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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Turncoat Philly captain linked to Skinny Joey Merlino resurfaces as a Christian minister

They called him “Boston Bob.”

In the late 1990s, he was the Philadelphia mob’s point man in Beantown, generating tens of thousands of dollars through bookmaking, loansharking, extortion and drug dealing.

Today the former Robert Luisi goes by the name Alonso Esposito. And he’s traded in his membership in Cosa Nostra for an affiliation with an organization that has an even more storied history.

Boston Bob is now Pastor Al, a Christian minister based in Tennessee with a television show, speaking engagements and Bible-study classes.

And while he acknowledges that his former Philadelphia partners-in-crime – guys like Joey Merlino, George Borgesi and “Uncle Joe” Ligambi – want nothing to do with him, he’s sending good wishes and prayers.

And some advice.

Get out of “the life.”

With Merlino, 54, expected to enter a not guilty plea Tuesday in New York to the latest racketeering charges he faces, Luisi, 55, took some time to reflect on their past, on where they’ve been and on where they may be heading.

Both he and Merlino did serious jail time, spending all of the last decade in federal prisons. When they got out, if the current racketeering indictment proves true, Merlino went in one direction and Luisi in another.

“I was a diehard gangster,” the now Christian minister said in a telephone interview. “I did some terrible things.”
“Joey wants to be a star,” Luisi said. “He loves the action. He loves seeing his name in the paper … If I could talk to Joey, I’d tell him to get a new life … You stay on the street and you walk into an indictment. You get killed or ratted on.”

But he says he’s found his way out. And wishes his onetime Philadelphia friend would find his.

Luisi, whose father, half-brother and cousin were killed in an infamous mob hit in a Boston-area restaurant back in 1995, grew up around gangsters and was fascinated with their world. The money, the power, the status and the women were all part of a lifestyle that he embraced.

“I loved it,” he said. “It’s like it’s in your blood. But you gotta open your eyes. That life that you believe in, that you idolize … It only leads one way. You end up dead or in jail.”

Luisi said he and Merlino used to talk about moving to Florida. Luisi said his goal was to get away from the life. But he said Joey’s idea was to set up a crew down there. That, in effect, is what the pending racketeering indictment alleges.

Merlino is identified as one of three leaders of an “East Coast La Cosa Nostra Enterprise.” Forty-five other mob members and associates are charged in the case, which includes allegations of gambling, loansharking, extortion, arson, assault and insurance fraud. Merlino, who relocated to Boca Raton after his release from prison in 2011, is named in the gambling and fraud portions of the four-count indictment. He is free on $5 million bail.

“Joey wants to be a star,” Luisi said. “He loves the action. He loves seeing his name in the paper … If I could talk to Joey, I’d tell him to get a new life … You stay on the street and you walk into an indictment. You get killed or ratted on.”

In fact, much of the case against Merlino is built on secretly recorded conversations made by a thus-far unidentified mob associate who was secretly working with the FBI. It’s a story Luisi can relate to.

He was jammed up on drug charges after dealing with Ron Previte, a Philadelphia crime family member who was wearing a wire for the FBI in the 1990s. Previte went to Boston and set up a series of cocaine deals with Luisi and his crew. The “drug dealer” Previte introduced to the Boston mobsters was an undercover FBI agent.

Audio and videotape of three cocaine deals and the exchange of $75,000 sealed the case against the Boston gangsters. But Merlino, who was charged with setting up those deals, was found not guilty.

Previte testified against Merlino in the 2001 racketeering case, but Luisi, who had originally agreed to cooperate and testify, reneged and was never called to the stand.

Pastor Al Esposito is working on a biography tentatively titled “From Capo to Christian.”“If I had testified, Joey would have been convicted of the drug charge,” Luisi said.

At that trial, Merlino and most of his associates were convicted of gambling, loansharking and dealing in stolen property. But the jury said the government had failed to prove murder and murder conspiracy charges against several of the defendants and had failed to prove the drug charge against Merlino that was part of the case.

Luisi said his deal came apart because of problems he was having with a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. Instead, he went to trial. Previte was a key witness against him. Luisi was convicted and ultimately sentenced to 188 months in prison.

“I never liked Ronnie and Ronnie never liked me,” he said. “But today I’d like to thank him. He saved my life.”

Previte, in a phone interview on Monday, said he never disliked Luisi but thought he was too easily manipulated by Merlino and Borgesi.

“I didn’t dislike him, but I thought he was foolish and being used by them,” the onetime wiseguy said.

Luisi didn’t see it that way. He said he sought out the Philadelphia mob in the 1990s because of conflicts he was having with the Boston-based mob family with which he was associated.

At first, he said, he tried to align with the Gambino crime family in New York. But he said Peter Gotti, who was running the family for his jailed brother John at the time, said, “We don’t need any more friends.”

Luisi said he then used an associate who had spent time in jail with Philadelphia mob leader Ralph Natale to arrange a meeting in Philadelphia. Luisi said he first met with Natale at The Pub, a popular bar-restaurant in Pennsauken. He subsequently met with Borgesi and a crew of mob associates at a dinner in Delaware County and then met with Merlino at Gino’s CafĂ©, a South Philadelphia corner bar that the mob controlled at the time.

Those meetings led to an affiliation and Luisi’s formal initiation into the Philadelphia crime family. He became a capo with his own crew in Boston. By his estimation, he was generating tens of thousands of dollars a month through gambling, loansharking and drug dealing.
“Jesus has washed the blood off my hands,” he said. “I know they’d like to kill me, but I have love in my heart for them. I had an awakening. They have to come to a point where they say, 'I had enough of this.’”

“When I went to jail, I had a million dollars on the street,” Luisi said of the various mob gambits in which he was involved. The feds would later allege that Luisi was sending $10,000 a month to Merlino as tribute and that, in effect, he bought his way into the organization.

“With Joey it was always pride and ego and money,” Luisi said.

Luisi said his goal at the time was to develop his own organization and eventually split off from Philadelphia. But sometime in 1998 he said, “I had an awakening.”

Even as he continued to move in mob circles, he said, he began to question his life. He recalled taking a trip with his family and Borgesi’s family to Florida in which he mentioned his turn toward Jesus.

As Luisi recalls it, Borgesi made some cryptic remark about God having something in store for him.

“I didn’t know how to take that,” he said, noting that he knew at that point that Merlino was not happy with the way he was running things in Boston.

“I thought maybe I was gonna get clipped,” he said.

Instead, the Previte sting landed him in jail.

“At that point, I could have strangled Joey,” he said. “He’s the one who sent Previte up to me. Joey jammed me up with Ronnie out of greed.”

But today, Luisi said he sees it as all part of God’s plan. In prison he built on his awakening, reading, studying and becoming something of an expert on the Bible. He has self-published a book, “The Last Generation,” that includes his thoughts on creationism among other things. He is working on a biography tentatively titled “From Capo to Christian.” He also has a website.

“Jesus has washed the blood off my hands,” he said, adding that the same can be true for his former Philadelphia mob associates.

“I know they’d like to kill me, but I have love in my heart for them. I had an awakening. They have to come to a point where they say, 'I had enough of this.’”

Luisi was released from prison in 2012 after working out another deal with the feds, agreeing to testify against a Boston mobster.

But he insists that he is not a rat and says he is glad he never took the stand against Merlino, Borgesi and the others in that 2001 racketeering case.

“I had a lot of guilt (about agreeing to cooperate against them),” he said. “But I didn’t have to testify against anybody, praise God. I didn’t want to hurt those people.”

Relocated to Tennessee, he said he worked in construction and as a plant foreman and began a part-time ministry in the Memphis area that has since become his full-time calling. In June, he severed ties with the Justice Department and began to publicly discuss who he was and what he had done.

“I couldn’t give my real testimony,” he said of his religious calling. “The worst thing you can do is deceive people. You’re preaching and someone says, 'This guy’s a fraud.' In my heart, I needed to come out, to tell people who I was and what I had done.”

Luisi said he is not worried about the publicity he has generated since stepping out of the shadows back in June. There have been newspaper and television accounts about him, including a lengthy piece in The Boston Globe, his old hometown newspaper.

“The Lord is my shield,” he said, sounding more like Pastor Alonso Esposito than mobster Bobby Luisi. “This is where God leads me.”

He said he prays for his old Philadelphia mob friends, especially Merlino in his time of trouble. His hope is they find a way out.

Not everyone in Philadelphia, of course, is convinced. Some see the Alonso Esposito Ministry as a front or a con.

Told that Bobby Luisi had found Jesus, Angelo Lutz, a co-defendant in the 2001 Merlino case and now a successful South Jersey restaurateur, quipped, “I didn’t know He was lost.”

Over 40 mobsters from various crime families pack courtroom

This Manhattan mob case is so huge that it needed an especially large courtroom Tuesday — and even had to stuff reputed crime-family honchos into the vacant jury box just to fit all the defendants.
“This is a complete mess,” muttered one of the more than 40 accused wiseguys, who go by nicknames such as “Nicky the Wig,’’ “Tony the Cripple,’’ “Mustache Pat’’ and Tugboat.’’
The group of goons — accused of everything from illegal gambling to health-care fraud to weapons trafficking — piled into Manhattan federal court’s massive “ceremonial courtroom,” which is normally reserved for naturalization proceedings, along with their phalanx of lawyers.
The alleged mobster defendants took up 14 rows and the jury box, which was reserved for the suspects who didn’t get bail. They included Pasquale Parrello, the reputed Bronx boss of the Genovese family and namesake for Pasquale’s Rigoletto restaurant on Arthur Avenue.
The defendants learned during the pretrial hearing that the feds have collected 800 recordings from cooperators, as well as recordings from wiretaps involving 15 phones. It is so much material that it will take months to even make it into the hands of the defendants’ lawyers, said prosecutors with Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara.
The feds say the suspects are from the Genovese, Lucchese, Gambino and Bonanno families. In addition to the other charges, some are accused of assault or threatening people with assault, including a man they mistakenly believed to be a panhandler who upset Pasquale’s Rigoletto’s customers.
But despite the allegations, the mood among the wiseguys in the courthouse was upbeat.
There were kisses and hugs in the lobby ahead of the hearing and jokes.
After being greeted by the judge with a “Good morning,” defendant Bradford Wedra said, “Make it a wonderful morning, Your Honor, and dismiss the case.”
The crack drew laughter from the crowd, including the judge.
The feds say the men worked together to engage in criminal activities up and down the East Coast.

Monday, August 22, 2016

John Gotti associate pleads guilty to torching car of rival pizzeria

An associate of John Gotti — the troubled grandson of the late Gambino crime boss — pleaded guilty Monday to torching a Mercedes-Benz sedan in connection with a dispute between pizzeria owners in Queens.

Gino Gabrielli, 22, ate the indictment, copping to the single arson charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

"I set a car on fire in furtherance of a federal crime," Gabrielli told Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Gabrielli's sister, Eleanor, is Gotti's girlfriend and she was arrested with the mob prince last month when NYPD narcotics detectives raided his home in Howard Beach as part of a crackdown an illegal oxycodone peddling ring.

Gotti was also subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury about the arson fire.

Gino Gabrielli, a waiter at his grandfather's restaurant, Aldo's Pizzeria on Cross Bay Blvd., allegedly burned the luxury car belonging to the owner of rival Sofia's Pizzeria in Ozone Park. Authorities said the rival pizza maker was retaliated against after he took a $1,300 catering order away from Aldo's Pizzeria.

The feds had smoking gun evidence against Gabrielli — literally. A surveillance video captured the Dec. 4, 2015 arson in which Gabrielli accidentally set himself on fire, too, and later showed up at an area hospital for medical treatment for third-degree burns to his leg.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lawyer argues that idea of five crime families working together is a farce

Five East Coast mob families who are allegedly connected to a racketeering bust don’t cooperate enough to run criminal conspiracy, say Tognino lawyer John Meringolo.
Five East Coast mob families working together? Fugheddabout it!

The crime families recently implicated in a massive racketeering bust don't cooperate enough to run a criminal conspiracy, one of the alleged wiseguy's lawyers argued in new court papers.

John "The Tugboat" Tognino's lawyer said federal prosecutors' indictments against 46 accused gangsters earlier this month shows a complete failure to understand how mob politics work.

Prosecutors charged members of the Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno crime families and a Philadelphia offshoot formed the East Coast La Cosa Nostra (Enterprise), an alleged criminal scheme spanning from South Florida to Springfield, Mass.

They worked together on "a multitude of criminal activities" — such as racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit assault in aid of racketeering, as well as arson and gunrunning, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office said.

Some are also accused of gambling and dealing untaxed cigarettes, in addition to healthcare fraud involving unnecessary prescriptions for expensive compound creams.

The idea behind an overarching "La Cosa Nostra" is at odds with mafia history, Tognino lawyer John Meringolo said in the filing.

"They manufactured this enterprise," Meringolo told the Daily News.

"While there is certainly evidence that different organized crime families work together, the families are still considered separate and distinct enterprises," wrote Meringolo, who also teaches at PACE law school.

"Despite the various dealings between families, it has been well established that each is its own distinct entity."

When Colombo family member Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico went on trial, testimony showed "Crime family protocols were stringent — and how they kept their distance from one another."

"Members and associates of a family were not allowed to speak to members of other crime families or to higher-ranking members of their own family without a formal introduction," he said in a new filing.

The Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese and Bonanno families have historically been treated as their own enterprises for racketeering conspiracy indictments in Manhattan and Brooklyn federal court cases, Meringolo said.

Those facing racketeering charges were alleged to have had a specific role within one of these families. But these new charges don't "definitively state the existence of an enterprise...or allege an enterprise in terms of a specific organized crime family."

"Rather, the Indictment melds various organized crime groups — with their own sets of distinct rules and hierarchies — into one overly broad entity, concocted for the sole purpose of connecting these otherwise separate and independent units together."

The so-called East Coast La Cosa Nostra Enterprise "is an over-encompassing term that generally refers to Italian Organized Crime in its entirety, is not distinct at all, and cannot by itself constitute a [RACKETEERING] enterprise," the papers, filed Thursday night, stated.

So 74-year-old Tognino, who faces one count of racketeering conspiracy in relation to his alleged work as a bookie, isn't accused in relation to any one family — meaning he's being hit with overly general charges that should be dismissed, Meringolo’s filing contends.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Turncoat New England mob boss attended Patriots watch parties while in witness protection

Not even a life undercover could stop a former mob boss from cheering for his beloved Pats.

Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme — who entered the Witness Protection Program after cooperating with the government to nab other mobsters — attended several New England Patriots watch parties in his new home of Atlanta before he was arrested earlier this month, fan club organizers said.

“He seemed a little different, but he was Patriot fan so we embraced him,” club president John Gray told WPRI. “When the Patriots scored he raised his hands like everyone else, got all excited and fit right in.”

Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme was arrested earlier this month.

The 82-year-old was charged last weekfor witnessing a murder in 1993. Prosecutors claim he helped arrange the disposal of Boston nightclub owner Steven DiSarro’s body.

Salemme was first arrested in 1999 on a slew of charges including eight murders, but he agreed to cooperate with police and testified against two of his mob friends: James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. For his help, prosecutors gave the killer just eight years behind bars, and put him in the Witness Protection program when he got out.

According to court documents unsealed after his new arrested, Salemme moved to Atlanta and used the name Richard Parker after he was released.

But there was one thing he couldn’t shake from his past: His love for the Patriots.

Atlanta Patriots fan club members said “Richard Parker” attended at least three watch parties over the course of two seasons, entered club contests and chatted with other members about their treasured team.

Salemme attended several New England Patriots watch parties in Atlanta, club officials said.

“I knew the name because he bought some raffle tickets from us,” Gray said, adding that he only learned of the man’s true identity when club members started sharing articles about his arrest.

Gray said he was surprised a former gangster trying to hide his past would be so open to joining a large group of sports fans — especially a 1,000-member club that includes some retired Boston police officers.

“Obviously that’s not typically the background of our members to say the least,” Gray said of Salemme’s murderous past. “In retrospect maybe it was a little unnerving but fortunately there wasn’t any problems or trouble, he was just there as a fellow fan.”

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Lucchese capitan cops 33 month plea over loan threats

Luchese Capo Carmine Avellino will argue for a reduced sentence, citing his Parkinson's disease.
A longtime Lucchese capo who had insisted on going to trial this month on extortion charges, chickened out Friday and copped a plea deal.
Reputed mobster Carmine Avellino's indecision will cost him, though. He loses one point of credit for not taking the deal sooner which means he will face about four months extra behind bars under the sentencing guidelines.
Avellino, 72, admitted that he conspired with two other goons, Daniel and Michael Capra, to threaten a deadbeat who owed him $100,000. They used "an implied threat of violence based on reputation" to put a scare in the victim, Avellino told Brooklyn Magistrate Judge Marilyn Go.
When the judge asked whether Avellino meant his reputation in the Lucchese family, defense lawyer Scott Leemon nearly jumped out of his seat and clarified that his client meant his reputation in the "community."
Avellino faces up to 33 months in prison, but will argue for a reduced sentence because he is suffering from Parkinson's disease. "It seems to be getting worse," the oldfella told the judge.
The Capra brothers had previously pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy charges in the case.