Petti Loses Probation as Informer Testifies

Times Staff Writer

Probation for Chris Petti was revoked Friday after federal court testimony that the reputed mobster received payments from San Diego businessman Richard T. Silberman for his alleged role in an illegal money-laundering operation.

The ruling, which means Petti could receive up to five years in prison, came after two days of hearings in which the government alleged that Petti violated the terms of his 1984 probation on a bookmaking conviction by associating with known bookmakers, refusing to pay his $25,000 fine and consistently failing to report his income to authorities.

U. S. District Judge Leland C. Nielsen was short and direct in announcing his decision.

“It’s clear and convincing that Mr. Petti violated his probation,” the judge said. “It is so found, and his probation is revoked.”


‘Probation Is a Trust’

Assistant U. S. Atty. Charles Gorder said after the hearing that he was undecided on how much time he will request that Petti serve when sentencing is held May 16.

But the prosecutor added that “probation is a trust. If you violate that trust, you go to jail. And that’s what Mr. Petti faces.”

Petti’s attorney, Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas, said he will present a number of letters of recommendation on behalf of Petti and arguing for a light sentence.

“Mr. Petti is a very charming, delightful fellow, and I think people in this community will characterize him that way,” Goodman said. “I think it’s only fair that the judge see him in that light.”

The government has a different opinion.

According to court records, the FBI began a lengthy, complex probe of Petti’s activities covering 2 1/2 years in a case that eventually led to the money-laundering charges against him, Silberman and two other defendants.

Testimony From Felon

The government contends that Silberman, a political fund-raiser and top aide to former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., was introduced by Petti to an FBI undercover agent posing as a man wanting to launder money for Colombian drug dealers.


All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The key witness in Friday’s hearing was Robert Benjamin, a longtime convicted felon who turned government informant and worked with FBI agents to snare Petti and Silberman in the money-laundering case.

Benjamin testified in his deep, gravelly voice that he and Petti split some of the proceeds from the money laundering after Petti was paid by Silberman.

He said they met about lunchtime March 17 in the Grill Room restaurant at the Stardust Hotel & Country Club in Mission Valley, where Petti discussed baseball, horses and $5,000 he had been paid by Silberman.

“He said, ‘I got that,’ meaning money he had picked up from Silberman,” Benjamin said. “He advised me the day before it was $5,000.”

Counted the Money

Later that day, Benjamin said, they met in the hotel’s steam room.

“Mr. Petti counted the money and said it was $5,000,” Benjamin said. “He said he needed to keep some of the money for himself because he had some debts.”

But Benjamin said Petti paid him $800 in cash, which Benjamin said he later turned over to the FBI.


The witness further testified that the “debts” Petti referred to concerned loans involving his Pacific Beach home on Blackmore Court.

An FBI agent also testified that that house, which was legally owned by Petti’s brother, Jimmy Poulos, carried a second deed of trust that was being paid by Nick De Pento, a San Diego lawyer and close friend of Petti’s, who also represented Petti when he was blacklisted by Nevada from that state’s casinos.

In other questioning, Benjamin said he and Petti each received at least $450 as part of their cut of a $5,000 payment made by the undercover agent in the bingo games on the Rincon Indian Reservation, Benjamin said.

The exact reason for that government expenditure was not made clear in court, and both Gorder and Goodman refused to discuss whether it involved an FBI investigation into mob influence over Indian gambling.

Criminal Record Noted

Goodman, in cross-examining Benjamin, noted that the witness had a lengthy criminal record, which includes arrests dating back to 1951 and eight felony convictions.

“Mr. Benjamin is a felon,” Goodman said. “He’s been involved in crimes involving moral turpitude, and he admits that.”


In other testimony, George Macey, also known as George Molsbarger, a known Southern California bookmaker, testified about a meeting he had last May at a Los Angeles area delicatessen with Petti and Carmen DiNunzio, a reputed mob strongman.

Macey said he was meeting with a man who owed $57,000 in lost wagers when suddenly Petti and DiNunzio “slid into the booth” and began discussing the problems of another man who once was connected with the Rose Bowl, a legal sports book in Las Vegas.

Macey said he was told that this man had since gone bankrupt and now owed a large sum of money to an individual identified only as “Lucky from Chicago.” Macey said Petti and DiNunzio gave him the impression that he might have to shoulder some of that debt as well and that Macey might need some protection for his own safety.

“Comments were made to me that maybe I ought to be under somebody’s wing,” Macey said. “Chris made the comment that, ‘Sometimes when you eat alone, you choke.’ ”

Several Wagers

Also testifying was Thomas Spry, who admitted being involved in illegal bookmaking. He discussed meeting in March, 1988, with Petti. He said Petti told him he knew “some players who were pretty good handicappers, and he wanted to know if I could get some plays set up for them.”

Spry said several wagers were made in various sporting events, resulting in a payoff of about $15,000. He said Petti then telephoned and instructed him to place $13,500 in a large envelope and the remaining $1,500 in a small envelope.


Following Petti’s instructions, Benjamin said he then met the two men at a Carlsbad restaurant, where he handed the large envelope to DiNunzio and the smaller package to Petti.

Marianne Jones, a probation department supervisor, testified that Petti never paid any of the $25,000 fine levied in his bookmaking conviction and that he reported receiving no income over the past five years.