At 9am on Friday, February 12th, Mario Fortunato of the famed Fortunato Brothers Bakery in Greenpoint was released from prison after the reversal of his April 2008 murder conviction. Fortunato had been sentenced to 15 years-life sentence, and served two and-a-half years. The charges were overturned by the Supreme Court of the State of New York, and after 16 years of pleading his innocence, Fortunato is finally back in Brooklyn.
“I feel 100 per cent,” Fortunato said as he slid into a corner table at his family’s bakery, sandwiched between his brother Michael and his son Biagio. “We beat the feds and we beat the state, and I’m 100 per cent clean just like I was before.”
Fortunato, along with Anthony Bruno, Angelo Cerasulo, Giancarlo Imprieco and Carmine Pulito, was first arrested in 2004 on charges of murder, eight counts of racketeering, bank robbery and obstruction of justice after a young man, Sabato (Tino) Lombardi was killed and his cousin Michael D’Urso was shot during a late-night card game at a club in Williamsburg in 1994.
“To make it a federal case, they had to charge him with RICO,” said Fortunato’s son Biagio. RICO, shorthand for the Rackateering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, is a federal law that requires stricter and extended penalties for crimes connected to organizations. “But that’s ridiculous.”
Ultimately, the RICO charges were dropped.
After their first arrest, Imprieco accepted an offer for twenty years in prison while Cerasulo and Bruno took a plea bargain for ten years each, in exchange for becoming federal informants, both of whom testified against Fortunato. However, after his release, Fortunato was re-arrested in 2005, along with Pulito, and was again charged with murder. Pulito and Fortunato opted out of a plea bargain in which Fortunato was offered 3 years in prison and Pulito was offered fifteen—“I refused, I said I wouldn’t take even one day in jail because I’m innocent,” Fortunato attested—and instead went to trial. Pulito opted for trial by jury, while Fortunato chose trial by judge. Pulito was acquitted, while Fortunato was convicted—and sent to prison.
Though there has been continued speculation of Fortunato’s ties to the mob—prosecutors attested that the shooting was the result of a gambling debt that Fortunato and Pulito did not want to repay—Mario and his family insist that he is innocent, and that after 16 years, justice has finally been served.
“At one point, they said I was keeping the gun in a brown paper bag here at Fortunato’s,” Fortunato said. “But we only have white paper bags here—you’ll never, ever see brown paper. There was never any evidence.”
Fans of Fortunato’s can rejoice: now all four famous brothers are back in the baking business again.
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