Ponzo, now 45, represented himself during the sentencing hearing and made a rambling speech as he pleaded with Judge Nathaniel Gorton to sentence him to no more than 15 years in prison. He downplayed his role in the marijuana operation and described himself as a "completely self-rehabilitated man" in Idaho, where he devoted himself to raising his children and learning how to ranch.
"I've done everything I can to be a productive citizen for at least the last 10 years," Ponzo said. "I withdrew from all criminal activity."
But prosecutors recommended a 40-year sentence, saying Ponzo continued to commit crimes after he fled Boston, including helping to run the marijuana distribution operation and later living off the illegal drug proceeds instead of finding a legitimate job. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Tabak said Ponzo continues to lie about why he left Boston and refuses to accept responsibility for his crimes.
"He ran away because he didn't want to stand trial and face justice on a serious attempted murder charge with the state," Tabak said.
During the trial, prosecutors said Ponzo was a mob associate in the Patriarca crime family who joined a faction of mobsters that wanted to stop Salemme from becoming boss of the crime group.
In a 1997 indictment, Ponzo and Vincent Marino were named as the triggermen who shot at Salemme as he walked in to an International House of Pancakes in Saugus, north of Boston.
Ponzo claimed he fled Boston not because he wanted to avoid prosecution for his crimes, but because he believed he was on a hit list created by a mobster.
"I was on the run for my life. These people were trying to kill me," he told Gorton.
But Gorton said Ponzo was part of a criminal organization that killed at least 10 people and "imposed a reign of terror on the city of Boston."
"Your joining of that organization was not the folly of youth," said Gorton, who also called Ponzo the "personification of a career criminal."
"You can run, but ultimately you cannot hide from your sordid past in organized crime," Gorton said.
Authorities caught up with Ponzo in 2011 and arrested him as he was negotiating a purchase of hay near his 12-acre ranch.