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The former mob boss has been in federal custody since December 1997.



Published: Thu, February 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The former mob boss has been in federal custody since December 1997.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Ex-mob boss Lenny Strollo's allegation that the government offered a better plea deal to his lawyer than the one he accepted is "simply untrue," a federal prosecutor says.

Strollo, who turns 74 in April, filed a motion a month ago in Cleveland federal court asking that U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley vacate his sentence and schedule a hearing to establish the facts. He alleges ineffective assistance of counsel.

The Canfield man, serving a sentence of 12 years and eight months, is acting as his own lawyer in the civil lawsuit.

He alleges that Buffalo, N.Y., lawyer Herbert L. Greenman failed to inform him of a plea agreement that was more favorable than the one he accepted. The federal inmate doesn't say what the more favorable plea offer was.

Quotable

"Early in this case, the government told my retained counsel [Greenman] that it desired my cooperation in convicting other defendants named in the indictment and made a plea offer substantially more favorable than the plea agreement I ultimately entered into," Strollo said in his motion. "The terms of this offer are outlined in the affidavit of Paul Lynch."

New Castle attorney Paul Lynch, who represents Strollo in a tax matter, was not involved in the criminal case.

Strollo said in his motion last month that Lynch's affidavit would be filed soon. Strollo said he only learned then of the first plea offer and, had he known about it in a timely fashion, would likely have accepted it.

To back up his claim, Strollo could have provided the court with an affidavit from Greenman, but did not, Matthew B. Kall, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Wednesday in court papers. Kall also noted that Strollo said an affidavit would be filed from Lynch, but that didn't happen, either.

Last month, Judge O'Malley ordered that the government, represented by Kall, respond to Strollo's motion by today. The lead prosecutor in Strollo's case was Craig S. Morford, who has been on temporary assignment in Detroit.

Kall, in his response, submitted a two-page affidavit from Morford, who said only one plea offer was made to Strollo's attorneys and that's the one he accepted. He reached a plea deal with the government on Feb. 16, 1999, the day jury selection was to begin in his racketeering trial.

Strollo's claim "rests on unsubstantiated, unverified allegations," Kall said. The claim that a "prior, more favorable plea offer was made to his attorney is simply untrue because no other plea offer was made to any of petitioner's attorneys."

Kall said no evidentiary hearing is necessary because Strollo's allegations are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible or conclusions rather than fact. The prosecutor reiterated that Strollo submitted no affidavits from his attorneys.

Strollo has been in federal custody since Dec. 11, 1997. He is in the Federal Witness Protection Program so his prison location is confidential.

He wasn't sentenced until Jan. 27, 2004. By then, federal prosecutors had exhausted his wealth of knowledge and used his testimony to convict associates.

Serving time

Strollo, convicted of racketeering and filing a false tax return, will serve three years' supervised release and do 250 hours community service when released from prison.

The sentencing range was 135 to 168 months, with Strollo's Cleveland lawyer at the time, Roger M. Synenberg, asking for the low end because of his client's age and heart condition.

With good time, Strollo could be released by late summer 2008.

The once-powerful organized crime figure was indicted Dec. 10, 1997, on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations violations of aggravated murder (of rival Ernie Biondillo Jr. in June 1996), casino-style gambling and numbers lottery.

Judge O'Malley said in court that Strollo's federal time would include safety considerations to protect him from those against whom he testified. The time also runs concurrent with two concurrent 10-year state prison terms.

The state sentence was handed down in November 1999 after Strollo pleaded guilty to charges that nearly mirrored the federal racketeering case. The state convictions included the attempted murder of Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains in December 1996.

Strollo provided information about a number of unsolved homicides and about La Cosa Nostra activities in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and New York. He also provided information that led to the convictions of former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., ex-Mahoning County Judge Martin W. Emrich, ex-Youngstown Municipal Judge Andrew Polovischak Jr., three men involved in the Biondillo hit, ex-Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance, Ex-Mahoning County Prosecutor James A. Philomena and others.

Morford said at sentencing that he found Strollo to be the most cooperative and productive witness he'd seen in 20 years as a prosecutor. Morford also said Strollo would continue to testify as needed in federal, state and local cases.

Strollo's lawyers in Buffalo, meanwhile, sued for $386,890 in legal fees in March 2001 and reached a settlement in October 2003.




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