Boston verdict adds momentum to anti-organized-crime drive

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Moments after hearing the string of guilty verdicts that could mean sentences totaling a maximum of 150 years in prison, Gennaro J. Angiulo resumed his affable bantering with some of the spectators crammed into the courtroom here. ``Who can beat the US government with its unlimited resources, unlimited manpower?'' asked the man prosecutors identified as the Mafia ``underboss'' of Boston. Cocking his head toward a group of reporters, he said, ``Nobody really gave them a fight before, but we did, didn't we?''

His rhetorical questions rumbled far beyond the confines of this marble-walled courtroom, where last week a federal jury convicted Mr. Angiulo, two of his brothers, and an associate on racketeering charges. (A fourth Angiulo brother, Michele, was acquitted of racketeering but convicted on a numbers-game charge.)

Angiulo's questions -- and the guilty verdicts -- are likely to reverberate through the ranks of organized crime in the United States. Prosecutors and others experts on organized crime say the criminal network -- often called the Mafia or La Cosa Nostra -- has been crippled by a three-year wave of federal prosecutions. The drive stems from the Justice Department's recent emphasis on RICO, the 16-year-old Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Leaders of 16 out of the nation's alleged 24 Mafia families have been indicted. Seven have been convicted.

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The Angiulo decision sets the stage for further cases against alleged New England mobsters, including Gennaro's son, Jason. And the trial served as a prelude to what could be the most far-reaching mobster trial ever held. Later this month federal prosecutors in New York will try to prove the existence of a secret control group that oversees Mafia activity nationwide.

``It's the twilight of the mob. It's not night yet, but it's surely twilight,'' says G. Robert Blakey, the nation's leading authority on RICO, the controversial statute that gives prosecutors what he calls ``unlimited resources'' to convict mob leaders such as Angiulo. Without RICO, which allowed prosecutors to paint a broad picture of the crime family, ``the community never would have seen the mob on trial,'' says Mr. Blakey, a law professor at Notre Dame University.

More than 800 hours of taped conversations between members of the the Boston mob were enough to convict the Angiulos on the RICO charge -- basically that the gang was involved in a pattern of racketeering.

Some organized-crime specialists feel the Angiulo verdict broke ground in its use of RICO's ``forfeiture'' provision: The jury ordered the confiscation of a yacht, two apartment buildings, and hundreds of thousands of dollars directly tied to the organization's racketeering activities, which were run by Angiulo from 1966 to 1982.

It was the nation's ``first major forfeiture involving the leadership of the Mafia,'' says James D. Harmon, executive director of the President's Commission on Organized Crime. If you want to destroy the `family,' you destroy the capital. It's a significant advance in law enforcement to be able to strike at the economic base of the Mafia.''

Others stress RICO's role in wiping out echelons of ``old guard'' leadership. ``We used to take out individuals one by one and the organization would replace them,'' says Blakey. ``Now we're taking out a leadership structure you just can't replace. And when you do [replace them], you do so with people who are younger, less experienced. And they make mistakes.''

Despite its success -- or perhaps because of it -- RICO faces stiff opposition, mainly from large corporations that have been implicated in civil suits under RICO provisions. The lobbying power of large corporations is welcomed by most defense attorneys, who feel this ``pattern of racketeering'' law pollutes the legal process. ``From a defense attorney's standpoint, . . . it makes for a fundamental contamination of the decisionmaking process,'' says Terrence Scott, a Los Angeles lawyer on the American Bar Association's RICO committee.

Jurors get ``buried under a blizzard of evidence'' that confuses the cases against individual defendants, says Mr. Scott. ``As a criminal defense attorney, I like to see a fair consideration of each defendant's guilt. In a case like Angiulo's, that's impossible.'' But RICO boosters reject that idea. The fact that one of the Angiulo brothers was acquitted of the RICO charges, says Nick Littlefield, a Boston lawyer who teaches federal law enforcement at Harvard Law School, shows that a discriminating jury can winnow its way through reams of evidence.

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