To the Saugerties business community, Michael Persico is known as a sharp investor in the local real estate market and a community-minded business owner who held Chamber of Commerce mixers at his 50-acre estate in West Saugerties and donated the use of a building in the heart of the village for use as a visitors’ center.
But federal prosecutors paint a very different picture of the 60-year-old Brooklyn native.
In a 2010 indictment and other documents from the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of New York, Persico is described as an “associate” of the Colombo crime family, a venerable mob organization allegedly headed by his father Carmine “The Snake” Persico from a federal prison where he’s serving a 139-year sentence on racketeering charges. In that capacity, prosecutors allege, Michael Persico engaged in criminal activities ranging from participating in a video game theft scheme to facilitating a 1993 hit on a rival mobster during a bloody civil war within the Colombo family.
At the heart of the 2010 indictment is a scheme by Michael Persico and his cousin, alleged Colombo soldier Theodore Persico Jr., to extort money from a Boston-area demolition contractor. The pair, working with other family members and associates named in the indictment, allegedly pressured the Testa Corporation to use a Colombo-linked trucking company to haul debris from job sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn and threatened violence when the company failed to meet their payment schedule. The indictment also alleged that Michael Persico participated in taking over the business of a Brooklyn furniture dealer who fell behind on loanshark payments to an associate.
In June 2012, Persico pleaded guilty to a single count of “extortionate extension of credit” as part of a plea agreement. As part of the deal prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of between 36 and 47 months in federal prison. But on July 21, a federal judge in Brooklyn handed down a five-year sentence. Eastern District Chief Judge Dora L. Irizarry said allegations about Persico’s criminal activity contained in a prosecutor’s sentencing memo warranted the stiffer term.
That memo was based on testimony by former Colombo capo-turned-government informant Anthony Russo. Russo confessed to acting as getaway driver in the 1993 hit on Joseph Scopo, a leader of a Colombo faction fighting to wrest control of the family from the imprisoned Carmine Persico. In 2011, after turning government witness, Russo described to investigators a 1993 conversation with Michael Persico about the planned Scopo hit and the difficulty he was having locating his target. Persico, Russo claimed, responded by directing him to two Colombo Family members who “had a line” on Scopo’s whereabouts and another who provided a submachine gun and other weapons used in the killing. Russo also told investigators that Michael Persico urged him to “get this thing done” before his brother, Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico, went on trial in a pending criminal case. Russo also told prosecutors that Michael Persico lent him money for a loansharking operation, participated in the extortion of a valet company and was part of a scheme to steal and sell a truckload of handheld video games.
Michael Persico has never been charged with a crime in connection with Scopo’s murder or any of the other allegations contained in Russo’s testimony. Indeed, in a 2010 arraignment hearing Persico attorney Sarita Kedia noted her client had never been charged with any crime, except a single case of misdemeanor driving while ability impaired by alcohol.
But federal law allows judges to weigh criminal acts for which the defendant has not been charged or convicted at sentencing provided the allegations meet the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Attorneys for Persico contested the truthfulness of Russo’s accounts, but Irizarry found the statements could be used in sentencing.
Forty-plus years in town
The Persico family’s links to Saugerties date back to at least the early ’70s. An April 1972 article in The New York Times describes the arrest of Carmine Persico and four associates at Blue Mountain Manor, a 54-acre estate in West Saugerties. The article was written weeks after mobster “Crazy” Joe Gallo was gunned down at a lower Manhattan restaurant in the midst of another struggle for control of the Colombo family. The story cites an arrest warrant that claims the family property served as a heavily guarded stronghold for Colombo family soldiers during the ongoing violence.
Today, Blue Mountain Manor is a guest house and banquet facility owned by Michael Persico. According to Ulster County property records, Michael Persico is all or part owner of 10 properties in Saugerties, including two single-family homes, three attached row buildings on Partition Street, an apartment building on Montross Street and several vacant parcels. Altogether, the properties have a total equalized assessment of $2,240,000.
Persico’s ties to Saugerties run deeper than property deeds. According to Saugerties Area Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mark Smith, Persico was a member of the group. Smith said Persico had hosted chamber mixers at Blue Mountain Manor. Last month, he offered the use of a Partition Street building that was between leases for use as a chamber-sponsored visitors’ center. Smith recalled Persico as a personable and, to his knowledge, wholly legitimate businessman.
“He was always a complete gentleman,” said Smith. “It’s too bad this happened to him.”
Other testaments to Persico’s character are contained in some 200 letters to the court — many from Saugerties residents — requesting leniency. The documents include a thank-you note from a local Cub Scout troop for a sponsorship and a missive from a Saugerties business owner who described the alleged loanshark making an interest-free loan to help their business through a difficult period. Among those who wrote letters on Persico’s behalf are Saugerties village trustee Donald Hackett, who wrote that he believed Persico to be “of good character and a great citizen.” Local realtor James Murphy called Persico a “perfectionist” in renovating his rental properties and “honest and reputable” in his business dealings.
In the 2010 bail hearing though, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Busa said that while Michael Persico was an associate, rather than a “made” member of the crime family, he retained outsized influence with the Colombo crew. According to a transcript, Busa told the court that over the course of investigating the case, Persico was observed meeting with high-ranking members of the family including alleged street boss Ralph Valeo. Busa added that Persico was recorded directing other associates regarding the Testa shakedown.
“He’s not a typical organized crime associate,” Busa told the court. “He’s somebody who has a lot of influence, a lot of pull.”
Marc Fernich, another attorney for Persico, wrote in an email that his client planned to appeal both the conviction and the sentence. Fernich said the appeal would be based on the claim that the conduct Persico admitted in his 2012 plea was not actually a crime. Fernich added that the government had breached its agreement with Persico by asking the court to consider alleged crimes of which he had not been convicted.
“Mr. Persico has never been indicted for any crime, let alone for involvement in organized crime,” wrote Fernich. “The government’s proof in this case was remarkably weak, but the judge seemed indelibly colored by his last name.”
Matthew J. Mari, a lawyer who once defended Carmine Persico and described himself as a friend of the family, accused prosecutors of a “double cross” by offering Michael Persico a relatively lenient sentence on a single charge, then issuing a “poison pen” memo to ensure that he received the maximum term. Mari said Persico was targeted not for anything he did but because a long-running vendetta by federal authorities against his family.
“The idea that Michael is involved in organized crime is laughable to anyone who knows him,” said Mari. “The FBI and the Justice Department have a list of people they want to get, and if you’re on it they will do anything and everything to put you in jail.”
Mari described Michael Persico as a successful businessman who owned restaurants, a coffee company and a limousine service in Brooklyn. In recent years, Mari said, Persico had strengthened his ties to Saugerties in part to avoid entanglements with associates of his father and older brother — Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico is serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of a Colombo family underboss — who populate his neighborhood of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. Mari said older family members, believing that authorities were after the entire Persico clan, shielded Michael from anything that might put him in legal jeopardy.
“His father and brother went out of their way to make sure that Michael was never exposed to any criminal activity,” said Mari. “So that something like this could never happen to him.”
Persico is currently under court supervised home confinement. He is due to report to federal prison in October.