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7 businessmen spared from trial

Unlike the ill-fated Key Bank investigation, which died lingeringly over months, a Hillsborough judge Thursday put a quick end to a similar organized fraud case, saying the charges were vague and there was not enough evidence that a crime had been committed.

But as in the Key Bank case that targeted well-known West Tampa community members, defense attorneys exulted in their ability to defeat a well-funded investigation by state authorities before it ever came to trial.

"This is what happens when law enforcement has too much money and time on its hands," said Rochelle Reback, an attorney for one of the seven co-defendants. "The incredible amount of resources dedicated to watching and listening to men in a bar talk about their business dreams should frighten every honest citizen in the state."

Prosecutors had alleged in June that Vincent S. LoScalzo, the reputed head of the local Mafia, and six other local businessmen had bilked investors out of more than $300,000 over 3{ years.

Saying they represented two companies, Transtar Marketing and Lubrication Technologies, the men were accused of duping investors into believing they owned the technology to a filter that would make oil changes obsolete on heavy machinery.

In addition to LoScalzo, those cleared by the ruling were:

Salvatore "Sam" Carollo, a prominent if controversial Pasco developer.

His 31-year-old son, Santo John Carollo, who owns Embers restaurant in Clearwater with his father.

Michael Emil Bazsuly, a West Pasco developer who has beaten drug and bank fraud charges.

Rickey O. Dawes, the former Hillsborough sheriff's deputy accused of leaking a confidential list of suspects in the Key Bank case.

Edward Koh, 58, the owner of a Wesley Chapel golf club.

Max Margulis, 69, an employee of the company that owns the food concession at the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway ruled that the 55 charges, including racketeering, securities fraud and grand theft, were too vague for attorneys to prepare a defense.

Chief Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Joseph L. Larrinaga sounded far from defeated late Thursday.

"I disagree emphatically with her ruling, and we will appeal," he said. "I'm confident this case will be back in court."

He said that if the charges are vague, that is only because of what he described as the defendants' exceedingly unbusiness-like practices.

"These guys were not out to make money; they were out to take money," Larrinaga said. "They operated out of a back room, not a board room. They didn't have a prospectus. They didn't say what percentage of the company your investment would get you.

The judge's decision, he said, "only rewards them for doing business that way."

If the state's appeal is successful, said Joseph Ficarrotta, who represents LoScalzo, he is prepared to argue that information gathered from seven wiretaps, two bugs and two body wires should be thrown out because it came from a tainted source.

Information used in applying for the wiretaps in the Transtar investigation came from the Key Bank wiretaps. Those wiretaps were suppressed because defense attorneys argued successfully that they were granted based on stale and faulty information.

Larrinaga said there was no significant overlap with the Key Bank case.

"It's coincidental that it was happening at the same time and some of the targets were the same," Larrinaga said. LoScalzo was named but never charged in Key Bank. Larrinaga said, however, that some intelligence used to gain wiretap approval was the same in both cases.

Defense attorneys ridiculed what they called the "waste and misappropriation" in the wiretaps. More than 20,800 hours of conversations were intercepted by wiretaps at Brothers Lounge, owned by LoScalzo, and other businesses and homes, defense attorneys said.

"That figure is a complete fabrication," Larrinaga replied.

For that number to be true, investigators would have had to tape conversations 24 hours a day every day. Also, law prohibits taping conversations that are not relevant to an investigation.

In Land O'Lakes, however, all that's relevant to Mike DiGioia is that he gave $20,000 to Sam Carollo, a friend since 1952, and he never saw the money again.

He was not pleased to hear that the charges had been dismissed.

"Now I'm screwed," said DiGioia, the godfather of one of Carollo's sons. "I know I screwed up, but somebody ought to make it right. I should have been notified there was a court date."

DiGioia said he ran into Carollo at a restaurant about three weeks ago and Carollo turned his face away.

"I didn't want to talk to him," DiGioia, 64, said. "I want to bust his face. It's not funny when they go and have a good time on my money."