Reputed underworld figure and short-lived government informant John C. Sacco Jr. died overnight after he was stricken late Sunday in the Niagara County Jail, authorities confirmed today.
Sacco, who apparently suffered a heart attack last February while under FBI control, died in Lockport Memorial Hospital. He was 63. The cause of death was not immediately clear, but a coroner's report was expected to be filed later today.
"He fell in the shower area," Cpl. John Saxton of the Niagara County Sheriff's Department said today. "We administered oxygen and CPR (at the jail), and he was taken to the hospital about 10:40 p.m."
The quiet, non-violent death was in sharp contrast to the threats of physical violence and the circus-like atmosphere that surrounded Sacco, who became one of Western New York's most celebrated federal informants -- although only for 11 months.
Sacco began working as an FBI informant in July 1989, one month after authorities claimed he was caught selling $1,400 worth of cocaine to an FBI informant.
The FBI, believing that Sacco could be one of the most important informants ever to turn against the Buffalo mob, paid him $2,000 to $3,000 per month, plus expenses. He once reportedly ate two large pizzas with everything and put it on his FBI expense account.
Sacco's death will have little or no impact on any pending cases, the FBI said today.
"Certainly at one point, he cooperated with us and the information he gave us was utilized," said FBI agent Paul Moskal, a spokesman in the Buffalo FBI office.
"It was not an integral part of any prosecution we have pending," Moskal added. "That was made apparent by his arrest this summer."
The relationship with the FBI soured after authorities accused Sacco of holding back information and of committing criminal acts -- including loan sharking and marijuana dealing -- while still on the federal payroll.
"Initially, he was giving us good information on tape we could corroborate," G. Robert Langford, agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office, said about Sacco last summer. "Then for whatever reason, he decided, 'Well, I'm going to start sticking it to them.' "
Sacco's life as an informant ended in June, when he was arrested on the 1989 drug charge. Authorities today said he had been in the Niagara County Jail in Lockport, apparently for his protection, living in a dormitory-type area, since Aug. 29.
While the handling of Sacco as an informant sparked a minor tiff between the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office, authorities agreed that Sacco gave federal authorities information about several unsolved crimes, including the slaying of a reputed mob hit man at a Metro Rail construction site 10 years ago.
It was always the promise of what Sacco could provide them that interested the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office the most.
For years, Sacco was a confidant of Joseph Todaro Sr., identified by the federal government as the mob boss of Buffalo, now in semi-retirement in Florida.
Sacco had an insider's knowledge of how the local crime family worked and gave agents information on a number of gangland slayings.
Sacco associated with organized-crime figures in Buffalo for more than four decades but was never a member of the Buffalo family of La Cosa Nostra.
"It was my understanding he was never officially inducted into the LCN," Moskal said, "but everyone treated him like he was."
But Sacco's usefulness as an informant soon dimmed when he began giving conflicting stories to agents. And a rift between Langford and Vacco developed over promises of immunity Sacco was allegedly given by the FBI.
The rift grew when Sacco became a suspect in the murder of Michael Ress after Sacco began working for the FBI. And it came out into the open last month during hearings on the immunity issue before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
John F. Humann, Sacco's attorney, and Vacco couldn't be reached to comment today.
Sacco had a history of heart trouble worsened by diabetes and a weight problem caused by a love of rich food. A relatively short man, he weighed well over 300 pounds.
He was hospitalized for three weeks in February in a Rochester hospital after either suffering a heart attack or heart-related problems.
Moskal, who guarded Sacco occasionally during his time as an FBI informant, found Sacco likable, despite his reputation for past violent acts.
"I found him to be a very easy person to get along with, he was an outgoing type of guy," Moskal said.