This story was originally published in Newsday on Aug. 5, 1997.
Several years before John Ford was arrested and charged with plotting to kill local Republican officials by poisoning them with radium, he had allegedly threatened or intimidated several individuals whom he felt were also interfering with his network of Long Island UFO enthusiasts, according to court papers filed yesterday in Riverhead.
Alleged threats to harm Suffolk Republican Party Chairman John Powell, Suffolk Legis. Fred Towle (R-Shirley) and Brookhaven Town public safety director Anthony Gazzola with the radioactive material in the current case were no different than the ones Ford had allegedly made years ago, his attorney John H. Rouse said in papers submitted to Suffolk County Court Judge Anthony Corso, asking the judge to release the complaints made by at least four individuals against Ford.
Those earlier complaints against Ford went uninvestigated by the office of Suffolk County District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr., and no criminal charges were brought, Rouse said. The only reason criminal charges are being pursued in the current case, he contends, is because one of the targets is Powell, whom Rouse said was an influential Republican leader who had pledged to help Catterson's re-election campaign with money from the Republican war chest.
"Catterson needs Powell's help in political funding so he is willing to prosecute anybody who threatens Powell," Rouse said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Martin Thompson, chief of the Rackets Bureau, who is prosecuting this case, said earlier complaints were filed with Ford's employer at the time, the New York State Court Administration where he worked as a court officer, not the district attorney's office, and bear no similarities to the current charge of conspiracy to commit murder.
"This case is now eighteen months old. This is just a delaying tactic," Thompson said yesterday.
For a period of about five years between the late 1980s and mid-1990s, at least four individuals filed complaints against Ford. He allegedly threatened to use a car to run down a former Long Island UFO Network member and wrote a letter telling a man who claimed to be an expert on UFOs to stop interfering with Ford's organization or Ford would come to his house and arrest him.
Officials in the Court Administration investigated the allegations and found that they had no merit. Ford was not disciplined and his gun was not taken away, Rouse said.
Rouse maintained all along that his client may have acted tough but never intended to hurt anyone - despite his alleged plot to inject radium into his victims with toothpaste or put the radioactive material in their cars.
"If he wanted to kill these people he could have used any of the guns he owned," Rouse said.
In a separate request, Rouse asked the judge again to remove Catterson as prosecutor in the case because of a conflict of interest. The judge reserved decision on all the requests.
Two other men charged in connection with the conspiracy, Joseph Mazzuchelli, 43, of Manorville, and Edward Zabo, 50, of Medford, pleaded guilty and have agreed to testify against Ford. Mazzuchelli is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 11 and Zabo is set to be sentenced Aug. 27.
Ford, who is being held on $350,000 bail in Riverhead jail, is to return to court Friday to learn whether he is ruled competent to stand trial.