By Sarina Trangle
After a bullet claimed the life of an Ozone Park pizzeria owner’s son during a botched home invasion 4 1/2 years ago, one of the two men accused of committing the murder entered a not guilty plea Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.
Leon Whitfield, 23, was detained but remains eligible to make a bail application at a later date, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office said.
A grand jury handed up an indictment earlier this month charging Whitfield and Antoine Burroughs, 25, with attempting to rob Bartolomeo Antoniello in his home Sept. 9, 2009, because they believed the Italian immigrant would have cash from the Romeo’s Pizzeria he owned on Cross Bay Boulevard, according to the FBI and Bharara.
Agents contended the duo shot the entrepreneur’s son Gerardo Antoniello in the head, taking the 29-year-old’s life as he attempted to protect his father.
As of Wednesday, the FBI agents were still searching for Burroughs, who authorities described as 6-foot-1 and about 180 to 190 pounds with a prominent mole on his right cheek. Burroughs, who goes by the names Butter and Youngblood, was last believed to be in Harlem, the FBI said.
“Burroughs and Whitfield had no regard for life,” said George Venizelos, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office. “The FBI stands with our law enforcement partners to announce these charges and to reiterate that this case will not be done until all those involved face justice.”
Brown also announced in June 2012 that two others — Jason Burrell, of Brooklyn, and Rashod Cowan, of the Bronx — pleaded guilty to burglary and attempted robbery.
Burroughs and Whitfield are charged with murder, discharging a firearm, robbery conspiracy and attempted robbery, according to the indictment.
A total of four men before the latest round of arrests had been charged in the botched home invasion.
The U.S. attorney’s office filed a letter in court noting that it planned to make a recommendation as to whether or not prosecutors would seek the death penalty by the end of April.
Whitfield’s attorney, Edward Wilford, said he would argue that his client was innocent.
“The case is a very serious case. It involves a potential capital punishment,” Wilford said. “We will be litigating the case to establish his non-guilt.”
Queen Supreme Court Judge Richard Buchter sentenced Francis LaCorte, of Ozone Park, to 50 years to life after prosecutors said he recruited a handful of ex-cons to conduct a series of robberies in the neighborhood in 2009.
When LaCorte’s crew targeted the elder Antoniello, prosecutors said his son, a school custodian, was shot in the back of the head as he rushed to defend his father from pistol-whipping.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Ozone Park resident Vincent Mineo partnered with LaCarte, who had ties with the Gambino crime family, to orchestrate the attack on the Antoniellos and two other robberies.
Mineo was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted robbery, burglary and conspiracy, the DA said.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.