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An Ozone Park man who masterminded a crime spree that led to the cold-blooded murder of pizzeria owner’s son was sentenced to spend at least the next 50 years behind bars Monday.
Queens Supreme Court Judge Richard Buchter referred to defendant Francis LaCorte as a “Charles Manson-like figure” who had “armed, heartless killers at his behest” before he sentenced the 29-year-old LaCorte to 50 years to life after he was convicted on 13 counts.
“I have had cases that I have agonized over,” said Buchter, as LaCorte sat at the defendant’s table encircled by court guards. “This is not one of them.”
In March, LaCorte, who had ties to the Gambino crime family, was convicted of recruiting a handful of ex-cons to conduct a series of push-in robberies in the neighborhood during the summer of 2009.
On Sept. 9, 2009, Gerardo “Jerry” Antoniello, a beloved school custodian, was shot in the back of the head when he came to the assistance of his cancer-stricken father Bartolomeo, who was being pistol-whipped by the assailants.
During the trial, prosecutors said LaCorte had sent the thugs to hold up Antoniello or break into his home in the hopes of finding cash proceeds from Romeo’s, the Ozone Park pizzeria that Antoniello owned for 20 years.
Prosecutors accused LaCorte of staking out Romeo’s from the cellphone store he ran across the street on Cross Bay Boulevard. They also presented jurors with several damning text messages between LaCorte and the thieves that tied him to the murder.
Before the sentencing, the victim’s brothers, Carmine, an NYPD sergeant, and Angelo made statements in court, consisting largely of venomous remarks aimed at LaCorte.
“My brother is in a box in the cemetery. Your family gets to visit you and interact with you,” brother Carmine Antoniello told LaCorte, calling him “the definition of a true coward.
“All Jerry knew was home, family and work. Jerry lived his life to help people, whether he knew them or not.”
Jerry Antoniello was planning to sign a contract to purchase a condo on Sept. 9, 2009, the day he was murdered.
Angelo Antoniello told the court that since his brother’s murder “holidays come and go and never are like they once were.”
The brothers said their parents could have hardly imagined their lives would take this tragic turn when they emigrated from Italy 30 years ago.
Family matriarch Gaetana Antoniello attempted to address the court, but quickly became overwrought.
“Every night I go to sleep I don’t want to wake up,” she said in a hushed weep.
Two men who later identified themselves as LaCorte’s stepfather and uncle cast their eyes downward during the mother’s brief, tearful remarks.
LaCorte also spoke before the sentencing. Reading a prepared speech from a marble composition notebook, he told the court he was financially “comfortable” and had no need to plan any robberies. He also said he had no connection to the victims.
LaCorte highlighted his educational training, interest in playing and teaching chess and what he termed “no history of violence.”
But just like the jury, the judge was not convinced, slapping LaCorte with second-degree felony burglary and robbery murder counts, totaling 25 years to life for the Antoniello case.
LaCorte also received separate 12 1/2-year sentences for planning two other home invasions during the summer of 2009.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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