Pellicoro sentenced to 27 months

Pasquale Pellicoro (left) and Thomas Ravenel

COLUMBIA -- Pasquale Pellicoro, who used to snort cocaine with former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel and tutor him in French, will spend a little more than a year in federal prison before being deported to his native Italy.

The sentence District Judge Joseph F. Anderson issued Wednesday to Pellicoro on a drug conspiracy charge brings to a close at least one phase of a government sting on a Charleston cocaine ring that led to Ravenel's resignation in 2007.

Pellicoro, 58, had been on the run in Europe from the summer of 2007 until this year.

Wearing shackles and a red jumpsuit with sandals and white tube socks, Pellicoro pleaded guilty. He told Anderson he was sorry for the trouble he caused.

"I was really, really scared to face charges," Pellicoro said. "I knew I was guilty."

Pellicoro, an Italian citizen who used to live on Johns Island and sell wine, said he lost all of his possessions, his car, apartment and money when he fled. Pellicoro's lawyer, Marco Laracca of New Jersey, said Pellicoro also is worried about his ability in the future to see his son, who lives in California.

The judge waived a fine of up to $1 million that Pellicoro faced, because of his inability to pay it. Anderson said he would recommend that Pellicoro be placed in a federal facility that offers treatment for drug addiction.

The judge also said he would try to find a facility that could accommodate Pellicoro's health issues, including depression, heart problems and high blood pressure.

Anderson said during an hour-long hearing that Pellicoro had made possible suicide attempts, although Laracca said afterward that he did not have information on that.

Pellicoro faced a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, but he negotiated with prosecutors for a shorter sentence of 27 to 33 months. Anderson sentenced him to 27 months, but Pellicoro will be credited for about a year of time he already spent in custody.

He had been arrested in Italy in February and was extradited to the United States in August. Before that, Pellicoro had fled to Italy after a French court agreed to send him back to South Carolina for a trial.

"That's not a sign of a person who accepts responsibility," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Witherspoon said.

Ravenel and his co-defendant and cocaine supplier Michael L. Miller of Mount Pleasant each pleaded guilty and served 10-month sentences.

Witherspoon would not say if Pellicoro's sentencing will bring a close to an investigation into the cocaine ring in Charleston, nor would he put an estimate on the money Pellicoro's international case has cost the government.

Witherspoon said Pellicoro bought cocaine from Miller in a bathroom at the French cafe 39 Rue de Jean in Charleston. Pellicoro sold, shared and used the drug with Ravenel at least 30 times from 2005 to 2007, Witherspoon said, and they attended cocaine parties together, Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon read a quote that Pellicoro emailed The Post and Courier before his capture that said, "I am still in a fighting mood and at least now I am in my own country, so it is a whole different ball game." Pellicoro shook his head during the hearing to deny the comment.

Pellicoro will be deported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after his sentence is over, Witherspoon said. The judge ordered him to three years of supervised release and mandatory drug testing.

He first came to the United States in 1994 and made a career selling wine and organizing wine tastings around Charleston.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her on Twitter at @yvonnewenger and read her Political Briefings blog.