By FRANK DONNELLY
April 8, 2004
They went by names such as Gentlemen’s Delight, Our Personal Touch and White Diamonds and advertised in the Yellow Pages and Village Voice newspaper.
But authorities say the escort services a Richmond man ran out of his home and around the metropolitan area, including one in Midland Beach, actually were prostitution rackets that raked in and laundered millions of dollars over seven years.
Yesterday, prosecutors announced the takedown of the operation as they unsealed charges against its alleged ringleader, Frank Farella, 44, of Moore Street, and 17 other suspects, including seven Staten Islanders. All of the 18 defendants were rounded up in early morning stings across the borough and in Brooklyn, Queens, and on Long Island.
Allegedly, 30 to 40 prostitutes – who were paid $250 for each sexual encounter and allowed to keep about one-third of the money – were dispatched each day. A network of 15 to 20 drivers is also said to have been employed around the clock.
The drivers and prostitutes went to all five boroughs, Long Island, Westchester County and New Jersey, an official said.
Still bleary-eyed and wearing an array of sweat suits and jeans, suspected leaders of the ring were arraigned yesterday afternoon in state Supreme Court, St. George.
They were charged in three separate indictments with enterprise corruption, promoting prostitution, money laundering and falsifying business records. The enterprise corruption charges carry a maximum penalty of eight and one-third to 25 years in prison.
The defendants pleaded not guilty through their lawyers.
“This was a sophisticated and lucrative operation with a multi-tiered management structure,” said state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office is prosecuting the case. “It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring, and now its owners and operators will be held accountable.”
Outside court, Farella’s lawyer said prosecutors had trumped up the charges against his client.
“THEY ARRESTED A MAN WHO, AT ONE TIME, OPERATED A LEGITIMATE ESCORT SERVICE BUSINESS, FOR CRIMES HE HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF,” said attorney VINCENT ROMANO. “HE TOOK THE NECESSARY SAFEGUARDS TO PREVENT [CRIMINAL] CONDUCT FROM OCCURRING.”
Farella, who now manages a car service in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, according to ROMANO, posted $400,000 bail. He was ordered, along with several other defendants, to return to court on May 18.
In addition to Farella, the other Staten Islanders charged were John Pioppo, 42, and Louise Santanastasio, 35, both of the 100 block of Park Drive North, New Springville; and Joann Corey, 29, of the 300 block of Jersey Street, New Brighton.
Pioppo and Ms. Santanastasio each posted bail.
Also indicted were Cynthia A. Dimele, 20, of Brownell Street, Stapleton; Teresa Vera, 21, of the 100 block of St. Mary’s Avenue, Rosebank, and Norman Greenblatt, 67, of Shale Street, New Springville.
The remaining Islander is Dorothy Bray, 50. Her street address was not immediately available.
Spitzer said the charges stemmed from a wide-ranging probe involving federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. A Staten Island grand jury handed up the indictments last week and they were unsealed yesterday.
In court, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Amy L. Cohn said investigators had culled evidence from “tens of thousands of [hours of] wiretaps.”
“The evidence is substantial in this case,” she said.
Prosecutors said the ring, dubbed the Farella Prostitution Enterprise in court papers, operated round-the-clock between January 1997 and March 2004.
They said Farella headed it, running six of the 11 illegal businesses out of his home and in Brooklyn. The businesses were known as White Diamonds, Gentlemen’s Delight, PT Entertainment, Lexus Entertainment, Ladies and Britney’s, court paper said. A seventh company, Our Personal Touch, was run out of 580 Midland Ave., Midland Beach, but that operation closed and moved to Brooklyn, said Ms. Cohn.
The take was lucrative, Ms. Cohn said, as Farella reeled in profits of $1 million a year.
Pioppo and a co-defendant, Mario Galbo, 58, of Brooklyn, allegedly were upper-level managers, responsible for daily operations. Ms. Cohn said Galbo made statements on tape that he was affiliated with organized crime. However, a law-enforcement source said none of the defendants were believed to have mob ties. But investigators reportedly came across the ring while probing a Gambino crime family gambling operation. The probe included wiretapping a social club on Fingerboard Road.
Customers of the prostitutes were said to have paid by cash or credit card. The credit card transactions were processed through different merchant accounts, each of which claimed to provide legitimate services to its customers, said Spitzer.
But prosecutors said Farella, Pioppo, Greenblatt and another defendant, Lester Thompson, 46, of Coram, L.I., phonied the merchant account applications. The organization allegedly laundered millions of dollars through the bogus accounts.
Farella and Pioppo were charged with enterprise corruption and multiple counts of promoting prostitution, money laundering and falsifying business records.
Spitzer said these agencies worked on the probe: The attorney general’s statewide Organized Crime Task Force, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, the New York City Police Department and the Staten Island district attorney’s office.