Scarfo fraud case goes to jury

Son of jailed mob boss and one reputed associate are accused in $12M looting of mortgage firm.

Posted: June 19, 2014

After nearly six months of testimony and an exhausting presentation of bank documents, wiretap recordings, and PowerPoint slides, the mortgage-fraud trial involving Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, is headed to jurors.

Scarfo and alleged mob associate Salvatore Pelullo are charged with taking over the Texas-based FirstPlus Financial mortgage company and looting its shareholders of $12 million. A former CEO of the company and four lawyers who worked with the men were also charged.

Jury deliberations are expected to begin Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Scarfo and Pelullo devised a plan involving false accusations and threats of lawsuits to seize FirstPlus, then unlawfully made millions through it, spending the money on luxury cars, mini-mansions, and, in Scarfo's case, organized-crime debts.

Defense attorneys have argued that the government was using Scarfo's father to make a legitimate business deal seem like a mob shakedown.

Last week, the defense attorneys offered closing statements using slides with bold fonts, capital letters, and exclamation points.

"You've been here for well over 20 weeks," Mark Catanzaro told the jury before pointing to reasons that FirstPlus was "in turmoil" before Scarfo and Pelullo took control in 2007.

Catanzaro represents John Maxwell, a Texas businessman who was made a board member and chief executive officer after the takeover. Catanzaro reminded jurors Thursday that former FirstPlus CEO Dan Phillips, who testified against the defense in March, admitted to having several affairs and "couldn't even remember the name of a woman he had an affair with."

FirstPlus, said Catanzaro and other defense attorneys, was also financially struggling before Scarfo and Pelullo came in. Their involvement, the attorneys said, was a way to turn things around.

"We will never know what this company was to be," Catanzaro said, "because of the actions of the government."

U.S. Attorney Stephen D'Aguanno, the lead prosecutor, said Scarfo and Pelullo used mob connections to bolster threats against FirstPlus shareholders, intimidating them into handing over the company and then leaving them in the dark about the financial dealings.

"Do not lose sight of the pattern of lies and the fact that they did it with such incredible ease," D'Aguanno said this month.

He took jurors through pages of wire-tape transcripts, pointing out mob references and details that he said proved the government's racketeering-conspiracy case.

The scam, D'Aguanno said, netted millions through fraudulent consulting contracts and phony business purchases and expenses, few of which were reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Among the purchases Pelullo and Scarfo made with the money, prosecutors said, was a $850,000 yacht they christened Priceless.

The other defendants include Scarfo's former attorney Donald Manno; Maxwell's brother William, a lawyer with FirstPlus; and lawyers David Adler and Gary McCarthy, also hired by the company.

The jury of 19 was selected last year. If convicted, Pelullo and Scarfo each face 30 years to life in prison.


mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc

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