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Feature Articles


October 2001

Crime Boss

By Clarence Walker, Investigative Reporter - Houston, Texas


Did FBI Frame A Former Crime Boss For Murder?

Martin Taccetta
Former New Jersey Lucchese crime boss Martin Taccetta.
     For several years former New Jersey Lucchese crime boss Martin Taccetta, serving life in prison, has always claimed he was framed by FBI, turncoat mobsters and state prosecutors, for the 1984 murder of Vincent Craporatta which led to a racketeering conviction. Authorities who put Taccetta behind bars contend he was guilty as sin. Now the bells of injustice rings loud. Perhaps for good reasons.

     This past June Taccetta obtained (under freedom of information act request) an FBI memo indicating Taccetta was not involved nor at the scene when the murder occurred. Prosecutors and FBI alleged that Taccetta and his mob associates murdered Craporatta to exort money from his family-owned gambling businesses and lucrative video games. "I am an innocent man," Taccetta insists. Yale law professor Steve Duke who represents Taccetta on appeal and teaches a class called "convicting the innocent" said the entire case against the ex-mobster was built upon false testimony, FBI cover-up and state prosecutors withholding important information provided by their own informants who said Taccetta was not involved in the murder of Craporatta.

     "Prosecutors had this information before trial and never disclosed it for the defense", says Duke. On June 12th 1984, the brutal murder of Vincent Craporatta was one of New Jersey’s most sensational mob hits. After parking his Mercedes-Benz into a garage located near his auto business in Dover Township, New Jersey, Craporatta was beaten to death by mobsters using metal golf clubs. The case was unsolved until two mobsters implicated Taccetta. During a 1993 trial in Toms River, Phillip Leonetti, A former under boss for the Philadephia mob and Alphonse D’Arco, the acting Lucchese family boss testified that Taccetta confessed his role in the highly-publicized murder. But the newly discovered FBI memo contradicts both informants.

Steven Duke
Yale Law Professor Steven Duke represents Martin Teccetta.
     The unredacted memo stated that an FBI agent earlier report indicating "that Martin Taccetta was present at the murder of Craporatta ... was an error by the contacting agent". The brief report also reveals the identity of the persons at the murder scene: "Those present at the murder scene ... were blacked out. Partially deleted the report mentioned an alibi for Taccetta indicating he was visiting the dentist when the murder occurred.

     What disgusts Taccetta’s family and attorneys is the fact despite the FBI ‘s report explaining he wasn’t involved in the murder Ocean County prosecutors decided to have him convicted on perjurious testimony by Leonetti and D’Arco. Attorney Duke responds, "I’ve never seen a case like this where Evidence shows a person not involved with a murder—yet prosecutors knew about the FBI memo before trial including other reliable evidence to possibly clear Taccetta and did not provide it for the defense". In Duke’s petition to have the New Jersey Appeal court to reopen the case for a hearing to consider the new evidence he alleged: "The memo suggests ..." that FBI knew the informants, Leonetti and D’Arco would falsely accuse Taccetta of murder but allowed the false testimony to go unchallenged which led the state to convict Taccetta and sentenced him to life in prison".

     Although Taccetta was acquitted of murder a jury convicted him of racketeering charges-- A charge which prosecutors say connected the murder of Craporatta with the extortion of his nephews, the Storinos Brothers, to force them to give the Lucchesse family a share of their business profits. Co-defendants Thomas Ricciardi, Anthony ‘Tumac’ Accetturo and Taccetta’s brother, Michael, were also convicted of racketeering, extortion and conspiracy charges for attempting to take over SMS Manufacturing Incorporation, the video poker Machine owned by the Storinos Brothers. Co-defendant Mike Ryan was acquitted of all charges. As for the FBI memo the state issued a court record response explaining they could not assess the credibility of the FBI informant mentioned in the memo. Duke criticizes the state’s response: "They don’t deny having this information for eight years. They say we don’t know how reliable the source is. That’s what court hearings are for".

     On September 27th 2001 the appeal court without comment ruled the FBI memo indicating Taccetta was not involved in the murder of Craporatta cannot be used in the ongoing appeal. FBI law enforcement has a long history of withholding important evidence; evidence sufficient enough to prove someone innocent. In many past cases federal law enforcement withheld evidence which later proved they also broke the law to help prosecutors win convictions. In a similar case Joe Salvati served 32 years in prison for a mob-style murder he did not commit. Like Taccetta, Salvati was falsely accused by an FBI informant named Joseph ‘The Animal’ Barboza. Barboza told Massachusetts authorities that Salvati murdered Edward Deegan on March 12th 1965.

     It wasn’t until 1989 when Salvati’s attorney, Victor Garo, obtained a police report indicating that an informant identified Barboza and not Salvati as the murderer. This information was never revealed to defense lawyers at Salvati’s trial in 1968. Barboza later admitted he framed Salvati over a personal dispute. Famed lawyer F. Lee Bailey said Barboza falsely accused Salvati because he owed him $400 – as well to satisfy the FBI’s desire to lock up Mafia criminals. Salvati’s case is the first of several hearings held by U.S. senators to investigate the FBI’s use of informants

Did Coverups, Informant Conspiracies, False Testimony and Supressed Evidence, Produce A Wrongful Conviction?

     State prosecutors alleged the motive for the murder of Vincent Craporatta was the extortion of Craporatta’ nephews, Pat and Vincent Storino--- a plot to extort money from the Storinos & Craporatta family – owned gambling business and lucrative video – poker games used in bars and clubs along the Jersey Shore. During a 1993 sensational trial in Toms River, Ocean County prosecutor Robert Carroll produced witnesses linking the defendants to a scheme to extort the Storinos brothers.

     Unable to offer physical or eyewitness evidence to prove Taccetta’s involvement in the brutal murder the state’s only evidence was the testimony of D’Arco and Leonetti who swore under oath that Ricciardi and Taccetta both said they murdered Craporatta. Leonetti recalled how Taccetta confessed his role in the murder by saying, ‘the murderers used golf clubs instead of baseball bats’... because "baseball bats break". D’Arco also claimed Taccetta confessed, "We whacked this guy, Craporatta ...We knocked his head in". During a fact-finding investigation into Taccetta’s conviction after the discovery of FBI memo indicating that an informant identified someone other than Taccetta as the murderer of Craproatta. Duke petitioned the state court in (July 2001) to reopen the case to hold a hearing regarding suppression of evidence by prosecutors in violation of Brady Law. Among Duke’s findings of previous and new discovery of suppressed evidence is the following:

  • Convicted of Craporatta’s murder codefendant Thomas Ricciardi, prior to being tried along with Taccetta had already cooperated with prosecutors and FBI. Ricciardi told authorities that although (himself) and other associates committed other murders that Taccetta nor himself was involved or participated in Craporatta’s murder. Duke accused the state of hiding these facts prior to trial from the defense including the FBI memo purportedly identifying someone other than Taccetta as the murderer of Craporatta.

  • Since the state was already aware that Taccetta was not involved in the murder they allowed their star witnesses Leonetti and D’Arco to give false information indicating he, in fact, confessed.

  • The only evidence to support the extortion charges was testimony provided by Leonetti who testified co-defendant Anthony Acceturo made threatening statements to Pat Storino about his uncle’s murder. Yet in a turncoat fashion, Acceturo, like co-defendant Ricciardi cooperated with the state and totally denied Leonetti story of Extortion.

  • Duke’s allegation of coverups also question why the state failed to officially sentence Ricciardi whom the jury convicted on first – degree murder of Vincent Craporatta.

  • In Duke’s appeal he alleged the status of Ricciardi as a co-defendant during the 1993 trial was essentially a ‘Fraud’ by the state because he already was an informant on an unrelated drug-trafficking and murder investigation. Duke accused the state of placing Ricciardi on trial along with Taccetta knowing he already denied the murder of Craporatta and said Taccetta wasn’t guilty of the murder – yet the state proceeded to trial without providing the defense a full disclosure of deals or agreements made between Ricciardi and other informants and the state further knew their star witnesses would give false testimony to a jury to convict them.

  • Juan Iturrey, former Ocean County investigator testified that Joe Britton, an eyewitness who identified Ricciardi and Ryan in court as Craporatta’s killers had previously said he could not identify anyone because the killers wore stocking masks. When Taccetta’s Attorney requested the state to produce the information the state claimed they could not find it. Iturrey also testified that another witness named Dawn Flanagan identified a photo of Louis Demary as the person she saw at the scene where Craporatta was murdered. She never identified Taccetta or anyone else charged with the murder. Despite this valuable information the state never disclosed it for the defense.

  • When Taccetta’s defense attorney asked the state to provide an address to find Juan Iturrey, the police officer in charge of the Craporatta murder, the defense said the state provided incorrect addresses thereby claiming they thought the defense wanted "prior addresses" instead of a current one. Taccetta’s appeal contends this was an attempt to prevent the defense from finding Iturrey within a timely manner to reveal what eyewitnesses actually saw at the murder scene which doesn’t include his presence nor identity.

     Urging the Appeal court to deny Duke’s request to reopen the case the state argued: "Even if prosecutors withheld suppressed evidence that Taccetta and Ricciardi did not kill Craporatta ... it does not affect Taccetta’s racketeering conviction because Taccetta was acquitted of the murder charge". The state further responds. "Whether the defendant was guilty of those charges was entirely independent of whether Taccetta (or anyone else in particular) actually killed Craporatta". Duke said the state’s theory about the suppressed evidence to exonerate Taccetta is totally false. "First, Duke says, the indicitment alleged –the murder of Craporatta was (one of two acts) of racketeering crimes which Taccetta was convicted of. "

     The indictment also alleged, as required by racketeering statute, the murder and the extortion was interrelated methods operated by Taccetta’s criminal enterprise—and not isolated, independent events alleghed by the state." Duke responds: "If Craporatta’s murder was not, as the state now contends, any part of the extortion plan but entirely independent events, the jury was misled not only about the identity of the murderers ... but also what role the murder actually played in the racketeering charge. "Had the jury known neither Taccetta nor Ricciardi murdered Craporatta ... and was told unknown assailants committed the murder, As mention in the FBI memo; it is unlikely the jury would’ve found the murder of Craporatta connected to racketeering.

     " In such a case, Duke explains, the jury might have concluded the other incidents of racketeering – the extortion of the Storinos Brothers and their gambling businesses were not sufficient evidence to convict Taccetta." Duke’s next strategy is to exhaust all state legal remedies and if denied, appeals will be filed in Federal Court. "Hopefully we’ll get some justice there. This case is far from over", Duke said.

END

Any comments? Online readers can email Journalist Clarence Walker at: cwalker261@excite.com


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