A former Suffolk County homicide prosecutor testified Tuesday that the defense of Crips leader Reginald Ross at his 2015 double-murder trial in Riverhead appeared to be “orchestrated,” as the witness-bribery trial of Hauppauge defense lawyer John Scarpa got underway in Brooklyn federal court.
“It was pure fabrication,” said ex-prosecutor Robert Biancavilla, who handled the case against Ross. “It was an orchestrated defense.”
Scarpa and his ex-felon assistant were accused last year of conspiring to get imprisoned witness Luis Cherry to give false testimony to help get Ross acquitted of charges that he killed John Williams to lure a friend who owed drug money back to New York, and also murdered a flagman for disrespecting Ross.
At the 2015 trial in Riverhead, Cherry, an alleged Crip who had previously confessed and pleaded guilty along with Ross to killing Williams, was called as a defense witness by Scarpa — a veteran defense lawyer based in Queens — to testify that he had actually acted alone in the Williams shooting.
After meeting Cherry in prison, where he was serving 63 years, Scarpa “paralegal” Charles Gallman told Scarpa, according to a wiretap, “Anything we need, he's willing. Whichever way you wanna play it he's willing," and later added, "Whatever you need, John. Whatever you need." Scarpa’s response was, “OK.”
In the Brooklyn case, prosecutors told jurors in opening arguments on Monday that Scarpa wanted to win “at all costs, even if it meant bribing a witness to lie,” so he and Gallman offered to help Cherry with an appeal and to spread the word in the prison population that he was “not a snitch” if he changed his story.
“He had a target on his back in prison and Scarpa and his partner had the solution,” said prosecutor Andrey Spektor. “Scarpa and Scarpa's partner would give Cherry his prestige back by spreading word in the prison system that Cherry was no rat, no snitch, that he was a hero.”
The case stems from a wiretap put on Gallman, a five-time felon, by officials in Queens in 2014 and 2015 that picked up calls and texts with Scarpa. Ross, after a trial before a judge that lasted nearly three months, was convicted of murdering both Williams, of Holbrook, and flagman Raymond Hirt of Mastic Beach, despite Cherry’s testimony.
Defense lawyers argued that Cherry wanted to testify because he had a grudge against Suffolk prosecutors, not because of a bribe, and Scarpa called him as an “unreliable” witness to undermine his earlier claims about Ross as equally unreliable.
Whatever influence Ross — a “sick, deranged, coldblooded killer” — and Gallman may have had on Cherry’s behavior, defense lawyer Steven Raiser said, there was no explicit “smoking gun” evidence against Scarpa among “thousands of hours” of wiretaps.
“You might expect to hear that call where … he plans with Mr. Gallman to bribe Cherry,” Raiser said. “But I'll tell you right now there is no such call. There is, in fact, no evidence of John ever agreeing to give Cherry anything, to convince Cherry to testify favorably for his client Ross.”
Biancavilla, testifying as the lead government witness over two days, detailed the unusual events at the Riverhead trial, where Cherry tried to explain away two prior confessions implicating Ross, and evidence that two different guns were used to execute Williams and that Ross’ car was used in the ambush.
He read large segments of the transcript, including questioning about the jailhouse visit from Gallman. Cherry claimed they didn’t discuss Ross. And Scarpa, Biancavilla testified, never told him or the judge about Gallman’s version of the visit.
Prosecutors said they plan to rest their case Wednesday, and U.S. District Judge Carol Amon said she would charge the jury after closing arguments. Gallman pleaded guilty last year.