A dispute between Oceanside neighbors has boiled over into a public media campaign against an alleged drug dealer and his brother, with accusations that the two are confidential informants and are seeking a plea deal.
Dana Mahan, of Oceanside, whose son died of a drug overdose in 2008, has created Facebook pages and a Change.org petition, printed out fliers and postcards and hung banners outside his 4th Street home, all accusing alleged drug dealer Filippo Califano, also a 4th Street resident, and his brother of being confidential informants in an effort to have Califano’s sentence reduced.
Califano, who was arrested on Sept. 8, 2016, and has since been charged with 199 counts of cocaine and heroin possession and sale, and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 14, according to court documents. He posted a bail bond of $42,500, and is currently out of jail pending his next appearance at the Nassau County Criminal Court on Sept. 7.
Mahan, who despite multiple attempts could not be reached by phone or in person, wrote on the Change.org petition, which has garnered 147 signatures, “The heroin and oxy epidemic is worse than ever all over the country. Long Island, N.Y., seems to be an area that is being heavily affected by these drugs. Teenagers are overdosing at an incredible rate and the police seem to be powerless to stop it. Many drug dealers facing jail time take a plea bargain, becoming informants, [which] reduces said jail time.”
After mentioning the death of his son, Mahan added that Califano is seeking to have a 20-year sentence reduced to three by acting as a confidential informant. He also said the petition would be shared with both Assistant District Attorney Jhounelle Cunningham and Judge Angelo Delligatti, who are prosecuting and presiding over Califano’s case, respectively. Mahan is requesting that the rules governing informants and plea deals be changed so alleged dealers such as Califano could not remain on the streets.
There is, however, no official record of a plea or confidential informant deal. But according to Professor Elizabeth Nevins, of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law’s criminal justice clinic at Hofstra University, it is possible that a deal could exist, even without the paperwork. “The defense has every reason in the world not to tell,” Nevins said. “And the prosecutor’s not going to tell about it either.”
Plea deals and confidential informants
According to Nevins, Plea deals and confidential informants are separate legal concepts, but can work in conjunction.
Plea deals, which can occur at any point during a criminal case, are generally negotiated between the prosecuting and defense attorneys, she said. As part of a deal, the defendant pleads guilty to certain charges in the hope that more egregious ones are dropped or reduced, effectively reducing the maximum penalties that he or she could face.
Typically, all parties in the courtroom have an interest in plea deals. Beyond the defendant, the prosecuting attorneys are seeking a successful prosecution while expending the least amount of resources. A deal that results in a guilty plea and prevents the case from appearing before a jury accomplishes both the goal of punishing the alleged criminal and saving time and money. “The system has an interest in accepting these deals,” Nevins said.
Additionally, judges have an interest in upholding the deal, because it also saves their office resources and maintains a level of trust between the judge and the prosecuting attorneys, who may be hesitant to bring plea deals before judges who are repeatedly unwilling to follow their recommendations.
In the case of Califano, who is facing 25 counts of criminal sale of heroin, 32 counts of possession of heroin with intent to sell, 70 counts of possession of cocaine, 36 counts of criminal sale of cocaine and 36 counts of possession of cocaine with intent to sell, the sheer number of charges may be part of a strategy on the part of prosecutors to prompt him to accept a deal, according to Nevins.
Becoming a confidential informant is a separate matter, but plea deals can be made to work around a defendant who is working as one.
For instance, defendants can plead guilty to some or all of the charges against them, and have sentencing held off while they collect information on other alleged criminals for both law enforcement personnel and prosecutors.
If those officials were to find that the information provided was useful, they could go drop or reduce the charges. However, it is a risky proposition for defendants who — beyond risking running afoul of other alleged criminals — have no guarantee that the information they provide will be deemed acceptable to law enforcement officials and prosecutors.
“You’re putting a lot of trust into the police and prosecutors, who are generally not on the side of the defendant,” Nevins said. “Usually you’re often pleading guilty to stuff up front, and hope that at the end, they find the information useful. Even if the prosecutor says his info was helpful, the judge has to consider it, and there is a risk they can disregard the prosecutors’ recommendations.”
It is possible that with Mahan putting a spotlight on Califano’s case, prosecutors might no longer view him as a possible asset, if they thought that in the first place. “How do you snitch on a drug dealer when you’re in the community and they suspect you of working with law enforcement?” Nevins said. “His safety, and the effectiveness of any undercover operation, would be jeopardized.”
Garden City-based Mitchell Barnett, Califano’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment. Additionally, responding to a Herald inquiry, Nassau County D.A. spokesman Brendan Brosh said his office could not comment on an ongoing criminal case.
Still, the deal that Mahan described is possible, if unlikely at this point. “Sure, it’s within the realm of possibility,” Nevins said. “But the earlier you cooperate, the more likely you’re going to get a deal.”
She also noted that Califano’s relatively high bail does not preclude a deal. “The bail is high, but there’s higher,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you couldn’t be in for a deal.”