Things got a little cheesy in Brooklyn court on Tuesday.
When a federal judge gave Gregorio Gigliotti an 18-year sentence for his role at a family restaurant that served cocaine along with slices, the pizza pusher tearfully asked the judge to show mercy while sentencing his wife and son, who were also busted in an international drug trafficking operation.
“You truly have my life in your hands and God's hands,” Gigliotti, 61, said as he choked back tears. “I understand I made a mistake in my life.”
Gigliotti asked Brooklyn Federal Judge Raymond Dearie to be lenient sentencing his son, Angelo, 36, and wife, Eleonora, 56.
Jurors convicted Gigliotti and his son for the smuggling operation, which had links to Italy and Costa Rica. Prosecutors said they used their restaurant in Corona, called Cucino a Modo Mio, and a produce import company as a front for the scheme. The counts included plans to distribute some 50 kilos of cocaine discovered in shipments of yucca in 2014.
When authorities searched the restaurant in 2015, they found a cache of firearms, brass knuckles, more than $100,000 in cash and a ledger detailing drug deals.
Eleonora Gigliotti pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Gregorio Gigliotti denied any mob ties on Tuesday, and jurors never heard about any mafia links during the trial.
But prosecutors previously said in a memo that the Gigliotti family had “close business ties” to the infamous Calabria-based crime organization the 'Ndrangheta. The memo cited Italian authorities who learned Gigliotti was negotiating a cocaine sale with members of the clan. Feds also claimed Gigliotti and his son had ties to the New York City-based Genovese crime family.
Gigliotti's attorney Elizabeth Macedonio painted a different picture, saying her client came from Italy to America in 1973 as a young man and worked hard to succeed. Before opening his restaurant, the name of which means “I cook it my way” in Italian, Gigliotti owned and operated several construction businesses.
“Somewhere along the way,” Macedonio said, Gigliotti got mixed up with drugs and alcohol, which caused his decline. She asked for a 15-year sentence, the required minimum for his conviction.
Prosecutors pressed for a 35-year-to-life sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Gandy noted Gigliotti went to trial and "at no point fell on his sword in any public way." Gandy said Gigliotti was the one calling the shots in a large-scale operation that imported at least 120 kilos of cocaine since 2012.
Dearie said he couldn't understand why Gigliotti had done legitimate work so hard for so long only to end up in front of him.
He wasn't "some fat cat sitting in a hotel suite" dealing drugs, the judge said.
"You just decided to add one more business. It's hard to figure out why, other than money, as the expression goes."
Dearie called Gigliotti a family man, but there was an "ironic twist to that."
Gigliotti's sentencing came a day after his birthday.
"Under these circumstances, I can't say happy birthday," Dearie said.