Sunday, January 22, 2006

6 Years in Prison for Embarrassed Riccitelli

Friends of ours: Victor Riccitelli, Gambino Crime Family, Anthony Megale

Prosecutors said he should have spent his old age planting gardens or visiting his grandchildren, but instead 72-year-old Victor Riccitelli was running gambling operations for the mob. Friday, a federal judge sentenced him to 6 years in prison for racketeering, flatly rejecting his argument that prosecutors sought to embarrass him by releasing transcripts of his conversations with an FBI informant.

U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton also found "somewhat preposterous" the argument that, when the convicted mobster was recorded discussing his Mafia induction ceremony and the hierarchy of the Gambino crime family, he claimed to have been repeating things he read in a book or saw on the HBO drama "The Sopranos."

Riccitelli, who has 29 convictions dating to the 1950s, became one of the most colorful characters in the landmark Mafia case federal prosecutors brought in 2004. He allegedly moved bulk cocaine - a fact prosecutors said he hid from his mob superiors - and was caught on tape negotiating deals while receiving treatment for colon cancer. "He started chemo in January of '04 and sold a kilo (of cocaine) in February of '04," Arterton said, later adding, "Mr. Riccitelli is a man of great stamina, it would seem."

He was also caught on tape trying to arrange a kidnapping, surprising prosecutors who said most criminals slow down in their old age. "Spend time with the grandkids, plant a garden - something other than plan a kidnapping," prosecutor Mike Gustafson said.

Riccitelli, who is already serving 13 years in prison on federal drug charges, told Arterton he was in the "wrong place at the wrong time." "All I know how to do is gamble. I had no education," Riccitelli said. "I leave my faith up to you."

While all of Riccitelli's co-defendants, including reputed Mafia underboss Anthony Megale, struck plea deals with prosecutors, Riccitelli became a thorn in the side of the Justice Department. He rejected plea deals, accused the FBI of selectively recording him and claimed no knowledge of the Gambino family. Only on the eve of trial, as prosecutors prepared to make public hours of taped conversations between Riccitelli and the informant, did Riccitelli admit his Mafia membership and plead guilty.

Soon after, prosecutors shocked Riccitelli when they released transcripts of his conversations anyway, revealing that he talked freely about the secretive world of the Gambino family. Riccitelli accused the Justice Department of overstepping its bounds and intentionally embarrassing him. "It's turning into something personal against Mr. Riccitelli or using him as a scapegoat to put on a dog-and-pony show against, as your honor calls it, the Mafia," attorney John Einhorn said.

Arterton agreed that he could serve the new prison sentence at the same time as his drug sentence but said she did not accept his argument of prosecutorial misconduct or his renewed efforts to distance himself from the crime family.

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