MAYS LANDING — An Egg Harbor Township man charged with a role in a drug ring allegedly led by then-Dr. James Kauffman was ordered released Thursday from jail pending his trial.
Paul Pagano, 51, was released following an animated argument by his attorney, Charles Peruto, who said his client was no longer a member of the Pagan’s Outlaw Motorcycle gang in Atlantic County and didn’t help Kauffman sell prescription opioids.
“He did, no question, get pills from this doctor. He also ate the pills. There’s no question about that,” Peruto said.
Kauffman, 68, is charged with being one of the drug-ring leaders and with the 2012 murder-for-hire of his wife, radio talk show host April Kauffman.
Peruto, a high-profile Philadelphia-based attorney who represented then-reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino to get Longport charges dismissed, told Judge Bernard DeLury he has known Pagano for 27 years.
Peruto described his client’s former involvement with the Pagan’s Outlaw Motorcycle gang, the group allegedly involved in the Kauffman drug operation and resulting murder.
“When he was a member, and there’s no doubt that he was, it was the Atlantic County chapter, and that was for a short while,” Peruto said. Pagano “retired” from the Pagan’s gang several years ago, he said.
DeLury ruled in Atlantic County Superior Court Thursday that Pagano could be released before trial on conditions set by the court, citing his limited contact with the criminal-justice system.
Pagano was charged with racketeering Jan. 9, along with Kauffman and six others. Prosecutors allege Pagano was involved in the drug ring run out of Kauffman’s medical practice.
On Thursday, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy asked for pre-trial detention and alleged Pagano would receive pills from Kauffman “without examination.”
Levy said Pagano would likely use the pills for personal use, distribution and profit, and also cited a prior charge he had in Atlantic County.
But in court on Thursday, Peruto said there was no evidence Pagano did anything with pills he got from Kauffman other than ingest them.
He then took several minutes to describe his own background with the client, saying how long he’ has known him and that he used to date Pagano’s current girlfriend, who was sitting in the courtroom.
One of Pagano’s two children was also in the courtroom, along with Pagano’s brother and a friend. Peruto asked each of them to stand up as he referenced them.
Peruto said he used to ride motorcycles with Pagano’s girlfriend in the 1980s and would go to a bar called Uncle Mike’s in Buena Vista Township.
He described how Pagano used to be a body builder while he rode motorcycles but was injured in four separate crashes. One motorcycle crash in 2001, he said, was particularly bad.
Pagano “flew off the handlebars and into an oncoming car,” “bounced off that windshield and then was thrown the opposite way,” Peruto said.
“His back is mangled,” he told the judge, adding his “best defense” were his X-rays and MRIs.
Pagano now works as a plumber in a casino, Peruto said, and he has lived in Egg Harbor Township for 25 years.
Peruto brought up the murder allegation in court, saying Pagano “didn’t know anything about it.”
“From what he says, he only hears the rumors that everybody else hears and doesn’t know anything about it,” he said.
DeLury ruled Jan. 18 that Kauffman, along with his alleged co-conspirator, Ferdinand Augello, must remain in jail until his trial.
Two other alleged conspirators and Pagan’s associates, Tabitha Chapman and Joseph Mulholland, both charged with racketeering, were ordered Jan. 18 to be released before trial.