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Alleged Extortion of Actor Detailed

Court: Brief says mobsters tried to force Steven Seagal to pay thousands of dollars for not appearing in his ex-partner's films.

July 17, 2002|PAUL LIEBERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — New York-based Mafia figures pursued their attempted extortion of a "petrified" Steven Seagal in Canada, on the West Coast and in a restaurant here, according to newly filed court papers.

In one episode resembling a scene from "The Godfather," Seagal's former producing partner, Julius "Jules" R. Nasso, startled the action star by switching the location of a meeting "at the last moment" and taking him to the Brooklyn restaurant, where mob captain Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone demanded money from the actor, federal prosecutors said in a legal brief.

Two weeks later, an FBI bug recorded the mob crew joking about the incident, the brief added.

After Ciccone bragged to associates of how he "didn't acknowledge" the movie star at the restaurant, his right-hand man commented, "I wish we had a gun on us; that would have been funny," according to the brief.

Then Julius Nasso's brother, Vincent, is quoted as quipping, "It was like right out of the movies."

The evidence is detailed in a 52-page brief that led a judge here Tuesday to continue to deny bail to Ciccone, 67, whom the government describes as the Gambino crime family capo "responsible for overseeing ... criminal interests on the waterfront."

Ciccone was among 17 alleged mob leaders, soldiers and associates arrested last month under an indictment charging them with numerous schemes to extort individuals and companies doing business around the Brooklyn and Staten Island docks.

Law enforcement officials said their eavesdropping stumbled onto the plot to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from "an individual in the film industry," whom attorneys in the case have identified as Seagal, the rugged martial arts expert who burst to stardom in 1988 and created his own production company, with "Jules" Nasso, 49, as his producing partner for more than a decade until they split up two years ago.

The split led to a $60-million lawsuit, filed in March, in which Nasso alleged that the star of "Under Siege" and other hit movies had fallen under the influence of a Buddhist sect and refused to do four movies for which Nasso had already sold the foreign rights.

According to prosecutors, at the time the partnership was coming apart in the summer of 2000, and while Seagal was filming "Exit Wounds" for Warner Bros. in Toronto, the Nasso brothers, Ciccone and the capo's chief enforcer "traveled to Canada ... to initiate the extortion."

The Brooklyn restaurant meeting took place the following Feb. 2, the brief says, and soon after "Ciccone asked J. Nasso if he had demanded $150,000 per movie from the victim."

"I'll take care of it," Nasso says.

"We said that day that we were gonna tell him that every movie he makes we want $150,000. [And] he puts you in on it," Ciccone says.

The brief says Nasso then urged the mob captain to be "even more forceful" with Seagal, saying, "We had ... a nice initial meeting to break the ice. But I think the next one, you gotta get, you really gotta get down on him.... 'Cause I know this animal, I know this beast."

Subsequently, the mob group "traveled across the country to make additional demands in person," the brief says, and "law enforcement surveilled them and took photographs."

Later, the mob figures became concerned because Seagal was talking about the threats, the brief says, so Ciccone instructed Vincent Nasso to "smooth this guy over."

At yet another meeting, Ciccone berates Jules Nasso for telling others that he had gotten the mob captain's permission to file his suit against Seagal, according to the brief.

"You said to me, I'll cover you," Nasso replies.

"I didn't tell you to go out and put it in the ... newspaper."

"I'm sorry," says Nasso, who is free on $1.5-million bail and facing extortion conspiracy charges.

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