As they do virtually every time he picks up a client in a Gambino family case, the feds have moved to oust mob lawyer Joseph Corozzo from the Manhattan racketeering indictment that accuses mobsters of using a 15-year-old prostitute in a sex-trafficking operation.
This time, however, in addition to repeating many allegations they have tossed at Corozzo over the years - and adding a couple new ones - prosecutors have also cited possible conflicts of interest for six other attorneys in the case. They also petitioned Judge Lewis Kaplan to determine exactly who hired the lawyers for all 14 defendants in the case - and who is paying their legal fees.
Prosecutors also asked Kaplan to inquire whether any defendants were coerced to retain certain attorneys by other defendants through illegal cash payments, threats or promises. Such a "third-party fee arrangement" could push a lawyer's primary allegiance to the person who paid the fee rather than the attorney's official client, say assistant U.S. attorneys Elie Honig and Steve Kwok.
In court papers, the prosecutors also question whether the hiring of Corozzo - whose dad, also named Joseph and known as JoJo, is the family's consigliere - by defendant Michael Scarpaci was really an effort by the mob to determine whether Scarpaci won an unusual prison furlough to attend the christening of his daughter because he was "cooperating with the government."
This kind of request by the feds is unheard of in Gang Land, but prosecutors say it is also based on the fact that three other defendants who claimed to be indigent and in need of a court-appointed attorney when they were first arrested, later announced that they had retained their own lawyers.
"Although there is nothing per se improper about a defendant obtaining help from third parties to help defray legal expenses, courts have recognized that third-party fee arrangements - particularly if the third party is a codefendant - may give rise to a conflicted representation," the prosecutors wrote in their request for a full-blown hearing on the issue.
Another factor that called for a judicial inquiry was a tape-recorded remark that mobster Thomas Orefice made last year, prosecutors wrote. On March 6, 2009, Orefice told a turncoat that years ago he had hired Vincent Romano - who represents codefendant Suzanne Porcelli in the current case - to defend a cohort arrested by police on Staten Island, where many of the defendants live.
"Vinny Romano was the lawyer that we used. I hired him for the kid," Orefice told the wired-up undercover operative whom Gang Land has previously identified as a convicted sex-offender, Jude Buoneto.
Romano has told the government that he represented Orefice about 15 years ago, but "does not recall whether Orefice ever paid Romano's legal fees to represent another person," according to the court papers. Prosecutors say that in order for Romano to remain in the case, both Orefice and Porcelli would have to waive their right to contest any negative outcome due to a possible conflict of interest the lawyer may have in representing Porcelli in the current case.
Prosecutors say that five other defense attorneys have similar conflicts of interest involving their prior representation of witnesses or other Gambino mobsters that require the defendants to waive any future claim that the conflict affected them adversely in the event they are convicted at trial.
The most glaring of the other conflicts involves attorney Mathew Mari. He represents mob associate Onofrio (Noel) Modica, who is charged with racketeering and a 1987 double homicide. In the late 1990s, Mari represented Buoneto, then 19, and wangled a no-jail, misdemeanor plea deal following his indictment on felony sexual abuse charges involving a young girl.
Modica and Buoneto know each other, but because Mari has promised not to use or disclose any confidential information he gleaned from his representation of Buoneto, and has agreed to allow co-counsel Gerald McMahon to cross-examine the turncoat at trial, prosecutors are not seeking to bounce Mari from the case.
The same goes for attorney James DiPietro, who represents an extortion victim in the case as well as a defendant charged in an unrelated extortion, and for three lawyers who represented John (Junior) Gotti in three of the four trials at which the former Junior Don stymied the government's efforts to convict him of racketeering and other charges.
The possible conflicts of interest involving the three attorneys - Charles Carnesi, who represents the top mobster in the case, capo Daniel Marino; Seth Ginsberg, the attorney for Orefice, as well as John Meringolo - can all be waived by their current clients, wrote Honig and Kwok.
The conflicts involving Corozzo, however, are too many and too serious to overlook, say the prosecutors, who allege:
Corozzo is a mob associate and "house counsel" for the Gambino crime family; he has obstructed justice in the past; a former client will be a witness at trial; prosecutors intend to play a recording in which Marino states that "Corozzo might be arrested shortly," and his father and uncle Nicholas are leaders in the "charged racketeering enterprise," the Gambino crime family.
Besides, write Honig and Kwok, his client "will still have at least two other retained, conflict-free attorneys of his own choosing" to represent him in the case.
"We're going to fight it," said Corozzo, telling Gang Land that he will soon file papers opposing the government's motion. "My client tells me he has compete confidence in me. I believe he is innocent, and I wish to represent him."
Other lawyers either declined to comment or said they would respond in court. Two attorneys, who each asked not to be identified, said asking lawyers about their fees was "reasonable" in the cases of the defendants who switched from court-appointed to retained counsel but that a blanket query regarding fees to all lawyers in the case was "unreasonable."