The feds say he's a mob associate who engineered a sophisticated $100,000 tax fraud scheme. His lawyer, who happens to be his cousin, says he's just a hard-working, hard-luck guy who strayed off the straight and narrow a few years ago when his ice cream parlor business went belly up.
Meet Nicholas Corozzo of Howard Beach, Queens, the fourth member of the Corozzo clan to earn a trip to the Big House for one reason or another since last year.
Corozzo, 31, is the son of Gambino soldier Blaise Corozzo, one of three wiseguy brothers currently behind bars. Blaise, 61, is serving a one-to-three year sentence in state prison for being part of a lucrative mob gambling operation that was busted last year by the Queens District Attorney's office.
Young Corozzo is also the nephew of imprisoned family consigliere Joseph (JoJo) Corozzo and capo Nicholas (Little Nick) Corozzo. Both are doing time for more serious federal convictions. JoJo, 67, is serving 46 months for racketeering, and due out in 2011; Little Nick, 69, is in for murder and set for release in 2020.
Early this year, the IRS hit young Nicholas Corozzo with tax fraud charges for providing phony W2 forms to dozens of cohorts who agreed to use the documents to obtain quick and bogus tax refunds from the IRS, and then share the loot with Corozzo.
All told, young Corozzo and his crew earned over $100,000 in the scheme, which ran from January 1 to February 14 of 2004, said assistant U.S. attorney Elizabeth Geddes. The prosecutor also cited his "family" connections and asked Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Carol Amon for prison time between 27 and 33 months.
Not so fast, said cousin Joseph Corozzo - the lawyer son of the crime family's consigliere. He calculated the loss at less than $80,000, and urged the judge to impose a sentence between 15 and 21 months, the range that the attorney and the prosecutor had agreed to when they negotiated a plea deal in the case.
The lawyer, long tainted by his family name, also argued that his cousin Nicholas had nothing to do with any organized crime activities that his relatives may be involved in, and was being unfairly smeared as a mob associate in a minor tax fraud case that would likely have meant probation for most defendants.
Judge Amon came down closer to where the Corozzos - both the lawyer and the defendant - had hoped she would land. On August 14 she gave Corozzo 21 months behind bars, and agreed to a plea by the lawyer to let his cousin begin his prison term after he celebrates the Christmas holidays with his wife and two young children.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are still investigating numerous allegations of criminal activity by attorney Corozzo, whom the feds have called House Counsel to the Gambino crime family - and much worse over the years.
In court papers, filed in his cousin's tax fraud case - and in the pending racketeering-murder indictment against several Colombo gangsters charged with the 1997 murder of police officer Ralph Dols - prosecutors say Corozzo is the "subject of multiple pending investigations" by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn.
In the filings, the feds accuse Corozzo of being "involved in the Gambino family's illegal activities, including the collection of extortion money" and with using his "status as an attorney to further...acts of violence or threatened violence" by wiseguys and mob associates alike.
Last year, the feds asserted that in 2004 his father proposed him for membership in the Gambino family. In the late 1980s, the feds say, Corozzo ordered a low level mob associate he was out drinking with to shoot the driver of a car who was involved in a road rage incident with Corozzo.
"This has been ongoing since 1993," said Corozzo, a graduate of Brooklyn Law School who passed the state bar, and became an attorney in 1991. In 1993, he began defending his father against state racketeering charges - two years later, he won an acquittal for his old man. In 1993, Corozzo also began visiting, and representing, the crime family's imprisoned boss, the late John Gotti.
In his cousin's case, and the Dols murder case, the government alerted each defendant of the ongoing investigations of their attorney and asked them to waive any future claim that those probes had a negative impact on Corozzo's efforts on their behalf.
Both defendants agreed to waive any potential conflict of interest between them and their lawyer, so Corozzo didn't lose either client. He told Gang Land, however, that the continuing investigations, as you might expect, have not been a good thing.
"It affects my business," said Corozzo. Thus far, he says, "about half a dozen have left me" after learning that he was under investigation. But he can't begin to estimate how many other clients he has lost over the years, he said, since many people who read or hear about his status, "are dissuaded from hiring me, or even contacting me."
"It's somewhat confusing to clients too," said Corozzo, "because of the inherent contradictions in the two positions the government takes in these cases. On the one hand, they say that I might sell out my clients to curry favor with the government because I am under investigation. At the same time they say I'm alleged to be involved in illegal conduct and will do things that are out of bounds in order to help my clients."
Corozzo says the government's never-ending investigation "is a familial thing. It's similar to what they said about my cousin when they said he was a Gambino associate because his name is Corozzo."
As for how long he thinks the investigation will continue?
"As long I am related to the people I am related to, I'll have to deal with it. So in that sense I hope it lasts a very long time."