Oldfella

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

"Somebody in the FBI could say that Fidel Castro murdered the Pope, but that doesn't make it true," says Teitelbaum, who is still a prosecutor in the narcotics division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh.

Mitrione's former attorney in Miami, Dan Forman, says the investigation into the bomb simply "resolved in [Mitrione's] favor."

"It was inconclusive evidence..., and they gave him the benefit of the doubt," says Forman. "I never told anybody this, but I thought at the time that they were really being nice to Mitrione here. I mean, the prosecutors were incredibly nice to him. And [FBI Supervisor John] Morris, he was so nice to me -- it was over the top how accommodating he was with everything."

It was recently revealed that Morris, who headed a special investigation into Mitrione, also committed crimes of corruption with criminal informants. Morris admitted in a Boston trial that he accepted cases of wine from mobsters whom his unit was investigating and criminal informants testified that Morris gave them license to commit crimes, so long as they didn't "clip anybody." Morris admitted to corruption but wasn't charged because he was given immunity for his crimes.

Forman says he now wonders if Morris was so kind to Mitrione because he was sympathetic to Mitrione's criminality.

Ciraolo finds it bitterly amusing that the respected FBI man who investigated Mitrione was also a crook. It doesn't surprise him. But he thinks there were two simple reasons why Mitrione was coddled: to save the FBI any more embarrassment and to aid in the Pittsburgh trial that ultimately helped land Ciraolo in prison.

In the end, the indictments against Doppes, Suarez, and other suspected smugglers involved in Airlift were dropped. Forman says part of the reason the case went away was because it was discovered just how many "fucked-up problems" Mitrione had, including the bomb. "By the end [Mitrione] was considered worthless" to prosecutors, Forman says.

"They called me a rebel and turned their back on me," Mitrione says of the FBI. "Suddenly my word was no good."

For Ciraolo, it was too late. He was already in prison.
After Ciraolo's conviction, a hearing examiner for the parole commission wrote in an official document that "it is likely there is not sufficient information to tie [Ciraolo] to this entire conspiracy." In a report given to Judge Weber before sentencing, a probation officer wrote that Ciraolo's "culpability [in the drug conspiracy] is difficult to gauge."

With just one drug dealer's word and no evidence whatsoever, it certainly was. Ciraolo is roiled by the fact that the standard by which he was charged seemed to have been so much lower than the standard prosecutors set for Mitrione.

"On my jacket they stamped 'O.C.' [Organized Crime], and I was a trophy for them," he says. "They didn't care if I was involved or not."

Just last week Ciraolo found out that he has an unlikely man in his corner: Dan Mitrione, the FBI agent who, along with Sandini, created the entire mess, the man for whom Ciraolo feels nothing but a cold hatred.

"When I heard Weber's sentence, I couldn't believe it," Mitrione says. "Vinnie definitely got oversentenced.... He had nothing to do with Airlift that I knew of. He got lumped in with everybody else, and that's what the government does. It's a numbers game they play, to see how many they can bring into it. I don't like that either."

Ciraolo figures Sandini -- had he not died in prison in 1990 -- would be saying the same thing. But Mitrione's lip service isn't going to overturn Ciraolo's sentence, which is what Ciraolo ultimately wants. He'll accept having his name next to convictions he's had to swallow for grand larceny and counterfeiting and a few other felonies. Begrudgingly he'll take them. And he's not shy about having the word Mafia next to his name. Just not drugs.

"I never had a damn thing to do with drugs," he says. "It's easy for them to throw you into a conspiracy. When they don't have a hook to hang their hat on, they make the hook, and they'll make the hat, too, if they need to. That's the federal government for you. They put me in this and I haven't had a minute's peace since."

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address: Bob_Norman@newtimesbpb.com

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