The Judge and the Wiseguys

Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato made her name as a Mafia fighter. As a former prosecutor and cop, she has both presided over, tried, and investigated high-profile Mob cases.

John "Johnny Meatballs" Piteo is an oft-convicted bookmaker with suspected organized crime ties who has done two stretches in prison. He now works as a chef at Frankie & Johnny's on Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. 

imperatopiteo.jpg
Imperato and Piteo, unlikely friends.
​You might expect Imperato and Piteo to reside at opposite ends of the social spectrum, but what now has tongues wagging at the courthouse is that Imperato is a regular at Frankie & Johnny's who sources say has forged a close relationship with Piteo. 

Several sources have raised the issue with me; none of them had firsthand knowledge. I've learned, however, that more than one local law enforcement agency is aware of an association between the two as well. 

Rumors about the relationship recently surfaced on the courthouse gossip site JAABlog, though the issue was couched in vague terms and no names were used.

With talk of Imperato, 53, and an apparent wiseguy running rampant, I left four detailed messages last week at Imperato's judicial office asking for comment, but the judge has not responded. 

The 51-year-old Piteo, though, answered a call at Frankie & Johnny's and said there's nothing special about his relationship with Imperato at all. 

"Judge Imperato is a customer here, and that's how I know her," said Piteo. "We have other judges come
in here. There's, oh, what's her name? I can't remember right now. Judge [Matt] Destry comes in here. [Judge Imperato] is a nice lady, always has her table."

He said there was nothing improper about their friendship, and vouching for Piteo's side of the story is none other than infamous cat burglar Walter Shaw, who himself has longstanding ties to the Mob. Shaw, who has participated in two film projects about his life, has also become an unlikely friend of the judge, considering that Imperato, while serving as a statewide prosecutor, tried and convicted him on burglary charges. 

shawwalter.jpg
Shaw says he's reformed his criminal ways.
​Shaw, former member of the notorious "Dinnerset Gang" of cat burglars who spent 11 years in the state pen for his crimes, is also a regular at Frankie & Johnny's and says he socializes with Imperato there as well.  

In fact, the judge attended a private screening of Shaw's latest film, Genius on Hold, at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale on January 8 (along with another former Shaw prosecutor, Jim Lewis, the defense attorney who ran last year for Florida attorney general). I asked Shaw about the talk of an improper relationship between Imperato and Piteo. 

"I meet [Judge Imperato] at the restaurant now and then," said Shaw. "And I know Johnny Meatballs very well. It's a smear campaign. There's no truth to it."

It might be as innocent as Imperato enjoying the cuisine and the colorful company at Frankie & Johnny's, where Sinatra sings through the speakers and where, as a local restaurant reviewer put it, "you wouldn't be surprised to walk in and see Tony Soprano eating a bowl of rigatoni."

It's not against the law for a judge to associate with known felons, but judicial canons demand that those on the bench adhere to a "high standard of conduct" and avoid so much as the appearance of impropriety. Hanging out with ex-cons like Piteo and Shaw might tread that line. 

piteojohnnyhostessjohnnycoctails.jpg
Miami.com
Piteo, right, at Johnny Cocktails.
​Piteo wrote on a website last year that he got his nickname for bringing hundreds of meatball sandwiches to the racetrack, which he called his "other passion." Before Frankie & Johnny's opened in 2009, he anchored a Fort Lauderdale restaurant called Johnny Cocktails, where the meatballs were hailed as "delectable" by the Miami Herald. A couple of years ago, the Sun-Sentinel published Piteo's recipe for eggplant and marinara sauce

But even while getting good ink in the papers, Piteo's numerous troubles with the law haunted him. He initially caught law enforcement's eye back in 1997, when he began running an illegal sports gambling operation in his native Springfield, Massachusetts.

District attorneys in Springfield obtained a wiretap order and got Piteo on tape making incriminating statements. While still under investigation, Piteo's bookmaking operation, as one attorney wrote in federal court records, "migrated to Florida" -- Fort Lauderdale, to be specific. That's when Springfield authorities shared their case with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which promptly began wiretapping Piteo's conversations here as well. 

In early 1998, police arrested Piteo on racketeering and bookmaking charges. After the arrest, federal agents paid Piteo a visit, looking for him to become an informant against the Mob.

"During the course of [Piteo's] arrest and prosecution the defendant was approached by Federal Agents from Springfield, Massachusetts seeking his cooperation," wrote Piteo's attorney, Vincent Bongiorni, in a federal motion. "The defendant did not cooperate..." 

Instead, Piteo pleaded guilty to the racketeering charge in 1999 and was sentenced to five years' probation and a $25,000 fine. 

piteojohnmug2.jpg
Piteo, the BSO mug shot.
​While serving probation, the Broward Sheriff's Office nabbed Piteo in an offshore gambling sting during which he placed bets for an undercover officer. Piteo again pleaded guilty to the new gambling charges and this time was sentenced to 14 months in state prison, which he began serving in 2002. 

After serving several months in prison, Piteo was released on community control. That was when the feds pounced again. Aiming to pressure Piteo to inform on his associates, FBI agents made another criminal case against Piteo in December 2002 based on his activity in Springfield and Fort Lauderdale. 

"He was advised by Federal Agents 'this could all go away' should he change his mind about cooperation," Bongiorni wrote. "The defendant requested the presence of his attorney..."

When Piteo remained silent, federal prosecutors hit him with charges of gambling conspiracy and money laundering. Although the indictment makes no explicit mention of the Mafia, prosecutors alleged that Piteo, in February 2001, "requested that Michael Durso collect a debt relating to the gambling conspiracy."

Durso is a former Mafia associate out of New York who was working undercover for the feds at the time. The ex-con turned against his criminal brethren after he was shot in a Mafia dispute and claimed the Mob turned his back on him when he was seeking revenge, according to published reports. 

The New York Daily News reported that Durso played a hand in the arrest of at least 45 wiseguys. 

"Sources familiar with the investigation identify Durso as the informant extraordinaire, a man who recorded 500 tapes of mob talk without catching another bullet," the Daily News reported on May 4, 2001. "In thousands of hours of conversation, Durso captures numerous wiseguys in remarkably candid moments, such as reputed Genovese soldier Paul (Slick) Geraci confiding, 'If you're not the kind of guy who is capable of hurting someone... you might as well stay home.'"

In 2004, Piteo, without saying a word about his associates, pleaded guilty on the federal charges and was sentenced in February 2005 to nine months of house arrest and five years of federal probation. 

Piteo, while running Johnny Cocktails, was arrested again in 2007, this time by federal marshals for violating his probation because he "processed or used" an unspecified controlled substance. He bonded out for $50,000 and later pleaded guilty to the charge. U.S. District Judge James Cohn sentenced him to four months in prison for that one. 

When asked about his troubles with the law, Piteo simply said, "That was a long time ago, all bullshit." 

His former attorney, Bongiorni, happens to have represented several organized crime figures, but he told me there was no indication that Piteo was ever connected to the Mob. When I brought up Durso, Bongiorni said he was familiar with the informant but didn't remember him being mentioned in the indictment. "Johnny didn't plead guilty to anything involving [Durso]," said Bongiorni. "And he never cooperated with anyone about anything as far as I know." 

imperatomortonhancock.JPG
Black Tie South Florida
Imperato with prosecutor Chuck Morton, left, and attorney Kelly Hancock.
​While Piteo was wrangling with federal agents and going in and out of prison, Imperato was prosecuting Mafia cases and being promoted to her judgeship. She began her career as a Tallahassee cop in 1981 and gained her law degree while on the force. She left the department in 1990 and became an assistant statewide prosecutor that same year. 

In 1998, Imperato prosecuted numerous mobsters -- including veterans like Vinnie "The Fish" Romano and Johnny "Sideburns" Cerrella -- on racketeering charges in an investigation led by BSO. 

Former Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Imperato to the bench in 2003. 

"Now 45, Imperato has spent the past 13 years facing down organized criminals in the statewide prosecutor's office," the Miami Herald wrote at the time of her appointment.

Once on the criminal bench, Imperato quickly obtained a reputation as a pro-law enforcement judge. In 2008, she presided over a Mafia case involving numerous defendants, many of them alleged to have been involved in bookmaking. 

It's the stark difference in their paths on paper that makes her mere association with Piteo somewhat jaw-dropping. But his former attorney he says it's all about the meatballs.

"I do know Johnny makes a delicious meatball," said attorney Bongiorni. "And that's probably why the judge comes to his restaurant."

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141 comments
Mike Dukes
Mike Dukes

I really, REALLY, don't get what the issue is guys!!

Sooo... you're SHOCKED that the judge likes to go to Frankie&Johnny's, a place that NEW TIMES has given numerous BEST OF.. Awards to??!!

She likes the meatballs, knows the owners, and meets the chef .. holy crap thats INSANE and nobody does stuff like this!! EVER! Especially NOT judges and politicians.

Johnny Meatballs is low-level bookie that the mob takes care of when he gets into stupid shit problems bc it makes more sense than to let him roll over on them, does that make sense?

So she found this guy guilty, big shit, I guess she better never frequent the establishment or support the local business again!

When you were at the point where you had to bring up Walter Shaw's name was about fifteen minutes PASSED the point where you should have realized you got stuck with a bullshit article and should have just aborted it all together.

Dbag write up about Dbag people and throwing a judges name in the mix.. so below New Times. Not even close to newsworthy.

anonymous
anonymous

Sorry, that's not how some of us see it.

GayRothstein
GayRothstein

BREAKING NEWS;

Scott Rothstein was visited this weekend by his Mother. Mrs. Rothstein advised that Scott never missed a Mothers' Day and since he couldn't come to her she went to visit him. Mrs. Rothstein advised that Scott looked healthy and very muscular. He takes care of himself in prison. He occupies his time studying the law and writing his memoirs. He looks forward to the conjugal visits with Kim.

parkland man
parkland man

why is his mother there, isnt she still sueing for overtime pay that fn lowlife, fuck all rothstiens,kimmies and meatballs,

Wow
Wow

another norman smear campaign. no substance. no sources. how does the editor of this rag let this kind of slash and burn journalism exist. oh, right this isnt a paper, they just think it is. it is a rumor column. not one single iota of source to support any wrongdoing whatever. get ready for the lawsuit norman. that is the only thing that keeps rags like this honest.

anonymous
anonymous

Look, WOW, diminish yourself while you're representing the people, and you''re going to get smeared. Go back to a private life, or if you want to be in the public eye, conduct yourself in manner fit to the role. And stop threatening lawsuit, there's a thing called first amendment rights. Are you a lawyer who doesn't know shit, as usual?

parkland man
parkland man

Hey wow you like lawsuites why dont you try sucking cock,you asshole take your lawsuite home to your mother,and go fuck her to.maybe you can help rothstein and go bang his mother and help him out,he likes lawsuites and cock now also,

Christy
Christy

You sound like Scott Rothstein. Will you own Pulp's house too?

Parkland man
Parkland man

Hey broward has been closing pill mills,whore mills,foreclose mills,keep the meatball mills coming it's a good place for lawyers wives to get banged at,they can't get it at home.Be careful frank and Johnny's you might get sued.lol

Parkland man
Parkland man

Hey we been talking a out meatballs for 3 days,speaking about meatballs what ever happened to Scott rothstiens meatballs,ever since that little reporter put him on his ass he's been gone,kimmie got rid of him,lol what a ending to a pice of shit lawyer he was,and what a pussy bodyguard meatballs was, put down by a 150 lb guy,they didn't drive off in that pice of shit suv and live happily ever after.that's for sure.

Parkland man
Parkland man

Look the bottom line is lawyers are a fn pac of scum and the parkland man is going to be mother fuck them forever,and some how I'm goIng to change the way they do things,I been hoping some lawyer from this blog would come to where I hang out and said it a hundred times,cafe Bellasara in parkland and take a swing,I always give the first punch away for free,especially to lawyers they like getting things for free.here lawyer lawyer lawyer.

anonymous
anonymous

I would assume if your picture is front and center on the blog, you'd be praying for someone else to take the spotlight. Three days of hell for Judge Imperato, but tomorrow's another day...

Bob, I heard if Imperato catches you jaywalking you'll be staring down 10-20 without parole.

twas
twas

How about the new "Capones" across from the Hollywood city hall.......great spot!

Christy
Christy

Here is a link to Pulps New Gig. You can leave a comment after the story from Channel 10 announcing:

Award-Winning Journalist Bob Norman Joins Local 10 News http://www.local10.com/news/27...

Guest
Guest

Think about it. We're down to the final leg of Bob Norman's Daily Pulp.It was a Great Run!

anonymous
anonymous

The Rothstein Story will always be Bob's. Damn! Remember the feud, with Rothstein threatening the hell out of Pulp, saying he's gonna live in his house, avenge his Jewish friends! That's when no work got done in this town for logging on to the Blog a hundred times an hour. What explosive stuff that was.

Guest
Guest

Obama is on 60 Minutes now.

Parkland man
Parkland man

Hey if you ever go to frank and johnny's try the joe d special it's really good,I had it many times there and I have never seen the judge or I would have told her lawyers suck.

anonymous
anonymous

Parkland Man, you're right about lawyers and how they're dirtbags. You just to find a more civilized way to get your story across.

Parkland man
Parkland man

Hey the same post all weekend,let's see what happens with steve gonot next week,and maybe some other lawyers will go down also

anonymous
anonymous

Mom's Day weekend and I'll bet mom Imperator isn't having such a wonderful time. Hope hubby wasn't surprising her with brunch at F&J's. That could be awkward.

Nucky Thompson
Nucky Thompson

This current blog is beginning to remind me of Rowen and Martin's Laugh In but instead of "sock it to me" it's "meatballs" that is used as a last resort to get a laugh. Hope we get pasta this fad soon and move onto more interesting fare on the menu.

Christy
Christy

100th. Happy Mother's Day!

Christy
Christy

Maybe The Judge is playing up to Pieto in hope that she can get his cooperation and she can turn more High profile Mob Cases. Bees like honey but you can catch more mafia mob cases with italian meatballs .....

Parkland man
Parkland man

Never judges don't do that its the Feds never judges it's not there job ever.

Christy
Christy

She could be working under cover(s)!

Guest
Guest

There's something else I was thinking about. If the Judge were having an affair with Pieto, would they not be more secretive? They're supposedly meeting out in the open at his restaurant. Unless there's solid proof for me to think otherwise, I still think it's "All about the meatballs".

anonymous
anonymous

A smart judge would be secretive, but she is blonde and drinking impairs your practical senses. Not that all blondes are dumb, not to say that, but when someone does something really stupid AND they're blonde, you gotta wonder. Even if she isn't having an affair with him, she certainly is hanging out with these wiseguys. Not displaying very good judgment for a "judge".

Guest
Guest

What gives you the right to condemn this Judge without actually knowing the facts. of their relationship. You are the Dumb one Anonymous with a dangerous evil mind.

Deadnormabromowitz
Deadnormabromowitz

ok, I gotta respond again, anonymous, you spouted off to me and in many other post the embarrassment and disgrace she brought her husband and family, because, how'd you put it, likes"hot Italian gigolo with a big schwantz" ( you have no idea how you freaked me out wiid dat line, not thatthere's anything wrong with it)But like my mom youse to tell me, Norm, shut da fuck up you ignorant lil'bastard....ahhhhh mudders d, so if you post something you think is the fuckin truth and with so much disdain for me and others that disagreed with you, then stick to your fuckin guns, don't back-track, makes you seem.....errrrr, impotent,makes me miss me mom!!!!

anonymous
anonymous

That is so weird, my mom yoused to tell me, Norm, if you ever me a nother fuckin norm, kick 'em in the nut sack,now go get a fuckin job you lowlife bastard! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is what I mean, Dead Norm. You're quite crass and often sound stupid trying to go for the joke. In your next life, why don't you go for some training in comedy, language and class. Dale Carnegie had a great book called How To Win Friends and Influence People. See if you can find it down there in hell, or Pompano, wherever it is your livin'.

I'm still going to pray for DeadNorm, but clean up your act a little. Okay?

Deadnormabromowitz
Deadnormabromowitz

ahhhhhhhhh, my 'lil' facial mole..... STFU?????? Stop it,Windbag, maybe but I post to entertain myself, not someone with a fuckin pocket protector, Peace be with you" is that code for I'll meet you in the rectum?or rectory? either one you know where 'm going wiid dat, no, I am a lil perplexed by your infatuation with man genitalia, you know, guys junk, not that there is anything wrong wid dat, Hey, your mom called you norm too???? That is so weird, my mom yoused to tell me, Norm, if you ever me a nother fuckin norm, kick 'em in the nut sack,now go get a fuckin job you lowlife bastard! And don't call me Frankly! Now, I will insit on a truce, I want you to sit back in the duct taped repaired, cloth La-z-boy, propped up those size lady -nine feet, wrap dem sausage like digits around a Virginia Slim and pop a cold PBR, turn on the GSN, I think "CARD SHARKS" maybe on a chill my lil "big word user", and yes, DeadNorm will concede, your were spot on about this story,and I was talkin thru my ass, I mean fuck, what was I thinking, trying to match wits with a dude like you, silly fuckin me! Oh, by the way, I am flattered that you read my posts, I never try to be funny, I just tell a story in a different way, I will actually start reading what you post from now on, I never realized how insightful,intelligent and and you use of abstract thought to push home your point, brilliant! Ok, gotta go, chest pains....DNAxxxoooo

anonymous
anonymous

Frankly DeadNorm, you're a bit of a windbag. Also, you aren't always that funny. Peace be with you, and STFU (acronym for enough already).

anonymous
anonymous

like my mom youse to tell me, Norm, shut da fuck up you ignorant lil'bastard....

DITTO!

Parkland man
Parkland man

Speaking about lawyers when is them sb rothstiens partners going to jail,I know there getting sued to death and hopefully they will die, but I would like to see them fn thieves do some time.

Parkland man
Parkland man

What makes you think he even wants to bang that pig,just because she's eating his meatballs doesn't mean she's sucking his sausage,maybe she's banging the black dishwasher,she's a lawyer don't put anything past them fn lowlifes.

Guest
Guest

“Truth goes out the door when rumor comes innuendo.”-Groucho Marx

Parkland man
Parkland man

Hey you guys should read all the comments in the sun sentinel about the lawsuit against yamaha,with the 2 kids that had an accident on the water,you would think it's parkland mf the lawyers,it's true everybody hates lawyers and it's only money they look to steal,it's always about lawyers suing and stealing from companies,you get sued then you have to go to court and face some fn lawyer judge like this whore judge eating meatballs and sucking sausage like the pig she is,and listen to all there bs,and how nasty they are and most times the companies and the people getting sued have done nothing wrong,what a fucking shame it is that people have to be any part of this fn sham.let's hope people get smarter and if you get on a jury give the lawyer nothing fn zero money,and them broke fn scumbags will stop,and if you want to give them money you will be next someday,you will be sued someday for sure.there are 3 things you can not avoid,taxes death and getting sued.fuck lawyers.

Guest
Guest

I wrote something similar this morning....I Trust Bob Norman and if he's writing about this, there must be more to the story, pehaps he can't tell all at this time or doesn't have 100% prove right now. To me I still think it's "all about the meatballs"

Dr_augusta
Dr_augusta

Glitters- if he can' t tell "all " now, or doesn't have "100%" proof now, then he should hold off writing until he does....

anonymous
anonymous

Why? A journalist shouldn't observe and point out how inappropriate the "behavior that's known" is? This isn't "new" news. This is old news that has to be told because these people just don't know when to quit, they rachet their behavior up until someone says, STOP! You're out of line. As a judge you need to present yourself in a moral way because you represent and serve the people. And some of us are offended by this kind of public behavior.

Guest
Guest

I am torn...I don't entirely disagree with you.

Dr_augusta
Dr_augusta

I am recording this down Glitters.... THIS is a miracle! LOL

Guest
Guest

I feel that someone's reputation should not be smeared by rumor or innuendo, Judge or anyone. But I do trust in The Pulp. He wrote this article, perhaps in a prelude of a bigger revelation to come.

Plato
Plato

Suspend your logic until there is evidence. Good philosophy!

Christy
Christy

Pulp doesn't Keechl someone unless there is good cause. Judges make important decisions and calls and must have good ethical and moral conduct. Otherwise they do not belong on the bench.

Dr_augusta
Dr_augusta

Why is good moral conduct always defined by whom one is having sex with?

Dr_augusta
Dr_augusta

I like Bob. I think he's smart, gutsy, is incredibly HOT, and a damn good investigative reporter. However, I have to agree with Glitter Girl, and say this post is all inuendo. Sometimes the blog is the NY TImes, sometimes it's The National Enquirer. Until it has been factually proven that Judge Imperato has compromised on decisions made on the bench that have been a result of her "dynamic: with Piteo, then I say let's keep holding on to our "stones". All of us have, at one time in our life, become intimate with someone we really shouldn't have, been betrayed by someone we thought was a friend, or have just done stupid, stupid things. Let's not play Morality police until we know all the facts.

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