Louis Manna was once a lot of things.
In the criminal underworld, he was known as “Doc” or “The Thin Guy,” a man who had put in his time and allegedly rose through the ranks of the Genovese Crime Family in the 1970s and 80s, running his gambling and loansharking operations from Casella’s in Hoboken or the Village Coffee Shop in Jersey City, according to court documents.
To law enforcement, Manna was the man calling the shots for the crime family in New Jersey. By the 1980s — as law enforcement was bearing down on the Mafia — he was the consigliere, or third-in-command, of the Genovese crime family, according to court records.
At trial, his attorney told a jury that the dapper Manna, who also often went by “Bobby,” was an interior designer, though cross-examination by prosecutors more than three decades ago revealed that no one had any specific idea of how he earned a living.
Federal authorities once described Manna as “dangerous and evil,” a crime boss that had blood on his hands and one ambitious enough to plot the murder of John Gotti, the “Godfather” of Mafia bosses in the region, according to news reports.
When he was convicted in 1989 for conspiring to kill Gotti and ordering the hit of a crime family associate, prosecutors called it a “tremendous blow to organized crime in New Jersey.”
Then-First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff, who led the prosecution of Manna, later told reporters that the 80-year sentence Manna received would “remove one of the most powerful and experienced” mob leaders in the nation.
Manna has been in federal custody for more than 32 years.
But now Manna is one of thousands of federal inmates are applying for compassionate release during the pandemic, citing the “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances they face behind bars.
Manna turns 91 next month, and is debilitated, his attorney says. He’s had cancer twice. He has hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.
Manna “will almost certainly die in custody in the near future” at a federal medical prison in Minnesota, Jeremy Iandolo, Manna’s attorney, wrote in a recent court filing. But before he does, he is seeking to head home to Hudson County one last time. His stepson has offered to take care of the aging mobster in his Bayonne home.
“As an unwell, nearly 91-year-old man, Mr. Manna poses essentially no threat whatsoever to the community,” wrote Iandolo, a Brooklyn attorney, in a motion for compassionate release. “(He wants to) spend as much time as possible with his incredibly supportive, concerned, and loving family and focus on staying as comfortable and as healthy as possible for whatever time he has left on this earth.”
Iandolo did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Prosecutors are fighting the release.
Manna has not even served half his sentence, prosecutors argued in a court filing, and if they let him go early, what message does it send? they asked. Prosecutors and judges have a duty to deter others from committing crimes, and releasing Manna does the opposite, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in objecting to his release.
Prosecutors acknowledged that he is elderly and would likely “not pose a direct, personal danger to public safety if released,” but have remained steadfast that he should serve the sentence he was given, which was to “spend the remainder of his natural life in prison.”
‘We are stuck behind Gotti’
Louis Manna was the son of Morris Manna, known as the “kingpin of the present Jersey City dock mob” in the 1950s, according to news reports in the Jersey Journal.
Louis Manna served his first significant prison sentence in the 1970s, and the sentence was his choice. He had been called to testify before the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation (SCI) regarding Mafia activities in the state, but he refused.
“I won’t talk to anybody; SCI, CIA, anybody else. I’m gonna sit in jail until you say, ‘Let the man out.’ I’m gonna sit there for the rest of my life,” Manna once testified.
He was jailed on civil contempt charges in 1972 and remained behind bars until he was released in 1977 when it was clear he would never discuss the business.
“I am convinced Mr. Manna’s statement that he will never testify before the SCI is firm, adamant, unchangeable and that continued incarceration will not change that resolve,” Superior Court Judge George Schoch said at the time upon releasing Manna.
It would be more than a decade before law enforcement had another shot at Manna.
In the 1980s, as federal authorities were put under tremendous pressure to take down the Mafia by the Department of Justice, electronic surveillance of organized crime families was the method often most effective in prosecuting mobsters.
So when they were able to secure a bug in Casella’s, they learned that Manna was the “the most powerful Genovese figure in New Jersey,” according to reports in the Jersey Journal.
Authorities gathered information on Manna’s role in overseeing gambling, loansharking, and labor racketeering, in the region. In a meeting at the Hoboken Italian joint in the late 1980s, according to court documents, authorities heard what they had long suspected Manna of initiating: contract murders.
They learned that he had ordered the 1987 hit on Irwin “The Fat Man” Schiff, who Manna and other Genovese figures believed was going to expose their criminal enterprise and would no longer run a more than $25 million money laundering operation for the crime family, according to court documents.
But as Manna was discussing the killing of Schiff, for which he was later convicted, authorities learned of a nearly unbelievable plot Manna was planning: he wanted to kill John Gotti, the leader of the Gambino crime family, according to court documents.
Authorities heard Manna select the individuals who were to participate in the “big hit” on Gotti, those court documents reported.
“Well we are stuck behind Gotti,” he said. “Let’s hit the (expletive).”
A subordinate of Manna’s made it clear: “The f—in’’ godfather ain’t getting’ home,” he said, according to court documents.
But federal authorities quickly foiled the plot when they alerted Gotti to the hit.
In August 1988, Manna was charged with leading a conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Within a year, Manna’s case went to trial. The court used an anonymous jury, the first time ever in federal court in New Jersey at the time, due to the fear of retaliation, according to news reports at the time.
After a three-and-a-half month trial in federal court in Newark, Manna was convicted of a number of crimes, including RICO conspiracy to murder John Gotti and his brother, Gene Gotti, ordering the murder of Schiff, racketeering, conducting an illegal gambling business and conspiracy to violate the Labor Management Relations Act.
When the foreman delivered the verdict, “jurors on either side of him held his legs so he would not fall,” the judge later said, according to reporters who were covering the trial. Manna was “stone faced” as the verdict was read.
On Sept. 26, 1989, U.S. District Judge Maryanne Trump Barry sentenced Manna, then 60, to 80 years in prison.
Should Manna be released?
Manna is not the only reputed organized crime figure who has sought to be released from prison during the pandemic.
Daniel “Dirty Danny” Mongelli, an alleged former acting captain in the Bonanno crime family, who was serving extensive time for his role in a Brooklyn murder, was released from Fort Dix federal prison recently after a coronavirus outbreak at the facility, according to court documents.
But Richard DeSciscio, who authorities say was a former enforcer for Manna and was sentenced to 75 years in prison related to the plot to kill Gotti and the murder of Schiff, was recently denied compassionate release by a judge.
“Defendant committed these crimes long ago. True enough,” U.S. District Judge Peter J. Sheridan wrote in his denial. “However, the seriousness of his crimes, the need to protect the safety of the public from even a possibility of recidivism, and the public interest in adequately deterring these types of violent crimes weigh heavily against his release.”
Defendants seeking compassionate release during the pandemic must first apply for compassionate release through the Bureau of Prisons. The warden at their prison makes a determination if the inmate is eligible or not. If that is unsuccessful then defendants have the right to make their case for compassionate release to a federal judge.
Manna’s attorney argued that he should never have even had to apply for early release through the courts.
In November 2019, Manna’s request was reviewed by the BOP, and the agency determined he was eligible to be released. His likelihood of recidivism was “low,” the BOP found. The warden at the federal medical prison in Minnesota recommended Manna’s release in an April 2020 letter.
It appeared then that Manna would be heading home.
In May, a social worker from the prison approved Manna’s proposed release plan, which included living with his stepson in Bayonne. The social worker said Manna appeared to “have the support and resources necessary for successful re-entry,” according to court documents.
But the Office of the General Counsel, which needs to sign off on any early releases approved by the BOP, rejected the warden’s recommendation in September.
In denying his release, the OGC found that Manna’s “conditions are considered chronic but stable,” and the 90-year-old is “generally independent with his activities of daily living.”
However, in their motion to a federal judge for release, Manna’s attorney and personal doctor describe him as “debilitated.” His doctor, Dr. John McGee, of Bayonne, wrote in an affidavit that Manna’s health requires “expedited management” as there has been a “woeful lack of care provided to Mr. Manna.”
“Mr. Manna’s rapidly declining health requires immediate care, which the BOP is not equipped to treat,” Iandolo, Manna’s attorney, wrote in a court filing.
Manna suffers from Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure, cellulitis, vertigo, ulcers, along with (gastrointestinal) and bladder issues, “making it difficult for him to use the bathroom, and more often than not requiring him to have someone assist him,” according to court documents.
“An early release will afford Mr. Manna a measure of quality of life and comfort as someone who has struggled and continues to struggle daily with so many personal health issues,” Iandolo wrote.
Prosecutors, however, view Manna as someone who is exaggerating his health claims and should remain in prison for the remainder of his sentence, which is set to end in 2054.
“Although there is no doubt that Manna is elderly and suffers from a number of medical conditions, given the conflicting information in the record, he has not firmly established that those conditions rise to the level of ‘extraordinary and compelling,’” prosecutors wrote.
And even if a judge were to find that the conditions were “extraordinary and compelling,” prosecutors said that shouldn’t matter for Manna, one of New Jersey’s most notorious mob bosses ever.
“The defendant’s violent and egregious conduct in the offenses of conviction, including participating in multiple conspiracies to commit murder, and ordering an actual murder, weighs against any reduction,” prosecutors wrote.
NJ Advance Media research editor Vinessa Erminio contributed to this story.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
Joe Atmonavage may be reached at [email protected].