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Guilty! The bizarre accusation, trial and conviction of Bay Ridge politico Ralph Perfetto

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It’s official: No good deed goes unpunished.

A jury convicted former Bay Ridge District Leader Ralph Perfetto of pretending to be a lawyer on Thursday — and now the 75-year-old neighborhood public servant is facing a year in the slammer.

The groundbreaking verdict came after three painstaking days of deliberation in the weeklong misdemeanor case — which many have labeled the trial of the century — where prosecutors painted the nattily dressed, old-school politico as an unhinged do-gooder who didn’t know when to stop helping people.

Perfetto, a boxer turned private investigator, was arrested for signing a court document indicating that he was his cousin’s lawyer during a misdemeanor arraignment proceeding on Aug. 21, 2008. During his brief time in front of Judge Evelyn LaPorte, he waived the reading of the charges against his kin, submitted testimony from two witnesses and agreed on the next court date, according to court transcripts of the proceeding.

But Perfetto says a court officer told him to sign the document, known as a “notice of appearance,” and answered questions thrown at him — nothing more.

“I never pretended to be an attorney,” Perfetto said before the trial began. “This whole thing is prepostero­us.”

Jurors weighing the evidence in this zany “My Cousin Vinny” spin-off ultimately agreed with him. They apparently wanted to acquit Perfetto, but the law gave them no room to maneuver.

“It was very hard,” one juror, who refused to give her name, told us after the verdict was read. “We truly believed that he had no malicious intent, but unfortunately the law doesn’t allow for that. It was not easy.”

The guilty verdict accelerates the beloved civic leader’s rapid fall from grace. Three months after his arrest last year, he lost his district leader seat to upstart Kevin Peter Carroll, who got 62 percent of the vote, ending his 18-year run as state committeeman.

Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes wouldn’t prosecute Perfetto’s case, citing the Shore Road resident’s political work.

But Staten Island Assistant District Attorney Om Kakani was happy to take the case, prosecuting Perfetto with all the vigor of a lawman on a mission to root out injustice: he called a court officer, a former Brooklyn prosecutor, and even Judge LaPorte to testify, though no one could remember seeing Perfetto in the hectic courtroom that day.

Still, Kakani had two “smoking guns” — the notice of appearance and the court transcripts.

Going over the transcripts line by line in his summation, Kakani said Perfetto had more than a half dozen chances to set the record straight but did not.

“The sin of omission is still a sin,” Kakani told the jury. “All [Perfetto] had to do was say, ‘By the way, I’m not an attorney,’ but he didn’t. He knew he was getting over on everyone and he wanted to continue that charade.”

Defense attorney Anthony Rendeiro, who didn’t call any witnesses during the trial, painted a different picture in his summation: Perfetto just followed a court officer’s instructions.

“Someone in the courtroom saw a 70-year-old man in a suit come in and asked him to fill out [the notice of appearance],” Rendeiro explained. “It was a simple mistake in a courtroom where more than 100 cases were going on. We will never know who spoke to Ralph, but the government shouldn’t have arrested a citizen because it made a mistake.”

It was clear that the jury wrestled with trial Judge Alexander Jeong’s instructions that Perfetto must be found guilty if the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he “practiced or appeared as an attorney at law.” Perfetto’s fate-holders took nothing for granted, demanding to hear several pieces of testimony. And later, the foreman sent out a note demanding that the court give the jury the legal definition of the word “lawyer” — a question that even stumped the attorneys in the room (the definition the jury ended up with was “someone who practices as an attorney at law” — not that helpful).

Perfetto stood stone faced as the guilty verdict was read, then — ever the class act — raised his hand and asked Judge Jeong for the opportunity to thank the jury for its time and attention.

But Jeong wouldn’t allow it, reminding Perfetto that anything he says should be filtered through his defense attorney — even words of appreciation.

Jeong then complimented Perfetto for being an “ideal defendant.”

“I had no control over the verdict, but [having you in the courtroom] was a pleasure,” Jeong said.

Perfetto, who turned down a chance to have the charges dismissed months earlier if he pleaded guilty, disagreed with the verdict, but said he was happy to have his day in court.

“[The jury] did its job,” Perfetto said afterwards. “All I wanted was a fair opportunity to be heard by the people. I believe I’m innocent, but this taught me a valuable lesson: no matter how noble one’s intentions may be, you have to very careful not to cross the line.”

Perfetto will be sentenced on July 18.

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Reader Feedback

John O'Hara from Sunset Park says:
6000 criminal cases were dismissed in Brooklyn last year because Hynes didnt have prosecutors available.
But if it means doing a favor for the "reformers" that were making a move on Ralph, than Hynes finds the time.
Ralph will rise again.
May 27, 2011, 2:41 am
CARMINE SANTAMARIA from BENSONHURST says:
THE ONLY CRIME COMMITTED IN THE PERFETTO CASE WAS THE WASTE OF TAXPAYERS MONEY PROSECUTING AND PERSECUTING RALPH. THE ZEALOUS, PUBLICITY SEEKING JERK LAWYER WHO BESMIRCHED THE GOOD NAME OF RALPH
AFTER DECADES OF GOOD WORKS FOR THE COMMUNIIES OF BROOKLYN SHOULD GO BACK
TO STATEN ISLAND AND JUMP IN THE LANDFILL, BUT HE'D PROBABLY POLLUTE IT!
May 27, 2011, 6:59 am
tony giordano from sunset park says:
it is a sad day in nyc when a good & honest man can be convicted purely because he dresses well and is well-spoken. i am so sad. but i am bouyed by ralph's behavior after the conviction (and even the recognition of the judge as to what a class act ralph is).
May 27, 2011, 7:35 am
Call a spade a spade from Bay Ridge Parkway says:
Team Carroll (read: Kevin Peter Carroll's now deceased father) was tucked tight under the covers with Scott Shifrel of The Daily News (who broke the story of the century) and Richmond County District Attorney Dan Donovan - who at the time was in a dead heat against Eric Schneiderman for the Attorney General race and handed this case to Om Shanti or whatever his name was.

Team Carroll took the Perfetto tale to Donovan, and looking to win a few points towards his futile New York State Attorney General bid, Donovan took the stale bait and went public with Mr. Perfetto’s alleged “Cousin Vinny” case as if it were the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, when in reality, Mr. Perfetto’s case had been dormant for over three years; sitting idle as a non-case fit to be thrown out and off the docket altogether.

Let’s get real: the charge is and was preposterous. Donovan did not investigate any of the facts before pursuing it at taxpayers expense. In fact, I think the whole thing was from a page ripped out of Election Year Stunts for Dummies.

Perfetto is the victim of a political score. End of story. I hope Kevin Peter is happy.
May 27, 2011, 11:06 am
Joanne from Bay Ridge says:
Ralph sure is going to need to brush up on those boxing skills.
May 27, 2011, 8:27 pm
Kevin from Bensonhurst says:
Justice has prevailed.
May 27, 2011, 8:28 pm
The Truth will Prevail from Bensonhurst says:
I have known Ralph for years and have always found him to be a compassionate, kind and dedicated man. He has often gone out of his way to help people without asking anything in return. This whole trial smell of dirty politics at play. Its sad that politics seeks to discredit a good man. And in this time when there are so many more serious issues--cutbacks abound and yet there are funds available to have a mock trial and conviction. Justice has not been served--
May 27, 2011, 9:16 pm
Truth Seeker from The Ridge says:
Another one bites the dust.
May 27, 2011, 9:41 pm
K. from ArKady says:
NYC politics is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.
May 27, 2011, 10:04 pm
Tony from Bay Ridge says:
I have always known, Ralph Perfetto to be a low-level, patronage hack, who never did anything of substance except nod his head to the hacks who controlled him, he held patronage job after patronage job for offices that do nothing.

You do the crime, you do the time.

Cousin Tony and Rafaello you do the time
May 29, 2011, 4:15 pm
Guido Fauci from Shore Road says:
Dirty Dan Donovan was doing this political hit to advance his own political intereststs and those of other Republicans.

Ralph Perfetto (at the time the Democratic Leader of the 60th AD) was the only Democratic Leader to carry petitions against Marty Golden and he was a strong supporter of Jonelle Hyer-Spenser. Republican Dan Donovan was paying off his friends in the Brooklyn GOP, State Senator Golden and party boss, Craig Eaton, for their support for his losing run for NYS Attorney General.

Ralph had to pay.

btw, the use of "Rafaello" was a favorite tag for Ralph used by Republican Boss Craig Eaton's Brooklyn GOP hate blog "the Jig is Up Atlas".
June 4, 2011, 11:35 am
Barbara Walters from originally Sheepshead says:
I am appalled at the injustice of this decision to convict a man of such extraordinary character like Ralph Perfetto. I know this man practically all my life, and if there was ever a time when he could help someone, he was the first one to volunteer. I campaigned for this man when I was about 13 years old and know his soul. This is a very bad day for all who know and care for him.
June 6, 2011, 5:05 pm
bklynlifer from downtown bklyn says:
Ralph is an unscrupulous politician who screwed people to serve his own purposes. He finally got convicted for (only) one of his lies/misrepresentations.
June 7, 2011, 7:20 pm

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