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For The Defense: ‘Junior’ Persico, The Defendant

November 22, 1986 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Carmine ″Junior″ Persico chose a tough-talking, streetwise high school dropout as his defense attorney at the Mafia commission trial that ended last week: himself.

And though his legal strategy didn’t work - he was found guilty on all counts Wednesday and also was sentenced to 39 years in prison last week in another case - the man in the baggy suit emerged as the trial’s star.

Persico, 53, who is boss of the Colombo crime ″family,″ the bosses of the Genovese and Lucchese crime families and five other defendants were convicted of racketeering and other charges.


Justice Department officials described the convictions as the most powerful blow ever directed at the group they say has served as a board of directors of the Mafia for more than a half-century.

Persico, with an aggressive style that often had prosecutors objecting, spectators laughing and the judge pounding his gavel for order, used his status as defense attorney to tell his story to the jury without taking the witness stand.

His decision to represent himself ″gave an interesting twist to the trial, having it come from the horse’s mouth, so to speak,″ said Anthony Cardinale, attorney for one of Persico’s co-defendants.

″He’s the toughest person - mentally - I’ve ever met,″ said attorney Stanley Meyer, Persico’s legal adviser during the trial.

Persico was arrested for the first time at age 17 for homicide and has spent most of the last 15 years behind bars for various convictions.

″I’ve had quite a bit of experience with the federal government,″ he told U.S. District Judge Richard Owen.

In both his opening and closing statements to the jury, as well as in his often combative cross-examination of witnesses, Persico hammered at the fact that neither his voice nor his image appeared on any of the surveillance tapes introduced as evidence.

″Where was I seen? What did I do? Don’t let them tell you they didn’t follow me,″ said Persico.

He suggested to the jury that there was a reason why government agents didn’t spot him at mob meetings.

Referring to himself in the third person, Persico said ″maybe he didn’t want to meet anybody anymore. Maybe he had had enough. Maybe Carmine Persico was tired of going back and forth to jail.″

In his closing argument, Persico told the jury: ″We pleaded ‘not guilty.‴ Then, beckoning to the prosecution table with street-corner bravado, he added: ″We told ’em, ’C’mon 3/8 Prove us guilty.‴

With a heavy Brooklyn accent that turned ″Joyce″ to ″Jerce″ and ″asked″ to ″axed,″ Persico brought the trial to the brink of chaos while questioning the chief witness against him, Fred DeChristopher.

DeChristopher, Persico’s cousin by marriage who admitted turning the crime boss in for a $50,000 reward, insisted he had bought his own home.

″You couldn’t buy socks 3/8″ snapped Persico, as the entire courtroom errupted in laughter.

When DeChristopher had trouble hearing his mumbled questions, Persico exploded: ″Why do you say, ‘Pardon me?’ You waiting to think of an answer or something?″

The prosecutor objected and the judge, looking bewildered, said: ″I don’t understand what’s going on.″

″I have to repeat the question three times 3/8″ said Persico, who then asked the court reporter to read back his question. ″We haven’t got a question 3/8″ said Owen.

Persico, who faces a maximum sentence of 306 years, had no comment and showed little emotion after the verdict was returned. Earlier, he had said the prosecutors ″didn’t come to try a case. They came to came to persecute people with the Mafia.″

The original indictment charged the reputed heads of all five of New York’s Mafia families with racketeering. But Paul Castellano, allegedly the Gambino family boss, was shot dead last December, and Philip ″Rusty″ Rastelli, the reputed Bonanno boss, was severed from the case to stand trial on other charges.

While awaiting the commission verdict, Persico was sentenced Monday to 39 years in prison for a previous conviction in another racketeering case.

″Mr. Persico, you’re a tragedy,″ said U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan. Noting that Persico had done ″a very good job″ acting as his own lawyer in the commission case, Keenan added: ″You are one of the most intelligent people I have ever seen.″