This profile of attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. was originally published Aug. 31, 2000.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in the matter of attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. vs. Commitment, the People submit the following exhibits into evidence:
Exhibit A: "Beautiful girl. The only reason I didn't marry her is because she's nuts."
- Daily News, 4/18/98
Exhibit B: "Melissa, if you're out there, will you marry me?"
- "Philly After Midnight," Channel 6, 4/21/98 (about a different woman)
Exhibit C: "I say we are engaged by September 2000 and married one year thereafter."
- Letter to a Daily News reporter, 3/15/00 (in reference to another woman)
We'd also like to draw your attention to The Memo.
The Memo usually went out before Memorial Day. It had two essential purposes:
1. To let its recipients know that Chuck Peruto Jr., hot-shot lawyer and brash bachelor-about-town, was again planning his annual party at his summer home in Margate. And,
2. To inform the aforementioned recipients, all of whom happened to be men, that, effective immediately, "all relationships must be truncated."
Summer, as Peruto saw it, was no time to be tied down. Not when there were scores of maidens of legal age on Lucy's Beach in need of sunblock on all those hard-to-reach places.
And any male friend of Peruto 's could count on being outnumbered by beautiful women, primarily because the only other people invited to the party were women. And no gate-crashers, the invitation said, ". . .unless you're a chick above a '7. ' Defined by our expert panel of judges, not your own distorted opinions."
Sounds like an open-and-shut case, right?
How strange then, that this year the Memo didn't go out. And that three months later, as Labor Day looms, Peruto , the perpetually tanned, perennial Boy of Summer, finds himself attached to the SAME woman.
That's right. Chuckie's in love - again. But this time he swears it's different.
The radical change of heart has certainly caused a stir among his colleagues at the bar - Rock Lobster, Rouge, the Palm, Memories, Maloney's - who have always declared Peruto single until proven married.
"I can't believe it," said attorney and bon vivant Carmen Nasuti, a friend of both Chuck Jr. and his father, legendary criminal defense lawyer A. Charles Peruto Sr.
"Not Chuck. He was always a free spirit. A happy-go-lucky guy and a ladies' man. And I admired him for that. I can't believe the love bug bit him."
With just one weekend left to get into trouble, 43-year-old Peruto the Younger is giving every indication that he may be ready to grow up - and grow old - with a shy, 23-year-old hairdresser from Northeast Philadelphia named Gina Marie Gentile.
"Twenty-three-and-a-half," said Peruto with a smile during an outing earlier this summer at Rock Lobster, his favorite Thursday-night spot.
"I think five years ago I would never, ever want to get married again. But I'm getting to the point where I really want to have another kid. I have one son, he's 20 years old now."
That son, Chas, comes from Peruto 's marriage to Joanne Lasorda back in 1977. The couple were together 10 years before divorcing in 1987. And Lasorda couldn't be happier for her ex-husband.
"He's very close to the girl he's with right now, and she's a sweetheart. She's a really nice girl," said Lasorda, who remarried five years ago and still keeps in contact with Peruto.
"Timing is everything, and maybe this is the time for him to have a very strong relationship and a strong marriage. I hope they find happiness together."
For nearly six months now, the couple have spent most of their free time together.
The new, state-of-the-art bachelor mansion Peruto was building at the shore has been redesigned to look more like a family home, with his and her walk-in closets and four big bedrooms, down from six, which used to house barracks-style bunk beds for his single buddies.
She has met his parents. "The first girl I brought home in years," he said.
And he's met her parents.
"They love Chuck," said Gentile. "They love him to death."
What's more - Peruto has taken this relationship one step further, putting a price on his commitment.
Just days after his first date with Gentile back in March, Peruto wrote a letter to a Daily News reporter declaring his intention to be engaged by the end of September and married a year later.
"This time when I say engaged , I mean a ring changes hands, not like the other bull---- stories of 'Honey will you marry me?' " he wrote. "Remember, no one has ever gotten a ring before, so this time it is serious."
To back up his word, he enclosed a post-dated check for $10,000, payable if the relationship fell through, on the proviso that the reporter put up $1,000.
"All I need is 10-to-1 odds," he said. (The Daily News did not take the bet.)
It's hard to say what drives a man like Peruto to the brink of holy matrimony.
By many measurements, he has lived a charmed single life.
He has money to do what he wants. He owns a thriving legal practice and a construction company that has grown with the building boom.
Both businesses have provided him with an impeccably appointed home in Bala Cynwyd worth in excess of $800,000; an opulent, $1.5 million mansion under construction in Margate; and several sports cars emblazoned with vanity plates like "ACPII" and "ACPJR."
He has time. Success has enabled Peruto to devote much energy to self-improvement. He lifts weights and works out religiously on the Stairmaster, toning his 5-foot-9, 157-pound frame to keep up appearances with his 20- and 30-year-old party buddies.
"I don't consider myself to be my age," Peruto said.
"Whatever age he is, he doesn't act it," said Gentile.
Peruto finds time each afternoon to turn off the phones in his office and nap for 40 or 50 minutes, which helps him burn the midnight oil on the party circuit.
He also enjoys a measure of local celebrity reserved for the few - who aren't professional athletes or politicians - that detractors say is undeserved, more ego-driven than earned.
Being the son of the dean of the city's criminal defense bar got him recognized when he started out 20 years ago as a young lawyer.
Representing the likes of ax-murdering cannibal Gary Heidnik, baby-corpse-abuser Phillip Dacri and reputed mobster Joey Merlino put him on the map.
But it's a string of notorious social adventures that has made him a staple of gossip columns and local television in recent months - the kind of attention that gives his family agita and makes him a magnet in the city's nightlife.
"Publicity is like sex," he has said. "When it's good, it's great. And when it's bad, it's still pretty good."
Last February, at the Palm restaurant, Peruto confronted abrasive WIP broadcaster Howard Eskin for allegedly referring to his then-girlfriend Christine LuPica as a "bimbo" over the air.
Eskin denied making the comment. But according to eyewitnesses, Peruto , who was celebrating his birthday with LuPica, put his hands around Eskin's throat and shoved him in his chair across the packed restaurant.
A manager stepped in to break up the incident, but the issue percolated in the press for a few weeks. Eskin considered a lawsuit, while Peruto contemplated legal strategy.
Peruto said the defense would be simple: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the plaintiff is Howard Eskin. Thank you for your time."
Eskin on Peruto : "The guy really is a loser. He's a nobody who wants to be a somebody. A nobody who just likes to cause a ruckus to get in the papers."
Later on the night of the Palm incident, LuPica and Peruto got into a fight at his Lower Merion home, during which the police were called.
It was the final chapter in a stormy relationship that made headlines last summer when LuPica accused Peruto of hitting her during a dispute at his shore home. (Charges were dropped when she refused to testify against him in court. "Well, I still love her," Chuck said at the time.)
A few weeks after their February breakup, seated at the Palm for lunch in what the waiter described as the "No Choking" section, Chuck seemed like a man ready for a change.
"If I meet the right girl," he said, pondering the matter. "She's got to be real. She's got to have strength. She doesn't have to be a professional.
"I know if I met the right girl I could get married. My wedding would be my retirement party. No more running around. No more fooling around. I'm ready. I know that."
Few would welcome the news more enthusiastically than Peruto 's parents, Chuck and Josephine Peruto.
"He spent a lot of years building the Peruto name," Chuck Jr. said of his dad. "And in some respects, I've spent some time destroying it."
Peruto seems both amused and pained by his own statement. Spend any time with Chuck Peruto Jr. and it's clear that his father is the lawyer, is the person, he most wants to be.
Successful. Respected. Loved.
"There will never be another ACP," he said.
"He's already proved himself - he doesn't have to worry about being in my shadow," said Peruto the elder. "I think he's a top-notch lawyer. I would hire him if I were in trouble.
"But I think these stories written about him romantically detract from him being recognized as such. I think he would be further along, looked upon more seriously."
Those who know Chuck Jr. don't question his professional ability.
"He's a good lawyer in his own right," said Nasuti. "And he can do anything he sets his mind to."
It's just that Chuck Jr. seems determined to do it his way.
He grew up watching Chuck Sr. try cases, often skipping school just to get a glimpse.
After graduating from the University of Delaware law school at 23, he could have stayed working with his father, like his brother, brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Instead, at 25, he hung out his own shingle.
He's had his share of memorable cases. Like defending Heidnik, whom he advised not to shave or bathe, and to show up in court wearing a Hawaiian shirt, as part of an unsuccessful insanity defense.
He also defended Dacri, ultimately convicted of disposing of his infant son, Zacharry's dismembered body after Dacri's wife, Tanya, killed him.
And he was there when Joey Merlino ran into minor trouble a couple of times at the Jersey shore.
But while the father continues to build his legend with high-profile defense cases, the son has turned toward the more lucrative work of the judical system - defending drunk drivers and credit-card thieves and petty crooks - minor criminals whose cases pay well, and require only a fraction of the time, preparation and commitment of bigger cases.
"I probably do twice as many drunk drivers as the next lawyer," he said. "I do a lot less homicides than I used to."
"They're too much work," he explained, noting that the average drunk-driving case can bring $2,000 or $3,000 and take less than an hour in court, as opposed to a homicide case, where $15,000 to $25,000 would barely cover expenses at trial.
"And you usually can't get that, because the people who are committing the murders don't have it, and the John duPonts of the world are going to go to the Richard Spragues of the world."
But ask A. Charles Peruto Jr. what he wants to be when he grows up and the words come without hesitation:
"I want to be the best lawyer in America," he said. "I am one case away. I need the break, like a Gary Heidnik case that's winnable.
"Not a winner, but winnable. If I could just get that break, possibly catch a case that has some crazy publicity, some crazy fee and just have a chance of winning. . ."
No cop killers, no child molesters, he says, running down the clients he would not represent. "But if you put six bullets in your wife's head, your neighbor's head, that's all right."
So far, the dream case has not materialized. But Chuck Peruto Jr. is up to his tanned cleft chin in courtship.
He first met Gina Marie Gentile last summer on Lucy's Beach in Margate. After spying her on the sand, he sent his niece over to tell her that she was the next Mrs. Peruto . Naturally, she laughed it off.
"She was absolutely the prettiest woman I had ever seen," he said of the 5-foot-5, dark-haired, brown-eyed Gentile.
Then Peruto ran into her in the city in March. They talked, got together and went out.
"What makes me so sure," he wrote last March in his $10,000 letter of intent to the Daily News, ". . .is that in our first 10 minutes of conversation, she told me she wanted to have five children."
Now, nearly six months later, they are together at Rock Lobster, the Delaware Avenue nightclub where Peruto once prowled and howled his unabashed bachelorhood every Thursday night.
"Like being a non-smoker in a room full of smokers," he says, taking a deep breath. "You have to build up an immunity."
It's a Wednesday night, and a slow one, but Chuck, this new Chuck, is reluctant to go to his usual Wednesday night spots - the Palm, then Rouge - with a photographer in tow. A little too much attention.
At the club, they run into Gina's uncle, Gary DeVito, a lawyer and friend of Chuck's before he met Gentile.
"I love him but I wouldn't want to date him," he jokes, adding quickly that Peruto has treated his niece with nothing but love and respect.
Several painfully single thirtysomething women in tight dresses come up to give him a knowing smooch and a hug. "Hiii Chuck!" they smile.
Gentile says she and Chuck "never fight."
"He doesn't sweat the small stuff," like if she wants to go out with her friends.
For her part, Gentile seems unmoved by the parade of women who flirt with her boyfriend.
"I think he's tired of dating high-strung girls," she says, confident she can keep him in line. "Everybody needs somebody to do that for them."
Yes, but is he ready to be reeled in?
"I would doubt it," said his father when asked point-blank. "The track record."
That is not to say that he disapproves of Gentile. "I think she is everything everyone else has said about her," he said. "Very pretty and very nice."
But until vows are exchanged, A. Charles Peruto Sr. remains a doubter. "I want to put my finger in the wound and my hands in the side," he said.
A. Charles Peruto Jr. thinks the party's over.
"I'm done," says Chuck, speaking like a man comfortable in his briefs - legal and otherwise.
"Some of us grow up slower than others. I grew up much slower," he adds, sipping a vodka cocktail at the bar. "Eventually we all do it."
Then, turning to the reporter: "You should have taken the bet."
Nevertheless. It's Aug. 31. No rings have been exchanged.
The jury is still out.