FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Jury selection began Monday for two men accused of murder in the mob-related 2001 slaying of a South Florida businessman, a case that weaves together reputed New York gangsters, a once high-flying Washington powerbroker, gambling on the high seas and the former operator of a mattress store chain who is now a key prosecution witness.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello, 75, and Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari, 56, could both get the death penalty. Prosecutors say the pair orchestrated the shooting death of Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis, a self-made Greek immigrant who became wealthy after founding the Miami Subs sandwich chain and operating the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet.
The case, one of the oldest in Broward County, has taken 12 years to get to trial in part because the two Tonys weren’t arrested until 2005. Lengthy legal wrangling and reassignment of judges also played a role.
A third man arrested in the case, James “Pudgy” Fiorillo, pleaded guilty last year to murder conspiracy charges and is expected to testify against his former cohorts.
Prosecutors say they will establish that Moscatiello was a member of New York’s Gambino crime family — once headed by John Gotti — and that he and Ferrari used that connection to rub out Boulis during a power struggle over the lucrative SunCruz gambling ships. Before he was slain, Boulis had sold SunCruz to former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partner Adam Kidan, who previously ran the Dial-A-Mattress chain and is also now a key prosecution witness.
Abramoff and Kidan would later plead guilty to federal fraud charges in connection with the $147.5 million purchase of SunCruz and serve federal jail time. Although Abramoff is on the Boulis prosecution’s witness list, it’s not clear whether he will testify.
Abramoff also was one of 21 people convicted in a Washington bribery scandal, which prompted Congress in 2007 to pass a law restricting gifts from lobbyists.
Boulis, 51, was shot to death at the wheel of his green BMW shortly after leaving his Fort Lauderdale office Feb. 6, 2001. Prosecution witnesses are expected to testify that the slaying was committed by John Gurino, who Kidan said in a sworn statement was brought from New York by Moscatiello for the job. Gurino himself was later fatally shot in a dispute with the owner of a Boca Raton delicatessen.
The defense won one legal skirmish Monday when Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had run out on a charge of solicitation to commit murder against both Moscatiello and Ferrari. The two remain charged with first-degree murder and murder conspiracy; they have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutor Greg Rossman said the state will appeal Holmes’ ruling while the trial continues. He said jury selection is expected to take most of this week, and Holmes said jurors may be sequestered because of heavy media attention.
Moscatiello briefly took the witness stand Monday to describe how long he has lived in the Howard Beach section of Queens in New York and how often he visited Florida as part of his SunCruz duties. He said he paid his own way to fly to South Florida in 2002 to give a statement to police investigating the Boulis murder and that he was never told he was a suspect.
“The only thing they told me was that my name came up in the investigation of a homicide,” Moscatiello said.
Kidan, who is not implicated in the Boulis killing, testified at a 2012 hearing that Moscatiello told him that he was behind the slaying. According to Kidan, the plan was initially to only talk with Boulis or possibly kidnap him.
“He said it was a decision that he made, that just had to be done,” Kidan testified, referring to his meeting with Moscatiello.
Police also have cellphone evidence that places Ferrari and Fiorillo within 500 feet of the site of Boulis’ killing, and evidence that one phone was used to call Moscatiello a short time after the slaying.
Fiorillo testified that he took a black Ford Mustang used in the killing to a body shop and that he tossed the weapon, a .380-caliber handgun, into a South Florida river. It hasn’t been recovered.
The trial is expected to last several weeks. Ferrari has been jailed since the men were arrested in September 2005. Moscatiello, however, has been free on $500,000 bail.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.