BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – Several alleged members of an upstate New York stolen goods ring that’s blamed for the 2010 death of a comic book collector again entered not guilty pleas to federal murder and racketeering charges Tuesday after a grand jury revised its indictment.
Neither alleged ring leader Rico Vendetti nor his six co-defendants spoke during the arraignment on the indictment amended to include the forfeiture of $5 million and five properties if the defendants are convicted and to add conspiracy and racketeering to the charges against co-defendant Terry Stewart.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Bruce said Stewart was more involved in the operation than initially thought.
Vendetti, who owned a tavern and restaurant in Rochester, is accused along with Stewart and Arlene Combs of enlisting thieves to shoplift hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise, ranging from razor blades to power tools, from Sears, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other Rochester-area stores. Prosecutors said Vendetti then sold the goods on eBay or Craigslist.
The alleged operation began in 2004 and came to light after the July 2010 home invasion robbery of 78-year-old Homer Marciniak, a retired janitor who lived alone in rural Medina, between Buffalo and Rochester.
Marciniak died of a heart attack within hours of being tied up, punched in the face and threatened at gunpoint by thugs who made off with more than 400 comic books valued at $40,000 to $100,000. He’d been collecting the comic books since boyhood.
Three comic books showed up for sale on Vendetti’s website, one of them a rare 1948 Marvel Comics edition featuring the Human Torch, prosecutors say. Vendetti, Combs and Stewart arranged the robbery, according to the prosecution.
The revised indictment would require Vendetti, if convicted, to surrender property and money tied to the stolen goods operation, including $5 million in cash, two homes and three commercial properties that housed a restaurant, deli and apartments.
If convicted of federal murder charges, Vendetti, Combs and defendants Albert Parsons and Donald Griffin face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. The other two defendants _ Dayon Shaver and Brandon Meade _ were indicted on counts of conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for May 22.
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