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Judge frees convicted mobster: Porter's sentence halved for cooperation with FBI

Saturday, December 02, 2000

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Charles "Chucky" Porter, the highest-ranking member of the Pittsburgh Mafia ever to turn informant, will be home for Christmas.

A federal judge yesterday ordered him released from prison at 10 a.m. Dec. 18, after serving less than half of his 28-year sentence on racketeering charges.

In his order, Chief U.S. District Judge Donald Ziegler said Porter, 67, former underboss to Michael Genovese of West Deer, has cooperated with the FBI in mob investigations for eight years and prevented the murders of protected witnesses who testified for the government in organized crime prosecutions.

He will be released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., after which he will have 72 hours to report to his probation officer in Pittsburgh.

Porter will remain on supervised release, the federal version of probation, for five years.

The U.S. attorney's office would not comment on the issue of Porter's safety once he is freed, but he will not enter the witness protection program.

Authorities do not believe he is in danger of retaliation.

"It would seem to me to be pretty foolish for anyone to retaliate against him in view of the fact that the government has a great deal of concern for his safety, as they would for any citizen," said retired FBI agent Robert Garrity, former head of the agency's organized crime unit in Pittsburgh.

Ziegler's order came two days after Garrity and fellow FBI agent Roger Greenbank, Porter's adversaries throughout the 1980s, asked the judge to cut the mobster's sentence because of information he has provided to the FBI from prison since 1992.

Porter's son, attorney Charles Porter Jr., also pleaded with the judge to let his father go, saying his diabetes, if uncontrolled, would eventually lead to kidney failure, loss of vision and heart problems.Charles Porter Jr., who was in federal court yesterday representing a client in an unrelated case, said he had to mask his elation at the judge's decision and "put on his game face" in court. Afterwards, he rushed to Ziegler's chambers to pick up a copy of the order. He said he and his family had hoped for such a decision but weren't counting on it.

"I was cautiously optimistic," he said, "but you just don't know."

Porter said he has some concern for his father's well-being now that everyone knows he informed on the mob. But he agreed with Garrity that retaliation would be unwise because of FBI scrutiny, especially considering that Porter Sr. will not be testifying against anybody.

Porter said he isn't sure what his father will do after his release. He said Porter Sr. might start a small business with his wife, Joy, the details of which haven't been worked out. Or he might work for his cousin, Rocco Viola Jr., a Cranberry developer.

"We just want him to come home," said Porter. "A large part of what he will do will depend on the perceptions of his safety and his ability to remain in this area."

Porter was sentenced to prison Jan. 21, 1991, although he has been in federal custody since April 18, 1990, following an indictment that named him and 14 other mob members and associates in a sweeping prosecution under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Ziegler, who in late 1990 presided over what became the largest organized crime trial in Pittsburgh history, said Porter has served more time than most of his co-defendants and the witnesses who testified against him.

But the decision to reduce the sentence was entirely his and not based on any formula.

"Sentence reduction is not an exact science," he wrote in his opinion. "There are no guidelines, grids or precedent. Prosecutors in this district decline to make recommendations, and in the end judges rely on facts, experience and an informed sense of proportionality."

Key to the government's motion was the fact that Porter had told the FBI on many occasions about impending hits or threats of violence by the mob against government witnesses. Greenbank testified that Porter saved at least six lives by providing specific information about the targets, including where they lived and their daily routines, all of which he learned from other inmates.

One intended target was Joey Rosa, the key witness against Porter. Another was Philip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti, former underboss of the Philadelphia mob and also a witness against Porter.

In addition to averting mob hits, Ziegler noted that Porter, starting in 1992, provided "substantial assistance" to FBI in investigations of the mob in Pittsburgh and other cities. Greenbank testified Wednesday that Porter's information was critical to FBI cases in the 1990s.

Porter, formerly of Penn Hills, became a made member of the mob in 1986 and was promoted to second-in-command in 1987. During his trial, prosecutors characterized him and the late Louis Raucci Sr. of Verona as the "right and left hands" of Genovese, whom the FBI says remains boss of what's left of the aging Pittsburgh La Cosa Nostra family.

The government cited more than 20 examples of Porter providing information that agents said allowed them to initiate investigations, helped them in ongoing investigations or warned them of impending violence against informants and witnesses.

Federal authorities had been considering a reduction motion for several years based on information Porter had provided while incarcerated in federal prisons in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Garrity, who has become friendly with Porter over the years, said yesterday that the feds have kept their promise.

"The system worked the way it's supposed to work," he said. "We went to see him nine years ago and asked him to cooperate. We told him we would go to the U.S. attorney and, if they agreed, we would make a motion and go to the judge. And that's what has happened."

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