In a unique and sensational case, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Wednesday ended the long prison sentence of a robber-turned-mob informant whose testimony prosecutors say helped break up the Gambino crime family in Florida and New York.
The four Republican statewide elected officials commuted the sentence of Kevin Bonner, who’s serving 24 years of a state sentence at an undisclosed federal prison and is in the federal witness protection program.
Three federal prosecutors — U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III in Tampa, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York and former U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch of New York, now the U.S. Attorney General — all sent letters to Scott supporting Bonner’s release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Trezevant and retired Tampa FBI agent Charlotte Braziel urged the state to set Bonner free and put him on probation as a reward for extensive cooperation that they said helped solve a number of “cold case” murders.
“This is an exceptional case,” Braziel testified. “Mr. Trezevant and I have never sought clemency for any witness. Mr. Bonner was an exceptional witness. He earned this. … Without Mr. Bonner, we would not have been able to disband an organized crime network that operated in Florida, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”
Mr. Bonner was an exceptional witness. He earned this. ...
retired FBI agent Charlotte Braziel
Trezevant said Bonner’s grand jury and trial testimony in Tampa a decade ago led to convictions of two Gambino crime figures, Ronnie “One-Arm” Trucchio and John Alite, who had fled to Brazil. Bonner testified that Alite was John “Junior” Gotti’s “right-hand man” in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Bonner’s volunteer attorney, Carter Andersen, read part of a letter from Bonner to state officials in which he described “guilt and frustration” for his victims, even though he said none were physically harmed.
“I am ashamed of what I’ve done to get this time,” Bonner wrote. “Yet these years, as tough and painful as they’ve been, have given me the opportunity to develop into the person I am today — a more humble, thoughtful and caring human being.”
Under Wednesday’s agreement, Bonner, 52, will soon get a new identity and a new life, thanks to the federal government and the state of Florida.
Trezevant emphasized that Bonner was not involved in any murders. The prosecutor said Bonner repeatedly robbed dry cleaning stores to support his drug habit and was serving his term in a Florida prison when he agreed in 2003 to cooperate with authorities and became the “first domino” that led to convictions of prominent mob figures.
At the time, Trezevant said, “the Gambino family [made] efforts to plant a flag in the Tampa Bay area and to use that as a base from which to spread across the state of Florida.”
“For us, Mr. Bonner was the perfect witness,” Trezevant said. “He was very bright, he was completely candid and truthful, and he has an absolute photographic memory.”
The decision to release Bonner was made by Scott and the Cabinet. Meeting as the Board of Clemency, they included Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who called the case “unprecedented” in his six years on the Cabinet.
Most requests for clemency are from everyday people who want to regain the right to vote or own a gun after having committed a crime such as drug possession or burglary.
The case of Kevin William Bonner, however, reads like the script from the mob movie “Goodfellas.”
Half-Irish and half-Italian, Bonner grew up in Queens and joined a street gang known as the “7s-n-9s” that led him to a life of crime.
In a 2009 profile in the Long Island newspaper Newsday, reporter John Riley quoted Bonner as saying he grew up in a neighborhood known as Woodhaven that was “overflowing with wiseguys.”
“Everyone was a criminal. Everyone wanted to be a hoodlum. But they seemed to have a little more money,” Bonner told the newspaper. “We didn’t have no money.”
He quit school in the eighth grade, was sent to a juvenile detention center at 16 and befriended John A. “Junior” Gotti, the mobster son of the legendary “Dapper Don,” John Gotti Sr., and an emerging member of the Gambino crime family.
Bonner’s downfall began in the mid-1980s when he became a drug addict, and moved to Florida to start life anew, Newsday reported. But he couldn’t escape his dark past. Referring to his decision to expose mob activities, Bonner told the paper: “It’s against everything I ever learned.”
Scott read off Bonner’s lengthy rap sheet — “robbery with a deadly weapon, robbery with a deadly weapon,” he repeated six times — and seemed reluctant to approve the feds’ request, noting that Bonner has battled drug addiction for many years.
“I understand I’m out on a plank here,” prosecutor Trezevant said.
Scott agreed to vote yes on two conditions: that Bonner undergo a drug test every two weeks for his first year of probation and that he pay about $3,500 in restitution and court costs.
“I get it,” Scott said. “He has probably saved lives.”
Bonner has more than five years remaining on his prison sentence. His attorney, Anderson, said Bonner wants to be able to start a new life “in a part of the country without organized crime.”
Andersen said he called Bonner in prison and gave him the good news.
“He said his family was so overwhelmed,” Andersen said. “He was just grateful.”
Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @stevebousquet.