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

Friday, August 31, 2012

Where does the mob keep its money?

THE global financial crisis has been a blessing for organized crime. A series of recent scandals have exposed the connection between some of the biggest global banks and the seamy underworld of mobsters, smugglers, drug traffickers and arms dealers. American banks have profited from money laundering by Latin American drug cartels, while the European debt crisis has strengthened the grip of the loan sharks and speculators who control the vast underground economies in countries like Spain and Greece.

Mutually beneficial relationships between bankers and gangsters aren’t new, but what’s remarkable is their reach at the highest levels of global finance. In 2010, Wachovia admitted that it had essentially helped finance the murderous drug war in Mexico by failing to identify and stop illicit transactions. The bank, which was acquired by Wells Fargo during the financial crisis, agreed to pay $160 million in fines and penalties for tolerating the laundering, which occurred between 2004 and 2007.

Last month, Senate investigators found that HSBC had for a decade improperly facilitated transactions by Mexican drug traffickers, Saudi financiers with ties to Al Qaeda and Iranian bankers trying to circumvent United States sanctions. The bank set aside $700 million to cover fines, settlements and other expenses related to the inquiry, and its chief of compliance resigned.

ABN Amro, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Lloyds and ING have reached expensive settlements with regulators after admitting to executing the transactions of clients in disreputable countries like Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan.

Many of the illicit transactions preceded the 2008 crisis, but continuing turmoil in the banking industry created an opening for organized crime groups, enabling them to enrich themselves and grow in strength. In 2009, Antonio Maria Costa, an Italian economist who then led the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told the British newspaper The Observer that “in many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks at the height of the crisis. “Interbank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities,” he said. “There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.” The United Nations estimated that $1.6 trillion was laundered globally in 2009, of which about $580 billion was related to drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime.

A study last year by the Colombian economists Alejandro Gaviria and Daniel Mejía concluded that the vast majority of profits from drug trafficking in Colombia were reaped by criminal syndicates in rich countries and laundered by banks in global financial centers like New York and London. They found that bank secrecy and privacy laws in Western countries often impeded transparency and made it easier for criminals to launder their money.

At a Congressional hearing in February, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, a Justice Department official in charge of monitoring money laundering, said that “banks in the U.S. are used to funnel massive amounts of illicit funds.” The laundering, she explained, typically occurs in three stages. First, illicit funds are directly deposited in banks or deposited after being smuggled out of the United States and then back in. Then comes “layering,” the process of separating criminal profits from their origin. Finally comes “integration,” the use of seemingly legitimate transactions to hide ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately, investigators too often focus on the cultivation, production and trafficking of narcotics while missing the bigger, more sophisticated financial activities of crime rings.

Mob financing via banks has ebbed and flowed over the years. In the late 1970s and early 1980s organized crime, which had previously dealt mainly in cash, started working its way into the banking system. This led authorities in Europe and America to take measures to slow international money laundering, prompting a temporary return to cash.

Then the flow reversed again, partly because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the ensuing Russian financial crisis. As early as the mid-1980s, the K.G.B., with help from the Russian mafia, had started hiding Communist Party assets abroad, as the journalist Robert I. Friedman has documented. Perhaps $600 billion had left Russia by the mid-1990s, contributing to the country’s impoverishment. Russian mafia leaders also took advantage of post-Soviet privatization to buy up state property. Then, in 1998, the ruble sharply depreciated, prompting a default on Russia’s public debt.

Although the United States cracked down on terrorist financing after the 9/11 attacks, instability in the financial system, like the Argentine debt default in 2001, continued to give banks an incentive to look the other way. My reporting on the ’Ndrangheta, the powerful criminal syndicate based in Southern Italy, found that much of the money laundering over the last decade simply shifted from America to Europe. The European debt crisis, now three years old, has further emboldened the mob.

IN Greece, as conventional bank lending has gotten tighter, more and more Greeks are relying on usurers. A variety of sources told Reuters last year that the illegal lending business in Greece involved between 5 billion and 10 billion euros each year. The loan-shark business has perhaps quadrupled since 2009 — some of the extortionists charge annualized interest rates starting at 60 percent. In Thessaloniki, the second largest city, the police broke up a criminal ring that was lending money at a weekly interest rate of 5 percent to 15 percent, with punishments for whoever didn’t pay up. According to the Greek Ministry of Finance, much of the illegal loan activity in Greece is connected to gangs from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Organized crime also dominates the black market for oil in Greece; perhaps three billion euros (about $3.8 billion) a year of contraband fuel courses through the country. Shipping is Greece’s premier industry, and the price of shipping fuel is set by law at one-third the price of fuel for cars and homes. So traffickers turn shipping fuel into more expensive home and automobile fuel. It is estimated that 20 percent of the gasoline sold in Greece is from the black market. The trafficking not only results in higher prices but also deprives the government of desperately needed revenue.

Greece’s political system is a “parliamentary mafiocracy,” the political expert Panos Kostakos told the energy news agency Oilprice.com earlier this year. “Greece has one of the largest black markets in Europe and the highest corruption levels in Europe,” he said. “There is a sovereign debt that does not mirror the real wealth of the average Greek family. What more evidence do we need to conclude that this is Greek mafia?”

Spain’s crisis, like Greece’s, was prefaced by years of mafia power and money and a lack of effectively enforced rules and regulations. At the moment, Spain is colonized by local criminal groups as well as by Italian, Russian, Colombian and Mexican organizations. Historically, Spain has been a shelter for Italian fugitives, although the situation changed with the enforcement of pan-European arrest warrants. Spanish anti-mafia laws have also improved, but the country continues to offer laundering opportunities, which only increased with the current economic crisis in Europe.

The Spanish real estate boom, which lasted from 1997 to 2007, was a godsend for criminal organizations, which invested dirty money in Iberian construction. Then, when home sales slowed and the building bubble burst, the mafia profited again — by buying up at bargain prices houses that people put on the market or that otherwise would have gone unsold.

In 2006, Spain’s central bank investigated the vast number of 500-euro bills in circulation. Criminal organizations favor these notes because they don’t take up much room; a 45-centimeter safe deposit box can fit up to 10 million euros. In 2010, British currency exchange offices stopped accepting 500-euro bills after discovering that 90 percent of transactions involving them were connected to criminal activities. Yet 500-euro bills still account for 70 percent of the value of all bank notes in Spain. And in Italy, the mafia can still count on 65 billion euros (about $82 billion) in liquid capital every year. Criminal organizations siphon 100 billion euros from the legal economy, a sum equivalent to 7 percent of G.D.P. — money that ends up in the hands of Mafiosi instead of sustaining the government or law-abiding Italians. “We will defeat the mafia by 2013,” Silvio Berlusconi, then the prime minister, declared in 2009. It was one of many unfulfilled promises. Mario Monti, the current prime minister, has stated that Italy’s dire financial situation is above all a consequence of tax evasion. He has said that even more drastic measures are needed to combat the underground economy generated by the mafia, which is destroying the legal economy.
Today’s mafias are global organizations. They operate everywhere, speak multiple languages, form overseas alliances and joint ventures, and make investments just like any other multinational company. You can’t take on multinational giants locally. Every country needs to do its part, for no country is immune. Organized crime must be hit in its economic engine, which all too often remains untouched because liquid capital is harder to trace and because in times of crisis, many, including the world’s major banks, find it too tempting to resist.


Murdered Lucchese informant's estate sues New Jersey for blowing his cover

An alleged Mafioso was murdered outside his diner after the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office blew his cover as a confidential informant, according to two lawsuits in New Jersey.
     The Estate of Frank Lagano on Wednesday sued New Jersey, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and its then-chief of detectives Michael Mordaga, in Federal Court.
     The estate's lawsuit closely parallels a September 2010 complaint in Bergen County Court from a state investigator who claimed he was fired in retaliation for investigating corruption in "the Prosecutor's Office of a New Jersey County."
     That lawsuit is summarized at the end of this article.
     The estate's 10-page complaint does not contain any reference to organized crime. Nut numerous newspapers reports linked Lagano to the Lucchese family after Lagano was shot in the head outside a diner he co-owned, on April 12, 2007. He was 71.
     The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office executed an arrest and search warrant at Lagano's home on or about Dec. 1, 2004, and they "seized at least $50,000 cash from decedent's home and other items from decedent's safe deposit box," according to the complaint.
     However, the estate says: "Contrary to standard police practice and the terms of the search warrant, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office personnel who conducted the search, including the John Doe defendants, did not list the seized items mentioned in paragraph 15 in their inventory of the seizures.
     "Instead, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office personnel who conducted the search, including the John Doe defendants, converted the seized items mentioned in paragraph 15 to their own benefit or to the benefit of their confederates or supervisors."
     The estate claims that before his arrest, Lagano "had multiple business ventures with Mordaga ... vacationed, visited with and socialized with Mordaga," and "lent money to Mordaga."
     After he was arrested, Lagano "was taken to see defendant Michael Mordaga," the county prosecutor's chief of detectives, according to the complaint.
     "At that time, Mordaga handed decedent an attorney's card, and told decedent to provide that attorney with $25,000 and then 90 percent of decedent's problems would go away," the complaint states.
     It continues: "Decedent's relationship with Mordaga soon soured.
     "Subsequently, this late James Sweeney, perhaps together with others unknown at this time to the Estate, used his or their state authority to induce Frank P. Lagano to enter into a relationship as a confidential informant for the State of New Jersey's Division of Criminal Justice."
     The estate says that it's well understood that doing so put Lagano in danger, and that "courts and law enforcement agencies routinely take extraordinary steps to assure that the identities of informants are not disclosed except on a need-to-know basis."
     The complaint states: "Mordaga thereafter appeared at a dinner meeting decedent was having with a mutual acquaintance.
     "At this meeting, Mordaga advised decedent that half his money would be returned and guaranteed that decedent would serve no prison time if decedent hired the attorney Mordaga recommended.
     "Decedent rejected the offer.
     "Mordaga then told decedent not to count on Sweeney helping, because Sweeney is going to jail.
     "Thus, Mordaga already knew that decedent had become Sweeney's confidential informant.
     "Bergen County Prosecutor's Office personnel thereafter disclosed to alleged members of traditional Organized Crime families arrested in raids on December 1, 2004 that decedent had been an informant.
     "On April 12, 2007, in the middle of the afternoon, in front of the diner he co-owned in East Brunswick, New Jersey, decedent, then 71 years old, was fatally shot in the head."
     The estate claims Lagano had been earning $300,000 a year "from his ownership interest in the diner."
     The estate adds: "By failing to protect from disclosure Frank P. Lagano's status as a confidential informant, one or more defendants in the captioned litigation used his or their official authority to create an opportunity that otherwise would not have existed for a third-party's crime of murder to occur."
     The estate seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violations of civil and constitutional rights.
     It is represented by William Buckman of Mooretown, N.J.
     Sweeney, a state investigator, sued New Jersey on Sept. 2, 2010, in Bergen County Court. He claimed he was fired in retaliation for investigating corruption in "the Prosecutor's Office of a New Jersey County."
     Sweeney's state RICO complaint claims that on Dec. 1, 2004, "members of the County Prosecutor's Office executed search and arrest warrants for an individual identified herein only as 'FL,' a man believed by law enforcement agencies to be a member of the Lucchese Organized Crime Family.
     "Upon information and belief, prior to December 1, 2004, FL enjoyed a personal and business relationship with at least one (1) [then] prominent employees of that Prosecutor's Office identified herein only as 'MM.'" (Parentheses and brackets in complaint.)
     Sweeney's complaint in many way tracks the allegations made in the lawsuit from Lagano's estate, including the seizure of the $50,000 without a receipt, and the murder of "FL."
     Sweeney claimed "FL" was arrested in a roundup of about 40 people believed to be involved in a "multimillion-dollar Genovese crime family gambling ring."
     Mordaga retired as chief of detectives in mid-2007, according to the Bergen County Record newspaper.
     Sweeney died in July 2011.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Republican Party Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan's Irish Mafia connection

JANESVILLE, WI - AUGUST 27:  The presumptive v...
Forget Gangs of New York, the 'Irish mafia' has a new power base: Janesville, Wisconsin.
Home to representative Paul Ryan -- Mitt Romney's vice-presidential nominee -- this town of 64,000 people has suddenly been thrown into the spotlight as journalists the world over seek to get a handle on the new Sarah Palin. And, in anything that has been written, the Ryan family association with the so-called Irish mafia of Janesville invariably gets a mention.
But as John Nichols -- a Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine -- explains, the Janesville mafia is not quite as sinister as it sounds.
"It's a slightly unfair term in that it's not like the Italian mafia," said Nichols. "It's not a criminal endeavour.
"Janesville was a factory town and a lot of Irish folks came there in the early years of the 20th Century to find jobs. Some of them started construction companies and, because they happened to be Irish, people started referring to them as the Irish mafia," he added.
The Ryan family -- owners of a major road-building company -- was just one of the families who fell under that umbrella.
"In general, you'd say they're known for business success," said Wisconsin state senator Tim Cullen, himself a member of one of the 'mafia' families.
"But I think the big thing about being Irish for Paul is that he inherited a lot of the stereotypical Irish skills. He's a good-looking guy, he has a great smile and a great way of greeting people and talking with them," he added.
"He has all the Irish political skill. He's a 'hail fellow, well met' with the gift of the gab. All the clichés that people want to bring into play, he's got them all," agreed Nichols.
But just how important is that connection today?
"They're old-school Irish in Janesville," said Nichols. "They like their St Patrick's Day parties. It's a very Catholic town and the people take their Irish connections pretty seriously ... but I wouldn't paint it like some neighbourhoods in New York or Chicago."
"[Ryan] played on his Irish ancestry a lot when he first ran for office," said Cullen, referring to an early campaign ad which showed the then 28-year-old Ryan walking among the tombstones of his ancestors in Janesville.
"But he did that to associate himself with Janesville. He hadn't been in Wisconsin from the age of 18 to when he came back to run, so that TV ad was more about identifying him with the Ryan family history in Janesville," he added.
And it worked. Ryan became one of the youngest ever members of the House of Representatives and has been re-elected with ease ever since.
Now one of the most influential Republicans in Congress (not to mention the pride and joy of his party's most conservative wing, the Tea Party) Ryan has made a name for himself as a man with a plan for the economy, and a very strict ideological take on government supports such as social security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"He's very conservative and just has complete faith that the free market system has all the answers," said Cullen who, despite coming from the other side of the divide, still speaks fondly of him.
So what would Ryan make of modern-day Ireland?
According to Cullen, there's little chance that he would approve of our "European-style" government. "Almost all his views are the antithesis of the social welfare system. He talks about not letting America become Greece, and you could almost substitute Ireland for Greece," said Cullen.
Regardless of what happens on election day in November, however, Cullen believes Ryan has been catapulted to a higher level in US politics for the rest of his career.
"If he comes out of this thing with a fairly good national reputation and Romney loses, Ryan will be the frontrunner for the 2016 presidential race," he said.


The Undertaker wants his nickname out of federal indictment

A Staten Island funeral director charged with illegal gambling doesn’t want to be caught dead in court being called by his nickname, “The Undertaker.”

Joseph Fumando is asking a federal judge to scrub all references to his grim moniker from the federal indictment charging him with running an illegal gambling parlor on Victory Blvd.

Defense attorney Felix Gilroy argues that that nickname is “inflammatory” and “prejudicial.”

But prosecutors Marisa Seifan and Lan Nguyen say witnesses knew the defendant as “The Undertaker” and jurors will be instructed that the nickname is based on his occupation.


Elderly Chicago mobsters sentenced to 9 years in prison

Reputed mobster Joseph Scalise and an associate were each sentenced today to 9 years in prison for plotting to rob an armored car and to break into the family home of a deceased Chicago Outfit boss.

Years ago Scalise pulled off one of the more memorable heists in Chicago mob lore, donning disguises to rob the egg-shaped Marlborough Diamond from a London jewelry story.

Scalise was in his 70s when he, Bobby Pullia and Arthur Rachel were arrested in 2010 all dressed in black in a van parked near the Bridgeport home of the late mob boss Angelo “the Hook” LaPietra’s family.

They had already drilled holes into windows leading into the basement and had been under surveillance by federal agents who had listened in on bugging devices as the trio cased banks and armored cars.

News reports that federal agents had found $750,000 in cash and stolen jewelry hidden in the home of imprisoned mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. inspired the crew to target the home, authorities have said.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber imposed the 9-year prison terms today on Scalise and Pullia. Both had pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges.

Rachel, who was convicted following a trial, was earlier sentenced to about 8 ½ years in prison.

He was also convicted with Scalise in the Marlborough Diamond theft. Both ended up serving 13-year sentences for that heist. The 45-carat diamond was never recovered.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Big Ang releasing new book

You’d think after growing up in a mob family, the scariest thing about you would be say, your AK47 or, worse, the fear that you could turn on your friends faster than Sammy the Bullsh---er.
Who’d guess the most frightening thing about you would be your giant fake lips and catastrophicly gigantic double JJ’s.
I’m talking about VH1’s plastic surgery nightmare poster girl Big Ang, the breakout star of “Mob Wives” who now has a spinoff show of her own, called, yes, “Big Ang.”
Even though Big can’t put together a grammatical sentence (or Italian for that matter), she has just written, no kidding, a book.
Angela "Big Ang" Raiola 
(While the book displays only her name as author, if you look at the very last line in the book you’ll see a thanks to Valerie Frankel. Bingo!)
Her book “Bigger Is Better,” which is due out on the inauspicious date of Sept. 11), is filled with Big Ang’s advice on style (help me, Jesus!), life (as in existence and not “Oh, he got ‘life’ ”) and recipes for living large .
Like? Like how one Sunday her family ate 75 meatballs. That kind of large.
Big Ang follows a growing number of reality show “authors” (most of whom pretend to write their own books). Some have hit the best-seller lists and some have fallen flatter than Ang’s boobs without implants.
But trust me, Ang’s book will hit the lists because 1) it’s funny and 2) more importantly, because her fans simply can’t get enough of her.
She grabs you with the opening words: “Nine years ago I was under house arrest for a drug conviction. Two years ago, I was $100,000 in debt. And now, I’m about to move into a mansion, I’m on TV, and people from Saudi Arabia come to my bar to meet me.”
OK, it’s not “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” although her story kind of is.
I asked a few editors who specialize in celebrity books why in hell people buy books about style by women no one really wants to look like.
Lisa Sharkey, senior vice president at HarperCollins (which, like The Post, is owned by News Corp.) has a roster of celebrity best sellers and just signed “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Caroline Manzo for an advice book.
“Fans like to read their words, want to meet them at signings,” Sharkey says, “People look up to people on TV.
“We now have readers who wouldn’t dream of cracking a book who will go to the store, buy it and read it. How great is that?”
Kathryn Huck, executive editor of St. Martin’s Press which published both Karen Gravano’s best-selling “Mob Wives,” and the K kids’ “Kardashian Konfidential,” says “the fan base for both ‘brands’ is just enormous, and they offered a real insider’s look into their worlds.
“Also their shows promoted the books heavily, even as far as writing the book into the shows.” That’s not something legit authors can ever offer up.
“Other books though, like Mike the Situation, the Countess, and Jill Zarin — really didn’t work, probably since they offered little that was fresh and they lacked a universal likability factor that those other folks have. “
Well, Big Ang certainly has a likability factor — in an older, bigger Snookie kind of way —although by all accounts Snookie’s career as an author was lacking the likability factor of having a lot of sales.

Former union president gets 5 years in prison for extortion scheme

A crooked, second-generation labor leader was sentenced this morning to five years in the slammer for his role in a $2.5 million scheme to shake down business owners and plunder his union's benefit funds.

Anthony Fazio Jr. -- who claims he only netted $69,000 from the long-running scam -- was also nearly hit with a $1 million fine, but the judge held off on that punishment pending further review of his finances.

Fazio Jr.'s lawyer argued that much of his client's $4 million net worth "is really his father's money" which was stashed in joint accounts.

Manhattan federal Judge Katherine Forrest said that while she didn't know how Fazio got his dough, he "should be ashamed of spending" whatever wasn't rightfully his.

"You are the one who knows how much of your assets belong to others," she said, urging him not to fight the feds over forfeiture of his ill-gotten gains.

In addition to his prison time, Forrest sentenced Fazio to three-plus years of house arrest following his release.

Fazio had faced more than 10 years in the slammer for conspiring with his father and cousin to extort about $1.8 million from business owners in exchange for good relations with with Local 348-S of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

His father, former union president Anthony Fazio Sr., and his cousin, former vice president John Fazio, were also convicted of looting more than $700,000 from the union through a fake-invoice scam.

Fazio Jr. took control of the allegedly mobbed-up labor organization after his dad, who founded the Brooklyn-based local in 1976, retired in January 2010.

Forrest said she believed the younger Fazio, 37, was the least responsible among the corrupt kin for their "quite brazen" rip-off, which dates to at least 1989.

But she blasted him for choosing to go along with the racket at the same time he was starting a family with his wife, with whom he's raising an adopted son.

"A decade is a very long time, in the court's view, for an individual such as yourself, Mr. Fazio, to wake up and go to work as part of a continuing conspiracy," she said.

Fazio's father and cousin are scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 13.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mob rat Chris Paciello chooses Miami club lifestyle over witness protection program

Chris Paciello has been romantically linked to Madonna (next page) and the actress Sofia Vergara (above).
In 2006, as he neared the final weeks of a six-year stretch for murder and bank robbery, Chris Paciello faced something worse than prison: witness protection.
He had ratted out the upper echelon of the Colombo and Bonanno crime families, so the former nightclub king of Miami was in no position to be walking around under his own name, the threat of a track-suit hit team lurking at every turn.
A deal would mean a new identity and instant cash — as much as $20,000 — to get a car, a job and a place to live, plus $3,000 a month for bills. True, he’d be forced to sell insurance or peddle machine parts in a rural town like Eau Claire or Des Moines. But at least he’d be alive.
For Paciello, a chiseled, swaggering figure who had dated the likes of Madonna, J.Lo, Daisy Fuentes and Sofia Vergara, that was no option. Death was better than Wisconsin.
So this year, Paciello opened a club in Miami, thumbing his nose at the relatives of his victim and taunting the godfathers he helped put away.
You want revenge? I’m right here.
It was 1993, and a 20-year-old Paciello had lined up an easy score.
He and his pal Jimmy Calandra, a member of a gritty team of Brooklyn bank robbers known as the Bath Avenue Crew, were eyeing as much as $1 million in cash.
That’s how much Paciello believed was stashed in the basement safe of Staten Island businessman Sami Shemtov, who lived in a Richmond Valley mansion.
So there they sat parked in a Mercury sedan on a freezing night in February, Chris at the wheel, Jimmy next to him. In back were two other Bath boys: Tommy Reynolds, carrying a .45 automatic, and Michael Yammine, a big kid who could be useful in smashing the safe.
“The idea is the guy answers the door and we take over,” Calandra told The Post. “No one else is supposed to be there.”
As usual, Paciello, son of a bouncer and arm-wrestling champ named George Ludwigsen, would wait outside as the crew grabbed the cash.
“Every score I did with Chris, he sat in the car,” Calandra recalled.
Paciello, a budding gangster nicknamed “The Binger” for bingeing on crime, had pulled a number of bank jobs with Calandra, including one at a Chemical bank at the Staten Island Mall that yielded $300,000.
Calandra’s gang also stole cars, sold pot and coke, robbed drug dealers and peddled high-caliber weapons. They operated under Bonanno acting boss Anthony Spero and were “causing all kinds of problems,” said former NYPD Detective Tommy Dades, part of joint team with the DEA that ultimately busted Paciello.
“People were getting shot left and right over stuff that Jimmy’s crew was doing,” Dades says. “They were notorious — and feared by everybody. They were Spero’s righthand guys.”
Once, after his friend was shot, the Binger asked Calandra for a gun with a silencer.
“I brought it over to him in the hospital where he was with his friend, and he gave me $500,” Calandra said. He never learned what resulted.
Shemtov, an Israeli immigrant, had amassed a small fortune from 99-cent stores, porn shops and an electrical-supply company. He had been divorced but remarried a blond beauty, Judy, 46, and the couple lived in a leafy cul de sac with kids from their prior marriages.
Calandra knocked on the door, and, to his surprise, the wife answered.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
He began to reply . . . and bang!
“I was about to say, ‘We had a disturbance at this address,’ but before I can say anything, I see this woman flying across the room. Tommy Reynolds shot her accidentally. A freak accident. His gun just went off. Hit her right in the head.”
They sprinted back to the car.
“Never even got in the house,” Calandra said. “Chris was frantic.”
As Paciello sped off, fuming, he demanded to know what went wrong. “Tommy said, ‘I don’t know — it just happened.’ ” Later, he mumbled, “I’m going to hell for this.”
The next day, Calandra and another Bonanno associate, Paulie Gulino, drove together to discuss how to deal with the crime. Paciello showed up at the Victory Inn with Lee D’Avanzo, leader of the New Springfield Boys, a Staten Island youth crew with whom he also did crimes.
“Paulie said, ‘Let’s kill ’em both now — two mouths shut,’ ” Calandra recalled.
“I said, ‘No. I’m just going to talk to them.’ We agreed. We said, ‘This is never to be spoken about again.’ ”
But for years, Calandra was tormented by Judy Shemtov’s death. “I went there to rob a safe. I didn’t go there to kill a woman.”
Paciello kept bingeing. According to court documents and recently released FBI files, Paciello was on a fast track to becoming a Mafia honcho.
He ripped off a rental truckload with one ton of pot. There was a kidnapping in 1994 of a Staten Island businessman, and a murder plot in 1997 in which Paciello and Colombo boss Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico schemed to kill a gangster.
He participated in some 30 bank heists in four states.
But the big score was a robbery of the Westminster Bank in Bensonhurst. It netted $1 million — plenty of seed capital for Paciello’s first legit business, a South Beach nightclub known as Risk.
Paciello met Michael Caruso, a New York club promoter and drug dealer who grew up on Staten Island, and the two became partners.
They took over a dive bar owned by Mickey Rourke and run by a Gambino associate, turning it into a Miami version of the Palladium. Risk was a hit.
There was no stopping Paciello, even when his club, invaded by goons, began to fade. One night, it mysteriously burned to the ground. The Binger ditched Caruso and partnered with Ingrid Casares, Madonna’s former lover, on a new venture, using $250,000 in insurance money from the fire to launch Liquid.
Before long, he was the hottest property in South Beach.
Back in Brooklyn, Calandra’s crew was turning on one another.
Gulino crossed Spero, who ordered him whacked. The job went to Paulie’s pals Reynolds and Joey Calco, another Bath Avenue boy. They shot Gulino in the back of the head in his parents’ kitchen, then inherited his $5,000 a week in drug-dealing profits.
Three months after the murder in Staten Island, Calandra got pinched for a bank job. He would do five years. When he got out in 1998, he left his association with the Bonanno family and joined the Lucchese clan.
“Thank God I got away from my friends,” he said. “They took down the whole neighborhood.”
But he couldn’t escape Yammine, the safe basher, who got arrested and turned informant, fingering Calandra and Reynolds for Shemtov’s death. He would have nailed Paciello, too, but never knew his last name.
Calandra, facing life, figured the only way out was to cooperate.
“I flipped and gave up Chris.”
The feds collared Paciello, charging him with murder and other crimes in December 1999 — just as he was preparing to celebrate the opening of a Liquid nightclub in West Palm Beach.
What they didn’t know then was Paciello had secretly put himself in a central position with the mob. Three years earlier, he had flown to New York for a Mafia summit in which the Gambinos, who helped him get his start in Florida, and the Colombos hashed out which family would claim him.
Colombo boss Persico prevailed, and Paciello paid up. Paciello fed that information and more material that helped the FBI nail Persico and Joseph Massino, boss of the Bonannos.
After his arrest, Paciello helped put away 70 top mobsters, according to his lawyer, Ben Brafman, who called Paciello’s level of cooperation “unprecedented.”
The actress Sofia Vergara helped put up his $15 million bail during the trial. Paciello, who was sentenced to six years, blew her kisses in the courtroom.
Despite all the enemies he made, Paciello began doing the math. Was the mob really powerful enough to come after him? Was killing him worth it? And, most importantly, could he live outside the limelight?
“You can’t have no contact with family, and they control who you call, Dades says of witness relocation. “Chris would have been thrown out in a second if he’d been spotted in a nightclub in Miami.”
Paciello still had money hidden away and saw that few of his fellow rats were scared of the five families anymore.
“There’s a lot of people who go into it but leave,” Dades says.
“He’s saying to himself, ‘You know what? I have tons of money. And I ain’t afraid of nobody,’ ” Calandra says. “Today, it’s me, me, me. It’s a different age, a different era.”
After his release, Paciello split for LA, where he sunk money into a high-end pizzeria chain, Cristoni’s, squabbled with his partner as the business failed and got into a string of scrapes, including a knife fight. But just as ever, celebs clung to him, including his old buddy Rourke and “Entourage” star Kevin Connolly.
“He felt the waters out in California for a while,” Dades says. “It shows the arrogance of him. He sees himself as this tough guy. He didn’t think anything was going to happen to him.”
March marked his official return to Miami, where he hosted the grand opening of a swanky Italian restaurant, Bianca, at the oceanfront Delano hotel.
Ingrid Casares showed up for that event, as did Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez and former home-run champ Sammy Sosa. Paciello, 40, is also running a nightclub, FDR, where he holds court in as loud a fashion as ever, at one point wearing a T-shirt that boasted, “The King is Back!”
His only nod to possible danger — two bodyguards.
“Kid’s making big money — it’s like $1,000 just to sit at a table,” says Calandra, who patched things up with his former friend.
Hollywood is calling, as well.
The Paciello story, which inspired an A&E movie in 2007 starring Donnie Wahlberg, could be headed to the big screen. New Line Cinema recently bought the rights to a biopic.
“His life didn’t change,” Dades says. “He always had to look over his shoulder before this — and he still is.”
Sami Shemtov, now 69, lives a few miles north in a beachfront condo in Miami. He would not comment on Paciello’s return.
“I never liked Chris. He’s an arrogant son of a bitch,” Dades says. “I tell you, someone does that to my wife, I’d let time go by, dress in black and take an ice pick to him.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Infamous gangster Al Capone's pistol up for grabs at auction

The gun belonging to one of America’s most notorious gangsters is going up on the auction block.
Al Capone’s Colt .25-caliber semi-automatic vest pocket pistol will be among the items included in the American Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawman sale organized by RR Auctions.
Capone, a crime boss who smuggled alcohol throughout the U.S. during the Prohibition-era, had given the gun to one of his bootleggers for personal protection.
Al Caponeís Colt
Packing heat: Capone's Colt .25-caliber semi-automatic vest pocket pistol could fetch up to $15,000 at auction
Colt .38
Winning bid: A Colt .38 revolver that had belonged to Al Capone, sold for over $100,000 at a Christie's 2011 auction in London. The gun came with a letter signed by Capone's sister-in-law confirming its authenticity
The piece is estimated to sell from $10,000 to $15,000 at the live auction, that will be held on September 30 in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Another firearm belonging to Capone has already yielded an eye-popping offer at a previous auction in 2011.
Capone's Colt .38, that came with a letter signed by Capone's sister-in-law confirming its authenticity, sold for over $100,000 at a Christie's sale in London.
Al Capone
Al Capone was one of America's most notorious gangsters
Other items in the RR Auctions sale will include Capone’s deposition after an assassination attempt on Capone’s mentor Johnny Torrio in 1925.
He and Torrio were leaders of a Chicago gang, embroiled in a turf battle with rival gangs.
In the 50-page document Chicago police interrogate Capone about his whereabouts during the shooting.
The deposition could be sold for up to $100,000, Bobby Livingston from RR Auction expects.
‘The historic significance of these signed documents cannot be understated, especially given the subject matter at hand and at such a critical time responsible for Capone's ascension as Chicago's undisputed crime boss,’ Livingston said.
The attempted murder of Torrio ultimately led him to retire to Italy and leave Capone to take over the crime organization.
Additionally, interested buyers can bid on a handwritten musical score written by an imprisoned Capone, titled ‘Madonna Mia.’
Madonna Mia
Love song: A framed copy of the song 'Madonna Mia,' Capone penned while in prison in honor of his wife, Mae
The love song was written about his wife, Mae, while he was incarcerated at the infamous Alcatraz federal prison, in San Francisco in the 1930s.

The RR auction will also feature numerous items that had belonged to Bonnie and Clyde, the infamous crime couple from the Great Depression-era.
Signed: One page from a Jan. 24, 1925 deposition signed 'Alphonse Capone' will be included with other items in an auction titled 'American Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawman'

Former mobster who claimed he speaks to the dead convicted of 1992 murder

His mystic journey will likely end in prison.
An accused Mafioso-turned-mystic who claims he has spoken with the dead and seen the afterlife was convicted yesterday of acting as the getaway driver for a 1992 hit on a Genovese crime-family capo in The Bronx.
“I love you, I love you all,” Paul “Doc” Gaccione, 65, told his weeping daughter and girlfriend as he was led out of a Bronx Supreme Court room after jurors convicted him in the murder of Angelo Sangiuolo.
“I’ll be OK. I’ll do my work in here,” said Gaccione, who faces a maximum prison sentence of 25 years to life.
The devout Catholic is the author of an autobiography entitled “Beyond the Beyond: My Journey to Destiny,” which details how his deceased mother supposedly appeared to him in 2008 to assure him there is life after death, a message Gaccione wanted to share with the world.
Gaccione’s daughter, Gina King, 42, sobbed, “He’s going to a hell hole. He’s a good person.”
In addition to claiming his mother helped cure a buddy’s cancer, Gaccione said his late mamma urged him to play number 6 on an Atlantic City roulette wheel — a heaven-sent tip that paid off big-time.
But ironically, gambling played a key role in the murder that now threatens to doom him to dying in prison.
The June 3, 1992, hit on Sangiuolo, 32, was allegedly ordered by Genovese don Vincent “Chin” Gigante after complaints that the capo was ripping off the crime family’s gambling dens.
John “Johnny Balls” Leto has admitted shooting Sangiuolo, who was sitting in the back seat of a van that prosecutors charged was driven by Gaccione. The duo then ditched the van, with Sangiuolo’s body inside, in a Pelham Bay parking lot, prosecutors said.
Mafia snitch John “Big John” Mamone, 61, testified at Gaccione’s trial that Gaccione had told him “we did ‘a piece of work’ ” after Sangiulo’s slaying.
“There’s no justice here,” said Gaccione’s distraught girlfriend, Marie Platten. “I can’t believe they took him away from us.”

Bronx gambling members plead guilty and get released

Seven men pleaded guilty yesterday in connection with a $2 million-a-year Bronx gambling ring linked to the Genovese crime family as an eighth defendant — an FDNY firefighter — weighed a possible plea deal.
Suspended firefighter Thomas McMahon, 29, is accused of taking bets, paying out winnings and collecting debts for the ring.
McMahon, who had worked at Ladder Co. 38 in Belmont before his bust in February, briefly appeared in Bronx Supreme Court yesterday.
He may return next week for a possible guilty plea, said his lawyer, Michael Marinaccio.
Six of McMahon’s co-defendants — Joseph Sarcinella, Frank Mastracchio, Dominick Totino, Dominick Pietranico, Bruno Travostino and William Cali — pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of enterprise corruption, gambling, usury and conspiracy. They each were given a conditional discharge and fined $200.
Sarcinella is a longtime reputed Gambino mobster with a prior gambling conviction.
A seventh defendant, John D’Ambrosio, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to time served.
“It’s a blessing,” said 81-year-old Travostino. “A discharge is a wonderful thing. I’m happy to be free.” But, you know, I hardly even knew these guys. I’m a follower — I always have been.”
“My memory isn’t what it’s used to be. Sometimes I forget why I’m even here [in court]. But it’s over now — to hell with it.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sopranos stars reunite for children's mob drama on Nickelodeon

Nobody Knows Anything
Four members of the brilliant mafia drama The Sopranos are reuniting for a children's television movie.
The film, Nicky Deuce, will be shown on Nickelodeon next year. It will star Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), Steve R Schirripa (Bobby 'Bacala' Baccalieri), Tony Sirico (Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri) and Vincent Curatola (Johnny Sack) and it is the first time they have performed together since The Sopranos ended five years ago.
Nicky Deuce is based on the children's books by Schirripa and Charles Fleming which tell the story of an affluent suburban kid who is sent to stay with his Italian relatives in Brooklyn, and becomes convinced they are secretly mobsters. Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family, was published to acclaim in November 2005 and was followed in November 2006 by Nicky Deuce: Home for the Holidays. Schirripa and Fleming (a professional writer) were also the co-authors of the bestsellers A Goomba’s Guide to Life and its sequel, The Goomba Book of Love.
The movie has started production in Montreal and the cast includes veteran actress Rita Moreno and Cristine Prosperi of Degrassi: The Next Generation. Noah Munck (iCarly’s) plays the teenager staying with his uncle (Schirripa) in Brooklyn for the summer. Majorie Cohn, Nickelodeon's president of original programming and development, said: "Nicky Deuce is a comedic coming-of-age story that is uniquely Nickelodeon and having the Sopranos actors adds a level of authenticity and fun.”


Why former Philly mob boss turned informant is suing the US government

After Ralph Natale was released from prison last year, he and his wife Lucy settled into new digs at an undisclosed location. It looks like the typical home of any other great-grandparents: A figurine of a cat in a Santa hat sits on the table alongside a mug with “Wish. Let your heart be light” emblazoned inside it. A flower portrait painted by one of the kids hangs on the walls. A dusty copy of Moonstruck sits atop the VCR next to a jumbo book of crossword puzzles.
Nothing about the place suggests Natale’s dubious distinction of being the first American mob boss to turn government witness.

“I love it here,” he’ll tell me later. “I’ve been here a few times to collect money in, uh, my former life.”

At 77, Natale has spent nearly half his life in prison. He went to prison for the first time in 1980, serving 15 years for firebombing a furniture store in an insurance scam. After he got out in 1995, he was Philly’s mob boss until 1999, when he was indicted for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine—after already having been picked up on a parole violation for associating with known criminals the year before. He was facing life when he cut a deal with the feds.

Now, he’s a free man for the first time in 13 years—and, for the first time ever, not in the mob or behind bars. 

Emerging from the bedroom, he flashes a big smile and spreads his arms as if to say, So what do you think? 

Trim and tan, Ralph Natale looks remarkably young for his age. He’s a handsome man with a tidy gray goatee, dark eyebrows and deep-set bright brown eyes lined with thick, jagged black lashes. Today, he’s sporting a knit sweater, light blue seersucker pants and brown leather loafers without socks. His shoes exactly match the color of his skin. 

“The shirt is brand new. Well, it’s 15 years old,” he says with a laugh. “[My wife] bought clothes before the last time I went away, but she still had them in boxes.”

Natale sparkles with charisma and is quick with a joke, but being imprisoned for 28 years changes a man. He speaks with a slight lisp after ripping his bottom teeth out when, he says, prison authorities didn’t get him to a dentist to treat an infection fast enough. He’s partially deaf in one ear, but that’s from an incident on the outside when a shotgun went off in a car he was in. 

He still enjoys a daily run at a nearby park, but he can’t sleep in bed with Lucy, his 80-year-old wife whom he met at a dance in South Philly when he was 14 and then married two years later. (“He’s quite nice now,” says Lucy over the phone. “He’s calmed down a lot.”) Instead, Natale sleeps on the couch every night because, he says, it feels more like a jailhouse cot. 

“When we were younger, you know, we slept together!” he says. “But she understands ... she understands why.”

With the time for introductory niceties coming to a close, Natale sinks into the couch next to me. He lifts up his hand and traces a circle into the air a few inches in front of my nose with his fingertips. “You’re close to me,” he says. “But this part of your face, I can’t see.” He tilts his head. “If I look to the side, I can see peripheral.” 

He faces me directly. “When I’m looking at you this way, it’s just black.”

Ralph Natale is going blind. 

“I’m still beside myself,” Lucy says. “I’ve never dealt with someone who is blind or who is handicapped … I know he’s still getting searing pains across his eyes and around the side of his head, but he doesn’t tell you. He keeps it to himself.”

Natale says he’s been losing his sight steadily for years, and alleges that, while in prison, the federal authorities purposely deprived him of proper treatment. His testimony in four splashy trials helped the DOJ bring the most hidden parts of mafia life in Philly and New Jersey to light—and to send many criminals to prison. In return, he alleges, the feds willfully let him sink into darkness.

In May, Natale’s lawyer Conor Corcoran filed paperwork to initiate a lawsuit against the federal government. They’re charging that the U.S. Department of Justice deprived Natale of his civil rights. They allege that by denying Natale the proper care that might have stopped the progression of his blindness, they violated his Eighth Amendment rights by enacting cruel and unusual punishment. 

Natale is suing the government for $10 

“He has nothing,” says Lucy. “It would be nice if he had a few dollars because he can’t see, so I can afford to [travel] back and forth [to see my children], or so he can get a car and someone could drive him around.”

Natale downplays the money. For him, it’s a matter of justice. “[The lawsuit] might help, and it might not,” he says. “I’m not dependent on that and my wife’s not dependent on that. We live with the help of our family. We have enough to pay the rent.”

But for a lifelong gangster, Natale has a very definite and clear idea of right and wrong. “You know the old cowboy song. ‘I ain’t afraid of living and I ain’t afraid of dying.’ That’s where it’s at,” he says. “[But] maybe [the lawsuit] will show [the feds], ‘This is not what you should have done.’”

“They didn’t like him,” says Lucy. “They never liked him because of his lifestyle, because of what he did.”

When he came clean, Natale confessed to participating in gangland murders, drug trafficking and extortion, among other crimes. After he admitted that he was the trigger man on two murders and authorized six shootings in the 1990s while testifying that he also bribed former Camden mayor Milton Milan to award construction contracts to mob-controlled companies, Milan called Natale “the devil himself.”

Natale’s been called lots of things by many people: the devil, a loving father, a liar. Lucy makes a good point: “When he gave his testimony, [the feds] believed him,” says Lucy. “But they didn’t believe him when he said he had a problem.”

Ralph Natale was an Italian South Philly tough guy who says his father, Spike, ran an illegal gambling operation for the mob and served time at Eastern State Penitentiary. Natale has said that his father worked for Angelo Bruno, a Sicilian-born emigrant known as “the Gentle Don” who ruled the Philadelphia mob from 1959 until March 21, 1980, when a shotgun bullet shattered his skull as he sat in his car. 

Bruno’s death marked the end of the old-school Philadelphia mob, in which wise guys kept low profiles, stayed out of the drug business and lived and died by omerta, the code of silence that forbids cooperation with authorities. 

In the ’70s, Natale got a gig slinging drinks at the Rickshaw Inn, a Cherry Hill spot where local mob guys hung out. When three of Bruno’s men who were running the local bartenders union went to prison for labor racketeering and extortion, Bruno promoted Natale to run the union. In return, Natale diverted health-insurance funds into Bruno’s pocket. 

“Angelo Bruno was a decent, honest gangster,” Natale says. 

Observers of the Philly mob say that it never recovered after Bruno’s murder. Bloody power struggles, renegade alliances and an unprecedented number of confidential informants defined the years of chaos after Bruno. So many mobsters sang for the feds that the FBI started calling the Philly mob the “South Philly Boys’ Choir.” And every single boss since Bruno’s murder has been killed or arrested.

First, Philip “Chicken Man” Testa anointed himself boss until a nail bomb detonated beneath his porch a year later. Next came Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo, notorious for a flashy strut and a tyrannical flair for ordering executions considered excessive even by mob standards. When he went to jail in 1989, John Stanfa, Bruno’s former driver who was with him the night he was assassinated, was installed as boss. That lasted until he was convicted of murder, racketeering and assorted charges in 1995. 

As Stanfa was heading to prison, Natale was heading out; he saw the opportunity to take over, and he had ambition to do so. While in prison, Natale says he met Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, who would eventually secede him as boss and become his ultimate enemy. But at first, they hit it off—or at least had mutual goals. 

Merlino and his crew, made up mostly of relatives of old-guard Philly mobsters, were nicknamed the “Young Turks” and, reportedly feeling they were the rightful heirs to Philadelphia’s La Casa Nostra, had been in a bloody war with Stanfa. Natale says he first encountered Merlino at FCI McKean, a federal prison in western Pennsylvania: “He was under death threat at this time because he tried to kill Nicky Scarfo’s son … he was afraid, he was shaking. I said, ‘Now you’re with me.’ I took him in off the bus.”

They hatched and executed a plan to run the show when they got out, and it worked. Natale was installed as the official boss of the Philly mob, with Merlino his reputed underboss. (Natale’s detractors have long claimed that Merlino was always really in charge, and just used Natale as a figurehead to gain approval of the old heads.)

The partnership soured after Natale went back to prison. Facing life after being indicted on drug-trafficking charges, Natale became a government witness in August 1999. He’s long explained that he flipped because Merlino stopped making financial payments to his wife while he was prison.

“When I left, [Merlino and his crew] were living in brand-new homes and they were driving Mercedes-Benzes and that’s the truth,” he recalls, voice rising. “Not once did they come over the house and see if Lucy was OK, how she’s doing.”

(Over the years, Natale has told this story many times. Today, he doesn’t mention that Merlino also stopped payments to Ruthann Seccio, Natale’s young girlfriend at the time.) 

It was a power struggle that fell along the lines of age. In Natale’s view, the younger generation didn’t share the values—the honor—of their elders. 

“I would never become a witness before,” he says. “It was just—different. Different! … Now, I couldn’t wait to sit in the courtroom and call them punks ... Cowards!”

If Bruno’s murder was the first nail in the coffin of the old way of doing things in the Philly mob, Natale’s cooperation with the feds was the last. 

“If my friend Angelo Bruno was alive, if [Felix] “Skinny Razor” [Di’Tullio] was alive, if [one-time Chicago boss] Tony Accardo was alive, I would be doing life,” says Natale. “I tell you this with love. I get a chill. I would be doing life for the rest of my life. I would never be a witness. That’s how I am.”

“But them punks?” he spits. “No.” 

Before he flipped, Natale was known, as one mafia source once told a reporter, as “a stand-up motherfucker.” It was a reputation earned the tough way: In 1982, a Senate Committee hearing on organized crime subpoenaed Natale to testify. 

“They said if I gave them the right answers, I would be home in two months,” Natale recalls.

In a scene straight out of a mob movie, at the hearing, which aired on C-SPAN at the time, a young, muscular and bronze Natale theatrically refused to answer their questions, all macho bravado in the face of outraged lawmen. “I said, ‘You got the wrong guy.’ And I did 16 years.”

Natale does not admit fear. He insists that doing hard time, for him, was easy—even when his vision got to the point where he couldn’t read anymore. 

Natale recalls that he first noticed a problem with his eyesight more than a decade ago, while at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fairton in New Jersey. As he stood in the yard, he realized he couldn’t focus on a pole that was about 50 feet away: “I [couldn’t] see the whole pole. The pole had stripes on it.” 

Maybe his eyes were just tired, he thought, and needed a rest. But the stripes were still there the next day.

“I wrote a [request] to the medical department,” he says, “that I need to have my eyes checked, I’m seeing stripes.” 

“He was starting to have problems with [his left] eye,” recalls Natale’s son Frank, a 59-year-old high school teacher and athletic director in Philadelphia. “That’s how it started, it was little by little.”

Natale says he continually appealed to the authorities about his deteriorating vision. The family alleges that he was taken a handful of times to scattershot doctors who provided different diagnoses, but he never received a definitive one. 

His attorney says his lawsuit will demonstrate a pattern of purposeful neglect. “The [Department of Justice] treated Natale poorly because of who he was,” Corcoran says. “They didn’t get a definitive diagnosis. And efforts the family made in that regard were thwarted.”

Corcoran is referring to an incident in 2004 when Natale was being temporarily housed in federal prison in Center City while testifying in the Merlino trial. At the time, one of Natale’s daughters-in-law, Kathaleen Natale, was working as a CT scan technologist at Wills Eye Institute, a renowned eye-care center located just a few blocks away.

“[Ralph] was having definite vision issues, and with me working for Wills Eye, I realized how important your sight is and how if things go untreated, what can happen, so I was really anxious to get him taken care of and just to have someone look at him,” says Kathaleen, who now works at a different hospital. “I set up an appointment for my father-in-law to see a neuro-opthamologist.”

Kathaleen made the appointment while Lucy secured permission and arranged to pay marshals’ overtime and ancillary costs for Natale to be escorted to Wills Eye. But the appointment never happened.

“They just never brought him,” says Lucy. And no answers were forthcoming, she says, as to why.

Kathaleen canceled the appointment. “When we had to cancel, I gave [the doctor] the courtesy of telling him why. He said, ‘When you can get him down here, let me know and we’ll squeeze him in.’”

But, the Natale family alleges, no one let Ralph see the specialist despite the convenience and their offer to pay out of pocket for it. They suspect a specific U.S. Attorney who had it in for Natale made the call, but are withholding names until the lawsuit is filed. 

“Here we have a man who, needless to say, has a very colorful history,” says Corcoran. “But … he’s entitled to the bare minimum standards of decency and civility. When they fail to give him basic medical care to identify the problem and then further, interfere with his family’s private attempts to help that problem, they become just as monstrous themselves, if not more so.”

Years after the Wills Eye incident, Natale was sent to see an eye doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. At the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, where he was sent while awaiting the appointment, he says he was put into a strip cell in solitary confinement for a month and a half. He recalls that it was winter, and icy air flowed in through a crack in a broken window.

“I was freezing to death,” says Natale, who says it was the only time when he wasn’t sure if he was going to survive his last years in prison. “I’ve been all my life in those places. But this place! It was terrible.” 

At the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Brian Younge took pictures of his eyes and asked him to read an eye chart.

“I said, ‘I can’t see the chart,’” Natale says. “He said ‘What do you mean?’ He got a little feisty with me. I said, ‘I can’t see the chart! I can’t see nothing!’”

On the paperwork from the appointment, Younge advised that Natale should be brought back within the next few months if symptoms persisted. 

“They never brought me back [to the doctor],” says Natale. “So eventually I called home … One of the guards, a decent guy, let me have the phone call after everyone went home at 5 o’clock. I said, ‘Lucy, you’ve got to get me out of here! I’m not going to make it in here. I’m freezing to death.”

Natale learned later that in Dr. Younge’s report filed to the Federal Medical Center, Younge had made a notation: “He sees better than he admits.” 

Natale’s eyes go wild as he tells the story. “Why would I lie?” he says. 

A couple of years later, he says, he learned his charts indicated he was legally blind after he was transferred to the Allenwood prison in Pennsylvania and ran into a friendly guard. “The first night he walked over … He said, ‘Ralph! Did you know you were going blind?’ He was looking at it on my record!”

“It just continually got worse and worse and worse,” says Frank, Kathaleen’s husband. “It was never a point where anybody did anything; now he finally gets to see somebody and when he sees someone now, he’s so far gone there’s nothing they can do.”

Natale has been seeing doctors since getting out of prison but does not yet have an official diagnosis.

The paperwork that Natale’s lawyer filed in May is technically not yet a lawsuit, but rather a declaration of an intention to sue, a formality Corcoran says is required when suing the government. “The feds enjoy a six-month grace period to get their goddamn ducks in a row,” says Corcoran. “And if they don’t do the right thing, then I’m going to haul them into court. They have an opportunity to right the wrong before it gets messy.

“They’re going to have to … do a wee bit of soul-searching as to why Ralph was not allowed out of prison for a degenerative eye condition that his family was more than willing to pay for,” he continues. “And they’re going to have to consider the implications of their actions for specifically targeting a high-profile defendant and preventing him from getting him the treatment that he’s constitutionally guaranteed to get.”

“Once the suit is filed,” a spokesman for the Department of Justice told PW in an email, “we’ll review it, and will ultimately make a determination as to how the government will respond. Until that point, we’d obviously not have any comment.”

Lucy says she just wants the government “to admit they did nothing.”

Though it’s difficult to tell from just talking with him, signs of Natale’s dimming world are all over his home. Two recliners sit side-by-side, just a few feet in front of the large-screen television. The landline telephone has keypads the size of dominoes. A 6-inch magnifying glass rests on a stack of legal pads piled two feet high on the floor next to the couch.

The notepads are a draft of his memoirs. 

“I wrote all of this in a prison cell,” says Natale, gesturing at the pile. He’s frustrated. “I’ve been a man who took care of myself and my family my entire life. [Now] I can’t see. When I write something, I can’t read my own writing.”

He is still working on the book, but more slowly. He writes what he can, and Lucy reads his work back to him. 

“My wife is magical,” he says. “We went through things in our marriage … but I never, ever fell out of love with my wife. Just my life got carried away. The stupidity of men. We’re stupid. Thank god I woke up.”

Natale talks about his family a lot. Today, he rattles off the educational and career accomplishments of his three daughters and two sons, and his grandkids, with great pride.

“I’m not a religious man,” he says. “But I thank the blessed mother that my sons took after my wife. And my daughters! If they were boys, they’d be doing 40 to 60 somewhere!” That’s a compliment—he means they’re tough. One of his daughters is, in fact, a federal prosecutor.

Framed photos of his family are all over the house; his eldest great-grandchild is a freshman in high school. “I never saw them,” he says of his great-grandchildren. “They were born when I was in prison.”

“I feel bad for my dad, because regardless of what he did in his life, no one should go blind,” says Frank. “My son ... would love to have him come to a football game … but there’s no way he could sit in the stands and watch him … when I grew up, he was always at every football game, every practice.”

The family doesn’t see Natale the way the rest of the world might.” I don’t picture him as this big mob guy,” says Frank. “I understand that, but here when you sit down and say hello and have a glass of wine, he’s my dad.”

Natale says that he doesn’t talk too much with neighbors. He figures once he starts chatting, they’ll eventually ask questions that he doesn’t want to answer. He says that now that he’s retired, so to speak, he’s reflecting on his life. “I’m not too proud of anything we did,” he says. “But hey, my life was my life.”

Does he ever think about the people he murdered?

“I can’t feel any way about them, because I’d have no life,” he says. “We didn’t go out and pick somebody who was selling apples or in the candy store or shoot at somebody and a kid gets killed. These guys were bad men … I only took the life of men who wanted to take my life. And that’s it. I can’t say any more.” 

At 77, Natale has given half his life to the streets and the other half to the system—and feels let down by both. He has his beloved wife. He has his family. For as long as his eyesight allows, he will work on his memoirs and run in the park. It is a race against time and light.

“Every night I go to sleep. I dream all night,” he says. “The last dream is that I’m in prison again. Every night.”


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Anthony Grazino cracks jokes in court as he is sentenced to 19 months in jail

This wise guy is still smarting off.
Anthony “TG” Graziano, the 71-year-old dad of "Mob Wives'' star Renee Graziano and Bonanno crime family capo, today was admonished by a Brooklyn Federal Court judge and even his own wife for snickering and cracking jokes as he was sentenced to 19 months in jail on an extortion plot.
Graziano, whose courtroom chatter was so bad that his wife Veronica mouthed "Stop it!'' from the galley, will only serve 11 months for the rap against him -- collecting an illegal debt -- because the judge gave him credit for eight months already served.
He was ratted out by former son-in-law-turned-canary Hector Pagan, an ex-Bonanno informant who is Renee’s ex-husband. She was not in court.
Judge Carol Amon called Graziano's sentence "reasonable in light of the serious conduct ... on behalf of the Bonnano crime family" and considering Graziano's criminal history. Sentencing guidelines called for anywhere from between 27 to 33 months.
Graziano's lawyer asked for leniency given his client's long history of health problems, including diabetes and bladder cancer, but the judge noted that those ailments never seemed to get in his way before.
Graziano himself asked the judge before sentencing, "Can I get outta [the Manhattan Detention Center] fast? They're killing me in there.'' It wasn't known which federal prison he may finish his sentence in.
In a written statement read by his lawyer, Patrick Parrotta, Graziano asked for leniency because of his health and apologized to his wife for "causing her such pain and grief" and to his grandchildren.
"I am sorry to leave you again. Grandpa loves you all," he wrote in his statement.
Three others who also pleaded guilty to collecting illegal loans in a mob-controlled social club were sentenced, too. A fourth man implicated in the case was contesting part of his plea deal.

Judge sends succesful Gambino car salesman back to prison

 8/16/12 Mobster Michael Scarpaci cum a used car salesman at Infiniti of Manhasset in photo Michael Scarpaci
A BROOKLYN judge put the brakes on a mobster’s stellar career as a car salesman Monday, refusing to keep him out of jail so he can continue to hawk Infiniti vehicles.
Reputed Gambino associate Michael Scarpaci, who pleaded guilty to a $20 million security scam, failed in his audacious effort to stay free through the end of the year.
He was sentenced almost a year ago and was already allowed twice to postpone the beginning of his incarceration.
But his third time wasn’t the charm.
Federal Judge Jack Weinstein was unmoved by pleas from the salesman’s boss, who wrote how the defendant helps the Long Island Infiniti dealership break sales records.
“Mr. Scarpaci has been a great benefit to his workplace,” defense lawyer Joseph Corozzo added as he implored the veteran jurist during a brief hearing.
“Motion denied,” Weinstein said sharply. “He had ample time.”
The lawyer then made one more suggestion: What if his client could keep working under house arrest and then start serving hard time?
“No,” answered the judge.
A resigned Scarpaci, 36, thanked Weinstein and left court without comment.
He “has accepted responsibility, and he’s ready to serve his sentence,” Corozzo said. “He was just asking for a little more time.”
The recovering alcoholic and drug addict admitted to running a con that convinced more than 1,000 victims to invest in a Wall Street firm called Gryphon Holdings — even using a phony review from billionaire George Soros to tout the firm.
But the whole operation was a racket that was run out of a boiler room in a Staten Island strip mall.
Scarpaci was sentenced last September to 25 months behind bars. After counting time served and a period in a halfway house, he realistically has to do only seven to nine months in prison, said his lawyer.