N.J. Prosecutors Sought Mob Help in Dorm Fire Case

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Prosecutors investigating a deadly dorm fire offered to pay $60,000 each to two mobsters for their help in building a case against the chief suspects, two students who were later charged with murder.

The Essex County Prosecutor's Office has admitted extending the offer to Daniel ``Bobo'' Ricciardi and William Corea in the investigation into the pre-dawn fire at Seton Hall University on Jan. 19, 2000, which killed three students and injured 58 others.

The proposal called for the pair to secretly record one of the suspects and his family, but the money was never paid and authorities say they no longer have detailed records of negotiations regarding the offer. Prosecutors also say that one of the written agreements reached with the men was ``discarded.''

Paula Dow, acting county prosecutor since last September, said the proposal was made several months after the investigation began.

``These offers were made in response to investigative leads that were presented by the circumstances of the investigation,'' she said in a written statement.

Joseph T. LePore and another Seton Hall student, Sean Ryan, were charged last June with murder, arson and aggravated assault. Prosecutors claim the two students ignited a poster that had been torn down and placed on a couch in a dorm lounge.

Separate obstruction of justice indictments were handed up against LePore, his parents, his 24-year-old sister and Ryan. No trial date has been scheduled, and all the defendants maintain their innocence.

Defense lawyers -- who hope to cast doubt on the prosecution's handling of the case and on Ricciardi in particular -- claim the absence of records deprives them of the chance to examine how the investigation unfolded and determine whether any improprieties occurred.

``To me, it's remarkable,'' Salvatore Alfano, who represents LePore's father, Joseph E. LePore, said Friday. ``We're entitled to know the details of each and every meeting the prosecutor's office had with these mobsters.''

Alfano filed a motion Thursday seeking a judge to compel the prosecutor's office to either give depositions detailing the contacts or to testify about them in a court hearing.

Ricciardi, a former associate of the Lucchese crime family who has been an informant for the federal government, was instrumental in helping authorities obtain a warrant to plant listening devices at LePore's home.

Ricciardi no longer lives in New Jersey, and Corea -- also a Lucchese associate -- died in July 2001.