Update On Arraignments Of Busted Colombo Wiseguys

The grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday charged 14 defendants — including “the entire leadership structure of the Colombo crime family” — with multiple crimes around a scheme that involved the Colombo family's monthly siphoning of around $10,000 from a labor union’s health plan.

Bonanno wiseguy John Ragano
Bonanno wiseguy John Ragano during previous roundup

Charged in the case (see story here detailing specifics of Tuesday's indictment) were Colombo street boss Andrew (Mush) Russo, underboss Benjamin (Benji) Castellazzo, consigliere Ralph DiMatteo; captains Theodore Persico, Jr., Richard Ferrara, and Vincent Ricciardo; soldier Michael Uvino and associates Thomas Costa and Domenick Ricciardo. Bonanno family soldier John Ragano also is charged in the case.

As for the arraignments Tuesday afternoon (via Law & Crime):

Costa and Uvino appeared in Federal court with their attorneys and pleaded not guilty.

Russo appeared via videoconference from a hospital while under Federal guard. (What was wrong with him wasn’t mentioned, and Russo’s attorney said he would be in the hospital “for some time.”)

“I hear you!” Russo said to a federal judge when asked if a remote video connection worked.

“I read it. I did read it, your honor,” Russo said when asked if he received a copy of his indictment.

“Are you prepared to enter a plea of guilty?” the judge asked in an apparent slip of the tongue. “Guilty or not guilty?” she immediately corrected.

“Not guilty,” Russo answered.

Bellantoni also entered a not guilty plea.

Costa, Uvino, and Russo were ordered detained pending trial, but they are being allowed to challenge that decision if they wish.

“Hold on, your honor,” Russo said while asking a question—then the connection was lost.

The judge said Russo would be released from the hospital to a federal detention center where he and his attorney could attempt to prepare a bail application.

“That’s all right, your honor; thank you so much,” Russo said.

Prosecutors had asked that Russo, Costa, Uvino, and seven other defendants be held without bail pending trial.

“Can I get bail?” Russo then questioned — apparently confused. The judge explained that Russo would go to a detention center when he’s released from the hospital where he and his attorney could attempt to challenge his pretrial detention.

Russo said he would do whatever the attorneys and the judge wanted. The judge said she didn’t have a vote in the matter. Russo’s attorney consented and said the time to challenge the pretrial detention would come sometime later, after defense had a chance to receive and to review some of the evidence.

The attorneys and the court spent 10 minutes hashing out whether bond would be allowed for Bellantoni.

“I do, your honor,” Bellantoni said when asked if he understood the restrictions imposed — which included no contact with organized crime figures, the labor union or its health fund, and restrictions allowing him only to travel to New York City and Long Island. A relative agreed to put up property as part of a $100,000 bond. The property had been refinanced pursuant to a mortgage as recently as last month, so there was some haggling over the amount of equity in the property.

The case kicked off about a year ago, when FBI agents received information that members of the Colombo family were extorting a senior official at a Queens- based labor union. He was one of several individuals associated with the union or health fund to receive threats from the defendants.

Between August 2020 and March 2021, the government recorded telephone communications via authorized wiretaps for telephones used by defendants DiMatteo, Persico, Ferrara, Vincent Ricciardo, Uvino and Domenick Ricciardo. 

Among the intercepted revelations: the senior leadership of the Colombo family, including boss Russo, was “intimately” involved in directing the extortion.

Thirteen defendants were rounded up in New York and New Jersey on Tuesday. Vincent Ricciardo was nabbed in North Carolina. DiMatteo “remains at large,” prosecutors said.