FBI joins probe into slaying of businessmen Case examined for links to drugs, organized crime

December 07, 1991|By David Simon ^

A joint federal-city task force is investigating the September FTC slayings of two businessmen killed in a drive-by shooting outside the offices of a Broening Highway warehouse firm, the U.S. attorney's office confirmed yesterday.

Faced with the possibility that the slayings are the result of an interstate murder-for-hire conspiracy, FBI agents were called into the homicide investigation about a month after John R. Shotto and Raymond Nicholson were gunned down, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter M. Semel.

Mr. Semel, who is teamed with city prosecutor Ilene Nathan in the probe, said yesterday that agents and detectives are looking into a variety of motives for the slaying of Mr. Shotto, 52, a financially troubled waterfront entrepreneur. Among the possibilities: A murder-for-hire contract sought by out-of-state organized crime figures, a drug-related slaying, or a killing that resulted from one of Mr. Shotto's many business dealings.

Law enforcement officials say they still believe that Mr. Nicholson, a 38-year-old Glendale resident and an executive of the Hechingers home improvement chain, was killed merely because he was with Mr. Shotto. The two men were leaving a meeting together when the ambush occurred.

Sources close to the probe, however, said investigators are now more deeply involved in the theories involving out-of-state organized crime figures. Although Mr. Shotto was identified as a peripheral figure in an unrelated drug probe, sources say they have no reason to believe this resulted in his murder.

Mr. Shotto, a Bel Air resident, was under investigation by federal drug agents for his involvement with a ship acquired in a Colombian drug-smuggling and money-laundering scheme, authorities said yesterday. In 1988, the victim admitted during federal lien proceedings in Norfolk, Va., to owing $3.6 million to a firm linked to the Cali drug cartel.

Mr. Shotto, who operated a number of maritime businesses over two decades, was used by representatives of the cartel to purchase and renovate a ship for use in drug smuggling and money laundering, officials said. Foreign nationals cannot own a U.S. flag carrier.

Federal agents rarely become involved in local homicide investigations. The last time FBI agents were assigned to such a case involved Leon J. Vitkaukas, a witness in a federal theft case who was murdered in Anne Arundel County in June 1987.

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