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Anthony F. Leonardo Jr.’s ability to connect with jurors helped him become one of upstate New York’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers. Now he might need that skill to defend himself against federal charges of scheming to distribute cocaine. Tony Leonardo, 53, whose clients have included rock star David Bowie and defendants in many of the biggest criminal cases in the Rochester area during the past 25 years, was indicted on Jan. 4. He is accused of possessing with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and carrying a firearm in a drug trafficking crime. He is being held without bail in a federal detention center in Batavia, N.Y. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison. In affidavits supporting search warrant applications, federal authorities have said there is evidence of money laundering possibly tied to $10.8 million stolen from an armored truck near Rochester 10 years ago. One of Leonardo’s co-defendants in the alleged drug scheme was the prime suspect in that unsolved robbery. And the government has made allegations in court documents of money laundering at a nightclub that Leonardo opened in 1999 with two partners. The club closed after a year. One of the partners, Anthony Vaccaro, was ambushed and killed in May 2000 as he drove home. The homicide is unsolved. Leonardo’s lawyer, John F. Speranza, has argued that the government used an informant to entrap Leonardo. In asking a federal magistrate to set bail for Leonardo, Speranza submitted statements from three well-known lawyers and two state supreme court justices saying that Leonardo would not be a flight risk. Speranza declined to comment for this story, and prosecutors didn’t return calls. Some evidence used by the government in the detention hearing has been sealed. In a Jan. 22 denial of bail for Leonardo and his co-defendant, Albert M. Ranieri, U.S. Magistrate Jonathan W. Feldman said, “The evidence presented on the issue of dangerousness is clear, convincing and chilling.” “People are stunned,” says William Clauss, U.S. public defender for Western New York, who represents a third defendant. Leonardo had built a solid reputation since 1973, when he was fresh out of Capital University Law School. He started with Thomas G. Presutti, a Rochester defense lawyer, becoming a partner and assuming much of the firm’s high-profile work before going solo. In 1976, he represented David Bowie when the musician was charged with possessing marijuana after a concert in Rochester. The charges were dropped. Two years later, he represented a sheriff’s detective convicted of conspiring to violate civil rights in connection with false evidence that investigators had used to charge five alleged mobsters in a homicide. Leonardo defended one of five Rochester police officers acquitted in 1993 of abusing criminal suspects. In 1995, he represented Samuel Ignatius Millar, a former Irish activist convicted of conspiracy to possess money stolen from a Brinks Inc. depot in Rochester. WOWING THE JURORS The 6-foot-4-inch Leonardo, with his designer suits and meticulously combed dark hair, is known for striding into a courtroom and wowing jurors by remembering all their names. Some lawyers say he’s arrogant and flashy. “He was not a technician,” says Rochester defense lawyer Donald M. Thompson, slipping into the past tense. “He was more along the lines of an upscale talk-show host.” He seems to have caught the attention of federal investigators in August 1998, after an informant — whom he had represented on a drug charge in the 1980s — told the FBI that he had discussed drug dealing with Leonardo to pay his retainer. The informant, identified as Anthony Delmonti, cooperated with investigators by meeting Leonardo socially and to engage in “various criminal activities,” according to a criminal complaint. The complaint and accompanying search warrant applications describe a series of meetings involving Leonardo, the truck robbery suspect Ranieri and the third defendant, Darryl Graham of Buffalo, N.Y. With Ranieri’s involvement, the FBI appears to have gotten its first significant break in the robbery. He drove the truck that was robbed by gunmen in 1990 and immediately became a focus of the investigation. His father, Albert Ranieri Jr., was also investigated and was represented at the time by Leonardo. The younger Ranieri’s lawyer, Michael Tallon, declined to comment. In secretly recorded conversations, Leonardo talked to Delmonti, the informant, about laundering stolen cash for Ranieri. Once, in 1995, Ranieri gave Leonardo two shopping bags with $12,000, the FBI said in an affidavit. It quotes Leonardo as describing how Ranieri brought the money: “I got rid of it. Then, then after, we start doing a business. One time he showed up with 50, a hundred, 200, one time 400.” The FBI says the money was from the armored truck robbery. Leonardo also discussed test-firing weapons outfitted with silencers in his yard with a “gunsmith” whom the FBI identified as Ranieri, investigators said in court papers. The FBI says that once, discussing transporting cocaine from Cleveland, Leonardo told Ranieri and the informant, “I don’t advise either one of you to. Can you get someone else to do it?” Ranieri said, “If somebody pulls me over with, there’s shit in my car, I’m shooting.” The FBI said it seized $87,450 that Ranieri used to buy 5 kilograms of cocaine in Dec. 21, 2000, at a Holiday Inn in Henrietta. Investigators said that Leonardo had taken $12,500 for his part in the transaction. Prosecutors are sharing evidence with defense lawyers. Motions are due on April 6. “No matter what happens at this point,” says Clauss, the federal defender, “it’s hard to see Tony rebounding from this.”

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