Profiles of America’s Beloved TV Celebrities (7): Soprano Lillo Brancato, Jr., the Mafia, Heroin, Murder, the Return of Robert De Niro
A Yonkers Tale, Screenplay by Alex Constantine
A 20TH CENTURY FOX/CIA Production
Lillo Brancato and a Mafia Associate Charged with Murder of a Police Officer …
Sopranos actor accused of policeman’s murder
” … An actor who played a mobster in The Sopranos has gone on trial in New York accused of the real-life killing of an off-duty policeman. … “
CUT TO TV ANNOUNCERS: Witness ties Brancato to homicide house
“NEW YORK, Dec. 14 (UPI) — A witness in Lillo Brancato’s murder trial has testified the “Sopranos” actor allegedly tried to buy drugs at a New York home where a cop was killed. … “
” … Lillo Brancato Jr, 32, appeared in six episodes of the mafia television series before his character, Matt Bevilaqua, was killed off. However, prosecutors argue that his mafia links continued when he befriended Steven Armento, a reputed member of the Genovese crime family who had been thrown out of the organisation over his drug addiction … “
(FUNEREAL MUSIC UP): Once Again, a Farewell for a Fallen Officer
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
December 15, 2005
… Officer Enchautegui died as he lived: by the book. He went out into the cold before dawn on Saturday – never mind that he had been asleep after working a night shift – because he heard breaking glass outside his Bronx home. He called 911, spelling his last name twice and describing his black coat so officers would not mistake him for a suspect. Mr. Kelly said he identified himself twice as a police officer before he was fired upon. Shot in the chest, he emptied his pistol with a marksman’s accuracy, wounding the two suspects. Though not on the clock, Officer Enchautegui was acting in the line of duty when he confronted the men, the police said, making him the second officer killed this year in the line of duty.
“He could have just called 911,” said Jerry Nealon, 60, a retired police lieutenant and family friend. “He didn’t have to go outside. Nobody would have faulted him had he not gone out. He went above and beyond what he had to do.”
NARRATOR: SOMEONE WAS NOT TELLING THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH …
” … The actor – who also played Robert De Niro’s son in movie A Bronx Tale – told the jury he did not know Armento was carrying a gun on the night of the murder … “
FADE TO: Witness: ‘Sopranos’ actor knew friend had gun” – “Former “Sopranos” actor Lillo Brancato knew a fellow junkie was carrying a gun before a break-in that led to the deadly shooting of an off-duty police officer, a drug dealer testified Friday. … “
NARRATORS: ” … The suspects, Steven Armento, 48, and Lillo Brancato Jr., 29, remained in fair condition yesterday at Jacobi Medical Center. A spokesman for the Bronx district attorney’s office said the two men would be arraigned this morning in their hospital beds.Brancato was born in Bogotá, Colombia. Adopted when he was four months old, he was raised by Italian-American parents, Lillo, Sr., (a builder) and Domenica (an electrolysist), in Yonkers, New York. Although he is of Colombian descent, Brancato has said “I consider myself Italian. I was raised to eat pasta”.[dead link] Brancato was discovered while swimming at Jones Beach by a talent scout who noticed Brancato’s resemblance to Robert De Niro. … “
On June 10, 2005, Brancato was arrested by the Yonkers Police Department, in Yonkers, New York, and charged with seventh-degree misdemeanor criminal possession of a controlled substance. According to press reports, police pulled Brancato over for having a rear brake light out and found he had an expired registration and no other papers for the vehicle. He gave police permission to look in a cigarette box where they found four bags of heroin. …
Lillio’s history of drug addiction began with his work on A Bronx Tale:
“Sopranos” Actor: “I Was Dope Sick”
” … Lillo Brancato said he was suffering from heroin withdrawal when he and Steven Armento went to the home of a Vietnam veteran the actor had obtained drugs from before. … Brancato began his testimony by describing a history of drug addiction that began while working on the set of the 1993 film “A Bronx Tale.””
NEW YORK – A Bronx prosecutor at the murder trial of Lillo Brancato Jr. said the former “Sopranos” actor got involved in the killing of an off-duty police officer during a desperate mission to steal prescription drugs.
But the defense said today in opening arguments that the only culprit was the man already convicted in the shooting.
Brancato is charged with second-degree murder in the 2005 death of Officer Daniel Enchautegui.
Steven Armento was convicted of murder on Oct. 30 and has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Brancato made his debut in 1993 in “A Bronx Tale” opposite Robert De Niro. He’s appeared in more than a dozen other movies and played a doomed aspiring mobster in HBO’s “The Sopranos.”
Outcome: Cleared of Murder, but Convicted for Burglary
Former ‘Sopranos’ Actor Clear in Officer’s Killing
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
December 23, 2008
… A State Supreme Court jury in the Bronx found the defendant, Lillo Brancato Jr., 32, guilty of first-degree attempted burglary, a felony, but said he was not culpable in the death of the officer, Daniel Enchautegui, who was shot by Mr. Brancato’s accomplice after a night of drinking and a search for drugs.
Under the law, a person is guilty of second-degree murder in a killing that occurs in the commission of another felony. But the law provides for mitigating circumstances in a defense. In Mr. Brancato’s case, the jury apparently accepted his contention that he did not directly participate in the killing, was not armed and did not know that his accomplice had a gun. The jurors left without commenting on their verdict.
The accomplice, Steven Armento, 51, was convicted by another Bronx jury on Oct. 30 of first-degree murder in firing the fatal shot into Officer Enchautegui’s chest. He was sentenced last month to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Mr. Brancato faces 3 to 15 years in prison for attempted burglary, but has been incarcerated for more than three years since his arrest and could be credited with that time. Justice Martin Marcus set sentencing for Jan. 9.
Mr. Brancato, a slight man in a dark gray pinstriped suit and a maroon tie over a white shirt, stood with eyes closed and hands clasped as the verdict was read. Afterward, he patted his lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, on the back before court officers handcuffed him and led him out. His mother sobbed.
Mr. Tacopina, surrounded by members of Mr. Brancato’s family, later called the officer’s death a tragedy, but said, “It would have been a bigger tragedy to convict Lillo for something he didn’t do.” He said a minimum sentence “would be appropriate.”
Officer Enchautegui’s sister, Yolanda Rosa, was grim. “I waited three long years for this,” she said. “I’m disappointed. What message is this sending out to New York police officers today?”
Officers who had attended the trial sat in silence. “We’re obviously frustrated today that the jury did not see what was plain and simple,” said Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “This would not have happened if it was not for him. We’re asking today that this judge sentence him to the max of 15 years.”
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, “On this day of disappointments in court, we hope that the family and friends of Daniel Enchautegui find some comfort in the fact that at least one in the pair responsible for his death was convicted of murder.”
The case had drawn wide attention, not only because of the actions of the officer, who confronted and shot both burglars despite being mortally wounded, but also because of Mr. Brancato’s background as a moderately successful actor who had appeared in “The Sopranos”; Robert De Niro’s 1993 coming-of-age film, “A Bronx Tale”; and a dozen other films, often as an aspiring mobster.
In a trial that began on Nov. 24, prosecutors charged that Mr. Brancato and Mr. Armento, residents of Yonkers who were winding up a night of drinking in the early hours of Dec. 10, 2005, went to a house on Arnow Place in Pelham Bay to get drugs from a friend who had provided them before. But the friend, Kenneth Scovotti, had died months earlier and the doors were locked.
The second-degree murder charge appeared to turn on what Mr. Brancato did next. Prosecutors said he kicked in a basement window, trying to commit a burglary, which exposed him to guilt on the murder charge.
But Mr. Tacopina contended that Mr. Brancato was unaware Mr. Scovotti was dead, assumed he was asleep, and broke the window accidentally when he kicked it to get Mr. Scovotti’s attention. He said the men did not enter, but went to another friend’s home nearby seeking drugs. Failing that, they returned to the previous house.
By then, Officer Enchautegui, 28, who lived in a basement apartment next door, had heard glass breaking and called 911, was outside. He had drawn his pistol, a Kahr semiautomatic, and confronted the suspects, shouting, “Don’t move! Don’t move!” according to prosecutors.
They said that Mr. Armento, who had a record for burglary and weapons and drug possession, fired his gun, a .357 Magnum, first, striking the officer once in the left chest. The officer returned fire, striking both suspects, who were captured by arriving officers.
Mr. Brancato testified that he did not know how a screen on the ground came to be removed from the window and that neither he nor Mr. Armento had worn the latex gloves that investigators found at the scene. Experts testified that both men’s DNA were on the gloves.
Mr. Tacopina said after the verdict that his client was being treated for drug addiction and had found a “second chance in life.”
Nate Schweber and Mathew R. Warren contributed reporting.
Slain Cop’s Family Baffled by “Sopranos” Trial Verdict
Dec 23, 2008
“A former “Sopranos” actor has been cleared of second-degree murder in the shooting death of an off-duty policeman during a drunken, late-night search for drugs in Bronx three years ago. … “
The Lost Soprano
Feb 27, 2006
… Lillo’s father, an Italian immigrant, ran a construction company in Yonkers.
Not that anyone really pictured Lillo in construction. He didn’t like getting dirty. And he was antsy. When family got together—Lillo’s father has half a dozen siblings, many in the neighborhood—Lillo was the entertainment. He could impersonate anybody, though he had a special aptitude for Italian movie stars, particularly their mobster roles. Like Pesci, Pacino, or Liotta in GoodFellas, a movie he knew by heart. Lillo’s favorite, though, was Robert De Niro, whom everyone said Lillo looked like. Lillo loved De Niro. Sometimes Lillo thought he was De Niro. When Cape Fear came out, Lillo grew his hair long and put fake tattoos up and down his arms, like De Niro’s character. After Lillo saw Raging Bull, in which De Niro plays a middleweight, Lillo put an orange peel in his mouth, like a mouth protector, and sparred with his brother in the kitchen.
Then, one summer day fourteen years ago—it was July 5, 1992—Lillo was at Jones Beach with his brother Vinny and some cousins. People took Vinny and Lillo for twins —that summer, they were both 15. (In fact, Lillo was adopted three months before Vinny was born.) At the beach, Lillo was braving the water when Vinny shouted, “Hey, Li, the guy from the De Niro movie is here.” De Niro was to star in and direct A Bronx Tale. A scout was handing out flyers, hunting for a teenager to play De Niro’s son.
On the beach, Lillo started to walk like De Niro, the soft foot, the weighty arms. He put on De Niro’s expression, the downturned mouth. Then, in De Niro’s voice, he said, “How ya doin’?”
“Oh my God,” shouted the casting scout.
In his movie roles, De Niro could be talkative. On the set of A Bronx Tale, Lillo recalls De Niro was a quiet presence. “Think about what it is,” he directed Lillo, who thought of Mr. De Niro, as he first called him, as a father figure, protective. “Your life is going to change dramatically,” De Niro told Lillo shortly before the movie premiered. “You won’t know who to trust at times. People you think are going to be your friends, you won’t know anymore . . .”
Lillo’s Attorney Joe Tacopina, Michael Jackson, Bernie Kerik – Bush’s First Choice for Homeland Security Secretary – & the Mob (Judith Regan, too)
Oct. 9, 2006 issue – New legal problems appear to be looming for Bernard Kerik, the onetime New York City police commissioner and unsuccessful nominee for Homeland Security secretary. Kerik’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, confirmed to NEWSWEEK that federal prosecutors are investigating Kerik for an alleged conversation he had with Jeanine Pirro, GOP candidate for New York state attorney general, about bugging a family boat so Pirro could determine whether her husband was having an affair.
Tacopina said he believes the Feds are also investigating Kerik’s taxes, but declined to give details. (Prosecutors wouldn’t comment on the tax issue.) Kerik’s nomination to succeed Tom Ridge as Homeland Security secretary was withdrawn after Kerik confessed to a “nanny problem”; earlier this year Kerik pleaded guilty to charges of accepting gifts from a company that wanted to do business with New York City’s government. “We are not afraid of any investigation,” Tacopina said.
Bernie and the Mob?
August 28, 2006
Former NYPD police commissioner Bernie Kerik’s lawyer Joe Tacopina objected to this column’s description of Kerik’s relationship with a New Jersey company which, Kerik admits, paid for $165,000 in renovations to his Bronx apartment.
Tacopina said “there was no way at that time” Kerik would have suspected that the company, Interstate Industrial of Clifton, N.J., might have had mob connections.
Your Humble Servant will now set out a brief time-line of events between 1996 and 2000.
October 1996. Interstate buys a Staten Island debris transfer station from Eddie Garafola, brother-in-law of Sammy [The Bull] Gravano. A transfer station is where debris is stored before being transferred to another facility — in this case, the Fresh Kills landfill.
Early 1997. Interstate applies for a license with the New Jersey Casino Commission for construction projects at Atlantic City casinos. The commission was formed to keep the mob out of Atlantic City.
April 1997. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement — an arm of the state’s attorney general — begins an investigation of Interstate.
January 1, 1998. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani names Kerik the city’s Corrections Commissioner.
November 1, 1998. Larry Ray is best man at Kerik’s wedding to his current wife Hala. Ray — who has law enforcement contacts and became a federal informant in 1996 after, he says, Garafola put out a contract on his life — pays for $7,000 of the wedding’s cost. Ray is also friends with Interstate’s owner Frank DiTommaso, to whom he introduces Kerik.
November 1998. At Kerik’s recommendation, Interstate hires Ray at $100,000 a year to deal with regulators in New York and New Jersey investigating the company for suspected mob ties.
DiTommaso later tells investigators for the city’s Department of Investigation: “I hired him [Ray] to be a coordinator between my attorneys in New York and my attorneys in New Jersey and our security company. [He was] primarily dealing with issues surrounding the transfer station in Staten Island dealing with the requirements of [New York City’s] Trade Waste Commission and the Gaming Commission in New Jersey.” The Trade Waste Commission was set up by Giuliani to weed out mob-tied carters.
“Basically,” DiTommaso tells DOI, “we were going through the issues that were surrounding the transfer station. Obviously, Garafola is a major topic of conversation and interest to law enforcement.”
Meanwhile, Kerik and DiTommaso become fast friends. “When I was in the city, I’d call him, see if he was in, stop by,” DiTommaso tells DOI.
Interstate also hires Kerik’s brother Donald for $85,000 a year.
December 1998. DiTommaso and Ray attend Kerik’s Corrections Department Christmas party.
January 1999. Interstate replaces its security firm, First Security, which was then run by former NYPD police commissioner Bill Bratton, with COPSTAT, run by James Wood, Kerik’s supervisor as an NYPD detective, according to DiTommaso’s DOI testimony.
April 29, 1999. In an e-mail, later reported by the Daily News, Kerik guides Ray on how to help Interstate deal with the Trade Waste Commission. “Stay on top of Jimmy Wood and push the Security Control issue,” Ray says Kerik wrote. “His notes and records will be helpful with the WTC if need be.”
Tacopina was Judith Regan’s Lawyer, too
… Then there is former police commissioner Bernie Kerik, whom he recently got off with a slap on the wrist, and before that, Kerik’s ex-mistress, publishing magnate Judith Regan. …