HARTFORD, Conn. – Alfred Catino's criminal record is a colorful history of drug dealing and prison sentences dating back to the 1960s, when federal authorities say he was part of the French Connection heroin smuggling ring that spawned an Oscar-winning movie of the same name.
Catino's illicit career took him from the streets of the Bronx in New York City to France to Connecticut's Gold Coast, where he soon will be sentenced for his role in yet another drug operation.
Catino, 73, was one of 16 people busted in Connecticut in 2012 in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana, cocaine and oxycodone in Fairfield County. He pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge and is set to be sentenced Dec. 16 in federal court in Bridgeport. He remains detained without bail.
Law enforcement officials had no idea about Catino's history when they arrested him, said Brian Boyle, an assistant special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"Once we ran some checks on him, it was surprising," Boyle said. "He had some connections a while back to the French Connection case, and then he surfaces here."
The French Connection was the major supplier of heroin to the United States, sending in hundreds of millions of dollars' worth for years until police busted it up in the early 1970s. Federal authorities say it involved Turkish heroin refined in Marseille, France, and smuggled into the U.S.
A big bust in the case in 1962 by New York City detectives was the subject of the 1971 film "The French Connection" starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider.
Catino's lawyer, Frank Riccio II, said Catino doesn't deny being part of the French Connection.
Catino pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to sell controlled substances, admitting he was part of a group involved in a failed effort to distribute about 200 pounds of marijuana from California to Connecticut and sell cocaine and oxycodone. He's facing seven to nine years in prison.
All the other defendants also pleaded guilty.
The bust was the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Connecticut State Police and local officers that included court-ordered wiretaps on the cellphones of Catino and others.
Federal court records show Catino was indicted in 1966 for selling heroin in the Bronx and sentenced to five years in prison.
He was convicted by a federal jury in 1974 of again selling heroin in New York City and sentenced to 12 years in prison, but he fled to France while out on bail appealing the conviction, court records show. He was caught dealing heroin in France and sentenced to five years in prison there in 1978.
Catino was deported to New York in 1981 after that jail term ended, then began serving the 12-year sentence he had skipped out on, court records show.
He was caught again dealing heroin in New York in 1997 and pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge, getting a nearly 12-year prison sentence.
Riccio speculated that Catino likely turned again and again to the drug trade because that's all he knew.
"His history, I suppose it is what it is," Riccio said. "I'm not going to make a blanket statement about him. He is an incredibly intelligent man who has always been kind and courteous to me."