Man Accused Of Bilking Immigrants Stays In Jail
By DAVE ALTIMARI
Courant Staff Writer
July 3, 2007
A Superior Court judge kept bail at $3.5 million Monday for the Branford man accused of bilking illegal immigrants out of more than $500,000 under the guise that he worked at the Yale Law School.
Ralph Cucciniello made his first appearance in a Connecticut court. By the time he appears on July 17, Cucciniello may be facing more charges. Investigators say they have identified more than 110 victims.
In seeking to keep the bail at $3.5 million, prosecutor Brian Leslie informed Judge Richard Damiani that the state isn't done investigating Cucciniello.
"These are very serious charges and additional charges are likely to be filed in this case," Leslie said.
Cucciniello was arrested late last week in Warwick, R.I., on an arrest warrant charging him with 59 counts of larceny.
Damiani signed the warrant after investigators from New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington's office got word that Cucciniello was living in a hotel near the airport in Rhode Island. The judge dismissed a recommendation from the bail commissioner and a public defender appointed for Monday's court appearance to lower the bond to $100,000.
Investigators do not know why Cucciniello left his Branford home, where he had lived for more than three years, and moved into a Marriott Residence Inn off I-95 in Warwick. He had been living there for at least a few weeks, giving him ample time to disappear if that's what he intended to do, law enforcement sources said.
Cucciniello was arrested Thursday night by Warwick police. He was wearing a light blue Yale T-shirt when detectives knocked on his hotel door and told him they had a warrant for his arrest.
Cucciniello waived his extradition rights during a brief appearance in a Rhode Island court Friday and was brought back to Connecticut early Monday.
He was wearing a Rhode Island prison-issued blue T-shirt with his hands handcuffed behind his back when he was led into the Elm Street courthouse with the 24 other people from the New Haven area arrested and held over the weekend.
Cucciniello, 55, did not speak during his brief court appearance. He was shuffled back to lockup by a marshal. The case was transferred to the courthouse which handles serious crimes. The arrest warrant in the case remained sealed.
Authorities say it was through his affiliation with the prestigious Yale University Law School that Cucciniello convinced possibly hundreds of illegal aliens, mostly Irish, that he had found a loophole in the immigration laws and could obtain green cards - proof of permanent residency - if they gave him $5,000.
Cucciniello claimed he was a professor working on a program to recruit illegal immigrants that was authorized by the dean of the law school. Many of the illegal immigrants brought the cash into the law school and handed it to Cucciniello as he sat at a desk in what he said was his office, police charge.
The charges include two counts of first-degree larceny, 57 counts of second-degree larceny and one count of violating the state racketeering act. In one of the larceny cases he is accused of bilking more than $100,000 from a Long Island couple.
Cucciniello had a Yale identification card and an e-mail address through the law school. Cucciniello gained access to the school through his affiliation with Prof. Steven B. Duke, who had worked on the case of New Jersey mobster Martin Taccetta, an acquaintance of Cucciniello.
Contact Dave Altimari at email@example.com.
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