Enrico Ponzo, who spent more than a decade on the lam posing as a Marsing rancher, plans to argue he suffers from a mental defect when he goes on trial next month in U.S. District Court in Boise.
In the filing, Ponzo, 47, did not elaborate on his mental condition but noted that U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton, who presided over his 2013 trial in Boston, ordered the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to treat him for a “mental defect.”
Ponzo, who went by the name Jeffrey John “Jay” Shaw during his years in Idaho, is charged with four counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, nine counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of identity theft and one count of possession with fraudulent intent to use five or more documents, all felonies. Trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 2.
After authorities learned Ponzo’s real identity and took him into custody on Feb. 11, 2011, police seized 22 rifles, eight handguns and 34,000 rounds of ammunition from his home in the 6100 block of Hogg Road, located south of the Snake River between Homedale and Marsing.
They also found forged driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards with the names of at least 10 people whom Ponzo had impersonated during his 16 years on the run. He hid out in Arizona, Florida, West Valley City, Utah, Sedro-Woolley, Wash., and Springfield, Ore., before moving to Idaho.
The driver’s license he used as Shaw came from Bullhead City, Ariz. The photo matched a picture of Ponzo on an FBI wanted poster.
Police also seized $100,000 in cash and $65,000 worth of gold coins from Ponzo’s Hogg Road home. Most of those items were recovered after officers served a second search warrant on the home in March 2011 to seize Ponzo’s computers. They found evidence that a floor safe in a walk-in closet in the master bedroom had been looted.
Ponzo went after Boston mob chief
Ponzo was an associate of a faction of the New England Mafia that was involved in a bloody power struggle in the late 1980s, the Boston Globe reported. The Boston jury found Ponzo responsible for the attempted killings of two rivals, including Mafia leader Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, who was shot outside a restaurant by masked men. Ponzo was sentenced to 28 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $2.3 million in drug profits.
Initially, federal prosecutors planned to seize the 12-acre Marsing ranch where Ponzo raised Black Angus cattle and grew vegetables for his common law wife, Cara Pace, and their two children. However, in an agreement reached earlier this year, prosecutors in Boise and Boston agreed to turn over ownership of the ranch to Pace and a trust fund established for their minor son and daughter.
As part of the agreement, Pace, who now lives in South Jordan, Utah, was given eight months to sell the property, with the money divided evenly between her and the children’s trust. A new owner for the ranch is now listed, according to the Owyhee County Assessor’s Office.
Girlfriend provided tip that led to Ponzo’s capture
Authorities learned Shaw’s identity after receiving a tip in January 2011, a month after Pace left and moved to Utah with the two children. Ponzo had filed a domestic relations case against Pace in a Homedale court in December 2010, and it was still pending when Pace moved.
Authorities never publicly identified the person who provided the tip, but a one-page FBI report included in a court filing by Ponzo leaves little doubt that Pace was the tipster. While her name is blacked out in the report, it says the tipster and “Ponzo have two children together.” The report said the witness was “very concerned” due to threats Ponzo had made to have her “family killed if he was ever arrested on his (Boston) criminal arrest warrant.”
Pace has been subpoenaed to appear as a witness at Ponzo’s trial.
Ponzo to defend himself in court
Ponzo is representing himself in the Idaho trial. He was defended by attorneys in the Massachusetts case but took on his own defense during the sentencing hearing.
Senior U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge said he warned Ponzo of the “dangers and disadvantages of self-representation” and advised him against it during a hearing. However, Ponzo “insisted that he be allowed to represent himself,” Lodge wrote in a court document.
Boise attorney Jeffrey Brownson, who was originally appointed to represent Ponzo in the Idaho case, will attend the trial and serve as “standby counsel,” in case questions of procedure arise. However, he will not be allowed to question witnesses or advance the defense case. On Wednesday, Lodge denied a motion from Ponzo’s Massachusetts appeals attorney, Allison Koury, to be appointed as a second standby attorney.
If convicted, Ponzo faces up to 10 years in prison on each of the weapons charges and up to five years for possession of documents with fraudulent intent to use. Each count of aggravated identify theft carries a mandatory two-year sentence that must be served separately from any other sentence.
At sentencing in Boston, Ponzo said he was a changed man and had lived a crime-free life for 18 years.
Gorton had little sympathy.
“After all the posturing, rhetoric, excuses, blaming others, the time has come for you to pay for your crimes,” the judge told him, according to the Boston Globe. “You can run, but ultimately you cannot hide from your sordid past in organized crime.”
‘Friends’ broke open Ponzo’s safe
Kelly Verceles — who rented Ponzo’s home after his arrest — along with Robert Corson and Corson’s son, Nicholas, used a blowtorch and jackhammer to open the safe. Police later recovered cash and a 2002 Harley Davidson motorcycle from Robert Corson’s home. They took a 1952 Willys Jeep, cash and coins from Nicholas Corson’s home, while Verceles gave back a 2002 Subaru Outback.
Verceles, from Marsing, was initially charged with criminal conspiracy, burglary and grand theft in Owyhee County Court. Those charges were later dropped on a motion by prosecutors. In February 2012, Verceles died at Ponzo’s home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head.
Robert and Nicholas Corson, both of Nampa, each pleaded guilty to petit theft after originally being charged with conspiracy, burglary and grand theft. They each spent 10 days in jail and served two years of probation. In small claims court lawsuits decided last summer in Owyhee County Court, Ponzo obtained a $5,000 judgment against Nicholas Corson and a $1,500 judgment against Robert Corson.