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Gangland Shooting Victim's Tip Leads to Suspected Attackers

October 26, 1988|NANCY WRIDE | Times Staff Writer

Two reputed organized crime figures have been arrested on charges of shooting and trying to kill a 56-year-old associate last year in a parking garage near the Orange County Performing Arts Center, authorities said Tuesday.

The arrests late Monday of Michael Anthony Rizzitello, 61--considered by many Mafia experts to be the likely heir to Los Angeles' Milano crime family--and Joseph Angelo Grosso, 45, ended a 17-month investigation by the Orange County district attorney's office, the Costa Mesa and Los Angeles police departments and the FBI.

Identified Suspects

It was shooting victim William Carroll's testimony, prosecutors said, that finally provided investigators with the evidence needed to make the arrests. Several investigators involved in the case refused to disclose why Carroll finally broke down and identified his alleged attackers.

Both Rizzitello and Grosso were arrested at their homes at 9:30 p.m. Monday on warrants charging them with one count each of attempted first-degree murder, mayhem and conspiracy to commit murder. Grosso was arrested in Las Vegas. Rizzitello, who was apprehended in Los Angeles, was also charged with the unlawful use of a firearm and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

The two were being held Tuesday night at Orange County Jail--Grosso in lieu of $1-million bail and Rizzitello without bail. They are expected to be arraigned today in Orange County Municipal Court.

Prosecutors hope to convict Rizzitello for "crimes whose conviction can impose life in the state prison, plus 17 years. This is more time than this 60-year-old defendant has faced for any case he has been charged with in his lengthy exposure to the criminal justice system, dating back to 1947," investigators wrote.

Carroll--who has a criminal record involving bank fraud and grand theft dating back 15 years--was shot shortly after midnight on May 1, 1987. He remains permanently blinded.

As he lay sightless in a hospital after being wounded, authorities said, Carroll refused to divulge who had shot him three times as he sat in his parked Honda on the fourth floor of the parking garage.

At the time of his June, 1984, arrest for felony grand theft involving the bank fraud scheme, Carroll was said to be involved with loan-sharking in Orange County. He was also a principal investor in the notorious Mustang topless club of Santa Ana that was burned down last Christmas.

Investigators said Rizzitello was willing "to commit murder when confronted with an obstacle to his taking control of the Mustang bar in Santa Ana. This topless bar represented a high-stakes skimming operation to defendant Rizzitello, which would provide a high level of illegally obtained income."

Affidavits filed Tuesday in Municipal Court detailed the prosecution's case, which was based almost exclusively on an interview last week with Carroll in which he identified his attackers.

Neither Carroll nor his lawyer, Meir Welstrich, could be reached for comment.

According to court documents, Joseph Grosso telephoned Carroll on April 30, 1987, and "invited him to a meeting with Michael Anthony Rizzitello."

That night, the three met at Emilia's Italian Restaurant on 1st Street in Santa Ana. Court records said that Grosso asked Carroll if he would drive Grosso and Rizzitello back to their car, although Grosso actually took the wheel, and Rizzitello "elected to sit in the rear passenger seat behind victim Carroll."

At 10:15 p.m., Grosso drove Carroll's car into the empty parking garage, where Rizzitello restrained Carroll as Grosso held down the victim's legs. Rizzitello shot Carroll in the head three times from the rear seat, according to the affidavit, signed by Municipal Judge James Brooks.

Before he fired the gun, Rizzitello allegedly told Carroll: "This is for not letting us eat."

The paths of Rizzitello and Carroll first crossed nearly two decades ago, while both were behind bars.

In 1970, Carroll said in his statement to authorities this month, he and Rizzitello played tennis every day while serving time in the state prison in Chino. (It was not immediately clear for which crime Carroll was imprisoned. However, California Department of Corrections records show he was arrested in 1966 for bilking people out of deposits they had given him for rental equipment and tractors and trucks that he never delivered. He was paroled in 1974.)

Carroll told investigators that he had no further contact with Rizzitello until January, 1987, when Robert (Fat Bobby) Paduano, a Newport Beach resident and reputed organized crime figure, arranged for a meeting between the two men in Los Angeles. Grosso, Carroll said, drove him to the rendezvous at an Italian restaurant.

Paduano--who was indicted in February on charges of using robbery, burglary, assault and extortion to shake down suspected drug dealers and force them into buying cocaine from his own criminal enterprise--also attended the meeting.

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