that, “the epidemic has accelerated the urgency and necessity” of the request from the 82-year-old man who has been in custody since 2002.

Read When Family Secrets Include Murder: The Letter That Decimated The Chicago Outfit

Schiro’s attorney, Daniel Hesler, pointed to changes in the law created by the First Step Act, which was signed by Trump in 2018. “(Schiro) is not a danger to the community or anyone in it,” Hesler wrote. “He is far beyond bearing grudges or resentments to anyone about anything. He does not do much of anything independently now, so there would be little ability for him to cause any trouble even if he wanted to. And he does not want to. His only hope is to simply spend a little time with his family while he is still here.” U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced Schiro in 2009 to 20 years in prison.

Alleged Genovese crew chief Ralph Santaniello, 52, is seeking to get sprung, Stephanie Barry recently reported on MassLive. Last Tuesday, Worcester U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman told attorneys he will issue a ruling in short order. Santaniello is weeks away from finishing a five-year bid he's been serving at the Loretto Federal Correctional Institute in western Pennsylvania for extorting a tow company operator and a gambling debtor in 2013.
Alleged crew chief for the Genovese family in Springfield, Ralph Santaniello

During a telephonic hearing before Worcester U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman last Tuesday, an attorney for Santaniello, in pressing his argument, noted the "fragility" of Santaniello’s daughter, who has suffered from a rare disease since birth. Kelly told the judge Santaniello is set to be released to a pre-release center in Ludlow on May 12, at any rate.

“He will be released to a halfway house 21 days from today,” Kelly said, appealing to Hillman to instead release his client early to his parents’ house in Longmeadow right away.

U.S. Department of Justice Trial Attorney Marianne Shelvey opposed Santaniello’s motion for early release, and was quick to point out that Santaniello may be barred from living with his parents because his father, 81, also is a convicted felon. “Amedeo Santaniello is an associate of the Genovese crime family. He’s been convicted in both federal and state court for gambling and similar crimes to this defendant,” Shelvey responded. The elder Santaniello’s last prison sentence came after illegal gambling convictions in 1989.

Santaniello co-defendant Giovanni “Johnny Cal” Calabrese has filed his own petition for early release, also based on COVID-19 anxieties within the prison system. He is scheduled for release in late November and is serving out his sentence in Kentucky.

SILive reporter Jordan Hafizi reported that Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the release of alleged Luchese associate Eugene (Boopsie) Castelle, who was released on April 3 to an undisclosed location on the condition that he “shall remain self-quarantined for 14 days after his release, subject to location monitoring,” court papers show.

Hellerstein granted Castelle release on bail while he is waiting for the outcome of his appeal on his 2019 conviction for his connection with an illegal gambling operation.

Castelle has told his lawyer Richard Levitt about an episode in which he fell ill while at the federal correctional institution in Danbury, Conn. -- where he recently returned after falling ill with pneumonia. “I [started] to feel sick all over again with shortness of breath, back-ache, coughing again, but as [per] usual our concerns fall on deaf ears,” Castelle wrote. “The last time it took an act of God for the lieutenant to call 911 at 4 a.m. because three guys saw that I couldn’t breathe and I was coughing and choking my brain out.”

SILive reporter Irene Spezzamonte reported that Colombo associate Daniel (Shrek) Capaldo, 55, was released to home incarceration and “restricted to home at all times, except for attorney visits, court appearances and medical treatment,” court records show.

Capaldo, who was indicted among 20 suspects on wide-ranging charges of racketeering, extortion, loansharking and stalking, as well as attempting to fix an NCAA college basketball game, is also seeking release, court papers indicate.

Peter Guadagnino, Capaldo’s attorney, filed an emergency bail application that indicates that Dr. Mazan Rabadi — who observed Capaldo’s medical records — believes Capaldo’s chance for survival if “infected with COVID-19 is poor.”

“I find that Mr. Capaldo suffers from underlying lung disease and he has used a bronchodilator for most of his life,” Dr. Rabadi wrote in a health assessment supporting Capaldo’s request. “If he contracts COVID-19, this will lead to him having severe bronchospasm which will lead to his respiratory failure, leading to intubation and being put on a respirator.”

An alleged Gambino associate's request to get out of jail was denied. Federal Judge Jesse Furman denied John Matera’s application to be released from prison after his lawyer said he was battling coronavirus. Matera, 49, pleaded guilty in September 2004 to racketeering conspiracy for the 1998 murder of Frank Hydell, then 31, in front of the former Scarlett’s strip club in South Beach

On April 6, 2020, Matera moved for compassionate release. He was convicted of racketeering conspiracy (based in part on the 1998 murder of a cooperating witness) and was sentenced by Judge Richard C. Casey in 2004 to the statutory maximum of 20 years' imprisonment.

The basis for his motion is that he has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

"Upon review of the parties' submissions, the Court is compelled to deny Matera's motion. First, to the extent that he seeks compassionate release, the motion is premature as he has not satisfied the exhaustion requirements of Section 3582(c)(1)(A) — requirements that, as the Court explained in an opinion filed earlier today, cannot be disregarded.

"That is not to say that the Court is unconcerned about Matera's condition. Even if, as the Government represents, he has "a mild case of COVID-19" and his current condition is "stable," the Court trusts that the Government, including the Bureau of Prisons, will closely monitor Matera's health and diligently take all necessary steps — medical, legal, or otherwise — to ensure that he receives appropriate care and does not expose other inmates or prison staff to danger.

Alleged Bonanno wiseguy Vincent Asaro was released from prison over coronavirus fears. A federal judge granted Asaro a compassionate release from prison due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the decision, Judge Allyne R. Ross of the Eastern District of New York said that Asaro's age and his deteriorating health were "extraordinary and compelling" reasons for his release. The court documents list Asaro as 85 years old.

Asaro has been held at the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. He's serving eight years in prison after pleading guilty in 2017 to ordering his associates to set a man's car on fire. Last year, Asaro had a stroke and suffers from paralysis on the right side of his body and a brain disorder called aphasia, according to the judge's ruling.

In 2015, Asaro was found not guilty on charges that he participated in the notorious 1978 Lufthansa robbery at JFK Airport, which featured prominently in the film Goodfellas.

Alleged East Coast LCN Enterprise-whatever boss Eugene (Rooster) Onofrio, a reputed Genovese capo, left prison a few weeks before a scheduled "compassionate release" that had been granted by prison officials. His sentencing judge had pointedly recommended that the gangster be released as soon as possible because he "was particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus."

Eugene (Rooster) Onofrio
Eugene (Rooster) Onofrio

Reputed former Luchese acting boss Matthew Madonna, 84, who once had ties to drug kingpin Leroy Nicky Barnes, has been hospitalized suffering from a severe case of the coronavirus after testing positive for the disease at the Westchester County Jail.

Madonna is awaiting sentencing for his federal murder conviction for the 2013 gangland slaying of former Purple Gang leader Michael Meldish.

Other wiseguys awaiting trial or serving prison terms whose motions were stepped on: Colombo mobsters Joseph Amato, Thomas (The Plumber) Scorcia, and Vito (The Mask) DiFalco, and Luchese soldier Joseph Venice; all were declined by their respective judges.

So were motions by associates Vincent Terraciano, Salvatore DiSano and Richard O'Connor.

Last week, Gambino mobster John (Johnny Boy) Ambrosio, 77, and associate Antony Saladino, 70, were slated for hearings in Central Islip Federal Court on their motions for early release from sentences they're serving for racketeering and other charges.

(Please don't inject disinfectant into yourselves...)

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