Fraud financed Mafia fugitive's life in Idaho

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)July 12, 2011 

BOISE, Idaho — The confidential tip came to the FBI in January: Enrico Ponzo, long on the lam from drug, murder and mob-related charges in Massachusetts, could be living on a small farm on Hogg Road in Marsing, Idaho, using the name Jay Shaw.

An FBI agent searched property databases and other sources to verify that someone named Shaw was living at that home.

The agent compared the photo on Shaw's driver's license — issued in Bullhead City, Ariz. — to the picture of Ponzo on an FBI wanted poster.

It was enough to persuade U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale to issue a search warrant. By Feb. 7, Ponzo was in an Idaho jail cell. His fingerprints — and later his own admission in an Idaho federal courtroom — confirmed his identity.

It was a dramatic downfall for a man who had crafted a new identity solid enough to hide in the shadow of Lizard Butte for nearly a decade. He had a cadre of good friends and neighbors who said the man they knew was well-liked and respected. But that man was a fiction, federal prosecutors say.

And as they moved last week to seize the home, land, cash and other possessions of the reputed Boston mobster, their supporting court documents revealed just how they say Ponzo created his new life.

Building a new man "Jay Shaw" supported his family, financed his home and vehicles and amassed a small fortune through identity theft, fraud and drug activity, prosecutors say in the court documents.

Investigators found a library of books and instructions on falsifying identities — and the materials to carry them out: blank driver's licenses, identification documents for other people and credit cards opened under various names.

"Ponzo has been able to develop multiple false/alias identities, acquire a residence on 12 acres of land ... vehicles, a boat, numerous firearms, bulk quantities of ammunition, cash and precious metals without any visible means of income," the court documents say.

Prosecutors hope to seize at least $300,000 in property, vehicles and cash. The procedure is used to confiscate property used to violate the law and to seize profits earned through illegal activity.

"Any income, monies or properties, real or personal, of Ponzo was derived from a stolen identity, amounting to criminal activity," the prosecutors wrote.

Ponzo is now in Boston, facing federal charges of conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, firearms and other violations. Federal officials say he had been a fugitive from state drug charges since 1994.

But investigators don't think all of his assets are still in his Marsing house. They seized money, gold, vehicles and more last week from some of Ponzo's Marsing friends.

When Ponzo was arrested, neighbors and friends started looking after his home, pets and cattle. His friend Kelly Verceles even moved into the house in February.

But when Owyhee County and federal officials searched Ponzo's home for computer equipment and documents in late March, they found a hole in the concrete floor of the basement.

Officials say Verceles, Robert Corson and Corson's son, Nicholas, used a blowtorch and jackhammer to steal more than $100,000 from a safe concealed in Ponzo's home. Some of that money they spent right away.

According to court documents, federal agents seized a 2002 Harley Davidson from Robert Corson's home, along with cash. They also took a 1952 Willys Jeep, cash and coins from Nicholas Corson's home. Verceles handed over a 2002 Subaru Outback.

Verceles told FBI agents after his arrest in April that Ponzo did not authorize him to break into the safe or take the money. Before his arrest, Verceles told a writer for Boston magazine that he had heard about the safe from the cousin of Ponzo's estranged girlfriend.

Verceles said that once the safe was opened, he counted the cash and coins — a total of $102,000 in cash and $65,000 in gold — and put them in his own gun locker to keep them safe for Ponzo.

He and the Corsons face felony criminal conspiracy, burglary and grand theft charges. All are set for separate trials in August and September.

Boston police and the FBI say Ponzo was connected to the New England mafia, and was part of a brutal and ill-fated attempt to overthrow the local leadership of the Patriarca family of La Cosa Nostra in the late 1980s and '90s.

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