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U.S. Attorney Says Threats May Have Caused Recanted Testimony

October 2, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani told a federal judge Thursday he believed ″threats of violence″ may have led to the recanted testimony of a mob hitman who turned government witness in the ″Pizza Connection″ drug trial.

Giuliani made his claim in a bid to block convicted Bonanno crime family captain Salvatore Catalano from withdrawing his request for a new trial based on the gunman’s recanting.

″We have reason to believe much of what is contained in it is phony and false,″ said Giuliani. ″There is reason to believe there is evidence of threats of violence″ that led to Luigi Ronsisvalle’s recanting of his testimony. Giuliani said a grand jury was investigating the matter.

U.S. District Judge Pierre Leval, who presided over the marathon drug trial, allowed Catalano to withdraw his motion for a new trial. The action capped a day of charges and countercharges among lawyers over Ronsisvalle’s apparent change of heart.

Meanwhile, the attorney who sought a new trial withdrew from the case, while another defense lawyer said Catalano never authorized the new trial request in the first place.

Ivan Fisher, lead attorney for Catalano during the trial, asked Leval on Monday to grant a new trial on ″newly discovered evidence,″ including the retraction by Ronsisvalle.

Ronsisvalle, in a sworn affidavit, claimed that testimony he gave at trial about Catalano’s involvement in heroin deals was ″inaccurate.″

But on Wednesday, Fisher wrote Leval withdrawing from the case because ″the government, at least in the press, has begun raising questions as to the manner in which Ronsisvalle’s recantation was obtained.″

Mario Malerba, the lawyer handling Catalano’s appeal, stated in another affidavit that neither he nor Catalano authorized Fisher to seek a new trial.

Fisher, reached by telephone at his office, said he had not seen Malerba’s court papers but ″to the extent that they say I was not authorized, it is not accurate.″

Catalano, a Queens bakery owner, was convicted in March with 17 others of participating in a massive heroin importing operation dubbed the ″Pizza Connection″ after prosecutors claimed it used pizza parlors as fronts.

Catalano was sentenced to 45 years in prison for being one of the ring leaders of the conspiracy which prosecutors said imported $1.6 billion worth of heroin into the country over nearly a decade. Catalano, who is serving his sentence at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., also was fined more than $1 million.

The trial, which began in the fall of 1985, was one of the longest criminal cases in federal court history.

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