By MAX NEOPIKHANOV
After nine days of deliberation, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Colombo crime family underboss Thomas Gioeli and hit man Dino Saracino guilty Wednesday of a racketeering conspiracy that includes schemes to murder mob rivals.
Jurors acquitted the two men in the 1997 murder of Police Officer Ralph Dols in Brooklyn.
Gioeli, 59, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. The jury found him guilty of three murder conspiracies, including schemes that led to the slaying of Frank Marasa in Brooklyn in 1991 and John Minerva in 1992. Prosecutors said Gioeli and Saracino conspired to murder other rival members of the Colombo family during the criminal organization’s internal war between 1991 and 1993.
The jury found Saracino, 39, guilty of conspiring to murder Michael Burnside, whom Saracino believed killed one of his brothers, as well as loansharking, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Saracino faces a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.
The nearly seven-week trial at U.S. District Court in Brooklyn was full of colorful witnesses who offered up a saga of the Colombo crime family in New York.
Lawyers for Gioeli and Saracino tried at each opportunity during the trial to discredit the prosecution’s turncoat witnesses as criminals who simply wanted a reduced sentence from the government.
In a final plea before deliberations began, defense attorney Adam Perlmutter implored jurors to see through what he said were the witnesses’ lies because they are “untrustworthy, unreliable, desperate individuals.”
He added: “You know what else they are? Rats!”
Prosecution witnesses included Colombo crime family hit men Dino Calabro and Joseph Competiello. Both men testified to collaborating with Saracino in killing several mob members and associates, including the then underboss of the Colombo crime family, William Cutolo, and Dols, saying they did so under Gioeli’s orders.
The prosecution argued that the hit on Dols in Brooklyn came down to Gioeli from the then underboss of the Colombo family, Joel Cacace, whose wife had left him for Dols.
Both men gave detailed accounts of the slayings. Calabro testified that he and Saracino gunned down Dols in broad daylight as Dols was exiting his car in front of his house on Avenue U. Both denied knowing that Dols was a police officer.
Defense lawyers pointed at discrepancies between Competiello’s testimony at the trial and the original account he gave to the feds when describing a meeting with Gioeli to plan the Cutolo and Dols slayings.
The jury acquitted Saracino and Gioeli in the Dols and Cutolo slayings.
In what turned to be the one of the biggest twists of the trial, Gioeli’s cousin, Thomas McLaughlin, who was called to testify on Gioeli’s behalf, instead said that Gioeli ordered the killing of Marasa in 1991.
Gioeli and McLaughlin, a former Colombo associate and currently a government informant, yelled at each other across the courtroom. The jury evidently accepted McLaughlin’s testimony, finding Gioleli guilty of conspiracy to murder Marasa.
But that wasn’t the only instance of yelling during the trial.
Saracino’s brother, Sebastiano Saracino, testified that “Little Dino” had gunned down an ex-marine in their basement in 1995.
“Stop lying!” Dino Saracino yelled out as his brother spoke on the witness stand. “I’m not your brother!”
Another memorable prosecution witness was Salvatore Vitale, a smooth-talking former Bonanno family underboss in witness protection, who gave the jury a primer for mob life in New York City, explaining standard mob fare like extortion, running illegally rigged “joker poker” slot machines, and loansharking.
The defense said that Vitale, who served seven years in prison, now free, is an untrustworthy criminal who, like the other witnesses, turned on his former friends to get a deal from the government.
“You don’t have any friends in organized crime,” Vitale said. “Why would I want to do life for people who did not care for me?”
Throughout the trial, the jury was shown photos of numerous known and alleged mob members and associates, video footage, and an assortment of evidence against the defendants –including a party invitation that included the names of both defendants, several of the witnesses, and their families.
At one point the prosecution even attempted to introduce a photograph of Gioeli and his associates at a fundraiser with the cast of the Sopranos TV show. The defense objected that the photo would unfairly tarnish Gioeli’s reputation.
For weeks Saracino sat smirking as he heard the testimony against him. Gioeli often smiled softly, but looked frail and old – much older than his 59 years. He sometimes took the time to wave and blow kisses to his family members in the stands. He also claimed that prison authorities mistreated him.
Gioeli hasn’t let his discourse go unheard. With the help of one of his daughters, Giolei wrote about his experiences behind bars on a blog, trying appeal to anyone who will listen.
“As trial is coming to an end I am filled with excitement to have my dad back home,” one of his daughters wrote on the blog on April 10.
“I daydream about the day I will see him walk up our front steps and I just can’t wait. I dream about just sitting around the table with my family and enjoying each other’s company.”