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United States v. Curcio

April 5, 1985


Appeals from judgments of conviction for attempted extortion, 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (1982), entered by the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, after a trial before Ellen B. Burns, Judge, and a jury.

Before Van Graafeiland, Meskill and Winter, Circuit Judges

Author: Winter

WINTER, Circuit Judge

Defendants appeal from a conviction for attempting to violate Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (1982), after a jury trial before Judge Burns. We reject their various claims of error during the trial and affirm.


The prosecution's case concerned events that occurred on June 2, 1982, at the Blue Ribbon Tavern in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and establishment owned by one William Kozakiewicz. Earlier that day, his brother-in-law had purchased a video game in New Jersey and had installed it in the Blue Ribbon. The Blue Ribbon already contained a pool table and pinball machine owned by Kozakiewicz and a juke box and another pinball machine rented from Hawley Enterprises. Hawley Enterprises was engaged primarily in the business of renting vending machines and was owned principally by the defendant Gus Curcio. The defendant Hawley and an employee of the Hawley firm, one Dahill D'Onofrio, were also part owners.

The government's proof showed that at approximately 10:45 p.m. on June 2, the two defendants, along with D'Onofrio and two others, double parked a Cadillac El Dorado near the Blue Ribbon. Hawley and one of the occupants of the car entered the bar. Although the defense disputes the sufficiency of the government's identification evidence, a reasonable jury could have concluded that the other person was the defendant Curcio. After entering, Hawley stood in the doorway, drew a .357 magnum revolver, and warned the patrons of the Blue Ribbon not to move. Curcio, who had a plastic bag over his hand, smashed the new video game with a sledge hammer he had brought with him. Leaving the hammer imbedded in the game, the defendants exited the bar and returned to the El Dorado.

While the defendants were running towards their car, a Bridgeport Police Department patrol car came down the street. The officers in the car saw two individuals running towards the double parked El Dorado and a crowd milling around in front of the bar. After a patron yelled that the two men running down the street had just smashed up the bar, the officers pursued the now moving El Dorado. Notwithstanding the pursuit by a police car with flashing lights, the El Dorado proceeded for three and one half blocks and ran one stop sign before pulling over. Curcio then got out of the car from the driver's seat and told the police officers that they could not arrest him because he was Gus Curcio. Unpersuaded, the police officers arrested him and his compatriots. A search of the car revealed a .357 magnum registered to Hawley, a .38 revolver registered to another occupant and Hawley employee, Kent Toresso, and a plastic bag. Both guns were loaded with hollow point bullets.

The next day the video game was removed from the Blue Ribbon. Since that time, Kozakiewicz, who reluctantly testified that he "got the message,"*fn1 has obtained vending machines only from Hawley Enterprises, except for one machine rented from a Bridgeport police officer.

Hawley took the stand in his defense and admitted that he went into the bar and pulled his gun. However, he stated that he went into the bar with D'Onofrio, not Curcio, and that he was there to buy cigarettes, not smash the video game. He stated that D'Onofrio smashed the machine for no apparent reason, and he had pulled his gun only because he thought the patrons were going to attack D'Onofrio.

D'Onofrio then took the stand and also testified that he and Hawley, not Curcio, had gone into the bar. He stated that he went into the bar to discuss wholesale cigarettes with the owner and got upset when he couldn't locate the owner. He testified that he had noticed the video game on his way in and thought it was owned by Hawley Enterprises. Frustrated in his search for the owner, D'Onofrio claimed to have decided to see how much money was in the machine, and because someone was playing the machine, he became further aggravated and grabbed a hammer from behind the bar which he used to smash the game.

D'Onofrio, whose version of events was bizarre, if not implausible on its face, was contradicted in numerous material particulars by other witnesses. Moreover, he admitted that a state court plea bargain in the Blue Ribbon incident had resulted in no additional time being added to sentences he was already serving for unrelated crimes. He also conceded that he could no longer be prosecuted for smashing the video game.

The government attempted to cross-examine both witnesses regarding two other incidents involving non-Hawley vending machines in local bars. According to the government's offer of proof, each incident involved a bar which had a Hawley vending machine but wanted it removed because the machine was not working. When Hawley failed to repair the machines, both bars then removed the Hawley machine from the premises after so advising the Hawley company. One bar replaced the Hawley machine with a machine from a competitor. Four masked gunmen vandalized one of the bars and beat up the bartender shortly after the Hawley machine was removed. In the case of the other bar, a masked gunman smashed the non-Hawley machine. However, the government conceded that the only evidence directly linking Curcio, Hawley or D'Onofrio to either incident was a threatening phone call in the case of the second bar by a caller identifying himself as Gus Curcio.

In a colloquy with the court, the government argued that evidence of these incidents was admissible under Fed. R. Civ. P. 404(b)*fn2 to show criminal intent and the lack of a mistake in the destruction of the video game at the Blue Ribbon. The government stated its intention, should the district court rule favorably to it, to provide witnesses to testify about these incidents should cross-examination fail to elicit satisfactory answers. Defendants offered numerous arguments against both cross-examination and admission of extrinsic evidence, their principal claims being that the prejudicial effect of the jury's learning of the other incidents outweighed any probative value and that neither Rule 404(b) nor Rule 608(b)*fn3 applied because of the lack of any direct proof implicating Hawley or D'Onofrio in the ...

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