When Savino Recine, owner of a popular Washington restaurant, was arrested in April on charges of selling cocaine, he said he was questioned by the FBI "about big names in town, names of people that belong to the restaurant business, which I happen to know because I am in the restaurant business myself."
"And they want to get to them, you know, through me," Recine, the owner of Galileo Restaurant at 2014 P St. NW, testified during a hearing last month in federal court in Alexandria. "And I was totally astonished; I just couldn't figure it out."
Recine's conviction this week of conspiring to distribute cocaine is part of a larger ongoing FBI investigation in Washington and in Florida into racketeering, drug dealing and money laundering, according to testimony at his trial, court papers and individuals familiar with the investigation.
Recine, 35, testified this week that one of the people the agents asked about was Giulio Santillo, an owner of Tiberio restaurants at 1915 K St. NW in Washington and Bal Harbour, Fla., and the Terrazza restaurant in Alexandria.
Santillo declined comment yesterday, saying that "I will soon make a press release."
On Monday, when he was ordered out of the courtroom where Recine was being tried, Santillo said he knew nothing about any investigation of himself and was upset because "they did everything in my restaurant."
U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams ordered Santillo removed from the courtroom, saying he was making facial gestures at the government's key witness during the trial, Angelo Puccinelli, a former waiter at Terrazza.
Puccinelli, 48, who lives in Tampa, last week pleaded guilty in Alexandria to distributing cocaine and agreed to cooperate with the government in its investigations into drug dealing and "racketeering offenses and other related offenses," according to his plea arrangement filed by the government.
Recine's lawyer, Gilbert K. Davis, asked FBI agent M. Glenn Tuttle during the trial whether Recine's alleged drug deal back in October 1983 resulted from an FBI investigation of personnel at Terrazza, including Santillo.
"Partially," the FBI agent responded. He did not elaborate and other officials declined to discuss the question.
The investigation, which began in 1983, involved the use of undercover FBI agents and a colorful informant named William Breen, according to the testimony.
Breen, a man of ample build and Irish extraction, met Puccinelli when he was waiting tables at Terrazza that year.
"Billy," as Breen was known, bragged about having "tons of money," left $100 tips, bought champagne for the waiters and was often accompanied by a tall dark-haired woman he called "my girl," according to transcripts of conversations recorded by the FBI that are part the court file on Recine.
Breen befriended Puccinelli and told him he could help finance the Italian immigrant's dream of purchasing a restaurant of his own.
Breen also told Puccinelli he wanted to buy cocaine -- lots of it -- and that he could move "the snow" to other cities.
"But we gotta wash the money. It's no good if we can't wash the money," Breen said, according to the transcripts.
The waiter, who preferred to call the cocaine "broccoli," told Breen he could help launder illegal money through connections in the Bahamas, where he had once worked at a casino, and through his own restaurant once he got one, the transcripts say.
After several requests for cocaine, Puccinelli agreed to help Breen get some "as a favor." On the night of Oct. 26, 1983, the waiter called Recine and met him outside Terrazza, Puccinelli testified this week. He gave Recine $1,800 from Breen and passed Breen's "girl" an envelope with 27 grams of 98 percent pure cocaine.
Breen's "girl" was FBI agent Gerry R. Smith.
Puccinelli and Recine were not arrested after the 1983 buy in order not to jeopardize the larger investigation by blowing the covers of Breen and Smith, FBI agent Tuttle testified last month at a hearing.
"The operation was taking place in areas of the country other than the Washington metropolitan area," Tuttle said.
The agent said he had to wait until the undercover aspect of the operation ended, in November of 1984, before "I could proceed with my small facet."
A jury convicted Recine Tuesday of conspiring with Puccinelli to sell cocaine, but it failed to reach a verdict on a charge of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The second charge was dismissed the next day at the request of prosecutors.
Puccinelli will be sentenced on July 12 and Recine's sentencing is set for July 16. Both face maximum penalties of 15 years in prison and up to $125,000 in fines.