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Divorced From the Mob

ANTHONY PERRI IS QUICK TO TELL PEOPLE THAT he's not an educated guy.

He dropped out of high school on the first day of his freshman year, after attending Italian (the one class he figured he could pass) and lunch. He's a little fuzzy on history (he refers to General George Custer as "that prick they killed at Little Big Horn"), and he never reads newspapers, except to check daily racetrack tips. But there's one subject that he can talk about with authority: New York's organized-crime world.

The 57-year-old Perri spent nearly four decades as a member of the Colombo crime family, going from one racket to another, making tons of money, blowing it just as fast, and casually, as he says, "making people disappear" whenever the situation demanded. His only steady occupation was "knocking around": a combination of gambling, "swagging" (stealing goods from the airport), and loan-sharking, which he calls "Shylock" work.

When he was growing up, the wiseguys nicknamed Perri "The Head," because his head was overly large for his stubby frame. These days, he looks like a gray-haired version of Joe Pesci's character in the movie GoodFellas, with voice and potty-mouth vocabulary to match. Like Pesci's character, he can actually make "Ya prick, ya" sound like a term of endearment.

Perri has little respect for most Mob-related films, but he likes GoodFellas. He proudly points out that many of its settings were based on real locales near his Queens neighborhood of Ozone Park. He also claims that he knew practically every person portrayed in the film.

There's one thing about the movie that bothers him, though. Near the end, mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill is shown stepping out of his house to pick up the morning papers. He has the paranoid look of someone who never knows when the next bullet might be heading his way; someone who feels utterly alone.

Perri knows that feeling. He's been hiding from the Mob for the past seven years, ever since he set up four reputed Mafia associates in a money-laundering sting operation and helped the FBI confiscate a 97-acre horse farm in Old Westbury, New York. What he objects to is GoodFellas' depiction of Hill living in a nice house, in an affluent neighborhood. Perri thinks the scene conveys the impression that the Witness Protection Program provides you with a life of luxury.

To hear Perri tell it, the Witness Protection Program is a big crock, a bunch of empty promises from the feds that they'll set you up with a new life, a new identity and a lush existence. He likes to say that when he entered the Witness Protection Program, he got "$1,000 and a kick in the ass."

Perri says two FBI agents convinced him to help in the 1992 sting by promising him 25 percent of the horse farm, a piece of property that was later sold for $5.6 million to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. He contends that he put himself in extreme physical danger for what he thought would be the payday of his life, and the government screwed him, just like the backstabbing Mob weasels he'd grown so fed up with over the years.

So, in 1993, Perri dropped out of the Witness Protection Program, went to the lawyers of the indicted crime-family members and offered to sign an affidavit saying that the FBI had entrapped them. His former friends let him stay in New York for a year, until their trial ended when they agreed to plea bargains.

Perri uses a different name in the Valley. But he wanted his real name used for this story to protect his local identity. He says he decided to tell New Times the story of what he thinks of as his betrayal by the federal government because he's filed suit against the FBI and is frustrated at the slowness of the legal system.

Much of his tale about being an FBI informant is contained in a thick legal volume on file in a Washington, D.C., federal court. The FBI has disputed very little of it. FBI agents named in the case, who Perri says promised him wealth in exchange for his help, refused to talk to New Times about Perri. Two federal officials, one from the FBI and one from the Justice Department, spoke only on the condition that their names not be used.

But much of what Perri talked about was his life as a mobster, a wiseguy on the streets of New York and later Las Vegas. And how he came to be desperate enough to seek help from federal agents.

It's a story filled with Perri's confessions of corruption and violence. Many of his tales, particularly of his years with the Colombo crime family, could not be independently verified.

 

Perri has lived in the Valley since 1996, after struggling for a couple of years to make a living in California. His time in the Valley has been a period of relentless boredom and destitution. He generally hangs out at a favorite local spot, listening to horse races on the radio, dressed in the laid-back manner of a retired Floridian: polo shirt, khaki shorts and brown loafers.

He has no job, no social security number, no résumé. He says his old Mob friends still want him dead, while the FBI and U.S. marshals who once were his allies now despise him. His parents are deceased and his siblings stopped speaking to him eight years ago. He's cut off from his wife and 16-year-old daughter, who both live in New York, because he can't support them in Arizona.

If not for a generous local restaurateur, who lets him share a house and provides him with free meals and drinks, Perri would be struggling to survive.

Compare that with the life of his old New York neighbor and fellow informant, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, who also came to the Valley to start a new life. Gravano has a cushy house and a surgically altered face, and he's so friendly with the U.S. marshals that they party together whenever they're in town, if newspaper reports can be believed.

Perri's got nothing, so he figures he's got nothing to lose. All his life he's bet the house on the big score, and he's convinced that it's going to happen again. The only difference is that this time his arena is the courtroom, not the racetrack or the blackjack table.

In 1995, his New York lawyer, Irwin Popkin, filed a lawsuit against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims for $1.5 million, in an attempt to recover what Perri claims the FBI promised, and then reneged on.

Both FBI agents, Bill Matthews and Christopher Byers, deny that they ever promised Perri a percentage of the horse farm. But, according to court documents, the Justice Department is pinning its defense on the theory that even if such a promise was made, neither agent had the authority to enter into a binding contract with Perri.

Four years later, the lawsuit remains in limbo. It's bogged down in a maze of motions and countermotions, with Popkin requesting more FBI documents, and Justice Department lawyers repeatedly arguing that the requests are excessive.

The odds -- and legal precedent -- would seem to be against Perri. But perhaps the most persuasive component of his story is his self-described, consistently mercenary nature. His very reason for approaching the FBI in the first place was because he needed money. It's hard to imagine him putting his life on the line for the federal government unless someone led him to believe that there was big money awaiting him.

To Perri, the Mob and the feds are immersed in the same ugly game, they're just playing on different teams. "At least there's some honor in the Mob," he says. "There's no honor with the feds.

"They're slimy fucking people. They'll do whatever they've got to do to get what they need. Without lowlife bastards like me, they couldn't find their asshole."


Anthony Perri always envisioned himself in show business. He carries himself with a cocky, theatrical flair, and he seems particularly proud of the fact that he was a convincing enough actor to con shrewd mobsters when he worked for the FBI. Last year, he was quoted in a Premiere magazine article about the Mob, arguing that his life would make a much better movie than Sammy the Bull's.

Perri attributes his fascination with the entertainment world to his father, Ernest. He describes his father as a soft-spoken man who never did a dishonest thing in his life. Ernest Perri eventually ended up in the restaurant business, but in his younger days he worked the vaudeville circuit doing dance routines alongside such stars as Georgie Jessel.

Perri describes his mother as an equally admirable role model, more gregarious than his father, but similarly hardworking and dedicated to her four children.

Perri has an older brother and two younger sisters.

"I was kind of like the wild one in the family," he recalls. "My brother was a real hard worker and my kid sisters did everything around the house. They always did what they were told, while I was always in trouble."

His parents were extremely religious, and they sent him to Catholic school until he was 14. At that point, he enrolled in a public high school but refused to attend classes. His school counselor became so concerned with Perri's truancy that he stopped by the Perri home every morning to give the young rebel a ride to school. It didn't do much good: Within minutes, Perri says, he would duck out of sight and walk back home.

 

Perri later went to a continuation school, which required him to take only a couple of classes a day. Things didn't go well there, either. He says that on his first day he demanded that his teacher sign a form saying he'd attended class every day, or Perri would whack him on the head with a baseball bat.

In his mid-teens, Perri started working at his cousin's butcher shop on 101st Avenue. All the mobsters hung out in the neighborhood, and it didn't take long for Perri to start getting involved in "wiseguy activity."

"I used to hang out in front of this guy's grocery store, and he was taking book for a bookmaker out of his store," Perri says. "So I started to take it myself, and before you knew it I started to know people in the neighborhood. That's how I started getting together with these wiseguys."

His cousin had married a Colombo boss, which Perri says only strengthened his credibility with the Mob. By this time, Perri had a serious girlfriend, who he later married. He had a job, he felt independent. No one could touch him.

Perri's recollections of the Ozone Park neighborhood in the '60s conjure up a twisted image of a final golden era for the Mafia. He says that around 1967, John Gotti and his young Gambino crew came into the neighborhood, and quickly tried to assert their control of the territory.

"These guys came in with a fucking brute force," he says. "When they came into Ozone Park, they went to work on everybody, they really wanted to make their presence known. They put a couple of friends of mine in the hospital, knocked one guy's teeth out, and broke another's arm. They used to go to work on you with baseball bats.

"I never had a problem because I knew all of these guys. My first wife came from Pacific Street in Brooklyn, where these guys came from. So they kind of knew who I was and I knew who they were."

Perri's descriptions of some of these legendary Mobsters are strangely contradictory. He remembers Gotti as "a sweetheart of a guy; very, very tough; real nice guy." He describes Gambino heavyweight Sal Ruggiero, widely known as Sal Quack-Quack, in the following way: "He was a pretty smart kid. He had a lot of balls; fucking murderer; just a nutty guy."

Perri developed some skills, like carpentry, hairdressing and bricklaying, but he could never stand the idea of working a steady job. He loved to be out late at night, and wake up at two in the afternoon if he felt like it.

In 1969, Perri was earning good money on the streets and supplementing it with some construction work, but he and his wife weren't getting along.

A friend encouraged him to move to Las Vegas. "He said, 'The fucking town's wide open. There's nothing but broads, money and gambling.'"

So Perri and his wife separated, and Perri moved to Vegas. He quickly got a job dealing at The Mint, earning $25 to $30 a night. But the money wasn't enough for him.

About the same time, an old friend told Perri about a stolen 18th-century painting by Jean Watteau that he was trying to unload. Perri says he and a friend decided to help sell the painting.

"There was a girl involved; little did I know that she was working with the federal agents. I was living with four girls at the time. Not fucking any of 'em, just living with these four broads."

Perri didn't know it, but his phone was tapped. His friend flew the painting in to Vegas and met the buyer, who turned out to be a federal agent. They agreed to complete the $160,000 deal the next day at the Sahara. Perri was arrested by the FBI when he showed up at the casino.

Perri beat the rap on a technicality, thanks to an aggressive young defense attorney named Oscar Goodman, who is currently the mayor of Las Vegas. Goodman, who established his reputation defending mobsters like Meyer Lansky, was elected mayor three months ago, astounding pundits who thought his disreputable roster of clients would destroy his campaign.

While the case was pending, Perri came across a promising business opportunity. He and a partner decided to transform a country-western bar in the middle of the Vegas strip into a disco. They'd be partners. His friend would put up the money, and Perri would take care of everything else.

 

The club, called Place Pigall-i, was a smash success, raking in $80,000 to $90,000 a month, just on alcohol sales, according to Perri.

"One time Barry White came and we almost threw him out because we thought he was a pimp," Perri says. "We had Norm Crosby, Pat Henry. A lot of different people came in the joint."

Throughout 1973, they did great business. But they had been operating on the previous owner's liquor license. Early the next year, they applied for their own license, hoping to also put in slot machines.

But Perri's partner had 13 arrests in New Jersey that Perri says he didn't know about; the license was denied. They had to sell the club.

"I wanted to destroy this little cocksucker, that's how mad I was," Perri says. "He destroyed a place where we were doing nothing but making money."

Perri drove back to New York and temporarily reconciled with his wife. He started hanging out at the horse tracks with his cousin and a horse trainer named Dominic Imperio. They were also hanging out with a Florida drug dealer who went by the nickname "Butchie."

One day federal agents came by Perri's house to question him about Butchie. Perri says he didn't talk, but adds that two "jealous friends" -- including his cousin -- told Colombo leaders that Perri was squealing to the feds. He says word came down from Joey Colombo -- son of family boss Joe Colombo -- that Perri wasn't wanted around the Colombo family.

With relations strained with his old friends, Perri began spending time with another enterprising schemer named Larry. Larry told him about a connection he had with a powerful Atlanta lawyer who could get him anything he needed. Perri says it was only a matter of time before Imperio moved in on the action and befriended Larry. Perri could feel that they were muscling him out.

The Atlanta lawyer helped them get Interstate Commerce Commission licenses for truckers, and various other things. Dominic and Larry made big money, but Perri says he was left out in the cold.

So Perri disengaged himself from his Colombo connections and became close to the boss of another New York crime family, the Bonannos. Perri fondly recalls the Bonanno boss as "an old man of respect." The old man trusted Perri, and let him run his trucking company for him.

And he did other jobs for him. Brutal work, if needed, he says. When the boss's grandson was cursed by a dock worker, the old man called Perri and told him, "I want satisfaction." Perri says he went to the dock with a golf club and beat the guy to a bloody pulp. It was all for the old man.

The elder don had one distinctly old-school policy: Don't mess with drugs.

"You could do anything you wanted -- you could do murder, you could do gambling. But no drugs," Perri says. It was a rule Perri couldn't adhere to.

"I started to fuck around with cocaine," Perri says. "I was fucking a lot of broads. I was divorced from my first wife. I dressed up every night. Brand-new car, pocketful of money; real typical wiseguy nightlife, going to places where guys couldn't get in, I used to just walk through the fucking door."

The boss's nephew told him about Perri's cocaine binges. The old man confronted Anthony and asked him if the drug rumors were true.

"I couldn't lie to him," Perri says. "Number one, I couldn't lie because I could get killed for lying. But more important than that, I couldn't lie because I loved him like a father. If he would have lived and I'd have straightened out, they [the Bonannos] would have made me."

Perri told the old man the truth. They were never close again.


Anthony Perri's life was never smooth, and he readily admits that many of his most painful body blows were self-inflicted.

After all, this is a guy who pissed away $30,000 in one night at the gambling tables, who blew his chance at "made" status in the Mafia over a runaway cocaine habit. His weakness for betting, in particular, knows no bounds.

"Even today, I'd bet on two fucking cockroaches," he says. "It doesn't make a difference. I just like to gamble."

But no matter how bad things got for Perri, he always sensed that it would all work out, that some new opportunity would fall into his lap.

All that changed 10 years ago. Perri says he had finally grown sick of the "scheming bastards and greedy fucks" who were always trying to muscle him out of his just rewards. Sick of being unable to provide for his second wife and 6-year-old daughter. He was pushing 50 and caught in a circle of ever-diminishing returns. You could call it a wiseguy version of a midlife crisis.

 

He says that's why he decided to become a rat for the feds.

The '80s had been a depressing time. The "highlight" had been a period when he and a friend ran a furniture store in a crime-ridden section of Brooklyn, using the store as a front for selling cocaine. Eventually, they both got tired of it and sold the business.

His prospects had slowed to a trickle when a car-dealer friend asked him to help him run his car lot.

The deal was simple: Perri would get 25 percent of the profit on each car he sold. Perri sold a ton of cars, but he was convinced that his friend was screwing him out of part of the money. So one day while his friend was away, Perri says, he sold a limo for $8,000 in cash, and drove off with the money and a two-year-old Riviera. He didn't stop until he got to Las Vegas.

In Vegas, he immediately ran into an old friend and they went out drinking. That night, they ended up at the baccarat table at the Tropicana. Before the night was done, Perri had blown more than $7,000. All he had left in his pocket was about $200.

The next morning he made a few hundred bucks at the racetrack on the daily double, and knew that he had to use the money to get back to New York.

He talks about how his mom sat him down for a talk when he got home. How his father had recently died, and how his mom gave Perri $20,000 that his dad had earmarked for him. She advised him to take his wife and daughter to Vegas and start a new life, he says.

In 1989, Perri set up his family in a spacious Vegas apartment. Three months later, the money was gone. Once again, he'd blown it all gambling. His wife and child went back to New York while he waited for his luck to change.

"I'm living in this beautiful apartment," he recalls. "I've got no furniture in the fucking place. I'm sleeping on the rug in front of the fireplace. My electricity's turned off. All I've got is my car, and I ain't even got gas in it."

Perri was fed up. And he'd heard that his old car-dealer friend had put out a hit on him. So in December 1989, he walked into the Las Vegas bureau of the FBI and offered to provide information on the Mob.

He says he talked to Bill Matthews, of the bureau's Organized Crime Strike Force, who he recalls as a "real quiet, Mormon guy."

Matthews quickly realized that Perri had some valuable connections. For one thing, Perri had known Victor ("Little Vic") Orena for 30 years. Orena had emerged in the late '80s as acting boss of the Colombo family. For another thing, Perri was also friendly with many of the crime-family members hanging out on the Vegas strip.

"He [Matthews] says, 'Look, we can help you. We'll get a little place for you, get you some money, all you have to do is hang out at the casinos. If you see anything going wrong, any scams or anything, you just tell us. Nobody has to know anything.'"

Perri suggests that the FBI coerced him, inducing him with small favors, slowly developing his willingness to rat on his friends. "I didn't realize I was a stool pigeon at first," he says.

But it was Perri who went to the FBI, not the other way around. And it was Perri, not the feds, who set in motion the sting operation that resulted in the confiscation of the horse farm, and the arrest of four reputed Mafia associates, including Perri's old friend, Dominic Imperio.

"I went to Matthews and said, 'This guy [Dominic] is over at Santa Anita racetrack, he's with Little Vic Orena, around all the fucking wiseguys.' And they [the FBI] were interested. There was another guy in Las Vegas named Charley Panarella. He was a captain in the Colombo crime family, and they were very interested in him. So that's when they put together this sting operation."


In early 1990, Dominic Imperio was training horses in California. Perri gave him a call, saying he wanted to drop by for a visit. Up to this point, Perri had focused on pickpockets and other smalltime stuff around the Vegas casinos. But this was his first big assignment for the FBI. When they got together, Imperio asked what Perri had been up to.

 

Perri boasted that he was doing business with a powerful Mexican drug lord, claiming that was the reason for his visit to California. He told Imperio that this drug connection had a lot of "juice" in Vegas.

Imperio asked Perri if his drug-czar friend could cash a couple of checks for him, totaling nearly a million dollars. Imperio insisted that the checks were valid, but said he couldn't cash them at a bank. Perri said he'd talk with his connection.

The FBI cashed the checks.

Imperio was impressed. He asked if the drug lord would be interested in buying the Old Westbury Farm, a horse farm owned by Imperio and wealthy associate John Terranova. FBI agents saw this as their chance to nail Imperio and his cohorts on a money-laundering charge and confiscate the horse farm, which was valued at $14 million.

Perri says he was reluctant to take part in the sting, because he knew how dangerous it would be. Imperio's friend Charles Panarella, in particular, was a powerful figure whom Perri feared.

Despite his concerns, Perri says he was persuaded when Matthews promised him 25 percent of whatever the farm sold for, and assured him he'd be placed in the Witness Protection Program.

Matthews and his successor at the Las Vegas office, Christopher Byers, have submitted near-identical court declarations insisting that they "never promised to pay [Perri] any amount of money reflecting a percentage of the value of any property (including Old Westbury Farm) seized and forfeited as a result of the FBI's undercover operation and investigation."

The farm sale between Imperio and the fictional drug czar dragged on for nearly a year. In the meantime, Perri's ruse was nearly exposed on two separate occasions. The first happened when a tiny cassette recorder (used to record conversations between him and the reputed mobsters) fell out of his shirt pocket when he leaned over to retrieve a pack of cigarettes. He stood in front of Panarella and Imperio with a tape recorder in his hand.

Perri smoothly explained that the tape recorder belonged to his young daughter Nicky, and that he needed to take it to Radio Shack to get fixed.

"They believed me, because it was me. I was their friend," Perri says.

Another potential undoing came when the mobsters asked to meet with the fictional Mexican drug dealer, who Perri called Manny. The FBI brought in a Hispanic agent to play the part of Manny, and a Las Vegas meeting was set up to discuss the horse farm.

The bureau rented a Lear jet for "Manny," and Perri drove Imperio, John Terranova and a couple other people to the Vegas airport for the 2 p.m. meeting.

Perri planned to arrive shortly before "Manny" landed. Instead, the FBI was late and the Lear was just taking off.

"They were going to fly around for 15 or 20 minutes, then land like they'd flown in from California," Perri says. "So John Terranova notices the plane. We're there 15 or 20 minutes, the plane comes in, I meet Manny, hugs and kisses, the whole nine yards. Like we're close.

"John Terranova says to Manny, 'Didn't you just take off?' So the agent caught on and says, 'Yeah, we did, but we didn't know if you were here. We were having a little trouble with the plane, so the pilot wanted to take it up and test it.'"

It was an absurd story, and Imperio, known for being deathly afraid of flying, blurted out, "Are you fucking crazy?" But, as Perri tells it, the mobsters ultimately bought the phony story.

For Perri, who had enviously watched as Imperio got rich a decade earlier, the chance to play the big shot was intoxicating. He'd instructed "Manny" to let Imperio and his associates know that Perri had ultimate say over the horse-farm sale.

"Manny" told Imperio that he would buy the farm for $14 million, but wanted to pay part of the money under the table, to conceal it from the Internal Revenue Service. Imperio agreed to help wash the money through Atlantic City casinos.

The FBI was prepared to nab the Mob associates, but U.S. marshals told agents not to make any arrests until Perri could be safely placed in the Witness Protection Program. In August 1992, the FBI arrested Imperio, Panarella, Terranova and their friend Nelson Pereira and charged them with money laundering.

But Perri says agents chose to make the arrests in New York at a time when Perri was also in the city, helping his wife and daughter move into a new apartment.

 

"I was in the most unsafe fucking spot in the world I could possibly be," Perri recalls. "I'm dead. I call the U.S. marshals and the feds and they say, 'Sorry, we made a mistake.'

"It's all bullshit. They don't give a fuck about you."

For 10 days, a panic-stricken Perri hid in his wife's apartment, waiting for a bullet to come through the window. Finally, marshals came and took him out of town.

For two months, he says, they hustled him from one city to another, putting him up in hotels and giving him $40 a day to live on. In Seattle, he says, he grew so bored that he began using cocaine again.

The marshals eventually moved Perri to Hawaii near the end of 1992. They set him up in an apartment and gave him money for furniture. But Perri kept wondering when he was going to see the huge payoff he had expected. He says the feds had promised him "a bag of money" to get him started when he joined the Witness Protection Program. That turned out to be a mere $1,000.

Months earlier, when his wife called the bureau seeking financial help, he says they encouraged her to go on welfare. He says it was at that point that agents told him he wouldn't get a cut of the horse farm.

Perri had spent his entire adult life avoiding the 9-to-5 world, but he says that he genuinely tried to find a job in Hawaii. But he insists that the marshals offered no help, and after five months of looking for work, he came up empty.

"Nobody wanted to hire me," he says. "Especially in Hawaii. It's 90 percent fucking Orientals. I'm a white guy, I can't find no job."

Perri says the final insult came when a marshal in Hawaii told him if he couldn't get a job, the government would put him on welfare. Perri says he felt that he'd risked his life for these guys, and now they were treating him like dirt.

He figured he was better off with the Mob. After the marshal left his apartment, Perri called Imperio in New York to tell him he wanted to talk.

He sold his furniture and headed for New York. He was out of the Witness Protection Program.

When Perri got to New York, he met with lawyers for the indicted men and signed an affidavit saying the government had entrapped them. Perri remains convinced that it could have enabled the four men to escape convictions, but they chose to plead to lesser charges. The four reputed Mafia associates served no jail time, but Terranova and Imperio lost the farm, which was confiscated by the feds.

If Perri had already been a tiresome figure to the FBI, his decison to switch sides ended any chance that the federal government would ever willingly compensate him. As far as he could see, there was only one option left: to sue the United States.


It's hard to imagine Irwin Popkin delivering an oral argument in a courtroom. His low mumble of a voice practically defines world-weariness. He often sounds like it's a chore to say "hello."

The more than 700 pages of court documents related to Perri v. the United States are loaded with Popkin's motions for discovery of FBI material and Perri's side of the story. But the government has filed little else besides general denials that agents promised Perri any money, and numerous motions for more time and protective orders to prevent having to turn over material to Perri's attorney.

Popkin is reticent when discussing the case. He doesn't want to agitate U.S. District Court Judge Roger Andewelt, and he knows that Perri is not someone to be trifled with either. In fact, a few months ago Perri fired a contract lawyer who was working with Popkin because he thought the lawyer wasn't doing his job.

Five years ago, Perri walked into Popkin's Shirley, New York, office and asked Popkin if he'd be interested in suing the federal government. "I never knew him before," Popkin says. "He told me his story, I did some research, and I took a shot at a lawsuit."

Popkin took a two-pronged legal approach. First, he argued that payments provided to informants through a congressional forfeiture fund should in some cases be mandatory. Andewelt rejected the argument.

But a contractual claim is still pending. Popkin argues that agents promised Perri a share of the horse farm, and that constitutes a binding contract.

"There doesn't seem to be any doubt that these promises were made," Popkin says. "The question is, what are the legal consequences of having made these promises?"

 

Perri argues that Matthews couldn't have made a promise without the FBI's knowledge and consent. "He never gave me anything without clearing it with the bureau. He wouldn't give me $100 without clearing it. He made it clear that he couldn't do anything without approval."

A Justice Department lawyer who is working on the case says neither Matthews nor Byers ever promised Perri a share of the farm.

"The government's position is that no promises were made to Mr. Perri in the regard that he's suing us over," the attorney says. "The government does not have any information that any such promises were made."

The government turned over a batch of documents to Popkin in March. Popkin says he "needs to straighten out some things with Anthony" before deciding on his next legal move.

One wild card in this case is whether Perri has any evidence of a promise from the feds. He hints that he might have tape recordings of some conversations with Matthews and Byers.

"The government may have a surprise," Perri says. "Remember, I'm not too dumb. They taught me how to use these recording devices. But we'll deal with that down the road."

For someone who admits that his life has been devoid of a moral compass, Perri takes an ironically righteous tone when he talks about the case. He argues that because he put his life in danger for the government, the United States has a "moral obligation" to take care of him.

He draws his own quirky line between his kind of bad behavior and what he perceives as true evil.

"My definition of a bad person is a guy who goes around fucking little girls, a guy who wears a raincoat and exposes himself to school kids, a guy who chops people up, puts them in the refrigerator and eats them," he says. "Those are people you have to put in the fucking cell and peel their fucking skin off.

"Now, if you kill a person for a reason, that's one thing. If you kill an innocent person for no reason, that's another thing. Now you're talking about the scum of the earth, the devil's disciple."

Perri seems impatient by nature. He concedes that his lifelong need for instant gratification has contributed to many of his mistakes. But he's learning patience from the American judicial system. As bleak as his life is, as much as he misses his wife and his daughter, he's determined to see this case through -- if for no other reason than to annoy the feds.

"Most people would just walk away," he says. "They'd put their finger in their ass and walk away. But I'm not going to. Win or lose, they're going to know I'm here."

Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: ggarcia@newtimes.com


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