Former Philly mob boss sues feds for allowing eyesight to deteriorate during incarceration

By Jon Campisi | May 6, 2013

A former boss of the Philadelphia mob who became a government witness is suing the feds over claims that his deteriorating

eyesight is the fault of government officials who refused to allow him to seek medical attention during pre-trial incarceration.

Philadelphia lawyer J. Conor Corcoran filed suit at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on behalf of Ralph Natale against the United States Department of Justice, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Futcher, Richard Martinez, the warden of the federal prison in Allenwood, Pa., and Kelly DeWald, who is identified as the health services administrator at that correctional institution.

“They’ve created their own monster in their way, because now this poor man can’t see and can’t do anything else, so they left him with an incredible sense of vindictiveness for what they’ve done to him,” Corcoran was quoted as saying in the Philadelphia Weekly.

Additional defendants include John and Jane Does numbered 1 through 100.

The complaint filed April 30, while resembling your garden variety federal civil rights action filed day in and day out at the federal courthouse, differs somewhat because of the notoriety of the plaintiff.

Natale, who currently resides in an undisclosed location in witness protection, was reputed to be the head of Philadelphia’s chapter of the Italian-American Mafia, at the time law enforcement officials nabbed him on drug charges in the late 1990s, according to local news reports.

From there, Natale went from reputed mob head to government turncoat, aiding federal prosecutors in building their cases against other known members of the criminal organization.

The recently filed civil suit says that while Natale was sitting in a number of different federal penitentiaries from the summer of 1998 through the spring of 2011, he worked with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to help secure convictions against a number of the other alleged mobsters.

This included testifying as a cooperating witness during federal prosecutions in at least four separate trials between 2000 and 2004, according to the complaint.

Beginning in late 2002, however, Natale began complaining to prison medical staff about degenerating vision in his left eye, the suit states.

Throughout the years, up until May 2011, Natale periodically made oral and/or written requests to the defendants for treatment of his deteriorating vision, the complaint alleges, but the requests often fell on deaf ears.

The complaint even says that on one occasion, while Natale was testifying at the federal courthouse in downtown Philadelphia, and being held at a nearby detention center, the plaintiff’s daughter-in-law, Kathaleen Natale, a nurse and technician at the renowned Wills Eye Institute, attempted to persuade the government to let her take Natale in for an assessment of his eye condition, but that the request was denied, despite the fact that Natale’s family offered to shoulder the costs created by the visit to the eye institute, which is also located in downtown Philadelphia.

The lawsuit claims that Futcher, the assistant U.S. attorney, “intentionally interfered and/or refused to allow Plaintiff to visit the doctor(s) at Wills Eye,” by directing agents of the Bureau of Prisons, the FBI, the United States Marshalls service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prohibit the appointment from taking place.

Until Natale’s release from federal prison in May 2011, the complaint alleges, the other defendants, Martinez and DeWald, “failed to properly provide any semblance of an adequate investigation, diagnosis, and/or treatment of Plaintiff’s degenerating eyesight.”

The suit claims that as far back as May 2007, Natale was examined by a prison physician at FCC Allenwood who told the plaintiff he was legally blind.

Despite that diagnosis, however, Natale was never taken to an ophthalmologist or neuro-ophthalmologist during the ensuing years, according to the complaint.

“As a result of Defendants’ failure to provide adequate treatment for Plaintiff’s obviously degenerating eyesight while he was in their care, as of the date of this filing, Plaintiff is functionally blind, with limited peripheral vision, at best,” the complaint reads. “Plaintiff is unable to see better than 20/200 in either eye, and has been subsequently diagnosed since his release from prison as having a host of retinal conditions, including but not limited to macular degeneration, macular atrophy, posterior vitreous detachment and asteroid hyalosis.”

Corcoran wrote that he submitted an administrative complaint to the U.S. Justice Department about a year ago, but that the government had yet to respond to the administrative tort claim, hence his filing the federal suit in civil court.

The complaint contains various federal civil rights claims in addition to a state law claim of negligence.

Natale seeks judgment in the amount of $10 million, along with costs, attorney’s fees and other relief.

Corcoran recently told Philadelphia Weekly that Natale, believed to be the first sitting mob boss in Philadelphia to turn government witness, is looking forward to the chance to “[turn] the tables on the federal government.”

The federal case number is 2:13-cv-02339-MAM.

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