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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Troubled personal and gangland history of Lucchese mobster revealed during trial

He was nearly killed in one of the  most infamous gangland shootings in the violent history of the Philadelphia mob.

His older brother has changed his name to get out from under the family stigma.

A younger brother tried to commit suicide for the same reason and has been comatose for 25 years.

That's part of the depressing personal history of Nicodemo S. Scarfo, a story that has made its way into testimony in the now seven-week old racketeering and fraud trial playing out in federal district court in Camden.

Scarfo, 47, is the lead defendant in the case. He and Salvatore Pelullo, a 45-year-old Mafia wannabe, are charged with orchestrating the secret takeover of a Texas mortgage company in 2007 and then ripping it off to the tune of $12 million.

But folded into the testimony about corporate structure, SEC filings and lawyerly due diligence, the anonymously chosen jury panel of 18 (six are alternates) has also been getting a primer of the turbulent history of the local mob.

Scarfo and his jailed father, Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, are at the center of that story.

"You're aware, aren't you, that he was shot in 1989 and almost killed?" Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley, asked his client's probation officer, Sharon O'Brien as she testified earlier today.

O'Brien, who is due back on the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow, said she was. One can assume the jury is also aware since this was not the first time Riley has mentioned the Halloween night shooting at Dante & Luigi's Restaurant that left the younger Scarfo with seven bullet holes in his body.

Both the defense and the prosecution have used elements of the bloody Scarfo family saga to underscore their positions in the trial.

Riley has masterfully laid out the defense claim that prosecutors have used the spectre of organized crime to sensationalize and prop up fraud allegations that have little, if any, foundation. He has also told the jury that his client has been targeted by law enforcement -- often unjustly -- for most of his adult life because he shares the same name with his infamous father.

Little Nicky Scarfo is considered one of the most violent mob bosses in the history of the American Mafia and has been described by some prosecutors as a "psychopath" with a disturbing penchant for violence.

Prosecutors have painted Scarfo and Pelullo as corporate gangsters who used strong arm Mafia tactics, including threats of violence, to take over FirstPlus Financial and then, in a classic mob play, bust the joint out.

Ironically, it is Pelullo, on secretly recorded conversations picked up on FBI wiretaps, who has made most of those threats and who has talked like a B-movie bad guy. Scarfo's story, however, is the wheel around which the mob allegations spin.

It could be months before the jury is asked to sort it all out. Scarfo and Pelullo, both convicted felons, could face prison sentences of 30 years or more if convicted. Five other defendants, including four attorneys and the former CEO of FirstPlus are also on trial.

Scarfo's father and Lucchese crime family boss Vittorio "Vic" Amuso have been identified as unindicted co-conspirators in the case. Testimony and evidence has included details of visits Scarfo and Pelullo made to a federal prison in Atlanta where Scarfo was serving a 55-year term
on racketeering and murder charges.

The elder Scarfo, 84, has a parole date of 2033, meaning he will probably die in jail. From testimony and evidence offered by the prosecution, he has been portrayed as a sounding board and cheerleader for what authorities say was the plan to takeover and loot FirstPlus.

He also warned his son about problems in the New Jersey underworld, describing several key members of the Lucchese family with whom the young Scarfo was associated as "rats" who should be avoided.

A letter Scarfo wrote to his son from prison in January 2008 -- about the same time the FirstPlus scam was unfolding according to authorities -- was introduced as evidence earlier in the trial. Attached to the letter, according to testimony, were court documents related to a wiretap affidavit and transcript from a 1999 federal investigation of organized crime figures.

The targets of that probe apparently included brothers Michael and Martin Taccetta and several members of the Perna family, fathers and sons, all of whom were members or associates of the Lucchese organization.

"My dear Son," Scarfo wrote, "hold on to these 39 pages for the future. Review them. Tacettas and Pernas are rats and the younger ones are glorified rats by proxy. And who knows how far they will go in the future. As far as I'm concerned, they're all lying rats.
"Love, Dad xxoo"

"Hardly a Hallmark card, is it," Riley quipped when cross-examining a federal prison official about the letter.

Donald Manno, a former Scarfo lawyer who is a co-defendant in the case, described the note as an attempt "by an old man" to "protect his son as best he could." Manno, who is representing himself, asked the same prison official the question that Riley posed to the probation officer today.

"You're aware that the son was shot seven times, almost killed, by enemies of the father...you're aware of that?" Manno asked.

There has been no detailed explanation of what led Scarfo to make the allegation about the Taccettas and Pernas. The Taccetta brothers have been jailed on federal racketeering charges and on murder charges tied to a state case in Toms River involving the bludgeoning death of a video poker machine operator with golf clubs.

Martin Taccetta, released from prison a few years ago, is under indictment in Morris County in a pending state racketeering gambling case that includes 30 other mob members and associates, including the younger Scarfo and four members of the Perna family.

Michael Taccetta is due to be released from federal custody shortly.

One underworld source, while not discounting the possibility that some of those individuals mentioned by Scarfo may be cooperating, added that Scarfo, in jail since 1987, "is delusional. He thinks everybody's a rat."

The letter and bits and pieces of the overlapping mob connections are part of the intriguing back story that the jury in the FirstPlus case has been hearing. The jury also was shown a letter from the elder Scarfo to Pelullo and one from Amuso to the younger Scarfo congratulating him on being remarried.

Scarfo's marital problems were also part of the testimony today. He divorced his first wife in February 2007 and married his current wife on Valentine's Day of that year. His wife, Lisa Murray-Scarfo, was indicted in the FirstPlus case and has pleaded guilty to a mortgage fraud charge linked to the couple's purchase of a $715,000 home in Egg Harbor Township.

The down payment for that home came from money siphoned out of FirstPlus, authorities allege, and the mortgage itself was arranged through companies the government has linked to the scam.

O'Brien, the probation officer, was asked about two of those companies today, Global Net and Learned Associates and Scarfo's ties to them. O'Brien said she never determined exactly what the relationship was, but said her office was aware of the ongoing FBI investigation into FirstPlus and did not want to jeopardize it by raising questions with Scarfo.

Evidence introduced at the trial indicates that at the time Scarfo completed his three years of probation under O'Brien's supervision in March 2007 he was being paid $33,000-a-month as a consultant for Seven Hills Management, a Pelullo-backed company that authorities allege was also part of the scam. Scarfo also told O'Brien that he was about to begin working a second job for William Maxwell, a Texas lawyer whose brother John was the CEO of FirstPlus.

William Maxwell was special counsel to FirstPlus at the time. The Maxwell brothers are co-defendants in the ongoing trial. A letter from Maxwell indicated that he was going to pay Scarfo $150,000-a-year to develop business contacts and identify companies that could be purchased in New Jersey. The job also included a car, cell phone and business expenses.

"An opportunity like this is one I can build a tremendous career on," Scarfo said in a note to O'Brien about the job offer. The government alleges the salary from Maxwell and the consulting fee from Seven Hills were part of the scam and ways to funnel money from FirstPlus to Scarfo.

O'Brien said that Scarfo never fully disclosed his finances to the probation department, as he was required to do under the terms of his supervised release. She also said he lied to her by denying he had had contact with convicted felons and organized crime figures, two other prohibitions.

Personal details of Scarfo's life were also part of her testimony. She told the jury that before moving, Scarfo was living in Ventnor with his first wife, his daughter, his mother and his (comatose) brother.

Later, after divorcing and remarrying, she said Scarfo made a point of asking her to come and see his new baby. His second wife gave birth of a baby boy a few months after they were married on Valentine's Day 2007, she said.

O'Brien said Scarfo proudly told her he had named the enfant "Nicodemo Scarfo 3d."


Karen Gravano from Mob Wives files $40 million lawsuit against the makers of Grand Theft Auto V

Former “Mob Wives” star Karen Gravano hit the makers of “Grand Theft Auto V” with a $40 million lawsuit for hijacking her image, according to court papers.
The reality TV star, whose father is the mafia underboss-turned-FBI informant Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, claims the video games stole her life story for a character named Antonia Bottino.
In the fifth edition of the popular and ultra-violent video game Antonia is rescued by players who find her buried alive by one of her dad’s enemies.
The fictional character says her wiseguy dad became a snitch as part of a plea bargain on a murder charge.
“Her story is unique and is hers to tell, not that of the writer in the video game,” the real-life Staten Island woman gripes in her Manhattan civil suit filed Tuesday.
“This is impermissible and is a direct misappropriation and destruction of [Gravano's] name, likeness, personal life story and image.”
Gravano, 41, says she wanted the game publisher Rockstar Games to hold the latest edition so she could reveal more secrets of her sordid history in an upcoming tome.
The game was released in Sept. 2013.
“This has damaged plaintiff because the plaintiff is releasing a second book containing the parts of the not so known aspects of the story used by” Grand Theft Auto V.
Gravano’s first book, “Mob Daughter: The Mafia, Sammy "The Bul"’ Gravano, and Me!” was published in 2012.
The mob daughter brags that she is “well known nationally and internationally” in court papers. She left the VH1 reality show “Mob Wives” at the end of last season.
She said she never gave Grand Theft Auto permission to use her likeness, the suit says.
Reps for the game did not return messages.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

New book details the life of Meyer Lansky's daughter

Meyer Lansky with his family: Sons (from left) Paul and Buddy, who had cerebral palsy, daughter Sandra, and first wife Ana. When Buddy was diagnosed, Ana Lansky worried that God was punishing Meyer for his criminal ways.

“Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland” is Sandra Lansky’s remarkable story of life with daddy — who happened to be one of the most notorious gangsters of his time.

Meyer Lansky’s gambling empire reached from Las Vegas to Havana and beyond. Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel were close friends and partners in crime.

As a child, Sandra grew up in a sprawling apartment in the Beresford on Central Park West, with a terrace so big it served as a skating rink. She wanted for nothing but friends. As the daughter of a powerful gangster, playmates were hard to come by. But daddy would take her with him to Broadway shows where the ushers knew his name and supper clubs like Dinty Moore’s on 46th St., where he’d meet up with her many mobster “uncles.”

Excerpted from Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland by Sandra Lansky and William Stadiem.

Then came her years as a “Mob Deb,” as Nicholas Pileggi puts it in the introduction to “Daughter of the King,” written with William Stadiem. She had her own table at glamor spots like El Morocco. At 15, she married a man who appeared to be a playboy but turned out to be a “gay fortune hunter.”

As a gay divorcee, she dated movie stars in the wild years fueled by a drug addiction that followed. Sandra was falling fast but life got good again when she met the dashing, handsome Gabby Harnett. She really thought he was the one — until he pulled out his badge. Sandra ran to daddy with her tale of the FBI agent who wanted her to inform on him. When it came to his little girl, Meyer Lansky always made things come out right.

One night, when I was 10 or 11, Frank Sinatra came over to our table (at the Riviera supper club in New Jersey) after his set to say hello to Daddy and to meet little me with my bottle of ginger ale in a chilled champagne bucket. How grown-up I felt, out with Daddy, on the town, in a nightclub. Wow! I had never seen anyone so nervous as Frank, particularly a star who had all the teenagers in New York screaming for him. But Frank was more fidgety in Daddy’s presence than any bobby-soxer would have been in his. He was so anxious that when he reached over to shake my hand, he knocked over the champagne bucket of ice right into my lap. He nearly died.

Sandra Lansky with Dean Martin in 1957. "Dean asked me to travel with him to Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco, to go with him on the road, to be his girl," Lansky writes. "But not his wife."

Maybe he was worrying about dying for getting me all wet. Maybe Daddy had given him one of his looks. Frank got on his knees, grabbed a bunch of napkins and frantically tried to dry me off. The only relief came when I started laughing and said that he was tickling me. The twinkle returned to Daddy’s eyes. I rarely saw him laugh. The twinkle was as good as it got, but it was good enough for Frank to breathe easier. He gave me a big hug, as if I had saved his life by forgiving him, like getting a thumbs up from a Roman emperor.

* * *

In early October of 1951, Daddy took me to dinner with Uncle Willie (Moretti, underboss of the Genovese family) where they talked about Havana. “If Florida goes down, there’s always Havana,” Uncle Willie said. Daddy was quiet, thoughtful and a little sad. Uncle Willie liked to reminisce about old times. “Remember our first convention in Atlantic City, Meyer?” he asked Daddy. “Me and you and Charlie Lucky and Waxey G. and Nig Rosen and King Solomon. All yids and wops, yids and wops. And your bride, what a honeymoon.” Willie turned to me. “He took your beautiful mother on her honeymoon with (gangster) Dutch Schultz. Is that any way to treat a lady?”

Meyer Lansky and his daughter Sandra had dinner with Willie Moretti the night before he was slain.

Daddy was growing very uncomfortable. “Willie, you talk too much,” he said and asked for the check.

The next day at Calhoun, where I went to high school, during outdoor play period in the early afternoon, one of the school janitors was reading a newspaper. On the cover was Uncle Willie. I wanted to brag to my classmates that I had had dinner with him just last night. Then I saw the other half of the paper. “Dead!” it read. “Mob Boss Exterminated in N.J.” There was a photo of a man on the tile floor of a bar, a pool of blood around his head. There was a cafĂ© sign above the body: “Chicken in the Rough. $1.50.”

A detective laughed at the scene of rubout of mobster Willie Moretti.

I ran to the bathroom and threw up.

* * *

I had never seen anything like Dean Martin’s masculinity. We made love six times in a night that wouldn’t stop. I counted. He wasn’t a big man, just about five foot nine, but he was strong, a boxer from a steel town, and he made me feel that he was ravenously grateful for a woman’s softness after being locked in the blast furnaces all day. His image as a heavy drinker was for the press. With me he wanted to be fully conscious and savor every moment. Between rounds of lust, we’d split a Coke.

Sandra Lansky visited her father, mobster Meyer Lansky, while he was in prison in Saratoga in 1953.

The next day Dean called me at home and told me what a wonderful night he had and how he couldn’t wait to see me again.

About a week before we saw each other again, Dean’s wife, Jeannie, gave birth to their daughter Gina. I read about it in the fan magazines. I didn’t mention it, and neither did Dean. That was our unspoken pact: no families, no strings.

I didn’t dare let Daddy know of my affair. Dean asked me to travel with him to Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco, to go with him on the road, to be his girl. But not his wife. That would have been the rub for Daddy. I never thought of him as vindictive, but he was over-protective. He would have felt Dean was using me. That I was using Dean would not have occurred to old-fashioned Daddy. Where misbehavior was concerned, Daddy had a policy of zero tolerance.

Mob pals Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo, Meyer Lansky and Harry "Nig Rosen" Stromberg posed for a photo in Miami in 1973.

* * *

I was living the glamorous life of the madcap Manhattan heiress/gay divorcee. I would still see Dean Martin from time to time, meeting him for a secret rendezvous in Chicago or Boston. Dick Shawn would call when he was in the city. There were plenty of other stars, Jeff Chandler, David Janssen, Hugh O’Brien — Wyatt Earp himself. I met a lot of these men at Danny’s Hide-Away. It was the smallest restaurant in New York with the biggest celebrity clientele. I was also a regular at 21, El Morocco and the Harwyn Club. With all my craziness, I was lucky never to be robbed or kidnapped.

I avoided the Copacabana. That was Frank Costello’s club and master gossip John Miller was guaranteed to convey my every excess to Daddy. But one of the captains there had borrowed $700 from me, and months later, he still hadn’t paid me back. I was profligate, but welching on debts in my family was considered bad form. So one night I arranged to meet Uncle Augie Carfano (a Luciano family gangster) at the club, to get him to use his charms on the captain to collect the marker.

Bodies of Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano and Janice Drake. Sandra Lansky was supposed to meet Carfano at the Copa that night.

I got to the Copa fifteen minutes later than our scheduled appointment only to find Uncle Augie gone. I was upset that I had been stood up. What’s fifteen minutes when a girl like me could be hours late? I was even more upset the next morning when they found the bodies of Uncle Augie and his date that night, ex-beauty queen Janice Drake, shot to death in his Cadillac in Queens. Janice was the wife of comedian Allan Drake, whose faltering nightclub career Augie had bolstered the way Uncle Willie Moretti had bolstered that of Frank Sinatra. Drake may have traded his wife to Augie as a career move. Those things were known to happen. And so were murders, in the long mean season of bloodshed that had kicked off with the failed Frank Costello hit. Outsiders, and even insiders like me, may have thought the Copa the most glamorous club in America. These clubs were fun, but they weren’t worth dying for.

Anthony Carafano, aka Little Augie Pisano, was photographed at Brooklyn Police Headquarters after his arrest.

I thought I was falling in love, madly in love, with Gabby Hartnett (whose real name was Edward). He was tall, athletic, dapper. We had a number of dates, altar boy dates, that always ended with a handshake. No smoking, the rare cocktail or glass of wine. I’m sure I ran my mouth. Gabby listened so sympathetically.

Then one afternoon, the doorman rang and said Gabby was downstairs. With another man. Could they come up? If Gabby looked like Gary Cooper, his friend looked like Wally Cox. I offered to bring out some appetizers. That’s when the nerd flashed his badge. Reluctantly, Gabby pulled out his. “I’m so sorry,” he apologized. “Procedure.”

“I thought you were... my ...” I couldn’t get out the phrase.

Beauty queen Janice Drake was slain alongside Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano.

“We’d like you to help us,” Gabby said. “We’d like you to help your country.”

Daddy, when I told him, forgave me and then came up with his usual brainstorm. “We’ve got an inside man. Let’s use him,” he said. The plan was to feed Gabby and the FBI disinformation to send them on wild goose chases. He gave me a list of names to drop, names and places.

Even though Gabby had asked me to forgive him and to see him again, our romance never got back on track, if it had ever been on track to begin with. We had a few more dinners, and numerous meetings that included FBI agents. I shared vague recollections of hotel and casino operations that may have made them think they had struck some kind of mother lode. I dropped names like Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, Ray Stark in Hollywood, and banker Charles Allen in New York.

Sandra Lansky smiled with her second husband, Vince Lombardo, in Miami in 1982.

But then I fell for a guy from a major Mafia family, Vince Lombardo. Vince wasn’t in the Mafia himself, but he was perilously close. Daddy came to New York to meet Vince, alone. They made a deal. Daddy would let us marry if Vince promised to stay out, under any circumstances, of the Mafia for the rest of his life with me.

Vince made the deal.

And no one broke a deal with Meyer Lansky.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Gangster admits role in $1 million dollar cigarette theft scheme

One of eight people arrested in alleged scheme to steal and sell $1 million worth of cigarettes has pleaded guilty.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced Tuesday that Augustine “Augie” Guido, 73, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in Newark federal court to conspiracy to commit cargo theft. Guido and seven other people — with nicknames including "Jimmy Boy" and "Charlie Tuna" — were charged in December of 2012 for their alleged roles in the scheme after an informant wearing a wire helped the FBI catch the crew, Fishman has said. Guido was released on a $100,000 bond after his arrest.
"(The informant) assisted federal agents in multiple districts by providing material information, intelligence, and evidence concerning members and associates of La Cosa Nostra and their criminal activities," Fishman said in a news release Tuesday.
The informant also helped nab an East Hanover man who allegedly sold the informant cocaine, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Carmen T. Martucci of East Hanover alone was charged with distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He could be imprisoned for as much as 20 years, and could face a $1 million fine.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office said charges against the others implicated in the cigarette theft scheme and against Martucci are still pending.
The investigation reaches back to January of 2010, when the informant and 72-year-old Guido of Staten Island attended a funeral together, according to a statement from Fishman's office at the time of the arrests. Guido was recorded asking the informant if he knew of any warehouses they could rob, and said he was interested in stealing perfume, cigarettes and pharmaceuticals, the U.S. Attorney's office said. Cooperating with the FBI, the informant took part in a sting operation in which he and the eight men stole a tractor-trailer loaded with 270 cases of counterfeit Pall Mall and Lucky 7 cigarettes from a warehouse in Edison, the U.S. Attorney's office said. Federal agents placed video cameras and other evidence-gathering equipment in the area, it said.
In June, the informant met with some of the men to discuss the planned theft of the trailer — another recorded meeting — the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
"Defendant Guido noted the lock was a 'piece of (expletive)' and advised the others than they needed ski masks and baseball caps," the U.S. Attorney's Office wrote in its announcement about the sting.
Then, on July 31, law enforcement officers saw and video-recorded some of them men, wearing masks, breaking into the warehouse and driving away with the trailer, which they dropped off at a warehouse in Perth Amboy, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
In March 2011, the informant paid one of the men, James "Jimmy Boy" Dellaratta, 70, $500 — representing a portion of the sales from the cigarettes, the U.S. Attorney's office said.
In February of 2012, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant of the Perth Amboy warehouse and found 52 full boxes, with each box containing about 50 cartons of the cigarettes, it said.
In a separate sting in June of 2011, the informant told the defendants that 25 32-inch televisions had been stolen, and the TVs were transported to New York by Guido and Torlone, the U.S. Attorney's office said.
Martucci, the East Hanover resident, allegedly sold cocaine to the informant on Jan. 26, 2010.

The full list of those charged in the thefts is:
• Augustine Guido, a.k.a. “Augie,” of Staten Island.
• James G. Dellaratta, a.k.a. “Jimmy Boy,” of Amityville, N.Y.
• John Torlone, a.k.a, “Samuel,” of Bellmore, N.Y.
• Charles A. Giustra, a.k.a, “Charlie Tuna,” of Staten Island
• Vincent J. Cerchio, of Staten Island
• Richard A. Lapenna, of Staten Island
• John S. Dicrescento, of unknown residence
• Anthony Gerbino, a.k.a. “Beansie,” of North Valley Stream, N.Y.


The Mob's stranglehold over labor unions is not what it used to be

Thirty years ago, customers paid more for the salmon, shrimp and other seafood dishes they ordered at New York City restaurants because the Mafia controlled the truckers union that made deliveries to the Fulton Fish Market, according to law-enforcement officials and court records.

Fish spoils quickly, so the Mafia allegedly extorted payments from officials who ran the market by threatening delivery delays. In turn, fish-market officials demanded payoffs from restaurants, which passed that cost onto its patrons, law-enforcement officials said.

The exploitation of unions by organized crime has been an "unpleasant fact of life" since the late 19th century and "thrived practically unopposed" until the mid-1970s, James Jacobs, a professor at New York University School of Law, wrote in his 2006 book, "Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement."

The five families controlled construction, garment, waste hauling, trucking, airport cargo and other unions, he said in an interview. Paying extra to do business in New York—a so-called mob tax—"was just the way it was; it was accepted. You had to deal with them."

That started changing in the 1980s under then Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, Mr. Jacobs said.

"I think he's the most important organized-crime prosecutor in American history," he added. "I don't think he really gets enough credit for that."

In 1986, for example, federal prosecutors in Mr. Giuliani's office gained convictions against the leadership of all five families on accusations that the Mafia's control of concrete labor unions enabled them to demand a 2% kickback on concrete used in new building projects in New York City over $2 million.

A case brought by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn in 1990 alleged that the five families used a corrupt union to fix bids in exchange for receiving tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks on a $150 million contract to replace windows in New York City Housing Authority buildings.

Two high-ranking members and one soldier were convicted in that trial and five people were acquitted.

Still, Mr. Jacobs and other experts said that while the Mafia's hold on unions today has weakened, the Mafia's influence isn't totally lost.

Mr. Jacobs said there are still cases in which government-installed monitors are "trying to rehabilitate formerly mobbed-up unions" as well as new labor-racketeering prosecutions being brought against organized-crime members.

After the prosecutions "some unions were definitely cleaned up, other unions weren't completely clean and other unions…were cleaned up but have been infiltrated again," said Richard Frankel, special agent in charge of the Criminal Division for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office.

A law-enforcement official said Lucchese and Genovese remain the most active of the five crime families when it comes to infiltrating and exploiting unions.


Philadelphia mob associate facing murder for hire and witness intimidation charges

Ron Galati, the Don Corleone of the South Philadelphia auto repair business, was arraigned earlier this week on murder-for-hire, conspiracy and witness intimidation charges.

The wannabe wiseguy pleaded not guilty. He is being held without bail pending trial. He is also the target of two other investigations, an insurance fraud probe in Philadelphia and another murder-for-hire and fraud case in New Jersey.

Galati, if the District Attorney's allegations prove true, has apparently turned an insurance fraud pinch that could have landed him in jail for from five to six years into an attempted murder-witness intimidation fiasco that could result in a prison sentence of up to 30 years. That's not a pleasant prospect for the 63-year-old mob associate who underworld sources say always talked a better game than he played.

Two reputed hitmen allegedly hired by Galati have given him up in what investigators say was a plan to murder two rival auto body shop owners -- a father and son -- who may have been cooperating with the DA's office. Those hits were never carried out, but a third shooting in Atlantic City is still under investigation.

The target that time was Andrew Tuono, the boyfriend of Galati's daughter Tiffany. The attempted hit went down. Tuono was shot three times in the stomach outside his Atlantic City home on Nov. 30. He survived. The two shooters were arrested within minutes of the assault and quickly rolled on Galati, whom they said promised to pay them to kill Tuono and had also hired them to rub out Joseph Rao and his son, Joe Jr., because Galati believed -- correctly -- that Rao Sr. had testified against him before a grand jury in an insurance fraud probe.

"This guy is ratting on me on an insurance thing," alleged hitman Ronald Walker told investigators Galati told him.

Walker and Alvin Matthews have been arrested for the Tuono shooting. They have also admitted, according to an affidavit that is part of the pending Galati case, that they were tapped by Galati to shoot the Raos.

"They gotta go," Walker said Galati told him.

The affidavit of probable cause, the basis for Galati's arrest in December, was sworn to by Philadelphia Police Det. Robert DiFrancesco and Pennsylvania State Trooper Michael Romano. DeFrancesco is assigned to the District Attorney's Insurance Fraud Unit. Romano is part of an Organized Crime Task Force.

They jointly interviewed Walker and then Matthews who were being held in the Atlantic County Jail after their arrests by Atlantic City police.

During his interview, which took place on Dec. 6, Walker told the investigators that "sometime before Halloween" he met with Galati and Jerome Johnson, a Galati associate who has also been charged in the case. The meeting took place outside American Collision, the auto repair shop Galati runs at 1930 S. 20th Street.

Walker said the meeting was set up by Johnson, a lifelong friend who told him "Galati had a problem" that he wanted to discuss with them. Walker said the three of them walked up the street from the auto body shop, pausing in front of what appeared to be an abandoned house nearby.

There, he said, Galati asked him to kill both Raos.

"Galati wanted him to go to the garage and shoot both of them in the head," according to the affidavit. Galati also asked how much it would cost. After Walker told him $20,000 for each, Galati allegedly replied, "Alright."

Walker told authorities Galati reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash -- $800 -- which he handed him. Walker considered it a down payment for the murders.

What neither Galati nor Walker realized at the time was that the state police, who had begun an insurance fraud investigation a year earlier, had a surveillance camera mounted across the street from American Collision.

Romano, the state trooper, spent hours after the first interview with Walker reviewing tape from October 2013. The tape, according to the affidavit, includes video from October 23 that shows Galati meeting with Walker, Matthews and Johnson outside the auto body shop between 1:45 and 2:45 that afternoon.

While there apparently is no audio, that kind of evidence could be effectively used by prosecutors to support Walker's story if and when he takes the witness stand against Galati.

Walker and Matthews also told the investigators that after they were assigned the murder contract on the Raos they did "recon," visiting Rao's auto body shop at 9th and McKean Streets in South Philadelphia. In fact, it appears Joseph Rao and his son unknowingly stared death in the eye at one point.

Matthews told the investigators that it was Johnson who solicited him to get involved in the Rao contracts. He said Johnson told him that Galati wanted Joseph Rao Sr. killed because he was "testifying against him...or trying to get him indicted or something along those lines."

Mathews said he knew the Raos from another body shop they once owned at 24th and Wharton in South Philadelphia. Matthews said he was promised a car and some money, but he said he didn't know how much, for carrying out the hits. He said he visited the shop at 9th and McKean pretending that he was interested in a job cleaning cars.

The would-be hitman said he gave Joseph Rao Sr. a phony name and telephone number. When questioned by investigators, Rao said he remembered a black male stopping by the shop sometime in late October or early November looking for a job "cleaning out cars or detailing a cars," according to the affidavit.

Rao said he thought that might be a good idea and told his son, who was also in the shop, that it would "save you from doing it.

Matthews told authorities he did not want to carry out the hit that day because there were others in the shop. He said he went back to a car where Johnson was waiting with a gun and told him that Rao wasn't there.

He and Walker also told authorities that they went back to the shop in November to carry out the murders and found it had been padlocked, apparently as part of a city investigation into insurance fraud.

At that point, Matthews said, Johnson told him "it's time to concentrate on the young boy (Tuono) now."

Both Walker and Matthews told authorities that they had previously been hired by Galati to vandalized cars. Those cars would then to brought to Galati's shop for repair work. That scenario was similar to what authorities alleged Galati was doing in the early 1990s. He was convicted in 1995 and served 37 months in a federal insurance fraud case.

Mob associate Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello told a jury at the recent trial of mob boss Joe Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi, that he and Borgesi worked similar scams for Galati. He said Galati would make copies of keys to cars of customers. After the cars were repaired, Monacello said, Borgesi, using keys provided by Galati, would steal the cars and crash them into other vehicles that also belonged to Galati customers, creating more work and potential insurance windfalls for the auto body shop owner.

Monacello said he was paid $100-a-night.

Walker and Matthews both told investigators that Galati paid them for their vandalism work. Walker estimated that he had damaged about 20 vehicles for Galati and was paid between $500 and $1,500. Matthews said he was involved in 50 incidents and was paid from $20 to $50 per event. Matthews said he also was paid to "set numerous fires on boats" and at least one house, according to the affidavit.

Sources said that federal authorities in New Jersey have taken up the case there against Galati which includes the attempted murder of Andrew Tuono and insurance fraud connected to at least one boat fire and other acts of vandalism.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, meanwhile, is expected to drop another shoe with an indictment that focuses on the insurance fraud that precipitated the investigation of Galati. That case could include multiple defendants. Whether any of them are tied to organized crime is open to speculation.

For years Galati has basked in the low-life celebrity of knowing and being around mob figures including Borgesi, Ligambi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino. Sources say the insurance fraud case  could spill over on to members of Ligambi's family, both his relatives and mob associates.

From Florida, Merlino recently said that "the only thing Ron Galati can say about me is that my hair is black."

Authorities have long believed that it was in Galati's auto body shop that a stolen van was converted into a "hit machine" by members of the Merlino organization. That van, with two portholes cut in its side, was used to carry out the infamous shooting of mob boss John Stanfa on the Schuylkill Expressway in the middle of morning rush hour traffic on August 31, 1993.

Stanfa's car was strafed by fire from two machine pistols that morning. The mob boss, in the front passenger seat, ducked. His son Joseph, riding in the back seat, took a bullet to the cheek. But the younger Stanfa survived. The statue of limitations on that shooting has long expired. Unless authorities were able to roll it into a racketeering case, anything Galati knows about it might be useless.

What's more, District Attorney Seth Williams has made witness intimidation cases a high priority in this office. Philadelphia has a long history of witnesses being killed, particularly in the drug underworld. Kaboni Savage, convicted last year and sentenced to death, was charged with 12 murders. Eight of those were linked to witness intimidation, including the firebombing of a home in which two women and four children were killed.

It may be that the District Attorney's Office doesn't want to make a deal with Galati who may have placed himself in a position to be the poster boy for the DA's war against witness violence. In that case, whatever -- if anything -- Galati can say to tie some Ligambi associates to insurance fraud might not be enough to get him out from under his own problems.

The attempted murder of Andrew Tuono adds another "family" twist to the building Galati saga. Sources said Galati, acting like Don Corleone, held court in an Italian restaurant outside of Atlantic City shortly before the shooting and may have discussed what was planned with others that night.

More troubling, say both underworld and law enforcement sources, is that the attempted hit was carried out in front of Galati's daughter. Both Tiffany Galati and Tuono are believed to be cooperating with investigators.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Theme from The Godfather played after mobsters staged corporate takeover

It was mood music for a corporate takeover.

A few hours after a rowdy shareholders meeting formalized what federal authorities allege was Salvatore Pelullo's secret takeover of FirstPlus Financial, Pelullo hosted a celebratory dinner for company officers and members of the board of directors at a posh steakhouse in Dallas.

As he sat at the head of a long table in a private dining room at DelFrisco's on that night in October 2007, a violinist serenaded  Pelullo repeatedly with the same song, said Robert O'Neal, then chairman of the board and president of FirstPlus.

O'Neal, testifying for the prosecution at the racketeering trial of Pelullo, mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and five other defendants, said the song was all too familiar and somewhat ominous.

"It was the theme from The Godfather," he said in response to a question from Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Small.

O'Neal was the second FirstPlus official to take the stand in the now month-old trial. Among other things, he told the jury that his signature had been forged on at least two company documents authorizing the $1.8 million purchase of a financial company.

That purchase was one a several gambits the government alleges Pelullo and Scarfo orchestrated after taking behind the scenes control of FirstPlus in June 2007. The racketeering indictment alleges that Scarfo and Pelullo siphoned $12 million out of the struggling, Texas-based mortgage company, using the funds to support high flying lifestyles that included expensive cars, lavish homes and a yacht they christened "Priceless."

Scarfo, 47, has been identified as a member of the Lucchese crime family in North Jersey. He is the son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo. Pelullo, 45, of Elkins Park, has been identified as a mob associate.

O'Neal, a chiropractor from Beaumont, Tx., said he was brought into FirstPlus by William Maxwell, an attorney and friend who had been named special counsel to FirstPlus. Maxwell's brother John was the CEO of the company. The Maxwell brothers are co-defendants in the case along with three other attorneys, including Donald Manno of Cherry Hill, Scarfo's longtime defense attorney.

O'Neal is expected back on the stand when the trial resumes Thursday. Court is in recess tomorrow.

Earlier today David Roberts, another former FirstPlus official, completed his fourth day on the witness stand. Roberts testified that he was threatened by Pelullo and that while Pelullo was listed only as a "consultant," he was in fact the person running the company.

"What was said was what was done," Roberts said of Pelullo.

Roberts said Pelullo used fear and intimidation, including allusions to his mob connections, to bully him and others in the company. In earlier testimony, he told the jury that shortly after taking control of FirstPlus Pelullo warned Roberts and the Maxwell brothers that if they ever cooperated with the government, "our wives would be raped by niggers and our children would be sold as prostitutes."

Roberts, who said he had two daughters aged three and five, said he was frightened by the threat and decided, "I wasn't going to be a problem. I was going to do what I had to do."

During cross-examination, defense attorneys challenged Roberts' credibility and motives for cooperating, pointing out among other things, that he had lied on his resume -- Roberts conceded that he had "embellished" -- and that he borrowed $38,000 from Pelullo even while claiming he feared him.

Roberts served as secretary of the company and was a member of the board of directors from the summer of 2007 until early in 2008. He was also vice president of a FirstPlus subsidiary. He said he earned an annual salary of $150,000.

The FBI first questioned him in September 2008, he said, about six months after his job had been terminated. He said he wasn't surprised to get a visit from federal investigators because he had had concerns about the way FirstPlus was operating.

"From the inside it did not look like what I envisioned a public company would look like," he said.

O'Neal told a similar story about the way FirstPlus was run. He said he was brought into the company by William Maxwell and that Pelullo was introduced as a "consultant." He said he was unaware that Pelullo had two prior convictions for fraud, facts that would have impacted his decision to get involved.

He said William Maxwell later boasted about a legal appeal he was working on for "Little Nicky" who he later learned was jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. Scarfo. The elder Scarfo, 83, has been jailed since 1988 on racketeering and murder charges. He is serving a 55-year sentence.

Testimony and evidence introduced at the trial has included records of Pelullo and the younger Scarfo visiting the mob boss in prison in Atlanta and taped phone conversations from prison in which Scarfo and his son discuss what the government alleges was the FirstPlus takeover.

O'Neal said he twice traveled to the Philadelphia - South Jersey area with William Maxwell. On both
occasions, he said, they met with Sal Pelullo and on one occasion they went to an Italian restaurant where he was introduced to the younger Scarfo.

Maxwell, he said, pointed to Scarfo who was standing in front of the restaurant and said, "He's the man. He's the money." O'Neal said he assumed Scarfo was "the Godfather."

O'Neal said after he became president of FirstPlus he was "very concerned about the leadership of the company." He said William Maxwell assured him that Pelullo would not be involved in the operations, but O'Neal said that assurance was hollow and that Pelullo remained very active in the decision making process. O'Neal said he opted to resign early in 2008, claiming he did not have the time to commit to the job as president.

In fact, he said, he lied about why he wanted to step down. His real reason, he said, was his concern about organized crime.

"I didn't want to make anyone mad," he said. "I just wanted to get out."

On cross-examination by Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley, O'Neal admitted that anything he knew about the Mafia came from movies and news reports. He said he had had very little contact with Italian-Americans in Texas.

Throughout the trial, the defense has hammered away at two themes -- FirstPlus was a failing company that floundered not because of fraudulent business deals, but because of its weak financial position; and the introduction of the spectre of organized crime into the case is an attempt by the government to sensationalize and hype an otherwise complicated and boring story of a financial collapse.

Returning to the dinner at DelFrisco's and The Godfather music, Riley asked O'Neal if it would be unusual to hear Mexican music being played in a Mexican restaurant. He also asked him if his perceptions of Pelullo and Scarfo weren't clouded by "the stereotype that Italian-Americans" from the northeast part of the United States were Mafia.

Isn't that the same, Riley asked, as northerners who believe everyone from Texas "wears a cowboy hat, drives a pickup truck and has cows?"

O'Neal said it wasn't just The Godfather theme, but "the way it was done."

"He was playing it directly to Mr. Pelullo," said O'Neal, adding that the violinist played the theme
three or four times in succession. He also said John Maxwell's two sons, one in high school and the other in college, acted as "body guards" for Pelullo, accompanying him whenever he got up from the table.

Riley asked incredulously if O'Neal wanted the jury to believe that "two boys, one in college and the other in high school" where providing security for a Mafia figure? O'Neal struggled with the answer, but said that's what it seemed like to him.

While not part of today's testimony, other government documents and records indicate that the October 2007 shareholder's meeting was the focal point of the takeover of FirstPlus. The government alleges that Pelullo threatened officials to get shareholder votes in line and used intimidation to thwart a rival group of shareholders who opposed the new board of directors that the government said Pelullo had put in place.

The dinner at DelFrisco's was to celebrate the victory, but O'Neal said he was taken aback as were other company officials who attended.

As a final question, Riley asked O'Neal, "Do you wear a cowboy hat, drive a pickup truck and have cows?"

"Two out of three," said the witness.


The Five New York Mafia Families Stage A Quiet Comeback

For more than two decades, New York City's five organized-crime families were plagued by convictions brought on by strengthened federal laws and the increasing habit of higher-ranking members cooperating with the government.
Those years of high-profile decline created a perception that the city's mafia is on the verge of extinction. But law-enforcement officials and mob experts say the five families, while not the force they once were, are far from sleeping with the fishes. They have survived, the experts said, because of their persistence and ability to adapt.
"I don't know that I'd say La Cosa Nostra was what it was in its heyday but I wouldn't say by any means it's gone away," said Richard Frankel, special agent in charge of the Criminal Division for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office.
Reputed Gambino family crime boss John Gotti leans back during a break in testimony in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, Jan. 23, 1990.

Mr. Frankel, who supervises the FBI's organized crime squads in New York, said he believes the city's Cosa Nostra has quietly staged a comeback and is now more powerful than it has been in years.
Despite the waves of prosecutions, each of the five mafia "borgatas"—the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonanno and Colombo—"still exists and each still has its hierarchy," said John Buretta, a former federal prosecutor who headed the organized-crime unit for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn.
One recent indictment that attests to organized crime's staying power, authorities said, is the Jan. 23 arrest of 78-year-old Vincent "Vinnie" Asaro, in connection with the 1978 Lufthansa heist of $6 million in cash and jewels at John F. Kennedy Airport.
The reputed Bonanno captain and four other reputed Bonanno members were charged with running a loan-sharking, extortion, gambling and murder enterprise from 1969—nine years before the Lufthansa robbery—to the present day. The defendants have pleaded not guilty.
The five families are no longer the federal government's top criminal concern in New York City. Counterterrorism and other criminal networks—such as Russian, Balkan, Asian and African organized syndicates that generally coexist peacefully and sometimes collaborate with the five families—have attracted investigators away from La Cosa Nostra, Mr. Frankel said.
Years ago, the FBI had a squad dedicated to each family. Now there are two: C-5, which handles the Genoveses, Bonannos and Colombos, and C-16, assigned to the Gambinos and Lucheses. A 2010 audit by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General found that after Sept. 11, 2001, organized crime is the FBI's sixth priority behind terrorism, espionage, cybercrime, public corruption and protecting civil rights.
At the NYPD, amid budget squeezes, the current 5,000-detective headcount is about 2,000 below the 2002 level. There has been an "across the board" reduction of detectives in precincts and specialty squads including organized crime, said Michael Palladino, president of the NYPD's detectives' union. The number of detectives investigating organized crime has remained stable in the past three years, though. The NYPD didn't return a request for comment.
As the ranks of organized-crime investigators decreased, the mafia adapted to law enforcement's investigative techniques. Unlike the in-your-face approach that media mob star John Gotti adopted in the 1980s, today's mafia has reverted to its roots and tried to become as invisible as possible, officials and experts say.
For instance, the Genovese family, which has traditionally been the largest, most powerful and most secretive, now likely uses a rotating panel of leaders to run day-to-day affairs to avoid any one boss from being targeted by prosecutors, Mr. Buretta said. Other crime families use a "street boss" model where lesser-known mobsters carry out the orders of imprisoned leaders, he said.
Today's crime families are also less territorial and more open to collaboration than the mobsters of past decades, said Inspector John Denesopolis, the commanding officer of the New York Police Department's Organized Crime unit. "As long as they are earning, they are less concerned," he said.
Another emerging trend in the past several years, Mr. Denesopolis said, is mafia families emulating the need-to-know tactics seen in terrorist cells—one group in the family isn't made aware of what crimes another group in the same family is involved in.
What hasn't changed much since the 1930s are the five families' bread and butter crimes: loan-sharking, extortion, gambling, narcotics and infiltrating organized labor, Mr. Frankel said. They aren't as involved in sophisticated financial frauds—such as stock pump-and-dump scams—as they were in the early 1990s, Mr. Frankel said. But they are resourceful when it comes to new opportunities, he added, citing recent prosecutions of offshore Internet gambling websites and trafficking in Viagra.
Hundreds of inducted members in the five families are still behind these enterprises. The Genovese lead with close to 200 such "made" men, while the Colombos and Lucheses are the smallest, with about 100 each, said Jerry Capeci, a longtime crime reporter who operates the website Gang Land News. The numbers are less than years ago but not substantially so, he said. There are also several thousand additional criminal associates, Mr. Denesopolis said.
Leadership ranks are also being replenished as many "sophisticated, capable" mafia veterans who are currently incarcerated will soon complete their sentences, said Mark Feldman, chief assistant Brooklyn District Attorney and a former chief of the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's organized-crime unit.
Law-enforcement officials say one trend has worked in their favor lately: the growing frequency of soldiers and leaders breaking oath of Omerta—the pledge allegiance to the family and agreeing to a code of honor that includes a vow of silence if arrested.
In 2004, Bonanno leader Joseph Massino shocked the underworld by becoming a government witness—the first head of one of the five families to do so. He has testified or provided information against other accused mobsters in several cases, including in the latest Lufthansa heist charges. He testified against reputed Bonanno leader Vincent Basciano, who was convicted in 2011 on racketeering and murder charges.
"Joe's cooperation had to shake the confidence in the code of honor in as dramatic a way as any cooperator ever had," Mr. Buretta said.
A recently retired NYPD detective who worked organized crime for more than 20 years, said old-timers followed the rules "to the letter" and would never talk to him or his partners after an arrest. "With these young kids, the rules are just suggestions," he said.
"They're younger, a lot of them have young kids and they don't want to look at 25 to life," he said. We sit them down and tell them, 'Listen, the next the time you pick up your baby daughter she's going to be 27 years old.' "