Large living, small income key in Perna mob case

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At a bail hearing in December 2007 are reputed Lucchese crime family members Ralph V. Perna (left) and Martin Taccetta. Perna is the father of Joseph Perna (inset). (BOB KARP / Associated Press, Pool)

The numbers didn't add up.

State investigators analyzing the reported income and savings of reputed mobster Joseph "Little Joe" Perna and his wife, Roseanna, saw that the North Jersey couple reported income of $63,836 over a two-year period beginning in July 2005.

At the same time, bank records indicated the couple made deposits totaling $329,531.

Those deposits were "in excess of 500 percent of their known and reported lawful income," according to an affidavit that is part of a racketeering case in which Joseph M. Perna, 40, is a key defendant.

The money was part of a "torrent of illicit income" that financed Perna's lifestyle, according to state investigator Christopher Donohue, the author of the affidavit.

That lifestyle included a $700,000 home in Wyckoff, a "summer home" in Toms River, luxury cars - Perna drove an Infiniti M35X - and lots of disposable cash.

Perna and 31 codefendants, including his wife, his father, and his two younger brothers, were arraigned last Monday in Superior Court in Morris County.

Other defendants include two reputed bosses of the Lucchese crime family in New York and Nicodemo S. Scarfo, son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

Dubbed "Operation Heat," the investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice has provided a look into the inner workings of a crime family, detailing its alleged involvement in a $2.2 billion Internet sports-betting operation. Other charges in the 34-count indictment include money laundering, extortion, drug dealing, aggravated assault, and tax evasion.

The case also highlights the wheeling and dealing of the Pernas: Joseph; his father, Ralph V., 64; and his brothers, Ralph M., 38, and John, 32.

Longtime players in the New Jersey underworld, the Pernas emerge as a crime family within a crime family.

"They've always been into bookmaking," said Robert Buccino, head of investigations for the Union County Prosecutor's Office and a former organized-crime investigator with the Division of Criminal Justice.

Buccino can trace three generations of underworld figures named Perna, beginning with the late Joseph Perna, a mob loan shark and enforcer from the Newark, N.J., area in the 1960s and 1970s.

"The old man was a real tough guy," said Buccino.

Joe Perna's sons, Michael and Ralph V., followed him into the Lucchese organization, Buccino said. Michael Perna, 68, is serving a 15-year sentence on federal racketeering charges.

Ralph V. Perna is listed as a capo, or captain, and head of the crime family's New Jersey operations, according to law enforcement authorities.

In one of the hundreds of conversations secretly recorded by state investigators, Joseph and John Perna are heard gloating about "Daddy's" elevation to the top spot three years ago.

Joseph Perna was a prime target of electronic surveillance during the racketeering investigation.

His phone was tapped. A bug and a GPS tracking device were planted in his Infiniti. And teams of investigators were constantly on his tail.

In fact, investigators were watching his Toms River home in November 2007 when the hierarchy of the Lucchese crime family, including New York mob leaders Joseph "Big Joe" DiNapoli and Matthew Madonna, showed up for a mob making - or initiation - ceremony.

Both Joseph and John Perna were initiated as crime family soldiers that day and were later picked up in Joseph's car discussing the event.

Because Joseph Perna occasionally ferried the mob bosses to and from meetings in New Jersey, the car bug also gave authorities a chance to hear Madonna and the others discussing mob business.

While documents made public thus far do not include many conversations with Ralph V. Perna, the 195-page affidavit is replete with references to comments, conversations and discussions involving Joseph Perna and, to a lesser degree, his brothers.

In many of them Joseph Perna talks about the money he and others were making from the sports-betting operation.

"Listen, that's . . . how we . . . make our living, you know?" he told one associate. "I don't have a day off."

In another conversation, he offered a glimpse into how lucrative the business was and also how his lifestyle was eating up his earnings.

"I made $67,000 in the last 10 days and I don't have a dollar . . . not a dollar. . . . It goes to the house and this and that and bills."

And in a conversation that authorities say is germane to the current case, Perna bragged about how he avoided paying a fine after being jailed on a federal gambling conviction in 2004 by running up bills on all his credit cards. This way, he said, it appeared he was in debt and had no funds to pay a fine.

"We got word they were giving us $250,000 fines," he said. "I was not paying that [expletive] fine . . . so I banged the credit cards."

Other tapes include Perna and his brother John plotting assaults on customers who had failed to pay their gambling debts.

In one, John Perna is allegedly waiting to assault a deadbeat when another associate calls to ask the status of the confrontation.

"We know what we're doin' bro', alright," he said. "This ain't our first rodeo and it won't be our last."

Investigators were able to thwart one planned attack on a banker in Fort Lee who owed the mobsters $12,000 by calling the local police about "suspicious characters" in the bank's parking lot.

In a taped conversation after he left the area, John Perna suspected that people who worked in the bank spotted him and an associate and called the police.

He seemed particularly upset that police accused him of "lurking" around the bank, although it's unclear if he understood what that meant.

"People in the bank . . . see people, and they're a little scared," John Perna said. "They call the cops on us. They said we are lurking around the bank. We weren't lurking once around the [expletive] bank, bro'."

One or more of the Pernas are named in 21 of the 34 counts in the racketeering indictment handed up in May.

Deputy Attorney General Mark Eliades, chief of the Gangs and Organized Crime Bureau of the Attorney General's Office, said during last Monday's hearings that the case includes more than 15,000 pages of bank records; more than 10,000 pages of grand jury transcripts, affidavits, and search-and-seizure orders, and thousands of hours of recorded conversations.

As the case moves toward trial, authorities are expected to push for the seizure of assets - homes, cars, and cash - they allege came from the racketeering enterprise.

Racketeering was Joseph Perna's "singular means of financial subsistence," state investigator Donohue wrote in his affidavit. And authorities say he generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in income as a result.

Yet, the affidavit notes, Perna and his wife declared no income for 2005 and just $63,836 for 2006 on their New Jersey tax returns.

The numbers didn't add up.

 


Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.