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Persico, Witness Trade Barbs to Jury’s Amusement

October 7, 1986 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Reputed crime boss Carmine Persico’s questioning of the man who turned him in to the FBI erupted into a heated, streetwise debate in court Monday that had jurors laughing and the judge pounding his gavel for order.

Persico, 53, reputed boss of the Colombo organized crime family, and one of eight alleged mob leaders accused of running a Mafia ″commission″ that kept organized crime organized, is serving as his own lawyer at the federal racketeering trial.

The normally sedate courtroom proceedings dissolved into chaos several times as Persico, speaking in a thick Brooklyn accent, conducted a Runyonesque dialogue with prosecution witness Fred DeChristopher, a cousin by marriage who has admitted turning Persico in to the FBI for a $50,000 reward.

DeChristopher, 59, previously admitted to money problems that led to his salary being garnished, but insisted under questioning by Persico that he owned the house he once lived in at Farmingdale.

″You know I bought the house,″ growled DeChristopher.

″You couldn’t buy socks 3/8″ snapped Persico as the courtroom erupted in laughter and U.S. District Judge Richard Owen fought unsuccessfully to suppress a smile.

DeChristopher, who testified Persico hid from the law at his Long Island home from Nov. 1, 1984, until his arrest on Feb. 15, 1985, kept addressing Persico by his nickname ″Junior,″ to the consternation of Anthony Cardinale, defense attorney for another defendant, reputed Genovese crime boss Anthony ″Fat Tony″ Salerno.

Cardinale objected each time DeChristopher used the offending nickname, saying it was ″demeaning these proceedings,″ and the judge admonished the witness not to call Persico ″Junior.″

When Persico asked DeChristopher if he remembered a meeting on Dec. 7, 1984, the witness replied: ″No, I remember Dec. 7, 1941.″

That led Persico to claim DeChristopher lied about an injury he received during World War II.

″Did you tell your children you were hurt fighting the war, when in fact you fell down a ladder?″

DeChristopher replied that he always told people he was injured falling off a ladder.

″That’s a lie,″ stormed Persico. ″You weren’t wounded. You fell 3/8″

″Yeah, but there was action going on,″ said DeChristopher as laughter rippled through the court again.

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″Were you running to hide?″ Persico asked.

″No, I don’t hide, Junior, that’s the problem,″ DeChristopher said.

DeChristopher previously testified that Persico confided in him about his criminal activities while hiding out at his Wantagh home.

″Did I - Mr. Persico - ever use the word ‘crime family’?″ Persico asked DeChristopher.

The witness admitted he hadn’t.

″Did I ever use the word ‘made member’ (of the Mafia)?″ Persico asked.

″You used to use (the phrase) ’my very close friends,‴ said DeChristopher.

″Didn’t I have a lot of friends?″ insisted Persico.

″You hated Paulie Castellano and you called him your close friend,″ said DeChristopher, referring to the late Paul Castellano, reputed head of the Gambino crime family.

Castellano was among the reputed mob bosses named in the commission indictment, but he was gunned down last December before the case came to trial.