Sunday, March 25, 2007

Powerful Mafia Boss Seeking Plea Deal?

Friends of ours: Vito Rizzuto, Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, Salvatore "Good- Looking Sal" Vitale, Gerlando "George From Canada" Sciascia, Patrick "Patty From the Bronx" De Filippo

Vito Rizzuto, named as Canada's most powerful Mafia boss, has asked a New York City judge to delay his trial for three gangland slayings, fueling speculation he is negotiating a plea deal.

David Schoen, defending Mr. Rizzuto against racketeering charges in the United States, declined to discuss any plea negotiations but said one thing is clear: Mr. Rizzuto is not considering co-operating with the authorities, as many of his American co-accused have done. "The answer is absolutely unequivocally 'no,' " he told the National Post.

An earlier document from prosecutors said Mr. Rizzuto, 61, of Montreal, was negotiating a settlement as far back as October, 2006. "If there were plea negotiations going on in any case, notwithstanding what may be a different practice for some other lawyers, I could never conceive of discussing them publicly," Mr. Schoen said. When pressed, he added: "Any speculation about a plea deal, at this point, is misguided."

He and his co-counsel are planning a vigorous defence that is well funded and well planned, he said. "Mr. Rizzuto is very strong and holding up well under these conditions - although I must say he misses Canada and his family very much," Mr. Schoen said. "In my view, there is no need or valid reason whatsoever for Mr. Rizzuto to be incarcerated in a jail in Brooklyn, or anywhere. He is no risk of flight whatsoever and certainly no danger to anyone in any community."

Mr. Rizzuto was arrested in January, 2004, inside his Montreal mansion at the request of the U.S. government. He is accused of being a shooter in an ambush of three rival mobsters in Brooklyn in 1981 as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. He has been imprisoned since. The charge carries a maximum penalty of a 20 years.

Mr. Rizzuto's desire to return to Canada could factor into any deal; he would likely ask to serve his sentence in Canada. If that were agreed to, it would see him released far sooner than if he served his prison term in America. Under international agreements on the transfer of prisoners, once back in Canada, inmates benefit from our more lenient release rules, including release after serving just two thirds of a sentence.

Mr. Rizzuto was the only Canadian among dozens of men ensnared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its assault on the Bonanno Mafia organization, one of the notorious and influential Five Families of New York.

Those indicted alongside him have not fared well. Almost all have pleaded guilty, been found guilty at trial or become government informants.

A cavalcade of Mafia turncoats are pointing fingers at former colleagues. The so-called "rats" include the former Bonanno Family boss, Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, and underboss, Salvatore "Good- Looking Sal" Vitale. Both are expected to be star witnesses against Mr. Rizzuto, should his case go to trial.

Vitale has already testified in other prosecutions, twice telling juries about Mr. Rizzuto's alleged crimes, but Massino has not yet been called to the stand. "I am not in the speculation business and I will leave such decisions to the government," Mr. Schoen said of whether he expects to see Massino testify against his client. "I certainly should hope we will be well prepared to deal with any witness."

Massino has been telling his secrets to the FBI for a year. Although the high-security debriefings are held in utmost secrecy, some of the information he provided was recently summarized in a note from prosecutors to a judge in another case. Some of it involves his contact with Canadian mob figures.

Massino said he ordered the murder of Gerlando "George From Canada" Sciascia, who was the Montreal Mafia's representative in New York and a close friend of Mr. Rizzuto's. He assigned the job to Patrick "Patty From the Bronx" De Filippo at Danny's Chinese Restaurant.

After the murder, Vitale, contacted Massino and spoke a prearranged code to signal the job was done: "I picked up the dolls for the babies."

Mr. Rizzuto continues to be a presence - through his name and photograph - in New York mob cases.

At the trial of De Filippo, which ended this month, the jury heard Vitale claim that Mr. Rizzuto started the shooting that killed the three mobsters.

"What was your role in that murder?" Vitale was asked by Greg Andres, the prosecutor. "Shooter," he answered.

"Were there other people assigned as shooters?" Mr. Andres asked.

"Vito Rizzuto; an old-timer from Canada, I never got his name; another individual from Canada named Emmanuel."

Vitale was shown a photograph and asked to identify it.

"That's Vito Rizzuto from Canada," he answered.

"Do you know where Vito lives?" Mr. Andres asked. "Montreal, Canada."

Later, Vitale again brought Mr. Rizzuto up.

"At the time of your arrest, was there a particular person who you considered the most powerful person in Canada, the person who you would deal with in Canada?" Vitale was asked.

"Vito Rizzuto," came the answer.

Pretrial motions in the case are expected to be ruled on in June.

Mr. Schoen estimates a trial would last nine weeks.

Thanks to Adrian Humphreys

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