The Con and the Mayor
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.
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 releaseno 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 linesa 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.
Giuliani was too well-protected for Persico's Brooklyn gunmen, the gangster told Lloyd. But the assistant U.S. attorney who had prosecuted Persico, a racketeering chief named Aaron Marcu, was a relatively easy target. Persico was going to have him killed, he told Lloyd. Even now, his men were shadowing the prosecutor, tracking his movements. The hit could come any day.
"The one thing I wish," the mobster said vehemently, according to Lloyd, "is I could be there, see his face when they do it. I'd slap him, let him know what's gonna happen."
Under normal prison protocol, Lloyd was supposed to nod and keep mum about what Persico told him. Having loose lips is a capital crime in prison, where inmates can die for the smallest gain in profit or position. Lloyd had seen it happen, and what's more, he knew other prisoners would be happy to oblige the wealthy Persico.
A few years earlier, Lloyd might well have shrugged and kept Persico's secret. But his encounter with the swaggering gangster came at a time that he had resolved to turn his life around, to heed the straight and narrow after a youth filled with reckless, though nonviolent, crimes. He had already been in prison for eight years. Two years more, with good behavior, and he hoped to be finished with his federal rap. Then he faced an additional 10-to-20-year sentence in a Pennsylvania state prison for bank robbery. A 10th-grade dropout, Lloyd had gotten his high school diploma in prison and had started taking college courses. His hope was to get back to the wife and son awaiting his release.
Locked up in the bleak Marion prison, Lloyd had decided to try to stop thinking like a criminal and to learn the rules of the rest of the world. One of them, he knew, was that he had an obligation to stop a murder if he could help it.
He sat down in his cell and secretly wrote letters to Giuliani and Marcu describing Persico's plan.
The mission When Giuliani received the letter, he went into his now familiar emergency mode. He alerted the FBI, which, using its own underworld informants, quickly confirmed that the murder plot was real. Federal marshals were immediately assigned to protect Marcu and his family. FBI agents were also dispatched to Marion to secretly meet with Lloyd. Wary of the unknown prisoner, they asked him to take a lie-detector test. No problem, Lloyd said. He cleared the test easily.
Giuliani followed up by sending his chief organized-crime prosecutor, Alan Cohen, to meet with Lloyd. Cohen told him that Giuliani was thankful for his help. The powerful U.S. attorney had another favor to ask as well. He wanted Lloyd to pass on anything else the dangerous gangster was threatening to do.
Lloyd said he would.
Initially, the mission was supposed to last no more than a couple of months while they made sure Marcu was out of danger. But Lloyd was so successful at it, and Persico's ongoing schemes so dangerous, agents urged him to continue cooperating. Persico's men had tracked a key witness against him to England, and were planning to kill him: Lloyd alerted the feds. A second prosecutor and a pair of FBI agents were similarly targeted: Lloyd got word out.
The daredevil bull rider even agreed to go along when federal investigators asked him to delay his application for parole from his federal sentence. With a spotless prison record, Lloyd stood an excellent chance of winning parole. But he would only be transferred to a state prison to begin his bank robbery sentence.
The feds told him not to worry, they'd make sure the state gave him credit for the extra time spent in federal custody. Lloyd never doubted them. He was dealing with the FBI, and he had been recruited by none other than Rudy Giuliani.
In 1990, Lloyd and Persico were both transferred to the federal penitentiary at Lompoc in California, where more than a dozen imprisoned gangsters were housed. Among them were a major drug dealer who was closely associated with John Gotti; a top leader of Philadelphia's crime family; the consigliere of Boston's gang; and an assassin for the Luchese crime family convicted of 10 murders and suspected of many more.
With Persico making the introductions, Lloyd was quickly accepted, even admitted as a member of the Lompoc Italian-American Cultural Club. They discussed their ongoing criminal schemes and plans for revenge against rivals and federal agents. Over the course of the next four years, Lloyd alerted authorities to planned hits, narcotics deals, jail breaks, crooked cops and judges, and corrupt prison guards. He gave them the lowdown on mob-controlled businesses and unions and lawyers concocting phony evidence.
He became of even greater value to the FBI when a bloody internecine war broke out among factions of Persico's crime family in New York City. The battle raged from 1991 to 1993 and left 12 dead and dozens injured in the streets of Brooklyn and Queens. From prison, Persico attempted to direct the tactics of the faction loyal to him, but Lloyd made sure the FBI learned all of his plans before they were able to be carried out.
Lloyd was an unusual prisoner in other ways as well. He spent two hours a day as a literacy volunteer with inmates who couldn't read. He became a fundraiser for charities, hitting up the gangsters for donations for victims of Hurricane Andrew and a domestic violence shelter. The local chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which aids terminally ill children, made Lloyd its 1992 Volunteer of the Year.
"I'm pretty good at talking people out of their money," he told a newspaper reporter who wrote up the award.
He even managed to get a mechanical bull brought to the prison, taught inmates the basics of bull riding, and organized the prison's first rodeo.
When the time finally came for Lloyd to be paroled out of federal custody and into the hands of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the inmates of Lompoc fondly inscribed a huge card addressed to "Cowboy Mike" with a picture of a bull drawn on it.
The reward Pennsylvania, however, had far less use for Lloyd than the FBI had. Despite protests by federal prosecutors and agents, state officials said their hands were tied and that there was no way they could credit him with the extra four years spent in federal custody. Lloyd owed them a sentence of 10-to-20 years and he would have to serve it, with his earliest possible release date in 2007.
Things deteriorated further when word of Lloyd's cooperation suddenly leaked out, quickly filtering through the prison grapevine. Over the next few years, Lloyd bounced in and out of witness-protection units and solitary confinement, the only places that prison officials said they could be sure of his safety.
His situation gnawed at him: While cooperating witnesses with lengthy histories of violent crime, such as Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, who acknowledged 19 murders, were rewarded with their freedom, Lloyd, who had never injured anyone in his life, remained locked up.
As a last resort, Lloyd applied for clemency from the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in 1998. Working with his lawyer and his brother Jeff, a New Jersey auto dealer, Lloyd attempted to round up letters of endorsement from the federal authorities he'd aided.
Some readily agreed while others never responded and some declined.
Jeff Lloyd wrote a brief letter to President Clinton, with information attached, asking for his help. Clinton had recently pardoned 14 FALN members in a controversial move widely seen as beneficial to his wife's Senate campaign.
"I just thought that, given that Mike saved the lives of federal lawmen, the president might want to write a letter or pick up the phone on his behalf," said Jeff Lloyd.
Six months later he received a letter from a Justice Department bureaucrat saying it was a state matter and thus out of the department's hands.
Giuliani, after carefully reviewing the case (and after publication of an article in the Daily News detailing Lloyd's plight), wrote a two-page letter to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons on December 7, 1998.
Lloyd had come forward with his information about Persico's murder plan "on his own initiative, without any solicitation or promises by the Government," wrote Giuliani. In doing so, "Lloyd protected the life of an Assistant United States Attorney and provided important information which was beneficial to the U.S. attorney's office in its investigation of major organized-crime figures."
The FBI's senior resident agent in California said that Lloyd had provided "invaluable intelligence" that was "unobtainable from any other source [and had] saved more than one individual" and aided in 70 arrests and 30 convictions.
Cohen explained that it was because the government had asked Lloyd for his help that he had missed his earlier chance at parole.
"The word extraordinary sort of doesn't do it for me," Cohen told the panel. "I wanted him to sit in a jail cell . . . in about the most dangerous prison in America, where a whiff [that] he was cooperating would have been an instant death sentence. . . . What Mike Lloyd was there for was to protect the rest of us, society," said Cohen.
Board members asked Cohen for details about Persico, and the potential danger he posed when Lloyd informed on him. "We would call him a mass murderer if it wasn't in the context of organized crime. He is an absolute stone-cold killer," Cohen said.
A representative of the Manhattan U.S. attorney said that Lloyd faced danger wherever he was housed and was slated to be admitted to the federal witness-protection program if released.
A warden on the five-member panel marveled that Lloyd had made it through 20 years of prison "and never receive[d] one misconduct in the whole 20 years . . . that is just amazing."
After the 45-minute hearing the board went into executive session and then reappeared to unanimously recommend Lloyd's parole.
Nine months later, the board's recommendation still sits on the governor's desk.
A spokesman for Governor Ridge, Tom Charles, would say only that the matter "is still pending. The governor is under no statutory deadline and he approaches all of [the cases] very thoughtfully."
It has become a very long time for Mike Lloyd, who is now 51.
"The bottom line is [he] has done more time for cooperating than he would have done if [he] didn't cooperate," said Lloyd's attorney, William Costopoulos. "That is the absurdity of this whole thing. He is a victim of his own willingness to help others."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
- Feeling the Yern: Why One Millennial Woman Would Rather Go to Hell Than Vote for Hillary
Thu., Feb. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Feb. 12, 7:00pm
Fri., Feb. 12, 7:00pm
Sun., Feb. 14, 12:30pm
- Rightbloggers Pivot to Rubio Before New Hampshire Because...It's His Turn?
- Breaking: Crane Collapses in Lower Manhattan, One Reported Dead