CLEVELAND, Ohio – For years Kevin McTaggart has fought in mob wars in Cleveland, distributing violence amid the pressure to control crime rackets in the city. He was Danny Greene’s close ally, made his money selling cocaine, and attacked rivals with vengeful force.
A federal jury convicted McTaggart in 1983 of racketeering and other charges for his role in a drug ring run by Carmen Zagaria, an associate in the Cleveland Mafia family. Authorities linked the ring to seven murders and a judge sentenced McTaggart to life without parole.
Nearly four decades later, McTaggart seeks a return to northeast Ohio, claiming he is a changed man. His lawyers have petitioned US District Judge John Adams for humanitarian release, citing his extraordinary prison record, failing health and the pandemic.
Even federal prosecutors admit that his time behind bars has been exemplary. McTaggart, 64, helped rescue a psychologist after an attack in a Memphis dungeon, worked to put out a fire in a cafeteria and organized a candy sale to benefit a home for children in need, records show judicial and published reports.
But Adams’ question is hardly a simple one: Should a reformed criminal from Cleveland’s brutal past be allowed to escape a life sentence?
“Oh my God, it’s time to let him go, it’s time to let him out,” said James Willis, a lawyer who has represented several Cleveland gangsters, including James Licavoli, Alex Shondor Birns and Tommy “the Chinese” Sinito.
“It was Danny Greene’s boy. But 38 years is a long time. Most of the people back then either got out of prison or died. “
Rocco Pollutro, a retired police chief from Cleveland, isn’t so sure. He cited the seriousness of McTaggart’s crimes and his ties to Greene, Mafia boss Angelo “Big Angel” Lonardo and Hartmut Graewe, whose friends called him “Doc” because of the way he dismembered the bodies of its victims.
“Is he going to do this again?” No, ”Pollutro said. “But I’m not sure that should be the only standard. You have to look at the totality. It didn’t just happen by chance. He was right in the middle. There are other people in prison who deserve it more.
Authorities said McTaggart sided with Greene’s push to fight the Italian mob over the city’s criminal racketeering. Later, after Greene’s death in a car bomb in October 1977, McTaggart teamed up with Zagaria, according to Rick Porrello, the author of several Cleveland Mafia books, including “To Kill the Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia “about Greene. rise to criminal fame.
The unusual bond between one of Greene’s close allies and the Cleveland Mafia family formed on one common ground: making money.
McTaggart and Graewe were the executors of the Zagaria drug ring, which sold millions of dollars in cocaine, methaqualone, LSD and other drugs in 1979 and 1980, according to Federal Court records.
“It was a brutal organization,” Porrello said. “No doubt about it. This whole drug ring was. The Zagaria group started making money from drugs, then they started killing rivals or associates.
Among those involved in Zagaria’s ring were sub-boss Lonardo, who was sentenced to life in prison. After Lonardo lost his appeal, he entered the federal witness protection program and helped investigators tear down criminal families across the country.
He remained in the program for years before leaving federal protection and returning to northeast Ohio. He died in 2006.
Help for a possible transition
Some of McTaggart’s support for his release came in unexpected places. Former US Representative Edward Feighan has offered to help McTaggart’s transition from prison, while former Browns icon Bernie Kosar has offered his guesthouse at his farm in Mantua.
In a letter filed with Adams earlier this month, Feighan said he met McTaggart in the early 1980s and knew several of his relatives. Kosar did not indicate how he knew McTaggart, but he said he believed “[McTaggart] would find a peaceful way back into society on the farm. Attempts to reach Kosar failed.
Even Donna Congeni Fitzsimmons, a Rocky River Municipal Court judge, wrote a letter supporting McTaggart’s release. In 1982, she sued him and other members of the Zagaria ring.
“While I can never condone or downplay his criminal activity from nearly 40 years in the past, I can firmly say that I perceive his involvement in criminal activity as secondary to the planning and commission by his co-defendants,” the judge said in a letter filed in Federal Court.
She added that she “never – I repeat NEVER – saw an inmate compile such a blank and defiant institutional file.
Tanya Rose, however, was hesitant about a possible release.
Her grandfather was Curtis Conley, who was killed by the drug ring for a pound of cocaine in 1980. Authorities linked McTaggart to the murder, Federal Court records show.
“Never in my life did I imagine that such a thoughtless human being, capable of such evil acts, would be released,” Rose wrote to Adams, the judge who ruled on the case. “[McTaggart] deserved the punishment he received and should continue to receive it until his natural death.
“ Extremely serious crimes ”
In the filed documents, Elliot Morrison, a U.S. assistant lawyer, noted McTaggart’s exemplary prison record. This included the rush to save a psychologist who was bleeding profusely after being attacked by an inmate with a razor blade in 1987 at a federal facility in Memphis.
“More than 40 years in prison, [McTaggart] not only avoided trouble, but he was an asset to the Bureau of Prison’s efforts to rehabilitate all the men with whom [McTaggart] has been imprisoned, ”the prosecutor wrote in his documents.
But he said “McTaggart’s extremely serious crimes – including involvement in murders in the prosecution of a drug trafficking organization – weigh against his release.”
McTaggart has never been convicted of murder, despite allegations raised in the racketeering charge and other court documents.
McTaggart’s attorneys Mark Stanton and Erika Cunliffe have pointed out in court documents that McTaggart’s health is deteriorating. His knees and right shoulder need to be replaced, and he suffers from glaucoma and high blood pressure.
Stanton and Cunliffe said in the documents that Congress has since changed sentencing laws that affected McTaggart, and that he may not receive a life sentence if convicted of the same offenses. today.
Porrello, the author, admitted that this was a difficult case to weigh.
“He deserves serious consideration,” Porrello said. “He does. He’s been in prison for almost 40 years. He has a stellar record. But you can’t minimize what happened.