United States v. Riccardi
Detective & Bklyn ADA Get It Done, No Ifs Ands Or Butts
August 9, 2012
Gangland | By Jerry Capeci
Their names are not in the court papers. And they are unlikely to get a mention at the trial. But NYPD detective Peter McMahon and state prosecutor Chris Blank, having diligently sifted through hours of cell phone logs, video tape and even cigarette butts, are the main reasons that two gangsters are facing federal murder charges in Brooklyn.
If McMahon, and Blank, a veteran assistant district attorney, had been left to their own devices, however, three gangsters– including the triggerman, Bonanno associate Hector (Junior) Pagan – would have been prosecuted for the July 2, 2010 robbery murder of Luchese associate James Donovan in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn.
From court records and interviews with city, state and federal law enforcement officials, here’s the inside story of how McMahon and Blank – assisted by NYPD cops and detectives with the city’s Business Integrity Commission (BIC) – solved the case and acquired the DNA and other evidence that the feds plan to use against Richard Riccardi and Luigi Grasso, a.k.a. Ronnie Petrino. BIC is both a law enforcement and regulatory agency that oversees the private carting industry and others businesses that are prone to infiltration and corrupt activities by the mob.
McMahon, a former Housing cop assigned to Brooklyn South Homicide, moved quickly after he caught the case around 11 pm, when Donovan, hit in the femoral artery in his left thigh with the single shot that struck him shortly after 2 pm, died at Lutheran Medical Center.
McMahon picked up the reports and witness statements that crime scene cops had acquired, as well as the surveillance video of a nearby Key Food Supermarket, which has a parking lot behind the store that overlooks the auto body shop at 2522 West 3d St. at the corner of Cobek Court – where the robbery-murder took place.
“He took it home with him and watched it at regular speed and slow speed,” said one investigative source. McMahon determined, the source added, that a white Toyota Corolla that had carried the robbers, and a second car, a black Mercedes, had rendezvoused in the parking lot and waited for Donovan to arrive for nearly two hours.
Early Saturday morning, McMahon teamed up with detectives and cops assigned to BIC, which had been investigating Donovan for money laundering and other charges at the time. Together, they searched the Key Food lot where the two cars had sat waiting for their victim to arrive.
“Pete said these guys were here two hours, there’s gotta be some cigarette butts here,” said a BIC investigator.
Sure enough they found plenty of butts. Over the next several months, sources say investigators established that Pagan, Grasso and Gambino associate Nunzio (Nicky) DeCarlo, who had served 16 years behind bars for a 1980s drug murder, had been in the Key Food parking lot where the Toyota was parked through DNA testing of cigarette butts that were retrieved there.
Two weeks after the robbery, ADA Blank learned that DeCarlo, who owned a white Toyota Corolla, was involved in the caper when the ex-con was spotted in a Bank Of America surveillance photo. DeCarlo was visible right behind a low-level heroin dealer named Vincent Baker after he had deposited thousands of dollars in checks that were stolen from Donovan into his own account.
A few days later, on July 21, when Baker, a violent felon was arrested on heroin trafficking charges by the city’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor and ordered held without bail, DeCarlo, a longtime heroin abuser, was in court to show support for his drug supplier at his arraignment. DeCarlo died of a drug overdose three months later.
Through search warrants for cell phones that Baker had when he was arrested, and follow-up searches of cars, homes and garages, Blank obtained GPS data from more than 30 cell phones used by the suspects. The results tied defendants Grasso and Riccardi, as well as Pagan and DeCarlo to the murder, according to court papers filed by Brooklyn federal prosecutors Darren LaVerne and Nicole Argentieri. As Gang Land first reported, DEA agents flipped Pagan, and the U.S. Attorney's office gave him a cooperation deal.
Sources say that Blank also obtained records of phone calls from Baker, who was detained at Rikers Island, to DeCarlo, that will help corroborate the evidence on the Key Food video.
“On the video,” said one law enforcement source, “you can see Donovan’s white Lexus come down the street and the white car back up and leave the lot and follow while the black car sits by the fence.”
A minute or so later, the white Toyota boxed in the white Lexus that had parked in front of the body shop, Pagan and Grasso jumped out of the car, and told Donovan to stay in the car,
“Donovan spun around and attempted to evade his assailants,” the prosecutors wrote, but Pagan “fired at Donovan, hitting him in the leg. Grasso retrieved a bag from Donovan’s car, containing tens of thousands of dollars in cash and checks. The men returned to the white Toyota and fled.”
A few minutes later, the black Mercedes, which was owned and driven by Riccardi, according to court papers, passed the murder scene, about 100 yards away from the auto body shop where the mortally wounded Donovan ran and then crawled, until he collapsed, and was found by police lying in a pool of blood at about 2:17 pm on Friday, July 2, 2010.
Lt. Chris Mahon, of the BIC, told Gang Land that the suspects escaped with $90,000 in cash and about $60,000 in checks that Donovan had with him when he was shot.
At the time of his death, as was first reported by Wall Street Journal reporter Sean Gardiner, the BIC was investigating Donovan and Luchese associate Anthony Castelle for money laundering and other charges connected to Castelle’s private sanitation company, Coney Island Container.
As a result of that investigation, the BIC revoked Castelle’s license to operate a private carting company to dispose of “waste materials resulting from building, demolition, construction, alteration or excavation” because he lacks the “good character, honesty and integrity” required by the city charter, said Commissioner Shari Hyman.
After a companion probe, said Hyman, the BIC cancelled a similar license for Absolute Trucking when it determined that Castelle’s brother, Luchese capo John (Big John) Castellucci, a racketeer with numerous state and federal raps on his record, was a silent, undisclosed owner of the company. Castellucci was listed on the firm’s books as a truck driver named John Castelle.
“Mob-linked companies are like Willie Sutton - they go where the money is,” said Hyman. “Our investigation into lucrative cardboard theft by the mob-linked carting companies Absolute Trucking and Coney Island Container led us to the perpetrators of a homicide and took fifteen guns off the street.”
Hyman, who said the work of McMahon and Blank in the case was “excellent,” told Gang Land that her agency was cooperating in the federal prosecution.
Grasso’s lawyer could not be reached. Riccardi’s court-appointed lawyer, Susan Kellman said she was “shocked” that the government is considering seeking the death penalty for her client.
“My client never left his car,” said Kellman. “The murder took place around the corner, and they say he’s eligible for the death penalty. Is anybody in charge here? The main rat says my client’s the shooter, then whoops, it turns out the videotape shows he wasn’t there. Now he’ll change his tune and probably say my client furnished the gun. The cooperator will say whatever the government wants him to say so he can get the gold ring at the end of his ride.”
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