MARSING, Idaho – To his neighbors, he was Jay Shaw, the guy with the vaguely New York accent. He was known for fixing computers, buying everything with cash, raising cows and knowing how to handle a gun.
To the FBI, he was a New England mobster who vanished in 1994 after a botched attempt to whack his boss.
On Wednesday, the 42-year-old dark-haired man, dressed in a yellow jumpsuit and his hands cuffed behind his back, strolled into a courtroom in Boise, sat down at a table and spoke calmly to a judge.
“My name is Enrico M. Ponzo,” he said.
After the judge read a long list of charges against him, Ponzo replied: “Not guilty, your honor.”
Ponzo, 42, appeared relaxed during his 40-minute court appearance, at times smiling at a handful of friends nearby and exchanging laughs with his attorney.
To the people who knew him in Marsing, a farming and ranching town southwest of Boise, the news about the man they called “Jay” for the past decade pushed them to dig deep into their memories for signs of an elaborate hoax.
“It was probably all just fiction,” said rancher Bodie Clapier, 52, whose family owns about 1,000 acres and lived next door.
Authorities said Ponzo had been living in Marsing under the name Jeffrey Shaw, but they declined to say how the FBI discovered him. During his arrest Monday, agents seized 38 firearms, $15,000 and a 100-ounce bar of either gold or silver.
Ponzo faces charges from a 1997 indictment accusing him and 14 others of racketeering, attempted murder and conspiracy to kill rivals. He is also charged in the 1989 attempted murder of Frank Salemme. Known as “Cadillac Frank,” Salemme is the ex-head of the Patriarca Family of La Cosa Nostra.
Ponzo moved into the community at the base of the Owyhee Mountains about a decade ago. He and his girlfriend lived in a two-story green house on a hill in a subdivision, neighbors said.
They knew immediately that he didn’t know anything about farming. He now has a dozen cows, Ponzo said in court.
After he arrived in town, Ponzo told some of his new neighbors that he was from New York. To their ears, he had the accent to prove it. He told others that he was from New Jersey.
Ponzo said he was a graphic designer, and would work on computers for his neighbors. Otherwise, he would work from home.
And he paid for everything in cash. The house wasn’t in his name, but he told some that the house had been paid off.
“It surprised me when he said his house was all paid for, because people struggle out here,” Clapier said.
Eventually he and his girlfriend had two children, a boy and a girl. Now his ex-girlfriend, Cara Lyn Pace moved out of their home several months ago and is living with her parents in Utah. Pace’s mother declined to comment Wednesday.
From time to time, Ponzo and his neighbors would get to talking about guns.
“He did have an arsenal of guns. I never saw them; I only saw two of them, but he told me about all of his guns. He never said how many he had, but every time I talked about a gun he’d say ‘I’ve got one of those,’ ” Clapier said.
He and his son went out with Ponzo to shoot guns and came away impressed.
“It was a lot of fun,” Clapier said. “After we got in the truck and were leaving, (his son) said: “Man, that guy knows how to handle a gun.”
Ponzo also wanted to serve, and wanted to be on a board that regulates the water supply. The board members held a vote to allow him on because he wasn’t technically a property owner – the house was in his girlfriend’s name.
“We always felt that something was a little strange,” said neighbor Sharie Kinney, whose husband, Jeff, is the board’s president.
On Monday, as children were coming off the school bus outside the subdivision, federal agents arrested Ponzo, neighbors said.
The judge appointed Ponzo a public defender and ordered him held without bail until another hearing Friday.
“He called me from the Ada County Jail,” Clapier said. “He said ‘I’ve been arrested. … I’m going to be in here for a long time. Would you please feed my cows?’ ”