Prison for Saugerties man who fled 1990 drug bust with fake passport

(Photo by Tony Webster)

A Saugerties man who spent 25 years living abroad after fleeing prosecution on federal drug charges is headed to prison following conviction on identity fraud charges.

On August 15 John Staccio, 68, of Saugerties was sentenced to 25 months in federal prison. The sentence comes after the Saugerties resident pleaded guilty in October to aggravated theft and passport fraud.

Back in April 1990, Staccio was one of 12 people accused in a federal indictment of those operating a large-scale marijuana distribution operation headquartered in Woodstock. The ring, prosecutors alleged, sold more than 1000 pounds of marijuana and raked in more than $2 million over the course of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 1989 and 1990. According to his attorney, Staccio maintains his innocence on the drug charges.

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In a sentencing memo, attorney William J. Dreyer said his client decided to flee the country after a frightening incident in August 1990 while he was free on bail in the pending marijuana case. According to the memo, Staccio claims that he was stopped on the road while driving home one evening and approached by two men who reached into his car to pat him down for weapons or recording devices. The men, Staccio claims, told him that they believed he was an informant in the case and made statements that he interpreted as threats to harm his mother and son. Soon after, according to Staccio, he related the incident to an unnamed Kingston attorney who advised him to flee the country and remain “out of sight and out of mind.” In a statement to Dreyer, Staccio claimed that he was worried about the cost of taking his case to trial, dejected over the court’s dismissal of preliminary motions and frightened that the “tough guys from the night on the road” would be back.

“At this point in time I was falling apart and stressed so much I could hardly walk,” the statement reads.

Staccio admitted that in January 1991 he stole a birth certificate from his cousin, J.C. Rauf, and used it to secure a U.S. passport under Rauf’s name. He then fled to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. In 2011, still living abroad, he renewed the document. During his exile, Dreyer wrote, his client lived quietly with a companion and stayed out of trouble.

Staccio returned to the United States in 2015 after learning that the drug charges against him had been dismissed “in the interest of justice” eight years earlier. Since then, Dreyer wrote, Staccio has remained close to his elderly mother and his son and has been largely unemployed. He came to authorities’ attention after he applied for a new passport in his own name. When agents from the U.S. Secret Service approached him about the fraud, Dreyer wrote that he freely admitted the entire scheme.

In arguing for the two-year mandatory minimum, Dreyer noted his client’s age, willingness to cooperate with prosecutors and the fact that he had apologized to his cousin for the identity theft. In a letter, Staccio himself wrote that he had never intended to harm or defraud Rauf.

“For the 25 years of being Jeffrey Rauf, I did not use the passport to obtain anything illegal such as another ID or driver’s license,” Staccio wrote. “I never used the [Social Security] number or benefited one dollar. I simply used it for travel and try to live a normal life.”

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