The Chicago Syndicate: New Orleans Radio Host Charged with "Mob" Hit on Wife
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Monday, September 11, 2006

New Orleans Radio Host Charged with "Mob" Hit on Wife

To friends and listeners, radio talk show host Vince Marinello was "Vinnie" -- a racetrack regular straight out of "Guys and Dolls," a New Orleans native with a Brooklyn accent, a guy who liked to imply he had mob connections.

Now, Marinello stands accused of donning a disguise and shooting his estranged wife to death gangland-style in a suburban parking lot. Listeners who enjoyed his fan talk or found comfort in his post-Katrina broadcasts are wondering what went wrong. Marinello, 69, surrendered to authorities and was jailed Thursday on murder charges.

Mary Elizabeth Marinello, a 45-year-old respiratory therapist, died September 1, a day after she was shot twice in the face as she stood in a parking lot. The attack was first described as a botched robbery, but Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee said Wednesday that it was being treated as a "hit" based on surveillance tapes.

"I think that before Katrina they had some problems," said Bertha Norman, the victim's mother. "But after Katrina, all that stress brought on a lot of things. I think Katrina made everything worse."

So much worse that in July, Mary Elizabeth filed for a divorce. That was when she learned that her husband of less than two years was still married when they wed. "The lawyer called and told her, `You don't need a divorce; you need an annulment,"' Norman said. Marinello "had told her so many lies -- that's why she was divorcing him. But this was the one he didn't want known."

Marinello was put on a suicide watch after turning himself in Thursday. The charges carry a mandatory life sentence.

Detectives said that on August 31, Marinello put on a fake mustache and beard, rode a bicycle to a parking lot he knew his wife used regularly, lay in ambush and shot her before pedaling away. Marinello's lawyer, Donald Foret, said he was trying to help his client post $250,000 and get out of jail. Other than that, he had no comment.

Authorities initially thought the shooting was a robbery gone bad, until they were able to take a closer look at surveillance tape.

Late Wednesday, authorities searched Marinello's Katrina-damaged house, the FEMA trailer he lived in, and the home of a friend. In the trailer, the sheriff said, they found a handwritten checklist of the alleged plans for the attack. "It was almost as good as a confession," Lee said.

Initially, Marinello had said he was in Jackson, Mississippi, at the time of the shooting, but Lee said his alibi unraveled and "things started to fall into place."

Marinello grew up in the close-knit Italian community in the French Quarter. He was a New Orleans sportscaster for a quarter of a century and also did a handicapping show from the Fair Grounds Race Track that was televised to betting establishments nationwide.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, he switched his WWL talk show's focus from sports to hurricane relief. "He was everybody's idea of a New Orleans guy," said Michael Diliberto, who worked with Marinello at the Fair Grounds for 15 years. "He'd do anything for anybody." Marinello knew everyone, Diliberto said, including the sheriff, who acknowledged that the arrest pained him.

Marinello was not above dropping hints that he was mob-connected. "I know from his life in the news media that he knew a lot of people that were known as bad guys," Diliberto said. "Working at the racetrack, in Chicago, around boxing, he came in contact with all kinds."

Despite that, Diliberto said he has a hard time thinking of Marinello as a bad guy himself. "I can think he might think he would know somebody that would do it," Diliberto said. "But I can't believe he would do it himself. He is such a kind man. I just can't picture him pulling the trigger."

Bob Mitchell, who co-hosted the show with Marinello, said during Thursday night's broadcast that he is still trying to make sense of what has happened. "If my friend is innocent, then I hope God will lead investigators to the guilty person or person. If he's not, and he did the crime, then he should pay the price whatever it is," Mitchell said. "This is a tragedy for all of us."

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