The Con and the Mayor

Why Rudy Giuliani Owes Prison Inmate Mike Lloyd

A few weeks before he jolted the city by dropping out of the Senate race and speaking openly and emotionally about his cancer and failing marriage, Rudy Giuliani did something else out of character: He tried to help someone get out of jail. * In a March 27 letter to Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, Giuliani urged him to look favorably on the clemency application of a prisoner named Michael Lloyd, who has served 20 years for a series of mostly small-time crimes, ranging from robbery to counterfeiting and even cattle rustling.

"Mr. Lloyd provided extraordinary cooperation to federal prosecutors while I was United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York," wrote Giuliani. "I urge you to consider [his] cooperation when you decide whether to commute his sentence."

It was a strange communication from one high-profile, tough-on-crime Republican to another.

Colombo crime family boss Carmine Persico rides a mechanical bull at Lompoc prison
Colombo crime family boss Carmine Persico rides a mechanical bull at Lompoc prison

Giuliani has repeatedly called for an end to parole and has issued withering blasts at parole boards and judges who turned convicts loose. Ridge, one of George W. Bush's possible vice-presidential picks, campaigned for governor on a strong keep-'em-locked-up platform and has never let a convict out of prison.

Both men are expected to play prominent roles next week at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, where the theme of get-tough-on-crime will be soundly hammered onto their party's platform.

But for Giuliani and a handful of other current and former federal law enforcement officials familiar with him, Mike Lloyd is a prisoner who has earned whatever leniency the system can grant him.

There's no public campaign for Lloyd's release—no buttons, no angry full-page letters to the editor in his defense from noted intellectuals. Even the Clinton White House, which saw fit to pardon 14 Puerto Rican terrorists last year, ducked a request for support. Lloyd's only advocates are his lawyer, his wife, his brother, and a few former federal officials who have never walked away from him.

They know that the contributions Mike Lloyd made to law enforcement while sitting in a prison cell far exceed anything the most celebrated criminal cooperators ever said on a witness stand.

The problem is convincing a law-and-order governor that Lloyd is worth the political gamble.

Here, based on court documents, Lloyd's own notes, and interviews with his lawyer and family, is the story of how an unknown federal-prison inmate risked his life for his country.

The warning Rudolph Giuliani first heard of inmate Michael H. Lloyd when a handwritten letter from him, written on thin, blue-lined note paper, arrived on his desk at the U.S. attorney's office in lower Manhattan in 1988.

Getting letters from prison isn't unusual for a prosecutor. Most criminal cooperation comes in one of two ways. A jailhouse snitch offers up a conveniently overheard confession by a fellow inmate in exchange for a negotiated deal that lessens his own sentence. Or a wiseguy facing many years behind bars suddenly sees the light and decides to help his government.

Lloyd's letter was different, however. It didn't ask for favors or help. Instead, it relayed an urgent warning that one of Giuliani's top prosecutors had been targeted for death by a gangster with the connections and power to pull it off.

In a series of prosecutions, Giuliani's office had won convictions of several top mob figures. Some, like raspy-voiced, cigar-chewing Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, were Mafia caricatures. Carmine Persico, the balding, dour-faced boss of the Brooklyn-based Colombo mob, was different.

To his face, Persico's gangland pals called him "Junior." Behind his back, he was "the Snake," a name he'd earned from a lifetime of selfish crime and casual viciousness.

While most mobsters killed for business, the FBI considered Persico someone who murdered on a whim. He had committed his first murder at the age of 17 and was deemed responsible for more than a dozen others.

Carrying a 100-year sentence, Persico was sent to the federal penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, one of the harshest facilities in the federal system, where prisoners are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day.

Mike Lloyd was one of the first people Persico met there. An easygoing 38-year-old from Metuchen, New Jersey, Lloyd had been in and out of prison since he was 12, when he stole a Cadillac to break a friend out of reform school.

Since then, he had been caught selling stolen guns, counterfeiting motor-vehicle registrations, robbing a bank, escaping from jail with a toy gun, and, most remarkably, cattle rustling across state lines—a federal offense.

The rustling had taken place while Lloyd was working as a professional rodeo rider, for which he had won championships riding bareback broncos and huge bulls. In one daredevil ride at a rodeo in Mesquite, Texas, in the early 1970s, a bull poked a horn through his lung, nearly killing him.

That talent, along with his broad mustache and lean, rangy looks, earned him the prison nickname of "Cowboy Mike." He was also known as "the Mayor" because he had acquired a savvy knowledge of prison rules and regulations which he often used to win the small perks that make jail life bearable.

When Persico arrived at the prison, Lloyd extended to him some simple prison courtesies. He gave the mobster cigarettes, soap, and a new toothbrush. Persico responded with a flood of tales for his new friend, chief among them about how he had been railroaded by Giuliani and how he was going to get even.

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