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Former Seagal Associate Plea-Bargains in Plot to Extort Actor

August 07, 2003|Paul Lieberman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Julius R. Nasso, the pharmacist-turned-movie-producer who was described by federal prosecutors as an associate of a powerful Mafia family, announced Wednesday that he will plead guilty to a charge that he participated in an extortion plot targeting his former partner, movie action star Steven Seagal.

Under the plea bargain announced at a status conference in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Nasso will formally enter his plea next week, ending a wide-ranging prosecution that began as an investigation into mob influence over the Brooklyn and Staten Island docks.

In March the brother of the late mob boss John Gotti and six other reputed members of the Gambino crime family were found guilty of federal racketeering charges after a six-week trial that included testimony from Seagal, who was subpoenaed by prosecutors after government recording devices hidden at mob hangouts recorded talk of a plot against the actor.

Nasso, who served as a producer on some of Seagal's most successful films, complained that he had loaned the actor hundreds of thousands of dollars only to have Seagal renege on an agreement to perform in four more films for him. But prosecutors alleged that Nasso turned to friends in the Mafia for help after Seagal stopped working with him in 2000, leading to the plot to extort $150,000 per film from the actor.

An attorney for Nasso, Robert J. Hantman, said Wednesday that the producer had agreed to a plea bargain in part so his brother, Vincent, could get leniency on more serious federal charges alleging that the mob influenced the awarding of prescription drug benefits for the longshoremen's union.

"It was his intention until today to fight this," Hantman said after the status conference. "[But] after much deliberation, to help his family and get this behind him, Jules indicated that he is going to accept a plea."

Hantman would not say what sentence Nasso had been promised, but called it "a fair resolution."

Nasso and his brother had been scheduled to go to trial next month, and Seagal was again lined up to be a prosecution witness.

Seagal, who is filming a movie in Poland, could not be reached for comment. But one of his Los Angeles lawyers, Jan Handzlik, applauded Wednesday's development.

"It certainly is inconsistent to what [Nasso] was saying," Handzlik said. "Mr. Seagal is happy to learn that this matter will come to a conclusion and that justice apparently will be done."

At the trial earlier this year of the central mob defendants, including Eugene Gotti, John Gotti's brother, Seagal testified that he was made increasingly "uncomfortable" during a series of meetings with Nasso and various alleged mob figures, who once visited him while he was filming "Exit Wounds" in Toronto and another time called him to a private dining room of a Brooklyn steakhouse.

Seagal said they told him he owed Nasso $3 million, but testified that he never paid any extortion money and never reported the contacts to authorities, instead seeking help from another mobster, who was imprisoned in New Jersey.

"You can't make movies in the witness protection program," Seagal said in explaining why he did not turn to law enforcement for help.

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