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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Jury told of threat to kill owner of shrimp wagon

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

A woman facing extortion, robbery and kidnapping charges made a bundle when she and her partners sold a Kahuku shrimp wagon to Troy Nitsche in 1997, city Deputy Prosecutor Franklin "Don" Pacarro Jr. told a Circuit Court jury yesterday.

But within a year, Connie and John Aragona were in trouble, having poured the money into a failed plan to promote gourmet sauces made at their plant in Pearl City Industrial Park, Pacarro said.

In his opening statement in Judge Michael Town's courtroom, Pacarro said:

By the summer of 2001, the Aragonas had divorced. A plan to sell thousands of shrimp plates to motorcyclists at a huge annual gathering in Sturgis, South Dakota, flopped dismally, and Aragona was desperate.

So on Aug. 19, Aragona called Nitsche — the man to whom she and her husband had sold the lunch wagon and who was a silent partner in the gourmet sauce business —  and asked him to meet her at the the Pearl City office.

Aragona told him she wanted to buy the company back — but not for the $700,000 Nitsche estimated it was worth, but for the same $120,000 he paid four years earlier.

When Nitsche refused to sign a contract Aragona had typed out, two large gunmen walked into Aragona's office.

Nitsche said one of them said, "Ever heard of David Copperfield? Well, I make (people) disappear quicker than he does."

The two men told Nitsche that they knew that his mother and other family members lived in Reading, Penn., that they had friends there and would "get his family" unless he agreed to Aragona's terms.

Pacarro said when Nitsche tried to leave, one of the men shoved him up against the wall, stuck a gun barrel into his left eye and asked, "Is this what you want?"

Nitsche signed the contract because he thought that otherwise, "Either I'm gonna get killed or my family's gonna get killed," Pacarro said.

Hours later, Aragona appeared at the Kahuku shrimp truck where she took a cash box containing $3,500, a day's receipts.

The prosecutor said another partner in the gourmet sauce business persuaded Nitsche to go to police.

Dwight Lum, Aragona's lawyer, said in his opening statement that while there were business differences between Aragona and Nitsche, they never led to a "level of personal animosity."

Lum said that Aragona's acquaintance Carl "Pete" Depietropaolo was involved in the South Dakota biker venture. After the South Dakota plan failed, Depietropaolo demanded money and threatened to harm Aragona or her small daughter if she did not provide it.

Depietropaolo told Aragona to set up the meeting with Nitsche, Lum said. Depietropaolo, who is the prosecution's key witness, recruited the two men during the Sturgis trip to strong-arm Nitsche into signing the business over to Aragona, Lum said.

At the Aug. 19 meeting, "Connie Aragona never made any threats, never gave any directions and was there as a passive spectator," Lum said. "She was afraid for her life and that of her daughter."