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

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The suffering behind Mob Wives glitz

With their fur coats, glitzy bling and expletive-laced tirades, TVs Staten Island-based "Mob Wives" present a loud and tacky picture of life as the spouse or offspring of a criminal.

But for four women whose relatives were gunned down by mobsters, the show is no guilty pleasure; instead, it's a cold slap in the face, whose sting rekindles the inescapable, heart-tearing memories that have haunted them for decades.

"It's hurtful to me. For weeks I was crying," said New Dorp resident Joi Faraci, 53, whose 16-year-old brother, Alan Kaiser, was an innocent bystander gunned down 34 years ago in Brooklyn by Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano's henchmen.

"This is not the Sopranos. It's not make-believe. They're walking around like nothing happened," said Ms. Faraci, her voice choking. "I'm sure they're getting paid a lot of money. In my eyes, it's a reward for what their families have done to other families."

The reality-TV show focuses on four women now living in the borough: Karen Gravano, daughter of Gravano, the infamous mob turncoat; Renee Graziano, daughter of Anthony (TG) Graziano, the imprisoned alleged consigliere of the Bonanno organized crime family; Drita D'avanzo, whose husband, Lee D'avanzo, the alleged leader of a Bonanno and Colombo crime family farm team is serving time for bank robbery, and Carla Facciolo, whose spouse, Joseph Ferragamo, was convicted of stock fraud.

The show's creator and executive director is Ms. Graziano's younger sister, Jennifer Graziano.

Jennifer Graziano told the Advance the series reflects the struggles and tribulations that single moms, including those who have loved ones in prison, must deal with every day. 

But mob victims' families aren't shedding tears for the show's tough-talking, potty-mouthed, bejeweled stars.

"All these Mafia princesses grew up with their fathers' blood money," said Jackie Colucci, 64, whose brother, Joseph Colucci, 26, was Gravano's first victim in 1970.

"She grew up having the best of everything on blood money," Ms. Colucci, who now lives in New Jersey, said referring to Ms. Gravano. "[But] what about my niece and nephew growing up without a father? It's upsetting."

Shirley Shifrin, Ms. Faraci's mother and Alan Kaiser's sister said she's never gotten over her son's death.

"I say 'Good morning' to his picture every day," said the 74-year-old Florida resident, adding the show "brings back terrible memories."

Ms. Shifrin said she's particularly disturbed that criminals' families will make money from the program.

"I think it's disgraceful," she said. "They're bragging about what their husbands and fathers did. It glorifies this type of criminal activity."

Like Jackie Colucci, Brooklyn resident Rosanne Massa took shots at Ms. Gravano.

Ms. Massa's brother, Michael DeBatt, then 37, was ordered killed in Brooklyn in 1987 by Gravano, the former Gambino family underboss.

In 2004, she and other victims' families were awarded more than $400,000 collectively for the profits from Gravano's best-selling biography, "Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia."

Ms. Massa said she is galled that Karen Gravano is writing her own book about life as the Bull's daughter. 

In the opening episode, Ms. Gravano, who was sentenced in 2001 in Arizona to three years' probation for her role in her father's multi-million-dollar Ecstasy ring, said she was returning to Staten Island after a decade out west to capture the "mind-frame" she needed to pen the tome.

"It's hypocritical," said Ms. Massa, 54. "She is so riding off her father's coattails and profiting off his life of crime. I never felt it was right for Sammy to make a buck off my brother's murder. It's just the principle of the thing. Why should he make money after killing my brother and others? [And] what is she going to put in the book? Are you going to murder them again?"

Both Ms. Massa and Ms. Colucci scoffed at some cast members' claims that Staten Island is the mob's breeding ground.

"They think Staten Island was the birthplace of organized crime. Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, is where it began," said Ms. Massa, herself a Bensonhurst resident.

But La Cosa Nostra's genesis isn't the real issue, victims' families say. What pains them are the weekly reminders of their loved ones' murders and others' attempts, directly or indirectly, to cash in on them, they say.

"It's mind-boggling," said Ms. Colucci. "This thing never, ever, ends."



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