A federal jury Friday acquitted 20 reputed mob figures of racketeering charges, ending what is believed to be the nation's longest federal criminal trial and handing the government a stunning defeat.
The jury, which had been selected 21 months ago, read 77 separate not guilty verdicts before the courtroom erupted in pandemonium. The defendants and their attorneys hugged and gave a standing ovation to the jury, which had deliberated just 14 hours. The jury forewoman wept."What's there to say," Assistant U.S. Attorney V. Grady O'Malley said. "Apparently the jury just resented the length (of the trial) and the breadth of the indictment."
The government had charged that Anthony "Tumac" Accetturo of Hollywood, Fla., and his co-defendants controlled a powerful New Jersey faction of the Lucchese organized crime family that had illegal gambling, loan-sharking, drug-dealing and fraudulent credit card operations.
The defense tried to discredit government witnesses, many of whom had serious criminal records. The government contended that only such insiders could tell the story of the organized crime family.
Defense attorney David Ruhnke said the verdict was a "complete rejection" of long government racketeering prosecutions against numerous defendants.
"We think this is certainly the last prosecution that can be brought like this," added defense attorney Miles Feinstein.
"My client is enormously thrilled by the result," said Accetturo's attorney, Stephen Skoller.
"I'm just glad it was everybody (acquitted)," said Michael Taccetta, a Florham Park resident charged with supervising the organization in New Jersey.
The defendants and their lawyers waited outside the courthouse to applaud the jurors as they emerged before going to a restaurant to celebrate. Some of the jurors blew kisses, waved and smiled broadly. All declined comment, driving off in a government van.
Before they were dismissed, U.S. District Judge Harold A. Ackerman thanked the jury, saying, "I commend you in the highest terms for your dedication, your patience, your attentiveness."
"I'm just glad it's over," the judge said later, adding he planned to go on vacation as soon as possible.
The panel began deliberating Thursday morning with a record to consider that included 40,000 pages of transcripts, testimony from 89 witnesses and 850 exhibits.
The government's star witness was Joseph Alonzo, a diagnosed schizophrenic, admitted drug addict and alcoholic and convicted criminal who had shot one of the defendants - his cousin - five times.
Defense attorney Robert L. Brown, elected mayor of Orange during the trial, criticized the government for calling "liars, thieves, crooks and criminals" as witnesses.
"American jurors realize that's not enough under our Constitution," he said.
Michael Critchley, who represented Taccetta, called the verdict a "collective victory."
"The odds in this one were against 1,000 to 1," he said.