FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello should get a new trial in the purportedly mob-connected slaying of Florida businessman in a power struggle over a lucrative fleet of gambling ships, a Florida appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that a statement was improperly admitted as evidence linking Moscatiello to the alleged hit man. Moscatiello, 79, was a member of New York's Gambino crime family once led by "Teflon Don" John Gotti, previous evidence showed. He's been serving a life sentence imposed in 2015, but now will get a new trial.
Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis founded the Miami Subs restaurant chain, and owned the SunCruz Casinos gambling ships, which became the focus of the struggle that led to his killing on Feb. 6, 2001. Evidence showed Boulis was in his car in downtown Fort Lauderdale when cars blocked him in front and back. According to trial testimony, purported hit man John "J.J." Gurino fired the fatal shots from a black Mustang that pulled up to the driver's side.
Co-defendant Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari also was convicted and is serving a life sentence. A third conspirator, James "Pudgy" Fiorillo, pleaded guilty and testified for prosecutors after serving more than six years behind bars.
The appeals court found that a statement attributed to the purported hit man Gurino — "I got the work from Moscatiello" — was improperly admitted because it came second-hand from a dead man. The witness said he was told that by Gurino himself, but by the time of the trial, Gurino was long gone, killed in a 2003 shooting during a dispute with a Boca Raton delicatessen owner.
Moscatiello denied any role. "I truly am sorry about what happened to Gus, but I assure you I had nothing to do with it," he told Boulis' family at his sentencing.
Prosecutors, who had sought the death penalty for Moscatiello, did not immediately comment.
According to trial testimony, Boulis, 51, had sold the SunCruz Casinos fleet to businessman Adam Kidan and his partner, former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Kidan was paying Moscatiello and Ferrari thousands of dollars each month to handle security and other services -- payments that would have ended if Boulis regained control.
The judges noted that the Gurino statement was central to the prosecution case, and many other witnesses had questionable backgrounds or had been given favorable plea deals before testifying against Moscatiello.
"Given the substantial issues of credibility of all of the major witnesses in the case, we cannot say that the state has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the error in admitting Gurino's statement was harmless," the court found.
"We are mindful that there is plenty of evidence of Moscatiello's guilt. But our (Florida) Supreme Court has consistently stated that overwhelming evidence is not the test, particularly where the erroneously admitted evidence becomes a focal point of the trial," the judges added.