NEW YORK — Brushing aside defense complaints of ill health, double jeopardy and pretrial publicity, a federal judge began picking an anonymous jury Monday for the trial of eight men accused of participating in the Mafia's ruling commission.
Among the questions potential jurors were asked was whether they had ever heard of Al Capone, the notorious Chicago mob boss.
Mafia history is at the heart of the case as the government tries to prove that from the 1930s until recent months, leaders of the five mob families based in New York met periodically as a "commission" to divide territories, share the spoils of criminal operations and, sometimes, authorize a murder.
The commission's influence extended well beyond New York, sometimes to the point of choosing leaders for families in distant cities, the government contends.
Three reputed mob bosses--Carmine Persico of the Colombo family, Anthony (Tony Ducks) Corallo of the Lucchese family and Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno of the Genovese family--were in the courtroom, along with five of their alleged associates, as U.S. District Judge Richard Owen summoned 100 prospective jurors.
Several defendants raised last-minute objections but Owen rejected all of them.
Minor Eye Surgery
Anthony Cardinale, representing Salerno, 75, complained that his client was in poor physical and mental shape after undergoing minor eye surgery last week.
Owen refused to excuse Salerno until a doctor has verified his complaints. The judge entered an innocent plea on Salerno's behalf.
Persico, who broke the usual silence of Mafia defendants to act as his own lawyer, then complained that his trial should wait until after a federal appeals court rules on his claim of double jeopardy. Persico was convicted earlier this year of being the Colombo family boss.
Cites News Clippings
James LaRossa, a lawyer for alleged Lucchese counselor Christopher (Christy Tick) Furnari, handed Owen a sheaf of news clippings to show the coverage the trial has attracted. The clippings, LaRossa argued, show "how inappropriate it is to begin this case with this kind of publicity."
Owen ruled that objections to pretrial publicity would have to wait until after prospective jurors have been questioned on whether they have actually seen the stories.
Besides Persico, Salerno, Corallo and Furnari, the defendants include Gennaro (Jerry Lang) Langella, who was previously convicted of being Persico's second-in-command; Salvatore (Tom Mix) Santoro, the alleged Lucchese family underboss; Anthony Indelicato, an alleged low-level Bonanno family member accused of being a triggerman in the 1979 killing of Bonanno boss Carmine Galante, and Ralph Scopo, a former construction labor leader who allegedly delivered payoffs from contractors who were victims of a commission shakedown.