Joseph “JoJo” Giorgianni indicted with his pal, Trenton, N.J. mayor, Tony Mack
JoJo, the infamous Trenton, N.J., “quarter ton rapist,” loved his cigars back in the day. The cigar-puffing, 565-pound, poker playing sex offender loved Atlantic City, too.
So there he was enjoying himself in the spring of 1982 at the Sands Hotel and Casino — when he was supposed to be far too asthmatic to serve his 15 years for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old in 1978 in the back of his sandwich shop.
I hadn’t thought about Joseph “JoJo” Giorgianni for 30 years, not until I read this week’s stories about the indictment of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack on corruption charges. Right next to Mack, similarly indicted, was Giorgianni, now wheelchair bound and tied to an oxygen tube. The news coverage makes it clear that Mack, his brother and Giorgianni face a boatload of charges stemming from a September federal indictment.
The three were arrested back in September and have been awaiting the full indictment handed down this week. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has called for Mack to step down. Mack, in true Jersey political tradition, isn’t buying it.
This isn’t, however, a story about today. It’s a three-decade old tale from back in the day when I was editor of the Trenton Times and a judge let JoJo Giorgianni out because he couldn’t breathe.
JoJo, then in his early 30s, was convicted in 1980 but remained free during his appeals. By mid-summer of 1982, he was in prison and after one week was out again because, his lawyers said, the 565-pound asthmatic would die in his cell. JoJo apparently forgot to explain to the court that he had recently enjoyed his cigars at the Sands in Atlantic City. The judge sent JoJo home on three years probation and a $2,000 fine.
All hell broke loose, and it started because — with my blessing — Walt Herring, then-managing editor of the Trenton Times, crafted a perfect newspaper headline along the lines of “Quarter ton rapist goes free.”
It was the “quarter ton” that did it, I suspect. Local residents were outraged, eventually protesting at the court house. Then-governor Tom Kean and other state officials joined the outcry. And we did what may well be one of the first “reader interactions.”
We published a coupon in the newspaper headlined: “Keep JoJo Jailed.”
These days we’d say the coupon “went viral.” The Associated Press and United Press International picked up the story — and the coupon — as did other newspapers. Over the next few weeks we’d received thousands of coupons from around the world, each cut from a newspaper page.
JoJo told reporters back then that he was a sick man. “I’m being raped,” he said. “I’m the victim. Sure, I’m being persecuted.”
Persecuted? Convicted of raping a 14-year-old. Laughing in the face of justice by whooping it up in Atlantic City when he was supposed to be too ill to serve time. Didn’t sound like persecution to me then, or now.
The court returned Joseph Giorgianni to prison on Sept. 1, 1982. He served three years, and, according to news reports, left prison 100 pounds lighter with a cigar in his pocket.