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Gambino Mob Pleads in Porn Scam

New York- A half-dozen Gambino mobsters copped pleas yesterday to the biggest consumer fraud in U.S. history – preying on hapless porn Web site users and phone sex customers in a huge $650 million scam.

The last-minute deals headed off a trial into the ingenious and insidious scheme masterminded by Richard Martino [pictured] – a John Gotti favorite believed to be the biggest earner in the infamous crime family’s history.

Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said thousands of customers in the U.S., Europe and Asia were victimized by the vast operation – which pelted dupes with bogus credit card and phone bill charges – between 1996 and 2002.

The guilty pleas, Mauskopf said, will ensure the defendants “will serve significant time in prison, but they also will forfeit the spoils of their crimes, including luxury homes and other significant assets, which will be used to compensate the victims.”

Martino and a business partner, Norman Chanes, devised the Internet and so-called “phone cramming” scams, which grossed sums that dwarfed the mob’s traditional bread-and-butter rackets like gambling and loansharking.

Operating behind a maze of 64 companies, they lured suckers to X-rated Web sites promising “free tours” of the lurid content. The viewers were required to give their credit or debit card numbers as proof of age. Then the unwitting victims were hit with charges of up to $90 on their card.

The phone scam did not even require conning the consumer out of their card number. Martino and Chanes solicited dupes to call an 800 number for “free” samples of phone sex, horoscopes and phone dating.

Merely dialing the 800 number “trapped” the callers’ phone numbers in a computer – and they got billed at least $40 a month for unwanted voice mail service.

Martino was held in such high regard by the late Gotti, he was excused from showing up regularly at the boss’ Ravenite social club – a move aimed at keeping the top moneymaker hidden from law enforcement surveillance.

The lucrative operation was supervised by reputed Gambino capo Salvatore (Tore) LoCascio, who presided from his Naples, Fla., home.

Just before LoCascio entered his plea yesterday, the FBI arranged an extraordinary cell phone call to his ailing father, former underboss Frank LoCascio, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison.

“He wanted his father’s approval and to consult with him about the plea,” said LoCascio’s lawyer Maurice Sercarz.

Chanes pleaded guilty last year and was ready to testify against Martino and the others.

Under the deal struck yesterday, just hours before jury selection, Martino will serve 10 years and forfeit $15 million.

LoCascio will get seven years and have to pony up $4.7 million. Gambino associate Zef Mustafa will get five years and forfeit $1.7 million.

Gambino soldier Andrew Campos and associate Thomas Pugliese face two years and $300,000 in restitution. Family associate Daniel Martino, Richard’s older brother, will serve five years and pay $1.5 million.

While prosecutors were trumpeting the pleas, defense lawyers privately claimed victory because the government agreed to drop racketeering charges

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