The Mob Commission Trial: Mob Boss Carmine Persico Conducts His Own Defense

U.S. v. Persico, 621 F. Supp. 842 (S.D.N.Y. 1985)

Beginning in September 1986, the Mob Commission Trial was a 10-week proceeding that involved the five original Mafia families in New York City. US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani pursued the charges in an effort to ruin the Mafia’s top bosses, along with their closest advisors, underlings, and assassins. There were 11 total defendants. The prosecution’s primary evidence consisted of recordings acquired through FBI bugs, which were placed in homes, offices, restaurants, cars, and social clubs. More than 100 taped conversations illustrated the mob’s penchant for theft, corruption, intimidation, violence, and murder.

Carmine “The Snake” Persico elected to conduct his own defense. He was not seen in any FBI surveillance photos, nor heard in any Bureau recordings, because Persico had been running the Colombo Crime Family mostly from prison since 1973. Persico’s thick Brooklyn accent, on display during his questioning of witnesses, supplied some of the trial’s lighter moments. He showed true flair in his summation by comparing the trial to “a bus trip through tinsel town.” By all accounts, as defense counsel, he handled himself quite well.

Nevertheless, the jury found Persico and all eight remaining defendants (one was granted a separate trial and two died) guilty on November 19, 1986, and effectively sentenced them to life in prison.