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In SDNY Bonanno Racketeering Trial Tales Of Vinny TV and Louie Ha Ha Leave Jury Cold Double Acquittal

By Matthew Russell Lee

SDNY COURTHOUSE, March 15 – In the rackeeting trial of Joe Cammarano and John "Porky" Zancocchio that resulted in acquittal, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York the afternoon of March 5 ended with a government witness authenticating audio tapes he recorded in his pizzeria which, it seemed, one of the defendants was trying to take from him. He said he preferred Vinnie TV over Joe C. and Porky - who smiled and waved when his name was mentioned - but that he tried to get along with them, including by going to Porky's restaurant Bella Donna. He said that all the made guys were there on Fridays.

  Like a happy hour, commented Judge Alvin Hellerstein, to some laughter including among the jury. (Later Judge Hellerstein would stay to hear and grant a motion to dismissed a sexual orientation discrimination and retaliation claim against SUNY. Such is the schedule of a Federal judge.) The trial was wrapping up - and ultimately resulted in acquittal: on March 13 the jury acquitted the two of racketeering and conspiracy to commit extortion charges. Gina Castellano, the lead prosecutor, had said they "worked together and with other members of the mob to commit crime after crime — extortion, loan-sharking, drug dealing, assault and fraud. These two men led a sophisticated criminal organization that took whatever they wanted from whoever they wanted through intimidation,” she said. But unlike with the Millbrook Houses in The Bronx, for example, this prosecution didn't work. We'll have more on this. March 5 had ended with Stephen Sabella being questioned about racist Facebook posts and a scar his step-brother left on his head. Stephen Sabella testified that the defendant John Zancocchio gave him a black eye and a broken tooth and stole his busienss from him, some $2 million in all.

"I can't stand him," Stephen Sabella said. But he went beyond that, and posted on Zancocchio's daughter's Facebook wall insults against her bi-racial daughter. He called Zancocchio himself a "stuttering MF-er;" Zancocchio's lawyer referred to "my client's disability." He cross examined: you know her from Bella Mama Rose, right? She's a good person, right? Judge Alvin Hellerstein sustained an objected by Stephen Sabella managed to work into his response, yes she is a nice person. He said he wasn't sure how Facebook worked, how many people saw his posts.

A liquor salesman posted a photo with Zancocchio calling him a classy guy; Stephen Sabella replied online that he was surprised, unless the salesman meant a thief and robber. When Stephen Sabella was beaten up a second time outside his home he decided to cooperate with the government. But, he admitted, he continued with a gambling book and some drug sales, "just marijuana," he said. Asked if his father was arrested in Florida for cocaine he followed Judge Hellerstein's sustaining the government's objection and did not answer.

Still one wondered how this might hurt his credibility with the jury, one of whose members told Judge Hellerstein that Stephen Sabella's name was mis-spelled in the transcripts that were passed out to the jurors. Stephen Sabella explaining his own calls was one thing - but another government witness was asked to authenticate a series of calls about "meet you in twenty minutes," "I can't hear you I'll call you right back" and the like. At one point classical hold music came one and Judge Hellerstein quipped, Is Mozart a part of this case? Cammarano's laughed followed suit, saying "I object." Perhaps the music was Vivaldi.

Judge Hellerstein's is a classy court room, where he has waxed poetic of defendants like Norman Seabrook and Murray Huberfelt, why do good people do bad things. The phrase has yet to be heard in this trial. Earlier on March 4, the government put on the stand an expert on La Cosa Nostra, to whom the defendants objected without avail. He described a system in which proposed new "made men" must be circulated to all of the five families to see if there is any objection, akin to the silence procedure in the UN Security Council with its five permanent members. Because of the high level of incarceration, a previous rule of new members only being allowed in to replace deceased one has been waived - each year, each family can bring in an additional two members. Similarly, the requirement that made men be 100% Italian has been changed such that only the father must be Italian. He said surveillance of wakes is "of incredible value to law enforcement.. The understanding is visual, a hierarchy, you put the dots together." And slowly, perhaps too slowly, in this SDNY courtroom, the dots are being put together. Back on February 28, beyond testimony by the Business Integrity Commission now looking in sham unions, the head of security for the Peninsula Hotel certified the one-night stay of Zancocchio for a mere $295, saying the normal rate was $795. Zancocchio's lawyer on cross established that the three other couples staying at 700 Fifth Avenue in the Peninsula that night each paid with their own credit card, including yesterday's carting witness William Cioffi. Then a retired NYPD detective Kevin Hui, now with FSA Capital, came on to describe his surveillance of a one story building next to a car wash on March 22, 2015. Thus are cases built - or not. On February 27 Cioffi  described in great detail how demolition debris was dumped on a construction site on Staten Island. There was a price war on such dumping, and a company called Silver Star stopped paying. And so the witness or rather his wife signed checks to the site's owner; the witness signed a non prosecution agreement and now testified again Cammarano today in a sweater and Zancocchio whose last name he said he never knew. TD Bank handled the funds; the Peninsula Hotel was a place to stay overnight in Manhattan. The trial is motoring along, the prosecution said. Even ending the week on Thursday at 4 pm, the government's evidence will conclude next Wednesday. But what might the defense have up its (sweater) sleeve? Earlier on February 27 Judge Alvin Hellerstein disallowed several of the questions of Zancocchio's lawyer John Meringolo. Judge Hellerstein has told the jury to be sure not to read anything written about the case or broadcast, presumably including Periscope live-streams. Two audio captures of initial government witness Lovaglio were disallowed, one with U.F. a/k/a Unidentified Female a/k/a "my ex-fiance" as the prosecution said Lovaglia called her. There will be ten to twenty more minutes of cross, ten minutes of re-direct. Judge Hellerstein has requested a glossary of names, or a chart with photographs like "before the age of automation." But the prosecution and defense couldn't agree to what should go in the chart. The chart or easel or something like it will be part of summations. For now the trial continues: watch this site.  When Lovaglio described his current eight year New York State jail sentence he recounted being insulted by the step son of the owner of a sushi restaurant owner on Staten Island. "I assaulted him with a glass," Lovaglio deadpanned. The man's eye no longer works, and he would not accept money to make the criminal complaint go away. Now Lovaglio is suing his NYPD handler for telling him not to take a lesser plea, for assuring him he wouldn't do a day in jail. He is in a "private detention facility." Judge Hellerstein wanted to know what they meant. It's a private prison.

  Later in the morning, after several audio tapes Lovaglio recorded while wearing a wire for the government were played, he was asked to confirm that the Bonanno crime family used hand signals to refers to some people: an ear tug, the chin, and for the named defendant Joe Cammarano, a hand sweeping over the top of the head. Why, Judge Hellerstein asked.

  "Because he has nice hair," Lovaglio shrugged. Cammarano and some sitting behind him laughed, seemingly with pride. Listening to Lovaglio try to get associates to talk for his audio recorder, one wondered if the jury will wonder if he isn't playing them, too. But if he lies he loses the prospect of the Fed's helping him on the racketeering he's pled to, with the 5K letter.  Watch this site.  On February 26 when Lovaglio described a loan of $200,000 at four percent a week and mentioned a "Johnny Sideburns" whose photograph was put on-screen for the jury, Judge Hellerstein had two questions. "Where are the sideburns?" he asked. There were none in the photo.   

"We just give nicknames," Lovaglio said. When Hellerstein said that a weekly interest rate of four points was 100% a year, Lovaglio deadpanned, I think it's more, Judge. And so it is: not unlike the payday loans that the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is settling on without restitution...

Earlier on February 25 a prison sentence of life plus five years was imposed for a Bronx murder by U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Chief Judge Colleen McMahon. She presided over the trial in which Stiven Siri-Reynoso was convicted of, among other things, murder in aid of racketeering for the death of Jessica White, a 28 year old mother of three, in the Bronx in 2016. Jessica White's mother was in the court room; she was greeted by Judge McMahon but declined to speak before sentencing. Siri-Reynoso was representing himself by this point, with a back-up counsel by his side. Judge McMahon told him, "You're a very smart man... a tough guy, a calculating person... You are a coward, sent a child to do it for you... Your emissary shot the wrong person, a lovely lady... It was a vicious, evil attack against the good people of that neighborhood." When she imposed the life plus five sentence, a woman on the Jessica White side of the courtroom cried out, yes Ma'am, put the animal away! Later, after Siri-Reynoso ended asking how he can get more documents about the case, a woman on his side of the courtroom said, "No te preocupes, muchacho, Dios sabe lo que hace" - don't worry, God knows what he is doing. But does He? Earlier on February 25 when the government tried to defend its 2018 change of policy or practice on Special Immigrant Juvenile status in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge John G. Koeltl had many questions about the change. He asked, are you saying that all the decisions before 2018 were just wrong, under a policy in place but not implemented at the time? In the overflow courtroom 15C the largely young audience laughed, as the government lawyer tried to say it wasn't a change of policy but rather an agency interpretation of the statute. Shouldn't there have been notice and comment rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act? The government said the argument proffered for this was about the Freedom of Information Act (on which, as Inner City Press has noted, the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has similarly reversed its policy 180 degrees without justification). SDNY Judge Koeltl demanded t know if the government is arguing that no juvenile court in New York, California (and maybe Texas for other reasons he said) is empowered to grant relief. The answer was far from clear - but where the ruling is going does seem so. Watch this site. The Bangladeshi Central Bank which was hacked for $81 million in February 2016, on January 31 sued in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Now the first pre-trial conference in the case has been set, for 2 April 2019 before SDNY Judge Lorna G. Schofield. Inner City Press will be there.

In Dhaka, the Criminal Investigation Department which failed to submit its probe report into the heist on time has now been ordered by Metropolitan Magistrate Sadbir Yasir Ahsan Chowdhury to do so by March 13 in Bangladesh Bank cyber heist case.

In the U.S. District Court for Central California, the unsealed criminal complaint against Park Jin Hyuk lists four email addresses involved in spear-phishing Bangladesh Bank and among others an unnamed "African Bank;" one of these addresses is said to also have communicated with an individual in Australia about importing commodities to North Korea in violations of UN sanctions.

To the Federal Reserve, Inner City Press has requested records relating to the Fed's role with response due in 20 working days - watch this site. In the SDNY, the case is Bangladesh Bank v Rizal Commercial Banking Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-00983. On February 3 in Dhaka Bangladesh Bank's lawyer Ajmalul Hossain said it could take three years to recover the money. The Bank's deputy governor Abu Hena Razee Hasan said those being accused -- in the civil not criminal suit -- include three Chinese nationals. Ajmalul Hossain said the Bank is seeking its hacked million plus interest and its expenses in the case. He said US Federal Reserve will extend its full support and that SWIFT, the international money transfer network, also assured of providing all the necessary cooperation in recovering the hacked money.  The Philippines returned $14.54 million in November 2016, so $66.46 million has yet to be retrieved. Now defendant RCBC Bank of the Philippines has hired the Quinn Emanuel law firm to defend it, and it already fighting back in words. RCBC’s lead counsel on the SDNY case, Tai-Heng Cheng, said:  “This is nothing more than a thinly veiled PR campaign disguised as a lawsuit. Based on what we have heard this suit is completely baseless. If the Bank of Bangladesh was serious about recovering the money, they would have pursued their claims three years ago and not wait until days before the statute of limitations. Not only are the allegations false, they don’t have the right to file here since none of the defendants are in the US." But it seems the funds were transferred to and through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And as Inner City Press reported in the US v. Patrick Ho case last year, the wiring of funds through New York can confer jurisdiction. Inner City Press will be covering this case. The first paragraph of the 103 page complaint reads, "This litigation involves a massive, multi-year conspiracy to carry out one of the largest banks heists in modern history right here in New York City. On February 4, 2016, thieves reached into a bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (“New York Fed”) and stole approximately $101 million (out of the nearly $1 billion they attempted to steal). The bank account was held for the benefit of Bangladesh Bank, which is Bangladesh’s Central Bank. Bangladesh Bank has had a 45-year banking relationship under which it has placed its international reserves with the New York Fed. The New York Fed is a critical component of the United States’ central banking system and its link to the international financial system." Bangladesh's lawyers on the case are "COZEN O’CONNOR John J. Sullivan, Esq.  Jesse Loffler, Esq. Yehudah Gordon, Esq." We'll have more on this.

Debaprasad Debnath, a general manager at the central bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit, Joint Director Mohammad Abdur Rab and Account and Budgeting Department General Manager Zakir Hossain all left Dhaka to head to New York, for the filing of the lawsuit, which Inner City Press will be following.

They say the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which on January 29 was instructed by the US State Department to allow Juan Guaido to access Venezuelan accounts, will be helping its Bangladeshi counterpart to get to the bottom of the hack.  Those eyed include Philippines’ Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation or RCBC and some of its officials, and Philrem Service Corporation, casino owners and beneficiaries. Ajmalul Hossain QC, a lawyer for the central bank, is with them to file the case.

It is an interesting twist on the SDNY as venue for the money laundering and FCPA prosecution of Patrick Ho of CEFC for bribery in Chad and to Uganda - in this case, too, the money flowed through New York. Inner City Press intends to cover the case.


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