Morris Levy--longtime president of New York-based Roulette Records and one of the most colorful and influential figures in the U.S. record industry--was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday and fined $200,000 for conspiring to extort a customer in the 1984 purchase of more than 4 million so-called cutouts, or discontinued recordings, from MCA Records.
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Stanley S. Brotman in Camden, N.J., following a daylong hearing which saw the gruff-spoken, 61-year-old Levy described by his attorney as a devoted father and socially conscious philanthropist, and by the prosecution team as a heroin-trafficking tool of organized crime.
Levy's co-defendant in the case, Dominick Canterino, reputedly one of the most powerful members of New York's Genovese crime family, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $50,000. Lawyers for both men said in court that they would appeal. They remain free on $3 million bail.
The sentencing was the outgrowth of a 3 1/2-year investigation into alleged organized crime infiltration of the record business. Levy and Canterino were convicted by a jury last May of conspiring to extort John LaMonte, a Philadelphia-area record distributor, who purchased the MCA cutouts through Levy and two other reputed organized crime figures, Salvatore Pisello and Gaetano Vastola.
When LaMonte refused to pay the full $1.25-million purchase price for the recordings--claiming that the best titles had been skimmed from his order--he allegedly was beaten up by Vastola. Pisello recently was sentenced to four years in prison for evading taxes on more than $300,000 in income he earned through a series of business deals with MCA Records from 1983-85. Vastola is set to stand trial in Camden next month on charges of extortion and racketeering stemming from the MCA cutout deal.
Deal Called Legitimate
At the hearing Friday, Levy's lawyer, John J. Barry, argued that his client was respected businessman who was involved in a legitimate business deal but became frustrated when LaMonte refused to pay.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Repetto, countered that the MCA cutout transaction "wasn't a legitimate deal from start to finish."
"Sal Pisello was inside MCA dealing MCA product and the question that's never been answered is how Pisello got in there in the first place," Repetto said.
MCA claims that it has cooperated in the investigation and neither the company nor any of its executives has been accused of wrongdoing in the case.
Repetto also cited a September, 1985, conversation between Levy and Vastola in which Levy complained: "We paid more money to (Canterino) to keep the peace with MCA than we collected from LaMonte." That conversation was recorded by the FBI with a microphone and video camera that were concealed in Levy's Roulette Records office.
The FBI has long alleged that Levy and Roulette have acted as a "front" for Vincent (the Chin) Gigante, the reputed boss of the Genovese crime family. FBI agent Thomas Dossett testified at the hearing Friday that convicted Philadelphia heroin kingpin Roland Bartlett has told authorities that he also used Roulette as a front.
According to Dossett, Bartlett said he purchased between three and five kilograms of heroin a month from Levy, delivering cash to the Roulette office in a suitcase and then being directed to various places around New York and New Jersey where he would receive the drugs from "young Italians."
Levy's attorney disputed Dossett's account.