FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – One by one, members of a South Florida crew of New York-based Bonanno crime family stood before a federal judge Wednesday to plead guilty to racketeering charges, including one enforcer who said it was impossible to escape the Mafia.
Six of the 11 purported crew members indicted in May pleaded guilty to charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. All 11 are charged under the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO law, which the FBI has used frequently to break up major criminal enterprises.
The enforcer, 43-year-old Pasquale Rubbo, told U.S. District Judge William Zloch that he'd already done prison time for his underworld ties and that he had some debts to pay after his release a few years ago.
"When I got out of prison, I was connected to the mob. I had some obligations. I got back into the life, as they call it," said Rubbo, a tough guy who also held a legitimate job as a hair stylist.
Also pleading guilty were Rubbo's brother, 46-year-old Joseph Rubbo, and four other associates of the Bonanno crew allegedly led by 46-year-old Thomas Fiore. Fiore and the other four remaining suspects are set for trial Nov. 9, but prosecutors expect more will plead guilty.
Prosecutors said the crew was involved in a smorgasbord of crimes, including counterfeit checks, arson, insurance fraud, Medicare fraud, identity theft, illegal high-stakes gambling, selling stolen goods, using threats against business owners to force placement of vending machines, and much more. A portion of their illicit profits went to senior Bonanno crime bosses.
The arrests came after an undercover FBI agent posing as a corrupt businessman infiltrated the crew, recording dozens of conversations with a hidden recorder. Dozens more phone conversations were recorded on FBI wiretaps.
At the back-to-back hearings Wednesday, Zloch asked each defendant the same question: "Why did you do this?" Those without longstanding Mafia ties almost invariably blamed a personal financial crisis, such as former mental health center executive Daniel Young. Young, 58, admitted helping the crew steal patient account information used to submit fraudulent Medicare claims.
"I lost everything, and I made a bad choice," Young said.
Lee Klein, 39, a telemarketer with a background in computers, said his wife warned him not to get caught up in the mob, but he admitted helping fabricate fake checks and using computer databases to identify possible extortion victims as well as people who might be cooperating with law enforcement.
"I met the wrong person at the wrong time. I should have listened to my wife," Klein said.