In court papers, his lawyer said a former Mercedes-Benz salesman busted two years ago in a major crime sting was not a gangster, but instead, a good man who played a “minor role” in an extortion scheme.
Probation would be an appropriate sentence for Staten Islander Philip Lombardo, attorney John M. Murphy III argued in his pre-sentencing submission.
Prosecutors had a different take.
Lombardo, who they allege has mob ties, deserved to spend some time in prison for his crime.
A federal judge agreed.
On Tuesday, Lombardo, 62, was sentenced in Brooklyn federal court to a year and a day behind bars for conspiring to extort money from a victim by threats of violence.
The victim was a person who stored vehicles for Lombardo’s old Mercedes boss in Brooklyn.
In October 2019, Lombardo was among 20 suspects whose arrests were announced by Brooklyn federal prosecutors.
They were indicted on wide-ranging charges of racketeering, extortion, loansharking and stalking.
One defendant was accused of attempting to fix an NCAA college basketball game. He did not succeed.
Lombardo was among 17 Staten Islanders charged.
Prosecutors identified him as a Colombo associate, an allegation Murphy, his lawyer, vehemently objected to.
“Mr. Lombardo is not a gangster, and he is not an associate of an organized crime family,” wrote Murphy in his sentencing memorandum.
Lombardo knew Amato Sr. through his job, Murphy wrote. He sold Amato and his family “numerous vehicles” throughout the years, said Murphy
According to prosecutors’ court filings, the extortion occurred in December 2018 and January 2019.
Lombardo was working then at Mercedes-Benz of Brooklyn.
Sometime in 2018, the victim signed a contract to store some of the dealership’s vehicles at an off-site warehouse.
Shortly thereafter, Lombardo approached the man.
The defendant told him he needed to fork over a percentage of his proceeds from the contract, said prosecutors.
Otherwise, Amato Sr. would destroy the cars the man was storing for the dealership, prosecutors allege.
Lombardo demanded $500 a month from the victim, said prosecutors. He indicated he’d split the cash with Amato Sr. and possibly a third person, prosecutors said.
Based on Lombardo’s threat, the victim shelled out a one-time payment of $5,000, prosecutors wrote.
Four years earlier, the victim had learned the hard way who Amato was, said prosecutors.
Lombardo had “lured” the man to the location where he was attacked, allege prosecutors. However, it was unclear if Lombardo knew of Amato’s plans to assault the victim, prosecutors said.
The defendant lost his job at Mercedes after his 2019 arrest.
Afterward, he managed to land another car-sales gig. However, it was for less than half his salary at Mercedes, his lawyer said in court papers.
Last October, Lombardo pleaded guilty to interference with commerce by threat or violence to resolve his case.
Prosecutors sought a sentence within the guideline range of 15 to 21 months. Judges are not bound by the guidelines.
“Because extortionate conduct allows dangerous criminal organizations such as the Colombo family to earn money, these crimes are necessary for the Colombo family’s survival,” wrote prosecutors Elizabeth Geddes, Megan E. Farrell and James McDonald of the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office. “And, because extortions can lead to violence, this crime is particularly serious and warrants a sentence within the guidelines range.”
Murphy, the defense lawyer, maintained probation is sufficient punishment.
Lombardo, he contended, was “a minor participant in the extortion.”
The defendant was “subservient” to Amato and others “regarding the direction of the conduct involved in this case,” wrote Murphy.
He noted Lombardo has no prior criminal convictions. The lawyer also pointed to various letters of support submitted on the defendant’s behalf.
In them, family, friends and community members described him as a “caring, devoted father and friend” and talked about his “honesty and selflessness,” said Murphy.
“The most noteworthy part of this case, as it relates to Mr. Lombardo, is how aberrational this conduct is for him,” wrote the attorney. “… Phil Lombardo has made the world a better place for those he encounters. … It is extremely saddening to see a selfish act tarnish his exemplary character.”
The lawyer reiterated that belief when reached by phone after the sentencing.
“This is a good man who got put in a bad situation,” said Murphy.
As part of his sentence, Lombardo was fined $5,000. He must also forfeit $5,000 in proceeds derived from the crime, said prosecutors’ court filings.
While Lombardo is bound for a jail cell, his fellow Staten Islander Christopher Coffaro fared better on Tuesday.
Coffaro, 23, who also was among those busted in the sweep, was sentenced to two years’ probation.
In October, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
Prosecutors said he conspired to possesses and distribute over 6,000 vaping cartridges, which allegedly contained 6,020 grams of THC.
THC is the psychoactive compound in pot that produces the sensation of being high.
The sentencing guideline range was between zero and six months behind bars.
Prosecutors asked the court to sentence Coffaro within that range. However, they took no position as to exactly how much jail time he should get.
Defense lawyer Donald D. duBoulay recommended a “minimal term of probation.”
In his sentencing memorandum, he called Coffaro “an enterprising, ambitious young man … (who) eventually took to selling the product he used.”
“He is not a gangster, a professional criminal or a wayward youth beyond redemption,” wrote duBoulay. “He is an unlikely recidivist.”
His client, the lawyer added, “is a young man with a life of promise ahead of him.”
“He is among the least culpable in this unfortunate situation, and if there is one thing, he has learned is that he must be wiser in his choice of friends,” duBoulay wrote.
As part of his sentence, Coffaro must forfeit $5,000.
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