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Reputed Crime Figure Seeking Plea Bargain, Attorneys Say : Trial: Robert Paduano is reported close to an agreement with prosecutors. The suspect’s presence in the judge’s chambers during negotiations is unusual.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reputed underworld figure Robert (Fat Bobby) Paduano, accused in a 71-count indictment of trying to become the cocaine czar of Newport Beach, has been negotiating a guilty plea with prosecutors in a judge’s chambers this week, his attorneys said Friday.

“It looks like we’re close,” said Terry Grant of Riverside, one of Paduano’s attorneys. “We expect to resolve this case without a trial, very possibly next week.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans would only say, “We’re talking. I can’t say we won’t go to trial, but we’re doing some serious talking.”

Paduano, 47, described by federal investigators as a minor underworld figure with ties to the Milano crime family in Los Angeles, has been in Orange County Jail on $500,000 bail since his arrest three years ago. He weighs about 340 pounds and wears his own clothes because jail clothes do not fit him.

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He is accused of masterminding a series of robberies, some of them against minor drug dealers. Prosecutors alleged that Paduano tried to coerce the dealers into paying him protection money or a cut in their drug operations.

One Paduano associate who turned against him told a grand jury in 1987 that Paduano once said: “Ain’t nobody going to deal (drugs) in my neighborhood. If they’re going to deal, they’re going to deal with us.”

Paduano faces a possible 20-year prison sentence if convicted of all the major counts against him. Lawyers involved refuse to say what Paduano would agree to in exchange for a guilty plea. He is also charged with conspiracy in a Palm Springs case, but that case is also headed by the Orange County district attorney’s office and would likely be included if a plea agreement is reached.

Paduano and his attorneys are scheduled to return to Superior Court Judge Luis A. Cardenas’ chambers in Westminster on Monday. Although defendants rarely participate in in-chambers discussions, Grant said Paduano has been present for most of those this week.

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Paduano was known to have ties to two underworld figures in Orange County--the late Big George Yudzevich, whose 1988 murder is still under investigation, and Anthony Rizzitello, an figure in the Milano crime family, now in prison following his attempted murder conviction in a shooting related to his attempted takeover of the now-defunct Mustang topless bar in Santa Ana.

Paduano and Rizzitello were involved in a joint finance venture in Los Angeles that resulted in their arrest by federal investigators, but they were both acquitted.

Paduano was also acquitted on earlier federal loan-sharking charges. His only conviction was on cocaine conspiracy charges in 1977, which resulted in a three-year prison sentence.

Two of the key witnesses against Paduano in the current case were former lovers, one of whom had been living with Paduano at a time in 1985 through 1987 when prosecutors claim he was active in the Newport Beach drug market. The other was Marilyn DeFalco, one of his alleged robbery victims.

She testified that after the robbery by two gunmen at her Fountain Valley home, where she was dealing drugs, Paduano offered to provide protection for her in exchange for 10% of her business.

“He said I needed for word to get out on the street that I was OK, that he was protecting me,” she testified at one hearing.

DeFalco has testified that she first became a drug dealer for Paduano, then became his lover. It wasn’t for another year and a half, she said, that she even began to suspect that Paduano was behind the robbery at her home.

The two robbers, now in prison, have since admitted their role and have said Paduano hired them.

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DeFalco admitted lying to the grand jury about her role in Paduano’s affairs but said later that she did it on Paduano’s orders.

Paduano’s trial has been delayed for three years while he has run through a series of different attorneys. He is now represented by Grant and San Francisco attorney Tony Serra, known for representing counterculture figures and drug dealers. Unless Paduano changes his plea to guilty, his trial is scheduled for April 5.


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