The former mob boss, sentenced a year ago, could be out by late summer 2008.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ex-mob boss Lenny Strollo says he just learned the government offered a better plea deal than the one he accepted, and he's blaming his former Buffalo, N.Y., attorney for not telling him.
Strollo, who turns 74 in April, filed a motion Monday 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.
Judge O'Malley ordered the government, represented by Matthew B. Kall, an assistant U.S. attorney, to respond to Strollo's motion by Feb. 24. Kall, based in Cleveland, had no comment.
Strollo, of Canfield, has been in federal custody since Dec. 11, 1997. He is in the Federal Witness Protection Program, so his prison location is confidential.
He reached a plea deal with the government Feb. 16, 1999.
Borrowing a line from the movie "The Godfather," Strollo's former Buffalo, N.Y., attorney, Herbert L. Greenman, said at the time that the government "made us an offer we couldn't refuse."
Strollo wasn't sentenced until Jan. 27, 2004. By then, federal prosecutors had exhausted his wealth of knowledge and used his testimony to convict associates.
Convicted of racketeering and filing a false tax return, Strollo was sentenced to 12 years and eight months in prison, to be followed by three years' supervised release and 250 hours community service. The sentence was recommended by Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor on the case.
The sentencing range was 135 to 168 months, with Strollo's Cleveland lawyer at the time, Roger M. Synenberg, asking for the low end, based on his client's age and heart condition.
With time off for good behavior in prison, Strollo could be released by late summer 2008.
Strollo is acting as his own lawyer in the civil lawsuit.
He alleges that 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.
Greenman did not respond to messages left at his office seeking comment.
"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."
Lynch's affidavit is expected to be filed soon, Strollo said in his motion.
Lynch, a New Castle attorney who represents Strollo in a tax matter, could not be reached.
Strollo said he only learned of the first plea offer recently and, had he known about it in a timely fashion, would likely have accepted it.
Suit over legal fees
Strollo's lawyers in Buffalo, meanwhile, sued for $386,890 in legal fees in March 2001 and reached a settlement in October 2003.
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 he testified against. 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 then Mahoning County Prosecutor-elect 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.