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Mob Said to Have Threatened Actor

Courts: Steven Seagal is widely believed to be the murder target in extortion case.

June 12, 2002|PAUL LIEBERMAN and ANITA M. BUSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — The Mafia captain who rules the Staten Island waterfront threatened to kill an entertainment figure, identified previously as actor Steven Seagal, as part of a multimillion-dollar extortion scheme, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday in court in Brooklyn.

Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone "demanded millions of dollars from this individual and threatened his life," Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Genser said at a court hearing for the accused Gambino family docks boss, whose relatives and supporters wept and muttered from the courtroom benches as he was ordered held without bail pending trial on wide-ranging racketeering charges.

Ciccone, 67, was among 17 alleged Gambino higher-ups, soldiers and "associates" arrested last week under an indictment charging them mostly with plots to exert influence over the local waterfronts and the longshore workers union.

But prosecutors said electronic surveillance in the case also uncovered evidence that Ciccone and two others, including Seagal's former producing partner, Julius R. "Jules" Nasso, were attempting to extort money from an "entertainment figure."

Nasso, 49, of Staten Island, had a 15-year business relationship with Seagal until a bitter falling-out and filed a $60-million lawsuit against the actor in March, alleging that the star of films such as "Under Siege" had backed out of a contract to perform in four movies.

Attorneys for Nasso, who was freed last week on $1.5-million bond, have called the extortion charges "absurd" and alleged that they are Seagal's retaliation for the civil suit.

But in court Tuesday, Genser and another federal prosecutor on the case said that none of the victims in the case "came to the government," and that all--presumably including Seagal--were "reluctant" and frightened witnesses.

Genser also disclosed that secret recordings of conversations between Ciccone and others, including Nasso, included talk of death threats against the film figure.

Ciccone is heard "admitting on tape he's been threatening to kill this person ... there's a long discussion on tape," the prosecutor said. "He's basically stating to the world what the motto is: 'Hey, I get the money.' "

The indictment does not name Seagal, or any other target of the mob group, and prosecutors did not name him in court.

But parties in the case have confirmed that the actor is the alleged victim in two counts of the 68-count federal indictment unsealed last week.

Attorneys for Nasso, who is charged with conspiracy to extort and attempted extortion, said they have not heard the tapes and questioned whether he was caught talking with the alleged mob captain in a Staten Island restaurant, as prosecutors allege.

An attorney for Ciccone, George Santangelo, dismissed partial transcripts released so far--short portions of which were played in court Tuesday--as vague and "hardly illuminating as to what they're talking about."

Though the indictment alleges many threats, it does not "show any violence whatsoever" by Ciccone, Santangelo added, saying that the New Jersey resident had "disassociated himself" from any involvement with the mob a decade ago.

The indictment alleged that the extortion scheme against the unnamed entertainment figure ran from September 2000 to last month and involved "wrongful use of actual and threatened force, violence and fear."

Previously released documents alleged that Ciccone once was overheard instructing Nasso to demand $150,000 per film from the actor.

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 alleged.

After listening to the short excerpts from the prosecution's tapes Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate A. Simon Chrein ruled that Ciccone and his alleged right-hand man, Primo Cassarino, would pose a danger if released before trial.

Prosecutors have said that Ciccone became a "powerful captain" in the mob family during the rule of John Gotti, the "Dapper Don" who died Monday, then continued to serve under Gotti's brother Peter, who also has been indicted in the current case.

Lieberman reported from New York, Busch from Los Angeles.

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