Body Of Missing Drug Trial Defendant Found
NEW YORK (AP) _ A missing defendant in the ″Pizza Connection″ drug trial was found dead Tuesday, his body stuffed into a garbage bag left sitting on a streetcorner in an industrial section of Brooklyn, a police said.
U.S. District Judge Pierre Laval told the jury in the smuggling and money laundering case that the defendant, Gaetano Mazzara, had died, but did not say how. The trial was thrown into confusion, with lawyers pressing reporters for details and relatives of the dead man getting the news in the courthouse.
Police tentatively identified the victim as Mazzara, 51, of Sayreville, N.J., said Lt. Ed LeSchack, a department spokesman. Mazzara disappeared the day before Thanksgiving while free on $1.5 million bail and had not been seen since.
Family members were notified but had not identified the body, LeSchack said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard A. Martin said police had advised him during the trial’s lunch break that the body apparently was Mazzara’s.
Mazzara, owner of a Union, N.J. pizzeria, was one of 20 men on trial on charges of participating in an international drug smuggling and money laundering ring.
The case became known as the ″Pizza Connection″ because the ring allegedly used pizza parlors in the Midwest and Northeast as fronts to market more than $3.6 billion worth of heroin imported over a 10-year period. The trial has been going on for more than a year.
Officer Louis Llanes, a department spokesman, said the body was found after two people told a vendor at the intersection that they noticed two feet sticking out of a plastic bag that was sitting on the curb. He said the victim had been dead about two hours.
The body was fully clothed and had ″a sharp wound to the back of the head and above the right eye,″ Llanes said. The cause of death had not yet been determined.
Marvin Segal, Mazzara’s attorney, said in court Monday that relatives reported Mazzara missing Thursday when he failed to return from a Wednesday meeting with another defense lawyer, Harriet Rosen.
Ms. Rosen said she spent most of last Wednesday in New Jersey preparing the defense case with Mazzara.
″He was his usual self, active, talkative, friendly,″ said Ms. Rosen. ″If anything, he was extremely positive about our defense.″
She said he did not express any fear for his safety.
She said she was told that after leaving her, Mazzara went to a bakery in the Sayreville-Edison, N.J. area.
Segal said he was told that when Mazzara left the bakery he said he was going to New York, but he said he did not where in the city Mazzara was headed.
″He said he was going to meet someone,″ Segal said.
″I heard he got a phone call and went into the city,″ Ms. Rosen said, adding that she did not know who called him or where he went.
Ms. Rosen said the report of Mazzara’s death vindicated defense contentions that he had not willingly fled the trial, that his absence was ″most involuntary indeed.″
Leval had revoked the bail of 10 other defendants over the weekend after prosecutors told him of Mazzara’s disappearance.
On Monday, Leval released nine of the defendants but ordered the continued detention of Giuseppe Lamberti, 53, of Baldwin, who also had been free on $1.5 million bond.
Three defendants, including Gaetano Badalamenti, alleged former head of the Sicilian Mafia, have been held without bail since the trial began.