by MS | May 17, 2020
“….the other thing we’ve learned…is just how large the universe of other people who wanted the guy dead is.”
Judge Cathy Siebel on Michael Meldish during a bail hearing for Steven D. Crea on August 3, 2018
On November 15, 2013, on a quiet street in the Throggs Neck neighborhood of the Bronx, 62-year-old Michael Meldish was found dead in his car with a single, fatal gunshot wound to the right side of his head.
Police were more than giddy about the murder, immediately telling news outlets they believed it was a “gangland-style” execution.
Meldish was one of the reputed leaders of the Purple Gang – a criminal group that controlled the drug trade in the Bronx and Harlem in the 70s and 80s. They were said to have killed and dismembered over 100 rivals, with Meldish having committed at least half of those murders himself. Police described him as a “stone-cold killer.”
Law enforcement pursued Meldish for more than 30 years but was wildly unsuccessful in bringing any charges against him even though he had been arrested 18 times since the early 70s. Joseph Coffey, former head of the NYPD Organized Crime Homicide Task Force, blamed it on witnesses who wouldn’t come forward.
“They had the people so terrified they just wouldn’t cooperate,” he said. He then added that Meldish’s murder “should have happened a long time ago. I call it vermin killing vermin – poetic justice.”
Despite spending what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time trying to “pin murders” on Meldish to no avail, law enforcement had no such problems when it came time to find the killers of this particular “vermin.” Reportedly, authorities identified the suspects “within days.” Yet, it took nearly a year before any arrests were made.
Eventually, four defendants were brought to trial for the events of that chilly November night in 2013 – Steven L. Crea, Matthew Madonna, Christopher Londonio, and Terrence Caldwell.
The murder and the trial that followed made headlines around the world and while the juiciest details made the pages of various media outlets, the complete story of what happened never did.
What follows is an in-depth look into the case of Steven L. Crea and how the government wrongly won a conviction against an innocent man for a murder he didn’t commit, participate in, or have any knowledge about.
Truths and Lies
Before we delve into the details of this sordid tale, there are some basic facts that need to be clarified.
First, there is no such thing as Crea Sr and Crea Jr – only Steven L (the elder) and Steven D (his son.) While our main focus is on the elder Crea, his son plays a major role in the story we’re about to tell. We’ll be referring to the elder Crea as Steven L or Crea and the younger Crea as Steven D. But what’s important is that this common Crea misnomer is a fact that was clarified by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Kelly at the July 21, 2017 bail hearing for Steven L when she told the Court: …Stevie Crea, Jr – he’s not actually a junior; they have different middle names.”
Next, like most of us, Crea has probably been called a lot of things in his lifetime, but he has never been called “Stevie Wonder,” “Wonder Boy,” or “Herbie” – by people who know him personally and people who don’t.
Sure, you see those nicknames floating around the web, in news reports, and on government indictments, but those nicknames don’t exist in the real world. Even law enforcement knows Crea’s nicknames aren’t real. Plus, Crea’s middle name is not Lorenzo. We’re not going to tell you what his real middle name is because, quite frankly, it’s none of your business, but Lorenzo isn’t it.
The point of bringing up these issues is to show how the government likes to pick and choose when it wants to tell the truth and when it wants to fib in order to further their case – even when it comes to the smallest of details. But Crea’s bogus nicknames aren’t small details as they become a very significant part of the case against him.
In addition, based on our review of all the public documents available in this case, it should be immediately noted just how low the feds will go when they have a target or targets in their crosshairs. They’ll pay criminals or use lying and desperate “witnesses” to assist with their dirty deeds. They’ll outright lie and manipulate the facts to reach their goals, even throwing temper tantrums in the middle of a trial to get their way. They’ll leak misinformation to the press complete with Hollywood-style storylines and use the media in the cruelest of ways to keep their narrative front and center without even thinking of how it might affect the families of those they’ve accused or even the accused themselves.
Because, after all, the feds are doing it in the name of “justice.” But their brand of justice doesn’t follow the “playbook” when it comes to organized crime. Instead, they pull out their secret down and dirty one that follows no rules.
Although back in November 2013 law enforcement claimed it had identified “the suspects” in the Meldish murder, it wasn’t until the following year that the murder case started to pick up steam.
The first to be arrested was Christopher Londonio on November 8, 2014, on unrelated state gun charges. Londonio was an alleged “soldier” in the Lucchese Family and also a friend of Meldish. He was released on November 14 after posting bail.
Six months later, on May 5, 2015, Terrence Caldwell was picked up in Harlem and questioned by the NYPD about the murder. Caldwell was a friend of both Londonio and Meldish and was also an alleged “associate” of the Lucchese Family, though that’s debatable. He was held without bail on suspicion of murder.
On May 11, only a few days later, Londonio was hit with federal gun charges brought in a complaint by FBI agent Theodore Otto. SDNY Special Agent John Carillo was also involved in the investigation. Londonio was once again arrested, but this time there was no bail. He stayed behind bars.
Newspapers erroneously reported that Londonio and Caldwell had been charged with Meldish’s murder. In addition, “sources” leaked to Gang Land News that Londonio was the “definite new suspect” in the murder. The sources claimed there was “evidence” linking both Londonio and Caldwell to the crime, but no murder charges had yet been brought against either of them from the state or the federal government.
Gang Land later reported this happened so that “state probers” could gather and present “evidence” to the grand jury.” And federal “probers” would continue to try and gather “evidence” throughout the entirety of the case, even after they brought indictments against all the players allegedly involved. But, at this time, Londonio was only a small fish in a big pond and the feds wanted to use their little fish to catch bigger and better ones.
One of the ways they did this was by tickling the wires – a method that has always been a favorite of theirs. And in this particular world, they always seem to turn to their favorite source to do it – Gang Land News.
Gang Land News is a subscription-based online publication that touts itself as “the nation’s foremost expert on the American mafia.” It’s published by Jerry Capeci, who covered the organized crime beat for the NY Post (and who still occasionally contributes to its pages.) Gang Land is also reportedly read by alleged mafia members and federal officials alike, so it was the perfect vehicle for a fishing expedition by the feds.
But there was a problem. The “exclusive” information being leaked and published was speculation, and it was painting two men guilty in the eyes of the public and the potential jury pool before anyone was even officially charged with murder.
In essence, Gang Land News had become the unofficial spin machine for the prosecution as they desperately tried to put their ultimate fantasy case together. And it makes no difference if many times throughout this sordid tale it seemed that Gang Land was making fun of their informational benefactor. The fact is the majority of what was being published, especially in the early stages, was one-sided “evidence” that was put into the public arena without any thought as to how this gossip, speculation, and misinformation might affect the potential defendants, if and when they went to trial – something that a renowned journalist like Capeci should have learned in Ethics 101 .
What’s worse, the feds didn’t even know how to write this particular script. The only thing they knew for certain was that they wanted their big fish – aka Crea – and Londonio was the key to getting their man.
On June 4, 2015, both Londonio and Caldwell were officially indicted by a Bronx grand jury and charged for their alleged participation in Meldish’s murder. Caldwell was accused of being the “trigger man” while Londonio was accused of being the “getaway driver.” But the accusation was a state charge, not a federal one, and it would remain that way for nearly another year.
Even so, law enforcement turned it up a notch. They wanted Londonio to flip, but he wasn’t biting. So, once again, they “leaked” information to see what they could catch.
In November 2015, Gang Land reported that Matthew Madonna, the alleged “boss” of the Lucchese Family, had been thrown into the mix. “Sources” told the outlet that prosecutors were “hoping” to include Madonna in the murder case based on information they received from “informants” as to how the hit went down. The rumor was that Meldish owed Madonna money for a gambling debt but refused to pay, even insulting and “disrespecting” the alleged “boss.”
When this “news” hit, Madonna was in prison serving a sentence for an illegal gambling and loansharking conviction he got back in June of that year. Remember, too, that both Londonio and Caldwell were sitting in jail when the informant rumors made the rounds. In effect, the “sources” were surreptitiously pointing fingers at the two recently arrested Meldish murder suspects, even though the rumors being circulated were false.
And even though the feds supposedly had all this “evidence” against Londonio and Caldwell, the case was lost in limbo – except for more rumors planted in the media and TV show-like drama happening behind the scenes.
As the World Turns
In March 2016, Gang Land reported there was a battle brewing between two factions of prosecutors over who should be in charge of the Meldish murder mystery – Bronx or Brooklyn.
In the Bronx, Assistant D.A. Christine Scaccia, who had been in charge of the state case since Londonio and Caldwell were first arrested in 2015 was working with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office. That office was trying to “muster enough evidence” to file its own federal charges.
Over in Brooklyn, U.S. Attorney Nicole Argentieri was working on her own case and wanted Scaccia to “stand down.” Argentieri claimed she had a “turncoat” with information that would blow the case wide open, but Scaccia wasn’t budging. It seemed that everyone wanted a piece of this headline-worthy pie.
Plus, it was reported that lawyers for Londonio hadn’t even received discovery material or any evidence at all to support the charges levied against him.
Prosecutors claimed it was because they didn’t want to “jeopardize” their investigation, but it wasn’t clear which faction’s investigation was being jeopardized. Londonio’s lawyer, Charles Carnesi, told Gang Land the evidence was “sketchy” at best.
If you think about it, it sounds reasonable. DNA, phone records, and license plate readers seem like pretty solid evidence, but no federal charges were brought and the state case wasn’t moving along. Yet, two men – presumed innocent – were still sitting behind bars and others were being unfairly implicated. In addition, media reports were wild with rumors about “turncoats” who would blow the case wide open while Londonio and Caldwell were still sitting behind bars, unfairly implicating them as well.
It also begs the question as to why, if the evidence was so solid, did prosecutors need more time to “investigate?” Did they really possess the “evidence” they claimed they had?
One can speculate that not only did prosecutors not have the rock-solid evidence they claimed, but they also wanted more time to try to flip Londonio – and work on how they were going to piece together their case once Londonio made it clear he wasn’t going to bend over to their desires despite their numerous underhanded attempts to do so.
The Road to Nowhere
By September 2016, there was still no movement by either the feds or the state on the murder charges against Londonio or Caldwell. Londonio had already served 16 months and was set to be sentenced for the federal gun charges stemming from his May 2015 arrest.
He had previously agreed to a plea deal where the maximum sentence he could have received was 18 months, partly because he had no prior felony convictions.
But federal prosecutors were vehemently opposed to that sentencing even though they were the ones who had offered that deal in the first place. As it turns out, Assistant U. S. District Attorney Scott Hartman had changed his mind, and in a sentencing memo asked that Londonio be kept behind bars for at least “36 months or more.”
In other words, because the feds were so desperate to put together their trial of the decade, they wanted to renege on a plea deal and force an innocent man – who had already been sitting in jail for over a year – to serve an additional 20 months – three years total – for illegal gun possession charges. It’s also possible they were more than a little perturbed that Londonio was refusing to cooperate and wanted more time to work on that, too.
In addition, Londonio was still unable to even start preparing his case against the murder charges because his lawyer still hadn’t received the proper discovery material. It was a game the feds would play until the bitter end.
Carnesi described it best when he told Gang Land, “What we got was a roadmap to the discovery, but we got no discovery. We got police reports saying there were surveillance videos, but we didn’t get the videos; we got another police report saying there are statements, but we didn’t get the statements.”
It appears that the feds were still in the outline phase of their movie and trying to find the playerswho would make their “evidence” fit.
On February 13, 2017, federal prosecutors finally made their move and officially indicted Londonio and Caldwell for the murder of Michael Meldish and other racketeering offenses.
However, even though the murder had taken place in the Bronx where the case had been brewing since 2015, the feds decided to bring the case to White Plains – a suburb of New York nowhere near the scene of the murder or any of the other crimes charged.
Even White Plains Federal Judge Nelson Roman, who had been assigned the case, questioned the move. He even wondered about the fact that two of the three prosecutors involved were based in the Manhattan office. So, he demanded that the prosecution provide good reasoning as to why it shouldn’t be transferred back there.
But Judge Roman wasn’t given a chance to rule on the issue. He was abruptly removed and replaced by Judge Cathy Siebel, who had a long history with “organized crime” having previously served as an assistant district attorney in the office’s organized crime unit. Not even the defense was aware of the change, only learning from the docket sheet that Roman was “no longer assigned to the case.”
Surprisingly, even Gang Land was scratching its head, stating that judge reassignments “are normally a matter of public record,” except it wasn’t so in this case. Capeci even reached out to both Roman’s and Siebel’s offices but was quickly rebuffed, both offices declining to comment without any specific detail.
At least not yet.
Later, it was revealed that prosecutors had given Roman a four-page letter explaining their reasons which included, among other things, that the Lucchese Family reportedly held their Christmas parties in Westchester County and that the White Plains prosecutors had already spent “so much time” investigating the case, it wouldn’t be fair to move it to another jurisdiction.
But by this time the point was moot. It was staying in White Plains.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
In March 2017, the feds were back to their old tricks, turning once again to their favorite media outlet to report that federal prosecutors in Manhattan were planning to “hit the two top leaders” of the Lucchese Family – namely Crea and Madonna – for their reported role in Meldish’s murder. Madonna had already been mentioned back in November 2015, but Crea was a new addition.
Not only did the feds provide Gang Land with an “exclusive” story complete with the names of those they were pursuing, but they wanted to make it clear (in case anyone missed it) exactly who Crea and Madonna allegedly were in the chain of command. It could be described as pre-trial hierarchy PR.
Although Gang Land reported that the specific titles of Crea and Madonna “vary depending on whom you ask and when you pose the question,” the two were identified by law enforcement “sources” as alleged “underboss” and “acting boss,” respectively. This accusation fit perfectly into the feds’ underlying scheme to catch the bigger fish. Bigger fish, of course, meant bigger headlines, but it also meant putting out a public narrative that had yet to be proven in court.
In addition, “sources” told Gang Land they were targeting Crea’s son Steven D for racketeering and murder charges, even calling him an alleged “capo” in the Family. All this, despite the fact that the 45-year-old Steven D had no criminal record.
So, imagine if you had no criminal record – aka innocent – and all of a sudden gossip started circulating about you being involved in a “criminal enterprise” in a “high-standing position” and that the feds were coming for you? Not only that, but also that your dad was a “top guy” and the feds were coming for him, too? No one here can say that gossip in the neighborhood wouldn’t have run rampant and that everyone would be hitting the internet, checking the papers, and turning on their local news to see what came next.
It doesn’t matter at this point what was going to happen in two months. What matters is that, once again, innocent men were being painted guilty in the public eye even before any official charges were brought against them. And all the rumors and gossip were circulating right smack in the middle of the very place where these men called home – and the very place from which the potential jury pool would be drawn.
It was about to become a media frenzy with almost daily coverage, including in-depth television reports about the “gangster” next door and all sorts of other delicious fodder. So, what happened to their “innocent before being proven guilty” constitutional rights when these men were already labeled guilty before even stepping into a court of law? Was the media coverage fair and unbiased? Or did it just highlight the parts that would make for great water-cooler conversation the next day?
The Indictment Downpour
On May 31, 2017, Gang Land’s previous astounding “predictions” came true. Crea, his son, Steven D, and Matthew Madonna were charged with Meldish’s murder. Also charged in the superseding indictment were Christopher Londonio and Terrence Caldwell.
Fourteen other alleged members of the Lucchese Family were indicted on various charges as well, including attempted murder, extortion, loansharking, and labor racketeering.
Crea and Joseph Datello were charged with the attempted murder of Sean Richard, and the Creas, Vincent Bruno, and Paul Cassano were charged with the attempted murder of Carl Ulzheimer.
In addition, the elder Crea was charged with numerous other crimes under the draconian RICO Act, including almost everything every other defendant was charged with.. It should be noted that Crea had been indicted on labor racketeering charges in 2000. He served a 36-month sentence after a plea agreement and wasn’t released until 2006, with his supervised release restrictions being lifted in 2009.
For the Meldish murder, the feds were seeking the death penalty and didn’t change their stance until May 29, 2018, after they tried milking everything they could out of any defendant they could with a death penalty sentence hanging over his head.
The last time an alleged “mafia” figure had been executed was in 1944. His name was Lepke Buchalter. More recently, in 2011, and somewhat relevant to this case as we’ll learn later, a jury decided against the death penalty in the murder case of Vincent Basciano the alleged “acting boss” of the Bonanno Family, recommending instead another life sentence.
But the threat of the death penalty was a useful tool for the feds in getting people to flip. Former Bonanno Joe Massino famously did just that in 2004 after being threatened with death by the government. However, the feds weren’t going to have that kind of success with any of the defendants in this case.
Madonna, who was 80-years-old at the time and in poor health, was still sitting in jail in New Jersey, his dreams of parole effectively dashed (he was supposed to be released in January 2017.) Caldwell was also sitting in jail. For Londonio, who was still sitting in jail as well, his story was about to become a real-life horror movie.
Crea, who was 70-years-old at the time, and his son Steven D were arrested, but bail was going to become a nightmare.
In fact, the whole case was about to become one big clusterfuck of inordinate proportions.
INDEX: Introduction: Page 1 / Frank Patsqua Pre-Trial: Page 2 / David Evangelista Pre-Trial: Page 2 / Anthony Zoccolillo Pre-Trial: Page 3 / Vincent Bruno Letter: Page 3 / Frank Patsqua Pre-Trial Continued: Page 4 / Judge Siebel Recusal: Page 4 / Sean Richard Pre-Trial: Page 5 / Robert Spinelli Pre-Trial: Page 5 / New “Trial Indictment: Page 6 / Steven D Plea Bargain: Page 6 / Trial Introduction: Page 7 / Agent John Carillo Testimony: Page 7 / Undercover Agent Pete Pappas Testimony: Page 7 / John Pennisi Testimony: Page 8 / Edward Davidson Testimony: Page 8 / Robert Spinelli Testimony: Page 9, Page 10, Page 11, Page 12 / Sean Richard Testimony: Page 13 / Agent Otto Testifying Ruling Sidebar: Page 14 / MDC Special Agent Timothy Geier Testimony: Page 15 / David Evangelista Testimony: Page 16, Page 17, Page 18, Page 19 / Peter Lovaglio Testimony: Page 20 / Anthony Zoccolillo Testimony: Page 21, Page 22, Page 23, Page 24, Page 25/ Judge Siebel Denies Crea’s Request for Severence and Londonio’s Request to Testify: Page 24 / Conclusion: Page 26
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