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May 17, 1999

By Jerry Capeci

Life Without Honor
John Pappa's BackJohn Pappa grew up idolizing his dad, telling his young hoodlum buddies he wanted to be just like his father Gerard, a bloodthirsty mobster who killed for fun and profit and eventually was whacked for breaking mob rules, reputedly by that denizen of mob protocol, Genovese boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante.

On his dresser, Pappa had a picture of his dad, who was blown away in 1980. On his arm was a simple tattoo tribute, "Pappa Bear." On his back, was a macabre tattoo that includes, in Italian, a credo young Pappa believed applied to him and his father, "Morte prima di disonore," -- Death before dishonor.

John PappaLast week, the baby-faced hoodlum with a hair-trigger temper, was convicted of racketeering, drug dealing and four murders, including the 12th and final killing of the bloody Colombo family war.

Pappa (left) was found guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court of the Oct. 20, 1993 rubout of rival capo Joseph Scopo and three other murders in a 12 month period. Pappa, 24, faces a mandatory life sentence. Co-defendant Hennigar, 26, convicted of drug dealing and one murder, also faces life.

"This prosecution brings the terrible legacy of the Colombo war to a close with the conviction of one of the most dangerous young hitman in the Colombo family," said assistant U.S. attorney Stephen Kelly.

During the four week trial, Kelly and co-prosecutor Amy Walsh put together Calvin Hennigaran overwhelming case against Pappa and   Hennigar (right) without the luxury of two staples of most modern-day Mafia trials: They had no tape recorded admissions from either defendant, and none of their  witnesses were turncoat accomplices with first hand information.

They built their case around circumstantial evidence, such as telephone records showing that Pappa called two of his victims several times right before their deaths. They also had a witness who testified that she saw a slender teenager running away from the Scopo murder scene. They introduced a photo of Pappa's back into evidence, called an FBI agent who testified that Pappa failed to tell the feds about the tattoo (as required of arrestees) at first and was reluctant to remove his shirt. They argued that under the entire circumstances of the case, it showed Pappa's guilt.

But their best evidence came from Pappa himself, who often shot his mouth off about his murderous achievements. Three former mob associates testified about repeated admissions he made about murder, drug dealing and assorted mayhem in the early 1990's.

Seven months after the Scopo hit, Pappa boasted how he used a .380 automatic to kill the unarmed Colombo capo, according to Ronald (Messy Marvin) Moran, who followed Dino Basciano and Joseph Iborti to the witness stand.

Joe Scopo's Car"He said John Sparacino threw open the door and sprayed Scopo's car (left) with a machine gun," said Moran, a bespectacled, chubby-cheeked killer whose nickname stems from a likeness to a cherubic adolescent in a television commercial.

"He said that the retard Sparacino had missed him with every shot ... (and) left him at the scene. The next part of the conversation, John was out of the car. He didn't explain how. Just he was in another location, this time he was Joe Scopohiding behind a tree because he thought Scopo had a gun. He seen Scopo in a crouched position outside the automobile. He said he waited to see if he had a gun.

"He said Scopo was yelling at him, 'You got balls, come on. Come on, you need to kill me, kill me you little punk.' John said Scopo threw what he believed to be a cellular phone at him. John said he walked from behind the tree, walked over to Scopo (right) and shot him, I believe eight times."

Lawyers for both defendants said they would appeal. "There are significant appellate issues and we expect our appeal to be successful," said Pappa's attorney, Michael Bachner.

The Messy Mutt
John PappaThe testimony by Ronald (Messy Marvin) Moran helped sink trigger-happy mob wannabe John Pappa (right), but the feds aren't too happy with the stoolie they saved for last.

Since owning up to a murderous, drug dealing life of crime that began when he was 13, Moran's given up loads of wiseguys and drug dealers -- and his mother too, for getting him a gun for protection -- but he can't stay out of trouble.

Moran has been in the hole "a few times" for various infractions since he was placed into a special unit for cooperating witnesses nearly two years ago, he admitted under questioning by Pappa's lawyer, Michael Bachner.

In addition, Moran admitted ripping off nearly $10,000 in Social Security  funds since he began cooperating by collecting monthly $550 disability payments that began five years ago when he faked suicidal tendencies and was judged to be disabled and unable to work after an arrest on gun charges.

At a side bar conference, as the lawyers discussed whether Moran had attempted to rape a woman in a hotel room or an apartment, Judge Raymond Dearie summed it all up: "This guy  is a mutt, period, plain and simple."

B.F. Guerra
Big Frank GuerraFrank (B.F.) Guerra, a Colombo wiseguy implicated in a drug sale for which mob associate Frank Smith has been jailed for 11 years, was on the hit team that killed Joseph Scopo, according to testimony at Pappa's trial.

Luchese associate Dino Basciano said Pappa told him that Guerra, (right) a close associate of Colombo capo Alphonse Persico, was in one of at least two cars that contained at least five shooters and backup gunmen.

Messy Marvin Moran testified that Pappa excitedly told him that Guerra had passed along congratulations from Persico for his killings of Scopo and associate Eric Curcio.

Alphonse PersicoGuerra, who owned a bagel shop where an 18-year-old worker was killed by gangsters looking for him in 1991, admitted that he sold cocaine for which Smith was convicted in 1989, according to FBI documents. Guerra made the admission to Smith's mother in 1992, soon after Smith's father was killed in a construction accident, the documents state.

Guerra, 33, is not charged with any Colombo war-related crimes. Persico, (left) who was acquitted of war crimes in  1994, was arrested three months ago on federal gun charges for allegedly possessing loaded firearms while piloting his 50-foot speed boat on the Florida Keys last Labor Day weekend. 

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Copyright, Jerry Capeci, 1999
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