The parole board chairman said the FBI presented no hard evidence.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
COLUMBUS -- Aging mobster Ronald D. Carabbia's life outside the Chillicothe Correctional Institution begins in late September, thanks to a recommendation from the man who put him in prison.
The Ohio Parole Board made the decision Tuesday to release Carabbia after a three-hour hearing Monday afternoon. The nine-member board voted 7 to 2 to grant parole "on or after Sept. 24," said JoEllen Culp, OPB spokesman in Columbus.
A remote-controlled bomb detonated by Carabbia killed Cleveland waterfront boss Daniel J. Greene in October 1977 outside a dentist's office in the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst. A year later, a jury in Cuyahoga County found Carabbia and another man guilty of aggravated murder and aggravated arson and both received life in prison.
Carabbia, 73, of Poland, has been in custody since 1977 and in a state prison since November 1979.
Once reputed to be the boss of organized crime in Youngstown, Carabbia also received a 12-year federal racketeering sentence in 1982. It ran concurrent with the state time.
Carabbia had been scheduled for release May 20. The release was put on hold when Cuyahoga Prosecutor William D. Mason voiced his objection and requested a hearing, saying that Carabbia's son, Ronald A. Carabbia of Boardman, is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation in Mahoning County.
"The information is that Ronald D. Carabbia is aware of this illegal activity and may have played an active role in it, even from prison," Mason said in a letter to the parole board. "Further, confidential sources have indicated that there is a legitimate concern and fear that Carabbia, if released at this time, could assume a leadership role among such criminal element in the Youngstown area."
Ray Capots, board chairman, said the seven members who voted to free Carabbia focused heavily on a three-page letter from Carmen M. Marino, Cuyahoga's former chief prosecutor, major trial unit, who wrote to the parole board Jan. 30 and recommended the release. Marino, who prosecuted Carabbia, retired shortly after writing the letter, which he sent without Mason's knowledge.
Capots said the board office recently contacted Marino, who felt "in the absence of hard facts," the letter stands. "To be honest, we looked for hard evidence but didn't find any," the board chairman said.
'Not a major target'
In the letter, Marino said:
"I have no objection to the release of Ronald Carabbia at this time. He was not a major target. The victim Greene was just as bad as the defendants we tried but he provided a basis for us to pursue organized crime. Carabbia ... is completely eliminated from the criminal scene with no prospects of re-entering it. There is no criminal arena for him to re-enter because there is no more organized crime in this area."
Marino wrote that absent special circumstances, such as recent criminal conduct or mental aberration, he didn't think the state should be housing aged convicts in its prisons.
Carabbia's attorneys asked him to make a recommendation to the parole board, Marino said in his letter.
Aside from Marino's recommendation, the board considered Carabbia's age and his spotless prison record, Capots said. "He's been an outstanding inmate," the parole board chairman said.
Marino's letter gives background on the Greene killing and characterizes Greene as a hoodlum who had killed a local "wise guy" and was suspected of other murders in the Cleveland area. Marino said he was assigned the case in 1977 when John T. Corrigan was prosecutor.
Skeptical of statements
Marino questioned the truthfulness of statements Raymond W. Ferritto, the prosecution's star witness, made against Carabbia at trial. The FBI had refused to give Ferritto a polygraph test, Marino said in his letter.
Ferritto, a confessed hit man, first incriminated Pasquale Cisternino as his accomplice. Ferritto later said Carabbia helped rig the bomb and threw the switch.
"Objectively, I'm not sure which of Ferritto's statements was true," Marino said in his letter. "I believe that everyone we tried was somehow involved in the Greene murder."
Carabbia claimed he was at a football game in Struthers when Greene was killed.
Capots stressed the impact Marino, as the one who prosecuted Carabbia, had on the board through the letter. "It was quite a letter," Capots said.
By contrast, what the FBI agent offered was speculation, Capots said.
"What [the agent] gave is what I read in your newspaper -- not enough for seven members of the board looking for a charge or indictment," Capots said. "We needed something concrete and we just didn't find it. We needed to hear something was pending, but there was nothing."
Mason had prepared a report for the board and called FBI Special Agent Joe Bushner from the bureau's Boardman office as a witness at Monday's hearing.
The two dissenting board members sided with Mason's arguments, Capots said.
Carabbia's Cleveland attorney, Gerald A. Messerman, said that he was delighted by the board's decision. He said Carabbia has been eligible for parole for nearly 10 years.
Carabbia's plans are to rejoin his family and comply with whatever the Adult Parole Authority on Belmont Avenue has in mind, Messerman said. The lawyer said Carabbia and his wife, Josephine, have been apart since 1977.
Messerman said the Carabbias should move out of town, but Josephine Carabbia's elderly parents are looked after by their two daughters.
Mason said he was disappointed in the board decision.
"We put our best foot forward, gave the board evidence of the homicide, [Carabbia's] conduct and relationships," Mason said. "He's a gangster and they're letting a gangster out. This was a vicious premeditated bombing -- who better to keep in prison?"
In graphic detail, Mason's report to the board describes what the bomb did to Greene. The explosion severed Greene's left arm, which landed 75 feet away from the rest of his body, and the force of the bomb tore all the skin off his back, according to the report.
Mason provided the board with Carabbia's links to current activity after first giving some background information.
Mason said Carabbia owned two businesses at the time of the Greene murder -- Crown Music and Vending on East Midlothian Boulevard and LaVilla Sports Bar and Grille on Youngstown-Poland Road. Crown was used to launder illegal money and LaVilla was -- and is -- the site of illegal gambling, the prosecutor said.
The properties are now in the name of Carabbia family members, Mason said. County records show Crown in the name of Ronald D. Carabbia's brother Orland, and Ronald's wife, Josephine Carabbia of Poland and LaVilla in the name of Josephine Carabbia. The liquor license is in the name of Sally Ann Almasy, Carabbia's sister.
In January, the FBI raided LaVilla and found evidence of gambling, Mason said.
There is "substantial evidence tending to prove" that Carabbia is still involved with the decision-making at LaVilla, the prosecutor said in his report to the parole board. In January, the FBI made more than 30 searches in Boardman, Struthers, Poland and Campbell as part of its probe of organized crime gambling. Some of the locations involve Ronald A. Carabbia.
Once paroled, the elder Carabbia "will have instant credibility with the underworld because he is the man who killed Danny Greene," Mason said in his report to the parole board.
Life in prison should mean just that, Mason said.
"The FBI is and always has been apolitical," said FBI Special Agent Robert L. Hawk, bureau spokesman in Cleveland. "We will live by the parole board decision."
Carabbia's brothers, Orland and Charles, were also organized crime figures. Secret audiotapes they made with James A. Traficant Jr. during his run for Mahoning County sheriff in 1980 were later used to indict him on bribery charges in 1982.
Traficant, as sheriff, beat the charges in 1983.
He went on to win election to Congress in 1984.
Traficant was found guilty in April of racketeering and tax evasion and will be sentenced July 30.
Charles Carabbia was reported missing in December 1980 and declared dead in 1988 when an FBI agent testified he had been killed. Orland Carabbia served time in a state prison in the early 1990s for gambling and bribery.
Ronald D. Carabbia's criminal history dates to the late 1950s, when police started questioning him about car-bombing deaths, gambling operations and burglaries.
In the late 1960s, he spent 10 months in a federal prison on a tax conviction. He received probation on gambling charges in 1973.