Robert (Fat Bobby) Paduano, a reputed organized-crime figure from Newport Beach, was indicted Friday on charges of using robbery, burglary, assault and extortion to shake down suspected drug dealers and force them into buying cocaine from his own criminal enterprise.
Paduano, 45, was named in a 73-count indictment along with co-defendant John Matua, a 22-year-old Westminster man serving 14 years in Folsom Prison for robbery, assault and false imprisonment.
In the indictment returned by the Orange County Grand Jury, Paduano and Matua were charged with conspiracy, robbery, assault, false imprisonment, assault with a firearm, extortion, and sale or distribution of narcotics. Paduano was arrested Thursday night and remained jailed Friday on $5-million bail.
Paduano, owner of a Tustin investment firm, was arraigned before Superior Court Judge Myron S. Brown. As the defendant sat in a holding cell with two dozen other prisoners, Brown set his trial for April 6 and a preliminary hearing for March 2.
Prosecutors alleged that between January, 1986, and October, 1987, Paduano and Matua conspired to rob suspected drug dealers and eventually used threats and intimidation to force them into buying cocaine from Paduano and giving him a cut of the sales profits.
Originally from the East Coast and known familiarly as "Fat Bobby," Paduano was named in a 1978 report by the state Organized Crime Control Commission as one of 92 Californians with underworld connections.
One veteran Orange County law officer, who has worked on Paduano investigations, described the suspect as "a guy who has moved around and made something for himself. He has the reputation for getting things done. He's into all kinds of different things--white collar crimes, drugs, burglaries. Supposedly he has some ties to Vegas."
But Alan May, Paduano's attorney, denied that his client had ties to organized crime and suggested that Paduano may have been framed by people with their own legal problems who were trying to make a deal for leniency with prosecutors.
"This is the third time in a row they have gone after him, first the feds and then Orange County. They take turns indicting him and acquitting him," May said, describing Paduano as a "very generous man."
"The problem is, most of the organized crime is from Asia," May said. "That is the real tough one. They really don't want to go after them (Asians). So they go after the old Italian names to justify your section and your budget and to justify why you aren't going after the real organized crime. That way, you have weekends off and Wednesday for golf."
According to the indictment, the victims of the conspiracy lived in Newport Beach, Fountain Valley and the Palm Springs area.
"The theory is that he (Paduano) would follow the robberies and coerce certain victims to sell drugs being provided by him," said Wallace J. Wade, an Orange County deputy district attorney.
One investigator who was involved in the case said Paduano "would use fear and implied threats to accomplish this . . . kind of, 'If you want to do business, you'll have to deal with us on this thing.' It was very subtle."
Wade said Paduano hired Matua and another man to break into and rob five houses. He said some of the victims were threatened at gunpoint, but no one was physically harmed during the robberies.
Prosecutors said tens of thousands of dollars in cash, jewelry and drugs were taken in the robberies.
Paduano was not accused of actually participating in the robberies, but rather conspiring to commit them. Paduano, the indictment said, met with Matua to target their victims and then paid Matua to actually pull off the robberies.
"We're not sure how they picked their victims," Wade said. "I don't think there was necessarily one set way in which these victims were picked out.
"There are certain elements, or small communities in the Newport Beach area, that have a very good grapevine," he added. "We think that some of this was grapevine information as to who knew who and who had what."
In addition to Paduano and Matua, two other people were named in the 17-page indictment as participating in some of the robberies, but no one else was indicted. Wade said only that there already has been some grants of immunity and discussions are under way about granting immunity to unnamed others.
Authorities said the investigation into Paduano and Matua had been under way for some time and had brought together law enforcement agencies from Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Irvine and the organized crime bureau of Dist. Atty. Cecil Hicks' office.
The 73-count indictment was just the latest legal trouble for Paduano. By 1977, a full year before he was named as one of California's organized crime figures, he already had been convicted of arson and conspiracy to distribute cocaine,
In May, 1986, Paduano and another reputed underworld figure, Michael A. Rizzitello, were acquitted on charges of scheming to defraud a Montana company of hundreds of thousands of shares of the firm's stock.
Paduano, Rizzitello and another man had been charged with illegally transferring stock worth more than $3 million by bribing an official of a stock registration and transfer firm and then selling the shares for about $144,000. Some 11,000 shares were allegedly transferred to a Tustin firm headed by Paduano.