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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

One mother's journey to investigate the FBI's corrupt relationship with the Colombo crime family

Angela Clemente in her home office. In 1999, she was tipped off that one of the defendants convicted in a gangland murder, Anthony Russo, had supposedly been wrongly accused.

At the end of February, a 300-page report, tersely titled, “New York Systemic Corruption,” was received for review by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General in Washington. In three bound volumes, it detailed a series of oft-made, and explosive, allegations: that in the 1990s, while trying to stem the Colombo family war, federal prosecutors and agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York knowingly allowed two moles in the mob to kill while they were on the government’s payroll.
Ms. Clemente's main focus has been the F.B.I.’s entanglements with the mob. She has looked at ties  between R. Lindley DeVecchio, who ran the F.B.I.’s Colombo family squad, and Gregory Scarpa Sr., a Colombo family captain, who was secretly serving as the agent’s mole.
But the dossier had not been sent to Washington by one of the defense attorneys or professional private detectives who have, for two decades now, been working on the legal cases related to the war, an internecine struggle from 1991 to 1993 that resulted in a dozen deaths and more than 80 convictions. It was sent from an unlikely, and mostly unknown, source: a 5-foot-4, single mother from New Jersey named Angela Clemente.
For nearly 15 years, Ms. Clemente, 48 and a self-professed “forensic analyst,” has waged an independent and improbable campaign to prove that the government turned a blind eye to as many as 39 murders committed in New York by turncoat gangsters it paid to work as informants.
Through interviews in the underworld and by prying loose documents from classified archives, her unusual citizen-sleuthing has taken her deep into the local version of the James "Whitey" Bulger case, which is now being tried in Boston. Not only into the annals of the New York mob, but also, in a strange, octopus-like fashion, into corollary inquiries into Islamic terrorism, the Kennedy assassination, even the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
“You have a real knack for investigation,” Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a former chairman of the House oversight committee, wrote to Ms. Clemente in 2007 after she helped lead the authorities to a stash of explosives in a Kansas house owned by Terry Nichols, one of the Oklahoma City bombers. “Your ability to get valuable information from sources unavailable to many of us in government is truly an asset to those seeking the truth.”
A onetime medical technician who in her 30s studied to become a paralegal, Ms. Clemente is not your typical gumshoe. For one thing, she tends not to work for criminal defendants or their lawyers, opting instead to send her findings to public officials, like Mr. Rohrabacher, hoping to prompt Congressional hearings or legislative change. For another, when she isn’t in Washington or visiting federal prisons, she lives in Tuckerton, N.J., north of Atlantic City, and cares for her autistic brother Miles, 47, and 15-year-old son Santo, who has a rare autoimmune disease.
It was more or less by chance that Ms. Clemente found her mission in 1999, when she was working from home, in Toms River, N.J., helping prison inmates file transfer requests or obtain better medical care.
A member of the Gambino crime family discreetly sought her out, she said, and suggested she investigate the gangland murder of John Minerva, a Colombo soldier shot at the height of his family’s civil war while sitting in a Champagne-colored Cadillac outside a coffee shop in North Massapequa, N.Y. The mobster told her that one of the defendants convicted in Mr. Minerva’s death, Anthony Russo, had been wrongly accused. 
“When I got the Russo case, I didn’t really know about the mob,” Ms. Clemente said recently. “I just started talking to everyone involved, the Mafia guys, the victims’ families, even some of the judges. I was just trying to learn what I could and see if something had actually gone wrong.”
She also didn’t know that Mr. Russo’s conviction, in Brooklyn in 1994, was linked to one of the most extraordinary — and litigated — tales in New York Mafia history, the epic saga of a convoluted and allegedly compromised partnership between a lawman and a hit man: R. Lindley DeVecchio, a streetwise agent who ran the F.B.I.’s Colombo family squad, and Gregory Scarpa Sr., a Colombo family captain, who was secretly serving as the agent’s mole.
Before Ms. Clemente arrived on the scene, New York’s finest lawyers had been chasing hints for years that Mr. DeVecchio was corrupt and had allowed Mr. Scarpa to kill his rivals during the Colombo family war and pin some murders on men who were not involved. The lawyers’ efforts were more than a simple search for truth; if Mr. DeVecchio was in fact tainted, then a cadre of Colombo gangsters that he had helped imprison might go free.
Using the Russo case as an entry point, Ms. Clemente began to examine the tangled bond between Mr. DeVecchio and Mr. Scarpa, an expert assassin known as the Grim Reaper.
Overwhelmed by its complexities, she soon sought help from an unusual source: a Yale-trained scholar and former Michigan state official named Stephen Dresch. This odd couple — Ms. Clemente was heavyset at the time and nervous; Dr. Dresch wore bathrobes and a Unabomber beard — spent six years going through the case file and re-interviewing witnesses.
Finally, in 2005, they sent their findings to Representative William D. Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat who was then holding hearings on corruption in the Boston office of the F.B.I.
In an interview last month, Mr. Delahunt, now retired from Congress, said that he referred their work to Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, and in 2006 — just before Dr. Dresch died — Mr. Hynes’s office indicted Mr. DeVecchio on charges of helping Mr. Scarpa commit four murders while he was an F.B.I. informant.
It was the first time that the long-pursued agent was forced to appear in court as a defendant. (Mr. Scarpa died in 1994.) At a news conference announcing the charges, Michael F. Vecchione, Mr. Hynes’s chief investigator, publicly thanked Ms. Clemente. “See that woman over there,” he said. “She opened the Pandora’s box.”
One year later, Mr. DeVecchio’s trial collapsed in spectacular fashion, when a prosecution witness was shown to be a liar — not that it stopped Ms. Clemente. By 2008, she had sued the F.B.I. through the Freedom of Information Act and received more than 1,000 pages of previously classified material concerning Mr. Scarpa. (The same material was used by Peter Lance, the author of the true-crime book, “Deal with the Devil,” scheduled to be published Tuesday.)
By 2010, Ms. Clemente had identified a second mob informant who worked with Mr. DeVecchio: Frank Sparaco, a Colombo family killer. Just this March, he came forward in a jailhouse affidavit supporting her initial claim: that Anthony Russo was not involved in John Minerva’s death.
The appellate courts have so far been unwilling to listen to Mr. Sparaco, but Alan Futerfas, Mr. Russo’s lawyer, credits Ms. Clemente’s work. “Angela has always been a fighter and a firebrand,” Mr. Futerfas said. “She’s managed to discover information that’s important to these issues.”
Three weeks ago, her investigation took another startling turn. Ms. Clemente’s lawyer, Jim Lesar, said that the government, again responding to her Freedom of Information Act request, had agreed in principle to give her a trove of 50,000 pages of previously unseen documents. Who knows what they might reveal?
Given her status as an outsider in Brooklyn’s legal circles, questions have always swirled around Angela Clemente. Where does she come from? How does she support herself? And most of all, Why does she do what she does?
Ms. Clemente said she was born in Muskegon, Mich., the child of a brilliant, jobless father and a mother who worked in restaurants and bars. Her family was itinerant, passing in her early years through Delaware, Florida, Vermont and New Jersey. “We would move to one place, get kicked out, and then move to another,” she said. “That’s the way we lived — it was a mess.”
Ms. Clemente was 11 when her parents divorced. Her mother remarried — “A biker, he was crazy” — and Ms. Clemente claims that her stepfather sexually abused her through her teens. At age 18, she fled her family’s home in Daytona Beach, Fla., and moved out on her own, finding work as a hospital technician.
In 1986, when she was 22, Ms. Clemente gave birth to a daughter she had with a man who had a job installing air-conditioning units. When the girl turned 4, the man was charged with sexually assaulting her. Within a year, the charges were dismissed. Ms. Clemente claims that the local prosecutor’s office mishandled the case.
“After that,” she said, “I was furious. I decided I was going to hold every law enforcement officer in the country to the highest standards of behavior. I know it’s crazy. But I just made the decision that people in power should have to follow rules.”
“Angela is a person who has every right to be bitter with the world,” said David Schoen, a defense lawyer who has been involved for years in cases connected to the Colombo family war. “But there’s a spark in her that won’t let her rest. She sees injustice and will not give up.”
In the wake of the case’s dismissal, Ms. Clemente and her daughter — now in her 20s and living on her own in New Jersey — moved to Colorado, where Ms. Clemente studied to become a physician assistant. They wandered north to Seattle and then south to Los Angeles. Returning to Seattle, in 1998, Ms. Clemente got pregnant again, after an encounter with a stranger, and Santo, her son, was born with a rare disease that afflicts him with blisters if he stays too long in the sun.
Unable to find a day care center that would care for her ailing child, Ms. Clemente said she quit her medical studies and, after taking online courses, began doing paralegal work out of her home in Seattle and, eventually, New Jersey. “I integrated my legal and medical experience and started taking cases,” she explained. “From speaking with attorneys, I managed to find inmates who needed help.”
Among them was Mr. Russo, a Colombo family captain whose conviction in the Minerva murder launched Ms. Clemente on the twisting path toward Mr. DeVecchio.
On June 16, 2006, three months after Mr. DeVecchio was indicted, Ms. Clemente said she found an anonymous note on her car, summoning her to Brooklyn, from someone claiming they had information about the Minerva case. She went to the Caesar’s Bay Bazaar off the Belt Parkway and, hours later, a passer-by found her sprawled unconscious in the parking lot. Mr. Vecchione, the same investigator who had thanked her months before, told reporters at the time that Ms. Clemente had choke marks on her neck, cuts and bruises, and a large welt on her stomach.
“I think I was getting too close to that case and someone didn’t like it,” Ms. Clemente said. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office still considers the attack to be unsolved.
For a woman ostensibly in possession of a rigorous sense of right and wrong, it remains a question as to why Ms. Clemente has persistently pursued evidence that could result in gangsters going free. If, for argument’s sake, she is right in her contention that Mr. Russo and others were wrongly convicted in cases overseen by a corrupt federal agent, it is at least possible that the men she is trying to help are guilty of other crimes.
“Sometimes I’m torn about that and sometimes I’m not,” she said the other day. “This is where it goes back to my daughter — that was one of my biggest drives.”
She quickly added, “But if you are falsely accused — and I think that Russo was — how do you fight it, if you don’t have someone fighting for you?”
The United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn, which prosecuted Mr. Russo and several other Colombo family gangsters, declined to comment on any of the cases that Ms. Clemente has worked on. And, the Justice Department would not comment on the status of her 300-page report.
The New York office of the F.B.I., pointing to the failed state trial in 2007 and to the bureau’s own probe of Mr. DeVecchio a decade earlier, has long denied that the former agent was guilty of misconduct.
Such responses do not sit well with some relatives of the imprisoned Mafiosi — among them Andrew Orena, the son of Victor Orena, the Colombo family’s former underboss who is serving a life sentence for a murder that Mr. DeVecchio helped investigate and that the elder Mr. Orena claims he did not commit.
Andrew Orena is a filmmaker, a not unheard-of occupation for the progeny of mobsters. He is also one of Ms. Clemente’s loudest champions, saying that she has done more than any lawyer in unearthing information that might, eventually, set his father free.
“I’m not saying my father’s an angel,” Mr. Orena admitted recently. “But in America you’re supposed to get a fair trial. God bless Angela. She’s protecting more than Vic Orena or my family.”
He paused and then went on: “Which is more dangerous? A gangster or a government that does anything it wants?”
One day late last month, Mr. Orena brought Ms. Clemente to a meeting at the Midtown office of Jailbird Productions, a movie company he runs with his brother, John Orena, a former Colombo family soldier who served five years for racketeering, and Anthony Gentile, a veteran of children’s entertainment. The purpose of the meeting was to pitch Ms. Clemente on a biopic about her life and, hopefully, to nail down the film rights to her story.
In a conference room filled with plastic action figures, Mr. Gentile told Ms. Clemente that he was in awe of her and her work, and saw real potential in developing “transmedia properties.” He talked about “licensing” and “merchandising pipelines” and dropped the actor Ryan Gosling’s name. He kept calling her “Ange.”
Ms. Clemente seemed reluctant. From the start of her investigation, she has steered clear of the limelight, partly out of concern for personal safety and partly from a natural discomfort with publicity. Four years ago, however, she was diagnosed with cryptogenic cirrhosis of the liver, which over time has withered her once-full frame to a mere 100 pounds. She is waiting for a liver transplant and says she fears for her brother and her son, whom she still takes care of, should her condition worsen. She is not a wealthy woman and the money could help.
“So,” she asked Mr. Gentile, “what exactly are you looking at pertaining to me?”
He went on for a few more minutes about the William Morris Agency and a screenplay in development — “Nick Pileggi was very helpful in the beginning of that process,” he said, referring to the screenwriter — and then the meeting ended.
A few weeks later, Ms. Clemente got an e-mail from Mr. Gentile, who told her he was thinking that Angelina Jolie would be perfect to play her in the movie. A file was attached. It contained the storyboard for the trailer of a project tentatively titled, “Clemente.”
“Based on a true story of tragedy and hope,” the first panel read.
As of last week, Ms. Clemente was still considering the offer.
“I just want the truth to come out,” she said. “The fact is, my children hate my work. They feel like it puts them in jeopardy. But if I do this” — sign the contract — “then maybe it will show them some things. Maybe it will show them how important some of this work really is.”


Source claims Gambino crime family will name Franky Boy its new boss

<p>Francesco "Franky Boy" Cali.</p>
The Gambino crime family is set to name Francesco "Franky Boy" Cali as its new godfather. 
Cali — a native New Yorker who traces his roots firmly to Sicily — is to be secretly anointed as the next head of the nation’s largest La Cosa Nostra organization, sources told DNAinfo New York.
The sources say Cali’s ascent from underboss is imminent and will put him in complete control of the Mafia family that has 750 members and associates and was once ruled by the likes of John “The Dapper Don” Gotti and the group's infamous namesake, Carlo Gambino.
A top New York City law enforcement source said the Gambino capos continue to look up to Cali, 48, because of his old-school approach to running a massive crime family, his adherence to traditional Mafia values, personal family ties that stretch across the Atlantic to Italy and his insistence that members maintain a low profile. 
The latter continues a break with the flashy, headline-grabbing era marked by Gotti, whose visage once graced the cover of Time magazine. Gotti died of throat cancer in prison in 2002.
Sources say the current boss, Domenico "Greaseball" Cefalu, 76,  is a native Sicilian with a long history of heroin smuggling and several stints in prison. He is stepping aside to allow his younger protege to take the reins of the family's lucrative gambling, loansharking and construction rackets.
"The family believes Cali is more dynamic and that Cefalu has become too laid back . . . and that's not what a money making organization wants," another law enforcement source said.
Cali got his start in the mob by running a fruit store on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn called Arcobaleno, which means "rainbow" in Italian.  The feds say it doubled as a front for criminal activities. 
His parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Palermo, Italy.  He eventually married into mob royalty when he wed the daughter of one of the Inzerillos, who are known as one of the Mafia powerhouses in Italy. 
He is also a nephew of John and Joseph Gambino, who are influential hoods connected to the famous “Pizza Connection” drug trafficking case of the 1980s.
Cali made his bones under the Gottis while operating in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey.
According to the FBI, he officially became the Gambino "ambassador to the Sicilian Mafia" and a rising star when Gotti and Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano roamed the city, ruling rackets and murdering dozens of people.
In 2008, Cali and scores of other hoods were arrested in a massive drug and racketeering investigation dubbed "Operation Old Bridge" that centered on extortion of a Staten Island trucking executive who became an FBI wire-wearing informant.
The case also involved planned NASCAR races on the island. Cali pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and spent a year in jail.
“The Gambinos like Cali because of his low-key profile and old-school values,” a law enforcement source said. “The family wants to keep things that way."
Over the past several decades, and thanks to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, the feds have severely reduced the influence of the Gambinos and the other four crime families over the past decade, breaking their grip on the billion-dollar labor union and construction industries.
But the mob has remained strong in traditional money-making operations involving gambling, loansharking and prostitution, law enforcement authorities say.


Whitey Bulger calls corrupt FBI supervisor a fucking liar during trial

Former FBI supervisor John Morris testified at the trial of Bulger on Friday, June 28, saying that he provided information to Bulger in exchange for money and gifts. Here Morris testifies during the John Connolly murder trial in Miami in 2008.
Reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, visibly annoyed, muttered under his breath "You're a f---ing liar" Thursday as a disgraced former FBI supervisor testified that there was "no question" the Irish gangster doubled as an informant for FBI Boston.
Prosecutor Brian Kelly requested that the judge in Bulger's federal trial advise Bulger to "keep his little remarks to himself," which Judge Denise Casper advised shortly after.
Both sets of attorneys have spent a remarkable amount of time during the trial of the notorious Bulger, charged with 19 murders and in court after living in hiding for 16 years, trying to prove whether Bulger was an informant during a 15-year period. Even Judge Casper is beginning to question the importance of the issue.
During post-court discussion over motions, as the defense was attempting to further it's argument that Bulger's informant records were forged by his FBI handler, Judge Casper questioned, "How does that address that your client is not guilty of crimes here?"
Bulger's attorney J.W. Carney danced around the question and responded, "Bulger was not providing information as an informant, he was providing money so that he'd get tipped off about wire taps and search warrants."
Bulger's attorneys have been quick to admit to acts of extortion and racketeering -- charges Bulger is also facing -- to defend their client's position that he was not another "rat" from South Boston.
"Why can't both be true?" Judge Casper inquired.
"The defendant's position is (that) only one is true." Carney said. "Why would James Bulger be paying all this money to all these people if the government's theory is he got all this protection because he was providing information. Why would he keep paying everybody?"
Former FBI supervisor John Morris, an addition to the government's long list of cooperating witnesses, testified Thursday that he took bribes from Bulger in the amount of $7,000, along with a silver-plated champagne bucket and two cases of imported wine.
Morris said he asked Bulger if he could "spring" for a plane ticket for his secretary girlfriend to visit him during FBI training in Georgia, and Bulger obliged. Morris admitted to his acts of corruption in 1997 in exchange for immunity.
A sheepish, red-faced Morris, though less than six feet away from Bulger, avoided eye contact with the defendant, who glared steadily at his old confidant throughout his testimony. This is the first time the two have seen each other since they cut ties in 1991 after Morris leaked Bulger's informant status to the Boston Globe.
Morris said he first met Bulger at a dinner he hosted his Lexington, Massachusetts, home in 1978 along with Bulger's FBI handler John Connolly, whom he characterized as his "best friend."
Morris said he met Bulger and later his associate Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi eight to 10 times in various places, including Morris' home, Morris' girlfriend's apartment, a hotel, Bulger's home and even in Flemmi's mother's house for dinner. Flemmi's mother cooked. The defense has previously argued that Bulger was not treated like an informant, and thus did not believe that he was.
Morris testified that Connolly preferred to meet Bulger in "pleasant surroundings, not the type of surroundings you would meet a normal informant," like in a hotel or car. "He wanted Mr. Bulger to be comfortable," Morris said.
Morris was supervisor to rogue FBI agent Connolly, who is currently serving a 40-year sentence on second-degree murder charges for leaking the identities of witnesses cooperating against Bulger's Winter Hill Gang. Flemmi, serving a life sentence, is set to testify against Bulger later in this trial after agreeing to cooperate with the government to evade the death penalty in 1997.
All that Bulger and Flemmi wanted from their handlers in exchange for information was "a head start," as Morris described -- to be tipped off if they were going to be indicted or charged so they could flee. The pair, according to Morris, knew they were "fair game" and acknowledged that they were engaging in criminal activity and at some point they might get charged. If that happened, they didn't want their identity as informants disclosed and would rather "take the risk" Morris said.
Morris admitted to tipping his informants off to wire taps, and keeping their names out of a 1975 horse race indictment. He testified that the Mafia, or La Cosa Nostra, was the main priority of the FBI in Boston and that Bulger and his partner Flemmi were instrumental in the take-down of those mobsters. The two provided the agents with a drawing of Mafia headquarters, and that was used to take down the New England Mafia in a 1983 sting.
After being tipped off to an indictment, Bulger went on the run for 16 years and landed himself on the FBI's top 10 most wanted list before being arrested in his Santa Monica. California, home with his girlfriend in 2011.
Morris said that he signed off on reports Bulger provided to the FBI that he knew were false lies to protect himself from being implicated as the person to who leaked sensitive information that may have tipped Bulger off to witnesses that were cooperating against him. Those potential witnesses were eventually murdered, Morris said, and Bulger has been charged in their killings.
While the defense had little time to cross-examine Morris, who will be back on the stand Friday, defense attorney Hank Brennan painted Morris to be a liar, an adulterer, and a fraud. He was able to fire off a question that is likely to resound with the jury.
"You were corrupt, weren't you Mr. Morris?" Brennan queried.
"Yes," Morris exhaled after a long pause and a deep breath.


FBI plans to fight the mafia with fewer agents

Believed to have been set up by John Gotti, a mob boss, Paul Castellano, was killed outside Sparks Steakhouse in 1985. 

The New York office of the F.B.I. confronts an array of challenges — from cyber and financial crime to global terrorism — that would have been unimaginable half a century ago when it first squared off in earnest against the mob. And so, in recent years, more and more agents have been assigned to those modern threats and fewer to the L.C.N., the bureau’s shorthand for La Cosa Nostra.
Now, for the third time in five years, the office is reducing the number of agents assigned to traditional organized crime cases, bringing the total remaining to roughly three dozen, people with knowledge of the changes said. Those agents are responsible for investigating some 700 so-called made members and 7,000 associates. The number of squads focused exclusively on the city’s five crime families will be reduced to two from three. The cuts will leave about 60 percent fewer agents in New York City investigating the mob than in 2008, when there was — as there had been for decades — a separate squad of 10 to 20 agents devoted to each crime family.
The changes come after two decades of success in the fight against the mob, and they have met with mixed reviews within the Federal Bureau of Investigation and at some of the other agencies that, over the years, worked to wrest the mob’s grip from some industries and loosen it over others.
Some see the changes as a necessary evolution, a reaction to the changing nature of crime and threats to the nation in a time of tight budgets. Others fear the reductions could allow the city’s five weakened crime families — the Gambinos, the Bonannos, the Colombos, the Genoveses and the Luccheses — to grow stronger, regroup and reassert themselves.
The head of the New York F.B.I. office, assistant director George Venizelos, declined to discuss specific staffing numbers but acknowledged the cuts, citing terrorism and other priorities, the F.B.I.’s budget and what he called the mob’s changing footprint. He suggested, however, that the changes were not set in stone. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to increase it in six months” if circumstances warrant, he said, adding, “we’re just trying to be more flexible.”
“That’s where the challenge is — you want to stay on top of the L.C.N., and you don’t want it to be back where it used to be,” he said. “Would I like another 100 agents or so? Of course we would, but we have to deal with what we have.”
Other F.B.I. offices in cities where traditional organized crime families have long exerted influence have seen similar cutbacks. Ten years ago in the Chicago office, for example, two squads with 12 agents each were devoted exclusively to investigating La Cosa Nostra. Now only one squad with 12 agents focuses on the mob, a person briefed on those changes said.
Prof. James B. Jacobs, the director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University School of Law who has written extensively about organized crime, construction and labor unions, said the reductions presented a potential problem, but that a re-examination of the bureau’s priorities was long overdue.
“We just don’t have enough resources,” Mr. Jacobs said, adding that James B. Comey’s nomination to succeed Robert S. Mueller III as F.B.I. director could present an opportunity for just such a review. He also said that state and local governments should play a greater role in investigating organized crime cases.
The hallmark of organized crime has long been the ability of its more imaginative members to find creative ways to penetrate, corrupt and control industries, and thus separate the government, businesses and citizens from their money. Coupled with the omnipresent threat of violence and more mundane schemes, it remains an enduring presence in certain sectors of the economy and certain neighborhoods around the city.
Over the years, the mob has found its way into more and more sophisticated schemes, feeding on everything from the stock market to the Internet and the health care and telecommunications industries, all while remaining entrenched in construction and staples like gambling, loan-sharking and extortion.
A resurgent mob, officials fear, could drive up the costs of a range of goods and services in the city, including private carting, construction, health insurance and restaurant linens.
“The problem hasn’t gone away,” said one senior F.B.I. investigator, who like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to publicly criticize their superiors. “Just because you put a guy away,” he said, “they replace him. They make new guys. Unless you stay on top of it, you won’t know who those guys are.” And if you don’t know who they are, he said, you can’t keep up with what they are doing.
The investigator, along with several other current and former officials, cautioned that the reduced number of agents assigned to handle organized crime cases would not only limit the nature and number of cases that the bureau can pursue, but also slow the flow of the informers — the key to most investigations — to a trickle.
Informers also serve an important role in helping investigators track developments in mob families: the makeup of the hierarchy, promotions, the induction of new members and their daily activities.
Under the old model, there was one F.B.I. squad responsible for investigating and gathering intelligence on each of the city’s five mafia families. At any given time, a squad might be investigating several larger and smaller cases against crime figures.
With the cutbacks, one squad, known by the internal designation C5, which previously had handled the Genovese family, will also be responsible for the Bonannos and the Colombos. Another squad, C16, which had long investigated the Gambino family, is now also responsible for the Luccheses. 


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Genovese associate pleads not guilty to loan sharking

A Passaic County man, reputed to be an associate of the Genovese organized crime family, entered a not guilty plea Thursday at his arraignment on federal loan-sharking charges.

Lawyers for William “Billy” Panzera, 40, of North Haledon, and a co-defendant, Robert “Bobby” Fiorello, 63, of Jackson, formally denied the charges during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in Newark.

Panzera and Fiorello were among 11 defendants, including a reputed captain, two alleged soldiers and several alleged associates of the Genovese family, who were indicted in Brooklyn in April 2012 on 18 counts ranging from racketeering conspiracy to extortion, illegal gambling, union embezzlement and obstruction of justice.

Because the crimes that Panzera and Fiorello are alleged to have committed occurred in New Jersey and they declined to waive their right to be tried here, prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York re-indicted them in Newark last week on the same charges, setting the stage for a trial that Linares scheduled for Aug. 28.

The three-count indictment identifies Panzera as a Genovese crime family associate and alleges that from February to May of 2008 he, Fiorello and others conspired “to participate in the use of extortionate means” to collect one or more loans from an unnamed victim.

Panzera was also charged with conspiring to collect an unlawful debt under New Jersey law, defined as a loan given at a usurious interest rate of greater than 50 percent per year.

During the hearing, Linares set bail for Panzera, who was dressed in a dark suit, at $500,000, secured by property. Bail of $700,000 was set for Fiorello, who wore a black short-sleeve shirt and slacks.

As a condition of bail, both men were directed not to have any contact with witnesses or members and associates of organized crime.

After the hearing, veteran Hackensack attorney Frank P. Luciana, who is representing Panzera, declined to discuss the case, other than to say, “I’m very, very convinced that in this case justice is going to prevail.”


Monday, June 24, 2013

Whitey Bulger curses and denies being an informant as FBI evidence is introduced during trial

Prosecutors have introduced James "Whitey" Bulger's FBI informant file to the jury in his racketeering trial.
Bulger is accused of playing a role in 19 killings during the 1970s and '80s while allegedly leading the Winter Hill Gang. Prosecutors say he was an FBI informant for 15 years, providing information on the rival New England Mafia.
Bulger's lawyers deny that. They say he paid several FBI agents so he could be tipped off to investigations.
With the jury out of the courtroom, the defense argued Monday that an agent with the Justice Department's Inspector General's Office shouldn't be allowed to offer an opinion that the file shows that Bulger was an FBI informant.
James "Whitey" Bulger
During the back and forth between the defense and prosecutors, Bulger was heard using an expletive and denying that he was an informant.


Bonanno crime family selects jailed gangster Michael Mancuso as new boss

Michael "The Nose" Mancuso, far right, is now the top leader of the Bonanno crime family, sources told the Daily News. He will be the first top banana to hold that title since longtime boss Joseph Massino, who turned rat shortly after he was convicted in 2005 of racketeering and multiple murders.

The Bonanno crime family has picked a new leader — The Nose.

Devastated by federal prosecutions but not dead, the beleaguered New York City-based crime family is quietly rebuilding and has anointed Michael “The Nose” Mancuso as official boss, the Daily News has learned.

Mancuso, 59, would be the first top banana to hold that title since longtime boss Joseph Massino, who turned rat shortly after he was convicted in 2005 of racketeering and multiple murders.

It doesn’t matter that Mancuso has five years left to serve in federal prison for a murder conviction. The Colombo crime family is also led by an incarcerated boss, Carmine “The Snake” Persico, who is serving a life sentence.

“Mancuso’s the boss and he’s running the family from jail,” a key law enforcement source told The News.

At least 10 Bonanno mobsters have gotten their button — becoming made men — in the past 18 months, sources said, as the family is trying to replenish its ranks depleted by convictions. The Bonanno family has about 100 wise guys and hundreds of criminal associates, a source added.

A new underboss, Thomas Difiore, of Long Island, has also been tapped to run the family on the street, but he may be little more than a figurehead. The power squarely lies with Mancuso and his Bronx-based underlings, sources said.

The current Bonanno bounce-back couldn’t come at a worse time for the FBI; officials have reduced the number of squads dedicated to investigating the city’s five Mafia families from five to only two.

Veteran supervisory special agent Seamus McElearney, who oversaw the Bonanno and Colombo squads with spectacular crimefighting success, was transferred last week to a new post because bureau rules limit a supervisor to seven years in an assignment.

McElearney’s agents helped bring down top Bonanno members Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano and Vincent “Vinny TV” Badalamenti, and Colombo acting bosses Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico, Joel “Joe Waverly” Cacace, Thomas “Tommy Shots” Gioeli and Andrew “Mush” Russo, along with dozens of other mobsters.

“If you take your foot off their neck, they’re going to come back,” said a law enforcement source disgusted over the FBI changes.

“We’ve been decimated,” said another law enforcement source, adding that mobsters on the street are aware that surveillances of their activities have been reduced.

The FBI said it is “continually realigning resources based on the current threat assessment.”

The bureau called the staff reductions “primarily administrative” and “not a significant reduction in agents assigned to the five families.”

Mancuso is serving a 15-year sentence for carrying out the order to kill mob associate Randolph Pizzollo. He served 10 years for fatally shooting his wife in 1984.

“Michael’s looking for his day in the sun,” then-acting boss Basciano said during a 2005 jailhouse conversation secretly taped by Massino.

Mancuso’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Decline of New Jersey mafia mirrors storyline from The Sopranos

YouTube hits on old “Sopranos” clips spiked last week with the death of James Gandolfini, the hulking actor who spent six seasons on HBO channeling the complexities of Mafia life in New Jersey.

By the time the show ended in 2007, Tony Soprano was a diminished don ruling over a shrinking empire laid low by years of prosecution, infighting and betrayal. But he was still in business.

Prosecutors and other mob watchers who have spent years tracking the state’s mob underworld say that depiction is just about right.

They say the Jersey Mafia, and the goombah gentry that Gandolfini evoked so convincingly, may be a shell of its former self, but it is still out there running classic rackets at job sites, union halls and betting parlors.

“La Cosa Nostra is vastly diminished but still part of life in New Jersey,” said Lee Seglem, a spokesman for the State Commission of Investigation, an independent agency that was created to track organized crime. “As long as there’s a demand for illicit goods and services, the mob will be there to provide it.”

The SCI recently published a report that found that the state’s garbage-hauling business is still prone to organized crime figures and others who have successfully circumvented regulations designed to keep them out.

New Jersey’s heavy recycling industry, meanwhile, has become a haven for underworld demolition firms and assorted dumpers who have been barred from New York for mob ties, the SCI found.

The Mafia is still cruising Jersey’s docks, too: Since 2010, no less than 19 people have been convicted in racketeering and other mob-related crimes at New Jersey’s maritime ports, officials say.

And remnants of the same homegrown crime crews that once owned city halls and county courthouses across the state are still out there. Their movements are tracked by state and federal authorities that track the rise and fall of caporegimes, their lieutenants and street soldiers.

Officials said they took careful note recently when 88-year-old Giovanni “John the Eagle” Riggi returned to New Jersey after a long stint in a Massachusetts federal prison, where he was serving time for a smorgasbord of crimes, including murder.

Riggi, officials said, was at one time the handpicked heir of longtime Jersey boss Simone “Sam the Plumber” DeCavalcante, who ruled over Newark from a heating and air-conditioning shop in Ken¬il¬worth. The DeCavalcantes, like the fictional Sopranos, are New Jersey’s only homegrown crime family.

DeCavalcante crew members, much like the Sopranos, fought over their roles in the family hierarchy, and Riggi ended up sharing his leadership role. In 2009, the reputed acting head of the family, Francesco “Frank” Guarraci, 54, was charged with extorting money from the general manager of a Warren County pizzeria. He avoided jail with a plea bargain last year, federal court records show.

High-tech scams

Beside the continuing trickle of arrests and headlines highlighting old-style mob rackets, officials also point to a new breed of mobster that isn’t directing hits and heists from a back room of the local strip club. He’s more likely working behind a bank of computer screens and high-tech data servers.

Today’s Jersey mobster, Seglem said, has been forced to find new targets and take up new technologies: Internet sports-betting scams, Medicare fraud and credit-card schemes, all part of the Mafia’s high-tech crime horizon.

Nicodemo S. Scarfo Jr., the scion of a Philadelphia-based Mafia family that controlled the South Jersey rackets for years, has earned the nicknames “Mr. Apple” and “Mr. McIntosh” for his alleged pursuit of such techno-scams.

Scarfo was indicted in 2010 after the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office accused him and North Jersey mobsters linked to the Lucchese crime family of using the Internet and a computer operation based in Costa Rica to run sports bets.

Scarfo and his associates are accused of taking in more than $2 billion in bets.

Federal prosecutors also allege that Scarfo used the Internet to defraud a Texas-based mortgage lender of $12 million. He could get 30 years in prison if convicted on the federal charge.

Indeed, law enforcement officials caution against underestimating the modern mob and its continuing impact on the rest of us.

“The reality is that our battle against organized-crime enterprises is far from over,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last year after announcing the arrest of 91 New York and New Jersey residents accused in a variety of mob-related rackets.

“Mafia operations … negatively impact our economy — not only through a wide array of fraud schemes but also through the illegal imposition of mob ‘taxes’ at our ports, in our construction industries and on our small businesses,” Holder said.

Still, ex-mob-busters like Ed Stier, a former state and federal prosecutor from New Jersey who investigated hundreds of organized-crime cases, point out that the mob’s persistence does not mean there has not been significant progress.

During La Cosa Nostra’s high point in the mid-1960s, Stier said, there was little impetus for reform because many of New Jersey’s political figures were bought and sold by the mob. New Jersey, he said, was also hobbled by a lack of basic crime-fighting tools like electronic wiretaps.

“There simply weren’t resources or, frankly, the interest in investing organized crime here,” Stier said.

That, however, began to change in 1967 when Life magazine published an exposé about Jersey corruption using wiretap transcripts that frustrated FBI agents had leaked to the writers. The stories prompted the formation of the SCI and a string of reforms. Soon, there were scores of successful prosecutions.

“New Jersey was the laughingstock of the nation,” said Herbert J. Stern, a former U.S. attorney who presided over the mob-related prosecution of former Newark Mayor Hugh Addonizio and a string of landmark Jersey corruption cases. “There were public officials on the take all over the place, some with six-, seven-hundred-thousand-dollar bank accounts. All from graft.”

Many of today’s public-corruption arrests, Stern said, net “nickel and dimes” in comparison.

Stern and Stier reject the notion that New Jersey has a special affinity for the mob and corrupt political leaders.

“New Jersey isn’t any more prone to corruption than any other urbanized, overcrowded area,” Stern said.

But law enforcement officials acknowledge that fictional characters like Tony Soprano — reported to be patterned after real-life Genovese capo Ruggiero “Richie the Boot” Boiardo — reflect the state’s experience.

New Jersey, it seems, is destined to be forever linked with underworld figures like Sam the Plumber and John “Johnny Dee” DiGilio, a Bayonne boxing champion whose body was found in the Hackensack River after ratting out his Genovese family superiors.

Even today, state officials keep well-maintained lists of Mafiosi capos and soldiers, and chart their movements across the region.

“There’s always surveillance going on,” Seglem said. “You have to keep track of these guys because you don’t know where they might pop up,” he said.


Fingerprints link Youngstown mobster to 39 year old triple murder

A former reputed Youngstown mobster in prison for a double murder in the Columbus area was indicted Thursday in a 39-year-old mass murder in Canfield Township, in which a General Motors security guard, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter were brutally murdered.

Investigators allege James P. Ferrara, 64, a former Youngstown mobster, fatally shot Ben Marsh, shot Marilyn Marsh from behind and beat her and beat Heather Marsh to death with his empty gun. Investigators found 1-year-old Christopher Marsh covered in blood and crawling on the family’s floor.

Ferrara was indicted Thursday on three counts of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery. Death penalty specifications were not added because the death penalty was not an option for prosecutors in 1974, when the killings were committed.

Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said sheriff’s investigators recently asked for fingerprints found by the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation at the time to be re-processed. Those fingerprints came back as a match for Ferrara in 2009.

Court records, interviews and police archives obtained by WKBN.COM show Ferrara was convicted for fatally shooting and beating two Columbus-area drug dealers to death with a gun during what was supposed to be a massive cocaine theft.

A former investigator on that case, current Perry Township Police Chief Bob Oppenheimer, said during his investigation he found Ferrara was connected with the Youngstown mob.

Ferrara is currently being held in the Marion Correctional Institution on 1984 convictions for aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated drug trafficking. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison and has been denied parole several times, including after a Jan. 14 parole hearing. His next parole hearing is scheduled for November 2015.

Archives show a GM supervisor found Ben Marsh, his wife Marilyn and 4-year-old Heather brutally murdered on Dec. 13, 1974 at their S. Turner Road home. Their 1-year-old son, Christopher, was found alive and covered in blood. Both Ferrara and Marsh worked at GM, according to sources.

Ben Marsh was shot four times, Marilyn was beaten and shot once from behind and Heather was found beaten to death with a blunt instrument, according to WKBN and WYTV archives.

Ben Marsh was a security guard at GM and sources. On Dec. 13, 1974, Marsh was scheduled to fill in for a co-worker for a later shift. When he failed to show up for that shift and his regular scheduled shift in the morning, his supervisor went to his home, found the garage broken into and the trio dead, according to archives.

Archives say Marilyn Marsh had called Ben Marsh that morning to talk about weekend plans to go to New Castle, Pa. Marilyn Marsh and their two children were dressed in “outer garments” after coming into the home after a dentist appointment. Ben Marsh was wearing only underwear when he was found, archives said.

Investigators at the time offered $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the murderer. Another $1,000 reward was offered for those who had information about the murder weapon, which investigators said was a .38-caliber revolver.

Archives said the killer fired one gunshot into the air, then four into Ben Marsh, who stumbled into a bedroom and died.

The killer, archives said, then fired a shot at Marilyn Marsh, and used his gun to beat her and the 4-year-old.

Investigators at the time found a signed paycheck and small coin collection that was undisturbed. They also found a filter-tipped cigarette lit at the wrong end with a finger print. None of the Marsh’s smoked, archives said.

Police said they believed the killer’s getaway driver fled without the shooter, so he stole Marilyn Marsh’s car from the driveway. Investigators found the car arrived at about 6:15 p.m. the day of the murder in a Kmart parking lot in Austintown seven miles from the Marsh’s home.

Investigators offered immunity to the getaway driver after the murders, but no one came forward. Gains said his office is the only one that can offer immunity to anyone who has come forward with information.

A witness gave a description of a man they saw driving the car, and a sketch artist made a rendering of what that person looked like.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hitman turned informant now lives the Country Club life

He parks his silver Mercedes-Benz sedan behind his condo, below a deck decorated with white and pink flowers, where a couple of small dogs bark at the few passers-by.
John Martorano, shown in a 2008 photo, testified this week in the trial of James "Whitey" Bulger. 

It's inside this wooded golf course community where neighbors of John Martorano learned this week that the 72-year-old they know only as a cordial fellow resident of a block called Country Club Lane is a former mob hit man.
"Well, it means I won't get into any arguments with him," one Milford resident said. "Whatever he says, he's right."
That resident and his wife, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear for their safety if they are identified, were shocked to recognize their neighbor Monday while watching television coverage of the racketeering trial of James "Whitey" Bulger in Boston.
They said they'd had no clues that the pleasant, quiet man they know only as John, whose companion brings them cookies at Christmastime, had a past as a prolific killer.
"There has been nothing to indicate anything like that," the woman said Monday. "I hope no one is looking for him and comes here."
Martorano has admitted to 20 killings but served only 12 years in prison as part of a deal he made with authorities to testify against former cohorts.
The resident of Milford, about 30 miles southwest of Boston, got out of prison in 2007 and testified this week for the prosecution as the government tries Bulger, the reputed former Winter Hill Gang ringleader, for crimes that include his alleged participation in 19 slayings. Bulger, 83, fled Boston in 1994 and was a fugitive until his capture in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
In the past, Martorano's cooperation with authorities bolstered a corruption case against a former FBI agent and helped them locate the bodies of six mob victims.
Before his 2004 sentencing, he apologized to the families of the people he killed, a sentiment that some didn't receive well. Martorano has said he decided to cooperate with authorities after learning Bulger and his other former partner, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, were FBI informants.
On the witness stand, Martorano talked Monday and Tuesday about a series of killings he carried out while a gang member in the 1970s. His cross-examination by Bulger's defense team continued Wednesday.
In Milford, Martorano's neighbor John Ferreira said he was surprised Monday to find out about his neighbor's past, but said it didn't bother him. The 60-year-old said he sometimes sees Martorano taking the trash out, and that he's always been nice.
"We just wave hi to each other. We don't talk to each other," he said.
At a shopping center near Martorano's condo, a convenience store clerk recognized a picture of him. She called him a nice gentleman she knew nothing about except that he bought $15 to $20 in lottery tickets about once a month.
Asked at the trial how he makes a living, Martorano answered, "Social Security." Later, he testified that he has made about $70,000 from Howie Carr's book "Hitman" and another $250,000 from a film company. He said he'll get another $250,000 if the movie is made.
Milford Police Chief Thomas O'Loughlin said Monday that Martorano isn't on parole and can live wherever he wants, including in this town of 27,000 people. He said the former hit man's only brush with the law in Milford was a minor fender bender in April 2012 that ended with police writing him a warning for failure to use caution in slowing.
"He's been here a couple years," O'Loughlin said. "I've seen him about the town like anybody else. We've had no difficulties with him."


Former Gambino mob rat Crazy Sal Polisi tells Whitey Bulger to apologize

The “best thing” James “Whitey” Bulger can do to redeem his reputation as the FBI’s pet rat and a butcher of women, another ex-mobster told the Herald yesterday, is the last thing the Southie ganglord will ever do: Apologize.

Former Mafia henchman Salvatore “Crazy Sal” Polisi said yesterday Bulger doesn’t understand the remorseless world he left behind when he went on the lam in 1995 is gone.

“He wants to hang on to who he was before. He’ll call all those witnesses liars. He’ll look in the faces of those 19 victims’ families and tell them, ‘I didn’t do it.’ He’ll never admit he killed anybody. All he can do is try and save his persona as the greatest Irish gangster of our time,” said Polisi, 68, who was a convicted bank robber and drug merchant with New York’s Gambino crime family who later testified against mafia don John Gotti.

Polisi’s advice to Whitey? “Get a life, pal. Apologize. And I mean (that) in a sincere way. You’re not going to beat anything.”
Yet within the twisted underworld, Polisi said Bulger, even though he has been branded as a long-term secret informant for the FBI, is regarded as more honorable than that people like Polisi himself, and John Martorano, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi and Kevin Weeks — the former Winter Hill Gang crew who will testify against Bulger as cooperating witnesses.

“The honorable thing to do is deny it until you die,” Polisi said. “If a guy gives information, that’s bad. But if he testifies, he’s a dirty, yellow rat stool pigeon. From a criminal point of view, the worst thing you can do is get up in court and testify.”

Polisi, author of “The Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia,” spent more than a decade in the federal witness protection program after, he says, his love for his two sons persuaded him to flip in 1984 and testify against Gotti in Gotti’s 1986 federal racketeering trial. Gotti, appropriately nicknamed “The Teflon Don,” was acquitted.

“I outlived everyone,” Polisi said of his decision to emerge from the shadows in the mid-’90s. “I just wanted to work on a better message that people can change.”


Why America can't get enough of organized crime

We are fascinated with mobsters and those affected by them, both in real life and on screen. "There's the reality of organized crime that nobody is in love with, and there's the mythologized version that everyone is in love with," said Ron Kuby, a lawyer who defended the late John Gotti. The cast of HBO's "The Sopranos," from left, Tony Sirico, Steve Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Vincent Pastore. Gandolfini died this week from a heart attack at age 51.
Suddenly, it was mob week in the news.
Once again, the FBI was digging up a field, looking for the remains of former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. Whitey Bulger's enforcer was on the stand in Boston, admitting to 20 murders and bristling at being called a mass murderer. And Tony Soprano was dead -- not whacked by an underworld rival, but done in at age 51 by his own heart.
Soprano, the only Italian-American in the bunch, wasn't even real. He was a fictional character played by actor James Gandolfini in HBO's acclaimed series "The Sopranos." It was Gandolfini who died, while on vacation in Italy, six years after the show that made his character a cultural icon went off the air.
Hoffa, a powerful union boss back in a time when unions mattered, was born in coal country and was merely connected (reputedly) to the Detroit mob. Bulger, who is Irish, manipulated the FBI for years by ratting out his Italian mob rivals before going on the lam to sunny California.
Why the fascination?
"There's the reality of organized crime that nobody is in love with, and there's the mythologized version that everyone is in love with," said Ron Kuby, a lawyer who defended the late John Gotti, New York's so-called Teflon don. "We like these outlaws because their lives appear to be so much more genuine than ours, so outside the conventions of society."
Here's the myth: Mobsters live by their own, strict moral code. "Family is sacred, they never harm a woman, they never harm a child, the only people they hurt have voluntarily engaged in 'the life'," Kuby said.
And then you pull back the curtain and "the reality is ugly and brutal," he added. "The strict moral code also involves cheating on their wives and executing their gay relatives."
Part of the appeal is outlaws are dangerous and a little scary -- but not too scary. Certainly not al Qaeda scary, he added. "They're not going to hurt you if you mind your manners."
And then there are the colorful nicknames, which are faithfully listed on any indictment. Consider these gems from the cover page of a racketeering indictment out of New York two years ago: Mousey, Tony Bagels, Hootie, Meatball, Vinny Carwash, Junior Lollipops and Baby Fat Larry (BFL for short.)
Jerry Capeci covered New York's five Mafia families and chronicled Gotti's rise and fall for the New York Daily News. He now runs a website called Gang Land News. He says we're fascinated by criminals and have been since the shoot 'em-up days of the Old West. Mobsters are the modern-day varmints and cattle rustlers.
"John Gotti was the lighting rod that turned New York newspaper readers and TV viewers onto the Mafia in the '80s," he said.
Capeci, a native New Yorker and Italian-American, says he treated the mob like any other beat. He got to know the agents, the cops, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, the victims, even the mobsters themselves. It was a lot like covering schools or city hall, he said, even if the characters were more colorful -- and more ruthless.
After all, not many school principals stash guns and piles of money behind walls or stuff bodies into car trunks.
America was in search of new, epic heroes after the West was won, agreed Robert Thompson, an expert on media and popular culture who teaches at Syracuse University.
Prohibition brought bootleggers and crime bosses like Al Capone. A few decades later, gambling gave us Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. The 1950s saw the Kefauver hearings, which exposed the existence of the Italian Mafia, also known as La Cosa Nostra.
By the 1960s, the time was ripe for Mario Puzo and "The Godfather." Puzo stitched together slices of reality, weaving a tale so colorful that the FBI's wiretaps later captured real mobsters quoting from the book and subsequent movie. Even the characters on "The Sopranos" recited from "The Godfather."
The book, depicting the rise of the fictional Corleone crime family, was published in 1969 and became an instant best-seller. The movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton and James Caan, followed in 1972 and was even more popular than the book, Thompson said. To this day, it tops many critics' lists as the best movie ever. "The Godfather II" arrived in theaters in 1974 and it, too, was "spectacular," almost as good as the original, Thompson said.
A year later, Hoffa disappeared. The "Godfather" saga had whetted appetites for tales of the underworld. The Hoffa story was huge.
Hoffa was last seen outside the Machus Red Fox restaurant in suburban Detroit on July 30, 1975. He'd gone there to meet with reputed Detroit mob enforcer Anthony Giacalone and Anthony Provenzano, a New Jersey Teamsters boss, to settle a beef. They never showed. Hoffa, 62, made a phone call and just vanished.
In Hoffa's case, the fascination is all about the mystery. There have been more than a dozen digs for his remains over the years, and plenty of speculation about what happened to him. Maybe he was entombed in concrete under the old Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Maybe he was buried on a Michigan horse farm, or fed to the alligators in Florida. Maybe he ran off to South America with a stripper.
The most recent excavation came in response to a tip from an aging Giacalone associate. Tony Zerilli, 85, told agents that Hoffa had been beaten with a shovel and buried alive beneath the concrete slab of a barn, long gone.
The tip didn't pan out, but the search did attract a bystander who brought back memories of a famous scene from "The Godfather." A man calling himself "Mr. Ed" showed up at the dig site wearing a horse's head mask and carrying a shovel, apparently to protest the expense of the continuing search for Hoffa's body.
There's the reality of organized crime that nobody is in love with, and there's the mythologized version that everyone is in love with.
-- Ron Kuby, who defended John Gotti
Ten years after Hoffa vanished, Gotti took control of the Gambino crime family and held the city of New York and its tabloids in his sway for nearly a decade. He was a natty dresser and loved playing to the television cameras as he was acquitted three times at high-profile trials. He became known as the Teflon don and it infuriated the feds. The FBI finally flipped underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano as a star witness against Gotti, and The Bull testified in 1992 about five gangland executions. Gotti received a life sentence, plus fines and a $50 "surcharge."
Gotti's attorney, Kuby, said he will never forget what Gotti said as he took off his expensive silk tie back in the holding cell: "Wow, that $50 surcharge. They really know how to hurt a guy."
Gotti died in prison in 2002 after a battle with throat cancer. To the end, he remained "a stand-up guy" -- high praise in the mob world where "rats" like Gravano are reviled.
The feds turned their attention to Gotti's son, "Junior," who, according to newspaperman Capeci, "was a household figure for several years." The feds tried four times in five years to convict him of mob-related charges but failed. Gotti claimed he was "retired" from the mob, and the feds finally threw in the towel in January 2010, saying in court papers: "In light of all the circumstances, the government has decided not to proceed with the prosecution against John A. Gotti."
"He was and he's still in the news," Capeci said. "He has commissioned a movie about him and his father."
There have been other mob movies over the years. "Goodfellas," starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, told the story of the late mob informant Henry Hill. Actress Lorraine Bracco made a career out of mob dramas, playing Henry Hill's wife in "Goodfellas" and Tony Soprano's shrink in "The Sopranos."
Jimmy Hoffa, Whitey Bulger and Tony Soprano are old world characters whose sagas long ago took on lives of their own. They were bad guys, perhaps, but they weren't all bad. They lived by their own code. It's just business. Fuhgeddaboudit.
While Hoffa has become more famous for being gone than for anything he did while he was here, Bulger was embraced for a while as a sort of Robin Hood in Boston's Southie neighborhood. The myth was spun, it later turned out, by his corrupt FBI handler.
As his trial began in Boston, Bulger's attorney admitted he was many bad things -- a bookie, a loan shark, a thug -- but denied that he'd ever been an FBI informant or that he killed two women who are among his 19 named victims. Such things went against the code.
For Bulger, 1999 was the beginning of the end. That's when a federal grand jury handed up the indictment he's now being tried for. "The Sopranos" also began that year on HBO, and Tony Soprano was a man for his time.
He wasn't real, but he was realistic as a Jersey guy in "waste management" who had panic attacks and bouts of depression and loved his kids.
" 'The Sopranos' is all about a guy at the turn of the century who wants to be Don Corleone, but he's got this horrible feeling that everybody perceives him as Homer Simpson," pop culture expert Thompson said.
"He's beating up this guy and he's talking about how 'I heard you didn't respect me.' He wants to be the classic mobster, but he's got these constant domestic issues with his mother, with his wife, with his shrink. He's leading this schlub life. That's what that show was all about: It updated the American urban myth."
He cited a favorite Tony Soprano quote: "It's good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over."
Sometimes it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. It turns out that Tony Soprano wasn't the only good fella to visit a shrink because of the stress in his life. Bulger has spent some time on the couch, too.
The feds who were looking for Hoffa might have come up empty-handed. But this week in Queens, other FBI agents hit pay dirt in somebody's basement, Capeci reports. They unearthed human remains.
"Officials believe the victim was killed by a Bonanno family gangster as a favor to Jimmy 'The Gent' Burke, the mastermind of a daring $6 million airlines heist who died in prison in 1996," he wrote on Gang Land.
Capeci also had a tip for members of the Lucchese family, now that budget cuts have thinned the ranks of the FBI mob watchers some 60% since 2008: "Memo to Big Frank, Bowat and Stevie Wonder: Relax: That woman you saw the other day who looked out of place probably wasn't an FBI agent. Neither was the guy who eyeballed you near your house. And don't worry about that suspicious-looking car that pulled up alongside you last week -- or fret about using your cell phone, for that matter. The FBI now has only three agents assigned to cover the entire Lucchese crime family."
You can't make this stuff up. There is no beginning or end to these larger-than-life stories, only lots and lots of middle. So, people keep coming back for more.
"What can I say? The beat goes on," Capeci said.
This concept certainly wasn't lost on the producers of "The Sopranos." Remember the Journey song playing on the jukebox as Tony and his family (with a small "f") gathered at a diner in the finale? Remember the lyrics of "Don't Stop Believin' "?


The Real Life Sopranos: New Jersey's DeCavalcante Crime Family

The nightmares and panic attacks suffered by Tony Soprano as played by James Gandolfini seemed authentic enough to anybody who had listened to the FBI recordings of a real-life New Jersey mob boss in the 1960s.
Simone DeCavalcante alleged Mafia family member whose phone conversations were taped by the FBI, is pictured here with his wife while attending the wedding of their son in Trenton.
Simone DeCavalcante was the boss of the crime family that bore his name and a FBI bug recorded his every word to his secretary when he arrived at his office one morning in 1964.
“I had a terrible dream… about a bunch of cops!” he exclaimed, adding that the secretary had featured in it.  “You were screaming… You had pearls on… Everything was so screwed up… Mary [his wife] woke me up…something about pearls… I don’t remember.”
The bug also recorded the then-52-year-old DeCavalcante being robustly intimate with the secretary. Her husband called the office and DeCavalcante chatted with him while periodically muffling the phone and muttering encouraging endearments to her.
When the transcripts were unsealed in court, it became apparent that the affair with secretary was just one of many liaisons. The wife, Mary DeCavalcante, remained remarkable restrained when a reporter showed up at her home in Princeton Township. She opened the front door and spoke over the yapping of her schnauzer.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk about it,” she said. “I don’t mind your asking, but I hope you appreciate my feelings.”
Underboss Frank Majuri was recorded telling Simone DeCavalcante that he “shouldn’t run around because Catena and Gambino don’t.” Majuri meant Gerardo Catena of the Genovese family and Carlo Gambino of the family of that name. The Genovese and the Gambino families were and are among the five New York families, the Ivy League of the Mafia. They operate in the realm made mythic by The Godfather and their bosses are figures of legend. DeCavalcante would have loved to be considered their equal.
“They don’t recognize more than five families,” a law-enforcement expert notes. “That’s it.”
Never mind that DeCavalcante had transformed a bunch of ever-warring factions into an immensely profitable operation. He had recently doubled the number of made members and he was taking full advantage of his native state’s remarkable propensity for corruption at all levels of government.
DeCavalcante can be heard on the recordings expressing some bitterness when Joe Colombo of the
Colombo crime family was appointed to the ruling Commission at Carlo Gambino’s urging. DeCavalcante had hoped that he himself might get the honor and make his a sixth family.
The late James Gandolfini played legendary TV mob boss Tony Soprano. Here are his defining moments.
The thugs had just been bemoaning the continued lack of respect they received from the five families. But that was forgotten as Anthony Rotondo rhapsodized about The Sopranos.
“[Colombo] sits like a baby next to Carl [Gambino] all the time,” DeCavalcante said. “He’ll do anything Carl wants him to do.”
DeCavalcante went on to say, “Sometimes, Frank, the more things you see, the more disillusioned you become. You know, honesty and honorability, those things.”
Majuri replied, “Yeah. If you’re a real honest guy, you wind up [a] hunchback with headaches.”
A feeling that he had not received his due respect may have added to DeCavalcante’s dislike for the nicknames “Sam the Plumber” (he owned a heating and plumbing company) and the “Claw” (he made sure to collect every usurious penny in loan sharking). He preferred “The Count.” (He told people his father had been an Italian marquis.)
Whatever the truth of his lineage, DeCavalcante did have a certain courtly touch when he settled disputes or helped a younger mafioso through arough patch in his marriage. DeCavalcante always paid a good price when persuading judges and politicians and cops to sell their souls. He sounded like any worried father when he fretted aloud about his three sons.
But, he could turn instantly savage when his authority was challenged. He was recorded telling Majuri of going with fellow mobster Gaetano “Corky” Vastola to visit someone who had failed to come in for a chat when summoned.
“Ba-boom! Corky hit him,” DeCavalcante said. “I thought he was gonna fly though the wall. Then he hit him another one. He started hollering. ‘Help, Help.’ I  told him, ‘Now do you understand what I mean when I say I want to see you?’ [He replied]  ‘Yes, I’ll do anything you say.’”
DeCavalcante added to Majuri, “You know, I work one way, and that’s the right one. Saying a thing and doing it are two different things.”
He declared that This Thing of Ours and Our Friends were the same, whether it be among the five families of New York or his family in New Jersey.
“Cosa Nostra is Cosa Nostra,” he declared. “An Amico Nostro is an Amico Nostro.”
Being that he was recorded saying this, it did little to improve his stature on the other side of the Hudson. It also helped send him to prison. He retired to Florida upon his release.
The new boss was Giovanni “John the Eagle” Riggi. He landed in prison after seeking to curry favor with John Gotti by arranging the murder of a former newspaper editor turned toxic-waste dumper and potential informant. Riggi’s hope to put the DeCavalcante family “back on the map” with the killing was dashed when it became known that when stealing license plates to put on a getaway car, one of the hit squad had inadvertently chosen the plates of a vehicle belonging to the wife of a well-known mobster. The plate number was written down by a witness who saw the hitman tossing the guns in a stream.
“I’m sorry, I hope everybody doesn’t blame me,” an informant would quote the hapless hitman saying before he himself was hit.
Giacomo “Jake” Amari became the acting boss and thumbed his nose at the five families by recruiting new members in New York and operating a social club in Little Italy. He was then summoned to a sit-down where he agreed to withdraw. He soon after died of stomach cancer.
Riggi placed the family under the day-to-day direction of a ruling panel headed by Vastola, whose various activities ranged from shaking down dice games to promoting concerts by Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. He also ran Roulette Records and golfed on occasion with Sammy Davis, Jr.
Vastola then landed in prison and John D’Amato became acting boss until the girlfriend he shared with another mobster revealed that he was bisexual. Riggi is said to have given the go-ahead from prison for a killer named Anthony Capo to dispatch D’Amato.
“Nobody’s going to respect us if we have a gay homosexual boss sitting down discussing La Cosa Nostra business,” Capo later testified.
The killing was one of a litany of murders and other crimes listed in a racketeering indictment made possible by an informant who had been assisting the FBI for a decade. More than 30 members and associates of the family were arrested. One of them decided to cooperate and a dozen more were grabbed. Riggi was hit with another 10 years just as he was about to be freed.
By 2005, nearly 50 people connected with the DeCavalcante family were behind bars. The vaunted five families were faring even worse, to the point of virtual extinction. And they were now finding themselves overshadowed by a TV show about a New Jersey crime family modeled after the DeCavalcante family.
In fact, the show’s remarkable success could be attributed in part to it not being in the realm of The Godfather and the five families. The opening sequence of the first episode in 1999 made clear that this was New Jersey. And Tony Soprano was not a Michael Corleone. He was a knockaround Jersey guy rising to power in the fictional DiMeo family, founded by Ercole DiMeo, who had been sent to prison just like Simone DeCavalcante. The DiMeo family had then been taken over by Jackie Aprile, who dies of cancer just like Jake Amari. The members include Vito Spatafore, who is killed after it becomes known he is gay, just as John D’Amato was killed.
By stepping outside myth, the show brought the expectation that it would be something new and authentic. And authentic it was, almost as if the FBI had just kept recording after DeCavalcante’s death in 1997 and on through Amari’s death and into the present day. The scene where the FBI breaks into Tony’s basement to plant a bug was so realistic that an agent who happened to encounter two of the show’s head writers at The Buffalo Club in Santa Monica asked where they got their information. The writers just looked at each other and said nothing.
Around the end of the first season, an actual FBI electronic device carried by an informant recorded members of the DeCavalcante family chatting about the show as they drove to a sit-down.
“Hey, what’s this f—-ing thing, Sopranos?” Joseph “Tin Ear” Sclafani asked. “Is this supposed to be us?”
The thugs had just been bemoaning the continued lack of respect they received from the five families. But that was forgotten as Anthony Rotondo rhapsodized about The Sopranos.
  “What characters,” Rotondo said. “Great acting.”
As in The Sopranos, the DeCavalcante family recruited a new arrival from Sicily. Francisco “Frank” Guarraci hailed from Simone DeCavalcante’s ancestral hometown of Ribera. Guarraci is said by the FBI to have been inducted by Riggi in place of the hitman who screwed up with the license plates and otherwise would have been next to be made. Guarraci allegedly rose to acting boss as he continued to work as a foreman with a laborer’s union. He hung out at the Ribera Social Club in Elizabeth, remaining so low-key that even some members of the family were unaware of his alleged position. His other advantage over the more high-profile families in New York was that law enforcement in New Jersey is more fragmented and less zealous.
If Guarraci is indeed an acting boss, it seems he is the only one still out there being a gangster a la the fictional Tony Soprano, at however small a scale. The bosses of the five families on the other side of the Hudson River were busy hiding and pretending they were not in charge of anything when Guarraci strode right into Lenny’s Brick Oven Pizza in Washington Township, N.J. in August 2010 and announced that he was taking over the business.
“I run the show,” the ensuing indictment quotes Guarraci screaming when the general manager balked at turning over the receipts.
The indictment reports that Guarraci then fired the general manager.
“Which directive G.M. ignored and then continued working,” the indictment notes.
Guarraci and a man who would be arrested with him became more insistent and threatening.
“Two of the restaurant’s waitresses, young women in their late teens, began to cry,” the indictment says. “Several customers became alarmed and exited the restaurant, without paying their bills. At least one customer called 911 seeking police assistance.”
Guarraci pleaded guilty and in January 2012 got off with six months of home confinement, followed by five years’ probation. He is believed by law enforcement to remain the boss, even though Riggi was released in November 2012, after 22 years in prison. He is now 87.
Guarraci is 54. He is said by law enforcement to remain a boss who may outlast them all in the five families for the same reason that helped make The Sopranos such a hit.
Jersey is still Jersey.
But Guarraci and DeCavalcante and the others of that crime family are just criminals. The people in New Jersey who are really worth admiring are people such as the actual family that gave us the actor who summoned their example of hard, honest work as he so brilliantly played the fictional gangster Tony Soprano.
James Gandolfini’s parents came emigrated from Italy to New Jersey. His father, James, Sr., received a Purple Heart during World War II and worked as a mason and then as a high-school custodian. His mother, Santa, worked as a high school cafeteria chef. Their reward was to see their son enter Rutgers. After college, the son discovered his calling. He became a boss of acting as he played an acting boss.