The feds are playing hardball with aging Gambino family capo Daniel Marino. The offer on the table for him last week was to plead guilty to a 13-year-old hit that took place while Marino was in prison, and take another 13 years behind bars. Or go to trial.
Marino's longtime pal, Joseph Watts, another Gambino family stalwart, is getting some very different signals from prosecutors. It's not exactly softball, but the offer to Watts is just ten years in prison for another murder, the execution of businessman Fred Weiss, a 1989 rubout for late family Don John Gotti.
The Marino offer was part of a secret "global plea" deal to all the defendants in his case, sources say. The message received was that prosecutors were essentially telling him they would rather take him to trial than propose a realistic plea deal.
Even though the offer to Marino was only three years more than the Watts deal, "it was a not-so-subtle, unmistakable message to get ready for trial," said one defense source, who is familiar with lengthy preliminary discussions to resolve the case between both sides in the case.
In addition to Marino, two Gambino mobsters and 11 other reputed mob associates, including a woman, are charged with a litany of racketeering crimes over the past three decades that include murder, extortion, drug dealing and sex trafficking involving minors, including a 15-year-old girl.
Both Marino and Watts have extensive rap sheets, but the violence on Marino's resume is mild when compared to Watts. According to court papers, Watts has at least 11 hits to his credit -- including one during the reign of family patriarch Carlo Gambino.
By contrast, Marino is implicated in two slayings, including another 1989 killing ordered by Gotti, for which Marino spent six years in prison. He is also linked -- rather tenuously, according to court records -- to the 1998 slaying that the feds want him to admit, the murder of his nephew, a reputed mob associate who was killed while Marino was behind bars serving his sentence for his role in the 1989 slaying.
"I'm not interested in the government's offer," said Marino attorney, Gerald Shargel. "I am preparing this case for trial and the more I work on the case, the weaker it appears. I'm very comfortable trying this case," he said, adding that he will appeal a ruling by Judge Lewis Kaplan this week that refused to release Marino on bail while he prepares for trial that is not slated to begin until next spring.
In their Marino case plea offer, prosecutors Steve Kwok and Eli Honig left no doubt they were willing to take the case to trial. They also offered stiff, double-digit plea bargains to Marino's two mobster codefendants in the case -- Thomas Orefice (10-to-12.5 years) and Onofrio (Neal) Modica (20 years.)
Prosecutors say Orefice, 34, the alleged ringleader of the sex-trafficking aspects of the case, was befriended by Marino while both were in prison together, and that the budding wiseguy committed numerous violent crimes and was inducted into the Gambino crime family following his incarceration at a time when he was prohibited from meeting with convicted criminals.
Contacted by Gang Land, his attorney, Seth Ginsberg, would say only that his client "steadfastly maintains that he has not engaged in sex trafficking with a minor and we are ready to prove that at trial."
The main charge against Modica, 46, involves a bizarre 1987 double homicide in which a revenge-seeking Staten Island hoodlum who had been shot in the buttocks with a crossbow while sleeping months earlier, jumped off the back of a motorcycle -- allegedly driven by Modica -- and shot his nemesis to death, as well as a friend who happened to be sitting in a car with him.
According to court records, the gunman, Raymond Rodriguez, then 27, was convicted of killing the alleged bowman, James DiGuglielmo, also 27, and the second man. Rodriguez died in prison.
"We are not concerned about defending the murder charge," said lawyer Mathew Mari. "Noel didn't do it. And he didn't participate in it in any manner. And even if they had a video of him doing it -- and they don't -- they wouldn't be able to prove that it had anything to do with any criminal enterprise."
Mari conceded that the motorcycle used in the slaying belonged to Modica, (left) but that his client was not driving it. "The police established that more than 20 years ago, and we will prove it at trial," the attorney added.
Prosecutors outlined their intentions to push the 68-year-old Watts to take a plea deal in publicly filed court papers.
Ironically, the prosecutors revealed their game plan against Watts in the same filing in which they disclosed that they had given his codefendant, John (Jackie Nose) D'Amico, a sweet three-year plea deal for the Weiss hit, an offer the onetime acting Gambino crime boss accepted last week. Gang Land first reported the offers to D'Amico and Watts last month.
If Watts opts for trial, prosecutors wrote, they will introduce evidence that Watts was a virtual murder machine during the late 1970s and 1980s, killing 11 people, many times delivering the fatal wounds himself. Just as ominous was the feds' threat to drag the gangster's daughter into the case as an accomplice in her father's money laundering activities.
Prosecutors Kwok, Arlo Devlin-Brown, and Miriam Rocah assert they will tie daughter Robyn Watts to her father's illegal activities through $150,000 that her father funneled to her from a Swiss bank account. They say Robyn Watts also used cash to pay an employee of American Blast, an "energy drink" company Watts allegedly formed to launder illicit Gambino family funds.
At his trial, prosecutors say they intend to introduce testimony that Watts killed 10 persons not named in the indictment in order to prove that even though his Irish heritage prevented him from becoming a "made man," he has been a longstanding member of the crime family's racketeering enterprise.
Shargel, who also represents Watts, told Gang Land last month that he was preparing for his trial - which was just put off until October. He is sure to object to many things prosecutors want to use against Watts, but he declined to discuss the recent filings in the Watts case.
The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office declined to comment about the Watts or Marino case.