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N.Y. Arrests Have Ties to Hollywood

Courts: Charges against alleged members and associates of the Gambino family include attempted extortion of a film figure, reportedly Steven Seagal.

June 05, 2002|ANITA M. BUSCH and PAUL LIEBERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — The former producing partner of actor Steven Seagal was arrested Tuesday and accused of taking part in a plot by the Gambino crime family to extort money from a Hollywood film figure, later identified as the action star.

The charges against Julius "Jules" R. Nasso came in a sweeping indictment whose broader purpose is to crush organized crime's hold on local waterfronts, authorities said.

Named along with Nasso in Tuesday's 68-count federal indictment charging racketeering, fraud and extortion was the crime family's acting boss Peter Gotti, the brother of imprisoned "Dapper Don" John Gotti, now serving a life prison term in Joliet, Ill.

Also among the 17 indicted were two other Gotti relatives, as well as Nasso's brother Vincent, and Frank "Red" Scollo, the president of the International Longshoremen's Assn., Local 1814, described as a mob family associate.

Nasso, 49, of Staten Island, was charged with two counts, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion of a figure in the motion picture industry. Although prosecutors did not identify the extortion target in the indictment, Nasso's lawyer said after court that Seagal is the film figure.

"It's definitely Steven Seagal," said Nasso's lead attorney, Barry Levin. "Steven Seagal has been seen talking to the grand jury."

Nasso had a 15-year business relationship with Seagal until a bitter falling-out. In March, Nasso filed a $60-million lawsuit against the actor, alleging the star of such films as "Under Siege" had backed out of a contract to perform in four movies. The two have not spoken in more than a year.

Seagal's attorney, Martin Pollner, would not confirm that Seagal was the Hollywood figure allegedly targeted. In a statement, he said: "The indictment against Mr. Nasso contains no allegation of any wrongdoing or impropriety on the part of Mr. Seagal or any of their former business ventures."

Nasso's lawyer, Levin, said his client and the actor have been negotiating the breakup of their partnership for nearly 18 months. The attorney said the negotiations "didn't get anywhere." He suggested that Seagal went to the FBI to retaliate against Nasso for filing the lawsuit.

"Lo and behold, Seagal makes up this extortion allegation," Levin said. "Why would any man who has a public lawsuit to vindicate his claims ... attempt to extort money from the guy?"

The indictment states that the extortion scheme ran from September 2000 to last month, and involved Gambino crime family captain Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone with Nasso and two others, including Nasso's brother, Vincent.

They were accused of muscling in on the entertainment figure, "by wrongful use of actual and threatened force, violence and fear."

Ciccone, the indictment alleged, personally met "on more than one occasion" with the entertainment figure to "extort hundreds of thousands of dollars." On a taped phone call, Ciccone is heard instructing Jules Nasso to demand $150,000 per film, court filings said.

Thomas DeMaria, executive director of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, said the case began as another in a string of investigations over the years into corruption on docks where "the mob infiltrates the union and holds key positions and then demands extortion and kickbacks."

Wiretaps revealed the extortion attempt, prosecutors said. "These mob figures were discussing other ventures," DeMaria said, including "extortion of a figure in the motion picture industry."

The indictment does not indicate that the Gambino family received any money from the film figure. But the filing alleges a plan by Ciccone to "use his position as a captain in the Gambino organized crime family to pressure the victim either to pay them money, or in the alternative to include Julius Nasso in the victim's film projects."

On another occasion, Ciccone "excoriated Nasso" after hearing that the producer had promised to share some of the extorted money with others without "prior approval," prosecutors allege.

In an expletive-filled diatribe caught on tape, Ciccone is quoted as telling Julius Nasso: "Don't you ever, ever bring somebody in for

Robert Hantman, one of Nasso's attorneys, denied his client did anything wrong. "We're looking forward to hearing the tapes."

At Tuesday's arraignment in federal court in Brooklyn, Nasso pleaded not guilty and was released on $1.5-million bail.

Nasso got a foothold in Hollywood after serving as a production assistant on Sergio Leone's film, "Once Upon a Time in America."

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