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Frank Smith, Jr.

Other Kings County, New York exonerations
On May 1, 1987, 20-year-old Frank Smith Jr. was arrested in Brooklyn, New York on a charge of arranging a $4,500 cocaine deal with an undercover narcotics agent. Smith was accused of delivering cocaine to a middleman, who sold it to the undercover agent on April 7, 1987.

On May 4, 1989, Smith was convicted in Kings County Supreme Court of first-degree sale of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In 1992, a man named Frank Guerra told Smith’s mother that he—not her son—was the “Frank” who had conspired to sell drugs. However, Guerra would not provide a sworn statement.

In February 1999, Jerry Capeci of the New York Daily News reported that on September 5, 1988, federal authorities had tape-recorded a suspect in another investigation noting how Smith’s arrest had devastated his mother.

“She took it very bad. She's taking it worse and worse as time goes on, cause the . . . kid is innocent,” said Salvatore Fusco. Capeci said that Fusco was a member of the Bypass Gang, a burglary ring to which Smith also belonged. Capeci said gang members targeted banks and jewelry stores in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island.

Moreover, Capeci reported that in late 1991 or early 1992, former Gambino underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano told federal authorities that Smith had been mistaken for “another guy named Frank” and was innocent.

Capeci also reported that in 1995, mobster Frank Gioia Jr., who was cooperating with the FBI, told authorities that mob associate Frank (B.F.) Guerra was a drug dealer for Theodore Persico Jr., a nephew of organized crime boss Carmine Persico.

Capeci quoted FBI documents as saying Gioia told the Smith family that Guerra was the other Frank. During the summer of 1992, Guerra had considered turning himself in, but a mob superior ordered him not to, according to the documents.

Capeci reported that after he began asking about the Smith case, federal authorities contacted the New York City Office of Special Narcotics and an investigation was opened.

In June 1999, an attorney for Smith moved to vacate Smith’s conviction on the basis that Guerra’s admission to Smith’s mother was newly discovered evidence. On June 19, 2003, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Leslie Crocker Snyder granted the motion and dismissed the case.

In the meantime, Smith had begun cooperating with federal authorities. He had pled guilty in 1992 to a federal charge of conspiracy to burglarize a bank, and was sentenced to three years to be served consecutively to the sentence he was serving for the narcotics case. In 2001, the Brooklyn District Attorney in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's office indicted Smith for killing two men, Carmine Variale and Frank Santora.

On January 16, 2003, Smith signed a formal cooperation agreement. He pled guilty in federal court to a violation of the Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, alleging his involvement in seven murders. Pursuant to that agreement, Smith pled guilty in Kings County Supreme Court to manslaughter in the first degree for the Variale and Santora homicides. He was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison to run concurrently with his narcotics case sentence.

By the time that his narcotics conviction was dismissed, Smith had served nearly all of the 15-year minimum sentence on that case. After receiving credits for three years of this time toward the bank burglary case and nearly 12 years toward the sentence in state court for the Variale and Santora homicide case, Smith was released and promptly entered the United States Federal Witness Program.

Smith later left the program after he was accused of stealing plasma televisions from a Walmart. He also sought compensation in the New York Court of Claims based on his wrongful narcotics conviction. That claim was denied.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/15/2020
Last Updated: 6/15/2020
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1987
Sentence:15 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No