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A Tale of Two Tapes

Originally appeared in Tiger In The Court
By Paul Hoffman

On November 26, 1968, the FBI in Newark received two handwritten letters from Louis B. Saperstein, a 63year-old real-estate broker with a long history of shady financial dealings. The letters were dated November 21 but hadn't been mailed until the 25th.

One letter read:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Newark, NJ
Gentlemen:
I am writing you, maybe others can be helped by my plight. To-date, I am indebted to Ray (Gyp) DeCarlo, Joe Polverino (known as Joe the Italian) and Daniel Cecere (known as Red Cecere), the total due these three is $115,000 on which I was charged and paid 1V2 % interest per week, amounting to $1725 per week; the amount of $1725 was delivered weekly to Red Cecere at the Berkeley Bar. On September 13, 1968 I was severely beaten at a place in the rear of Weiland's Restaurant, Route 22, DeCarlo's headquarters. I was then told and given 3 months until December 13, 1968 to pay the entire accumulated amount of $115,000 – the interest was then raised to $2000 per week which was delivered to Cecere every Thursday at the Berkeley Bar in Orange, NJ. This was delivered by Lenny Banks, my employee - on Nov. 14, 1968 I cashed 2 checks totaling $31,000 atEssex County State Bank and personally delivered to Cecere $30,000-under threat of death. Cecere, DeCarlo & Polverino, also stated many times my wife and son would be maimed or killed.

Please protect my family. I am sure they mean to carry out this threat.

Last night from my home I called DeCarlo at the Harbor Island Spa in Florida, and pleaded for time but to no avail, over the phone DeCarlo stated unless further monies was paid the threats would be carried out Today, Lenny Banks delivered to Cecere $2000 at 11:30 am. Cecere called by phone while I was in Staten Island - & I had to send this money to-day.

Louis B. Saperstein

By the time the FBI looked into the case, Saperstein was dead. On the day he mailed the letters, he was rushed to the hospital with stomach pains and died the following day. The cause of death was listed as "cardiac shock induced by acute gastroenteritis."

On the basis of the letters, Satz obtained a court order to- exhume Saperstein's body. The state medical examiner, Dr. Edwin Albano, found it loaded with "enough arsenic to kill a mule."

But no one knew whether it was murder or suicide. The Essex County prosecutor, Joseph Lordi, haled all those mentioned in the letters before a grand jury, but the panel found "insufficient evidence" of homicide.

Then, in March 1969, a 32-year-old millionaire wheelerdealer named Gerald Martin Zelmanowitz was arrested in Miami for interstate transportation of $250,000 in stolen securities. He was returned to New Jersey and hit with a similar charge involving a second $250,000 batch of stolen securities. Soon after that, Zelmanowitz told the FBI that he had information about the Saperstein case.

Since DeCarlo and his associates were known to be dangerous men, efforts had to be taken to protect Zelmanowitz and his family. "Most people are afraid to testify," Stem notes. "Ninety-nine percent of the time it's absurd that they should be afraid. But there is that one percent or less where a witness would really be in danger. And Zelmanowitz in the DeCarlo case was such a witness."

The Zelmanowitz family was kept hidden, and was watched night and day by federal marshals. Even the fact that Zelmanowitz was cooperating with the authorities was kept secret as long as possible. He testified before the grand jury as "Mr. X," and his face was hidden by a screen.

Three years later Zelmanowitz's "cover" was blown when officials of a San Francisco clothing company discovered that their ousted president was not the "military security" expert he'd claimed to be but the confessed stock swindler who'd testified against Angelo DeCarlo. In a civil complaint, Zelmanowitz, who had been using the name Paul Maris, was accused of bilking the firm of at least $200,000. "My whole entire cover is being destroyed and torn apart," Zelmanowitz told a reporter. Two days later he disappeared ... only to resurface a few weeks later as a witness before the Senate's Permanent Investigations Subcommittee.

On August 28, 1969, five days before Lacey took office, extortion indictments were, lodged against DeCarlo, Polverino, Cecere and another hood, Peter Landusco. They were charged under a section of the Truth in Lending Act.

Stem got the case. "I racked my brain for some way to get those letters into evidence," he recalls. "I knew that on their face they were hearsay. From the file I could see that Satz had toyed with the idea of a dying declaration, but it was impossible because you can only use that in a homicide case in the federal courts. Besides, it lacked the requirements of a dying declaration. I hit the books and came up with the theory that it could come in not for the truth of its contents but for the state of mind of Saperstein. Since the indictment alleged extortion, one of the principal elements we had to prove was fear in the mind of the victim. There's a state-of-mind exception to the hearsay rule that lets in statements by a victim to a third party if they show he was in fear. Reasoning by analogy, I decided that if oral statements can come in, we could argue - perhaps successfully - that written declarations could come in, as well."

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