Gambino crime family associates charged in 2015 vehicle fire
NEW YORK (AP) — Two reputed associates of one of the most notorious organized crime families in New York have been charged with extorting a businessman and torching his Mercedes Benz in New York City.
Gambino family associates Peter Tuccio, 25, and Jonathan Gurino, 25, were arrested Friday and face federal counts of extortion, arson and conspiracy in the 2015 fire, according to court filings.
Both men were released on $700,000 bail at an afternoon court appearance, despite a request by federal prosecutors that they be jailed pending trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Moore noted that a witness to the 2015 fire found a dead rat placed on her car. Moore argued in court papers that Gurino and Tuccio have strong ties to the Gambino crime family. She said Tuccio attended the Manhattan court proceedings this year of Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, a notorious Philadelphia mob boss sentenced to two years in prison for illegal betting.
“The defendants’ association with organized crime is significant not only because it demonstrates their proclivity for violence, but because it provides them with access to members of organized crime throughout the United States willing to harbor and assist them should they decide to flee or obstruct justice,” Moore wrote.
Gurino’s defense attorney, Todd Greenberg, called the charges “false” and said his client is “looking forward to his trial.” He said he could not comment on the discovery of the rat because he knew nothing about it.
A defense attorney for Tuccio did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The FBI said a now deceased Gambino crime family captain had extorted the businessman for annual payments, but the businessman began dodging them.
On Dec. 3, 2015, Tuccio, Gurino and a third man, Gino Gabrielli Jr., tailed the businessman “at a high rate of speed” and confronted him outside a pizzeria in Queens, prosecutors said in court filings.
The businessman, who was not identified in court papers, told authorities he heard a loud noise later that night and looked outside his Howard Beach home to see his Mercedes ablaze.
Surveillance video captured Gabrielli pouring a liquid on the vehicle about 4 a.m. and running away with his right pant leg on fire, according to the complaint. New York police recovered a lighter and what appeared to be a burned gas can near the vehicle.
Gabrielli arrived at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center about 20 minutes later with third-degree burns and “clothing that reeked of gasoline,” the complaint says. He initially told police his injuries stemmed from a kitchen fire that erupted while he was cooking chicken and rice at his home.
But fire marshals interviewed Gabrielli’s mother, the complaint says, who said “no one had cooked anything that evening, and that there were no dirty dishes in the sink.”
Gabrielli pleaded guilty to arson in 2016. He faces at least five years behind bars but has not yet been sentenced.
U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement that the defendants “delivered a frightening message in the form of fire to force a businessman to pay protection money to a high-ranking gangster.”
“Today’s charges against two alleged crime family associates demonstrate that whether you are a made member or a young associate looking to advance in a crime family, the end result is the same — prosecution and prison,” Donoghue said.
The Gambino crime family’s Mafia associates have for generations used violence, threats and intimidation to wield power and generate illegal profits.