Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that six members of the New York-based Lucchese crime family – including a ruling boss in New York and a top New Jersey capo – pleaded guilty yesterday to racketeering charges and face lengthy prison sentences.
The men were charged in Operation Heat, an investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice that uncovered an international criminal gambling enterprise that transacted billions of dollars in wagers, primarily on sporting events, and relied on extortion and violence to collect debts. The investigation also uncovered a scheme in which a former New Jersey corrections officer and a high-ranking member of the Nine Trey Gangsters set of the Bloods street gang entered into an alliance with the Lucchese crime family to smuggle drugs and pre-paid cell phones into East Jersey State Prison.
“Our investigation revealed that traditional organized crime remains a corrosive presence in the U.S. and continues to reap huge profits through criminal enterprises such as the international gambling operation we uncovered, which handled $2.2 billion in sports wagers in just 15 months,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “These mob bosses bet that they could get away with their old tricks in New Jersey, and I’m pleased to say that they lost their bets.”
“With Operation Heat, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice has upheld its decades-long tradition of fighting organized crime,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Whether they are members of traditional organized crime or street gangs – and this case involved both – we have put criminals on notice that illegal narcotics, extortion, violence and gambling will not be tolerated in New Jersey.”
Assistant Attorney General Christopher Romanyshyn, Deputy Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, took the guilty pleas for the Division’s Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. The following six defendants, all of whom were charged in a May, 14, 2010 state grand jury indictment, pleaded guilty yesterday before Superior Court Judge Salem Vincent Ahto in Morris County:
- Ralph V. Perna, 69, of East Hanover, N.J., the top capo of the New Jersey faction of the Lucchese family, pleaded guilty to first-degree racketeering. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to eight years in state prison. Perna oversaw the Lucchese crime family’s operations in New Jersey.
- Perna’s oldest son, Joseph M. Perna, 45, of Wyckoff, N.J., pleaded guilty to first-degree racketeering. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to 10 years in prison. He is one of three sons of Ralph V. Perna charged in the investigation. The sons, led by Joseph, managed day-to-day gambling operations for the criminal enterprise, under their father’s oversight.
- Another son, John G. Perna, 38, of West Caldwell, N.J. also pleaded guilty to first-degree racketeering and faces a recommended sentence of 10 years in state prison. Charges are pending against the third son, Ralph M. Perna, 43, of West Caldwell.
- Matthew Madonna, 80, of Seldon, N.Y., a member of the three-man ruling panel of the Lucchese crime family, pleaded guilty to second-degree racketeering. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to five years in state prison. Charges are pending against a second ruling member, Joseph DiNapoli, 79, of Scarsdale, N.Y. Madonna, allegedly with DiNapoli, controlled the family’s gambling operations and other criminal activities from New York.
- Martin Taccetta, 64, formerly of East Hanover, N.J., the former New Jersey underboss for the Lucchese crime family, pleaded guilty to first-degree racketeering and faces a recommended sentence of eight years in state prison. Taccetta already is serving a sentence of life in state prison plus 10 years as a result of a Division of Criminal Justice prosecution in the 1990s.
- John Mangrella, 72, of Clifton, N.J., a senior member of the crime family, pleaded guilty to first-degree racketeering and faces a recommended sentence of eight years in prison.
Judge Ahto scheduled sentencing for Tacetta for Aug. 20; Madonna, Mangrella and Joseph Perna for Sept. 30; and Ralph Perna and John Perna for Jan. 7, 2016.
The defendants were initially charged and arrested in Operation Heat in December 2007. The investigation uncovered an international criminal enterprise that, according to records seized, transacted an estimated $2.2 billion in wagers, primarily on sporting events, during a 15-month period. The gambling operation received and processed the wagers using password-protected websites and a Costa Rican “wire room” where bets were recorded and results tallied.
The gambling operation involved agents or “package holders,” each of whom brought in bets from a group of gamblers. The enterprise and all of its packages involved hundreds or even thousands of gamblers. Records showed that one high-rolling gambler wagered more than $2 million in a two-month period. The illicit proceeds were divided by the package holders and the members they worked under, such as the Pernas and Tacetta, who in turn made “tribute” payments to the New York bosses, including Madonna and DiNapoli. Collection operations at times took the form of threats or acts of violence.
The prison smuggling scheme allegedly involved inmate Edwin B. Spears and a former corrections officer at East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge, Michael T. Bruinton. Spears was at East Jersey State Prison at the time of the alleged conduct. It is charged that Edwin Spears, an admitted “five-star general” in the Nine Trey Gangsters set of the Bloods, formed an alliance with Joseph Perna and another defendant from the Lucchese crime family, now deceased, to smuggle drugs and cell phones into East Jersey State Prison through Bruinton. The alliance allegedly extended beyond smuggling. In one instance, Joseph Perna sought assistance from Spears to stop an individual associated with the Bloods from extorting money from a man with ties to the Lucchese family. The charges are pending against Spears and Bruinton. Several other defendants were charged in that scheme.
Assistant Attorney General Romanyshyn and former Assistant Attorney General Mark Eliades presented the case to the state grand jury. Deputy Chief of Detectives Christopher Donohue and Detective Patrick Sole of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau were lead detectives for the case, under the supervision of Chief of Detectives Paul Morris. Sgt. Noelle Holl was the principal detective for the financial portion of the case. Acting Attorney General Hoffman also credited former Acting Supervising State Investigator James Sweeney and the following Detectives: Sgt. Audrey Young, Ho Chul Shin, Lt. Brian Bruton, Mario Estrada, Richard DaSilva, and John Delesio. He credited the New Jersey State Police Intelligence Section for their assistance. He further thanked Auditor Thaedra Chebra of the Division of Taxation’s Office of Criminal Investigation, Detective Andrew Varga of the New York City Police Department and members of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who provided assistance.