Former Elkins Park businessman Salvatore Pelullo was denied bail Wednesday despite an impassioned plea in which he promised not to flee and vowed to fight charges that he was the mastermind of the multimillion-dollar looting of a Texas-based mortgage company.
In his first public comments since his arrest last month, Pelullo, 45, berated federal prosecutors and the FBI, claiming the charges against him were unfounded.
"It's a joke," he said during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Camden.
Pelullo and mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo, 46, son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, have been accused of stealing more than $12 million from FirstPlus Financial Group through scams, fraudulent business deals, and bogus consulting contracts.
Eleven others, including Scarfo's wife, Lisa Murray-Scarfo, also have been charged. Only Scarfo and Pelullo have been denied bail.
Pelullo's court-appointed attorney, Troy A. Archie, had filed a motion requesting that Judge Robert B. Kugler reconsider, suggesting a form of monitored house arrest and bail supported by properties posted by Pelullo's family.
"I'm a fighter," Pelullo said after the judge granted him permission to speak on his own behalf. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to fight this case. I'm going to win this case. . . . It's a joke."
But Kugler found that the risk of flight and the seriousness of the charges - Pelullo has two prior fraud convictions and is facing 30 years to life if convicted of the current charges - justified denial of bail pending trial. No trial date has been set.
Federal prosecutors had argued that Pelullo was a danger to the community and a flight risk. In a motion, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno, the lead prosecutor in the case, described Pelullo as an organized-crime associate "who played a predominant role in the extortionate takeover" and "subsequent looting" of FirstPlus Financial Group.
Prosecutors also argued that he used threats and intimidation, built in part on his alleged mob connections, to orchestrate the FirstPlus takeover.
A 25-count indictment handed up on Nov. 1 charges that Pelullo and Nicodemo S. Scarfo siphoned more than $12 million out of the company after taking control of the board of directors in the summer of 2007.
Scarfo, identified as a member of the Lucchese crime family, and Pelullo operated "behind the scenes," the indictment alleges, orchestrating business deals and setting up consulting contracts that generated millions.
"Little Nicky" Scarfo and Lucchese crime family boss Vittorio "Vic" Amuso, both serving federal prison terms on racketeering and murder charges, are unindicted coconspirators in the case.
The alleged scam continued until May 2008, when raids conducted by the FBI in Philadelphia, South Jersey, Florida, and Texas made the investigation public.
Dressed in a green prison jumpsuit, his wrists in handcuffs, Pelullo told Kugler he "wanted to go home" so he could better prepare for trial.
"I swear on my five children and on my grandchild, who I haven't even seen yet," he said, promising he wouldn't try to flee.
His voice rising as he waved his shackled wrists to make his point, Pelullo told Kugler, "You will have no problem with me."
He said he has relatives living in Italy, France, and Russia, and if he had wanted to, "I could have went to any one of those countries" while the investigation was under way.
Instead, he said, he relocated to Florida, where he tried to find work.
Federal authorities, however, contended that Pelullo, aware that he was being sought, was trying to hide.
D'Aguanno's motion included an FBI memo from the agents who arrested Pelullo in Miami on Nov. 1. The woman Pelullo was living with, according to the memo, asked how the FBI had located him.
"She then went on to say that he didn't have his name on anything and could not figure out how the agents knew where he was," the memo read.
At the time of his arrest, Pelullo said he was unemployed and had no source of income, according to the memo, which noted that he was driving a Porsche.
Pelullo said the car was not his, the memo stated.
During Wednesday's hearing, Pelullo insisted he was not trying to hide. He said that he and the others named in the indictment were aware of the case and that he had sought an arrangement in which he would voluntarily surrender.
Instead, he said, D'Aguanno and the FBI "wanted a show. They wanted to kick everybody's door down."