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11 Who Refused to Testify in Mob Case Are Freed

January 16, 1992

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Eleven men were freed from jail Thursday after spending up to nine months behind bars for refusing to testify about suspected mobsters. Their release was part of a deal struck with a reputed mob underboss.

Peter J. Simone, 46, agreed to plead guilty Friday to gambling charges that carry a maximum sentence of nearly five years, his lawyer said.

In exchange, federal prosecutors asked a judge Thursday to free the men, who had been jailed on contempt-of-court charges for refusing to testify before a grand jury.

U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple granted the motions for the releases Thursday morning, his office said.

Twenty men have been jailed for refusing to testify in the case. Prosecutors said the grand jury has faced a wall of silence from people it needs to hear about the city’s underworld.

Organized crime in Kansas City, a mob stronghold since the 1930s, is involved in prostitution, extortion, gambling and drug running, authorities say.

The 11 men, four of whom have been in prison since May, were expected to return Thursday night to Kansas City from prisons around the country. One of them is Simone’s 21-year-old son, Joe Pete Simone.

The nine others, arrested since October 1989, had been freed earlier, though some were held as long as 18 months.

In light of the Simone plea, the U.S. attorney’s office said ″further investigation of other targets of this investigation would not be in the overall public interest.″ The grand jury’s investigation ″has been successfully completed,″ it said in a statement.

The jailings have prompted demonstrations organized by Italian-Americans who believe their ethnic group was singled out.

The agreement is similar to one that Simone walked away from last week, minutes before a scheduled court hearing. But his lawyer, Burton H. Shostak, called the new plea agreement ″a done deal. I cannot anticipate anybody backing out of anything.″

The deal will be formalized at a court hearing Friday, Shostak said. Simone will plead guilty to laundering gambling proceeds from video poker machines and to running a gambling club, Shostak said.

The agreement ends a probe into the club in the Columbus Park neighborhood.

Simone declined to comment Thursday. Under federal guidelines, he faces a maximum prison term of almost five years, Shostak said.

″I suppose it’s a good deal for my client,″ he said. ″It was a very hard decision for him to make.″

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