PORT ALLEN — A Port Allen man who sought to hire a hitman to kill a Pointe Coupee couple over a soured business deal found himself behind bars on Tuesday after the would-be hitman went to police and turned informant, police said.
Tommy Joe Gioele, 37, 5242 Poydras Bayou Road, was booked into West Baton Rouge Parish Jail on two counts of solicitation of murder for his alleged attempt to have Manuel A. Persica and his wife Camellia killed inside their Pointe Coupee home.
Gioele and Persica have been locked in a bitter business feud dating back to a 2008 lawsuit filed by Gioele, court records show. The suit asserts Persica violated terms of a contract related to the 2007 sale of the couple’s Port Allen restaurant, Camile’s Cajun Cafe, which eventually led to Gioele losing the business at a sheriff’s sale.
The lawsuit, filed in 18th Judicial District Court, accuses Persica of engaging in fraudulent acts that prevented Gioele from operating the cafe as a profitable business after its sale.
Gioele is being held on a $750,000 bond.
The man, whom authorities did not identify, brought his story to the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office on Sunday, telling a detective that Gioele had paid him $300 to buy a pistol to kill the couple, according to the arrest warrant for Gioele.
The following day, State Police, along with investigating officers from the Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge sheriff’s offices, met with the would-be hitman. He agreed to meet Gioele again while wearing a wire, the affidavit states.
The informant met with Gioele at his home in Port Allen later on Monday and secretly recorded their conversation while police stood watch nearby in a hidden location, the affidavit says.
The affidavit says Gioele was heard on the recording asking the intended gunman whether he purchased the gun to kill the Persicas. It also says Gioele could be heard advising him on escape routes to use after the murder and working out arrangements to pay him after the couple was killed.
West Baton Rouge Parish deputies told State Police there was “great animosity” between Gioele and Persica over the sale of Camile’s Cajun Cafe.
Persica sold the restaurant, located at 12717 Highway 190 in Port Allen, on June 1, 2007, for $800,000, according to a lawsuit filed more than a year later in regards to the sale.
The lawsuit states the total cost of the restaurant included $200,000 for the property, assets and equipment and $600,000 for the reputation and goodwill of the business — including its name.
As a part of the sale, Gioele and Persica came to a “mutual consent” that Gioele had full rights to use a “one of a kind seasoning blend” as part of the “reputation and goodwill of the business” clause contained in their contract, the suit states.
In conjunction with the sale, the suit states, Gioele and his wife, Heidi Gioele, agreed to sign a mortgage with Guaranty Bank for $388,962, plus interest, and a second mortgage with Persica’s company, Manuel A. Persica III, Inc., for $257,000, plus interest, to serve as security payment for the sale.
“At or around the time the sale was executed, Manuel A. Persica Enterprises, Inc. was encumbered with several government-issued liens for non-payment of taxes,” the lawsuit reads.
The still-ongoing lawsuit says the liens, which Persica promised to have paid off prior to the restaurant’s sale, adversely impacted the cafe’s ability to keep or renew licenses needed to operate.
The lawsuit goes on to assert that Persica, as sole shareholder of his company, “fraudulently, intentionally and maliciously” canceled the restaurant’s government-issued identification number, which made it difficult for Gioele to renew required operating licenses.
Persica also was accused of misrepresenting Gioele’s contractual rights to the “one of a kind seasoning blend.”
“Since beginning operation on or about July 1, 2007, Manuel A. Persica, Jr. has required Camile’s to purchase the ‘one of a kind seasoning blend’ at a cost of approximately $300 per week,” the lawsuit says.
Court records show that Gioele lost the restaurant in a sheriff’s sale in December 2009.
In May 2012, Persica was awarded a judgment against Gioele in the sum of $239,953, plus legal interest, related to the ongoing legal dispute between the two.
Harlan Cashiola, representing Cash’s Louisiana Crawfish, LLC, paid $457,000 for the property after it was foreclosed by Guaranty Bank and Trust because Gioele failed to pay the mortgage.
Persica did not return a phone call Tuesday afternoon seeking comment on the business dispute or the alleged attempt by Gioele to have him and his wife killed.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.