They called him Enrico Ponzo, or Rico Ponzo. He was also known as Jeffrey John Shaw, or Jay Shaw. Sometimes, they called him Joey.
He was Shaw in Idaho, trying out life as a cattle rancher who reportedly wore bib overalls and straws hats, managed an irrigation system for other ranchers, and kept a dozen cows.
But years earlier in Boston, according to authorities, he was Ponzo, an alleged wannabe gangster, an associate of the New England Mafia who attempted to kill rivals including former Mafia leader Francis P. “Cadillac Frank” Salemme.
The true story of Ponzo, now 45, who spent 17 years on the lam, much of that time hiding out as a rancher in Marsing, Idaho, is set to play out in a trial beginning Monday in US District Court in Boston. He is charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment that alleges he distributed drugs, laundered money, and attempted to kill rivals.
His attorney, John J. Cunha Jr., would only say, “He exerts his innocence and looks forward to his day in court.”
The trial, which could last as long as six weeks, will pit the image of the balding rancher, with a graying goatee, who has hearing problems and wears headphones in court, against the portrait of a violent criminal who sold drugs and shot at other mobsters with machine guns.
When authorities raided his Idaho home after his arrest by US marshals in February 2011, they found $100,000 in cash, and $65,000 in gold coins, as well as 22 rifles, eight handguns, and 34,000 rounds of ammunition, according to court records.
Bob Briggs, an 80-year-old rancher, was selling hay to Ponzo — or Shaw — when authorities pulled up in several motor vehicles to arrest him in February 2011. “I don’t think anybody in Marsing could think he’d hurt anybody, not here anyway,” he said.
He said most people in Marsing, a town of just over 1,000 people about 40 miles from Boise, have moved on after the initial surprise of Ponzo’s arrest. He said people have more questions about the future of Ponzo’s home, which sits on about 16 acres of farmland on Hoggs Road.
But the newspapers in Boise have been covering the story, he said. “It’s interesting because we knew him, and now we know some of the things that happened,” he said.
Martin Weinberg, who represented one of Ponzo’s original codefendants in the 1997 indictment — 15 alleged coconspirators were named in all, including Ponzo — said the case includes a who’s who of Mafia leaders named as defendants, or victims, or witnesses.
“This had all the players that pop up in different places,” said Weinberg, whose client, Anthony Ciampa, was accused of carrying out a shooting with Ponzo. Ciampa was acquitted of the most serious charges, including murder, after an initial trial in 1998.
He later pleaded guilty to lesser charges of conspiracy and gambling and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
“This was the trial of the year . . . there was heavy pressure on this case, murders, violence,” Weinberg said. “Certain defendants were acquitted on some charges, some convicted, some were just outright acquitted, and now [Ponzo] is standing alone facing charges going back a quarter of a century.”
Ponzo, charged with 18 counts in all, was an associate of a Boston faction of the Patriarca family of La Cosa Nostra, or the New England Mafia, during what prosecutors called a bloody struggle for power. Prosecutors say he served under Mafia captain Robert Carrozza, also known as Bobby Russo, and helped carry out crimes against rivals, including the shooting of Salemme, who ultimately became head of the New England Mafia.
Salemme was critically wounded when he was shot at the International House of Pancakes on Route 1 in Saugus in 1989. The same day, William P. Grasso, who was the Mafia underboss at the time, was found fatally shot along the Connecticut River near Hartford.
Prosecutors accused the faction that Ponzo associated with of killing three men, attempting to kill seven men, including Salemme, and plotting to kill seven more.
“Defendant Enrico M. Ponzo and his coconspirators utilized violence and the threat of violence to further their aims, and committed murders and attempted murders to remove competitors and avenge acts committed by their rivals,” prosecutors said in court records.
Anthony Cardinale, who has represented Salemme in the past, said the former Mafia leader is not expected to testify at Ponzo’s trial. Cardinale had no comment on Ponzo’s case, except to call him a “bad shot” who could have killed innocent passersby when he sprayed bullets in the pancake house parking lot. But prosecutors, he said, have exaggerated the power struggle within the Mafia to sensationalize the case.
Weinberg also said that authorities were selective in deciding whom to target in the Mafia.
“It was a brutal [struggle], but the government prosecuted one side and used the other side as witnesses,” he said.
Now, nearly 20 years after he fled, Ponzo is set to encounter many of his former associates, as well as alleged targets. His lawyers have placed his alleged old cronies on his witness list including Russo, and Ciampa, and Vincent Michael Marino, also known as Gigi Portalla, who was accused in the Salemme shooting and is now serving a 35-year sentence on racketeering charges.