On this date in 1980...
Shocking revelations from turncoat witnesses were widely expected as five southern California Mafia leaders were brought to trial at Los Angeles federal court on October 14, 1980. It had taken three years and three different sets of indictments to bring the case into court.
Charged with racketeering and other offenses were Dominic Phillip Brooklier, 66, of Anaheim; Samuel Orlando Sciortino, 61, of Rancho Mirage; Louis Tom Dragna, 59, of Covina; Michael Rizzitello, 62, of Los Angeles; Jack LoCicero, 68, of Los Angeles. Brooklier, also known as Dominic Brucceleri and as Jimmy Regace, had been regional Mafia boss since the 1974 death of Nick Licata.
Charges specifically related to conspiracy in the murder of San Diego Mafioso Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero - Bompensiero's role as an informant allowed his murder to be viewed as interference in a federal criminal investigation - and to attempts to extort money from regional gamblers and pornographers.
|Brooklier, Dragna, Sciortino, Rizzitello|
TurncoatsThe trial featured testimony from Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno and Harry Coloduros, former underworld figures who sought government protection. Both admitted to participating in underworld plotting to kill Bompensiero after it was learned that Bompensiero was assisting federal investigators.
Coloduros also revealed that he worked with Los Angeles boss Brooklier and underboss Sciortino to plan the extortion of sports bookmakers. He recalled conversations with the crime family leaders at a city alley and at an underworld "picnic." They decided in summer 1973 to demand an up-front payment from bookmakers of $5,000 and a weekly payment of $300 a week until the beginning of football season, when the amounts would increase to $10,000 and $500. The income was to be evenly split between Coloduros and the crime family leadership.
The attempt to extort pornographers in the region brought Mafiosi in contact with an FBI undercover "sting" operation - a phony company known as Forex, which was said to be making a great fortune selling pornography to South America. Crime family leaders felt that Bompensiero had pushed them toward Forex and became suspicious of Bompensiero.
Fratianno revealed that he had been supplying information to the FBI since about 1970 but began fully cooperating late in 1977, when he faced multiple charges and learned that his underworld associates were planning his murder. He said he testified in exchange for immunity from the death penalty.
Fratianno recounted some local Mafia history and described his own induction into the Los Angeles-based crime family. He had been endorsed for membership in the late 1940s by the influential and well-traveled mobster Johnny Rosselli (often spelled "Roselli"). The crime family boss at that time was Ignatius "Jack" Dragna.
BompensieroFratianno testified that Brooklier and Sciortino, while serving sentences in prison in the mid-1970s, determined that Bompensiero needed to be killed and communicated that to acting boss Louis Tom Dragna (nephew of earlier boss Jack Dragna). Louis Tom Dragna told Fratianno, then serving as acting underboss, of the decision.
Dragna then arranged to elevate Bompensiero to the position of crime family consigliere, as a ruse to cause him to lower his guard. Fratianno scheduled daily phone communications about crime family business with Bompensiero and insisted that Bompensiero use a payphone close to his San Diego home for the calls. The routine telephone calls provided a means for locating and isolating Bompensiero. Bompensiero was murdered near the payphone on February 10, 1977.
Trial surprisesThe federal trial ran until the end of the month and included a number of revelations by and about informants within the Los Angeles Crime Family. FBI Special Agent John Barron testified that defendant and one-time acting boss Louis Tom Dragna revealed his own leadership of the organization and the membership of others during a three-hour meeting at Barron's home on October 14, 1976. The agent found the information shared in that session helpful but never heard from Dragna again.
The prosecution's final witness, FBI Special Agent John Armstrong, surprised the defense by stating that Bompensiero, long a leading figure in the California underworld, had been feeding information to the Bureau over a period of eleven years, from 1966 to 1977. The extent of Bompensiero's dealing with federal agents had been unknown to that time.
Attorneys delivered their final arguments on Friday, October 31, and Monday, November 3. Attorney Donald Marks, representing defendant Sciortino, convincingly argued that evidence in the case implicated a Tucson, Arizona, criminal organization led by former Brooklyn, New York, boss Joseph Bonanno in the murder of Bompensiero. Notes found in Bonanno's garbage indicated his knowledge of the San Diego killing.
Convicted and sentencedU.S. District Court Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. turned the matter over to the jury of seven women and five men. The jurors struggled to reach verdicts. Through a ten-day period, they reviewed testimony, reheard the judge's charge and attempted to convince the judge they were deadlocked. Hatter repeatedly sent them back to their task.
On November 14, the jury returned convictions on racketeering counts against all five defendants, but acquitted on a federal obstruction of criminal investigation charges related to the slaying of informant Bompensiero. Despite acquittal on the murder-related counts, lead prosecutor James D. Henderson celebrated the verdict. Obstruction of criminal investigation was a relatively minor offense. It was punishable by no more than five years in prison, while the racketeering counts carried maximum penalties of twenty years apiece.
Jury foreman William Wasil told the press that the panel discounted the testimony of turncoat Fratianno, using it only when it was corroborated by other evidence, and had concerns about evidence linking Bonanno, rather than southern California leaders, to the Bompensiero murder.
- Brooklier - four years in prison for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion. Hatter said he weighed Brooklier's age and health in calculating the sentence.
- Sciortino - four years in prison and a $25,000 fine for racketeering. Hatter said he considered reports that Sciortino plotted to bribe a former judge in the case.
- Dragna - two years in prison and a $50,000 fine for conspiracy and racketeering. The judge acknowledged that Dragna had made an effort to extract himself from involvement in the underworld and establish a successful dressmaking business.
- Rizzitello - five years for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion.
- LoCicero - two years for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion.
The defendants remained free on bail during the appeal process. The last appeal was exhausted in February 1983, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the case. On April 25, 1983, Judge Hatter ordered the five to report to prison. Brooklier, Sciortino, Rizzitello and LoCicero were ordered to report by June 27. Dragna was allowed some additional time. The judge ordered him to report by June 11.
But that was not the end of the matter. In mid-October of 1983, three years after the trial, Judge Hatter reconsidered the Dragna sentence. The judge found the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' plans to send Dragna to a medium security prison in Texas incompatible with his recommendation that Dragna be kept in a low-security institution. Hatter remedied the matter by changing the sentence to the $50,000 fine and just one year in a local community treatment facility. Dragna was permitted to leave the facility during the daytime to tend to his business.
- "Ex-hitman to testify against Mafia bosses," Lompoc CA Record, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 5.
- "Informer tells Mafia life and death," Escondido CA Times-Advocate, Oct. 17, 1980, p. 20.
- "Jurors in Mafia trial get weekend respite," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8, 1980, p. 31.
- "Mafia chieftains' conspiracy case goes to jury in LA today," Napa CA Register, Nov. 3, 1980, p. 27.
- Blake, Gene, "Agent claims Dragna admitted Mafia ties," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 25, 1980, p. 14.
- Blake, Gene, "Five convicted in Mafia case," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 15, 1980, p. 1.
- Blake, Gene, "Five reputed Mafia figures sentenced," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 21, 1981, p. 3.
- Blake, Gene, "Fratianno scoffs at L.A. Mafia's effectiveness," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23, 1980, p. 3.
- Blake, Gene, "Hit man bares Mafia secrets," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17, 1980, p. 1.
- Blake, Gene, "Mafia figure's aid to FBI for 11 years told," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 30, 1980, p. 1.
- Blake, Gene, "Mafia jury hears final arguments," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 1, 1980, p. 22.
- Blake, Gene, "Racketeering trial jury reports snag," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 1980, p. 3.
- Chrystal, Chris, "Feds say witnesses will tell story of Mafia crimes in California," Ukiah CA Daily Journal, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 9.
- Deutsch, Linda, "Five guilty of racketeering, innocent of murder," Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, Nov. 15, 1980, p. 1.
- Deutsch, Linda, "Informant takes stand, links 2 to mob actions," Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 4.
- Morain, Dan, "U.S. judge orders 5 convicted mobsters to report to begin serving prison terms," Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1983, p. II-3.
- Welkos, Robert, "Judge tosses out racketeers' term," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 1983, p. II-1.