The New York Personal Injury Blog

Policing the Police: Mobster Whacked Because of Prosecutors?

Embezzlement. Kickbacks. Leaked information resulting in a murder. RICO investigations. That sure sounds like the mob, right?

The problem was, according to the Courthouse News Service, the ones allegedly committing the crimes were the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

That of course begs the eternal question, "who polices the police?"

The late James Sweeney was an organized crime investigator for the Prosecutor’s office. He recruited Frank Lagano, a reputed member of the Lucchese crime family, as an informant. Lagano was later gunned down outside a diner.

According to reports, Sweeney, before his death, filed a lawsuit stating that he was fired for investigating rampant corruption in the highest levels of the prosecutor’s office. He alleged RICO claims, arguing that the ongoing corruption amounted to racketeering under federal and state law.

Among the claims were that “MM”, thought to be now-retired Michael Mordaga, had business associations with “FL”, presumably the deceased informant Lagano.

Lagano and Mordaga’s alleged connections were extensive, and included loans and business deals between the two. When Lagano was arrested, Mordaga allegedly told him that if he paid a specific attorney $25,000, 90 percent of his legal problems would go away.

When Lagano’s house was raided, tens of thousands of dollars were taken and never returned. No record was taken of the cash. It simply disappeared.

The most egregious allegation, however, is that members of the prosecutor’s office let it slip during a mob raid that Lagano was a snitch. Lagano was gunned down in front of his restaurant.

Five years after his death, and two years after Sweeney’s suit was filed, Lagano’s estate is suing the Prosecutor’s Office and Mordaga individually for violations of his constitutional rights. The lawsuit argues that the failure to protect his status as a confidential informant amounts to a violation of his due process rights.

That sounds complicated, and it certainly is. There are two theories that support such an argument. The first is the “special relationship” theory, which means that there was a state-created special relationship and the state failed to protect him from danger. That certainly makes sense, given the confidential informant relationship and Lagano’s subsequent violent murder.

The “state created danger” theory is the second possibility. It requires a showing that (1) the harm ultimately caused was foreseeable and fairly direct; (2) the state actor acted in willful disregard for the safety of the plaintiff; (3) there existed some relationship between the state and the plaintiff; (4) the state actors used their authority to create an opportunity that otherwise would not have existed for the third party’s crime to occur.

The language of Lagano’s complaint actually tracks the language of the second theory. The harm was foreseeable (snitches get stitches), the state actor allegedly acted in willful disregard of Lagano’s safety by telling his fellow mobsters that he was a snitch, the confidential informant relationship is what put him in danger, and it was all done under the authority of the Prosecutor’s office.

Based on two corroborating lawsuits, the case certainly sounds tenable. Now comes the fun part: proving it.

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