Oldfella

Battling cancer and investigating a botched federal investigation, mobster Vinnie Ciraolo is fighting to clear his name

Regan, now a commander at the Coconut Creek Police Department, also says Mitrione was the only true suspect from the beginning of the bomb investigation. Regan says he found a lot of circumstantial evidence indicating Mitrione was the culprit, including a witness who said she saw Mitrione in his red Volvo near Allen J's lounge at about the time Ciraolo picked up the bomb, a statement that contradicts Mitrione's alibi that he was out of town at the time.

But Mitrione wasn't cooperating with Regan in the attempted bombing case, and neither was the FBI. "It was more than tense," says Regan of his dealings with FBI agents. "The FBI seemed to be involved only to protect Mitrione. They wanted all my information but wouldn't tell me anything. I believe if they had really investigated it the right way, there would have been an indictment."

While Regan's investigation stalled, the FBI finally got Mitrione to speak in detail about it, and his story proved full of holes, discrepancies, and bizarre actions. The night the bomb was found, Sandini called Janet Mitrione, screaming that her husband had planted a bomb on his car and demanding to know where he was.

After first refusing to go into detail about the bomb, Mitrione finally told the whole story.

He said he'd gone to his mother's house in Fort Myers that night and slept alone in another house he owned in the same town. Mitrione couldn't explain why a phone call was made with his calling card from a Fort Lauderdale convenience store to his Cooper City house at 12:53 a.m. -- precisely one minute after Sandini's call the night of the bombing. Janet Mitrione later said that the voice on the mysterious phone call was unrecognizable and incoherent. This was just one of the numerous discrepancies and contradictions in Mitrione's story, according to FBI reports.

While Mitrione was always the prime suspect in the bombing, there was another name that came up -- Vinnie Ciraolo, though he was never seriously regarded as a suspect. "I don't know shit about bombs," he says. "Guns, I know about."

Mitrione, after prodding, also admitted to the FBI that the attempted bombing had a profound impact on him. The day after the bomb was found, Mitrione drove for hours before stopping in the Everglades, where he pulled out his revolver and considered killing himself. Mitrione says he knew Sandini believed he'd planted the bomb and figured that Sandini would then surely blab about all their crimes.

"I laid down and put the gun in my mouth," says Mitrione, who has written an unsold book about Airlift titled, My Side, Their Side, Suicide.

"I think I passed out, out of fear maybe, and then I woke up and knew I was alive."

Then Mitrione drove home before checking into a mental hospital in Miami. He vehemently denies any involvement in the bombing. "I never would do anything like that," he says. "I said it then, and I'll say it again. My conscience is clear about that."

The FBI, however, came to the same conclusion that Regan came to: Mitrione likely was behind the bomb. Then Mitrione took a lie detector test and didn't pass the part about the attempted bombing, says Roy Kahn, a former Miami prosecutor assigned to the Airlift case. But Kahn also says he never felt there was enough evidence to prosecute Mitrione. "One problem was that it was the FBI investigating one of their own," he says. "It was incredibly sensitive."

Mitrione denies that he failed to pass the lie detector test.
Two days before Ciraolo was indicted in Pittsburgh, an internal FBI report was filed by Miami agents: "This investigation, which is being conducted by a special FBIHQ [headquarters] investigative team, has been severely hampered by recent developments indicating a strong likelihood that Mitrione is culpable in the attempted murder of Sandini. If Mitrione is not exculpated in this crime, the U.S. Attorney, Miami, will not use him as a witness, and without Mitrione, the prosecution will depend on the development of other participant witnesses."

This report -- which Ciraolo received after years of waiting for a Freedom of Information Act request on the case -- shows not only that the FBI thought Mitrione was guilty of planting the bomb but also that federal prosecutors in Miami refused to use Mitrione as a witness because of it.

The report wasn't made public, and Mitrione, who certainly was never "exculpated" in the attempted bombing, testified at the Pittsburgh trial. When defense attorneys tried to bring up the bombing, Judge Weber refused to allow it.

The lead Pittsburgh prosecutor, Bruce Teitelbaum, says that the damning FBI report was never forwarded to his office and he never knew about it. It wouldn't have made a difference anyway, he says, because Mitrione was never charged with planting the bomb. Teitelbaum says he personally doesn't think Mitrione is guilty of the attempted murder and leans to the idea, rejected by the FBI and Regan, that Sandini planted the bomb himself. Mitrione is also an advocate of this theory.

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