PORT ALLEN — A Port Allen man was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday after he pleaded guilty to charges in a murder-for-hire plot against a Pointe Coupee couple after a business deal went bad.
Tommy Joe Gioele broke down in tears as he was surrounded by family outside the courtroom of state District Judge J. Robin Free while walking to a holding cell. The 38-year-old man had entered the guilty plea to two counts of solicitation of murder.
Gioele, 5242 Poydras Bayou Road, was arrested in December after the man he’s accused of hiring to kill Manuel A. Persica and his wife, Camellia, turned informant for the authorities, jump-starting the investigation leading to his arrest.
Gioele and the Persicas were locked in a bitter business feud that has been playing out in civil court lawsuits since 2008.
“I had had enough after they screwed me over so bad,” Gioele said before he was sentenced. “I was just mad. He offered to do it and he caught me at a bad time and I hired him to do that.”
Gioele and his attorney argued Monday it was the would-be hitman who suggested killing the couple after Gioele was complaining about his ongoing legal disputes with the Persicas.
The informant recorded Gioele advising him on escape routes to use after the murder and working out arrangements to pay him after the couple were killed, according to previous reports.
In June, Gioele made a second attempt from jail to have the couple killed. Police said he tried to hire an inmate who was about to be released to kill the couple.
Kathie Landry, the attorney representing the Persicas in civil proceedings against Gioele, was in court Monday asking that Gioele receive the maximum sentence due to her clients’ fear he will make another attempt on their lives after he serves his time.
“There are no words to express the stress and trauma that the defendant has brought to my clients,” Landry read from a prepared statement in court Monday. “The defendant preferred to threaten my clients and break the law rather than engage in a mutual settlement of differences, apparently because he thought he could get away with it.”
Landry informed the court that Manuel Persica had suffered a stroke a few months ago and couldn’t be in court because he is undergoing rehab out of town.
Gioele blames Manuel Persica for manipulating him out of more than $800,000 in the 2007 sale of the Persicas’ Port Allen restaurant, Camile’s Cajun Cafe.
According to a lawsuit Gioele filed a year after the sale, Gioele ended up losing the restaurant in a sheriff’s sale when he was unable to keep or renew operating licenses due to several government-issued liens levied on the property. He claims Persica knew of the back taxes owed before selling the restaurant to Gioele.
“He knew what he was doing when he sold that restaurant to Tommy. The guy is relentless,” Gioele’s brother, Ben Gioele, said in court Monday on his brother’s behalf. “If you feel like you’re working for nothing for the rest of your life ... it can make you do a lot of things.”
But in an interview after Monday’s court hearing, Landry said her clients also suffered substantial financial losses in the business deal. She said Gioele has only paid her clients $10,000 of a $239,953 settlement the Persicas were awarded in part of their ongoing legal dispute with Gioele.
“While they believed the restaurant would continue to thrive as it had under their ownership and benefit the community and they would be able to retire, it was Mr. Gioele who shut the restaurant down, even after my clients were continuing to loan money to the Gioeles to keep the restaurant open,” Landry said. “My clients thought they had an agreement to take the restaurant back and Mr. Gioele would have been released from all liability, but he refused to go through with the agreement unless he received cash from the deal, which was not feasible.”
Judge Free expressed sympathy for Gioele and his family, but Free told Gioele he “crossed the line” when he paid the would-be hitman to bump off the man and his wife.
“I wish I could go back, wave a magic wand, and make it so that none of you all ever met each other,” Free said shortly after sentencing Gioele.
Gioele received 20 years on each count of solicitation of murder, which Gioele will serve concurrently in the Louisiana Department of Corrections. Free suspended 10 years off each count.
Once he is released, Gioele will be placed on five years’ probation. If he violates his probation, he might have to serve the remaining 10 years of his sentence.
Free ordered that Gioele wear an ankle monitor during his probation to ensure he has no contact with the couple.
The judge also ordered that Gioele receive anger management and conflict resolution counseling while in jail.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.