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UNITED STATES v. SESSA

May 24, 1993

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MICHAEL SESSA, VICTOR ORENA and PASQUALE AMATO, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JACK B. WEINSTEIN

 WEINSTEIN, J.:

 Defendants Michael Sessa, Victor Orena and Pasquale Amato were indicted together for racketeering, loansharking and firearms offenses committed while conducting the affairs of the Colombo organized crime "family" and warring over its leadership. They were tried separately to protect them against possible prejudice. Each was convicted of all charges.

 Statutorily mandated considerations of general deterrence and incapacitation, 18 U.S.C. ยงยง 3551 and 3553, require a life sentence and high fines for each defendant. The Guidelines are consistent in mandating terms of life imprisonment and substantial fines.

 I. FACTS

 Organized crime mobs have thrived within New York City since the beginning of this century. Their names, numbers and leadership have shifted over time. The structure of "La Cosa Nostra" (meaning "this thing of ours") has remained the same. Each mob has an administration consisting of a boss, an underboss and a "consigliere," or counselor. This administration presides over a network of crews. Each crew is headed by a "capo," or captain, and is made up of numerous soldiers. The soldiers and captains carry out most of the criminal activities, funnelling much of the proceeds up to the administration.

 The crimes from which these mobs produce their income include robbery, arson, insurance fraud, illegal gambling, corruption of labor unions, extortion, loansharking and drug dealing. Murder frequently is committed to enforce the internal rules of conduct and as part of struggles for control within and among the mobs. These rules include the requirements of maintaining silence about the organization's activities, refraining from harming law enforcement officers, declining to deal in drugs or counterfeit currency and refraining from harming another member without the approval of the "Commission." The Commission, which meets secretly and infrequently, consists of the leadership of all the organized mobs in New York City.

 Discipline has eroded in recent years. Many of the formerly ironclad rules, such as the prohibition against narcotics commerce, are now violated with impunity. The rules limiting the use of internecine violence have been flaunted, resulting in bloody battles and the shooting of bystanders. Perhaps most significantly, the code of silence that sealed the mobs off from penetration by law enforcement, is dissolving. Members now frequently testify against their former associates. For example, at the trials of these defendants, the juries learned about the operations of La Cosa Nostra from members of the Colombo family itself, from the former acting boss of the Luchese family and from the former consigliere of the Gambino family.

 The powerful influence of these gangs in New York City was illustrated during these trials. The accomplice witnesses spoke of their own youthful aspirations to become organized crimes soldiers, of the long period of apprenticeship and the sponsorship required before membership could be achieved and of the solemn, secretive ceremony by which new members take their oath and mix their blood with that of the mob's boss, pledging eternal loyalty, silence and obedience to all orders including the directive to kill a fellow member.

 Alphonse D'Arco, the one-time acting boss of the Luchese family, noted that he was proudly present when his son Joseph was made a member despite being warned by the family's consigliere that from then on Anthony Casso, the Luchese family's boss, "owned" his son. That same son was later a threat to his own father's life, D'Arco sadly reflected on the witness stand that both he and others had been lured into organized crime by the ethos of the neighborhood as young twigs bent by their seniors. Defendant Victor Orena's own sons were referred to frequently in the testimony as aides to their father in the affairs of the Colombo mob.

 The Colombo division of organized crime is one of five now operating in New York City. It is a lucrative enterprise. Its stock-in-trade is loansharking. Members of the various crews loan funds at extortionate rates of interest, usually in the neighborhood of 100 to 250 percent per year, and enforce the terms of those loans with threats of violence. A portion of the proceeds of these loans, termed "vigorish" or "vig," is shared with the higher-ups within the organization. The family's illegal gambling operations work in tandem with this financing scheme.

 Like the other New York City criminal mobs, the Colombos have profited from the control of labor unions. This activity depends upon the cooperation of corrupt union officials. Typically the organized crime families will assist contractors who wish to avoid utilizing union labor by guaranteeing "labor peace" in exchange for a fee which is then shared with the corrupt union leaders.

 The crime mobs frequently work together in this activity. For example, the Colombo and Luchese mobs each controlled a concrete company. As cement was off loaded at the docks, the mobs would keep track of how much went to each company. Each mob received a payment per yard of concrete that went to its own company. These payments were extracted in exchange for the guarantee of the mob to maintain peace with the labor unions involved in the concrete business.

 The Gambino and Colombo mob capitalized on their control of labor unions in connection with the pouring of foundations for Navy and other housing on Staten Island. The Gambino family controlled the two major concrete companies on Staten Island. The price of the concrete was inflated by five dollars per yard, with one dollar per yard going back to the company and the other four being shared by the Gambinos and Colombos. Control of the unions involved in the concrete business by the two mobs ensured that no other concrete companies could operate on Staten Island, which was described by Salvatore Gravano, the former consigliere of the Gambinos, as a "gold mine."

 The Luchese and Colombo mobs profited in connection with a project to dismantle the West Side Highway in Manhattan. The Luchese group arranged a "sweetheart" contract for movement of scrap steel between the dock workers union, controlled by the Colombo group, and the construction company in charge of the project which wished to avoid dealing with the steel workers. The Luchese mob was to be paid $ 800,000 for its services in arranging the deal through the Colombos and maintaining peace with the steel workers.

 The Luchese and Colombo mobs also profit by cooperating in the control of unions and the maintenance of labor peace in the shipping industry at Kennedy Airport. Four of the five mobs cooperated in obtaining shares of the criminal proceeds generated by Russian organized crime groups that controlled a huge tax avoidance scheme in the gasoline industry.

 Struggles for control of the Colombo mob have occurred frequently throughout its history. The present official boss of the Colombos, Carmine Persico, is serving prison sentences of 100 and 39 years imposed in 1986 and 1987. As a result of his absence, a contest for leadership developed between those loyal to Persico and those loyal to defendant Victor Orena whom Persico had appointed acting boss in 1988. Orena had attempted to parlay his temporary appointment into a permanent one, in violation of his agreement with Persico that Persico's son Alphonse would lead the family upon release from prison.

 Sessa and Orena were responsible for many of the crimes for which they were convicted as part of the war that broke out when Orena attempted to seize control of the Colombos. Amato, while he had a less obvious role, participated as a trusted leader, and insider, in the gamut of crimes committed by the Colombo gang. Using scores of guns, police radios, bullet-proof vests, walkie-talkies, hideouts in New York and New Jersey, stolen cars, surveillance reports, and inside telephone records, the Colombos stalked each other. Were it not for the fact that the New York police and Federal Bureau of Investigation had bugged their cars and hideouts and frustrated many of their ambushes, the death toll would have multiplied. The recordings of their conversations as they rode out on their killing missions were terrifying in their inanity, calculated coldness and lack of respect for human life and even the dignity of death.

 Each of these three defendants had an important role in the Colombo organized mob and in the war for its leadership. Each participated in the full range of crimes attributed to the mobs. Each was responsible for murders, conspiracies to murder, loansharking and other serious continuing crimes. While each defendant has undoubtedly amassed ...


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