Reputed mob leaders Peter John Milano and Luigi Gelfuso were ordered held without bail Wednesday by a Los Angeles judge who said there is evidence of a criminal organization that "deals in death, in the forms of drugs and vengeance."
U.S. District Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez denied bail for the two San Fernando Valley men based, in part, on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month endorsing "preventive detention" for defendants believed to present a threat to the community.
"It is a fact that Mr. Milano is charged with extremely serious offenses, including crimes of violence committed for extortion purposes, plots to commit murder and distribution of drugs," Fernandez said of the Westlake Village vending machine company owner and alleged boss of the Los Angeles Mafia.
But Fernandez expressed reservations about the evidence submitted so far by federal prosecutors, including a secretly recorded conversation in which Milano and Gelfuso discuss splitting several thousand dollars as part of a business transaction.
Prosecutors allege that the cash under discussion represents the proceeds of a cocaine sale, but defense attorneys contend that the conversation proves nothing.
"You'd think that considering the government's view of the importance of Mr. Milano, one would have seen something more," the judge said. "If the government wanted to accomplish what it accomplished by an eyelash, it sure went out of its way to do that."
A federal indictment against Milano, Gelfuso and 13 other alleged Mafia members and associates alleges that Milano headed an organization that unsuccessfully plotted the murders of at least three men over the last six years, one of them a cooperating government witness.
"Mr. Milano is the boss of the organized crime family in Los Angeles, and if released, the activities of that organization will continue with Mr. Milano at the head, and that, your honor, is a danger to the community," said Richard Small, attorney for the Justice Department's organized crime strike force in Los Angeles.
29 Racketeering Counts
The Supreme Court case arose when U.S. attorneys in New York sought to hold reputed Mafia boss Anthony Salerno, who had been indicted on 29 counts of racketeering. In two instances, Salerno was said to have ordered the murders of rival crime figures.
"I find it hard to square the Salerno decision with established principles of presumption of innocence," Milano's attorney, Donald Marks, said after the hearing.
"The presumption of danger, to me, is a very speculative one--easy to allege, difficult to prove," he said. "I think we're going down a very dangerous path in the sense that I think we're going to see an awful lot of defendants detained because the government thinks they're dangerous."
The detention order was particularly important in the present case, since the trial is not expected to begin until mid-October and will run an estimated four months. With the usual delays, the two men--and other defendants also held without bail--could be held for nearly a year without conviction.
Marks and Gelfuso's attorney, Martin Calaway, argued that there was no evidence that either man had plotted any murders. None of the three alleged targets was warned by government agents of any potential danger, and one of them, co-defendant John P. DeMattia, has told the court that he is convinced he was never in any danger.