Bribery, Intimidation Reported Among Duties of Mafia Lawyers

Times Staff Writer

An imprisoned lawyer for New York Mafia families testified Wednesday that a cadre of mob attorneys regularly concocts false testimony, intimidates and bribes witnesses, corrupts public officials and takes its fees in cash to evade taxes.

Through his remarks, Martin Light, who has served 14 months of a 15-year sentence for possession of heroin, provided the President's Commission on Organized Crime with a rare first-hand account of "doing the right thing" for the mob.

Light's testimony demonstrates that these lawyers are "prepared to perform and acquiesce in unethical and unlawful acts for the benefit and preservation of organized crime families," said Barbara Ann Rowan, who conducted the hearing under heavy security at the commission's offices.

Questioned by deputy counsel Stephen M. Ryan on what he meant by "doing the right thing," Light, 50, noted that he had been born and reared in a predominantly Italian section of Brooklyn and knew many of his mob clients from childhood.

Neighborhood Ties Cited

"It was important that we grew up together," he said. "I was trusted to do the right thing--to protect the family. It's an expression. You have to come from the neighborhood."

"Would they kill you (for testifying before the commission)?" Ryan asked the witness.

"Without a doubt," Light responded.

Commission officials refused to disclose why Light, with whom they have been talking privately for a year, had decided to give public testimony. Until now, Light said, his wife has been receiving $400 a month from Carmine (Junior) Persico, whom he identified as boss of the Colombo crime "family" in New York.

Longs for New York

However, other federal sources said that Light has been imprisoned at the federal correctional institution in Texarkana, Tex., and longs to be closer to New York. Light now will enter the Justice Department's protected witness program and be transferred to a secure federal facility closer to New York, these sources said.

Light made clear that in representing a mob member, his primary responsibility was to the organization--and not the individual. Legal decisions would be made by mob bosses, not the defendant, he said.

Also, if he found that a mob member had consulted legal aid or a public defender, Light said, he reported it to the mob as a "tipoff" that the person "had gone bad" and might be cooperating with the government.

Trip to Israel Cited

In an example of how Mafia power had influenced criminal cases, Light recalled that in an insurance fraud case involving Frank Scalise, named as a "soldier" in the Luchese family and an employee of a mob-frequented bar in Brooklyn, the mob financed a trip to Israel for a key prosecution witness, who then failed to appear for the scheduled trial.

When the witness returned and the trial was reset, Light said, he was assured by Scalise that the witness would leave again. He did, and the case was dismissed, according to Light.

In another case, the jury panel included a disco waitress whom Light and the defendant knew--but had not told the judge.

"The dumb broad raises her hand and says, 'Judge, I know the defendant,' " Light recalled. As a result, the judge dropped her from the jury.

On the way out of the courthouse, Light said, mobsters wearing "white-on-white shirts and fedora hats" began to rough up the waitress. But the lawyer said he intervened and persuaded his client to call the mobsters off for fear that other jurors would see them.

Light estimated that there were "20 to 30" lawyers in New York trusted and used by the Mafia as he was. He said there is a nucleus of such lawyers in "all the major cities where there are organized crime families--Los Angeles, Kansas City, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami."

However, Light said "legitimate lawyers" cannot get the mob's business, asking: "Who would trust them?"

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