Amato v. United States of America
ORDER on Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence (2255), For the reasons stated above, Petitioner's requests for discovery and an evidentiary hearing are DENIED and the Petition is DISMISSED. So Ordered by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis on 4/5/2017. (Lee, Tiffeny)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS,United States District Judge.
Before the court is Petitioner Baldassare "Baldo" Amato's petition for a writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (the "Petition"). (Pet.(Dkt. 1).)' Petitioner asserts nine
claims, but his principal argument is that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and
on direct appeal. For the reasons stated below,the Petition is DISMISSED.
The sections that follow review Petitioner's criminal charges, trial, and direct appeal.
The court assumes the parties' familiarity with the extensive underlying proceedings, and
summarizes the record only to the extent necessary for the court's habeas review.
Unless otherwise indicated, all record citations refer to Petitioner's habeas docket, Case No. 1 l-CV-5355. The
court uses "Trial Dkt." to indicate citations to Petitioner's criminal trial docket, Case No.03-CR-1382-13.
A. The Criminal Charges
In January 2004,the United States of America (the "Government")filed a Superseding
Indictment against Petitioner and 27 other individuals, alleging several crimes in connection with
the activities ofthe Bonanno crime family, also known as La Cosa Nostra. (See generallv
Superseding Indictment(Trial Dkt. 4).) The Bonanno family was accused of"generat[ing]
money... through various criminal activities, including drug trafficking, extortion, illegal
gambling,loansharking and robbery. The members and associates ofthe Bonanno family also
furthered the enterprise's criminal activities by threatening economic injury and ... physical
violence, including murder." (Id.^ 9.)
Petitioner was charged with four counts: one count ofracketeering conspiracy in
violation ofthe Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act("RICO"), 18 U.S.C.
§ 1962(d)(see id.
13-15); and three counts related to illegal gambling enterprises, in violation
of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1955(s^ M.UK 114-17). The RICO count was based on four predicate
acts: the murder of Sebastiano DiFalco and conspiracy thereof(the "DiFalco Murder"); the
murder of Robert Perrino and conspiracy thereof(the "Perrino Murder"); illegal gambling
activities; and conspiracy to commit robbery. (Id.
63, 71, 81-86,100.)
Petitioner's case was consolidated with seven other codefendants' and styled as "Urso I."
(See Feb. 2,2006, Order (Trial Dkt. 600).) The only Urso I defendants who proceeded to trial
were Petitioner, Anthony Basile, and Steven LoCurto. These two codefendants faced charges of
racketeering conspiracy based on predicate acts of murder, drug distribution, and (for Basile
only)loansharking. (See Revised Indictment for Urso I Defs.(Trial Dkt. 672-1).)
B. Trial CounsePs Conflict of Interest
Petitioner was initially represented by counsel appointed under the Criminal Justice Act.
(See Feb. 13,2004, Min. Entry (Trial Dkt.).) This representation included the arraignment,
where Petitioner pled "not guilty" to all counts(see Feb. 17, 2004, Min. Entry (Trial Dkt. 67)),
and continued through early discovery and pre-trial motion practice. Petitioner privately retained
Diarmuid White in January 2006. (Not. of Att'y Appearance (Trial Dkt. 577).) White
represented Petitioner thereafter through pre-trial procedures, trial, sentencing, and appeal.
1. White's First Letter
When White filed his notice of appearance, he also filed a letter notifying the court ofa
potential conflict of interest based on his prior representation of Joseph Massino, a former
Bonanno family "boss." (Jan. 9,2006, Ltr. re Curcio Hr'g ("1st White Ltr.")(Trial Dkt. 578);
Superseding Indictment ^ 8("At various times, Joseph Massino was the boss ofthe Bonanno
family.").) In separate criminal proceedings before this court, Massino had already received
concurrent life sentences for crimes related to the Bonanno family. (See J.(Dkt. 901), United
States V. Massino. No.02-CR-307-27(NGG)
("Massino I"k see also United States v. Massino.
("Massino 11").) He subsequently became a Government cooperator.
White explained that he was one of multiple imaffiliated attorneys who supported
Massino's primary defense counsel in the early phases oftrial preparation. (1st White Ltr. at 2;
see generallv Massino I.) White's engagement lasted approximately eight months. (Id)
"Massino discharged White prior to [any pre-trial] motions being filed on his behalf." (1st White
Ltr. at 3.) White stated that he could "recall no material information or confidences and secrets
conferred upon [him] by Massino." (Id)
Nonetheless, as a precautionary measure. White stated his intention to engage co-counsel,
who would cross-examine Massino if he were to "testify against Amato," an eventuality that was
"by no means certain." (Id at 1.) "Under these circumstances," White argued that there was"no
'serious potential conflict'" that would require his disqualification,"and likely no potential
conflict at all." (Id at 3(quoting the standard for disqualification established in United States v.
Schwarz,283 F.3d 76(2d Cir. 2002)).) White concluded that "any potential conflict ofinterest
is clearly waivable," and stated that"defendant Amato is prepared to make any appropriate
waivers at a Curcio hearing." (Id. at 2(internal quotation marks omitted).) See also United
States V. Velez. 354 F.3d 190,198(2d Cir. 2004)(The purpose ofa Curcio hearing is "to
determine whether the defendant knowingly and intelligently waives his right to conflict-free
representation." tciting United States v. Curcio. 680 F.2d 881, 888-90(2d Cir. 1982))).
2. The January 2006 Status Conference
The parties discussed White's letter at a status conference on January 23, 2006(the
"January 2006 Status Conference"). The Government explained that Massino was a "potential
witness," and that Massino's current counsel had not yet indicated whether Massino would
consent to "waive any attorney-client privilege or duty ofloyalty, or any duty remaining from
Mr. White's representation." (Jan. 2006 Status Conf. Tr.(Dkt. 33-1) at 38:14-19.) The
Government stated its position that, if"[Massino] does not waive that issue, that Mr. White
should be disqualified from the case."^ (Id at 38:22-24.) White responded that Massino's
"waiver is not required in any respect," and noted that he was not "request[ing] a waiver with
respect to the attomey-client privilege." (Id at 39:10-13.) White restated his intention that cocounsel would conduct any necessary cross-examination of Massino, and reaffirmed his position
that "[tjhis is eminently a waivable conflict." (Id at 39:8-10.)
2 Based on this statement, Petitioner contends that the Government "unequivocally took the position... that Mr.
White suffered from a disqualifying conflict ofinterests," and argues that the Government"should be estopped from
taking any contrary position" in these habeas proceedings. (Pet'r's July 4,2013,Ltr.(Dkt. 33)at 4.) The court
disagrees. A district court is empowered to disqualify an attorney in "cases where a potential for conflict exists
which may or may not burgeon into an actual conflict as the trial progresses." United States v. Cain.671 F.3d 271,
294(2d Cir. 2012)(quoting Wheat v. United States. 486 U.S. 153,163 (1988)). The Government's position in favor
of precautionary disqualification before trial—especially when the Government was still considering Massino as a
potential witness—does not preclude the Government, on collateral review, from arguing that defense counsel's
performance was constitutionally satisfactory.
3. White's Second Letter
On February 16,2006, White sent a letter notifying the court that,"conJ&onted with the
reality of a trial" that could last up to three months. Petitioner was "unable to marshal the
resources to retain two lawyers." (Feb. 16,2006, Ltr. re Curcio Waiver("2d White Ltr.")
(Trial Dkt. 609)at 1.) Consequently, White intended "to try the case without co-counsel and," if
necessary, to cross-examine Massino himself. (Id.) White acknowledged that he "would not
seek to cross-examine Massino based on any privileged communication, unless [Massino]
waived the privilege." (Id at 1-2.) White maintained that "[tjhis modified position ...[did] not
render any potential conflict ofinterest unwaivable," and reiterated that "Defendant Amato [was]
prepared to make all appropriate Curcio waivers." (IdJ
4. Subsequent Developments
The court did not hold a Curcio hearing for Petitioner, nor did either party notify the
court of any waivers from Massino regarding White's representation. (See Gov't Mem.in Opp'n
to Pet.("Gov't Opp'n")(Dkt. 24)at 25; Pet'r's July 4, 2013, Ltr.(Dkt. 33) at 5.) Before the trial
began,the Government stated that it did not intend to call Massino as a witness. (May 22, 2006,
Gov't Mot. in Lim.(Trial Dkt. 713)at 6.) None of the Urso I defendants called Massino as a
C. Evidence Adduced at Trial Regarding the DiFaIco and Perrino Murders
Petitioner was a"made" member and longtime "soldier" in the Bonanno family. (See,
e.g.. Trial Tr.^ 296:1-2, 335:16-336:6(testimony of Salvatore Vitale); Tr. 2091:22-2092:3
^ Unless otherwise specified, all citations to "Tr." reference the transcript ofPetitioner's criminal trial. This opinion
cites to the following portions ofthe trial transcript (all dates in 2006): May 31 Trial Tr. 251-463 (Trial Dkt. 1039);
June 1 Trial Tr. 464-474(Trial Dkt. 1040); June 12 Trial Tr. 1001-1187 (Trial Dkt. 1041); June 16 Trial Tr. 14051627(Trial Dkt. 1042); June 19 Trial Tr. 1628-1868(Trial Dkt. 1046); June 20 Trial Tr. 1871-2144 (Trial Dkt. 1049
(mislabeled on ECF as June 29,2006)); June 21 Trial Tr. 2129-2425(Trial Dkt. 1047); June 23 Trial Tr. 2428-2675
(Dkt. 1048); June 26 Trial Tr. 2678-2978(Trial Dkt. 1033); July 5 Trial Tr. 3386-3519(Trial Dkt. 1026); July 6
Trial Tr. 3520-3725(Dkt. 1045).
(testimony of Frank Lino); Tr. 2539:6-10(testimony ofFrank Ambrosino).) His RICO charge
included four predicate acts related to the Bonanno criniinal enterprise, but Petitioner's habeas
claims focus almost exclusively on the predicate acts of murder and conspiracy to murder as to
Sebastiano DiFalco and Robert Perrino. The following sections summarize the portions ofthe
trial record that relate to Petitioner's habeas claims. Undisputed background facts are provided
without citations to the record.
1. The DiFalco Murder
Samuel"Sammy" DiFalco owned and operated a restaurant(the "Giannini restaurant")
that was frequented by members ofthe Bonanno family. Various Bonanno members testified
that DiFalco was,in fact. Petitioner's associate and that Petitioner had a financial stake in the
restaurant. (See Tr. 382:18-383:6 (Vitale); Tr. 1068:5-13(Anthony Tabbita); Tr. 1832:19-
1833:21 (Lino).) DiFalco went missing on February 27,1992. The police discovered his body
three weeks later in the trunk ofhis daughter's car, which had been reported stolen. DiFalco had
been shot twice in the back ofthe head.
Petitioner was implicated in the murder by two cooperating witnesses, Salvatore "Sal"
Vitale, a former "underboss" ofthe Bonanno family, and Anthony Tabbita, a former Bonanno
"associate." The Government bolstered its case by arguing that Petitioner acted suspiciously in
the days and weeks after DiFalco's disappearance. White sought to preclude or limit Vitale's
testimony. When those efforts failed. White argued that the Government's case amounted to
nothing more than circumstantial evidence. (Tr. 3622:25-3623:4(White summation).) White
attacked the credibility and character ofkey witnesses, posited that certain witnesses had
fabricated their accounts in order to cover up their own crimmal activity or secure better plea
deals from the Government, and offered innocent altemative explanations for Petitioner's
allegedly suspicious conduct.
a. Government Witness Sal Vitale
Vitale was a Bonanno underboss, meaning that he outranked Petitioner in the Bonanno
family. Vitale testified that, during a conversation with Massino at an unspecified time in the
1990s, Massino "said that Baldo killed Sam because he thought Sam was robbing firom the
[Giannini] restaurant." (Tr. 389:11-20.) Vitale's anticipated testimony on this point was the
subject ofpre-trial motions and a contemporaneous objection during trial. White also sought to
undermine Vitale's credibility. The court reviews these legal maneuverings in detail because of
their importance for Petitioner's habeas claims.
Pre-Trial Motions Concerning Vitale's Testimony
Before trial. White sought to preclude Vitale's anticipated testimony regarding the
conversation with Massino on the grounds that(1)Massino's statement constituted "idle chatter"
that did not qualify for the RICO co-conspirator hearsay exception under Federal Rule of
Evidence 801(d)(2)(E);(2)admission of Vitale's statement would violate the Confrontation
Clause unless the Government could establish that"Massino had [a] sufficient non-hearsay basis
for his professed knowledge ofthe DiFalco murder"; and (3)the testimony should be excluded
as xmduly prejudicial under Rule 403. CSee May 18, 2006, Amato Mot. in Lim.(Trial Dkt. 690).)
The court denied White's motion as to Rule 403,finding Massino's statement to be "probative of
[Petitioner's involvement in] the racketeering conspiracy" and "not substantially outweighed by
unfair prejudice." (May 26,2006, Mem.& Order (Trial Dkt. 731) at 15.) As to White's other
arguments,the court "denped the] motion as premature until the direct examination of Salvatore
Meanwhile,the Government sought to preclude all codefendants fi om referencing certain
handwritten notes made by Massino on FBI"FD-302" reports, the FBI's report format for
summarizing interviews. (See May 22, 2006, Gov't Mot. in Lim. at 4.) The Government had
disclosed "various FBI-302 reports" to Massino when he was preparing for his own criminal
trials(before he was convicted and agreed to become a Government cooperator). (Id.)
Vitale's 302 recounted Massino's remark that Petitioner had DiFalco killed because ofa
monetary dispute concerning the restaurant. (See Vitale 302 Report(Dkt. 29-12).) "During
[Massino's] trial preparation, Massino made handwritten notes on Vitale's 302 in which he
denied that the conversation ever took place"(the "302 Notes"). (Gov't Opp'n at 26; see also
Vitale 302 Report.)
At Petitioner's trial, the Government sought to "preclude defense reference to the
substance" ofthe 302 Notes on hearsay grounds, and argued further that "there can be no good
faith basis for believing that any government witness in this trial would have their recollection
refreshed by reviewing Massino's notes." (May 22,2006, Gov't Mot. in Lim. at 4.) White
responded that he "[did] not intend to refer to [the 302 Notes] if Massino does not testify."
(May 25,2006, Amato Resp. to Mot. in Lim.(Trial Dkt. 725) at 1.) The court found "that
Joseph Massino's handwritten notes on F.B.I. 302 reports constitute  out of court statements"
offered to prove the truth ofthe matter asserted and "are therefore precluded by Rules 801
and 802" ofthe Federal Rules ofEvidence. (May 26,2006, Mem.& Order at 3.)
White subsequently revised his position in response to the Government's proffered basis
for Massino's knowledge, namely "that Massino spoke to Amato and Amato told him" about the
DiFalco murder. (May 27,2006, Amato Mot. for Reconsid.(Trial Dkt. 734).) White advised the
court that, should Massino's statement to Vitale be deemed "admissible as a statement of a co-
conspirator in furtherance ofthe conspiracy," the 302 Notes "would be admissible under [Federal
Rule ofEvidence] 806 to attack the credibility ofthe declarant, Massino." (Id (citing Fed. R
Evid. 806(When a co-conspirator statement "has been admitted in evidence, the declarant's
credibility may be attacked, and then supported, by any evidence that would be admissible for
those purposes if the declarant had testified as a witness.").)
Finally, White made a request under Brady v. Maryland,373 U.S. 83(1963),for the
Government to produce "any information, whether reduced to writing or not, reflecting any
inconsistency between what Salvatore Vitale has stated Joseph Massino told him about the
Sebastiano DiPalco homicide and what Massino has stated about that homicide or his
conversation with Vitale concerning it." (May 26,2006, Amato Brady Mot.(Trial Dkt. 729).) It
does not appear that any such information was produced.
White's Objection to Vitale's Testimony
At trial, the Government asked Vitale to describe the conversation he'd had with Massino
regarding the circumstances of DiFalco's death. (Tr. 384:1-385:5.) White objected and
requested a sidebar, arguing that the Government had failed to establish a non-hearsay basis for
Massino's knowledge. (Tr. 385:6-386:7.) White also "ask[ed]for an evidentiary hearing with
Joe Massino." (Tr. 386:17-18.) For "something as important as this," White argued,the court
could not "just accept a proffer" as to the basis for Massino's knowledge, and should bring him
"in here to testify to that at a hearing." (Tr. 386:17-23.)
The Government responded that(1)the testimony could properly be introduced on the
grounds that Massino, Vitale, and Petitioner were all co-conspirators in the Bonanno
racketeering conspiracy;(2)the Government was not "required to elicit from the witness the
basis for Mr. Massino's knowledge";(3)the Government had "already proffered the basis" for
Massino's knowledge, namely that he had spoken to Petitioner; and (4)"it is obvious" that the
information would have to have come from within the Bonanno family because "no one outside
the crime family [would] tell them" about one Bonanno member killing another. (Tr. 386:8-16,
387:7-20; see also May 26,2006, Gov't Resp. to Mot. in Lim.(Trial Dkt. 728)at 9-10
(previewing these arguments during motions in limine).)
The court overruled White's objection and denied the request for a hearing. (Tr. 388:11-
12.) After Vitale testified, White renewed his objection with arguments under the Confrontation
Clause and the Due Process Clause, arguing that, because Massino was "available to the
government to call" as a witness, it was "unfair to introduce his statements without calling him."
(Tr. 473:6-11.) The court rejected White's renewed objection in a written opinion. (June 8,
2006, Mem.& Order(Trial Dkt. 770).)
Pf^ite's Defense Strategy Regarding Vitale's Testimony
During White's summation, he warned the jury "to be cautious about" statements
allegedly made by "people who didn't testify." (Tr. 3626:24-25.) He reminded the jury that
Vitale had no personal knowledge of Petitioner's involvement in the DiFalco murder; rather,
Vitale was relying on Massino's word, and Vitale himself had admitted that Massmo was a
"calculating" person who lied even to members ofthe Bonanno family. (Tr. 3623:21-3626:25;
see also Tr. 403:18-405:18,409:9-18 (Vitale cross-examination).)
White also spent considerable time attacking Vitale's credibility. White emphasized
repeatedly that Vitale had admitted to participating in eleven murders. (See, e.g.. Tr. 3696:9-14,
3698:20, 3703:1-6, 3704:23-24, 3705:3-5 (White summation).) White also characterized Vitale
as a "maestro" of deceit, a "fraud," a man who "minimized his role in everything" and "has no
problem" implicating members ofthe Bonanno family in order to divert suspicion from his own
activities or to negotiate a better deal with the Government. (Tr. 3694:15-3695:24, 3703:19; sqq
also Tr. 3696:4-3704:22.)
b. Government Witness Anthony Tabbita
Tabbita was "on record" with Petitioner in the early 1990s(Tr. 1059:13-17), meaning
that Tabbita was not yet a"made" Bonanno member,and so he participated in Bonanno activities
under Petitioner's supervision. Prior to Petitioner's trial, Tabbita had already implicated
Petitioner in the DiFalco murder while testifying in two other criminal trials. At Petitioner's
trial, the Government presented Tabbita with that prior testimony, but Tabbita stated that he did
not remember giving it. (Tr. 1479-82.) He did, however, testify to the following account.
Tabbita was asked by one ofPetitioner's known associates to assist with a plot to kill DiFalco.
(Tr. 1077:19-23,1080:14-22.) Tabbita understood this request to be coming indirectly from
Petitioner himself. (Tr. 1071:10-14,1080:18-22.) Tabbita participated in two failed murder
attempts against DiFalco (Tr. 1082-86), but was then arrested and convicted on state charges
in 1992. DiFalco was killed while Tabbita was incarcerated. (Tr. 1087:1-12.)
When asked why Petitioner "wanted [DiFalco] dead," Tabbita said he "believed it was
over money." (Tr. 1087:21-23.) Tabbita testified that he did not know anyone named Salvatore
Vitale. (Tr. 1088:8-14.) The Government's summation emphasized that Tabbita and Vitale had
offered similar accounts ofPetitioner's role in and motive for the DiFalco murder, even though
the two witnesses did not know each other and had never discussed these details. (Tr. 3502:213503:5.)
As with Vitale, White went to great lengths to undermine Tabbita's creditability,
describing him as a "psychopath" who had pled guilty to multiple murders. (Tr. 3618:7-12,
3635:24, 3645:5-11 (White summation).) "f 2ill the witnesses in this trial," White argued that
Tabbita was "by far the most untrustworthy." (Tr. 3636:5-6.) White also attacked the substance
of Tabbita's testimony, arguing that the Government prodded him with leading questions and
overstated the significance of his vague or uncertain answers. (See Tr. 3637:4-3643:23,
3648:20-3652:21.) Finally, White suggested that Tabbita had a personal motive to murder
DiFalco, and that he was framing Petitioner in an attempt to cover his own tracks. (See
Tr. 3648:8-16, 3654:17-3655:21.)
c. Petitioner's Suspicious Conduct Following DiFalco's Disappearance
As indirect evidence ofPetitioner's guilt, the Government elicited testimony regarding
Petitioner's conduct in the weeks following DiFalco's disappearance. The Government
highlighted four types of allegedly suspicious conduct, all of which White challenged,
The Interview with Nina DiFalco
First, Petitioner allegedly attempted to glean information about the police investigation
into DiFalco's disappearance. Shortly after DiFalco was reported missing. Detective John
Jacobsen set up a meeting with DiFalco's wife, Nina DiFalco, at her home. (Tr. 1615:22-1616:3
(Jacobsen testimony).) Petitioner was at the DiFalco residence when Detective Jacobsen arrived,
and Petitioner sat nearby,"looking in [their] direction," while the detective spoke with Nina
DiFalco. (Tr. 1617:5-18.) Detective Jacobsen then questioned Petitioner, who identified himself
as the manager ofthe Giannini restaurant. (Tr. 1617:19-1618:1.) In the Government's
summation, they argued that Petitioner lingered during the interview with Nina DiFalco because
he "want[ed] to know what the police [were] asking" and "what the police knew" about
DiFalco's disappearance. (Tr. 3535:10-12.)
White countered that Petitioner's presence was easily explained by his long fiiendship
with the DiFalco family.(See Tr. 3631:20-3632:21 (White summation)(summarizing testimony
as to the friendly relationship between Petitioner and Sammy DiFalco).) In an effort to comfort
Nina DiFalco, Petitioner would call every day to see if she had any family members with her,
and he would bring food over to the house. (Tr. 3668:1-10.)
The "False Alibi" Theory
Second,the Government accused Petitioner of attempting to "create a false alibi."
(Tr. 3546:10-13(Gov't summation).) Petitioner claimed in two separate police interviews that
he was present at the Giaimini restaurant on the night DiFalco disappeared. (Tr. 1619:21-1620:1
(Det. Jacobsen police report); Tr. 1941:17-21 (Det. Vormittag police report).) At trial, however,
Giannini employee Giovanni Aimunziati testified that he saw DiFalco at the restaurant on the
day in question, but that he did not remember seeing Petitioner. (Tr. 1666:2-3,1666:25-1667:1.)
White offered two responses. First, he noted that Annunziati could simply be mistaken
about who was or was not at the restaurant on a particular day 14 years earlier. (Tr. 3670:22-
3671:7.) White further argued that, as a matter of common sense. Petitioner would not have
"lie[d] to a detective who can very easily verify it or find out it's not true," especially "a couple
ofdays after the event when it was fresh in everybody's mind." (Tr. 3671:8-16.)
Petitioner's Remarks to Frank Fiordolino
Third, the Government emphasized the testimony of cooperating witness Francesco
"Frank" Fiordolino, who described an interaction he had with Petitioner on March 19,1992,the
day after DiFalco's body was found. Fiordolino was walking on the street when Petitioner called
out from his car and asked Fiordolino whether "any ofthe [Italian expletives] passed by about
that [Italian expletive]," which Fiordolino understood as an inquiry about whether the police had
been asking around about DiFalco. (Tr. 1835:25-1838:19.) This conversation, the Government
argued,"contradicts" the defense's theory that Petitioner "would never be involved in a
conspiracy with the murder ofDiFalco" because the two men were close friends. (Tr. 3548:5-9
(Gov't summation).) Petitioner "wouldn't refer to Sammy DiFalco, a man who had been missing
for weeks and just the night before had been found stuffed in the back of a car, he wouldn't call
that man a piece ofshit unless he was glad he was dead." (Tr. 3553:16-20.)
As with the other witnesses. White impeached Fiordolino's credibility by enumerating his
prior criminal offenses. (See Tr. 3627:1-10(White summation).) More pointedly. White
accused Fiordolino offabricating the conversation with Petitioner in order to have something to
"offer to the [GJovemment in trying to get his own cooperation agreement." (Tr. 3662:17-19;
see generallv Tr. 3660-64.) After highlighting comments from other witnesses about the friendly
relationship between Petitioner and DiFalco, White argued that Fiordolino's testimony was "an
untruth" and "a slander." (Tr. 3632:24.)
Petitioner's Remarks Regarding Cathy Ventimiglia
Finally, the Government posited that Petitioner attempted to divert suspicion away from
himself and toward a woman named Cathy Ventimiglia, with whom DiFalco had been carrying
on an extramarital affair. (Tr. 3546:1-9(Gov't summation).) Several witnesses testified about
conversations following DiFalco's disappearance in which Petitioner commented that DiFalco
had plans to meet Ventimiglia on the night he disappeared, or that DiFalco might be missing
because he'd run offsomewhere with her. (Tr. 1590:18-25 (Nina DiFalco); Tr. 1667:11-25
(Aimunziati); Tr. 1646:20-1647:13 (Michael D'Avanzio, a Giannini employee); Tr. 1941:211948:20(Det. Vormittag).)
White characterized these conversations as eamest inquiries by Petitioner, who was
trying to help Nina DiFalco by pursuing potential leads as to DiFalco's whereabouts.
(Tr. 3667:10-22(White summation).)
2. The Perrino Murder
Robert"Bobby" Perrino, a Bonanno associate, was the superintendent of deliveries at the
New York Post. The New York State Police began investigating Perrino's ties to organized
crime in early 1992. By Vitale's admission, Perrino was killed in May ofthat year because
Vitale and another Bonanno leader, Anthony Spero,feared that Perrino might become a
Government cooperator. (Tr. 313:18-315:5 (Vitale testimony).) Vitale and Spero asked
Bonanno member Frank Lino to take on much ofthe planning, but they made sure that the
conspiracy was compartmentalized, with each team isolated from the others and information
shared on a "need to know" basis: Lino found a location for the murder, a club owned by
Petitioner's codefendant Basile; Michael "Mickey Bats" Cardello was enlisted to transport
Perrino to the chosen location; there, Perrino was to be murdered by a shooter selected by Vitale;
afterward,teams assembled by Lino were responsible for cleaning up the murder scene and
disposing ofthe body. (Tr. 326:8-14 (Vitale testimony); Tr. 2171:8-12,2180:22-24(Lino
testimony).) Lino was never told the identity ofthe shooter, nor did he leam that Perrino was the
intended victim until late in the planning process. (Tr. 2183:24-2184:12,2291:12-2294:1 (Lino
The Government accused Petitioner ofshooting Perrino, relying on testimony from Vitale
and Frank Ambrosino, another cooperating witness."* White attempted to impeach both
witnesses, calling particular attention to possible ulterior motives for falsely implicating
Petitioner in the murder.
a. Government Witness Sal Vitale
Vitale testified that he and Petitioner met with a Canadian Bonanno affiliate known as
"George from Canada"to discuss the possibility of using a Canadian shooter for the Perrino
murder. (Tr. 316:7-318:4.) George cautioned, however,"that it was hard to get men across the
border from Canada" at that time. (Tr. 320:25-321:2.) George told Vitale that he'd already
asked Petitioner about performing the anticipated murder, and Petitioner added,"You bring the
'' The Government also elicited testimony from a number of cooperating witnesses who participated in the Perrino
murder but did not know the identity ofthe shooter, and also presented forensic evidence that corroborated these
accounts of when, where, and how Perrino was murdered and his body buried, exhumed, relocated, and reburied.
(See Gov't Opp'n at 12(citing to the record).)
guy, and don't worry about it. I'll take care of it. I'll kill 'im." (Tr. 321:3-7.) The only people
who knew that Petitioner was the intended shooter were the three participants at that meeting—
George, Vitale, and Petitioner himself—and,later, two other people that Vitale told—Spero,
with whom Vitale reached the decision to order the murder(Tr. 321:21-322:12); and Cardello,
who was tasked with bringing Perrino to Basile's club, where Petitioner would be waiting
(Tr. 326:8-14). George from Canada died before Petitioner's trial. Neither Spero nor Cardello
was called to testify.
White focused on impeaching Vitale's credibility and character, as discussed above in
Section I.C.l.a.iii. White also elicited testimony to support his theory that Vitale himself killed
Perrino and was now implicating Petitioner only in order to "conceal his own involvement."
(Tr. 3715:7-8 (White summation).) White argued that Vitale had a personal interest in silencing
Perrino because both Vitale and his son were directly involved in Perrino's criminal activities at
the New York Post. (Tr. 3704:23-3705:2, 3706:3-16, 3709:10-3715:8.) Vitale carefully
"insulated the identity ofthe shooter from everybody else," White argued, and the only other
people who knew about Petitioner's alleged involvement were not called to testify.
(Tr. 3713:15-20.) White told the jury that they could properly "infer from the government's
feiilure to call" a given witness that the witness "would not have supported Sal Vitale's
testimony." (Tr. 3707:3-7; see also Tr. 3713:15-20.)
b. Government Witness Frank Ambrosino
Ambrosino testified that he was asked to help "get rid ofa body" by arriving at the
murder location with tokens for the Verrazano Bridge, thereby facilitating a speedyjoumey
across the Bridge for the body disposal team as they traveled to the designated burial site.
(Tr. 2537:1-10.) On the night ofthe murder, Ambrosino was waiting in a parked car with the
tokens, as instructed, when he saw Petitioner "standing outside of Anthony Basile's club," near
the entrance. (Tr. 2540:5-13; see also Tr. 2538:23-2539:10.) Ambrosino knew that Petitioner
wasn't part of Lino's cleanup or disposal crews(Tr. 2543:18-19), so Ambrosino ducked out of
sight to protect his own identity as a participant in the murder(Tr. 2540:19-20). When he sat
back up again a few minutes later. Petitioner was no longer there. (Tr. 2541:5-7.)
Shortly thereafter, Ambrosino observed members of Lino's cleanup and disposal teams
entering Basile's club. (Tr. 2541:10-2542:2.) After another few minutes. Lino's brother, Robert,
came out ofthe club and approached Ambrosino's car. (Tr. 2542:23-25,2543:8-9.) Ambrosino
said that he'd seen Petitioner outside the club, and Robert replied,"[L]et's just keep that between
you and me." (Tr. 2543:2-4.) An hour later, the disposal team emerged from the club carrying
Perrino's body, which was concealed in a rolled-up rug, and drove the body away in the waiting
car. (Tr. 2544:24-2545:13.)
White challenged Ambrosino's testimony in three ways. He first argued that
Ambrosino's testimony was "manufactured" in order to increase his bargaining power as a
Government cooperator, and that the jury should therefore "reject his testimony out of hand."
(Tr. 3693:4-5(White summation).) White reviewed the history of Ambrosino's proffers and
concluded that Ambrosino was a "glowing example of how somebody can falsely implicate
somebody in a murder by keeping his ears open,reading what's out there, and going back and
giving the Government information based on what he's already learned about the case."
(Tr. 3694:7-11: see generallv Tr. 3686-94.) In the alternative. White suggested the possibility of
simple mistake, noting that Ambrosino claims to have "look[ed] out of his car for just a fleeting
moment and recognize[d] Baldo Amato" before "duck[mg] down in the car." (Tr. 3685:19-22.)
Finally, as with the other cooperating witnesses, White emphasized Ambrosino's criminal
activities, reminding the jury that he had participated in two murders. (Tr. 3686:1-4.)
D. The Verdict and Sentencing
On July 12,2006, after a six-week trial, the jury found all defendants guilty on all counts,
including a finding that the Government had proven Petitioner guilty of all four predicate acts
under the RICO count. (Jury Verdict(Trial Dkt. 914).) On October 27,2006,the court
sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment, lifetime supervision, and a $250,000 fine.
(J.(Trial Dkt. 941).)
E. Direct Appeal
Petitioner appealed his conviction with White's continued assistance as appellate counsel.
(Not. of Appeal(Trial Dkt. 943).) The Second Circuit affirmed the conviction on January 12,
2009,rejecting Petitioner's challenges to(1)the court's instructions regarding the anonymous
and partially sequestered jury;(2)an alleged Bradv/Giglio violation concerning a sealed
submission from the Government during the trial;(3)the court'sjury charge with respect to the
RICO statute of limitations;(4)the court's corrective instruction regarding an inaccurate
statement during the Government's rebuttal summation; and(5)"various [other] evidentiary
rulings." United States v. Amato,306 F. App'x 630,634-35(2d Cir. 2009)(summary order).^
HABEAS PETITIONS UNDER 28 U.S.C.§ 2255
A federal prisoner may file a petition in the sentencing court "to vacate, set aside, or
correct" a conviction or sentence that was imposed "in violation ofthe Constitution or laws of
the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A federal habeas petitioner bears the burden of proof
by a preponderance ofthe evidence. See Triana v. United States. 205 F.3d 36,40(2d Cir. 2000).
^ The Second Circuit's opinion is also available on the trial docket. (See Mandate of USCA (Trial Dkt. 1061).) The
Second Circuit recalled and stayed this mandate during the pendency ofco-appellant LoCurto's request for
rehearing, which was ultimately denied. (See Order of USCA (Trial Dkt. 1063), Mandate ofUSCA
(Trial Dkt. 1067).)
This section reviews two procedural bars that preclude certain federal habeas claims, as well as
the legal standard governing requests for discovery and evidentiary hearings.
A. Procedural Bars
"Because collateral challenges are in 'tension with society's strong interest in the finality
ofcriminal convictions, the courts have established rules that make it more difficult for a
defendant to upset a conviction by collateral, as opposed to direct, attack.'" Yick Man Mui v.
United States. 614 F.3d 50,53(2d Cir. 2010)(quoting Ciak v. United States. 59 F.3d 296, 301
(2d Cir. 1995\ abrogated on other grounds bv Mickens v. Tavlor. 535 U.S. 162(2002)).
First,"the so-called mandate rule bars re-litigation ofissues already decided on direct
appeal," including both "matters expressly decided by the appellate court" and "issues impliedly
resolved by the appellate court's mandate." Id.(citations omitted); see also id. at 53-54
(explaining that the mandate rule applies in habeas proceedings under Section 2255).
Second, courts apply a "general rule that claims not raised on direct appeal may not be
raised on collateral review unless the petitioner shows cause and prejudice." Massaro v. United
States. 538 U.S. 500,504(2003)(emphasis added); see also Yick Man Mui.614 F.3d at 54.
This bar does not apply to claims ofineffective assistance of counsel, however. "[T]he Supreme
Court has explained that 'in most cases[,] a motion brought under § 2255 is preferable to direct
appeal for deciding claims ofineffective assistance.'" United States v. Rosa.666 F. App'x 42,
44(2d Cir. 2016)(summary order)(quoting Massaro. 538 U.S. at 504).
B. Discovery and Evidentiary Hearings
"A habeas petitioner ... is not entitled to discovery as a matter of ordinary course."
Bracv v. Gramlev. 520 U.S. 899,904(1997). "Rather, discovery is allowed only ifthe district
court, acting in its discretion, finds 'good cause'" based on "'specific allegations'" that give
"'reason to believe that the petitioner may,ifthe facts are fully developed, be able to
demonstrate that he is entitled to relief.'" Ferranti v. United States, 480 F. App'x 634,638
(2d Cir. 2012)(summary order)(alterations omitted)(quoting Bracv. 520 U.S. at 908-09).
Courts are directed to hold evidentiary hearings in proceedings under Section 2255
"[u]nless the motion and the files and records ofthe case conclusively show that the prisoner is
entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). "A [petitioner] seeking a hearing on an ineffective
assistance ofcoimsel claim 'need establish only that he has a plausible claim ofineffective
assistance of counsel, not that he will necessarily succeed on the claim.'" Ravsor v. United
States,647 F.3d 491,494(2d Cir. 2011)(quoting Puglisi v. United States, 586 F.3d 209,213
(2d Cir. 2009)). This determination is "analogous" to summary judgment proceedings: "If
material facts are in dispute, a hearing should usually be held, and relevant findings offacts
made." Id (quoting Puglisi, 586 F.3d at 213). This threshold is lower than the required showing
for a petitioner to merit discovery. Therefore, a petitioner who fails to establish the need for an
evidentiary hearing will also not be entitled to any discovery.
THE INSTANT PETITION
Petitioner timely filed the instant Petition on February 22,2011,^ asserting that he "has
maintained his absolute innocence ... at all times with respect to all charges in this case." (Pet.
Addendum ("Pet. Add'm")(Dkt. 1-1) at 1.) He asserts nine legal claims
(^Pet.), and also
"requests an evidentiary hearing... and the opportunity to obtain the necessary discovery in
advance ofsuch a hearing"(Pet'r Reply Mem.(Dkt. 31) at 12). In the interest of anal)4:ic
efficiency, the court groups Petitioner's claims in the following four categories:
^ Habeas petitions under Section 2255 are subject to a one-year statute oflimitations. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f). In this
case, the one-year period runs from "the date on which the judgment of conviction [became]final." Id § 2255(f)(1).
A conviction is considered "final" when the Supreme Court"denies a petition for a writ of certiorari." Clav v.
United States. 537 U.S. 522, 527(2003). Petitioner's certiorari petition was denied on February 22,2010. Amato v.
United States. 559 U.S.962(2010). The Petition was therefore timely filed on February 22,2011.
• Ineffective assistance of counsel. Petitioner presents two distinct legal arguments,
one based on White's alleged conflict of interest, and another based on allegations
of general error. The court finds that both arguments lack merit, and further, that
Petitioner has failed to meet the required showing to merit discovery or an
• Two additional claims asserted for the first time on collateral review. Petitioner
asserts that that the Government unlawfully withheld evidence and impermissibly
relied on a "spy in the camp." The court finds that Petitioner has failed to show
"cause and prejudice," and that these claims are therefore procedurally barred
jfrom habeas review.^
• The same five claims rejected bv the Second Circuit on direct appeal. Petitioner
argues that he is entitled to raise these claims again on habeas review as a result of
White's alleged ineffectiveness. The court finds, however,that the mandate rule
precludes review ofthese claims.
• A catch-all claim that Petitioner was denied his constitutional rights "by the
cumulative effect" ofthese errors. The court finds this claim to be without merit.
The court notes that Petitioner's factual recitations and legal analysis are scattered across
12 documents^ that collectively total over 200 pages, even before accounting for Petitioner's
many exhibits. These filings frequently fail to specify which factual allegations correspond to
which legal arguments, indicate where analysis ofone claim ends and analysis ofthe next
begins, or cite any supporting authority for certain conclusions oflaw.
The court has carefully reviewed Petitioner's numerous and voluminous filings and will
discuss all claims that could be readily discerned. To the extent that Petitioner's filings could be
read to raise additional factual or legal claims,the court viewed those claims either as frivolous
^ Petitioner's ineffective assistance claim, too, is asserted for the first time on collateral review, but that claim is not
procedurally barred for the reasons discussed above in Section II.A.
® In addition to the Petition itself(Dkt. 1), Petitioner has submitted: a Petition Addendum (Pet. Add'm (Dkt. 1-1)); a
Declaration (Pet'r Decl.(Dkt. 8)); a Memorandum in Support ofthe Petition (Pet'r Mem.(Dkt. 8-1)); a Reply to the
Government's Opposition (Pet'r Reply(Dkt. 29)); a Memorandum in Support ofthe Reply (Pet'r Reply Mem.
(Dkt. 31)); a Letter Regarding a Newly Discovered Transcript(Pet'r July 4,2013, Ltr.(Dto. 33)); two Letters
Bringing Recent Relevant Authority to the Court's Attention (Feb. 19,2015, Ltr. re New Auth.(Dkt. 36); Apr. 19,
2015,Ltr. re New Auth.(Dkt. 37)); and a Reply to the Government's Response to Petitioner's Supplemental
Submissions(Pet'r Suppl. Reply(Dkt.43)). When the court issued a short order soliciting White's response to the
issues raised in the Petition, Petitioner filed a letter opposing the order itself(Pet'r Mar. 24,2017,Ltr.(Dkt. 45))as
well as an eight-page response to White's two-page declaration (Pet'r Resp. to White Decl.(Dkt. 47)).
because they are clearly contradicted in the trial record,^ or as not sufficiently developed to merit
the court's consideration.^® In deciding to pass on those baseless or untethered allegations, the
court notes that Petitioner is represented by counsel, and is therefore not entitled to the solicitude
accorded to pro se habeas filings, ^Keeling v. Hars. 809 F.3d 43,47 n.2(2d Cir. 2015)
(noting the court's obligation to "construe the submissions ofa pro se litigant liberally and
interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest."(internal quotation marks
omitted)). Moreover, Petitioner's counsel has repeatedly ignored the court's individual rules on
the appropriate number and length offilings.
INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL
Petitioner's primary claim for habeas relief is that White was constitutionally ineffective
"at all stages ofthe trial and appeal." (Pet'r Mem. at 2.) Petitioner asserts two legal theories:
first, that White "operated at all times imder an actual conflict of interest... arising jfrom his
[prior] representation of Joseph Massino"; and second, that White's representation was
ineffective "irrespective ofthe conflicts." (Pet'r Mem. at 2.)
These attacks typically take the form ofPetitioner accusing White offailing to pursue a particular strategy despite
clear evidence in the record that White did, in fact, pursue that strategy. As one example, Petitioner points to
Government witness Tabbita's statement that he did not recall his prior testimony regarding Petitioner's
involvement in the DiFalco murder. (Pet'r Reply at 8-13.) Petitioner argues that such statements "should have been
sufficient for Mr. White to effectively make a case that all ofTabitta's testimony should have been disregarded,"
and accuses White of"wholly fail[ing] to hit this basic and fundamentally important point." (Id at 12-13.) The
record shows, however, that White dedicated substantial effort to the task ofimpeaching Tabbita's credibility,
including by highlighting specific flaws in his testimony. (See, e.g.. Tr. 3636:5-6("f all the witnesses in this
trial, [Tabbita] is by far the most untrustworthy."), 3635:11-13("[N]o juiy could ever convict anybody ofany crime
based on the testimony that you heard and saw from that witness box" from Tabbita.); see generallv Tr. 3635-56.)
For example,Petitioner's Reply—^his fifth substantive filing on collateral review—introduces wholly new
allegations regarding plea negotiations. For the first time, Petitioner alleges that White's advice regarding plea deals
was constitutionally ineffective for reasons unrelated to White's conflict of interest. (See Pet'r Reply at 22-24;
compare with Pet. Add'm at 13 (mentioning plea negotiations solely in the context ofPetitioner's conflict-based
arguments).) Petitioner fails to connect these novel allegations with any legal authority, except insofar as a footnote
in a separate document lists four cases that generally address "ineffectiveness for failing to explain consequences in
the context of plea discussions." (Pet'r Reply Mem. at 12 n.9.) "It is well settled that a court need not consider
arguments relegated to footnotes or raised for the first time in a reply brief." F.T.C. v. Tax Club. Inc..
994 F. Supp. 2d 461,471 n.l (S.D.N.Y. 2014)(citing Tolbert v. Queens Coll.. 242 F.3d 58,75(2d Cir. 2001), and
other cases). The court declines to play a game of"connect the dots" involving untimely factual allegations and
unelaborated string citations in separate documents.
In an effort to expand the record, the court requested a statement from White "addressing
the issues raised in the Petition." (Feb. 27,2017, Order(Dkt. 44)at 2.) White duly filed a
declaration (the "White Declaration") explaining that he retired in 2011 and "no longer [has] any
files... relating to either" Massino's or Petitioner's case. (White Decl.(Dkt. 46-1) 4.) White
states that he has "no recollection" of any information learned while representing Massino, or of
his strategy regarding Massino as a potential witness in Petitioner's trial. (Id
5-7.) The court
therefore relies on the trial record and the allegations in the Petition, recognizing that the court
"need not assume the credibility of[Petitioner's] factual assertions" ifthey "are contradicted by
the [trial] record." Broxmever v. United States, 661 F. App'x 744,750(2d Cir. 2016)
order)(emphasis added)(quoting Puglisi, 586 F.3d at 214).
After defining the applicable legal standards, the court considers, first, the nature of
White's conflict of interest. The court finds that Petitioner has failed to establish that White's
prior representation of Massino created an actual conflict of interest, and therefore finds that
White operated under only a potential conflict ofinterest. As a result, all ofPetitioner's
allegations ofineffective assistance—^both conflict-related and otherwise—are governed by the
standard established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668(1984). The court concludes that
Plaintiff has failed to establish a "plausible claim" of ineffective assistance ofcounsel, and is
therefore not entitled to an evidentiary hearing nor to habeas relief.
A. Legal Standards
1. General Ineffectiveness
"To establish that counsel's performance was constitutionally defective," a habeas
petitioner must generally satisfy the "performance and prejudice" Strickland test: the petitioner
bears the burden of showing that(1)"the lawyer's performance fell below an objective standard
ofreasonableness"; and(2)"there is a reasonable probability that, but for covmsel's
unprofessional errors, the result ofthe proceedings would have been different." Torres v.
Donnelly. 554 F.3d 322, 325(2d Cir. 2009)(citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
"In determining whether counsel's performance was objectively deficient" under the first
prong,"courts 'must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide
range ofreasonable professional assistance; that is, the petitioner must overcome the
presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial
strategy.'" Pizzuti v.-United States. No. 02-CR-1237(LAP)
(HBP),2014 WL 4636521,at *15
(S.D.N.Y. Sept. 16, 2014)(quoting Strickland. 466 U.S. at 689). The Supreme Court has
emphasized, however,that both prongs must be satisfied: "even if counsel's performance is
found [to be] professionally unreasonable,'any deficiencies ... must be prejudicial to the
defense in order to constitute ineffective assistance under the Constitution.'" Torres. 554 F.3d
at 325(emphasis added)(quoting Strickland. 466 U.S. at 692). "When a defendant challenges a
conviction," a defendant must establish "a reasonable probability that, absent the errors, the
factfinder would have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt." Strickland. 466 U.S. at 695.
2. Conflicts ofInterest
"It is well-established that 'a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance
of counsel includes the right to representation by conflict-free counsel.'" United States v.
Cohan. 798 F.3d 84,88(2d Cir. 2015)(quoting LoCascio v. United States. 395 F.3d 51,56
(2d Cir. 2005)). The court has an obligation to protect that right by "initiat[ing] an inquiry
whenever it is sufficiently apprised of even the possibility of a conflict of interest," and,if
necessary, holding a Curcio hearing for the purpose of"disqualify[ing] counsel or seek[ing] a
[conflict] waiver from the defendant." Id (quoting United States v. Rogers. 209 F.3d 139,143
(2d Cir. 2000)). This inquiry is often called the "Sullivan inquiry" in reference to the Supreme
Court's directive in Cuvler v. Sullivan that a trial court should investigate when it "knows or
reasonably should know that a particular conflict exists." 446 U.S. 335, 347(1980).
There is no dispute in this case that the court did not conduct a full Sullivan inquiry for
Petitioner. This oversight was regrettable, as a Sullivan inquiry is the best means of protecting a
defendant's right to conflict-free counsel. The Supreme Court has clarified, however,that
automatic revers^ is not warranted in cases such as this one. S^ Mickens v. Tavlor,
535 U.S. 162(2002). Rather, the court will only fmd that Petitioner "has suffered ineffective
assistance of counsel in violation ofthe Sixth Amendment if his attorney" had (1)"an actual
conflict ofinterest that adversely affected the attorney's performance," or(2)"a potential
conflict ofinterest that resulted in prejudice." Cohan. 798 F.3d at 88(quoting United States v.
Lew.25 F.3d 146,152(2d Cir. 1994)).
a. Automatic Reversal Is Not Warranted
Generally, a trial court's failure to inquire into a potential conflict of interest on the part
of defense counsel does not automatically require reversal ofthe conviction, even ifthe trial
court knew or should have known about the potential conflict. Mickens. 535 U.S. at 172-73.
The Mickens Court reasoned that a "trial court's awareness ofa potential conflict neither renders
it more likely that counsel's performance was significantly affected nor in any other way renders
the verdict unreliable." Id. at 173. Automatic reversal applies only in certain limited
circumstances, including the scenario contemplated in Holloway v. Arkansas:
In IHollowavl. defense counsel had objected that he could not
adequately represent the divergent interests of three codefendants.
Without inquiry,the trial court had denied counsel's motions for the
appointment ofseparate counsel and had refused to allow coimsel to
"In addition to the Hollowav scenario, automatic reversal is required if trial counsel has a perse conflict of interest
because "trial counsel is not authorized to practice law, or is implicated in the very crime for which his or her client
is on trial." Martinez v. ICirkpatrick. 486 F. App'x 158, 160(2d Cir. 2012)(summary order)(quoting Armienti v.
United States. 234 F.3d 820, 823(2d Cir. 2000)). Petitioner has not alleged a perse conflict in this instance.
cross-examine any ofthe defendants on behalfofthe other two. The
Hollowav Court deferred to the judgment of counsel regarding the
existence ofa disabling conflict....
Id. at 167 (internal quotation marks omitted)(describing Hollowav v. Arkansas,435 U.S. 475,
Petitioner "asserts that automatic reversal is required here" because White "did,in fact,
object," and "the Court failed to conduct the required inquiry." (Pet'r Suppl. Reply at 6.)
Petitioner is incorrect. Whereas the defense counsel in Hollowav "protested his inability" to
simultaneously represent three codefendants, Mickens. 535 U.S. at 173, White argued that "any
potential conflict of interest" on his part was "clearly waivable," and that"Amato [was] prepared
to make any appropriate waivers at a 'Curcio hearing'"(2d White Ltr. at 1-2). Automatic
reversal is therefore not appropriate in this instance. See Mickens. 535 U.S. at 173("[A] defense
attomey is in the best position to determine when a conflict exists," and "his declarations to the
court are 'virtually made under oath.'"(quoting Hollowav.435 U.S. at 485-86)). Instead, the
court must assess White's actual performance at trial. The appropriate legal standard for that
assessment depends on the nature of White's conflict ofinterest, as discussed in the following
sections. See id. at 173-74.
b. Actual Conflicts ofInterest
If a petitioner's "defense counsel was 'burdened by an actual conflict ofinterest,"' the
petitioner is entitled to "a 'limited presumption ofprejudice.'" Torres. 554 F.3d at 325 (quoting
Strickland. 466 U.S. at 692)). The presumption only attaches, however,"ifthe defendant
demonstrates that counsel actively represented conflicting interests" and that the conflict
"adversely affected his lawyer's performance." Id.(quoting Strickland. 466 U.S. at 692).
An "actual conflict ofinterest" means "a conflict that affected counsel's performance—as
opposed to a mere theoretical division ofloyalties." Mickens. 535 U.S. at 171 (emphasis in
original)(internal quotation marks omitted). "An actual conflict 'adversely affects counsel's
performance' if'some plausible alternative defense strategy or tactic might have been pursued,
and the alternative defense was inherently in conflict with or not undertaken due to the attorney's
other loyalties or interests.'" Curshen v. United States. 596 F. App'x 14,16(2d Cir. 2015)
(summary order)(alterations omitted)(quoting Schwarz. 283 F.3d at 92); see also Martinez v.
Kirkpatrick. 486 F. App'x 158,160(2d Cir. 2012)(summary order)("Actual conflicts of interest
occur when the interests ofthe defendant and his counsel 'diverge with respect to a material
factual or legal issue or to a course of action.'"(quoting Schwarz. 283 F.3d at 91)).
This standard is less demanding than the Strickland test because the petitioner need not
show actual prejudice. For the purpose ofthe "adverse effect" analysis, a "plausible defense
strategy is a strategy that could have been pursued even if, in all likelihood, it would have
failed." Curshen. 596 F. App'x at 16 (citing Schwarz. 283 F.3d at 92.) The petitioner retains the
burden ofshowing "causation," however. LoCascio. 395 F.3d at 56. "In other words,he must
show that 'trial counsel chose not to undertake [the alternative strategy] because of his
conflict.'"^^ Id, at 56-57 (alteration in original)(emphasis added)(quoting Winkler v. Keane.
7 F.3d 304, 309(2d Cir. 1993)).
c. Potential Conflicts ofInterest
IfPetitioner fails to establish that defense counsel's performance was adversely affected
by an actual conflict ofinterest, then the court will find that White's relationships created only a
potential conflict ofinterest. Martinez. 486 F. App'x at 160("[PJotential conflicts ofinterest
The court cautions that a petitioner need not necessarily establish the attorney's subjective state of miud. See
Tueros v. Greiner. 343 F.3d 587(2d Cir. 2003)(holding that actual conflicts of interest should be defined based on
objective duties rather than an attorney's subjective beliefs). Rather, the petitioner may establish constructive
causation by showing that an alternative strategy was "inherentlv in conflict with ...the attorney's other loyalties or
interests.'" Curshen. 596 P. App'x at 16 (alterations and citation omitted)(emphasis added).
arise if'the interests ofthe defendant may place the attorney under inconsistent duties at some
time in the future.'"(quoting United States v. Kliti, 156 F.3d 150,153 n. 3(2d Cir. 1998))).
Unlike actual conflicts, potential conflicts impart no presumption of prejudice: to succeed on an
ineffectiveness claim based on a potential conflict. Petitioner bears the burden of satisfying
Strickland's "performance and prejudice" test. See Tueros v. Greiner, 343 F.3d 587,592
(2d Cir. 2003); Pepe v. Walsh. 542 F. App'x 54,56(2d Cir. 2013)(summary order).
B. The Nature of White's Conflict of Interest
Petitioner contends that White "operated at all times under an actual conflict of interest."
(Pet'r Mem. at 2.) Petitioner therefore bears the burden ofshowing adverse effect by
(1)identifying a "plausible altemative defense strategy or tactic [that] might have been pursued,"
and(2)showing that "the altemative defense was inherently in conflict with or not imdertaken
due to [White's] other loyalties or interests.'" Curshen. 596 F. App'x at 16 (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted).
Petitioner argues that White's conflict adversely affected his ability to "fiilly and
appropriately counsel" Petitioner with regard to plea negotiations, as well as "when it came time
to decide whether to call Massino as a witness on the key issues in the case," or "whether to
stipulate to the exclusion" ofthe 302 Notes. (Pet Add'm at 5 n.2,13.) The court assumes,
without deciding, that Petitioner has sufficiently alleged "plausible altemative strategies."'^
"The court notes that Petitioner has offered scant allegations regarding plea negotiations. Petitioner has alleged
only that "White was unable to fully and appropriately counsel Mr. Amato on the advisability or even the
possibilities of entering into pleas negotiations in the case, other than conveying to him an offer of a term of years
made to him by the government." (Pet. Add'm at 13.) Petitioner does not allege with any specificity what \^ite
could or should have done differently. (See Pet'r Reply at 22-24.) But see note 10,supra(noting that Petitioner's
Reply introduces wholly new allegations ofnon-conflict-related ineffectiveness concerning plea negotiations, and
explainmg why the court declines to consider those allegations). "Although a [petitioner] need not show that the
negotiation ofa plea bargain would have been successful, the strategy must nevertheless 'possessH sufficient
substance to be a viable altemative.'" Eisemaim. 401 F.3d at 107(quoting United States v. Fewer. 333 F.3d 110,
116(2d Cir. 2003)). The court need not address this issue, however, because the court resolves Petitioner's
allegations of actual conflict on other grounds.
In order to determine whether any ofthese strategies were "inherently in conflict" with
White's duties to Massino,the court must first determine what those duties were. After
identifying White's ethical obligations to his former client, the court considers whether any of
those obligations were at cross-purposes with Petitioner's proposed strategies. Finding no
inherent conflict, the court concludes that Petitioner has failed to plausibly establish adverse
effect, and therefore, that White's prior representation of Massino created only a potential
conflict ofinterest. Mickens, 535 U.S. at 171.
1. A Lawyer's Ethical Obligations to a Former Client
Courts have recognized "the high probability of prejudice arising from multiple
concurrent representation," but neither the Supreme Court nor the Second Circuit has assessed
whether "cases of successive representation" generally produce actual conflicts of interest.
Mickens. 535 U.S. at 175-76(emphasis added)(noting that "the Federal Rules of Criminal
Procedure treat concurrent representation and prior representation differently"); see also
Eisemann v. Herbert,401 F.3d 102,108(2d Cir. 2005)(declining to reach the issue); Pepe,
542 F. App'x at 55(same). "The question of whether an actual conflict existed in the context of
[White's] successive representation" therefore "requires the Court to determine ... whether
Petitioner's interests were, in fact, materially adverse to those of[the former client].
V. United States. No.06-CR-61 (LTS),2015 WL 4522857,at *5(S.D.N.Y. July 27, 2015)(citing
United States v. Fevrer. 333 F.3d 110, 116(2d Cir. 2003)).
Petitioner contends that "White was duty[-]bound to avoid doing anything that would
undermine his former client's best interests." (Pet. Add'm at 8; see also, e.g.. Pet'r Suppl. Reply
Petitioner correctly contends that the court should not defer to White's legal conclusion that the conflict was
waivable, or to his factual representation that Petitioner was prepared to make any appropriate conflict waivers.
(See Pet'r Reply Mem. at 8 n.6 (citing Wood v. Georgia. 450 U.S. 261,265 n.5 (1981); Lew.25 F.3d at 158; United
States V. lorizzo. 786 F.2d 52,59(2d Cir. 1986))); see also 1st White Ltr.; 2d White Ltr.)
at 13 ("White could not ethically be in a position of causing negative consequences for his
[former] client Massino.").) Petitioner cites no authority in support this expansive conception of
a lawyer's duty former clients. The New York Rules ofProfessional Conduct define a more
modest set of specific obligations:"A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter
shall not," without the consent ofthe former client:(1)"reveal [the former client's] confidential
information, or use such information to the disadvantage ofthe former client, except as these
Rules would permit or require with respect to a current client or when the information has
become generally known"; or(2)represent a new client in a "substantially related matter" ifthe
new client's "interests are materially adverse to the interests ofthe former client." N.Y. Rules
Prof1 Conduct r. 1.9(a),(c); see also E.D.N.Y. Local Civ. Rule 1.5(b)(5)(authorizing the court
to discipline an attorney if, "[i]n connection with activities in [the Eastern District of New York],
[the] attorney is found to have engaged in conduct violative ofthe New York State Rules of
"[T]he Supreme Court has repeatedly held that 'breach of an ethical standard does not
necessarily make out a denial ofthe Sixth Amendment guarantee of assistance of counsel.'"
Bethea V.Walsh. No. 09-CV-5037(NGG),2016 WL 258639, at *30 n.l7(E.D.N.Y. Jan. 19,
2016)(quoting Mickens,535 U.S. at 176, and collecting cases). In order for Petitioner to
establish an actual conflict ofinterest, however, he must show, at a minimum,that White's
ethical obligations to Massino caused a material divergence ofinterest with Petitioner's defense.
Martinez. 486 F. App'x at 160 (citation omitted). Therefore, the court will consider whether any
ofPetitioner's proposed alternative strategies would have subjected White to conflicting duties
because(1) White risked revealing Massino's confidential information or using it in a manner
that would have disadvantaged Massino; or(2)Petitioner's trial was "substantially related" to
Massino's trial, and Petitioner's interests were materially adverse to Massino's.
2. Adverse Effect
a. Confidential Information
Petitioner accurately states that White had "continuing duties to maintain" his "former
client's ... confidences and secrets." (Pet. Add'm at 6.) Petitioner has not, however, alleged
any specific confidential information that White learned from Massino that was,or could have
been, used to advance Petitioner's defense. That being said, the court recognizes the tension in
expecting Petitioner to ascertain, without discovery, whether White actually leamed any relevant
secrets from Massino, especially ifthose secrets never surfaced at trial. After considering the
record, however, the court finds no basis for concluding that White leamed any pertinent
confidential information while representing Massino.
White's continuing duty of
confidentiality, therefore, does not provide a basis for finding an actual conflict ofinterest.
When White first notified the court of his conflict, he stated that he could "recall no
material information or confidences and secrets conferred upon phim] by Massino" during their
brief relationship. (1st White Ltr. at 3.) As a result. White did not think it necessary to seek a
waiver of attomey-client privilege. (Jan. 2006 Status Conf. Tr. 39:10-13.) Although he initially
intended to secure co-counsel as a precautionary measure, he was comfortable with the
possibility ofcross-examining Massino himself,if necessary, and indeed, he attempted to call
Massino as a witness regarding Vitale's testimony.
supra Sections LB,I.C.l.a.ii.
White's declaration states that he "[has] no recollection ofthe particular content" of his meetings with Massino.
(White Decl. ^5.) He is therefore "unable to identify information obtained from Mr. Massino that could have been
used in support of Mr. Amato's defense," or to surmise as to "how any information imparted to [him] by Mr.
Massino could have impacted on plea negotiations on behalf of Mr. Amato." (Id,^ 6.) Absent any allegations from
Petitioner that White possessed specific confidential information, the court deduces what it can from the trial record.
To the extent that White possessed confidential information that was not material to Petitioner's trial, he
represented to the court that he "would not seek to cross-examine Massmo based on any privileged communications,
The Supreme Court has "recogiiize[ed] that a defense attorney is in the best position to
determine when a conflict exists, that he has an ethical obligation to advise the court of any
problem, and that his declarations to the court are virtually made under oath." Mickens.
535 U.S. at 167-68 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The Second Circuit has
cautioned, however, that the existence of an actual conflict should not be "determined onlv by
the attorney's [subjective] belief." Tueros. 343 F.3d at 597(emphasis added). A purely
subjective standard would "create more injustice than it would remedy" because any attorney
"who [was] blinded to his or her own conflict" would never be held to "violate his client's
constitutional rights." Id
The court once again tums to the New York Rules ofProfessional Conduct, which
provide a standard for assessing White's representations: courts may reach a "conclusion about
[a lawyer's] possession of[confidential] information" from a prior client "based on the nature of
the services the lawyer provided the former client[,] and information that would in ordinary
practice be learned by a lawyer providing such services." N.Y. Rules Prof1 Conduct r. 1.9
cmt. 3. Under that analysis, the court finds White's statement—^that he leamed "no material
information or confidences"—^to be consistent with the nature of his work for Massino.
White's representation was briefin duration and limited in scope. For eight months, he
was one of multiple lawyers from different firms supporting Massino's primary defense counsel.
His duties "consisted of making requests for discovery, making an application to facilitate
meetings [at the detention center where Massino was being held], making a motion to
consolidate the two indictments that were filed against Massino, and responding to the
unless[Massino] waived the privilege." (2d White Ltr. at 1-2.) See also Eisemann. 401 F.3d at 109(considering the
argument that a lawyer faced an actual conflict in calling his prior client as a witness based on the "risk [of]
revealing confidences," but rejecting that argument because "any such problem could have been avoided by a
careful direct examination," and because the prior client might have waived privilege if asked to do so).
Government's application seeking to disqualify" the '"learned counsel' [selected by] Massino on
a death-eligible indictment." (1st White Ltr. at 3.) The court notes, in addition, that Massino
was not charged with any activities in connection with the DiFalco or Perrino murders. (See
Superseding Indictment(Dkt. 535), Massino I; Indictment(Dkt. 1), Massino II.V^ It seems
unlikely that his defense team would have conducted inquiries or sought discovery concerning
In sum. White's activities on behalf of Massino was both limited in scope and peripheral
to the substantive work on Massino's defense. Legal representation ofthis nature, which
terminated before the commencement of pre-trial motion practice, would not be expected to
involve discussions of specific factual allegations pertaining to crimes for which the defendant
was not charged. There is thus no reason to suspect that White possessed any pertinent
confidential information, much less that he was confironted with an opportunity to
information to Massino's disadvantage. The court finds no evidence of actual conflict based on
White's duty of confidentiality to Massino. Ct United States v. Blount,291 F.3d 201,212
(2d Cir. 2002)(finding only a potential conflict where a cooperating witness had previously been
represented by defense counsel's firm, and noting that the defendant "has not suggested that
[defense counsel] had any information from, or with respect to,[the cooperating witness] that
could have been used" for the defense).
b. Materially Adverse Interests
Whether or not White possessed any relevant confidential information, he could have run
afoul of his ethical duties to Massino if(1)Petitioner's trial was "substantially related" to
White's prior representation of Massino, and(2)Petitioner's interests were "materially adverse"
Each of Massino's cases involved multiple superseding indictments. The court cites here to the indictments that
were operative during the period of White's representation.
to Massino's. .^N.Y.Rules Prof1 Conduct r. 1.9(a). Petitioner's briefing does not explicitly
address the first prong, but appears to assert three ways in which Petitioner's proposed
alternative strategies pitted Massino's interests against his own: Petitioner argues that White
risked compromising Massino's position as a Government cooperator, causing Massino to
commit perjury, and inciting Massino to incriminate himself. The court finds all three bases
unpersuasive. Thus, the court need not decide whether Massino's trial and Petitioner's trial were
"substantially related." Because Petitioner has not shown a material divergence of interest with
respect to any alternative strategies, he has failed to plausibly establish an actual conflict.
Compromising Massino's Position as a Cooperator
Petitioner argues that zealous advocacy on his behalf could have harmed Massino's
interests as a cooperating witness. If White had "use[d] Massino to bolster [Petitioner's] case
and hurt the government's case," Massino "would risk running afoul of his handlers." (Pet.
Add'm at 8; see also id. at 9("To put[Massino] up on the stand at all... clearly would have
undercut whatever interest it is the government has had in keeping Massino offofthe stand.");
id at 13-14(making similar allegations regarding plea negotiations).) This argument
mischaracterizes the nature ofcooperation agreements. The Government clarified that,"as in all
cooperation agreements, Massino was obligated only to testify truthfully without regard to the
outcome of any given case. Accordingly, even if Massino would testify favorably to a given
Petitioner asserts at least two ofthese three reasons with respect to each of his proposed alternative strategies.
(See Pet. Add'm at 13-14("White was unable to fiilly and appropriately counsel" Petitioner regarding plea
negotiations because "White never could have risked having Mr. Amato, in the course of plea discussions,...show
the government that Massino was not credible because of crimes he had committed that he never admitted to ...[,]
things which would have inured to Massino's detriment in his relationship with the government.");jd at 11 ("White
could not fiilly and fairly evaluate ... whether and how to use the [302 Notes] in his cross-examination of
Vitale ...[,] nor could he fairly or effectively evaluate the advisability of calling Massino as a witness, forcing him
to risk angering the government by disputing their 'proof on [the] thinly built" DiFalco murder case, or the risk of
causing Massino to "commit peijury by falsely disavowing the[302 Notes]."); id at 9("Subjecting Massino to
cross-examination  risked the exposure of other crimes to which Massino had never admitted.").)
defendant,such testimony would notjeopardize his agreement." (Gov't Opp'n at 30.) Indeed,
though the Government decided not to call Massino as a witness, they acknowledged before trial
that "the defense [was], of course, free to call him."^^ (May 22,2006, Gov't Mot. in Lim. at 6.)
The court notes, moreover, that White's representation of Massino terminated in the early
pre-trial phase,long before Massino initiated discussions regarding cooperation. Petitioner's
scenario is therefore quite unlike cases in which courts found actual conflicts based on
concurrent representation ofa defendant and a cooperator,s^ United States v. Daugerdas,
735 F. Supp. 2d 113,116(S.D.N.Y. 2010); United States v. Rodriguez. No. 99-CR-166(NG),
1999 WL 314162, at *2-3(E.D.N.Y. May 18,1999), or successive representation in which the
lawyer facilitated the prior client's cooperation against the current client, see United States v.
Dinietro. No. 02-CR-1237(SWK),2004 WL 613073,at *3-4(S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29,2004),^fd
sub nom. United States v. Genua. 274 F. App'x 53(2d Cir. 2008)(summary order),
Causing Massino to Commit Perjury
Petitioner next argues that Massino's interests were adverse to Petitioner's based on the
risk that Massino might "falsely den[y]" an earlier statement, thereby subjecting himself"to a
peijury charge." (Pet. Add'm at 8-9.) Petitioner focuses entirely on Massino's statements in 302
Notes, however, which consist of handwritten marginalia on a document reviewed during his
own trial preparation, which Massino later turned over to the Government after becoming a
cooperator. Petitioner has not identified any relevant statements made under penalty of peijury.
Any risk that White may have prompted peijury on Massino's part is thus purely speculative
"and fails for lack of any support in the evidence." Eisemann,401 F.3d at 109.
The Goverament opposed White's motion to call Massino for a limited evidentiary hearing regarding the basis of
his knowledge ofthe DiFalco murder, as discussed above in Section I.C.1.a.ii. That opposition, however, was
distinct from the issue of Massino's general availability as a witness for the defense.
In any event, Petitioner himself points out the overarching flaw in this argument by
acknowledging that White "had an obligation to expose Massino as a liar if Massino did not tell
the truth" on the stand. (Pet. Suppl. Reply at 13.) The Second Circuit has explicitly clarified
"that the tension between [the] parallel duties of(1)zealous representation and(2)candor to the
court...[does] not create [an actual] conflict of interest." Torres, 554 F.3d at 326. "[D]efense
counsel's ethical obligation to correcttestimony he [knows]to be inaccurate"—irrespective of
whether that testimony comes from an adverse witness or his own client, or whether the
correction benefits the defense or the prosecution—^merely reflects the "ethical guidelines
applicable to every attomey appearing as trial counsel." Id. Ifthere is no actual conflict when an
attomey actually corrects peijured testimony on the stand, then Petitioner cannot plausibly argue
that an actual conflict existed based on the risk that White might have had to correct peijured
testimony, had Massino actually taken the stand and committed perjury,
Exposing Other Crimes
Finally, Petitioner argues that "subjecting Massino to cross-examination  risked the
exposure of other crimes to which Massino had never admitted," possibly including criminal
"conduct following his ... decision to 'cooperate.'" (Pet. Add'm at 9; see also id. at 13-14
(making similar allegations regarding plea negotiations).) This argument founders on two
grounds. First, Petitioner has not alleged that either he or White actually knew ofsuch crimes
and was willing to expose them in court or during plea negotiations. This theory, like the peijury
theory,"rests on speculation ...,and fails for lack ofany support in the evidence."^® Eisemann,
The court notes that Massino had already been found guilty on illegal gambling charges that substantially
resembled Petitioner's charges, so there was no risk of novel exposure on those activities. (Compare Superseding
Indictment(Dkt. 665)& Jury Verdict(Dkt. 806), Massino L with Pet'r Superseding Indictment(Trial Dkt. 4).) In
addition. Petitioner does not allege that Massino was involved in the DiFalco or Perrino murders. Therefore, any
additional criminal activity could only have come to light through general efforts to impeach Massino, a task for
which ample ammunition already existed in the public record ofhis convictions and guilty pleas. Petitioner
401 F.3d at 109. Second, even if Petitioner had presented specific allegations, Massino "would
have had the protection ofthe privilege against self-incrimination, and nothing in the record
suggests that he was willing to waive his privilege," Id
c. Summary: No Adverse Effect
The court finds that Petitioner has failed to plausibly establish that White operated under
an actual conflict of interest. Petitioner asserts in the strongest terms that White should have
acted differently, but fails to establish that any of his suggested alternative strategies were
"inherently in conflict" with any of White's duties to Massino as a former client. Curshen.
596 F. App'x at 16 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Petitioner has therefore
failed to establish adverse effect because he has not shown the requisite "causation." LoCascio,
395 F.3d at 56; see also Mickens. 535 U.S. at 171 (An "actual conflict of interest" means"a
conflict that affected counsel's performance—as opposed to a mere theoretical division of
loyalties."(internal quotation marks omitted)); Guadmuz v. LaVallev. No. lO-CV-4408(ARR),
2012 WL 1339517, at *1(E.D.N.Y. Apr. 17, 2012)("Petitioner's speculation that [counsel]
changed his planned trial strategy because of an alleged allegiance to [a former client] is based
on nothing more than speculation, and petitioner has failed to prove that counsel's non-pursuit of
the alterative defense strategy was 'forgone as a consequence of[counsel's] alleged conflict of
interest.'"(alterations omitted)(emphasis added)(quoting Eisemann. 401 F.3d at 108)).
Moreover,Petitioner ignores certain actions that White did, in fact, take with regard to
Massino and the 302 Notes. Although White did not call Massino as a defense witness. White
did seek to call him for a limited evidentiary hearing on the precise subject of Massino's
comments to Vitale regarding Petitioner's role in the DiFalco murder. See supra
references the possible existence of"money [that] Massino had out on the street and was collecting"(Pet. Add'm
at 13-14), but the court declines to give weight to vague speculation ofthat nature.
Section I.C.I.a.ii. Although White did not introduce the 302 Notes at trial, he did notify the
court that he might seek to introduce them if Massino were called to testify, or if Massino's
statements to Vitale were admitted as co-conspirator statements.
supra Section I.C.I.a.i.
White's actions suggest that he did not view these tactics as ethically foreclosed, even ifthe
tactics were ultimately blocked by court rulings or abandoned for strategic reasons.
Petitioner may disagree about whether White's decisions were wise, but any such
discussion speaks to the Strickland test for ineffectiveness, as discussed below. For the purpose
of establishing an actual conflict ofinterest, the merits of an altemative strategy are relevant only
insofar as the strategy must be "plausible." Because the court assumed plausibility in this
instance. Petitioner's burden was to show that a path not taken was inherentlv in conflict with
White's duties to Massino. This Petitioner has failed to do. He has not identified any plausible
strategies that were precluded by White's legitimate ethical obligations to his former client.
3. Conclusion: White Operated Under a Potential Conflict of Interest
Because Petitioner has not shown a material divergence ofinterest between White's
duties to Massino and to Petitioner, the court finds that White's prior representation of Massino
created a potential—^rather than an actual—conflict ofinterest at Petitioner's trial. As a result,
the Strickland test governs all ofPetitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, whether
related to White's potential conflict or not. Tueros,343 F.3d at 592; Pepe. 542 F. App'x at 56.
Therefore,in the interest of clarity, the court will analyze Petitioner's conflict- and non-conflictbased claims together, grouped by the relevant criminal charge or phase of the trial.
C. Allegations Pertaining to the DiFalco Murder
Petitioner appears to challenge four distinct areas of White's defense strategy with regard
to the DiFalco murder charge. Petitioner argues that White should have:(1)called Massino as a
witness to discuss the 302 Notes;(2)further investigated Bonanno associate Fabio Bartolotta's
possible motive for killing DiFalco;(3)adduced additional evidence regarding Petitioner's
financial relationship with the Giannini restaurant; and(4) more vigorously challenged the
Government's allegations that Petitioner acted suspiciously following DiFalco's disappearance.
For each set of allegations, the court finds that Petitioner has failed to make a plausible showing
with regard to one or both prongs of Strickland's "performance and prejudice" test.
1. Massino as a Potential Witness
Petitioner argues that the 302 Notes were a "vitally important document" that "directly
undercut Vitale's claim on the central issue ofthe case," and that there "is no reasonable
strategy-related reason" why the 302 Notes were not"used by the defense." (Pet. Add'm at 11.)
"Massino was fully available as a witness to be examined about [the 302 Notes]," and Petitioner
contends that, had he been called to testify,"he would have put the lie to Vitale's testimony
implicating" Petitioner in the DiFalco murder.^^ (Id;Pet'r Reply Mem. at 10.) This argument
fails under the first Strickland prong because Petitioner has failed to show that White's
performance was objectively deficient.^^
As a preliminary matter, the Second Circuit has consistently held that an attorney's
"decision 'whether to call specific witnesses—even ones that might offer exculpatory
evidence—^is ordinarily not viewed as a lapse in professional representation.'" Pierre v. Ercole,
560 F. App'x 81,82(2d Cir. 2014)(summary order)(quoting United States v. Best
Petitioner does not appear to argue that White committed independent error by not seeking to use the 302 Notes
even without calling Massino as a witness. His arguments all appear to rest on the premise that Massino could and
should have been called to testify. (See, e.g.. Pet. Add'm at 11 (arguing that White should "have been used by the
defense" and noting that "Massino was fully available as a witness to be examined about" the 302 Notes).)
In addition to the arguments discussed in the text, Petitioner asserts that White should have "argue[d] further and
more effectively against allowing Vitale to testify at all, given the [302 Notes] directly contradicting [his testimony]
and Massino's availability." (Pet. Add'm at 11.) Without further detail as to specific strategies that White should
have pursued or further explanation as to any errors that White allegedly made, the court fmds this claim
insufficiently developed to merit the court's consideration. See supra Section I.C.I.a (discussing White's efforts to
preclude or impeach Vitale's testimony);^Triana. 205 F.3d at 40(habeas petitioners bear the burden ofprooQ.
219 F.3d 192,201 (2d Cir. 2000)); see also Greiner v. Wells. 417 F.3d 305,323(2d Cir. 2005)
("The decision not to call a particular witness is typically a question of trial strategy that
reviewing courts are ill-suited to second-guess."(alteration omitted)(quoting United States v.
Luciano. 158 F.3d 655,660(2d Cir. 1998)(per curiam))).
"[D]eference is particularly apt where, as here, an attorney decides not to call an
unfriendly witness to the stand and has precious little means of determining how the witness
might testify." Greiner. 417 F.3d at 323(footnote omitted). Petitioner points to the 302 Notes
and asserts that Massino was "certain [Petitioner] did not have anything to do with the Difalco
murder." (Pet Add'm at 12.) In later filings, however. Petitioner acknowledges that, given "the
lack of any Bradv disclosure on this subject," it is eminently possible that "Massino told the
government that the [302 Notes] were fabricated."^^ (Pet'r Suppl. Reply at 12; see also May 26,
2006, Amato Bradv Mot.(specifically requesting "any information, whether reduced to writing
or not, reflecting any inconsistency" between the 302 Notes and Vitale's testimony about
Massino's alleged statements).)
The court finds that White's decision not to call Massino as a defense witness was not
objectively unreasonable. Calling Massino to testify would have exposed Petitioner to the risk
that Massino might actually corroborate Vitale's testimony. Instead, White opted to vigorously
attack the credibility of all cooperating witnesses, especially those who (like Vitale) testified
without direct knowledge, or who (like Massino) did not testify at all.^'* See supra Section I.C.I.
^ The Government alleges in its opposition papers that Massino admitted to making "many false and inaccurate
notes on the Vitale 302s in preparation for his 2004 trial." (Gov't Opp'n at 29.) Petitioner responds, however,that
the court should not rely on the Government's unsworn allegations. (Pet'r Reply Mem. at 7 n.5.)
The court relies primarily on White's conduct at trial as documented in the record, but notes that the court's
characterization receives indirect support from the White Declaration. Though White is unable, at this time, to
recall the contemporaneous reasoning behind his decisions at trial (see White Decl. 5-7), he opines on what his
trial strategy would presumably have been, and offers an account consistent with the court's summary above:"I
[cannot] articulate how I would have responded to any inculpatory statement made by Mr. Massino, other than, I
imagine, seeking to challenge its reliability, veracity and consistency.... I do not recall a specific reason
Both ofPetitioner's codefendants similarly chose not to call Massino as a witness, even though
testimony regarding Massino's statements and conduct played a role in all three cases.
The court notes, in closing, that White did, in fact, attempt to call Massino as a witness
regarding Vitale's testimony, albeit at a limited evidentiary hearing, and albeit xmsuccessfully.
See supra Section I.C.1.a. Courts have rejected allegations of ineffectiveness when counsel
attempted to pursue the suggested strategy, even if counsel was ultimately unsuccessful. See,
e.g.. United States v. Sessa. No.92-CR-351 (ARR),2011 WL 256330, at *51 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 25,
2011), affd. 711 F.3d 316(2d Cir. 2013)("[Pjetitioner cannot show his counsel was ineffective
for failing to object to the charge where the record establishes that his objection was carefully
considered by the trial court."); Rosario-Dominguez v. United States. 353 F. Supp. 2d 500, 515
(S.D.N.Y.2005)(rejecting a claim ofineffectiveness based on a failure to challenge the court's
calculation ofdrug quantity "because the record demonstrates that" counsel "did argue—^albeit
unsuccessfully—^that the evidence did not support" the court's calculation).
2. Evidence Concerning Fabio Bartolotta
Petitioner argues that White should have dedicated additional efforts to painting Bonanno
member Fabio Bartolotta as an alternative suspect for the DiFalco murder. Bartolotta may have
had a motive to kill DiFalco because Bartolotta had previously been romantically involved with
DiFalco's daughter and was jealous about her new relationships, and perhaps also because
Bartolotta's mother had been DiFalco's lover before he began seeing Cathy Ventimiglia.
(Pet'r Decl. at 4,18-23.) Petitioner accuses White of"a wholesale failure ... to investigate or
pursue evidence of Bartolotta's multiple motives for killing Difalco, as well evidence that he in
fact killed him," and argues that White should have pursued these theories by calling additional
underlying any decision not to seek to call Mr. Massino as a defense witness, other than, I imagine, maintaining
focus on the reliability, veracity and consistency ofthe prosecution witnesses." (Id.
witnesses including Bartolotta himself, Bartolotta's mother, the man who dated DiFalco's
daughter after Bartolotta, and other Bonanno members. (Pet. Add'm at 35; Pet'r Decl. at 21-22.)
Petitioner's accusation is flatly belied by the record. During the Government's
summation at trial, they noted White's efforts to construct a narrative "that Fabio Bartolotta was
the real killer," and that he "killed Sammy DiFalco because Fabio Bartolotta was angry about the
fact that Fabio and Sammy's daughter, Francesca, had stopped dating." (Tr. 3553:25-3554:3.)
The Government enumerated the many factual flaws with this theory, highlighting evidence that
Bartolotta and Francesca DiFalco stopped dating two years before the murder, that DiFalco
supported their relationship, and that Bartolotta viewed DiFalco "as a father figure."
(Tr. 3554:3-3556:11.) Petitioner has suggested additional witnesses, but has not explained
whether or how their expected testimony would have addressed those flaws.
At a higher level of generality. Petitioner dwells on arguments about Bartolotta's possible
motive and criminal history, but fails to explain how those elements would exonerate Petitioner
as the alleged orchestrator ofthe conspiracy. Even ifPetitioner is correct that Tabbita asked one
Bonanno associate to assist with the DiFalco murder "as a favor to Bartolotta"(Pet'r Decl.
at 39), and even if it is true that Bartolotta himself committed the murderous act, those facts
would not necessarily undermine the Government's theory that Petitioner issued the original
order for DiFalco to be killed.
supra Section I.C.I.
To prove that White's conduct was objectively unreasonable. Petitioner would have to
overcome clear precedent establishing a generally deferential posture toward strategic decisions
about specific witnesses. See Greiner, 417 F.3d at 323; Pierre, 560 F. App'x at 82. To show
prejudice. Petitioner would have to explain how his proposed cumulative testimony would
address the clear limitations ofthis "alternative suspect" defense theory. The court finds that
Petitioner has failed to make a plausible showing on either prong ofthe Strickland test.
3. Petitioner's Relationship with the Giannini Restaurant
Petitioner contends that White failed to adequately challenge the Government's theory
that Petitioner was effectively a partial owner ofthe Giannini restaurant, and that DiFalco served
as a front man. (Pet. Add'm at 34.) Specifically, Petitioner argues that White should have
(1)investigated "a list ofthe investors in the restaurant" to "arrange for their testimony
concerning their exclusive ownership ofthe restaurant"; and(2)elicited testimony that Petitioner
"regularly worked at the Giannini Restaurant." (Id at 33-34; see also id. at 29-31.) This
argument is premised on a misunderstanding ofthe Government's theory. Neither ofPetitioner's
suggested tactics would have undermined the Government's key claims.
At trial, multiple Bonanno members testified that Petitioner "owned" or "controlled" the
Giannini restaurant. fSee. e.g.. Tr. 1068:12-13 (Tabbita); 1832:19-20(Lino).) Vitale elaborated
that Petitioner and DiFalco were "partners," and that "they were getting 50-50...[o]f whatever
the business threw off, whatever the profits ofthe business were."^^ (Tr. 383:3-5.) These
accounts were consistent with testimony from Special Investigator John Carillo, who explained
that the Bonanno family considered a business to be "controlled" by one ofits members ifthe
business owner paid for protection against organized criminal activity, or if the Bonanno member
directly financed the business or otherwise profited from it. (Tr. 260:25-261:19,266:15-267:5.)
Carillo further explained that a "front man is the person" who owns the establishment "on
paper," even ifthere are "illegal monies invested in that business somehow." (Tr. 261:13-16.)
^ This testimony supported the Government's theory that Petitioner's motive for ordering DiFalco's murder
concerned a dispute about finances at the Giannini restaurant. (See Tr. 389:11-20 (Vitale testimony);
Tr. 1087:21-23(Tabbita testimony).) See also supra Section I.C.1.
The Bonanno member who controls the location is not necessarily listed as an owner on any
public records. (Tr. 267:2-5.)
It is therefore immaterial whether, as Petitioner claims,"legitimate businessmen  had
invested in" the restaurant, or even whether those investors considered themselves to be the
"exclusive owners ofthe restaurant" in a legal sense. (Pet. Add'm at 34.) It is also immaterial
whether Petitioner regularly worked at the restaurant, received a paycheck, or was listed as an
employee in the restaurant's records. Above-board investment and employment relationships are
not mutually exclusive with under-the-table control relationships. The court finds that Petitioner
has failed to show either objectively unreasonable conduct or prejudice regarding White's
decision not to present additional testimony from Giannini's investors and employees.
4. The Government's Allegations of Suspicious Conduct
The Government bolstered their case against Petitioner for the DiFalco murder with four
types of circumstantial evidence concerning Petitioner's behavior in the weeks following
DiFalco's disappearance. See supra Section I.C.1.c. Petitioner argues that White should have
done more to refute two ofthese theories: the "false alibi" theory, and the theory that Petitioner
attempted to divert suspicion to Cathy Ventimiglia. The court finds, however,that Petitioner's
challenges fail to satisfy either prong ofthe Strickland standard, largely because both arguments
focus on extraneous details that were not material to the question ofPetitioner's guilt.
a. The "False Alibi" Theory
The Government accused Petitioner of attempting to create a false alibi by telling
detectives that he was at the Giannini restaurant on the day of DiFalco's disappearance. See
supra Section I.C.l.c.ii. At trial, Giannini employee Annunziati testified that he did not
remember Petitioner being present on that day. Petitioner faults White for not adducing evidence
to confirm Petitioner's presence at the restaurant. Petitioner alleges, for example,that if White
"had interviewed Annunziati before the trial, Annimziati would have told Mr. White that
[Petitioner] did, indeed, work at the Giannini Restaurant and that he was at work on the day
Difalco went missing." (Pet. Add'm at 32.) Petitioner further alleges that White could have
elicited similar testimony from Giannini waiter Jairo Gomez and from Cathy Ventimiglia, had
they been called as witnesses. (Id at 31; Pet'r Decl. at 14.) "This theory," however,"rests on
speculation as to how [these individuals] would have testified, and fails for lack ofany support in
the evidence."^^ Eisemann. 401 F.3d at 109. Petitioner submitted sworn statements from both
Giannini employees, but neither statement addresses Petitioner's presence on the date of
DiFalco's disappearance. fSee Ex. 15, Pet'r Reply(Dkt. 29-15).)
Even if Petitioner is correct as to how these witnesses might have testified, the issue of
Petitioner's whereabouts on February 27,1992, is tangential to the central question of
Petitioner's guilt. Petitioner was accused of ordering DiFalco's murder, not necessarily of
participating physically in the lethal act. The Government accused Petitioner oflying to police
investigators about his location on the night of DiFalco's disappearance—and also about
Petitioner's involvement in organized crime—as one of several instances of allegedly suspicious
conduct supporting his general involvement in the murder. (Tr. 3538:18-3540:18(Gov't
summation).) Moreover, with regard to Strickland's prejudice prong. White countered the
Government's accusations by arguing that certain witnesses had simply misremembered details
from long-ago dates, and that Petitioner would not have lied to police investigators about such an
easily verifiable fact. (Tr. 3670:22-3671:16(White summation).)
Petitioner has not made a plausible showing that White's response to this minor piece of
circumstantial evidence was either objectively unreasonable or prejudicial, particularly in light of
The Government goes a step further, contending that this argument "amounts to baseless and unwarranted
accusations that the government's witnesses were lying." (Gov't Opp'n at 42(footnote omitted).)
the Second Circuit's instruction that decisions about calling specific witnesses are "ordinarily not
viewed as a lapse in professional representation." Pierre. 560 F. App'x at 82(quoting Best.
b. Ventimiglia as an Alternative Suspect
The Govemment argued that Petitioner attempted to divert suspicion away from himself
by pointing the attention of Bonanno members and police investigators toward DiFalco's lover,
Cathy Ventimiglia. Petitioner argues that White should have made greater efforts to
"corroborate Mr. Amato's statement to Detective Vormittag that on the night of DiFalco's
disappearance,"Difalco had a date with Cathy Ventimiglia, his mistress." (Pet. Add'm at 33.)
In Petitioner's eyes, White should have(1)"subpoenaed Cathy Ventimiglia" after she "refused to
talk to [White's] investigator,"^^ (id. at 28); and(2)interviewed "Tarik Abbas,the owner of a
flower shop," who "could have testified that on ...the day Difalco disappeared, Difalco bought
flowers ... to be delivered that day to Cathy Ventimiglia,"(id at 33).
Here, as above. Petitioner challenges a type of decision that is generally committed to
trial counsel's discretion. See Greiner. 417 F.3d at 323; Pierre. 560 F. App'x at 82; see also
Greiner. 417 F.3d at 321 ("[WJhen there is 'reason to believe that pursuing certain investigations
would be fruitless ...,counsel's failure to pursue those investigations may not later be
challenged as unreasonable.'"(quoting Strickland,466 U.S. at 691)); Pepe. 542 F. App'x at 56
("Whether correct or not, the decision not to subpoena[a witness who may or may not have been
helpful] cannot be labeled objectively unreasonable."(citing Luciano. 158 F.3d at 660)).
Petitioner alleges that Ventimiglia's lawyer met with Petitioner's defense team on June 8, 2006. (Pet. Add'm
at 28.) Petitioner has submitted handwritten notes, allegedly taken by White during that meeting, stating that"CV
was supposed to meet Sam the night he disappeared." (Ex. 3, Ltr. with Selected Exhibits (Dkt. 34-4).)
Moreover,Petitioner misconstrues the Government's theory. "[I]t was irrelevant whether
DiFalco [actually] had plans to meet Ventimiglia the night he disappeared .... Rather, the
relevant issue was that [Petitioner's] statements to [Detective] Vormittag [and others]
demonstrated his desire to deflect attention away from himself and blame the affair for DiFalco's
disappearance." (Gov't Opp'n at 40.) Petitioner has failed to explain how either of his proposed
witnesses would have undermined this theory, or why his proposed strategy was inherently
superior to White's chosen approach of construing Petitioner's comments as genuine attempts to
be helpful in the investigation fsee Tr. 3667:10-22). The court sees no plausible basis for finding
that White's conduct was objectively unreasonable or prejudicial.
D. Allegations Pertaining to the Perrino Murder
Petitioner lodges two challenges to White's defense regarding the Perrino murder charge:
White failed to successfully introduce extrinsic evidence of Vitale's prior inconsistent
statements, and declined to elicit evidence of Vitale's involvement in crimes beyond those
discussed at trial. The court finds that neither accusation plausibly establishes a constitutional
1. The Precluded Witnesses
Shortly after Vitale testified at trial, White sought to call three witnesses^^ for the limited
purpose of eliciting extrinsic evidence of Vitale's prior inconsistent statements regarding the
Perrino murder. fSee June 25, 2006, Amato Mot. to Limit Cross-Ex.(Trial Dkt. 797).) The
court granted the Government's motion to preclude the three witnesses based, in part, on a
jSnding that White's cross-examination neither "afford[ed] Vitale with sufficient opportunity to
explain or deny the alleged prior inconsistent statements," nor "put this court or the Government
The three potential witnesses were Richard Cantarella, Frank Coppa, and James Tartaglione.
on notice" of White's intention to introduce extrinsic evidence (June 27,2006, Mem.& Order
(Trial Dkt. 807) at 12.) Petitioner argues that White was constitutionally ineffective because he
failed "to lay a sufficient foundation for the introduction of[the] prior inconsistent statements."^^
(Pet. Add'mat 16.)
"[W]hile in some instances 'even an isolated error' can support an ineffective-assistance
claim if it is 'sufficiently egregious and prejudicial,' it is difficult to establish ineffective
assistance when counsel's overall performance indicates active and capable advocacy."
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 111 (2011)(quoting Murrav v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478,496
(1986)). The court finds that White's conduct with regard to the three precluded witnesses was
not "sufficiently egregious and prejudicial" to outweigh his vigorous efforts to impeach Vitale,
especially in light ofthe court's conclusion that Petitioner has failed to successfully allege any
other instances of constitutionally ineffective assistance.
With regard to the severity of White's error. Petitioner argues that the court"made it
abundantly clear ...that the fault for not being able to put on these critically important
witnesses lay squarely with Mr. White." (Pet. Add'm 16.) Petitioner is correct that the court
found White's cross-examination insufficient for the purpose of giving Vitale an opportunity
respond or of providing notice to the Government and the court. (June 27, 2006, Mem.& Order
at 9-12.) The court acknowledged that it was a "close question," however(id at 9), and
expressed "sympath[y]" for White's explanation that he had expected the Government to call the
three relevant witnesses "in its case-in-chief(id at 12). It thus appears that White's error was
On direct appeal, the Second Circuit summarily affirmed this and other evidentiary rulings, finding "no abuse of
discretion or denial of due process." Amato. 306 F. App'x at 634. Separate sections ofthis opinion address
Petitioner's allegations ofineffective appellate counsel, as well as Petitioner's attempt to relitigate claims already
resolved on direct appeal.
infra Parts V, VI. This section considers only Petitioner's argument that White was
constitutionally ineffective in his conduct at trial regarding the three potential witnesses.
likely made in good faith. Additionally,the error was not the sole basis for the court's ruling: the
court found that "allowing [Petitioner] to call these witnesses would substantially burden the
Government and sacrifice the orderly conduct ofthis trial." (Id at 13-14.)
The court now turns to the question ofprejudice. Petitioner specifies that his "defense
theory" with regard to the Perrino murder is that Vitale "ordered and directly participated in the
Perrino murder for his own agenda. Specifically, Vitale ordered the Perrino murder because of
his concem that Perrino would disclose [Vitale's] and his son's connection with Perrino." (Pet.
Add'm 14-15.) White advanced this very theory at trial, however.
supra Section I.C.2.a.
Thus,the additional witnesses would have been merely cumulative. Moreover, as the trial court
noted,the statements White sought to elicit from the three precluded witnesses "primarily
implicate[d] the collateral matters of Vitale's role, motive and interest in ordering Perrino's
death."^® (Jime 27,2006, Mem.& Order at 13(emphasis added).) Little ofthe proffered
testimony addressed the dispositive question ofPetitioner's role as the alleged shooter. (See
Pet. Add'm at 19-21 (describing Vitale's personal interest in having Perrino killed and his effort
to establish an alibi for the night ofthe murder).)
To the extent that Petitioner expected one or more witnesses to testify that Vitale himself
was the shooter, that anticipated testimony was based entirely on hearsay. (Id at 21-22.)
Petitioner does not allege that any ofthe three witnesses had any direct knowledge of Vitale's of
Petitioner's role—or lack thereof—^in the Perrino murder, nor that any ofthe three witnesses
At some points, Petitioner appears to argue that Vitale's personal motivations for wanting Perrino killed precluded
the murder from consideration as a Bonanno-related crime under Petitioner's RICO charge. (See, e.g.. Pet. Add'm
at 18 n.8 (arguing that "Vitale's personal agenda in ordering Perrino killed should have been adduced at trial... for
a legal defense to the crime charged[,] which required the government to prove that the murder was committed in
connection with the business ofthe racketeering enterprise").) Petitioner cites no legal authority in support ofthis
theory. Moreover, Petitioner has failed to explain how Vitale's personal stake in the Perrino murder was inherently
separate from—much less inconsistent with—^the Bonanno family's interests. Vitale's personal concerns with
Perrino related to his and his son's criminal activities in connection with Perrino's work at the New York Post,
which was known to be a component ofthe overall Bonanno criminal enterprise.
would have impeached Ambrosino's testimony corroborating Petitioner's involvement. The
court finds that Petitioner has failed to plausibly show "a reasonable probability that," had the
additional testimony been offered, the jury "would have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt,"
Strickland. 466 U.S. at 695, especially in light ofthe discussion below regarding cumulative
2. Additional Impeachment Evidence
Petitioner faults White for not investigating Vitale's potential role in two murders beyond
those to which he had already confessed. fSee Pet. Add'm at 23 (criticizing White for not
"following up on testimony attributing to Vitale a role in the  murder" ofLouis Tuzzio); id.
at 24(Petitioner "has reason to believe that Vitale also was responsible for the murder of Willie
Boy Johnson.").) Even if Petitioner is correct that Vitale was involved in both murders,
however, he fails to show constitutional error based on White's decision to pursue an alternative
tack. White took every opportunity to remind the jury of Vitale's confessed participation in
eleven other murders. tSee. e.g.. Tr. 3696:9-14, 3698:20, 3703:1-6, 3704:23-24, 3705:3-5.)
Moreover,"counsel for all three ["Urso II defendants spent significant portions oftheir
cross-examination discrediting Vitale." (Gov't Opp'n at 32; see also id. at 31-32(citing to
various examples in the trial transcript).)
"Counsel's performance cannot be deemed objectively unreasonable because he failed to
pursue cumulative impeachment." Love v. McCrav. 165 F. App'x 48,50(2d Cir. 2006)
(summary order)(citing United States v. Stewart, 433 F.3d 273,315(2d Cir. 2006); United
States V. Wong.78 F.3d 73,82(2d Cir. 1996)). This is particularly true where, as here. White
offered a strategic reason for declining to focus on the additional murders. fSee. e.g.. Pet'r Decl.
at 36("White told me that he want[ed] to leave the Tuzzio murder out of his strategy" because he
planned to paint a picture of Vitale's involvement in "the Perrino murder...in a different color
[than] Vitale's involvement in the Tuzzio murder.")-) Moreover,Petitioner has not shown that
the cumulative impeachment would have changed the outcome ofthe trial. The court finds that
Petitioner has failed to plausibly satisfy either Strickland prong.
E. Petitioner's Direct Appeal
Petitioner asserts that his "claims ofineffectiveness also include post-trial and appellate
representation." (Pet. Add'm at 3.) "[A] petitioner may establish constitutionally inadequate
performance of appellate counsel if he shows that counsel omitted significant and obvious issues
while pursuing issues that were clearly and significantly weaker." Lvnch v. Dolce,
789 F.Sd 303,311 (2d Cir. 2015)(alterations omitted)fquoting Mavo v. Henderson, 13 F.3d 528,
533(2d Cir. 1994)). Petitioner does not appear to plead any relevant facts under this standard.
Petitioner claims only that each "issue he raised on direct appeal must be considered anew here
because counsel's representation on appeal was tainted by the conflict of interests and otherwise
was ineffective in the presentation ofthe issues." (Pet. Add'm at 3.) The court considers those
arguments below in Part VPs discussion ofthe mandate rule, and finds that Petitioner has failed
to properly allege ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.
F. Petitioner's Requests for Discovery and an Evidentiary Hearing
Petitioner has requested discovery and an evidentiary hearing. (Pet'r Reply Mem. at 12.)
The court finds that Petitioner has failed to establish the "plausible claim of ineffective assistance
of counsel" necessary to justify an evidentiary hearing, and therefore denies both requests.
Ravsor,647 F.3d at 494(citation omitted); Section ILB,supra(noting that the standard for
discovery is stricter than the standard for a hearing).
"A district court may rely on its own familiarity with the case and deny [a federal habeas
petition] without a hearing ifthe court concludes that the [petition] lacks 'meritorious allegations
that can be established by competent evidence.'" Stokes v. United States. No. OO-CV-1867
(SAS),2001 WL 29997, at *2(S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9,2001)(quoting United States v. Aiello.
900 F.2d 528,534(2d Cir. 1990)); 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b)(a court need not hold an evidentiary
hearing if"the motion and the files and records ofthe case conclusively show that the prisoner is
entitled to no relief); see also McLean v. United States. No,08-CR-789(RJS),
2016 WL 3910664, at *8(S.D.N.Y. July 13, 2016) "hearing is not required 'where the
allegations are insufficient in law, undisputed, immaterial, vague, palpably false or patently
fiivolous.'"(quoting United States v. Malcolm,432 F.2d 809,812(2d Cir. 1970))).
The court notes, preliminarily, that Petitioner has not enumerated a list of"specific facts"
to be adjudicated. LoCascio. 395 F.3d at 57. Rather, he requests a hearing "on all issues" raised
in the Petition (Pet'r Reply at 2), essentially seeking a full retrial on collateral review.
Petitioner's lack of specificity hinders the court's efforts to identify whether any "material facts
are in dispute." Ravsor, 647 F.3d at 494(citation omitted); see, e.g.. LoCascio. 395 F.3d
at 57-58 (ordering a hearing on the issue of whether, as specifically alleged in an affidavit,
defense counsel received a death threat fi om the petitioner's codefendant); Sessa. 2011 WL
256330, at *57(noting that the petitioner "provided a list oftwenty-six facts that he wishes to
prove at a hearing").
More fatal to Petitioner's request is his failure to offer "meritorious allegations that can
be established by competent evidence." Stokes. 2001 WL 29997, at *2(emphasis added)
(quoting Aiello. 900 F.2d at 534). "In determining [whether a hearing is required, courts] look
'primarily to the ... evidence proffered in support ofthe application in order to determine
whether, ifthe evidence should be offered at a hearing, it would be admissible proof entitling the
petitioner to relief.'" LoCascio. 395 F.3d at 57(quoting Dalli v. United States. 491 F.2d 758,
760(2d Cir. 1974)).
Petitioner has submitted or alluded to certain pieces of competent evidence, but only in
support offacially unpersuasive arguments—^for example, evidence that the Giannini restaurant
had legitimate investors, a fact that would not disprove the Government's allegations of
Petitioner's "control" relationship. Such arguments, even iffully substantiated at an evidentiary
hearing, would not entitle Petitioner to habeas relief. See, e.g., Broxmever.661 F. App'x at 750
(affirming denial ofa hearing to investigate alleged off-the-record conversations because "the
substance ofthose conversations [was] irrelevant" to the legal merits).
Meanwhile,Petitioner's more serious allegations—especially those concerning White's
ethical obligations to Massino—^find no factual support in Petitioner's habeas filings or in the
underlying trial record. These claims rest on an intangible foundation of conjecture. Such
"[ajiry generalities, conclusory assertions and hearsay statements will not suffice." Haouari v.
United States. 510 F.3d 350, 354(2d Cir. 2007)(emphasis added)(alterations omitted)(quoting
United States v. Aiello. 814 F.2d 109,113(2d Cir. 1987)); see also, e.g.. Broxmever.
661 F. App'x at 750(affirming denial of a hearing regarding counsel's alleged intoxication
because the petitioner "presented no plausible reason to believe that trial counsel was actually
intoxicated during trial or that his performance fell below an objectively reasonable level").
Petitioner's claims ofineffective counsel involve factual questions regarding White's
contemporaneous knowledge and decision making, as outlined above. The court sought to
expand the record on that point with a declaration from White, who states that he has "no
recollection" ofinformation learned from Massino or of strategic decisions made during
Petitioner's trial. fSee White Decl.
5-7.) See also Chang v. United States. 250 F.3d 79, 86
(2d Cir. 2001) "district court may use methods under Section 2255 to expand the record
without conducting a full-blown testimonial hearing."(citing Blackledge v. Allison. 431 U.S. 63,
81-82(1977))). The White Declaration does not, of its own weight, defeat Petitioner's
arguments, but the declaration does suggest that it would be futile to call White into court for live
testimony. The court has found that Petitioner's arguments lack support in the existing record.
White's sworn statement indicates that he has nothing to add to that record.
"As petitioner has failed to assert plausible claims or identify legitimately disputed issues
offact, and because his claims may be evaluated by using his trial record and other submissions
ofthe parties to this proceeding, a hearing on his petition is not required." Sessa,
2011 WL 256330, at *57(citations omitted).
The court finds that White's prior representation of Massino created only a potential
conflict ofinterest at Petitioner's trial. Therefore, Petitioner bears the burden ofshowing that
any alleged ineffectiveness—conflict-related or otherwise—satisfied Strickland's requirements
of objectively unreasonable performance by counsel and prejudice to the defendant. Tueros.
343 F.3d at 592; Pepe. 542 F. App'x at 56. "In evaluating prejudice," the court is conscious of
its obligation to "look to the cumulative effect of all of counsel's unprofessional errors." Gersten
V. Senkowski. 426 F.3d 588,611 (2d Cir. 2005)(citing Lindstadt v. Keane,239 F.3d 191, 204
(2d Cir. 2001)). Petitioner has identified one sole instance of clear error on White's part, namely
White's failure to properly lay a foundation for the introduction of extrinsic evidence.
Section IV.D.l. The court found that error to be neither egregious in nature nor prejudicial in
effect, particularly in light of White's vigorous advocacy and clearly defined defense strategies
before, during, and after trial. The court finds, therefore, that Petitioner's claim ofineffective
assistance of counsel fails to meet the required showing for an evidentiary hearing, and must be
OTHER NEW CLAIMS ASSERTED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE INSTANT
In addition to the claim ofineffective counsel, the Petition includes two other claims
asserted for the first time on collateral review: Petitioner argues that the Government unlawfully
withheld evidence and impermissibly relied on a "spy in the camp." (Pet. at 4-5.) As explained
above in Section II.A, these claims "may not be raised on collateral review unless the petitioner
shows cause and prejudice." Massaro, 538 U.S. at 504. The court finds that Petitioner has failed
to show prejudice with respect to either claim, and therefore the court need not address
Petitioner's proffered "cause" ofineffective counsel. The court dismisses both claims as
A. Unlawfully Withheld Evidence
Petitioner accuses the Government of violating the Fifth and Sixth Amendments by
withholding "important documents and information containing exculpatory and impeachment
information with respect to the key witnesses ... and the government's theory ofthe case." (Pet.
at 4.) Petitioner's allegations under this claim, however, mirror the allegations under his claim of
ineffective assistance of counsel. That is, Petitioner points to certain evidence that did not
appear at trial and argues both that White was ineffective for failing to pursue and present it, and
also that the Government violated his rights by failing to produce it before trial. (See Pet. at 4
(listing, inter alia, evidence concerning the Government's "suspicious conduct" theory in the
DiFalco murder, alleged evidence of Massino's prior statements,a recorded conversation
"concerning ... Bartolotta's anger over an affair his girlfnend (DiFalco's daughter) was having,"
and the "identity ofthe investors" in the Giannini restaurant); Pet. Add'm at 24-25 (evidence of
Vitale's prior inconsistent statements and his involvement in the Tuzzio murder); id at 27-28,
32-33(evidence concerning the "suspicious conduct" theory).)
The court need not assess the veracity ofPetitioner's allegations that the Government
impermissibly withheld some or all ofthe cited materials. The court has already determined that
Petitioner did not suffer prejudice based on White's decisions not to present this evidence. See
supra Sections IV.C,D. There is no basis for concluding that Petitioner suffered prejudice based
on the Government's alleged failure to produce that same evidence.^^ Petitioner is thus
procedurally barred from asserting this claim.
B. Spy in the Camp
Petitioner accuses the Government of using cooperating witness Ambrosino as a "spy in
the camp" by "insertpng] him into the defense camp to read [Petitioner's] defense materials ,..
in order to leam defense strategy and secrets." (Pet. at 5.) "To establish a [spy in the camp]
Sixth Amendment violation," Petitioner "would have to show either that privileged information
was passed to the government and prejudice resulted, or that the government intentionally
invaded the attomey[-]client relationship and prejudice resulted." United States v. Baslan.
No. 13-CR-220(RJD),2014 WL 3490682, at *3(E.D.N.Y. July 11,2014)(quoting United
States V. Massino. 311 F. Supp. 2d 309, 313(E.D.N.Y. 2004)): see also United States v. Dien,
609 F.2d 1038,1043(2d Cir. 1979).
Petitioner has not alleged that Ambrosino transferred any privileged information or
otherwise invaded Petitioner's relationship with White. Petitioner's sole allegation related to this
claim is that, while he and Ambrosino were housed at the same facility in 2004,they met in the
The "prejudice" standard under Strickland is effectively identical to the prejudice standard under the "cause and
prejudice" procedural default standard for Bradv claims. Compare Strickland. 466 U.S. at 695(A defendant must
establish "a reasonable probability that, absent the errors, the factfinder would have had a reasonable doubt
respecting guilt."), with Banks v. Pretke. 540 U.S. 668,691 (2004)(explaining that "prejudice within the compass
ofthe 'cause and prejudice' requirement exists when the suppressed evidence is 'material' for Bradv purposes."
Cciting Strickler v. Greene. 527 U.S. 263,282 f1999))): Wearrv v. Cain. — U.S. —,136 S. Ct. 1002,1006(2016)
("Evidence qualifies as material" for Bradv purposes "when there is 'any reasonable likelihood' it could have
'affected the judgment ofthe jury.'" fquoting Giglio v. United States. 405 U.S. 150, 154(1972))).
prison library and had the following exchange:"Ambrosino asked me if I was going to plead
guilty on the Perrino murder[.] I explained to Ambrosino that I was shocked by the charges, and
that I could not take responsibility for crimes that I have not committed." (Pet'r Deck at 35.)
These allegations fail to establish a prima facie claim of"spy in the camp." As a result,
Petitioner is unable to show prejudice, and this claim must be dismissed as procedurally barred.
CLAIMS ALREADY RESOLVED ON DIRECT APPEAL
The Petition reasserts five claims that the Second Circuit rejected on Petitioner's direct
appeal.^^ fCompare Pet. at 6-9 with Amato,306 F. App'x 630.) As noted above in Section II.A,
the "mandate rule bars re-litigation ofissues already decided on direct appeal." Yick Man Mui.
614 F.3d at 53 (citations omitted). "[Rjeconsideration is permitted only where there has been an
intervening change in the law and the new law would have exonerated a defendant had it been in
force before the conviction was affirmed on direct appeal." Reese v. United States, 329 F. App'x
324,326(2d Cir. 2009)(summary order)(quoting Chin v. United States,622 F.2d 1090,1092
(2d Cir. 1980)).
Petitioner "contends that he is entitled to raise [his claims] again in this context because
of counsel's ineffectiveness in [developing] the record sufficiently" and "in the appellate
argument, due,in part to his conflict of interests." (Pet. at 6.) District courts in this jurisdiction
agree, however,that a petitioner generally "may not attempt to re-litigate claims he already
These claims assert denial ofPetitioner's rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments based on:(1)the court's
exclusion of Vitale's prior inconsistent statements;(2)the court's corrective instruction regarding an inaccurate
statement during the Government's rebuttal summation;(3)the jury charge with respect to the RICO statute of
limitations;(4)the Government's efforts to bolster Tabbita's testimony on redirect and to file a sealed submission
regarding his testimony during the trial; and (5)the court's instructions regarding the anonymous and partially
sequestered jury, (Pet. at 6-9.)
raised on direct appeal by re-styling them as ineffective assistance claims."^^ King v. United
States. No.09-CV-4533(RJD),2013 WL 530834, at *3(E.D.N.Y, Feb. 13,2013).
Petitioner has failed to show that the arguments he presents on collateral review differ in
any material way from the arguments that were rejected by the Second Circuit on direct appeal.
He has not alleged specific deficiencies in White's appellate advocacy. He has not explained
how his suggested alternative trial strategies would have affected the strength of his arguments
on appeal. Nor has he offered any legal authority in support of his attempt to circumvent the
mandate rule. The court declines to review arguments that have already been squarely presented
to and rejected by the Second Circuit. These claims are dismissed.
THE"CUMULATIVE EFFECT" CLAIM
Petitioner alleges that he was denied his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights "by the
cumulative effect ofthe errors in this case." The court has not found evidence of any
constitutional error. Moreover,Petitioner has failed to cite any legal authority in support of his
"cumulative effect" claim. This claim is dismissed.
"The Second Circuit has not specifically addressed whether a petitioner moving under § 2255 can reargue the
substance ofclaims already addressed on direct appeal by couching them in terms ofineffective assistance of
counsel." Barlow v. United States. No. 13-CV-3315(JFB),2014 WL 1377812, at *1(E.D.N.Y. Apr. 8,2014). The
Second Circuit has, however, barred petitioners fi-om asserting on collateral review "a slightly altered rearticulation
of[an ineffectiveness] claim that was rejected on his direct appeal." Riascos-Prado v. United States. 66 F.3d 30,34
(2d Cir. 1997). District courts have applied a similar analysis to petitioners who seek to relitigate other types of
substantive claims by alleging that those claims only failed on direct appeal due counsel's ineffectiveness. See, e.g..
Slevin v. United States. No. 98-CV-904(PKL), 1999 WL 549010, at *3-4(S.D.N.Y. July 28,1999)(rejecting a
habeas petitioner's attempt to relitigate "issues he already raised on appeal... by couching them in terms of
ineffective assistance" because "[s]uch claims clearly fall under the 'slightly altered rearticulation' standard of
Riascos-Prado"]: Barlow. 2014 WL 1377812, at *7("agree[ing] with the analysis in Slevin"].
For the reasons stated above. Petitioner's requests for discovery and an evidentiary
hearing are DENIED and the Petition is DISMISSED.^^
s/Nicholas G. Garaufis
NICHOLAS G. GARAL
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
United States District Judge
Petitioner filed identical habeas petitions on both his criminal and habeas dockets. This order resolves both
instances ofthe Petition: Mot. to Vacate(Dkt. 1), Case No. ll-CV-5355, and Mot. to Vacate (Dkt. 1096),
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