By Bertram de Souza
One is now in federal prison, where he’ll spend the rest of his life; the other was in federal prison for 12 years, but is now free. He should have been sentenced to life.
The difference between Bernard Madoff, who has pleaded guilty to running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, and Lenine “Lenny” Strollo, who pleaded guilty to heading the most successful organized crime syndicate in the history of the Mahoning Valley, is one of degrees.
They are both crooks, both destroyers of life. The only difference is that Strollo actually took one (that we know of), while Madoff, through his venality, has sucked the life blood out of thousands.
And here’s the really intriguing aspect of the Madoff-Strollo soul mating: Each indulged in their criminal behavior for many, many years.
Bernard Madoff, a Wall Street financial trader, launched his vast swindle two decades ago. And even though it unraveled recently, resulting in his pleading guilty to 11 charges, including fraud, perjury and money laundering, the extent of the swindle may never be fully revealed.
What is known is that the scam carries a price tag of $65 billion and there are 5,000 victims.
Strollo’s life of crime began a half-century ago when the Mafia was so powerful in the Mahoning Valley that its activities were the stuff of national news stories. “Bomb Town U.S.A.” was the label attached to Youngstown by veteran organized crime reporters.
When Strollo was arrested by the FBI in 1997 as part of the federal government’s crackdown on government corruption and organized crime in the Valley, he was the undisputed “Godfather.” He was indicted on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) violations of aggravated murder, casino-style gambling and numbers lottery.
The murder charge stems from Strollo’s ordering a hit on mob rival Ernie Biondillo Jr. in June 1996. He also was charged in state court with the attempted murder in December 1996 of then Mahoning County Prosecutor-elect Paul Gains.
The Godfather’s federal indictment listed 29 codefendants, 28 of whom pleaded guilty or were found guilty. One died before his trial.
In February 1999, Strollo became a government snitch and provided the FBI and federal prosecutors with important information about the Mafia in the United States — he had first-hand knowledge of the players in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and New York — and also testified in trials of various local crooks.
It was during one of the trials that he offered this blood curdling admission: For the mob, murder is just “business.”
In 2004, Strollo was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but with credit for time served and good time he was reportedly released in September of last year.
So, what happened to the millions in ill-gotten gains — blood money — that Strollo amassed during his crime spree?
He transferred all his wealth, including his mansion in Canfield, to his wife, Antoinette.
It was a brilliant move because federal prosecutors refused to go after Mrs. Strollo. They contended that there was no proof the money came from the Godfather’s criminal enterprise.
That contention still makes Strollo’s former crime mates laugh.
There also was laughter last week in New York when it was disclosed that Madoff’s wife, Ruth, wants to keep $69 million in assets, including the couple’s $7 million Manhattan penthouse.
But federal prosecutors have indicated that they intend to pursue any and all assets in Ruth Madoff’s name.
If they are successful in doing so, federal prosecutors in the Lenny Strollo case would be hard-pressed to justify not going after Antoinette, who has been the keeper of the mobster’s purse.
Rendering the Godfather a pauper would certainly serve the cause of justice.
Bernard Madoff and Lenine Strollo are the scum of the earth because of the lives they have ruined. The former Wall Street financier is paying for his crimes behind bars.
Strollo gets to spend his golden years in luxury. That’s unacceptable.
It doesn’t matter how much information about the Mafia the Godfather provided the feds, or how sorry he is for his sins. Forgiveness should not be available to someone like him.