An elderly mafia underboss charged in a union extortion scheme caught a break because of his age when a Brooklyn judge sentenced him to 15 months in prison Monday.
Benjamin “The Claw” Castellazzo, the underboss of the Colombo crime family according to the feds, argued through his lawyers that a lengthier prison sentence “could jeopardize his life” at age 86, given his various health problems.
“It could effectively turn into a death sentence,” defense lawyer Ilana Haramati said.
Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Hector Gonzalez shaved a year off the 27-month sentence prosecutors were asking for, telling the aging repeat offender, “Hopefully, this will be the end, but only time will tell.”
Castellazzo has already spent six months in jail after his indictment, and his lawyers said they worried the federal Bureau of Prisons wouldn’t be able to take deva of his health problems that include cardiac issues, a fight with prostate cancer and artery blockages that required emergency surgeries.
He described similar health issues when he was sentenced in an earlier extortion case in 2013.
“He did that then because he had real problems, and we’re doing that now because they’ve only gotten worse over the years,” Haramati said.
Gonzalez said he had to weigh Castellazzo’s lifelong commitment to organized crime against his health problems.
“It’s not an uncommon situation that when you’re dealing with organized crime organizations of this sort you’re going to see defendants who are up in age,” he said. “How do I grapple with that and how do I weigh that?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Reich contended that as the underboss, Castellazzo was a “critical senior member” of the shakedown scheme.
“It is clear that he has no interest in living a law-abiding life. He has shown that time and again,” Reich said. “The defendant has referred to his health each time he has been before a court in this district.”
Castellazzo also contended in court filings he’s broke despite his decades in organized crime, and that he might go homeless if he loses his federally subsidized senior housing in Manahawkin, N.J.
“He didn’t lose it while he was in [jail] for six months, but he was caught kind of on the brink there,” defense lawyer Michael Marinaccio said Monday.
Castellazzo was busted in a September 2021 takedown of the entire leadership of the Colombo crime family. The labor union shakedown at the heart of the indictment started in 2001, and by 2019 the crime family was trying to turn the Queens union, which represented construction workers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, into a mob-run operation.
He pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy in July.
All 14 defendants busted in the case have taken a plea, except for Colombo boss Andrew “Mush” Russo, who died in April 2022 at age 87.
One member of the scheme, Vincent “Vinny Unions” Ricciardo, pressured a high-ranking union official into paying a $2,600 monthly “pension” to the mob family for nearly 20 years — nearly $600,000 in total.
The Colombos also pressured a health fund associated with the union into picking mob-friendly vendors and paying $10,000 a month in tribute.
Castellazzo must surrender himself to federal prison authorities by March 22.
When asked outside the courtroom about how he got his “the Claw” nickname, he joked, “I was a carpenter.”