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Jury says Carcione guilty of 7 charges

The prosecutor was unapologetic about using crooks to convict the conspirator, who could face a life sentence.

By JEFF TESTERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 2000


TAMPA -- A jury took just 90 minutes Friday afternoon to convict Anthony Carcione of federal charges of conspiracy to use interstate commerce to rob and murder Jean Schwarzkopf, a 78-year-old widow whose savagely beaten body was found stuffed in the closet of her New Port Richey home in September 1997.

The panel of eight women and eight men of mostly older jurors convicted Carcione of all seven counts against him, including using interstate commerce to aid racketeering and to launder money.

The money laundering charges stem from Carcione and others fencing Mrs. Schwarzkopf's 8-carat diamond ring in Chicago for $22,000 and splitting the proceeds.

In closing statements Friday, defense attorney Tom Ostrander urged jurors not to rely on the testimony of Carcione's associates, some of whom got on the witness stand only after signing a special plea agreement or receiving immunity.

"The government is putting a great story on right out of The Sopranos," Ostrander said, and building its case entirely around "punks in Chicago."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Del Fuoco was unapologetic about using crooks to convict Carcione, saying, "When you open up the manhole cover and look down into the sewer, you do not see swans."

The main players included:

Carcione, 30 and unemployed, who has three separate aggravated assault convictions in Illinois. Prosecutors said Carcione gained entry to Mrs. Schwarzkopf's Gulf Harbors home by impersonating a flower deliveryman. A day after he was seen going in, she was found brutally beaten, her neck broken, wrapped from head to toe with duct tape. A pathologist said Mrs. Schwarzkopf drowned in her own blood after silk flowers were jammed down her throat and tape wound around her head.

Ottavio Volpe, 42, an illegal Italian immigrant from Chicago who formerly owned the La Casa Nostra bakery in New Port Richey. Volpe was described by witnesses as a cheat, a con-man and a gigolo who got a girlfriend to buy him Jaguar and Lamborghini sports cars.

Volpe has been convicted of forgery, possession of stolen property and domestic battery. He befriended Mrs. Schwarzkopf, a widow who enjoyed reading biographies and eating out with friends, and hatched several plots to steal her jewelry.

Volpe, who admitted lying to federal agents, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and faces a possible life sentence. Prosecutors agreed to recommend leniency if he testified against Carcione.

Camillo "Frankie Southside" Gigliotti, also known as "Frankie the Doper," who helped recruit Carcione for the jewelry heist, then drove down in his 1983 Lincoln to chauffeur Carcione back to Chicago after the murder. A 52-year-old truck driver who has served a prison sentence for selling drugs, Gigliotti said he double-crossed Volpe after the Schwarzkopf diamond was fenced, keeping $3,000. Gigliotti spent two months in jail before receiving a grant of immunity to testify in this case.

Faris "Freddie" Rafidi, 28, the owner of a Chicago eatery who also helped recruit Carcione and later fenced the stolen diamond. Rafidi has convictions for drugs and weapons charges.

He faces as much as five years in prison after pleading to a single interstate commerce charge in Tampa. Rafidi testified that Gigliotti came to him to discuss "an easy score down in Tampa, an old lady with jewelry that Ottavio knew."

Rafidi still had the 8-carat diamond when investigators traced the crime back to Chicago, and the dime-sized gem became Government Exhibit No. 1 in this week's trial.

Prosecutors built their case on telephone bills that showed calls being made between the conspirators before and after Schwarzkopf's death.

Carcione's Southwest Airlines ticket and motel bills from Florida, Georgia and Tennessee showed Volpe, Carcione and Gigliotti crossing state lines.

Testimony filled in the gaps, proving multiple instances of interstate activity to commit the murder, then fence Mrs. Schwarzkopf's diamond ring.

Ostrander tried to suggest that Carcione was "a dupe" of Volpe, Gigliotti and Rafidi.

Carcione faces the possibility of life in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 12.

He expressed no emotion when the verdicts were read, only turning to Ostrander to ask whether he had been convicted on all counts.

That contrasted with the tearful hugs given prosecutors a few moments later by Mrs. Schwarzkopf's children, Richard, Robert and Renee, and four of the slain woman's six grown grandchildren.

"The federal government did their job here today," said Robert Schwarzkopf, president of a Stamford, Conn., marketing company. "But we feel strongly that the next step is with state prosecutors.

"There's still a murder out there."

Lack of forensic evidence -- hair, fibers and the like -- left state prosecutors unable to file murder charges against Carcione.

Now, family members said, transcripts from this week's five-day federal trial will be sent to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which can consider reopening its own investigation into Mrs. Schwarzkopf's murder.

If the state goes forward, Carcione could face the death penalty.

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