Thomas P. Puccio, the lead prosecutor in the 1980s Abscam corruption case who also successfully defended Danish socialite Claus von Bülow against accusations he tried to kill his wife, died on March 11 from leukemia in New Haven, Conn. He was 67.
Mr. Puccio was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Fordham University in 1966. He earned his law degree from Fordham University School of Law in 1969 and joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District. He was named chief of the office’s criminal division in 1973 and in 1975 he became executive assistant to federal prosecutor David G. Trager.
The following year, Mr. Puccio became head of the Organized Crime Strike Force, where he successfully prosecuted U.S. Senator Harrison A. Williams Jr. of New Jersey, Representative John M. Murphy of Staten Island and three other congressmen on corruption charges in 1980 and 1981. The group was convicted of bribery after accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as a Middle Eastern sheik seeking political favors.
Among Mr. Puccio’s other prominent clients was Mr. von Bülow, who was acquitted in 1985 of charges that he used insulin injections to try to kill his heiress wife, Martha, known as Sunny.
In 1986, he faced-off against then-Southern District U.S. Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani in unsuccessfully defending Bronx Democratic Party chairman Stanley M. Friedman against federal racketeering charges.
Mr. Puccio joined Stroock & Stroock & Lavan as a partner in 1985. In 1987, he moved to Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, where he worked as a partner until 1992, when he created his own firm.
In 1995, Mr. Puccio represented Alex Kelly, a former high school athlete from Darien, Conn., charged with raping two girls in 1987. Mr. Kelly had fled to Europe to evade the charges, but was convicted in 1997 of raping one girl and pleaded no contest to a second rape in 1998.
More recently, he represented Francis X. Morrissey, a now-disbarred lawyer convicted of looting the estate of socialite Brooke Astor.
Mr. Puccio’s memoir, “In the Name of the Law: Confessions of a Trial Lawyer,” was published in 1995, co-authored by journalist Dan Collins.
Mr. Puccio is survived by his wife, Kathryn Thayer Puccio. He was predeceased by a son, Matthew, from his first marriage to Carol L. Ziegler, a former associate dean at Brooklyn Law School. Matthew drowned to death in 1995 at age 16 when the car he was learning to drive went into the Compo Yacht Basin in Westport, Conn. Mr. Puccio, who was also in the car, escaped when a window blew out.
A wake will be held on March 15 from 5-8 p.m. at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, 1076 Madison Ave. A funeral service will take place March 16 at 10 a.m. at Saint Jean Baptiste Catholic Church, 76 Street and Lexington Avenue.
Donations in Mr. Puccio’s memory may be made to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 475 Park Ave., 8th Fl., New York, N.Y., 10016.