Accidental Justice: Despite Foe’s Best Efforts, a Controversial Real-Estate Investor Gets Light Treatment in Drunk-Driving Case

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 7, 2004

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Nicholas Piscatelli has made a few enemies, judging by his long history of Baltimore court battles. One of those enemies, Wayne Gioioso, recently went the extra mile to try to make Piscatelli feel a little pain.

The two are embroiled in a dispute over property in Hampden, but Piscatelli—who also owns the Redwood Trust building, the former downtown bank-cum-nightclub that has been at the center of a variety of controversies (Mobtown Beat, April 28, 2004; Mobtown Beat, June 11, 2003)—has a weak spot. He’s had a drunk-driving case—his second after a 1996 conviction—hanging over his head since his arrest in February 2003. So in the weeks leading up to his June 30 Baltimore City Circuit Court trial, Gioioso says he worked behind the scenes to make sure prosecutors were informed of what he believes are pertinent facts about Piscatelli’s driving record.

“I’m doing a background on him because he sued me,” Gioioso explained in an interview. “And I found out about numerous things Piscatelli’s involved in, and also this drunk-driving case. And I found out that he has another driver’s license in Virginia, even though his Maryland license has been restricted. The judge should know this, because if the judge restricts his Maryland license, it’s not going to affect his driving. If he gets pulled over, he’ll just produce his Virginia license, get his ticket, and go on his merry way.”

Which is exactly what Piscatelli did on Dec. 8, 2003, according to the state Motor Vehicle Administration records. That’s when he was pulled over in downtown Baltimore for not wearing a seat belt and gave the officer a Virginia license with a Springfield address. He subsequently failed to appear for a hearing on the seat-belt violation and failed to pay the $25 fine; his Virginia license is now suspended.

If Piscatelli had handed the officer his Maryland license, the officer might have noticed that it bore a 24-year alcohol restriction, banning him from having any amount of alcohol in his system while behind the wheel, and perhaps performed a field sobriety test.

In May 2003, Piscatelli had been found guilty in District Court of a drunk-driving charge arising from a Feb. 2, 2003, incident, in which, according to the state’s Criminal Justice Information System, Piscatelli’s 2001 BMW was involved in an accident at 2:16 a.m. and whoever was behind the wheel fled the scene. Fifteen hours later, after Baltimore police had caught up with Piscatelli, they administered a breathalyzer test showing he had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.07, just above the legal limit. Piscatelli faced three charges: leaving the scene of an accident, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and driving while impaired. The first two charges were dropped, and Piscatelli was convicted on the third, leading to the alcohol restriction on his license. In July 2003, the Circuit Court dismissed his subsequent appeal of that conviction.

The recent case was his second involving allegations of intoxicated driving. On Dec. 1, 1995, Howard County court records show, Piscatelli was pulled over on Interstate 70 at Route 32 after a police officer saw his car “swerving in its lane, crossing over the lines, and cutting off other vehicles.” He failed three field sobriety tests, and a search of his car turned up three vials, two of them containing cocaine. Piscatelli pleaded guilty to drug possession and driving under the influence and was granted probation before judgment. He has since tried twice unsuccessfully to have the convictions expunged.

Having previously informed the prosecutors about Piscatelli’s Virginia license—both over the phone, and with documents handed over to them just prior to trial—Gioioso says he attended a June 30 hearing on the charge stemming from the February 2003 arrest to see what would happen. But first off, he explains, he was confused as to why Piscatelli was getting another crack at the case after the conviction and dismissed appeal from last year. In February of this year—six months after the dismissal of his appeal—Piscatelli filed a motion to reinstate his appeal, which was granted in April by Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart. The argument for reopening the case was that the state has not properly notified Piscatelli of the hearing date last July. (Neither Piscatelli, his attorney Peter Prevas, nor the three prosecutors who handled the case would discuss the matter for this article.)

Gioioso, a longtime member of Baltimore County’s Judicial Nominating Commission who recently was made chairman by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, also said he spoke with Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy about the case. Her spokesman, Joe Sviatko, told City Paper that “she’s not going to comment on this. But it all has been brought to the attention of the appropriate supervisors” in the State’s Attorneys Office.

“I even called MADD about this guy,” Gioioso fumed, referring to the anti-drunk-driving group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “But they didn’t make it to the hearing.”

All Gioioso’s efforts came to naught, as he witnessed the state’s case against Piscatelli collapse into a plea deal.

“I am more than reluctant to even consider probation before judgment for this case,” declared Circuit Court Judge Martha Rasin as she dished out precisely that light punishment for Piscatelli’s crime. The reason: Prosecutors could not produce a record of the breathalyzer results. “Mainly because of the state of the evidence,” Rasin continued, “if it went to trial, it is likely that the state would not prevail. But this probation is just as real as if the evidence were overwhelming.” Piscatelli walked out of Rasin’s courtroom with his previous sentence overturned and replaced with a $200 fine, 18 months of supervised probation, an alcohol restriction on his Maryland driver’s license (of a length to be determined by the MVA, the judge specified), and orders to complete an alcohol counseling program.

When it all was said and done, Gioioso asked for an opportunity to address the judge in the courtroom, to which she responded shortly, “No, this is not an open forum.”

“I don’t think she would’ve ruled the way she did if she’d known” about Piscatelli’s Virginia license, Gioioso asserted after the proceedings were over. “And I think it was totally improper for the prosecutors not to advise the judge, since they had that information.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Roya Hanna, who handled the case before Rasin, had only this to say of Piscatelli’s Virginia license, as she stood in the courthouse hallway after the hearing was over: “But that has nothing to do with my case.”

Gioioso, though, is not done with it; he’s already contacted Virginia authorities. “I think they’ll find it interesting that Piscatelli, who already has a Maryland license, also has a Virginia license,” he says, adding that the commonwealth became famous for fake driver’s licenses after some of the Sept. 11 hijackers were found to have obtained Virginia licenses. “They apparently have a problem with that down there.”

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