Volpicelli v. Salamack

Citation447 F. Supp. 652
Decision Date23 February 1978
Docket NumberCiv. No. 77-3357.
PartiesVito VOLPICELLI, Petitioner, v. Dominick SALAMACK, Superintendent, Bayview Correctional Facility, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

447 F. Supp. 652

Vito VOLPICELLI, Petitioner,
Dominick SALAMACK, Superintendent, Bayview Correctional Facility, Respondent.

Civ. No. 77-3357.

United States District Court, S. D. New York.

February 23, 1978.

447 F. Supp. 653
447 F. Supp. 654
Susan N. Herman, Pierce J. Gerety, Prisoners' Legal Services of New York, New York City, for petitioner

Louis J. Lefkowitz, Atty. Gen. of the State of New York, New York City, for respondent; Patricia C. Armstrong, Asst. Atty. Gen., New York City, of counsel.


EDWARD WEINFELD, District Judge.

Petitioner, Vito Volpicelli, is now serving concurrent sentences of up to fifteen years at Bayview Correctional Facility, New York City, imposed under a judgment of conviction of conspiracy and various related substantive counts of burglary, robbery, grand larceny and felonious possession of weapons after a jury trial in the New York State Supreme Court, Suffolk County, in July 1973.1

He seeks his release upon a writ of habeas corpus upon allegations of violation of his federally protected right to due process of law. Essentially, petitioner claims that he was denied a fundamentally fair trial by references to alleged mob contacts during his cross-examination by the Assistant District Attorney and by the testimony of a rebuttal witness on the same subject. Petitioner also claims that the cross-examination and the rebuttal testimony were impermissible since they were based upon evidence obtained in violation of Massiah v. United States.2 Further, petitioner asserts that the use of such prejudicial evidence by the Assistant District Attorney constituted prosecutorial misconduct requiring vacatur of the conviction. After a word-by-word review and study of the 1700 page transcript3 of the trial which lasted almost three weeks, this Court is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that petitioner was not deprived of due process of law and that he was afforded a fundamentally fair trial.

Volpicelli was convicted for the part he played in originating, planning and executing an armed robbery at the home of Bertram and Muriel Virag at Centerport, Suffolk County, New York, on September 11, 1972. He was not present at the Virag home when the robbery was committed by four other men; however, he was cast by the prosecution as the prime mover in the conspiracy to commit the crime and in aiding and abetting the substantive offenses. Because of the importance of the factual record for the disposition of petitioner's claims, the Court reviews the evidence in detail.

447 F. Supp. 655

At the trial petitioner did not dispute that a robbery of the Virags had occurred or that the other defendants had committed it. Compelling testimony of eyewitnesses and police officers established the following. On September 11, 1972, at about 12:30 p. m., petitioner's codefendants, Myers, Mann, McGill and Wade,4 drove to the Virag residence. Myers was driving a white Pontiac registered to Pamela Volpicelli, petitioner's wife.5 McGill and Wade, posing as deliverymen, gained entrance to the home while Myers and Mann waited outside. After binding and gagging the maid, a paper hanger and the Virag son, Jeffrey, the burglars ransacked the upstairs office of Mr. Virag and the master bedroom. They left with approximately $18,000 worth of jewelry and several hundred dollars in cash. The robbers proceeded to a gas station on Northern Boulevard, Queens, a few blocks from Volpicelli's apartment, where Myers telephoned petitioner. Volpicelli, as he testified, asked them to come up to his apartment, which they did. Within ten minutes McGill and Mann departed.

Soon after the robbers had left the Virag premises, the victims notified the police, who issued a general alarm. The authorities obtained the license number of the Volpicelli car through an alert postal clerk employed at a post office close to the Virag home, who shortly before the holdup had noted the number because his suspicions had been aroused by four men in the car; he identified three of the four men at the trial. As a result of this lead, the police, within one-half to three-quarters of an hour of the holdup, located the Volpicelli automobile outside the apartment house where he lived. Thus when McGill and Mann left the apartment house they were taken into custody as they approached the car; the police also seized a brown attache case in the possession of McGill which contained the stolen jewelry. Myers, who left the Volpicelli apartment a few minutes after McGill and Mann, upon seeing the police cars and his confederates in custody, retreated to petitioner's apartment and informed him that Mann and McGill had been arrested. Immediately thereafter both proceeded to the street, where Myers was arrested. Volpicelli was taken to the police station for questioning, but was released; he was arrested ten days later. Some seven hours after Myers' arrest on the day of the robbery he made a detailed confession setting forth his role, as well as that of each participant, including petitioner.

It was no coincidence that the robbers had chosen the Virag residence. Volpicelli had known the Virags since 1970, when he courted their former daughter-in-law, Nicola. She had been married to their son Richard, who had died in 1968. Volpicelli had visited the Virag residence on several occasions in 1970 while Nicola was living there. He did not visit the home again until August 1972,6 when he took Myers there ostensibly to discuss with Mr. Virag the prospect of beginning a landscaping business. More will be said later concerning the differing explanations of this visit.

During the trial, defendant Myers was permitted to plead guilty to robbery in the third degree upon an agreement to testify as a prosecution witness. His plea was accepted by the Court upon Myers' representation that he would testify truthfully and consistently with his confession which he made on the day of his arrest and which he continued to aver was the truth.

Up to this point the Court has referred to testimony uncontradicted at trial by the petitioner. The major portion of the State's case against Volpicelli was provided

447 F. Supp. 656
by the testimony of Clifford Myers, which petitioner, who took the stand on his own behalf, contradicted in material respects

Myers presented strong direct evidence of petitioner's role in the initiation and consummation of the armed robbery. Myers testified that he met Volpicelli for the first time in July 1972 at Cape Coral, Florida. One George Ruffo was also present. He next met Volpicelli in Miami, when petitioner loaned Myers money to fly to New York. After arriving in New York, Myers visited Volpicelli's home in Douglaston, Queens, in August 1972; also present were McGill and Mann. At that time Volpicelli stated that he had been engaged to a woman who lived with her ex-parents-in-law in Huntington, Long Island, and that the home contained large amounts of money and jewels. Volpicelli proposed a robbery of the home, and it was decided that Myers would drive Volpicelli's automobile and that any fruits of the crime would be evenly divided. A few days later Volpicelli, Myers, Mann and McGill, joined by Ruffo, travelled to the Virag home in two cars, arriving there at about 9:30 that night. They remained there for about one hour, familiarizing themselves with the area and the house.

Myers was not convinced that Volpicelli knew the owners of the home; in order to persuade Myers that he did, petitioner devised a pretext for a face-to-face visit with Virag. Late in August, Myers and Volpicelli, again joined by Ruffo, drove to the Virag residence. Volpicelli introduced Myers to Mr. Virag, and Volpicelli and Virag had a brief discussion. Myers, after the visit, was satisfied that Volpicelli knew the Virags as he had stated.

The plans for the robbery were finalized, according to Myers, around 1 a. m. in the morning of September 11, at a meeting attended by him, Volpicelli, McGill and another unidentified person. It was decided that Volpicelli would stay in his apartment because he was known to the Virags and that the robbers would use the Volpicelli car with Myers as the wheelman. The robbers met again at the Volpicelli home later that morning just prior to the holdup and left for the Virag home from there. After the robbery, they drove back to the vicinity of petitioner's apartment, calling Volpicelli from a nearby gas station, and reported that the robbery had taken place. Volpicelli told them to come up to the apartment, which they did, and there they divided the stolen cash and made arrangements for McGill to fence the stolen jewelry. After this meeting, which lasted but a short time, McGill and Mann left the apartment; Myers followed shortly thereafter. When Myers got outside, he saw McGill and Mann in handcuffs. Myers then returned to petitioner's apartment and reported the arrest to Volpicelli, who thereupon said he would get them out and then proceeded to an underground garage. Volpicelli, to whom Myers had previously returned the keys to the car, gave him the keys again and told him to move the car. Myers and Volpicelli went out to the street, and Volpicelli, in response to a question from a police officer, identified Myers as the person to whom he had loaned his car. Myers stated that Volpicelli exclaimed: "What, I loan you my car and you pulled an armed robbery?"7

Petitioner took the stand on his own behalf. His version of places and events does not differ substantially from Myers' testimony, except that he casts them in an innocent light. Volpicelli testified that he had never been convicted of a crime and that he had been employed in the construction industry. He first met the Virags in the spring of 1970 at their home when he was courting their ex-daughter-in-law. His plans to marry did not eventuate. He was introduced to Myers by Ruffo at Fort Myers, Florida, in July 1972 and met him again in Miami later that month....

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  • Montgomery v. Fogg, 79 Civ. 2626.
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    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • 16 Octubre 1979
    ...v. Manson, 547 F.2d 25, 29 (2d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 918, 97 S.Ct. 1335, 51 L.Ed.2d 597 (1977); Volpicelli v. Salamack, 447 F.Supp. 652, 666-67 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 578 F.2d 1372 (2d Cir. 1978); United States ex rel. Fernanders v. Fay, 241 F.Supp. 51, 56 (S.D.N.Y. 1965), aff'd su......
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    ...1075, 97 S.Ct. 814, 50 L.Ed.2d 793 (1977); United States ex rel. Satz v. Mancusi, 414 F.2d 90 (2d Cir. 1969); Volpicelli v. Salamack, 447 F.Supp. 652 8 Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 94 S.Ct. 1868, 40 L.Ed.2d 431 (1974) (prosecutor's comments); United States v. Hyatt, 565 F.2d 229......
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    ...a constitutional deprivation which would entitle petitioner to collateral relief by means of habeas corpus. Cf. Volpicelli v. Salamack, 447 F.Supp. 652, 663 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 578 F.2d 1372 (2d Cir.1978). Moreover, even assuming arguendo that the report should have been produced, it does no......
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    ...where government sought to use illegally gathered evidence for other than impeachment purposes). See also, Volpicelli v. Salamack, 447 F.Supp. 652 (S.D.N.Y. 3 R. pp. 840-842. 4 R. pp. 342-359. 5 R. pp. 549-554. 6 R. pp. 554-555. 7 R. pp. 273-274. --------...
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