With his trial on racketeering charges set to begin next month, Albert "The Old Man" Facchiano may be living proof that the only way to leave the mafia is feet first.
Facchiano, 96, is believed to be the oldest person ever indicted by the federal government and would likely be the country's most senior of senior-citizen inmates if convicted and sent to prison for alleged violent service to the Genovese crime family.
A federal grand jury last year issued a six-count indictment of Facchiano and six other South Florida men tied to the New York mob, alleging they ran the mafia's Miami operations and engaged in "a pattern of racketeering activity" that included extortion, robbery, money laundering and loan sharking.
It is unclear from the Florida indictment whether Facchiano is suspected of actually pulling a trigger or wielding a lead pipe. But a parallel New York indictment of 30 reputed Genovese members specifically accuses the nonagenarian of trying to intimidate or eliminate a witness in the federal government's case against the nation's most powerful crime family.
Facchiano's attorney, Brian McComb, said he was trying to negotiate a plea bargain for his client, whom he describes as having "a lot of medical problems" but still able to participate effectively in his own defense. The accused, who will turn 97 on March 10, is in full possession of his mental faculties "so far," McComb said. "I think this is going to end up being worked out," the lawyer from the Florida Gold Coast city of Stuart predicted.
But the U.S. attorney's office for south Florida reports that its prosecution of Facchiano is on track to begin Feb. 22 in the court of U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn.
"I think the judge gave us sufficient time, and I think he intends to go forward. We're ready to go to trial," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey N. Kaplan.
The federal prosecutor said he couldn't comment on whether a plea bargain was underway. He also said the defendant's age was not a matter for consideration, at least at this stage of the case. Kaplan said federal guidelines allude to the issue of a defendant's age or infirmity only in sentencing provisions.
An undercover FBI operation supported by federal tax authorities led to the grand jury indictment in June, which details extensive mob-related activities by the Florida defendants from 1994 to 2006. The FBI wouldn't have brought the charges against Facchiano if it wasn't committed to prosecuting the man despite his age, said the bureau's Miami spokeswoman, Judy Orihuela.
"When they indict someone, they pretty much already know the person's background," she said, suggesting that if age was a consideration, it had been rejected as an obstacle to prosecution.
After a reputed life of crime that began before the Great Depression, Facchiano is no stranger to the inside of the federal prison network. His first conviction, on robbery and fencing charges, stemmed from a 1932 arrest, and he was also jailed for mob activity in 1936 and 1944. His last incarceration, an eight-year stretch on a 25-year sentence for racketeering, ended in 1989.
Jerry Capeci, a mafia historian and operator of the website Gang Land -- www.ganglandnews.com -- mentioned Facchiano last month in his weekly account of mob developments. He quoted from a reported FBI wiretap of another elderly mobster deriding the notion that he and Facchiano could have committed the crimes with which they were accused.
"I tell you, if we pull the trigger, we woulda fell on the floor," alleged Genovese capo John "Buster" Ardito told an associate wearing a wire for the FBI, according to Capeci.
Facchiano is free on his personal recognizance and a signature bond, said McComb. He is living with a daughter in upscale Bal Harbour, and will not speak to the media until his case is resolved, McComb said.
Neither the Federal Bureau of Prisons nor the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics could say definitively that there are no prisoners as old as Facchiano currently incarcerated. But officials at both offices, as well as McComb, speculated that the 96-year-old was the nation's oldest alleged criminal.
"We don't have that information. We would need a database of every single prisoner incarcerated in the United States and we don't" have one, said Justice Department statistician Paige Harrison. She noted that less than half of 1% of the country's 1.5 million prisoners are older than 55 -- the highest age category on which the department keeps statistics -- "so if you start getting into 'older than 80' or 'older than 90,' you're talking about really, really small numbers."
If convicted, Facchiano, also known as "Chinky," could confront a prison sentence of as much as 60 years and fines up to $750,000, according to the federal prosecution statement issued at the time of his indictment. Even then, age alone isn't expected to be a factor in determining the length of time he serves.
"There are some jurisdictions that do compassionate releases based on illness, which may be coupled with the age factor," Harrison said. "But they're not going to release anyone simply because they're old."
Advocates of sentencing reform contend there would be little purpose in imprisoning a man of Facchiano's age.
"What benefit is society going to get from incarcerating an individual who is 96 years old? Does he demonstrate a threat to anyone? If the answer is no, the question is whether there are other means of addressing his sentencing other than prison," said Ryan King, policy analyst for the Washington-based Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group that urges alternatives to incarceration in cases with extenuating circumstances.
"If an individual is elderly and offers less of a threat of escape or other risks, he could be put in a lower-security facility" or allowed to serve his time under house arrest or electronic supervision, King added. "I'm not saying if an individual is found guilty, he shouldn't be given some sort of punishment -- the question is, what kind of punishment is appropriate?"