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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Robert DeNiro to star in new Chicago mafia movie

Back in 2011 actor Robert De Niro and director Olivier Assayas sat side by side on the Cannes jury. Now they’re making a movie together. Assayas has just hired De Niro to join Robert Pattinson in the film Idol’s Eye. The movie is scheduled to shoot in October in Chicago and Toronto.

The press release announcing the film doesn’t have many details, but there is speculation (via The Film Stage) that this is a retitled launch of the Assayas projectHubris. That was described in 2013 as “an action-packed crime thriller set against the backdrop of organized crime in Chicago in the 1970s.” Which would be something I’d watch the director of Carlos do in a heartbeat.

Indeed, this new film is described as a sophisticated heist action/thriller. And with that Chicago location planned, these probably are one and the same. Or at least one jumps off from the other.

Here’s a rundown. Hubris was a script by Bobby Moresco that Todd Field was going to direct back in 2011. It was based on a 2007 Playboy article called Boosting the Big Tuna, written by reporter Hillel Levin. The story was based on the murders of a crew of guys who robbed the house of Chicago mafia boss Tony Accardo’s (AKA “Big Tuna”) in 1978. After the break-in, several guys suspected of the crime were murdered with, well, let’s say extreme prejudice. Some were tortured. There’s a lot more to the story than that; it’s a hell of a gangland saga, with violence and a big multi-layered investigation. (It’s also the same material that Michael Mann was toying with shooting as Big Tuna a few years ago.)

So where does the name Idol’s Eye come from? The Idol’s Eye is a big diamond — a bigfamous diamond, in fact. In the ’70s it was owned by a Chicago jeweler. It was never stolen, and was not part of the Big Tuna robbery. But there’s a connection. The owner of the diamond was Harry Levinson, a mob-connected guy. And in 1977 a thief named John Mendell targeted Levinson for his diamond, and planned a huge heist of the rock that was only partially successful. John Mendell is one of the guys who broke into Big Tuna’s place a year later.

So what story is Assayas telling? We’d assume that De Niro is going to play Accardo, and Pattinson will be Mendell. But the title suggests this could be more about the attempt to steal the Idol’s Eye than the Accardo robbery. Both are big, great stories, with potential for some excellent cinematic flavor.

Regaardless, I’ll watch it. Assayas had a good year at Cannes this year, too. While his current film, The Clouds of Sils Maria — a film about film — didn’t win the Palme d’Or, it earned a lot of appreciation while playing on the Croisette. We’re looking forward to seeing that, and having Idol’s Eye on the horizon is a bonus.


Colombo captain given 12 years in jail for ordering murder while at his grandmother's wake

Teddy Persico Jr. was sentenced Thursday for the 1993 mob murder.
Colombo crime capo Theodore "Teddy Boy" Persico, Jr., was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison for passing an order to underlings in a Brooklyn funeral parlor to whack a gangland rival.

Persico, 50, is the nephew of Colombo boss Carmine "The Snake" Persico who is serving a life sentence for racketeering and murder, and sources say Teddy is on the short-list of candidates to assume leadership of the crime family when the position becomes vacant upon his uncle’s death.

“I assure you I’ll do my best not to be here again,” Persico, Jr., pledged to Brooklyn Federal Judge Sandra Townes at his sentencing.

Persico Jr. pleaded guilty to a murder conspiracy charge in connection with the rubout of capo Joseph Scopo in 1993 during a civil war that pitted Carmine Persico loyalists against a rebellious Colombo faction aligned with Vittorio "Little Vic" Orena.

Scopo was a high-ranking member of the Orena faction.

In the summer of 1993, Persico Jr. was granted a prison furlough to attend his grandmother’s wake at Scarpaci Funeral Home in Bensonhurst. After saying a prayer in front of his grandmother’s coffin, Persico Jr. sat down in the chapel with three associates and delivered Scopo’s death warrant, according to testimony by mob rat Anthony Russo.

The whispered conversation was out of earshot of correction officers who had accompanied Persico Jr. to the wake.

“He (Teddy) told us, ‘You have to go after Joey (Scopo),’” Russo testified. ‘To end this war we got to get Joey. Joey is the target.’”

Several months later, Scopo was gunned down in front of his Queens home, effectively ending the bloody war.


Former Longshoreman pleads guilty to Genovese family extortion

Rocco Ferrandino, 71, of Lakewood was one of two former longshoremen who admitted Wednesday that they conspired to extort Christmas tribute payments from their brethren in Local 1 and Local 1235 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, according to the U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

An associate of the Genovese organized crime family charged in the same case admitted to running an illegal sports-betting operation, according to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

During their guilty pleas, Ferrandino and Michael Trueba, 78, of Kearny — both former supervisors on the New Jersey piers — admitted they conspired with each other and others to compel tribute payments from union members, who made the payments based on actual and threatened force, violence and fear, according to case documents and court statements.

The timing of the extortion typically coincided with certain union members getting “container royalty fund” checks, prosecutors said. Ferrandino, the former head timekeeper at Maher Terminals, and Trueba, the former vice president of Local 1235, were suspended from their positions following their arrests, according to court documents.

Richard Dehmer, 78, of Springfield, an associate of the Genovese organized crime family, also pleaded guilty to conspiring to operate and operating an illegal sports betting operation with others. Ferrandino, Trueba and Dehmer entered guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in federal court in Newark.

Charges still are pending against three defendants in the superseding indictment, including a racketeering conspiracy charge against Stephen Depiro, 58, of Kenilworth, a soldier in the Genovese family. Members of the Genovese family, including Depiro, are charged with conspiring to collect tribute payments from New Jersey port workers at Christmastime each year through their corrupt influence over union officials, including the last three presidents of Local 1235, court documents said.

The charge to which Ferrandino and Trueba pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charges to which Dehmer pleaded guilty carry a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 23, 24 and 30, for Dehmer, Ferrandino and Trueba, respectively, Fishman said.


Jailed mob associate indicted for a third time

Ron Galati, the Don Corleone of the auto repair business, hit a trifecta this afternoon when he was indicted for a third time in an ongoing investigation by city, state and federal authorities.

The latest charges, announced by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, allege that the 63-year-old South Philadelphia auto body shop owner orchestrated an elaborate insurance fraud scheme that netted nearly $5 million for himself and his co-conspirators.

Those charged in the case included Galati's wife, Vicky, his son, Ron Jr. and Steven Ligambi, the 28-year-old son of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi.

In all, 41 people have been charged and several have already agreed to cooperate, according to the District Attorney's Office which quoted one cooperator who said Galati would boast, "I live my life to cheat insurance companies. My high every day is to cheat insurance companies."

Galati is already facing murder for hire charges brought by the District Attorney's Office and attempted murder and conspiracy charges brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey. He has been held without bail since his arrest last year on charges that he solicited three hitmen to kill a father and son, rival auto body shop owners, who were apparently cooperating in the investigation that had targeted him.

Last month he was named in a federal indictment out of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Camden alleging that the same hitmen were solicited to kill the boyfriend of Galati's daughter Tiffany. The boyfriend was shot in Atlantic City, but survived.

Two of the hitmen, along with the boyfriend and Tiffany Galati are all believed to be cooperating in that case.

The indictment announced today was similar to a fraud case brought against Galati back in 1995 by federal authorities. He was convicted and served 37months in prison. This time, with the murder for hire and attempted murder charges, he is looking at a possible life sentence.

The charges painted a picture of an arrogant wheeler dealer who developed a systematic routine to cash in on phony insurance claims. Corrupt insurance company agents and one Philadelphia police officer were also charged.

Among other things, Galati's American Collision and Auto Center had a contract to repair Philadelphia Police Department vehicles.

The DA charged that Galati had five different fraud schemes and that he generated over a million dollars for himself and his wife. The DA alleged that while he and his wife claimed in grand jury testimony that they each were earning about $250-a-week, evidence would show that "Galati cashed over $1.2 million worth of checks" at a South Philadelphia check cashing center over the past several years.

The indictment alleges that over the past four years, insurance companies have issued $2.3 million for fraudulent claims filed as part of the Galati scheme. Authorities also allege that his shop obtained $1.8 million from the city after fraudulently obtaining a contract with the Philadelphia Office of Fleet Management.

The "pattern of fraudulent claims," sometimes made with customers who were part of the scam, involved damages resulting fictitious deer accidents, vandalism, damage due to falling objects and staged collisions. The DA cited Galati's "knack for designing creative accident scenarios and his network of rogue professionals who conspired with him to legitimize" the phony insurance claims.

The indictment alleged that "Galati favored deer hits, vandalism and vehicular damages from trajectory objects" because those would allow the car owner to claim "no fault" and would not result in an increase in the driver's insurance premium. Among other things, the DA alleged that witnesses said Galati "stored deer blood, hair and carcasses in the back of his shop." Those items were used "as props for what Galati deemed `Hollywood Photos'" that were submitted along with the fake insurance claims.

Other claims filed by Galati customers included reports that their cars had been struck by or collided with "geese, dogs, cartons of fruit, flying metal and falling concrete."

Galati, the DA said, would also stage collisions, using tow truck operators who were also charged and sometimes with the consent of the vehicle's owner. That scheme was similar to one laid out by mob associate Louis "Bent Finger" Monacello who testified this year in the racketeering trial of Ligambi and mobster George Borgesi.

In the 1990s, Monacello said, Galati would make a copy of customer's car key, then pay Borgesi to steal the car and crash it into another vehicle, also owned by a Galati customer. The "accidents" would generate more business for Galati's shop and more opportunities to inflate and falsify insurance claims. Monacello said he was on hand to drive a backup car and assist Borgesi in getting away after he had crashed the stolen vehicle.

Galati was convicted in 1995 for running those types of schemes. Neither Ligambi nor Borgesi were convicted in the cases at which Monacello testified.

The indictment also alleges that Galati's falsified documents in order to qualify for the city contract even though American Collision did not meet all the city contract specifications.

Authorities also alleged that the investigation, which was coordinated by Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz and conducted by Det. Robert DiFrancesco of the DA's Office and Trooper Michael Romano of the State Police Organized Crime Division, also linked Galati and co-defendant Philip Sessa to a boat stolen from a marina in Somer Point, NJ, and to the misappropriation of funds from an unidentified senior citizen's bank account.

Galati, who loved to quote lines from The Godfather, lived well on the money from his scams, the DA charged, often throwing "elaborate parties" at shorefront properties and "hosting expensive dinners" at local restaurants.

It was at an Italian restaurant in Northfield, NJ, authorities said, that Galati threatened his daughter's boyfriend shortly before the boyfriend was shot. The restaurant, now closed, was owned at the time by associates of Borgesi's.

"It wasn't a big place, but Galati liked to hold court there," said a source. "He thought he was Don Corleone."


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Appeals court overturns murder conviction of FBI agent in slaying linked to Boston gangster Whitey Bulger

A divided appeals court on Wednesday threw out the murder conviction and lengthy prison sentence for a former FBI agent in the decades-old mob-style killing of a gambling executive, one of numerous slayings linked to jailed Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.

Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 that former agent John Connolly was improperly convicted and sentenced to 40 years for his role in the 1982 slaying of World Jai-Alai President John Callahan. But further appeals are possible, so Connolly, 73, remains in prison for now.

A hit man testified in the 2008 trial that he fatally shot Callahan after Connolly tipped Bulger and his lieutenant, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, that the executive would implicate them in another death. The appeals court initially upheld Connolly’s conviction in 2011 without comment but overturned it after Connolly’s lawyer asked for reconsideration.

The evidence as to both his participation in the murder and his possession of a firearm during his participation is overwhelming.

In the court’s new ruling, a panel of judges determined that Connolly’s second-degree murder conviction was barred by the statute of limitations applicable at the time. His attorneys argued that prosecutors improperly used a firearms allegation to enhance the charge to one potentially punishable by life in prison — for which the statute of limitations would not apply.

“Connolly’s conviction for second-degree murder with a firearm should not have been reclassified to a life felony in order to circumvent the statute of limitation,” wrote Chief Judge Frank A. Shepherd and Judge Richard J. Suarez in the majority opinion. “Without the fundamentally erroneous reclassification, the first-degree felony of second-degree murder was time-barred.”
Florida appeals court on Wednesday ruled he was improperly convicted of murder.

Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg dissented, contending the majority was making “grave error” in overturning the conviction.

“The evidence as to both his participation in the murder and his possession of a firearm during his participation is overwhelming,” Rothenberg wrote.

Conviction for Bulger’s ex-FBI handler thrown out

The murder conviction of former FBI Agent John J. Connolly Jr., Whitey Bulger’s corrupt handler, has been thrown out by an appeals court in Florida.

Connolly has long denied a role in Callahan’s slaying. Trial testimony showed he was 1,500 miles away in Massachusetts when Callahan was killed by Bulger’s hit man John Martorano, who made a deal with prosecutors in return for his testimony in Connolly’s case and others. The only evidence that Connolly might have had a firearm when Callahan was killed is the standard FBI practice that agents are armed while on duty.

Connolly’s younger brother, James Connolly, said Wednesday in a phone interview that he was still trying to digest the ruling but is pleased with the result.
James "Whitey" Bulger was told by Connolly that the victim would implicate them in another murder, authorities said.

“I think it shows that he was wrongly convicted,” he said.

The court said Connolly should be freed from prison based on the erroneous conviction, but it issued a stay so prosecutors could either ask the entire 3rd District court to consider the case or take it to the Florida Supreme Court. A spokesman for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Bulger, 84, was a fugitive for 16 years before his 2011 capture at an apartment in Santa Monica, California. He was convicted in August 2013 of a host of crimes in a racketeering indictment, including playing a role in 11 murders while he led a violent gang. Bulger is serving a life sentence in federal prison but is appealing.

Connolly was convicted in 2002 of racketeering for his dealings with Bulger’s gang, mainly protecting them from prosecution and tipping them about informants in their ranks. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in that case. That sentence has been completed.


Top ranking Gambino gangster gets life in prison for two murders

Gambino mobster sentenced to life in prison
It took more than three decades, but a Gambino mobster finally met his fate in Brooklyn federal court Tuesday ​for the senseless 1981 slayings of two Queens bar owners.

Former Gambino capo Bartolomeo Vernace, 65, was sentenced to life in prison for ​taking part in the murders, sparked by a drink​ ​innocently ​​spilled onto his mobster crony’s girlfriend.

Prosecutors said Vernace assembled Gambino goons to shoot and kill Richard Godkin and John D’Agnese at the Shamrock Bar on Jamaica Ave. after the cocktail tumbled onto family associate Frank Riccardi’s lady.

Vernace, a veteran gangster who was born in Sicily, managed to beat state murder raps​ f​or the crime ​after key witnesses to the shootings​ ​–​ including John Gotti’s niece, Linda Gotti​ ​– ​​refused to testify.

Bartolomeo Vernace

Free to revel in a few more decades of mob mayhem after the acquittal, Vernace ascended the ranks of the Gambino clan to become a captain before the feds ​ ​hit​ ​him with fresh racketeering raps.

The mobster was found guilty last year in Brooklyn federal court.

After waiting more than three decades for justice, relatives of the slain men filled a courtroom row to see the hunched hoodlum dispatched to prison for the rest of his life.

“Mr. Vernace killed our father and we have missed him every day since that night when we kissed him goodbye,” Godkin’s daughter, Christine Orsini, told the court before the sentence was handed down.

Her voice quavering, the grieving woman recalled how a family friend rang the doorbell to their home in the dead of night to relay the shattering news.

Just a tiny girl at the time, Orsini said she and her sister sneaked to the top of the stairs in their home and overheard the conversation.

“His life was cut short for a spilled drink,” she said. “​​Thirty-three ​​ years and three trials is a long time to wait for justice.”

Vernace is the only man to to have been convicted in connection with the heinous double murder.

Riccardi, who died in 2007, was acquitted in a state trial and another suspect, Ronald Barlin, had his case dismissed in 1981.

Balding and gray, Vernace declined to address the court before his fate was handed down by Judge Sandra Townes.

After being formally told of his mandatory life sentence, Vernace said nothing and walked glumly out of court without turning to a row of relatives in the front row.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Three longshoremen admit role in Genovese family extortion racket

Three former longshoremen acted more like the Grinch than Santa when they conspired with the mob to extort Christmastime tribute payments from fellow port workers with the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1235.

The three admitted roles in the holiday scheme, which involved a reputed member of the Genovese crime family, and could face up to 20 years in prison when they are sentenced, the U.S. attorneys for New Jersey and the Eastern District of New York said Wednesday.

Salvatore LaGrasso, 58, of Edison; Michael Nicolosi, 45, of Staten Island; and Julio Porrao, 71, of Palm Coast, Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort Christmastime tributes from the union members. They entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in Newark.
Stephen "Beach" Depiro

Charges are still pending against five defendants, including a racketeering conspiracy charge against Stephen Depiro, 58, of Kenilworth — a reputed soldier in the Genovese organized crime family. Since at least 2005, Depiro has managed the Genovese family’s control over the New Jersey waterfront, including the nearly three-decades-long extortion of port workers in Local 1, Local 1235 and Local 1478, authorities said.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, LaGrasso, Nicolosi and Porrao admitted that they conspired with each other and others to compel tribute payments from ILA union members, who made the payments based on actual and threatened force, violence and fear, Fishman said. The timing of the extortons typically coincided with the receipt by some ILA members of “container royalty fund” checks, a form of year-end compensation.

LaGrasso and Nicolosi were suspended from their positions after their arrests. Porrao already had retired at the time of his arrest.

Members of the Genovese family, including Depiro, are charged with conspiring to collect tribute payments from New Jersey port workers at Christmastime each year through their corrupt influence over union officials, including the last three presidents of Local 1235, Fishman said.

LaGrasso, Nicolosi, and Porrao face up to 20 years in prison an a fine of $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 17 for LaGrasso and Nicolosi and for Sept. 24 for Porrao.

U.S. Attorneys Paul Fishman of New Jersey and Loretta E. Lynch of the Eastern District of New York credited the FBI, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Office of Inspector General, the Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations with the investigation leading to the guilty pleas. They also thanked the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor for its cooperation and assistance in the investigation.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mistrial declared for Philadelphia mafia soldier

Shortly after mobster Anthony Nicodemo's attorney offered a bizarre carjacking defense last week to explain how his client became an unwitting getaway driver in the December 2012 murder of Gino DiPietro, a person following the trial rolled his eyes and scoffed.

"There's no way a common sense jury buys that story," the observer said.

But common sense doesn't always apply in Common Pleas Court, a sometimes illogical Alice in Wonderland judicial world where the unexplainable happens. This morning, as the defense was preparing to call its first witness, it happened again.

Judge Jeffrey Minehart declared a mistrial late this morning after dismissing two more jurors in the case. That left the panel with just 11 members and apparently neither side wanted to proceed at that point. The case blew up amid reports that police have opened an investigation into possible jury tampering.

At least one family member of the defendant was questioned this afternoon, but one law enforcement source cautioned that it was too soon to determine whether a juror had been approached. An overheard conversation in the hallway outside the 11th floor courtroom contributed to the concern raised by law enforcement that a juror might have been compromised, but by late this afternoon there were no definitive answers.

One of the jurors who was dismissed this morning was a South Philadelphia resident, but it was unclear if he had been the target of jury tampering. Minehart placed a gag order on the lawyers in the case when the trial opened last week. Neither Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo nor defense attorney Brain McMonagle were permitted to comment.

Minehart said little about what had transpired, but dismissed the panel late this morning after meeting with attorneys for about an hour behind closed doors in his chambers. He has scheduled a status conference for June 12. It is expected that the District Attorney's Office will retry the case.

Law enforcement sources said late today that there are several options to further shield a jury the next time around. While there were only two alternates selected this time, as many as six could be added. One alternate was dismissed last week and another this morning for what were described as routine and benign reasons. It was the third juror who was let go that raised concerns.

A new panel could also be sequestered, an extreme measure, but one that is permitted. The most extreme option would be a request for a change of venue that would move the case out of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. No decision has been made with regard to any of those issues, according to sources familiar with the process.

Nicodemo, who has been held without bail since his arrest minutes after DiPietro was gunned down in a mid-afternoon assassination, will remain in prison pending the new trial. As the defense prepared to open its case, the central question was whether the 42-year-old mobster would take the stand in his own defense.

Zarallo had taken four days building an impressive, if circumstantial, case after Nicodemo. The evidence included witness testimony that Nicodemo's black Honda Pilot was the getaway car that a masked gunman jumped into after pumping six bullets into DiPietro.

DiPietro, 50, was slain in the 2800 block of Iseminger Street as he was getting into his pickup truck. The shooting occurred shortly before 3 p.m. on December 12, 20012.

A mailman who heard the shots, described how he saw a masked gunman in a hoody running from the shooting scene. Another witness, who was passing by, described how the gunman ran passed him and jumped into a Honda Pilot that was parked in an alleyway with its engine running. The witness got the license tag of the vehicle.

The Honda was registered to Nicodemo whose home in the 3200 block of South 17th Street is a five-minute drive from the murder scene. Within 20 minutes police were knocking on Nicodemo's door and taking him into custody. They also obtained a search warrant and seized the Honda which was parked behind his row home. Inside the vehicle, wrapped in a jacket and stuffed behind the driver's seat, they found a .357 magnum that, according to testimony from forensic experts, was the murder weapon.

Zarallo, in his opening statement to the jury last week, said that the evidence linked Nicodemo to the conspiracy to murder DiPietro and that while he didn't pull the trigger, he was just as guilty as the shooter. The Assistant District Attorney twice mentioned Domenic Grande, a friend of Nicodemo's and a mob associate, as someone who fit the description of the gunman. He also said that Grande's fingerprint had been found on the hood of the Honda Pilot.

Grande has never been charged and McMonagle said he would be in court at some point during the trial, an apparent reference to an appearance as either a character witness or a courtroom supporter of the defendant. The case, however, never got that far.

McMonagle, in his opening, had told the jury that Nicodemo was a victim of the chaos that surrounded the shooting. He said his client was sitting in his Honda when a masked gunman unexpectedly jumped in the vehicle and told him to drive. McMonagle implied that his client was forced at gunpoint to flee the scene. The lawyer said the gunman later jumped out of the Honda, but left the murder weapon behind.

The defense opening raised several questions. Why didn't Nicodemo report the carjacking? And why, when he was taken into custody, didn't he mention it to the police? Instead, he has sat in prison since December 12, 2012.  Zarallo was expected to hammer away on those issues had Nicdemo taken the stand.

Legal sources in the defense community said the scenario laid out by McMonagle was the only one that could explain away the irrefutable evidence linking his client to the getaway car and the murder weapon. With this morning's mistrial, it may be several more months before another jury gets to ponder that defense argument.

Common sense would suggest that the explanation is bizarre at best. But in Common Pleas Court, bizarre is not necessarily unusual.


Prosecutors rest their case against Philadelphia mob soldier

Prosecutors in the murder trial of Anthony Nicodemo, who is accused gunning down Gino DiPietro on a South Philadelphia street in 2012, rested Monday after presenting forensic evidence that they say links the reputed mob soldier to the brazen daylight killing.

The first expert called by Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarello was Philadelphia police forensic scientist Lissette Vega.

Vega said Nicodemo's DNA was found on a soda bottle inside his 2011 black Honda Pilot, which was used by DiPietro's assailants in a drive-by shooting on South Iseminger Street about 2:55 p.m. Dec. 12, 2012.

A police fingerprint specialist, Scott Copeland, said fingerprints from a soda bottle and the Honda's center console matched Nicodemo's. Both pieces of evidence place the 42-year-old defendant inside the murder vehicle.

Last week, Zarello told jurors that evidence would show that DiPietro, 50, was gunned down by an accomplice who was still at large. Nicodemo's job, Zarello said, had been to help the gunman escape and get rid of the murder weapon.

Zarello had said the evidence would be sufficient to convict Nicodemo of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Jurors last week saw video from security cameras showing a 2011 black Honda Pilot casing the area where DiPietro was killed in the hours before the killing and the moments afterward.

On Monday, Police Officer Robert Stott, a firearms specialist, testified that bullet specimens recovered from DiPietro's body were from a .357 Magnum found wrapped in clothing and stashed in the back of the driver's seat.

DiPietro, a convicted drug dealer, was shot to death Dec. 12, 2012, as he stood next to his gold Mazda pickup trick, parked near his home.

A postal worker testified last week that he saw a masked man standing over a man's body near a gold pickup truck and firing gunshots into him.

Nicodemo's lawyers are expected to begin presenting their defense Tuesday.

In his opening last week, defense attorney Brian J. McMonagle said Nicodemo had nothing to do with the shooting: The defendant was carjacked by a masked man who, unbeknownst to him, stashed the revolver in the SUV, then jumped out and ran.


Lucchese captain out on $1 million dollar bail

Luchese capo Carmine Avellino, (center) leaves Brooklyn Federal Court after posting bail on Monday.
Father's Day came early for reputed Lucchese capo Carmine Avellino.

Avellino, 70, was sprung on $1 million bail Monday into the arms of his exuberant daughter outside Brooklyn Federal Court. “Daddy!” his unidentified daughter cried when Avellino stepped outside, accompanied by a U.S. marshal, to retrieve a shopping bag containing a change of clothes.

Federal prosecutors initially argued that the mobster, indicted last week for extortion, should be kept jailed because he is a danger to the community. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Celia Cohen consented to his release after another of Avellino’s daughter posted her $1 million home as bail.

Avellino will be on a strict 7 p.m.-to-8 a.m. curfew with electronic monitoring.

Avellino is charged with ordering a pair of Lucchese goons to work over an elderly deadbeat who was late paying back a $100,000 loan.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Johnny Depp transforms into notorious Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger for new movie

Johnny Depp, left, is transformed into famed gangster Whitey Bulger, right, on the Boston set of biopic ‘Black Mass.’

Johnny Depp is returning to organized crime.

The 50-year-old actor, who had previously starred in the mob dramas "Donnie Brasco" and "Public Enemies," was photographed on the set of his new movie, a biopic about Boston mobster James (Whitey) Bulger — though he's virtually unrecognizable under a bald cap and heavy makeup.

Sporting a blond weave, the actor looked a dead ringer for the notorious gangster who was convicted in 2011 on 11 counts of murder, drug trafficking, racketeering, money laundering and extortion.

"He's a fascinating character," Depp told Collider. "It's not like anything I've done before, on that level. I'm very excited to slide into that skin for a little bit."
Whitey Bulger is seen in his 2011 booking photo.

"Black Mass," directed by Scott Cooper and also starring, is currently filming in Bulger's old stomping grounds in Boston.

The now 84-year-old Bulger has been a source of awe for Hollywood, and the inspiration for Jack Nicholson's character in the Academy Award-winning movie, "The Departed."

The actor is famous for undergoing shocking transformations for roles such as “Edward Scissorhands,” “Alice in Wonderland” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

First Photos Surface Of Johnny Depp As Whitey Bulger

The first photographs of actor Johnny Depp as mobster Whitey Bulger have surfaced. WBZ-TV's Jim Armstrong reports.

But Depp told the Daily News last summer that he felt added responsibility "playing a character that's a real person."

"Take John Dillinger (in "Public Enemies") for example, I felt a great responsibility to John Dillenger and his family to play him as close as anyone could to play him properly," said Depp. "I did as much research as I could. It was a great responsibility playing the Earl of Rochester, you know, because he was a real person. It was a great responsibility playing Joe Pistone in 'Donnie Brasco.'"


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Russian mobster turned FBI informant accused of killing rapper

Mani Chulpayev speaks one-on-one with Channel 2 Action News
A former Atlanta car dealer who worked as a Russian mobster and FBI informant spoke to Channel 2 investigative reporter Jim Strickland while in custody at the Fulton County Jail.

Mani Chulpayev is expected to be the star witness in the case of a murdered rapper.

Rapper Lil Phat was shot and killed in his car in the parking lot of Northside Hospital in June 2012.

Prosecutors say it was a revenge killing ordered by drug dealers who believe the rapper stole from them. Prosecutors have accused Chulpayev of helping an assassin squad to hunt down the victim.

Strickland has learned that suspects charged in the murder are customers of Chulpayev's Atlanta car-leasing business.


However, Chulpayev told Strickland in the jailhouse interview that he was actually gathering intelligence on the drug operation for the FBI.

"If I'm such a bad guy and so violent and such a convicted criminal, why are three or four agencies simultaneously using me over and over again like a whore?" Chulpayev said. "Of course I'm mad."

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard says Strickland's investigation into Chulpayev's car business helped break the Lil Phat murder case.

Chulpayev says he's actually the one who solved it.

"I'm telling you, the phone records and everything, they got most of the warrants from the judges because of me, because I was a reliable source," Chulpayev said.

"Do you think that 12 strangers can look at Mani Chulpayev and see an innocent man?" Strickland asked.

"On this case? Without doubt. Without a doubt, I have faith," Chulpayev responded.


A confidential police report obtained by Channel 2 Action News shows Chulpayev's GPS tracking system in the car was accessed nearly two dozen times the day of the murder.

"This crime could not have occurred had this defendant not told the killers where to find the victim," Senior District Attorney Sheila Ross said during a May 2013 hearing.

The same case report shows Chulpayev called police from Florida only six hours after the killing when he learned from an employee his car was involved. The report shows Chulpayev also called his FBI handler, Dante Jackson, and named suspects Decensae White and Gary Bradford.

"He says, ‘Do not talk to anybody about this case but me. I'm going to be the agent in charge.’ Every interview I ever had was controlled by Dante. ‘This is what you tell 'em and this is what you don't tell 'em,’" Chulpayev said.

Chulpayev said half of his high-end customers leasing cars with GPS tracking were drug suspects under federal surveillance. The trackers in the cars did not require warrants or approval from the FBI. Chulpayev told Strickland that Jackson, along with the DEA and Secret Service, had the credentials to track a vehicle.

Ross said Decensae White, also known as "Grizz", and another Chulpayev client, known as "Eldorado Red" ordered the murder of Lil Phat over 10 pounds of stolen marijuana.

"Drugs and stuff like that is not even my business. I was never into it, through the whole history and all past history. I was never into drugs, I was never into guns," Chulpayev said.

A contract obtained by Strickland showed White agreed to bankroll part of Chulpayev's car business. Chulpayev said
White had access to the GPS tracking, too.

"The kid just invested $160,000 in a month's period of time. So as a partner, I'm obligated to give him the login," he said.


The case report shows Sandy Springs detective J.T. Williams didn't learn there might be a GPS tracker on the vehicle until four months after the killing. It was February before police got a warrant to retrieve and analyze the trackers. Chulpayev said the FBI never divulged their existence.

"Why wait all the way until Paul Howard says to search my car when you had the GPS login all along for your other cases. Why couldn't you use this for this?" Chulpayev said.

The report also shows Jackson interrogated Chulpayev on July 30 and didn't tell Sandy Springs police about it for six weeks.

The FBI confirmed that the Office of the Inspector General has launched a criminal investigation into Jackson's relationship with Chulpayev.

"When does the FBI take responsibility for this so-called handler who was handling me without pay? They hadn't paid me since 2011," he said. "When Dante finally gets under investigation, he disappears, and Mani gets arrested. It's that simple. They were supposed to protect me, not arrest me."

Chulpayev says his desire to bury his father in Israel was the FBI's leverage.

"I still want my green card, so I'm doing everything I can do to please my handler, to get my green card expedited," he said. "I'm sitting here waiting, for what? Waiting to go to trial for murder."

"I'm just a juicy story for Paul Howard. You can put that on TV," Chulpayev said.

Strickland called and emailed Dante Jackson and received no response. The District Attorney's Office will not comment on the case until it is over. The trial is expected to begin in three weeks.

Channel 2 Action News confirmed that Strickland is on the witness list, as is Jackson. Chulpayev called Strickland over the weekend to tell him he intends to testify.


Jury sees video evidence during mob murder trial

The Dec. 12, 2012, slaying of Gino DiPietro was seen by no one but the masked gunman who emptied a .357 Magnum revolver into DiPietro on narrow Iseminger Street in South Philadelphia.

On Thursday, however, a Philadelphia jury hearing the trial of alleged killer Anthony Nicodemo got a tantalizingly close look via multiple security cameras showing the hours up to the killing and the minutes after.

"Boom!" echoes the first shot, at 2:53 p.m., on the audio from a video camera at a house around the corner in the 1200 block of Johnston Street. A mail carrier working in the rear of his van stands erect, turns, and heads toward the shot, his van still open.

There's a second or two of quiet and then: "Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom."

Passersby stop and then run to where DiPietro, 50, lay dying.

A camera in the rear of the same Johnston Street house catches a figure in black - masked and gloved - run down an alley toward nearby Camac Street.

As startling as the loud shots were to hear - they drove DiPietro's mother from the courtroom weeping - Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo spent much more time on video from before and after the killing.

Zarallo alleges that those video cuts show Nicodemo's 2011 black Honda Pilot pass the Johnston Street house six times before the shooting.

Narrated by Homicide Detective Thorsten Lucke, the video shows a man who appears to be Nicodemo get into the SUV behind his house in the 3200 block of South 17th Street. The Pilot pulls away at 12:17 p.m.

At 12:28 p.m., a black Honda Pilot cruises by the Johnston Street camera. The drive-by is repeated five more times before a last pass at 1:16 p.m., 97 minutes before the killing.

On the first day of testimony, Wednesday, a pedestrian on Camac Street testified that he saw a masked figure in black exit an alleyway and jump into a black Honda Pilot moments after the shots. That man noted the license plate - HTK1942 - and told police at the scene.

Police identified the plate as Nicodemo's and got to his house within 10 minutes of the shooting. Nicodemo, sweating profusely, was arrested. Police found a revolver wrapped in a jacket behind the driver's seat and tests showed it was the firearm that killed DiPietro.

Defense attorney Brian J. McMonagle has argued the gun was planted in the SUV by a masked gunman who jumped in Nicodemo's car, dropped the weapon and fled.

Questioned by McMonagle, Detective Lucke acknowledged that no video shows the license plate of the cruising black SUV, and that there was no evidence that proves the same vehicle drove by six times.

Among the spectators Thursday was Assistant U.S. Attorney John S. Han, a prosecutor on the federal racketeering trial of reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi. Ligambi's second trial ended in a hung jury in January and he will not retried.

Authorities have alleged that Nicodemo is a mob soldier and that DiPietro's killing happened during Ligambi's first trial.

Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart, however, has ruled that organized crime may not be mentioned in Nicodemo's trial without evidence that the killing was mob-related.

Zarallo and McMonagle could not comment because of a gag order.

Han, who consulted with Zarallo several times on Thursday, said he was only "watching the trial."

Because of a scheduling conflict, testimony will not resume until Monday.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Papa Smurf sentenced to one year in prison

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Now he’s “Inmate Smurf.”

Carmine "Papa Smurf" Franco, a reputed Genovese crime family associate who copped a plea last year in a mobbed-scheme to control the trash-hauling industry in New York City and parts of New Jersey, was sentenced Thursday to a year and a day in prison.

Manhattan Federal Judge P. Kevin Castel admonished the 78-year-old with the cartoon character nickname for ordering his men to steal cardboard from competitors in the dead of night.

He also slammed Franco for cheating customers such as the 92nd Street Y and the Morris Park Boxing Club in the Bronx by overbilling them at a West Nyack, N.Y. waste transfer station.

The judge ripped the trashy behavior after Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Blais said Franco “ensnared” other people, including relatives, in his criminal activities.

“This is plain old theft,” Castel told the defendant. “This is the kind of stuff we learned as little children that we cannot do.”

The judge admitted that the feds presented no evidence that Franco engaged in violence. “But I do see ‘raw criminality,’” he said.

Manhattan Federal Judge P. Kevin Castel admonished the 78-year-old gangster but said his health and background were mitigating factors in sentencing.

But Castel acknowledged Franco’s advanced age, poor health and hardscrabble background as mitigating factors in handing down a sentence well below the 27- to 33-month range in Franco’s plea deal with prosecutors.

The Ramsey, N.J. man began work at age 15 for his immigrant father’s waste-hauling business, has done charity work with a New Jersey church and suffers from a long list of health problems.

“There’s no question he’s been a very hardworking person ... and very charitable,” Castel said.

Prosecutors said Franco was a ringleader among more than 30 people busted in January 2013.

His lawyer, Michael Critchley, called the sentence “fair and just.”


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Questions abound on whether mafia soldier will testify in his own defense

Anthony Nicodemo smiled and waved to family members and friends as he left the 11th floor courtroom this afternoon following a second day of testimony in his murder trial.

The burly, 42-year-old mobster, who is facing a potential life sentence, appeared calm and relaxed as he headed back to the prison cell he has occupied since his arrest minutes after Gino DiPietro was gunned down on a South Philadelphia street more than two years ago.

Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo could wrap up his case tomorrow. Court does not meet on Friday. That would set the stage for what might be the biggest decision in Nicodemo's life. Does he take the stand in his own defense?

A gag ordered imposed by Judge Jeffrey Minehart bars Zarallo and defense attorney Brian McMonagle from commenting about the proceedings. Several sources, however, say that McMonagle has not decided if he will put his client on the stand when the defense portion of the trial begins sometime next week.

The case against Nicodemo is entirely circumstantial but the evidence linking him to the crime is difficult to ignore or explain away. The key elements are these:

- Nicodemo's black Honda Pilot was spotted speeding away from the shooting scene seconds after a masked gunman jumped into the vehicle which was parked in an alleyway less than a block from where DiPietro was gunned down on the afternoon of Dec. 12, 2012. 

- A .357 magnum, which has been identified as the murder weapon, was found in the Honda Pilot.

The District Attorney's Office has conceded that Nicodemo was not the shoote. Zarallo has implied that Dominic Grande, a close associate of Nicodemo's, is the suspected hitman. Grande, the son and nephew of Philadelphia mobsters jailed in the 1980s, has not been charged.

After a defense motion aimed at barring the introduction of the murder weapon as evidence failed, McMonagle offered an opening statement clearly designed to explain away the two key elements that tie his client to the crime.

He conceded that it was Nicodemo's Honda Pilot in which the gunman fled the murder scene. But he told the jury that his client was unaware of what had happened and was accosted by the unknown gunman who forced him to drive away. The gunman later jumped out of the car, but left the murder weapon behind.

Will Nicodemo get on the stand and tell the jury exactly what happened in his Honda Pilot that afternoon?

Will he expanded on the carjacking defense?

How will he respond to what are sure to be questions from Zarallo about why he never offered that explanation when police came to his home minutes after the shooting and placed him in custody?

What will he say when Zarallo asked him why he didn't report the carjacking to police?

Testimony today, largely from police, focused on the circumstances surrounding Nicodemo's arrest  and on evidence gathered there and at the murder scene.

A witness at the murder scene got the license tag of the Honda Pilot as it sped away. Nicodemo's home was less than a five-minute ride from where DiPietro was killed. Police were knocking on his door less than 30 minutes after the shooting. They found the Honda Pilot, its engine still warm, parked behind the house. Later, after obtaining a search, they found the gun behind the driver's seat.

Police who went to Nicodemo's house testified that the front door was ajar but that at first he didn't respond to knocks on the door. Sgt. Andrew Callaghan testified that he hollered into the house, "Police. Anthony why don't you come out and make it easier on yourself?"

Seconds later, Callaghan said, Nicodemo appeared at the door and surrendered to police. He was handcuffed and placed in a squad car. The only thing he said, according to Callaghan, was that he had been working in his house and was waiting for his wife and children to get home.

Callaghan, a twenty-five year police veteran, said Nicodemo was "sweating profusely" and that when he patted him down he felt his heart pounding "like someone who had just run a marathon." He said when he and other officers later searched the home, with Nicodemo's permission, he expected to find exercise equipment, assuming Nicodemo had been working out.

But there was none.

Under cross-examination from McMonagle, Callaghan acknowledged that when Nicodemo first came out of the house, police had drawn their guns and were pointing them out him.

"People with guns pointed out the, tend to sweat, don't they?" McMonagle asked.

Callaghan said that was true, but repeated that Nicodemo seemed to be sweating in the extreme. None of the police officers or detectives questioned today were asked about a carjacking and there has been no indication that Nicodemo mentioned it to anyone when he was taken into custody.

How he explains that, if he takes the stand, could go a long way toward determining his future. Another concern in the defense camp, according to sources, is whether Nicodemo would be able to keep his temper in check under cross-examination.

"He's got a short fuse," said one source who knows him.

Should he opt to testify, Nicodemo could also open himself up to questions about past criminal problems. He has a prior gambling conviction tied to an alleged organized crime betting ring operating out of the high stakes poker room at the Borgota casino-hotel in Atlantic City. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months in that case. A New Jersey State Police affidavit that was part of that investigation identified him as a suspect in the 2003 murder of mobster John "Johnny gongs" Casasanto.

The Casasanto murder is one of three gangland homicides still under investigation by federal authorities. While organized crime has not been mentioned by any of the witnesses in the trial, Mark Pinero, a Philadelphia Police detective long assigned to the FBI's Organized Crime squad, has been in court each day monitoring the testimony. And today two members of the Police Department's Organized Crime Unit were also in and out of the courtroom.

Federal authorities have privately indicated that they hoped the leverage of the DiPietro murder charge might be enough to convince Nicodemo that his only recourse was to cooperate. Thus far, that hasn't happened. But the stakes continue to increase as the trial moves closer to jury deliberation.

"He's got a beautiful wife and two young children," said one source. "He may never get to be with them again. That's what his risking. And for what?"


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Elderly Lucchese captain busted for ordering beating of a 70 year old man

An elderly reputed Mafioso from Long Island has been busted for ordering the beat-down of a 70-year-old man over an unpaid loan, authorities said Tuesday.

Carmine Avellino — also 70 and a reputed captain in the Lucchese crime family — was caught on wire taps and surveillance videos directing two mob-tied brothers to assault the old man and another unidentified guy over the $100,000 loan, according to court papers.

Avellino — who was arrested at home Monday night — pleaded not guilty to the extortion charges at his Brooklyn federal court arraignment.

Salvatore Avellino, the brother of Carmine Avellino, leaves Federal Court after a hearing for Carmine on May 13, 2014

His lawyer noted outside court that the alleged beat-down occurred in 2010.

“These allegations go back almost four years. What took them so long to bring this case against Carmine?” said the lawyer, Scott Leemon. “He wasn’t arrested when his co-defendants were.”

The siblings who allegedly carried out the beating — Michael and Daniel Capra — had already been arrested in September.

Avellino’s bail hearing is set for Monday. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

He and his brother, Salvatore, also a reputed Lucchese capo, were indicted in 1994 along with six others in the death of two Long Island garbagemen. Carmine served 10 1/2 years in prison in the case.


Boyfriend of openly gay NFL draft pick is grandson of Kansas City mafia boss

Vito Cammisano (r.) is seen with his boyfriend, Rams draft pick Michael Sam. Cammisano is a member of a mafia family.

The main squeeze of openly gay NFL player Michael Sam comes from a family of Midwest mobsters.

Vito Cammisano, the hunky 23-year-old former collegiate swimmer, is the grandson of the late Mafia boss William "Willie the Rat" Cammisano.

His father, Gerlarmo "Jerry" Cammisano, 60, followed in the family’s shady business and ended up doing 14 months in prison for running a Kansas City-based gambling ring, according to records.

But on Saturday the Cammisano name became part of a feel-good sports story of the year when Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team as Vito proudly stood at his side.

After breaking down in tears when he got the news that his dreams were realized, Sam hugged and kissed Cammisano on the lips as ESPN’s cameras were rolling.
Here's a look at the Cammisano family's Mafia members.

“Have a great week and Go Rams!” Vito Cammisano wrote in an email to the Daily News Monday, referring all questions to Sam’s agent Joe Barkett.

There is no evidence that Cammisano has ever been involved with the Civella crime family of Kansas City like his grandfather.

By all reports, he’s a stand-up guy. A 2013 graduate of the University Missouri with a degree in communications, Cammisino swam competitively for Mizzou from 2009 to 2012.

His aunt, Cathy Nigro, told The News, “He’s been a pleasant, pleasant boy all his life.”
Gerlarmo "Jerry" Cammisano, 60, with son Vito, the supportive boyfriend of Michael Sam.

But his grandfather and father chose a far different road.

Willie the Rat Cammisano was the boss of the Civella crime family until his death 1995. In 1980, he made headlines for refusing to answer a Senate committee’s questions about mob crimes in Kansas City, Mo.

During the 1980 Senate hearing, Fred Harvey Bonadonna, whose father was whacked by the mob, testified about overhearing his dad and William the Rat talk about murder.

“I knew both from my father and others that Willie was called Willie the Rat because he killed people and stuck them in the sewers so the rats could eat them,” Bonadonna told the committee. “He doesn’t like the name. I doubt that anybody ever called him that to his face.”
Vito Cammisano's boyfriend, Michael Sam (pictured), became the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL on Saturday.

Bondonna went into the government witness protection program after testifying against Willie the Rat in an 1978 extortion case.

Vito Cammisano’s dad pleaded guilty in 2011 to federal charges he ran a $3.5 million illegal sports betting ring. Jerry Cammisano was sentenced to 14 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $201,137, according to records.

Meanwhile, Sam’s leap to the NFL was hailed by President Obama major sports breakthrough and praised by LGBT groups.

But Miami Dolphins player Don Jones was paying the price for calling the kiss between Sam and Cammisano “horrible” on Twitter.

The Dolphins fined and banned defensive back from team activities until he undergoes sensitivity training.

Jones, 23, released a statement apologizing to Sam and the Dolphins for “the inappropriate comments that I made” on social media.


Two Genovese mobsters sentenced for loan sharking

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that DOMINICK PIETRANICO and JOSEPH SARCINELLA were sentenced in Manhattan federal court in connection with their roles in a scheme to exert control over the commercial waste-hauling industry in the greater New York City metropolitan area and in parts of New Jersey. Each defendant previously pled guilty to one count of loansharking in connection with the scheme. PIETRANICO and SARCINELLA were each sentenced today to five months in prison by U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel.

According to the Indictment, other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made at various proceedings in this case, including today’s sentencing:

PIETRANICO and SARCINELLA were participants in a scheme, along with other members and associates of three different Organized Crime Families of La Cosa Nostra (“LCN”) – the Genovese, Gambino, and Lucchese Crime Families – to control various waste disposal businesses in the New York City metropolitan area and multiple counties in New Jersey. Members of the scheme engaged in various crimes including extortion, loansharking, mail and wire fraud, and stolen property offenses.

PIETRANICO and SARCINELLA, who are made members of the Genovese Crime Family, provided protection and “backing” to a cooperating Government witness who operated a waste disposal company, and made an extortionate loan at a rate of interest exceeding 100% annually.

In addition to the prison terms, PIETRANICO, 83, of Mahopac, New York, and SARCINELLA, 79, of Scarsdale, New York, were each also sentenced to one year of supervised release. Additionally, PIETRANICO was ordered to forfeit $9,340 and pay a $2,000 fine, and SARCINELLA was ordered to forfeit $10,540 and pay a $5,000 fine.

PIETRANICO and SARCINELLA were charged as part of a large investigation led by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and the Westchester County Police Department. To date, 32 defendants have been charged with participating in the scheme to exert control over the commercial waste-hauling industry. Twenty-one of these defendants have been convicted for their roles in this scheme.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI and the Westchester County Police Department.

The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Brian R. Blais and Patrick Egan are in charge of the prosecution. Assistant United States Attorney Micah Smith of the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit is responsible for the forfeiture aspects of the case.


Former union official admits to role in Genovese family extortion scheme

A Hunterdon County man who previously served as president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1235 has admitted to a role in extorting union members, a scheme tied to the Genovese crime family, authorities said.

Thomas Leonardis, 56, of Glen Gardner, pleaded guilty today in federal court to a conspiracy charge and faces up to 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey.

Leonardis, who was the president of the Local 1235 from 2008 to 2011, admitted that he and other union officials compelled union members who worked on New Jersey waterfront piers to make "tribute payments" based on "actual and threatened force, violence and fear," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The statement says the timing of the extortion typically coincided with the receipt of "container royalty checks," a form of year-end compensation given to workers around Christmastime.

Leonardis and other union officials made the collections at the behest of Stephen Depiro, a 58-year-old Kenilworth, N.J., man who was a soldier in the Genovese crime family, according to authorities.

The family had control over the New Jersey waterfront and practiced forms of worker extortion for nearly three decades, authorities said.

The feds busted the operation in January 2011. Leonardis was suspended from his position as were other union officials arrested in the bust.

Authorities at the time also collared Depiro on racketeering charges and other suspected members of the crime family. Eight, including Depiro, still await trial.

In addition to Leonardis, Vincent Aulisi, 82, of West Orange, N.J., and Robert Ruiz, 55, of Watchung, N.J., also pleaded guilty to conspiracy today in connection with the case, the U.S. Attorney's Office says in its statement.

Aulisi served as Local 1235 president from 2006 to 2007; he was retired at the time of his arrest. Ruiz was a union delegate from 2007 to 2010 and was suspended after his arrest.

Aulisi and Ruiz, like Leonardis, also face up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing for all three is scheduled for September. It was unclear today if any of them are currently incarcerated.

Efforts were unsuccessful late this afternoon to reach the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey and Michael Pedicini, the attorney representing Leonardis, for comment.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Murder trial begins for Philadelphia mafia soldier

The gunman who shot and killed Gino DiPietro in December 2012 made his getaway in a black Honda Pilot owned and driven that day by South Philadelphia mob figure Anthony Nicodemo.

That fact was not in dispute as Nicodemo's murder and conspiracy trial opened this afternoon in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. What came next was rather murky.

Using the same set of facts, Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo and defense attorney Brian McMonagle told the jury decidedly different stories about what went down in the 2800 block of Iseminger Street on the afternoon of December 12.

Zarallo, pointing to a .357 magnum that was found in Nicodemo's vehicle, said authorities had the "smoking gun" that tied the hulking, 42-year-old mob soldier to the murder. He also said that a witness, who testified before the trial wrapped up this afternoon, got the license tag of the black Honda Pilot as it drove away and that within minutes police were knocking on Nicodemo's door in the 3800 block of South 17th Street, a five-minute ride from the murder scene.

But McMonagle, in an impassioned opening statement, said his client was not involved in the shooting. He just happened to be parked near the murder scene when an unknown gunman jumped in his car and forced him to drive away.

Law enforcement sources who have been following the case shook their heads and rolled their eyes. Nicodemo, they pointed out, has been held without bail since his arrest on the day of the shooting. Yet this is the first time he has offered any explanation of what went down. If, in fact, he was the victim of what amounted to a carjacking, they said, then he could have offered that explanation when they came knocking on his door minutes after DiPietro was killed.

The trial, before Judge Jeffrey Minehart, is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning. Nicodemo faces 30 years to life if convicted of the first degree murder charge. He is also facing conspiracy and weapons charges.

Zarallo told the jury that Nicodemo was involved in a "conspiracy to assassinate" DiPietro, a one-time South Philadelphia drug dealer. He said the gun and the car tied him to the murder plot and said he was just as guilty as the shooter. He also said authorities, when searching Nicodemo's home, found a pre-paid phone -- a "burn phone," Zarallo said -- and traced four calls made between the time the shooting occurred and the police arrived at Nicodemo's home. All four calls were made to another burn phone, he said.

Zarallo also said a "close associate" of Nicodemo, Domenic Grande, fit the description of the hitman who, two witnesses said, was dressed in a black hoody and was wearing a mask and gloves as he fled the scene. The shooter was described as short and stocky.

James Moone, a mailman who was working his route in the neighborhood, testified that he heard six shots and ran to find DiPietro lying next to a pickup truck.

"His eyes were open and he was trying to breathe," said Moone, who testified that he knew DiPietro from working in the neighborhood. Moone said he heard the first shot as he was at his mail truck a half-block away near the corner of Johnson and Iseminger Streets. He said as he ran toward the scene in heard another shot and then saw a man in a black hoody standing over DiPietro's body while he fired four more shots into the victim.

The jury also saw snippets from a surveillance camera that captured Moone at his truck and running toward the murder scene. The video included the sounds of six shots being fired. The audio brought tears to the eyes of several members of DiPietro's family who were part of the packed eleventh floor courtroom.

Lewis Houck, a second witness, testified that he was walking near Camac Street when the suspected shooter ran past him. He said he watched as the shooter jumped into a Honda Pilot that was parked in an alley that ran parallel to Johnson Street.

Houck, who got the license tag of the vehicle and turned it over to police, said it appeared to him the engine was already running and the vehicle pulled away as the shooter jumped in and slammed the door behind him.

The prosecutor said the motive for the murder remains unknown, but cautioned that the District Attorney's Office is not required to offer a motive. At the time of the shooting, several sources said DiPietro was suspected of cooperating with authorities in ongoing narcotics investigation.

In his opening statement, McMonagle told the jury that Nicodemo "had no idea his life would be destroyed" when he woke up on the morning of Dec. 12, 2012. He said Nicodemo drove his two young children to school that morning, did some food shopping and then, that afternoon, drove over to the neighborhood around Iseminger Street, a neighborhood where his parents lived, where he had grown up and where he maintained a business office.

McMonagle described the events following the shooting of DiPietro as "chaos" and said his client had "no idea" what was going on. The defense lawyer implied that Nicodemo was forced at gunpoint to drive away and that, a short time later, the shooter jumped out of the Honda Pilot, but not before hiding the murder weapon in a seat pocket behind the driver's seat of the vehicle.

That's where police found the gun.

McMonagle said Nicodemo had no motive to kill DiPietro and asked the jury who would commit a murder in his own neighborhood while driving his own car.

"If this was planned," McMonagle said, "never in a million years would he drive his own car to a neighborhood that he goes to every day."

At the time of Nicodemo's arrest, law enforcement sources described the shooting as perhaps "the dumbest hit" in the history of the Philadelphia mob, citing the same facts and raising the same questions that McMonagle posed to the jury.

Nicodemo, who has been identified by New Jersey authorities as a suspect in the 2003 murder of mobster John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto, showed little emotion during today's proceedings. Dressed in a white shirt and tie, he occasionally whispered in McMonagle's ear and during breaks he waved and nodded to friends and family members who helped pack the courtroom.

Law enforcement sources have indicated that Nicodemo could work a deal by giving up what he knows about the Casasanto murder and other acts of violence that authorities believe are linked to mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his top associates.

The Casasanto shooting is one of three unsolved murders that occurred during Ligambi's reign. Ligambi and six associates were on trial for racketeering at the time the DiPietro murder occurred. Ligambi and two of those defendants beat the charges.

One underworld source predicted that Nicodemo would take his chances by going to trial for the DiPietro slaying, but would cut a deal if he were convicted.

"If he blows trial, he'll start talking," the source said.

History would suggest that that might not be the best strategy. The last mobster to cut a deal after being convicted of first degree murder was Willard Moran who was convicted of the murder of union boss John McCullough in 1980. Moran is still in jail.