Click. Cops Skip State Laws to Keep Drug Money


Click. Grand jury report dispute could have been avoided.

by Jay C. Ambler © 2000

     San Jose
     The first Italian-American to organize street crimes in the San Jose area was Onofrio Sciortino. The date of his accomplishments was considered to be 1942. It is almost certain that organized crime existed before this date. Sciortino would derive a majority of his profits from loansharking, gambling and prostitution. He was considered the first official La Cosa Nostra crime boss of San Jose until his death from natural causes on September 10, 1959.

     Sciortino’s successor was his underboss Joseph Cerrito. The new boss would be seen as probably the most successful of all crimelords over a very small family. Cerrito came to America from Sicily iduring the 1920s and moved to the San Jose area in the early 1940s. During the November 1957 Appalachin Summit of mob bosses, Cerrito was one of many who was caught by law enforcement and would answer to a grand jury on the matter in 1959. In October of 1964 Cerrito was identified when he was found meeting Bonnano LCN Family former consigliere Frank Garofalo at a hotel in Palermo, Sicily. It was believed that the two were discussing the ensuing war within the Bonnano crime family, which would later be dubbed as the “Banana War”. Cerrito was a well accomplished businessman, with two car dealerships in San Jose and one in Los Gatos. In the late 1960s Cerrito and “made” solder, Pete Misuraca, would be implicated but never brought to trial for an attempted extortion plot against of a Reno based resort. In 1968 LIFE Magazine publicly identified Cerrito as the crime boss over San Jose. He sued for libel but the case was eventually dismissed. He died on September 8, 1978 from natural causes.

     Angelo Marino, a long time capo under the Cerrito reign, was selected as the new boss over the San Jose rackets. Marino was a very well connected individual. He had close ties with San Jose mayor, from 1968-1974, Joseph Alioto. He was also close with long time San Francisco LCN Family boss James “Jimmy” Lanza, consigliere to the Los Angeles LCN Family and FBI informant Frank “The Bomp” Bompensiero. Marino owned and operated the California Cheese Company. His father, Salvatore, a long time member of the Pittsburgh LCN Family, willed this company to him. His company held dominance, controlling 85% of the cheese distribution in California and 50% west of the Mississippi River.

     In October 1977 Marino was indicted, along with his son, for the murder of father and son, Orlando and Peter Catelli. The reason behind the crime was the previously Peter had attempted to obtain a job with Marino’s company. When Marino denied him a position, he attempted to extort $100,000 from him and Marino ordered his father to kill him. His father refused and both were met with bullets. The father, Orlando, survived and agreed to testify for the prosecution. Marino would use his bad health to avoid going to trial for the next three years. He, however, continued to operate his crime family from a hospital. On October 12, 1980 Marino was convicted of second-degree murder and attempted murder. The conviction was later overturned on appeals and he was released. Marino died of a heart attack in February of 1983.

     Since the death of Marino in 1983 Emmanuel Joseph Figlia has been considered the boss over the remaining San Jose LCN Family. Although the hierarchy of the crime family appears to be have been weathered down, there are several members still around and many eastern crime families have since moved in on the rackets. There has also been an influx of Asian gangs too. In 1998 Salvatore Marino, son of the previously mentioned Angelo, was released after serving four years for gun possession. It is not known if he or even the once tightly controlled crime family is still active.

Special Acknowledgement:
Scott M. Dietche Scott Liebraudher

Sources Used:
San Jose Mercury News, various articles, 1975-1983.
US Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Organized Crime: Twenty Five Years After Valachi, 1988.

Report: Cops Skip State Laws to Keep Drug Money
Departments Pocket Proceeds by Bringing in Feds

May 23, 2000 © 7/12/00

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Police across the country sidestep state laws to ensure that millions of dollars seized in drug raids and traffic stops remain in police hands, The Kansas City Star reports.

In a yearlong investigation, The Star examined more than two dozen states to determine how law enforcement officers handled forfeited drug money and property. The newspaper found that in each state examined, police used federal law enforcement to circumvent their own state laws and keep most of the money for themselves.

Related Stories:

Bill Makes It Harder to Seize Property

Congress Says Cops Abuse Property Seizure Laws

House Bill on Confiscated Property Criticized

Law enforcement officials say the practice is legal and that police would be handcuffed in fighting crime without that money.

The Star reported in the first of a two-part series Sunday that police retain most of the money by calling a federal agency during a drug seizure instead of going to state court. An agency such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) accepts the seizure, making it a federal case. The DEA keeps a cut of the money and returns the rest to police. As a result, state courts are bypassed.

Doesn't go to education

Consequently, millions of dollars that lawmakers have designated for education, drug treatment programs and other purposes instead stay with police, The Star reported.

For example, a North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper stopped a driver for tailgating. A police dog signaled that drugs were in the car, where troopers found $105,700 and 2 grams of marijuana. The driver denied ownership of the drugs and the money.

The highway patrol gave it to the DEA, which returned more than $80,000 to the state patrol, even though North Carolina law generally requires sending seized money to education.

Federal officials say police have the proper motives for using federal law.

"I don't think police agencies are in the business of profiting," said Jerry McDowell, director of the Justice Department's asset forfeiture and money laundering division.

Reclaiming harder in federal court

Beyond the money diverted from public funds, critics also are troubled by the weakening of a basic civil liberty -- the Bill of Rights protection against improper search and seizure.

Owners trying to recover seized property usually face a much tougher road in federal court than they would under their own state laws.

The federal handoffs also create an opportunity for police to profit from their own actions, critics say.

"If you think that by conducting an illegal search and seizing people on the highway you can increase the number of times where you can take assets, it is going to become a big motivating force," said Ira Glasser, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

$208,454,000 in seizures accepted

Forfeitures have come to mean a lot of money for police.

The Justice Department says that from October 1996 through March 1999, it accepted $208,454,000 in seizures from state and local police -- much of which was returned to those agencies.

Police say they need the money to continue the war on drugs. If they lose forfeiture money, they say, local governments are unlikely to replace it.

Grand jury report dispute could have been avoided
Oakland Tribune © 2000 July 14, 2000

THE ALAMEDA County Grand Jury report that was censored by the presiding judge of the Superior Court is getting more attention than if he had judiciously put that pencil down.

No doubt Judge William McKinstry thought he was doing the right thing by editing the jury's recommendation for stricter oversight by Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte over Chief Probation Officer Sylvia Johnson.

But he has stirred up a hornet's nest in the legal community and among grand jurors, who say they were "seriously threatened with arrest" if they talked to the media.

Those I spoke with staunchly maintain the censorship was unwarranted and the excised material only stated what must be done to correct Johnson's "lack of management skills."

The jury's final report was to

have been made public July 14-15 but "due to printing difficulties" it will not be released until July 21, said Deputy District Attorney Jeff Stark, the jury's adviser since March.

This is the second time the release has been delayed.

The dispute might have been avoided had the jury been advised that its key recommendation could only be implemented by asking the voters to change the Alameda County charter. The grand jury is recommending that the probation chief report to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

But in 1994, voters approved a county charter revision that calls for the chief probation officer to "report to the entire superior court" with the caveat the change will take place only after the incumbent probation chief no longer is in the office and a new one is appointed.

Until then, the charter requires the chief probation officer to be supervised solely by the presiding juvenile court judge.

It seems a serious omission that this pertinent information was not even mentioned in the jury's report, either the edited or unedited versions.

This is the fourth year the grand jury has issued a report critical of the probation chief, and it reflects considerably more thought and research than prior jury reports on the same subject.

In the edited version, the report says the probation chief "publicly berates deputy proba- tion officers, abruptly transfers officers, reassigns them after they make minor complaints and micro-manages day-to-day activities."

The report is based on interviews with probation workers.

"They (the employees) paint a picture of a chief probation officer who tolerates no dissent, makes punitive transfers and who does not adequately recognize or reward good work.

"This lack of management skill has resulted in the retirement of many experienced deputy probation officers, low morale and employees who work in fear of punitive actions."

At first, the 19 jurors voted unanimously not to sign off on McKinstry's initial edited version. Later, with great reluctance, the jury accepted a second McKinstry edit of the report, which is the one to be released. But no one is happy about it, say those I spoke with.

The unhappiness seems to be mutual because none of the outgoing jurors was asked to stay on a second year, a practice that has given continuity to new grand juries.

McKinstry was not at work when I tried to reach him, but his reasoning for the editing was confirmed by Judge Harbin-Forte, who has been in her job seven months. His main point was that the grand jury has no jurisdiction over the courts and no right to comment on the judge who supervises the chief probation officer.

The penal code section describing what can be excised from a grand jury report by a presiding judge restricts the editing to "defamatory or libelous" statements. "That is all that the presiding judge may redact or mask," says Penal Code section 929.

A comparison of the edited and unedited versions shows most recommendations remain intact regarding the conduct of the probation chief. Unflattering references to Harbin-Forte are eliminated.

I was able to read both versions and it appears no language implies actions on the part of Harbin-Forte that could be considered libelous. The unedited report says there is "an apparent unwillingness on the part of Judge Harbin-Forte to acknowledge that a problem exists or use her sole supervisory authority over Johnson." Not a harsh comment compared, say, with the language reserved for Sylvia Johnson.

The jury's major recommendation is that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors take "immediate action to change the supervision of the probation chief from the court to the Board of Supervisors, as is the case of all other appointed department heads." This is the recommendation that can only be implemented by a vote of the people.

Another recommendation calls for the probation department and the supervisors to have a performance audit of the department by a state or federal agency, and to require Johnson to continue getting counseling to improve interpersonal relations with staff.

When I spoke with Harbin-Forte, she maintained that her main concern is what is happening with the children in the juvenile justice system. She said the big fuss over the grand jury report distracts her from this work.

"I had nothing to do with the editing of the jury report. I can take criticism but not appalling lies and distortions," Harbin-Forte said.

The current charter provision that gives the juvenile court presiding judge full say over the probation chief was approved by the voters in 1981 when former presiding juvenile court Judge Wilmont Sweeney, who hired Johnson, had the job.

"Three previous juvenile court judges found no cause for firing the probation chief, and I've only been in the position seven months. It hardly seems fair," Harbin-Forte said.

One of the few things the players in this drama seem to agree on is that the issues are neither sexist nor racist, a frequent charge in defense of Johnson.

Five African-American women were on the grand jury, one of whom said there was unanimity among them that they would not "protect" Johnson from criticism just because she also is African-American. The same attitude was expressed by Harbin-Forte, also an African-American woman.

"I'm appalled that this issue has been framed as racist or sexist by some people as if I were shielding the probation chief because she's a person of color. What I'm really concerned about is I don't hear a voice for children."

© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers