A recent series of lenient sentences against reputed wise guys, including several instances where the defendants received no hard time, illustrates the compelling need for federal legislation to mandate minimum prison terms in mob cases. The Mafia has been responsible for more crime than any other force in the United States, and yet too often the sentences against its players do not justly reflect the evil enterprise with which they cast their lot. Federal legislation already exists which provides for enhanced penalties for crimes committed by gangbangers, and this should be broadened to encompass mobsters and mandate minimum prison terms for all their crimes.
The judicial system has been unacceptably lenient with organized crime for decades. In 1971 the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Crime "conducted a study of 1,762 cases in state courts in the years 1960 through 1969 involving organized crime figures," and the results were shocking as reported by Nicholas Gage in a September 25, 1972 article ("Study Shows Courts Lenient With Mafiosi") for The New York Times:
The committee, whose chairman is Senator John H. Hughes of Syracuse, found that the rate of dismissals and acquittals for racketeers was five times that of other defendants. In New York City, 44.7 per cent of indictments against members of organized crime were dismissed by Supreme Court judges during the ten year period. Only 11.5 per cent of indictments against all defendants were dismissed, according to the study. In 193 instances where organized crime figures were actually convicted, the study showed that judges let the defendants off with suspended sentences or fines in 46 per cent of the cases.
This lenient bent by the courts for suspected mobsters apparently has extended into the 21st Century. In 2008 nearly 100 suspected mobsters were rounded up pursuant to a joint federal and local investigation dubbed Operation Pathfinder, and yet less than three years later in January 2011 "only 17 of the 62 men charged in federal court remain behind bars" as then reported by Alan Feuer for The New York Times:
Eighteen have finished their prison terms — some less than a year in length. Five received time served and periods of supervised release, and 21 were sentenced to probation or community service. The results were similar among those charged in state court in Queens; 18 of the 26 defendants never saw prison, having received either time served in jail or a conditional discharge, in which charges are dropped if the defendants' proverbial noses remain clean.
Two years ago the FBI made a record bust targeting the Colombo family, and Brooklyn federal Judge Kiyo Matsumoto in that case so far has given 24 sentences to alleged mobsters which are "below the recommended guidelines, according to court records" as reported by John Marzulli for the Daily News.
In a few recent cases which captured the attention of the tabloid press supposed mob defendants received no prison time at all from Brooklyn federal judges. For example, alleged Gambino associate Emmanuel "Manny" Garofalo faced 30 months in prison on an extortion conviction but over argument from federal prosecutors District Judge Dora Irizarry sentenced him just to 300 hours of community service and five years probation after proclaiming "she was deeply moved by letters from the defendant's neighbors praising [his] good works" as reported by John Marzulli for the Daily News. In 2008 District Judge Jack Weinstein spared alleged Gambino soldier and Brooklyn restaurateur Joseph Chirico from prison on a money laundering conviction as then reported by Kati Cornell for the New York Post: "Judge Jack Weinstein said he was hesitant to cut Chirico a break, but wanted to ensure Chirico's workers stay employed."
There may be good reasons why sentencing judges have been lenient with reputed mobsters in particular cases but with all due respect they often seemingly fail to appreciate fully that evil beast called the Mafia of which the defendants allegedly are a part. This phenomenon of course is understandable. The popular perception of the Mafia is driven largely by mythical versions presented in celluloid dramas such as The Godfather involving codes of conduct and honorable men from a subculture which, although twisted, comfortably co-exists with the legitimate world because its participants often are well-groomed, wear suits and own businesses. In the movies the only ones who get hurt are those who signed up for the life and had it coming, and the innocent, women and children always are spared. It's all hog wash. The United States has become a nation of mob groupies with no real understanding of Cosa Nostra. No doubt it must be difficult for the ugly truth behind the Mafia to break through even to judges who presumably consume the same popular culture as the rest of the country. No one case -- or even several -- adequately can educate a judge about the Mafia which many cops and scholars spend decades investigating and researching.
There's a much darker side to the Mafia about which the public hears little from the entertainment industry. The mob has polluted the environment by dumping toxic waste; it's ravaged communities by trafficking heroin; it's destroyed childhoods by distributing kiddie porn; it's broken companies by shaking down their owners; it's fleeced investors by promoting stock schemes. And it's gotten away with much of it by corrupting the public institutions which are supposed to protect the good citizens. Heck, some folks -- including Bobby Kennedy and former Justice Department prosecutor Robert Blakey – insist that the mob had a role in assassinating JFK. In short, the Mafia is nothing but filth and corruption, and has done more damage to the United States than any terrorist.
Mob defendants deserve to have the book thrown at them because their individual crimes are compounded by their chosen associations. The Mafia is greater than the sum of its parts, and accordingly each individual within the organization is more threatening when committing crimes under its sinister umbrella. For example, former FBI undercover agent Jack Garcia busted Gambino capo Greg DePalma, and in his memoir Making Jack Falcone explains why an extortion victim testifying at the old man's 2005 trial had good reason to fear the 73-year-old defendant:
The witness was no coward. He wasn't referring to a personal fear of Greg. He had legitimate fear of what Greg represented. With the wave of a hand, you could be gone. They would just take you out. I knew this witness personally from working the case. He was definitely a tough kid. But his personal toughness meant nothing when it came to fear of the Mob. When the witness said he was afraid of Greg, he meant that he was afraid of what Greg represented: La Cosa Nostra.
In short, the nefarious reputation of the mob precedes its members and associates who are able to invoke it to brutal effect in carrying out their crimes.
When a mobster appears as a defendant in court his evil may not be readily apparent. After all, many mobsters do not portray themselves as dirty street thugs but carry themselves as well-groomed businessmen which makes them appear less scary. Odds are it's just an act, and their business is just a front. For this reason Italy does not distinguish between the illicit rackets and the so-called legitimate operations when prohibiting Mafia association and seizing mob assets.
The important thing to remember about a mobster is that he's often a sociopath who can adopt whatever persona is necessary to manipulate a target to get what he wants including a lenient sentence from a federal judge. Retired Defense lawyer John Pollok represented several mobsters including now-deceased Gambino boss John Gotti, and he thought the Dapper Don -- like most mobsters -- was a sociopath incapable of any remorse for his crimes as reported by Stephanie Borden for the Naples News: "He was a sociopath. Ninety-nine percent of my clients were sociopaths. They can't conform their conduct to the rules of society."
G-man Jack Garcia caught Gambino capo Greg DePalma on tape admitting that he manipulated the sentencing judge into giving him a reduced term on a prior conviction by feigning ill health:
"He gave me a downward departure," Greg said, referring to the sentencing guidelines that permitted a judge to reduce a sentence in light of a defendant's failing health. "I should have won the Academy Award! He gave me five years instead of twelve!"
In generally grousing about the recent string of sentences below the recommended guidelines which have been handed out by Brooklyn federal judge Kiyo Matsumoto to alleged Colombo mobsters one law enforcement source said that "she buys their sob stories and then they walk out of her courtroom laughing" as reported by John Marzulli for the Daily News.
If a mobster genuinely is repentant of his crimes then he will express that remorse and redeem himself by becoming a government witness. Anything less is just a song and dance, and should be ignored by the sentencing judge. Renouncing the life and cooperating with the government should be the only basis by which a mobster receives a lenient sentence. Indeed, mobsters by definition are recidivists -- they pledge themselves to crime families -- and without a complete confession against their associates invariably will return to the life as fast as they say: "I can do that time standing on my head."
Congress must enact legislation for mandatory minimum prison sentences against mob defendants. Federal legislation already exists pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 521 which provides for substantially enhanced penalties against those who commit crimes as part of a street gang but it's unclear whether that provision has been used to the same extent -- or even at all -- against mob defendants. If the statute only is applied against black or brown gangbangers but not Italian stallions then criminal defense lawyers and civil rights activists have a good argument that 18 U.S.C. § 521 is unconstitutional for its racially disparate impact. In any event, with so many alleged mobster receiving just probation or other light terms, it's clear that legislators must act to toughen up the sentencing laws. The only way to rid the country of mobsters is to lock them up and throw away the key, and it's apparently going to require an act of Congress to get the job done.
Further reading that may be of interest: