HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A man who federal authorities say was a player in The French Connection heroin ring that spawned an Oscar-winning film of the same name is fighting to have a new drug case against him dismissed, even though he’s pleaded guilty.
Alfred Catino, 74, of Danbury, who has a lengthy and colorful drug conviction history, was among 16 people busted in Connecticut in 2012 for distributing marijuana, cocaine and oxycodone in Fairfield County. He pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge last year and faces seven to nine years in prison under the deal, with the right to argue for a lesser sentence.
The plea bargain, however, contained an unusual provision allowing Catino to continue challenging the admissibility of wiretap evidence that played a key role in his arrest.
Catino filed a motion this year asking U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton in Bridgeport to reconsider a 2013 ruling in which Eginton rejected Catino’s request for a hearing on whether the wiretap evidence should be suppressed and his indictment dismissed. Eginton held a hearing on the new request three weeks ago and has yet to rule.
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Catino alleges in court documents that warrants for the wiretaps and his arrest were issued based on misleading information about confidential informants provided by federal investigators. Catino claims that although investigators say there were only three confidential informants, there actually were several more and the informants known as confidential witnesses 1, 2 and 3 in court documents were actually a variety of different people.
Catino disputes that a voice heard on the wiretap recordings was his, as authorities allege. He also accuses federal investigators of failing to follow technical rules for wiretaps.
Frank Riccio II, Catino’s lawyer, said if the wiretaps were suppressed, prosecutors would have no case against Catino.
“The government would be left with little, if any, evidence … and he would have to be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea,” Riccio said.
Thomas Carson, a spokesman for the Connecticut U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment Tuesday on Catino’s case. In court documents, federal prosecutors deny the allegations in Catino’s court motions.
Federal investigators have said Catino was part of The French Connection that flooded the U.S. with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of heroin for years until police busted it up in the early 1970s. Officials said it involved Turkish heroin refined in Marseille, France, and smuggled into the U.S.
A big bust in the case in 1962 by New York City detectives was the subject of the 1971 film “The French Connection,” starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider.
Federal court records show Catino was indicted in 1966 for selling heroin in the Bronx and sentenced to five years in prison.
He was convicted by a federal jury in 1974 of again selling heroin in New York City and sentenced to 12 years in prison, but he fled to France while out on bail appealing the conviction, court records show. He was caught dealing heroin in France and sentenced to five years in prison there in 1978.
Catino was deported to New York in 1981 after that jail term ended, then began serving the 12-year sentence he had skipped out on, court records show.
He was caught again dealing heroin in New York in 1997 and pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge, getting another nearly 12-year prison sentence.