A minor player in what authorities allege was a multi-million-dollar scam orchestrated by mobster Nicky Scarfo Jr. and his top associate, Salvatore Pelullo, pleaded guilty to a weapons charge Wednesday during a brief hearing in federal court in Camden.
Apparently it was a discussion about some "size 9 shoes" that did him in.
Todd Stark, 43, of Ocean City, N.J., who served as Pelullo's driver, admitted purchasing two boxes of 9mm bullets for Scarfo in December 2007.
As a convicted felon, Scarfo, 46, is prohibited from possessing a gun or ammunition.
At Wednesday's hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler, Stark admitted that in a wiretapped telephone conversation in December 2007, Pelullo asked him to purchase the ammunition for Scarfo.
"I need two pair of those size 9 shoes," Pelullo said in the call, one of dozens recorded by the FBI during an investigation into the alleged takeover by Scarfo and Pelullo of FirstPlus Financial, a Texas-based mortgage company.
"Absolutely," Stark replied.
Under questioning by Kugler, Stark admitted that Pelullo was speaking in code.
Stark, who has refused to cooperate in the FirstPlus case, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Based on estimated sentencing guidelines, however, his lawyer said Stark could receive a term of 12 to 18 months at his hearing on Oct. 11. In the meantime, Stark remains free on bail.
"Mr. Stark is not the same person he was back in 2007," Michael Engle, his attorney, said after Wednesday's hearing. "He played a limited role in this case, and he's decided to stand up and accept responsibility for what he did. . . . It's a positive step in moving forward with his life."
Stark, who was previously convicted in a Bucks County case involving a stolen credit card, was not charged with the more serious racketeering and fraud allegations that are the basis of the case against Scarfo, Pelullo, and 10 other defendants.
Prosecutors allege that Scarfo and Pelullo secretly took control of FirstPlus in 2007 and siphoned more than $12 million out of the troubled company.
The money flowed through phony business deals and bogus consulting contracts, including purchases by FirstPlus of companies Pelullo and Scarfo set up in Philadelphia and South Jersey, according to a 25-count indictment handed up in November.
Authorities allege that the companies had little or no value, but that a FirstPlus board of directors controlled behind the scenes by Scarfo and Pelullo approved the purchases for several million dollars.
The indictment alleges that Scarfo and Pelullo controlled FirstPlus through fear and intimidation, based on their alleged mob connections.
Scarfo, son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, and Pelullo have been held without bail since their arrests in November.
Scarfo's wife, Lisa-Murray Scarfo, several lawyers, an accountant, and the former CEO of FirstPlus are among those charged. All are free on bail. The trial is expected to begin next year.
In addition to fraud and conspiracy charges, Scarfo and Pelullo - who also has prior convictions - face weapons offenses. Neither is legally allowed to own a gun.
Handguns were seized in Pelullo's home and office and at Scarfo's home during raids in May 2008, authorities allege.
Investigators say they also found an "cache of weapons" - including two rifles, a shotgun, two pistols, a revolver, and 2,500 rounds of ammunition - aboard a $750,000 yacht Scarfo and Pelullo allegedly purchased with cash from FirstPlus.
The yacht, which had been docked in Miami, was named Priceless.