By Jonathan Sperling
Two Howard Beach mobsters were indicted in federal court for extorting a local business owner and setting his car aflame in the process, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced on Friday.
Peter Tuccio and Jonathan Gurino, both 25, were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven L. Tiscione and charged with arson and arson conspiracy, extortion and extortion conspiracy and using fire to commit a felony. If convicted, each of the gangsters could face at least 15 years in prison.
“As alleged in the indictment, the defendants delivered a frightening message in the form of fire to force a businessman to pay protection money to a high-ranking gangster,” U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said in a statement. “Today’s charges against two alleged crime family associates demonstrate that whether you are a made member or a young associate looking to advance in a crime family, the end result is the same — prosecution and prison.”
The mobsters began the extortion scheme in December 2015, after a local businessman who had been extorted by an unidentified Gambino Crime Family began dodging the captain in order to avoid making the payments. The businessman was paying the captain $400 per year.
On Dec. 3, 2015, Tuccio, Gurino and co-conspirator Gino Gabrielli spotted the businessman leaving a smoke shop in Howard Beach. The three mobsters sped after the victim and accosted him in front of a nearby pizzeria, where Tuccio asked, “how’s [the captain]?” and commented on the victim’s 2014 Mercedes-Benz. The victim fled into the pizzeria.
Later that same night, the businessman’s home security camera system caught Gabrielli pouring a flammable substance on the Mercedes. The car caught fire and Gabrielli ran away from the scene with his pant leg on fire. Gabrielli and Tuccio were later seen on surveillance video entering Jamaica Hospital.
Gabrielli pleaded guilty to arson in 2016.
“Organized crime families have long relied on extortion and threats of violence in exchange for so-called ‘protection,’” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney said in statement. “As alleged, the defendants set a man's car on fire to send a message, but now they are the ones feeling the heat as they face justice for their crimes. As long as organized crime families and their associates continue to act outside the law, the FBI and our partners will investigate and bring charges against them.”