Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York on January 9, 2005 · Page 12
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Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York · Page 12

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Sunday, January 9, 2005
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12 A SUNDAY, JANUARY 9, 2005 DemocratandChronicte.com DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE Cooperative Leonardo still awaits GARY CRAIG STAFF WRITER Anthony Leonardo Jr. was arrested and jailed in December 2000, pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracies in August 2001, but has yet to be sentenced for his crimes. Why? While federal authorities have said little about the delays in Leonardo's sentencing over the past three years, they did make clear that they were actively pursuing leads in a related criminal investigation. And in his 2001 plea agreement, Leonardo agreed to cooperate and provide Leonardo FROM PAGE 1A New York. Leonardo, now disbarred as a lawyer yet allowed to represent himself, contends that he was illegally entrapped into committing crimes. Federal authorities knew he was down on his luck, hurting for money and fearful of a murderous co-conspirator, Albert M. Ranieri, when they sent an undercover informant to plot crimes with him, Leonardo has argued. So, instead of the 12-year sentence he agreed to as part of his plea, Leonardo claims he should serve fewer years. His former lawyer, John Spe-ranza, has withdrawn from the case, citing irreconcilable professional differences. Leonardo, now in the Niagara County Jail, has served four years, and his sentence of 12 years would likely be 10 if he stayed clear of trouble in federal prison. The Democrat and Chronicle wrote him, asking for an interview; he did not respond. Prosecutors, meanwhile, have a very different view. Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Wydysh plans to argue that the 12-year deal no longer stands, and that Leonardo should be sentenced to 16 to 20 years, the maximum under the agreement. "We absolutely, unequivocally, categorically deny that we inveigled Mr. Leonardo or induced him in any way (to commit crime)," Wydysh said. "We provided him with an opportunity to commit criminal activity and he took full advantage of that opportunity." Some of Leonardo's former legal compatriots aren't surprised that Leonardo is returning to the courtroom even though he's disbarred. Leonardo often lived on the edge, even in the courtroom. He'd push some cases to trial that, in the hands of other lawyers, might have ended in plea agreements for the defendants. "I was surprised professionally, not personally" about Leonardo's decision to challenge his plea agreement, said local lawyer James Piampiano, a friend of Leonardo's. "On a professional note, given all of the (criminal) charges, it seemed like a very fair outcome and I thought it was a very good legal result that John Speranza obtained for him," Piampiano said. "On a personal level, I was not surprised because I've known Tony a long time. "Tony is the ultimate warrior. Tony's nature is to fight long and hard, and he's not used to losing." Leonardo stands to lose big, however. Under one scenario, his plea agreement could be vacated and authorities could decide to instead take him to trial, where he could face a sentence of life in prison. And a trial could well open a window into other criminal activities in which prosecutors have alleged Leonardo was involved. How deeply was Leonardo, the son of a well-known retired Rochester police detective, embroiled in crime? While prosecutors and the FBI won't discuss allegations beyond those they've previously outlined, courtroom testimony and court papers connected to Leonardo's case and others show that in 2001 authorities were aggressively pursuing many suspicions about the defense lawyer. Authorities had a goal: Should Leonardo choose to go to trial, they would have as much proof as possible that he was no criminal novice but, on the contrary, was more than willing to venture to the wrong side of the law. "We were trying to conduct a full and thorough investigation," said Wydysh, who would discuss only the allegations and crimes outlined in court papers related to the Leonardo case. "I think the (court) papers show that there was a belief that Mr. Leonardo was involved in more criminal activity than that which he pleaded guilty to," Wydysh said. According to papers in several any help he could in the probe. By delaying Leonardo's sentencing, prosecutors would have maintained some leverage over him to cooperate fully with any investigation. Left unanswered for investigators were two questions: Who else was with Albert M. Ranieri, Leonardo's criminal co-conspirator, when Ranieri robbed an armored car of nearly $11 million in 1990? And who was with Ranieri when he murdered Leonardo's business partner, Anthony Vaccaro, in May 2000? While Leonardo twice plotted with Ranieri about Vaccaro's '.4'. ; . ., ..- i .!- . i ,' ' ; V f . s f 1- j . " . ' .: - . " t. ' " ? '" . v ' " t ?. . . r - . & t ; ,1 -; - jjf k t . ; ' - jj & i ' . r - i i i,' t , , , . ' mmt .... . ; " f ' ,l, " ' " - w .1, 5 , A "V : : i ' - : : ' ' ..... . . .',( ; 1 . 1 ( ' ; L..-J..i-....i.,'.:.,,-. .. ,,.J--i l.v , . I . i. .4 ... , .. . - - , 4. ., -. j..- ! W,iJ.JLi.-JLB.fc File photo 2001 A hidden camera videotapes Anthony Leonardo Jr., left, and FBI informant Anthony Delmonti at a local hotel in 2000. Evidence of a plot to traffic in cocaine emerged from the tapes. federal court cases, authorities suspected that among the crimes Leonardo committed were: Planning to kill two business partners who invested with him in a Charlotte nightclub. Plotting two major armored-car robberies one in Rochester, another in Ohio. Laundering money through a man who was part of a steroid-trafficking network. Trying to launder money through a local escort service operator. Helping modify firearm silencers for a Buffalo drug dealer. As part of his plea, Leonardo agreed to testify against Ranieri, who robbed an armored car of nearly $11 million in 1990 and murdered Leonardo's business partner, Anthony Vaccaro, in May 2000. In 2002, Ranieri pleaded guilty to racketeering crimes, including the armored car robbery and murder. He now is serving 30 years in prison. Leonardo has admitted that he twice planned with Ranieri to kill Vaccaro. Court pfrers filed Friday by federal prosecutors allege that Ranieri and Leonardo also schemed to murder David Cashion, a partner with Leonardo and Vaccaro in a Charlotte nightclub, Club Titanic. That murder plot failed. Michael Tallon, Ranieri's attorney, claims that Leonardo was often untruthful in his admissions to federal authorities about his criminal conspiracies with Ranieri. "Leonardo received far more money from Ranieri than he admitted to," Tallon said. "He should know how to count and he should know how much money he got. "Everybody, I assume, who's human has the ability to minimize their conduct." 'Candy from a baby' Leonardo's stature as a defense lawyer was so prominent that he once was interviewed as a possible attorney for Mafia chieftain John Gotti. He didn't get the job, but, throughout his career, Leonardo did not lack for high-profile defendants. He once won five straight acquittals in homicide cases, a streak virtually unheard of in any courtroom. But prosecutors contend that Leonardo took away dangerous lessons from his defense work not lessons about how best to represent criminals but instead about how best to commit crimes. Few attorneys can claim to have been as close to two major armored car company heists as Leonardo was. In 1992 he defended Ranieri when Ranieri and his father, Albert B. Ranieri Jr., were arrested on charges related to the 1990 armored car robbery in Henrietta of $10.8 million. Prosecutors quickly dropped the charges when they learned they'd taken the word of an unreliable informant, and Ranieri was not charged with the crime again until his racketeering conviction. Then, in 1994, Leonardo defended Samuel Millar, an Irish- slaying, authorities have suspected that someone other than Leonardo was with Ranieri the night of the murder. Ranieri, npw serving 30 years in prison, has not told police who else was involved in the crimes with him. Prosecutors said in court papers filed late in 2004 that Leonardo did provide them with "substantial" assistance, though they did not specify how he did so. They have said, however, that his willingness to testify against Ranieri helped push Ranieri to a guilty plea agreement. GCRAIGiSflemocratandChronicle.com JAMIE GERMAN0 1996 file photo Anthony Leonardo Jr., at right in top photo, accompanies a client, Stuart Sonnedecker, who has just been taken into custody after his sentencing in 1996. In bottom photo, the tables are turned. Leonardo himself is in cuffs as he arrives with U.S. marshals for an appearance at the federal building in Rochester in 2001. III w b 11 born man who, with others, pulled off the 1993 robbery of $7.4 million at the Brink's Inc. depot in Rochester. Millar was convicted of possessing some of the stolen cash, which authorities once suspected was funneled to the Irish Republican Army. As undercover tapes reveal, Leonardo learned from his defense of two men involved in armored car company robberies. His lesson: It wasn't as hard to steal millions as many might suspect. "It was like taking candy from a baby," Leonardo says in one undercover tape, telling how easy the robbery of the Brink's depot had been. (Authorities say they have not suspected that Leonardo was involved in either robbery, and he says on the tapes that he wasn't.) Prosecutors allege that Leonardo plotted not one, but two armored car robberies. In 1997, they say, Leonardo and Ranieri conspired to plan another robbery of the Armored Motor Service of America Inc. company that Ranieri targeted in the 1990 Henrietta crime. Ranieri paid a man $10,000 to get a job with AMSA, to help pull off a robbery, according to prosecutors and Ranieri's admissions. The man's role was to give Leonardo and Ranieri information so they could best decide how a robbery should go down. That plot never materialized, but Leonardo apparently didn't abandon his belief that armored car companies were ripe for picking. uty Wu yvA' Anthony Leonardo, center, Tony Club Titanic in 1999. Leonardo File photo On one undercover tape from 2000, Leonardo and Anthony Delmonti, the federal informant, discuss how best to rob an armored car in Ohio. Delmonti, a small-time hoodlum from Cleveland whom Leonardo once represented, explains that he has a contact with Brink's in Ohio who's willing to help with a robbery. The inside scoop is that it's best to pull off the heist near year's end, Delmonti tells Leonardo. "At the holiday time Thanksgiving, Christmas, like that it could be as much as $15 (million) to $17 (million)," Delmonti says. Leonardo then plots how best to rob the truck. The driver and his partner would have to be overtaken at gunpoint and blindfolded, Leonardo explains. The truck would be driven a short distance, to where accomplices are waiting. The armored car would be ditched nearby, Leonardo says. "Then you meet the other guys. Everything goes into four or five cars and you're gone," he says. (Ranieri and his accomplices in the 1990 AMSA heist in Henrietta Ranieri has never admitted who the others were used a similar tactic, according to law enforcement accounts.) Drug-dealing links Wydysh argues in court papers that Leonardo's zealous planning of armored car robberies though the heists weren't carried out is proof of the law- sentence SHAWN D0WD staff photographer Vaccaro, left, Dave Cashion at plotted to kill Vaccaro. Anthony Delmonti, a Cleveland-based hoodlum, worked as a federal informant against Leonardo. Albert Ranieri, a Leonardo co-conspirator, is serving 30 years for racketeering. John Speranza withdrew as Leonardo's attorney, citing irreconcilable professional differences. yer's predilection for crime. And prosecutors have other allegations at hand if Leonardo were to be tried, suspicions that they shelved when he accepted the plea deal in 2001. Court papers in cases unconnected to Leonardo's crimes show that prosecutors were lining up possible witnesses against him in 2001. In a 2001 admission to credit card fraud, an escort service operator alleged that Leonardo solicited her to launder money. She was prepared to wear a wire to surreptitiously get more information about Leonardo's offenses, but ultimately her help was not needed, prosecutors decided In another case, court papers show, the FBI suspected that a fitness trainer who participated in a steroid-trafficking network also helped transfer laundered money between Leonardo and Delmonti. The trainer, whom Leonardo once represented, also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors if needed. Some of the most damning allegations against Leonardo could come from another client a major Buffalo cocaine dealer. In 1999, authorities busted a major cocaine-distribution chain in Buffalo. Central to that 'cocaine network were David Williams and Mark Overall. Williams knew whom he wanted as his attorney Leonardo. Leonardo had represented him on earlier criminal charges, and was defending him at the time on an illegal weapons charge that stemmed from a traffic stop. Williams knew Leonardo well or, as authorities would later claim, too well. As with many drug cases, defendants started falling over one another at the opportunity to reduce their sentences by testifying against coconspirators. As a confidant of Williams, Overall was especially valuable. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. At the grand jury, Overall outlined what he knew about the cocaine enterprise. He also detailed other criminal acts he claimed Williams had committed with Leonardo. Overall said he was with Wil- J i I. ,y What's next Anthony Leonardo Jr. is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in front of Judge David Larimer at 9:30 a.m. Friday. The hearing will focus on Leonardo's claims that he was entrapped into committing crimes. Larimer could either decide in court or issue a ruling in the following weeks. The courtroom is on the second floor of the Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building, 100 State St., in downtown Rochester. The hearing is open to the public. Anthony Leonardo Jr.'s life and career: July 30, 1947. Born in Rochester. 1965. Graduates from McQuaid Jesuit High School. 1969. Graduates from Cani-sius College in Buffalo. 1972. Graduates from Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio. 1973. Admitted to law practice and joins firm of Thomas G. Presutti, where he becomes a partner. Later enters private practice. 1976. Represents David Bowie after the rock star is charged with marijuana possession following 1976 Rochester concert. 1980. Represents former Monroe County Sheriff's Chief of Detectives William Mahoney, who is convicted of fabricating evidence against the mob. 1981. Represents Joseph John "Mad Dog" Sullivan, convicted in the 1981 slaying of a Rochester Teamsters official. 1989. String of five consecutive homicide acquittals comes to an end in a case in which Charles Siragusa, now a federal judge, is the prosecutor. 1992. Represents Albert M. Ranieri after the Rochester-area man is arrested on charges stemming from a 1990 armored car robbery of $10.8 million. Authorities later drop charges. 1993. Represents retired Rochester police Capt. James O'Brien, one of five Rochester police officers acquitted of abusing criminal suspects. 1994. Represents Samuel Ignatius Millar, a former Irish activist convicted of conspiracy to possess money stolen during a $7.4 million heist from the Brink's depot on South Avenue. Summer 1999. Opens Charlotte nightclub, Club Titanic, with money fronted by Ranieri. May 5, 2000. Anthony Vaccaro, Leonardo's partner in Club Titanic, is fatally shot in gangland-style slaying in Greece. Dec. 29, 2000. Leonardo arrested with Ranieri in Henrietta on charges of cocaine-trafficking conspiracy. Aug. 9, 2001. Leonardo pleads guilty to conspiracies to commit murder, traffic cocaine, and launder money. Dec. 3, 2002. Ranieri pleads guilty to racketeering crimes, including Vaccaro's murder and 1990 armored car robbery. December 2004. Weeks away from sentencing, Leonardo challenges his plea agreement, claiming he was entrapped into committing crimes. liams twice when there was an exchange of silencers between Williams and Leonardo. Overall alleged Leonardo gave Williams silencers for firearms in the summer of 1998. Then, in December 1998, Overall claimed, Williams delivered silencers to Leonardo so Leonardo could have them modified to be more effective. Overall also claimed that Leonardo had once helped hide a witness who was scheduled to testify in a rape case against another drug dealer whom Leonardo had defended. Leonardo's former lawyer, Speranza, would not comment for this story, saying he was ethically prohibited because of the pending motion by his former client. But those claims about the connection with Williams did briefly arise at Leonardo's bail hearing in January 2001, and Speranza maintained then that there was no proof to support them. A federal appellate court last year, however, determined that Williams' life sentence should be reconsidered. Leonardo did not seek a plea deal for Williams, likely because he was involved with him in crimes, the court ruled. (Williams had a different lawyer at trial, so the court let his conviction stand.) Williams' appellate lawyer, Gary Greenwald of Chester, Orange County, said last week that Williams has never disputed that he delivered the silencers to Leonardo. He said Williams had known Leonardo for more than five years, but their relationship had detoured from the standard attorney-client connection. "I guess you don't typically go up to your attorney and buy a gun from the guy," he said. GCRAIGraiDemocratandChronicle.com

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