Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tino Fiumara Escapes the Law One Final Time

By all accounts, the F.B.I.’s concern was clear: Just make sure he’s really dead.
Surveillance photo taken in Hoboken, N.J., of (B) Tino Fiumara. 

This unusual directive was inspired by one formidable man’s cunning, his central role in a yearlong investigation into the mob’s grip on the waterfront, and his body count: a dozen murders — several victims were F.B.I. informers — that for a time helped transform New Jersey into the Genovese crime family’s abattoir.
Still, the seemingly simple task of confirming that the man, Tino Fiumara, had indeed died of pancreatic cancer last year was not without its complications — a testament to the notion that even in death, his reputation for being elusive lived on.
If merit outweighed mortality, Mr. Fiumara’s name certainly would have been added to the list of 127 reputed organized-crime figures who were arrested on racketeering and other charges in a multistate roundup two weeks ago, according to several people briefed on the matter.
It was also likely, the people said, that had he lived to make the list, the names of his victims, whom investigators believe he either killed himself or ordered murdered, would have been listed on a separate roster as part of the murder charges that the government was seeking to bring against him.
There were Flat Nose Pete and the Colucci brothers, shot to death inside a Newark social club in 1967.
More than a decade later, Richard Santos, known as Sir Richard for his fine haberdashery, had an unfortunate encounter with a sawed-off shotgun as he walked out the front door of his home. Kid Candy made it a few steps farther: He got it in his driveway.
In the intervening years, six other fringe mob figures fell: four shot with the same .22-caliber pistol; one strangled; one stabbed. In 2005, a capo in the Genovese crime family who was on trial in Brooklyn ended up in the trunk of a car parked outside the Huck Finn Diner in Union, N.J. He had two bullet holes in his head.
An imposing figure who kept fit in his later years and favored cashmere sports jackets and turtleneck sweaters, Mr. Fiumara, at the time of his death, was on the three-man panel that ran the Genovese family, yet was not a household name. But he had a reputation on both sides of the law for being as canny as he was ruthless.
He once traveled in the trunk of a car to defeat surveillance, according to an account provided to investigators by an informer. He also routinely drove the wrong way down one-way streets, traveled up highway off-ramps, regularly switched cars and even rode a bicycle — sometimes traveling through parks into which cars could not follow — to lose his F.B.I. pursuers, according to court papers.
He never used his home phone to discuss mob business and eschewed cellphones, communicating only with pagers and pay phones, and maintaining a list of some 20 locations at any given time where he knew he could be neither watched nor overheard, according to court papers.
Indeed, Paul J. McCarthy, a veteran F.B.I. agent who spent at least four years investigating Mr. Fiumara in the 1990s, said in a 1998 affidavit that the man had used “more extensive countersurveillance techniques than I have ever seen in all my years in law enforcement.” The application was for a roving wiretap so agents could listen in on his pay phone calls.
And Mr. Fiumara was nothing if not discreet. For example, it was not widely known that his brother was married to an aunt of Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor.
When Mr. Christie became the United States attorney in New Jersey in 2002, his distant familial relationship led him to recuse himself from his office’s investigation into Mr. Fiumara. But Mr. Christie, who as a 29-year-old lawyer visited Mr. Fiumara in prison in 1991, did not disclose the tie when his office announced a plea bargain in that case.
It was Mr. Fiumara’s reputation for cunning, though, that prompted initial skepticism in some quarters when word came that he had died on Sept. 16.
One F.B.I. supervisor sent two agents to confirm Mr. Fiumara’s demise. They visited the Long Island funeral home that had buried him; the proprietor assured them that Mr. Fiumara, who had moved to South Huntington, N.Y., to live with his girlfriend after his 2005 release from prison, was indeed dead, according to one person familiar with that inquiry who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter.
But the funeral director also noted that he had been one of Mr. Fiumara’s close friends, and that response did not instill confidence in the official, the person said. The investigators were then ordered to go to the hospital where Mr. Fiumara was being treated when he died. There, they were finally satisfied: Mr. Fiumara, the head of the Genovese family’s waterfront rackets, was indeed dead.
Frank Chin, a professional wiretapper killed Jan. 20, 1977. He was a potential state’s witness against the mob at the time. 
Salvatore T. Alfano, a Bloomfield, N.J., lawyer who had represented Mr. Fiumara in several criminal cases, said that his client had not been charged in any murders, and that he was unaware of any evidence the government had linking him to any of the killings.
“Law enforcement vilified him, and people who knew him liked him, so he was a complex guy,” Mr. Alfano said last week.
The lawyer, who had also represented Mr. Fiumara during the recent investigation by the F.B.I., federal prosecutors in Newark and Brooklyn, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and several other agencies, was hesitant to answer questions about his client’s history.
“All I can tell you is he was always a gentleman with me, and I’m very sorry that he passed away,” Mr. Alfano said.
It was not because Mr. Fiumara exemplified the qualities of a gentleman, however, that fellow crime figures held him in such high esteem.
Court papers filed last year in the case of another Genovese crime family figure said a government informer had told the federal authorities that in the late 1970s, the man and Mr. Fiumara were both part of a Genovese family hit team known as “the Fist.”
Four of the old murders for which the authorities were investigating Mr. Fiumara — in which the same .22-caliber pistol was used to kill informers or potential witnesses — have been linked to the group, officials said. The four men had either talked to the authorities about Mr. Fiumara’s mob supervisor, John DiGilio, or had been planning to do so but were killed first.
Among them were the 35-year-old principal of East Side High School in Newark, who was linked to Mr. Fiumara’s bookmaking activities, and a wiretapping expert who had bugged the office of Mr. DiGilio’s lawyer, apparently as part of an effort to make it appear that the F.B.I. had done so illegally.
That man, Franklin Chin, had earlier had the distinction of being something of an unorthodox literary muse. He had put a bug in a brothel at the request of the establishment’s madam, Xaviera Hollander, who later used the tapes to write her book “The Happy Hooker.”



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