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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bayonne men admit taking part in illegal online sports gambling

Three Bayonne men and other New Jersey residents admitted Wednesday to taking part in a criminal affiliated website that engaged in illegal online sports gambling, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Mark A. Sanzo, 56, Robert J. Scerbo, 56, and William A. Bruder, 44, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in federal court in Newark. They were charged with one count of racketeering conspiracy, the U.S. attorney's office said.

The website was operated from Costa Rica and from various regions of the U.S.

The three men were agents for the sports betting website Beteagle and issued bettors with a username and password, paid winners, and collected money from losses in person, Fishman said.

When losing bettors did not pay, they were threatened with violence, according to Fishman. When agents signed up new bettors, they had to pay higher-ranked members a cash fee, according to the attorney's office.

The three each admitted that they profited from the fraudulent operation, officials said.

The defendants have been released on bail. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 19 for Sanzo, Sept. 20 for Scerbo, and Nov. 13 for Bruder. They each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine at a maximum of $250,000, according to the attorney's office.

Joseph Lascala, 80, of Monroe, was the alleged "capo" and a made member of the Genovese crime family and directed a smaller group of associates who participated in illegal gambling and the collection of unlawful debt, Fishman said.

Joseph Graziano, 77, of Springfield, was the principal owner and was in charge of operating the website, while Dominick J. Barone, 44, also of Springfield, assisted him with the website's activity, the attorney's office said.

Graziano and Barone pleaded guilty on Tuesday, according to officials.

Also pleading guilty to their involvement were John Breheney, 49, and Salvatore Turchio, 48, of Little Egg Harbor, Jose Gotay, 76, of New Milford and Patsy Pirozzi, 75, of Suffern, New York. The four men are also awaiting sentencing, the attorney's office said.


Gambino soldier facing gambling case

Promoter in ’80s payola probe faces mob gambling case
He’s been one of the nation’s most influential record promoters, the producer of an Oscar-nominated movie, a defendant who successfully fought racketeering charges in a high-profile payola case, and an admitted loan shark who shook down borrowers in ritzy Beverly Hills.

Now the roller-coaster life of Joe Isgro is taking another plunge, with new charges that he helped run a mob-linked gambling operation.

Isgro, who once helped get airplay for songs by such stars as Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson, pleaded not guilty to gambling, conspiracy and money laundering charges Wednesday in New York City. He for years has denied any connection to organized crime.

Isgro declined to comment as he left court, but his lawyer, Aaron M. Rubin, said his client “strenuously denies the charges.”

“We’re looking forward to having our day in court,” Rubin said.

The case begins a new chapter in the tale of a Hollywood figure whose own story sounds like the makings of a movie.

Indeed, it was a screenplay-in-the-making as recently as last year, according to a press release from the intended writer, whose office didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry Wednesday about the project’s status.

The planned title: “Hit Man.”

Isgro, 66, has been a music-business player for decades, coming to prominence when independent promoters exerted enormous influence over what songs Americans heard on Top 40 radio.

As a leading promoter, Isgro ran a company that grossed as much as $10 million a year during the 1980s.

He came under scrutiny after a 1986 NBC News story examined what it called the resurgence of payola — bribing radio station employees to play certain records, a practice that spurred congressional hearings and legislation in the 1960s.

The TV report suggested promoters were winning airplay with cash and cocaine and raised the specter of Mafia involvement.

Labels rapidly jettisoned independent promoters, at least temporarily, and federal authorities began probing record-promotion practices.

Indicted in 1989, Isgro denied doing anything illegal.

Some associates pleaded guilty, but he went to trial in Los Angeles in what was seen as the biggest payola case in decades.

It collapsed when a judge threw out the case mid-trial in 1990, saying prosecutors had withheld key information from Isgro’s lawyers and calling it “outrageous government misconduct.”

Prosecutors tried unsuccessfully for six more years to revive the case — before the lead prosecutor pleaded guilty himself to unrelated charges of taking more than $133,000 from informants and felons.

Meanwhile, Isgro pressed ahead with a record label he had founded, releasing albums by funk master Rick James and others. He also dived into the movie business, serving as executive producer of the 1992 biopic “Hoffa,” starring Jack Nicholson.

In 2000, Isgro was arrested outside a Beverly Hills shopping center where prosecutors said he lent money at interest rates of up to 5 percent a week, browbeat borrowers who fell behind and ordered henchmen to beat them. Isgro pleaded guilty to extortion and served about three years in prison.

Prosecutors in that case said he was a soldier in the Gambino crime family, an assertion echoed in the new gambling indictment brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

It describes Isgro talking with a now-dead reputed mob bookie about sports betting payments and software in 2009.

Since his release from federal prison, Isgro has continued making music distribution deals. And he has said his alleged Gambino ties are bunk.

“I’m a soldier, all right — a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War,” the Purple Heart recipient told the Los Angeles Times in 2007. “And a proud member of the Isgro family.”


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Charges detail robbery crew linked to the Chicago outfit

Arrested in West Side Outfit crew case
The Outfit-connected crew had planned the raid on the cartel stash house carefully, using a street gang member who tipped them to a 40-kilogram shipment of cocaine from Mexico that would be warehoused on Chicago's Southeast Side before being cut up for distribution on the street, authorities say.

But what crew leaders didn't know was that the nondescript gray frame house on the 13400 block of South Brandon Avenue was a setup. The cocaine had been planted by law enforcement officials, who wired the home with video and audio surveillance equipment before giving their informant the go-ahead to set the sting in motion.

As an FBI spy plane monitored the Hegewisch neighborhood from the air late July 16, a team of Chicago police and federal agents on the ground watched as reputed Outfit soldiers Robert Panozzo and Paul Koroluk, posing as law enforcement, kicked in the door and grabbed the stacks of narcotics. When agents swooped in and made the arrest, Koroluk still had a police star dangling from his neck, authorities said.

The dramatic sting was the culmination of a monthslong investigation and led to sweeping racketeering and drug charges unveiled in Cook County criminal court last week against Panozzo, Koroluk and three other alleged crew members. The charges alleged an array of crimes going back to at least 2007, from home invasions and armed robberies to burglaries, arson, insurance fraud and prostitution.

Authorities said the crew -- which, according to previous court testimony, has ties to reputed Grand Avenue mob boss Albert "Little Guy" Vena -- robbed cartel stash houses of drugs and cash with a remarkable mix of sophistication and brazen violence, tracking drug dealers with GPS devices and wearing stolen police badges and body armor during the raids.

They had Chicago gang members providing tips and acting as lookouts and used a battery service business in their Near West Side neighborhood as a meeting place to divide up the loot, according to the charges. When an associate was nabbed for a home invasion, the crew plotted to kill the key witness before he could testify and even put the Cook County judge overseeing the case under surveillance, according to authorities.

Authorities say Panozzo, 54, and Koroluk, 55, have also been prolific burglars, using country club membership lists, tips from insurance brokers and other intelligence to identify the high-end homes before they hit them, then fencing stolen merchandise through Wabash Avenue jewelers and other professionals on the take.

A search warrant affidavit filed in the case stated that the crew has "surreptitious and unauthorized links (with) certain employees of state and local government, as well as insurance agents, jewelers, currency exchanges, banks, and business owners."

Joseph Ways Sr., the former second-in-command at the Chicago division of the FBI who now is executive director of the Chicago Crime Commission, said the case shows the mob is still "alive and well" despite recent high-profile prosecutions that decimated much of the Outfit's key leadership.

Ways said that while the Panozzo-Koroluk crew allegedly used many traditional mob schemes, it is also accused of a particularly bold and risky tactic: stealing drugs that originate from powerful drug cartels.

"That's a new twist," Ways said. "To go in and rip off a stash house, depending on where it's at in the supply line ... if you get too close and the wrong people find out, it could be very hazardous to your health."

Authorities said the investigation into the crew began in October, when the would-be hit man informed police of the plot to kill a state witness who was about to testify against Panozzo's associate.

While the charges identify the associate only as "Individual H," numerous sources have confirmed to the Tribune that he is Jeff Hollinghead, 48, a former union truck driver who spent several years running an auto glass store in Las Vegas. After returning to Chicago about six years ago, he teamed up with Panozzo, whose base of operation was in Hollinghead's old neighborhood.

In October 2009, Hollinghead and three others were charged with kidnapping a wheelchair-bound gang member from his South Side home and holding him for ransom. The man's family called police, who set up a sting with the ransom money, court records show. Hollinghead was arrested by Chicago police and FBI agents as he opened a garbage can in a Bridgeport alley that had been marked with an "X" and removed what he thought was the ransom payment.

When he was arrested, Hollinghead first told authorities he was just looking for a place to relieve himself. Later he told an elaborate story of how he was approached by a man on the street who ordered him at gunpoint to retrieve the bag for him or Hollinghead's wife would be killed, court records show.

According to the search warrant affidavit, police investigating the Panozzo-Koroluk crew got a huge break when Hollinghead began cooperating last November, shortly before he pleaded guilty to the kidnapping charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Hollinghead laid out the details of the crew's operation, including how Panozzo used connections with the Spanish Cobras and Latin Dragons street gangs for tips on drug suppliers and the location of stash houses, according to the charges. Police said Hollinghead told them that the crew's technical operations wizard, Maher "Max" Abuhabsah -- who was also charged with racketeering -- ordered GPS tracking devices from a Skokie surveillance store and put them on the cars of their targets so he could track their movements through his smartphone.

Hollinghead told police that while he was free on bond and awaiting trial, he and Panozzo had discussed arranging the murder of the victim in his case, but the victim had gone into hiding and no one could find him, according to the affidavit. Meanwhile, another informant said Abuhabsah had found the victim's brother's address through Internet research, the affidavit alleged.

Then, last July, Hollinghead's lawyer called him to a meeting at a Caribou Coffee on Maxwell and Halsted streets, according to the affidavit. At the meeting, the attorney slid a computerized printout of the victim's name and address across the table.

"Give this to Bob, he knows what to do with it," the attorney allegedly told Hollinghead, according to the court documents. "This is your only problem."

The charges refer to the attorney only as "Individual K," but court records show Hollinghead was represented at the time by longtime criminal defense attorney Joseph Lopez.

Lopez told the Tribune he did meet Hollinghead at the coffee shop but gave him only a copy of his investigator's report, which included a routine public records search that had only outdated addresses for the victim. Lopez said the meeting was part of the normal course of preparing for trial.

"We were trying to locate and interview the victim as part of trial preparations, just like we always do," Lopez said.

A review of court records in Hollinghead's case suggests that eliminating the victim would not have helped him beat the charges. The victim never identified Hollinghead in a lineup, and the main witnesses against him were FBI agents and Chicago police officers who were monitoring the ransom drop site and watched as Hollinghead reached into the garbage can and took the bag, records show.

Raised in the old Italian-American enclave known as "the Patch" on the Near West Side, Panozzo and Koroluk have criminal histories that stretch back decades, court records show.

In 2006 they were both sentenced to seven years in prison for a string of burglaries targeting tony north suburban homes that netted millions in jewelry and other luxury items. Police at the time described the burglars as some of the most sophisticated they'd run across, from the disabling of state-of-the-art alarm systems to the cutting of phone lines before entering the properties. It wasn't until Koroluk slipped up and left footprints in the snow leading to his car that police were able to crack the case.

According to court records, Panozzo got his start as a juice loan collector under former Grand Avenue boss Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, who was convicted in the landmark Family Secrets trial. Recently, Panozzo was operating a house of prostitution masquerading as a massage parlor in the 800 block of West Superior Street, according to the racketeering charges.

No one answered the door when a Tribune reporter visited the alleged brothel last week. Employees of the hair salon next door said they had been suspicious of the place for months, sometimes spotting beautiful young women dressed in skimpy lingerie escorting men into the building in broad daylight.

The racketeering charges also allege that Panozzo has a history of violence. According to the affidavit in the case, Panozzo has often bragged to associates that he threw an elderly woman down three flights of stairs to her death in 1987 after tricking her into signing over ownership rights to her three-flat in the 2300 block of West Ohio Street.

Public records show that the woman, Lydia Minneci, 77, signed a quitclaim deed to her home in October 1987 to a man named Steven Brantner, who at the time lived with Panozzo a few blocks away on West Erie Street. Minneci was killed shortly after she signed the papers, though no one was ever arrested, records show.

Four years later, Brantner was also killed, records show. According to the affidavit, Panozzo drove Brantner to the hospital, where he died of bullet wounds. No one was ever charged with his slaying.

As authorities were ramping up their investigation into Panozzo's crew earlier this year, his name surfaced in the sensational trial of former Chicago cop Steve Mandell, who was convicted in February of plotting to kidnap, murder and dismember a local businessman flush with cash.

According to trial testimony, Panozzo had introduced Mandell to real estate mogul George Michael during a July 2012 lunch at La Scarola restaurant on West Grand Avenue. At the table was Vena -- the reputed Outfit boss who replaced Lombardo after he went to prison -- and several other alleged mobsters, according to testimony. Michael, who unbeknownst to his dining companions was an FBI informant, recorded the meeting on a hidden wire, but the recording was never played at Mandell's trial.

Ways, of the Chicago Crime Commission, said it's difficult to tell whether the charges against the Panozzo-Koroluk crew signify a wider investigation of mob activity. With all the recent attention on Chicago's rampant gun violence, organized crime has faded from headlines. But that doesn't mean it's gone away, he said.

"That's the joy of law enforcement," Ways said. "Even if they decide to lay low for a while, you know they'll be back."


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Judge allows government to read Bonanno boss's emails

A mafia boss can’t expect his jailhouse emails to be protected from the prying eyes of authorities — even if the communiques are to and from his lawyer, a Brooklyn federal judge has ruled.

Reputed Bonanno crime family boss Thomas “Tommy D” DiFiore and his lawyer, Steve Zissou, had argued that the monitoring of their web-based conversations violated his right to counsel — even though jailhouse rules clearly spell out that inmates’ emails are subject to review.

Judge Allyne Ross had temporarily blocked federal investigators from checking DiFiore’s emails while she considered the argument, but ruled in favor of the government last week.

Ross found that DiFiore had other opportunities to privately communicate with his attorney and that the email snooping did not “unreasonably interfere” with his ability to defend himself in court.

She said that inmates know that they are waiving their confidentiality when using the prison email function.

Ross did concede in her decision that the federal Bureau of Prisons should consider some form of protected e-mail forum for inmates and their attorneys to facilitate communication.

“Certainly, it would be a welcome development for BOP to improve TRULINCS (the jail computer system) so that attorney-client communications could be easily separated from other emails and subject to protection,” the judge wrote.

DiFiore is charged with participating in an extortion scheme with co-codefendant Vincent Asaro, the infamous Bonanno capo charged with the 1978 Lufthansa Airlines heist depicted in the film “Goodfellas.”


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Longtime Detroit mob boss dead at 87

Reputed Detroit mob boss Jack W. Tocco, who was convicted of racketeering in 1998 in a federal crackdown on organized crime, has died. He was 87.

Tocco, who said he fought his entire life to clear his name, died Monday at home in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Park, according to Bagnasco & Calcaterra Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements. A cause of death wasn't released.

Tocco, whose family had a linen business, grew up in suburban Detroit and repeatedly proclaimed his innocence. He was convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to commit extortion in 1998. He served nearly three years behind bars in the case and paid $950,000 to the government.

Attorney James Bellanca Jr., whose firm represents Tocco, said he learned of Tocco's death from his family. In an email, he said Tocco lived his life "under the scrutiny of the government and the subject of public accusation." He said Tocco tried to clear his name.

"Individuals familiar with his conviction in 1998 believe it was based more on the reputation that had been created for him than any evidence of wrongdoing presented against him at trial," Bellanca said. "He served his sentence quietly and with the same dignity he lived his life."

A federal jury in 1998 convicted Tocco of taking part in a 30-year racketeering conspiracy that included loan-sharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice and attempts to gain hidden interests in Nevada casinos. The FBI labeled him the Detroit crime family's boss in an organizational chart released in 1990.

Tocco was included in a 1996 indictment targeting alleged organized crime figures in Detroit. At a news conference about the case at the time, FBI Special Agent Joseph Martinolich Jr., who headed the Detroit office, said: "Here in Detroit, we believe we've driven a stake through the heart of La Cosa Nostra."

Tocco initially was sentenced to one year and a day, but that sentence was later invalidated by the appeals court after the government argued the penalty was too lenient. In 2000, a federal judge in Detroit imposed a new sentence of 34 months.

Tocco, who completed his 34-month sentence, that year thanked relatives and friends for their support and criticized former associates who testified against him.

"All my adult life, I've been fighting to clear my name," he said at a court hearing. "And I will continue that fight to clear my name until the time I die."


Bonanno captain Nicky Mouth rejects plea deal

A reputed Bonanno capo facing trial for peddling illegal Viagra, says he’s not willing to do a stiff prison term.

Nicholas “Nicky Mouth” Santora turned down a plea deal for 7-to-21 years prison Wednesday in exchange for copping to a top count of enterprise corruption. The offer shaves about a year off the minimum term he’d face if convicted at trial on that charge.

Santora and eight associates were busted last August for a variety of mob staple rackets. They each face a maximum of 25 years behind bars for their alleged roles in criminal activities including loansharking and drug dealing — for illegally selling prescription erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra and Cialis — as well as perjury and possession of firearms.

Santora, 71, who inspired the character played by the late Bruno Kirby in the 1997 film “Donnie Brasco,” didn’t like the deal, said his defense lawyer Michael Alber.

“There’s absolutely no way he’s taking that disposition. He’s not involved in enterprise corruption,” he said. “The prosecution is seeking to link people some who don’t even recognize each other except when they come to court.”

From left: Vito Badamo, Ernest Aiello, Anthony Santoro and Nicholas Santora in court.Photo: David McGlynn

Prosecutors also offered Anthony “Skinny” Santoro 9-to-18 years behind bars, the longest term after Santora, which his lawyer also said he wouldn’t accept.

“It’s ridiculous, it was a non-violent gambling offense,” said Santoro’s attorney Tim Parlatore.

The frail-looking Santora has remained behind bars since Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Melissa Jackson set bond at $1 million.


Turncoat Philadelphia underboss urges his mobster cousin to cooperate

Defense attorneys for Nicodemo S. Scarfo said repeatedly during his federal fraud trial that Scarfo, 49, was targeted for prosecution because of the reputation and notoriety of his father, jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

The jury, of course, saw it differently, convicting the younger Scarfo of all 25 counts he faced in the looting of FirstPlus Financial, a Texas mortgage company.

But now another voice has weighed in in Scarfo's defense. It's not a defense of what he did, but rather an explanation for how he ended up where he did. And it's also a plea for some consideration from Judge Robert Kugler when he sentences Scarfo in October.

The younger Scarfo never had a chance, said his cousin, mobster-turned-government witness Philip Leonetti.

"He's really not a gangster," Leonetti, 61, said in a telephone interview with Bigtrial this week. "His father had him under his spell...I used to tell him, 'Nicky, get away from these guys.' And when he was talking to me, he would agree' But then he would talk to his father and..."

The words trail off, but the point is clear. Leonetti, the one-time underboss of the Scarfo crime family, followed his cousin's trial from afar.

He has been living in another part of the country with a new identity since his release from prison in the early 1990s. Considered one of the best mob witnesses to ever take the stand, Leonetti testified at nearly a dozen trials following his own conviction, along with his uncle and a dozen others, in a 1988 racketeering-murder case.

"I was very good at doing some bad things," Leonetti said of his life in the mob and under his uncle's influence, "but it's not who I was."

Leonetti's decision to cooperate sent shockwaves through the underworld. Among other things, his defection was a major factor in the decision of Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, the Gambino crime family underboss, to flip and help the government convict mob boss John Gotti a few years laterr.

Gravano, however, couldn't stop being Sammy the Bull and after his release from prison returned to drug dealing. He ended up back in jail. Leonetti on the other hand has carved out a new and better life for himself and his family, far removed from the underworld where he was once a major player.

Life, he says, has been good.

He wishes his younger cousin had the chance to experience it.

"There is so much more to see and enjoy," he said. "Those guys in South Philly don't appreciate or understand that. They would say that I'm the sucker now because I'm living a normal life. But I was the sucker back then when I was in the mob."

Cynics of course, and there are many, say Leonetti's motives were financial and based on self-preservation. For years sources have said that the government allowed him and his mother Nancy, Scarfo's sister, to take more than $1 million with them into the Witness Security Program. The money had been stashed in a hidden safe in Scarfo's apartment on Georgia Avenue in Atlantic City.

"Sure, his life is good," said one mob source. "My life would be good too if I had a million dollars to rebuild it. Give me a break!"

Leonetti rolls with the criticism, saying there are more important things to focus on. He said he was fortunate to have the opportunity to change his life. He doesn't regret his decision to cooperate and testify for the government and he said he would urge his cousin to do the same. The problem, however, is that Nicodemo S. Scarfo, even if he had the inclination, may not have enough information to make a deal.

"Anything he could do to help himself, he should do," Leonetti said. "That's what I would tell him. I would tell him to cooperate and save as much of his life as he can. Don't be a sucker."

And don't, he added, worry about what your father is thinking.

"My uncle is an evil guy," said Leonetti, who confessed to his own involvement in 10 murders while 
a member of the Scarfo crime family. "He's no fuckin' good. You don't know how evil he is."

That's the message, Leonetti said, that he would like to convey to the judge before he passes judgment on his cousin.

"I wish they had called me as a witness," he said. "I would have told the jury."

But unless you've lived it, he added, it's difficult to understand. Both he and the younger Scarfo grew up under the dark shadow cast by Little Nicky, a psychopathic mob boss who was considered one of the most violent mob leaders in America during the period from 1980 through 1989 when he controlled the Philadelphia mob. The elder Scarfo, 84, is serving a 55-year sentence for racketeering and murder. His earliest parole date is 2033. He will likely die in prison.

"Nicky was a kid then," Leonetti said of his cousin during the violent 1980s. "He didn't want to get involved. But his father would badger him. A couple of times I remember him crying because his father wanted him to do something. My uncle destroyed his whole family."

Leonetti, who wrote a book Mafia Prince that detailed much of his life in the mob and that blistered his uncle, said he tried to do right by his cousin, but couldn't overcome the influence of the jailed mob boss. (The book was recently released in paperback.)

After he was released from prison -- Leonetti's 45-year sentence was reduced to five years, five months and five days because of his cooperation -- he would occasionally visit Atlantic City, checking in with his grandmother and his cousin.

"He didn't care that I had cooperated," Leonetti said of the younger Scarfo. "I told him then he should come away with me. He could have been with me right now. Instead, he listened to his father."

Back then, in an interview, Leonetti had predicted that "my uncle is going to get my cousin killed or indicted."

The younger Scarfo had already survived a mob hit in 1989 in Dante & Luigi's restaurant in South
Philadelphia. The Halloween night shooting left him with seven bullet holes in his body, but he miraculously survived.

"He told me he knew it was Joey Merlino who shot him," Leonetti said. "Maybe he could use that to help himself now."

Merlino has always denied that allegation, which surfaced again during the FirstPlus trial when a government expert witness said that federal authorities believe Merlino, now 51, was the shooter that night. No one has ever been charged but the statute of limitation has long since expired in that assault and it's unlikely Scarfo could use that information to help himself, even if he chose to do so.

Scarfo has two prior convictions for mob-related gambling and racketeering. He is also under indictment in Morris County in a massive mob sports betting case tied to the leaders of the Lucchese crime family. The younger Scarfo became a member of the Luchese organization after he was shot and had to flee the Philadelphia - South Jersey area in 1989.

His father, in prison with Lucchese mob boss Vittoro "Vic" Amuso, arranged to have his son formally initiated into the crime family as an insurance policy against possible future attacks.

But that didn't stop Scarfo from being targeted in a different way, Leonetti said, by members of the Philadelphia mob after he opened a restaurant, Amici, in Ventnor, around 1996.

ey Merlino sent guys down there to demand money," Leonetti said. "That's when I told him to get away from those guys, to get out of there. He didn't listen."

Some things never change. Gambling, loansharking and extortion have long been the financial lifeblood of the Philadelphia crime family and with several mobsters who were convicted with him and his uncle in 1988 now back on the streets, Leonetti says those activities will continue. 

"Look, if Joey Punge (Joseph Pungitore) wants to run a bookmaking operation, let him," Leonetti said of one of his former co-defendants now back on the street. "It's not hurting anybody."

The problem, Leonetti said, is when other organized crime figures try to muscle in on someone else's action. Mobsters like Merlino and George Borgesi, who was recently released from prison, have a reputation for demanding and grabbing. Some of the veteran wiseguys from Leonetti's era, guys like Phil Narducci for example, won't stand for those kind of guzzling or strong-arming tactics, he said.

"Somebody'll get killed," Leonetti said. "They should just let everybody go about their business, everyone make their own money and be honest with one another."

It's a life Leonetti remembers, but has no desire to relive. When he does pop into Atlantic
City, he said, he enjoys walking on the Boardwalk.  "I think back to the days when I'd be walking with Saul Kane and talking with him," he said.

Kane, a mob associate who was known as the "Meyer Lansky" of Atlantic City, died in prison where he was serving a sentence for drug dealing. In his obituary Kane had family members list Leonetti as one of his survivors, a clear sign that he had a different view than the elder Scarfo of Leonetti's defection.

"But when I leave Atlantic City, I'm happy to go back to the life I now live," Leonetti added.

South Philadelphia wiseguys are myopic mobsters, he said, who don't see the world beyond Ninth Street. For many, Atlantic City and the Poconos define the edges of their universe. There is, says Leonetti, so much more to the world and so much more to life.

He is just sorry that his cousin will probably never get to experience it.

Leonetti said the only things he knows about the FirstPlus fraud case and Scarfo's co-defendant Salvatore Pelullo are what he's read. He said he knew Pelullo's older brother Artie, but not Salvatore.

"What were they thinking, buying a yacht and a Bentley?" Leonetti asked. "That's not smart."

The government charged that Scarfo and Pelullo had secretly taken control of FirstPlus in 2007 and then used bogus consulting contracts and phony business deals to siphon $12 million out of the company.

The money was used to support a lavish lifestyle that included their purchase of a $850,000 yacht. Pelullo also bought a $217,000 Bentley Continental and Scarfo and his wife Lisa bought a $715,000 home near Atlantic City. All of that and more, including jewelry Scarfo bought for his wife, has been forfeited to the government as part of the verdict in the case.

Now Scarfo is looking at a sentencing guideline range of 30 years to life when he appears before Judge Kugler in October.

Leonetti said he intends to write a letter in support of his cousin, asking the judge to show some leniency. Leonetti said he is one of the few people who truly understands what happened to Nicky Scarfo Jr.

"He wasted his whole life with his father," said Leonetti. "My uncle destroyed people."

Especially those close to him, he added. Mark Scarfo, the youngest of the mob boss's three sons, tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in 1988. He was just 17 years old. He remained comatose and was cared for by his mother and his brother Nicky for the rest of his life. Mark Scarfo died earlier this year during the FirstPlus trial.

The attempted suicide and the elder Scarfo's reaction to it say all you need to know about the mob boss, Leonetti said. His uncle was embarrassed by the incident. "He said if he came out of it (the coma), he was gonna send him away," Leonetti said.

Another source recalled that at the time Scarfo Sr. was on trial with Leonetti and a dozen other mobsters for racketeering. When the source offered Scarfo his condolences, the source said Scarfo brush him off and said of his comatose son, "He's soft."

That, Leonetti said this week, was his uncle -- mean, evil and self-absorbed.

His cousin, Leonetti said again, never had a chance. 


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stallone considers playing notorious Colombo mobster Greg Scarpa in new movie

Sylvester Stallone has played heroes such as John Rambo and Rocky Balboa, but now he’s considering playing a villain — Greg Scarpa, the mob hitman known as “the Grim Reaper.”
The screenplay by Nick Pileggi, who wrote “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” will gloss over Scarpa’s involvement in 20 murders, and focus on his career as a T.E., a top echelon informant for the FBI, who secretly solved the “Mississippi Burning” case.
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover — under intense pressure to find the bodies of three civil rights workers and bring their killers to justice — brought in the capo for the Colombo family in 1964.
Scarpa quickly kidnapped a member of the Ku Klux Klan and tortured him for two days.
“He pistol-whipped him, pulled his fingernails out, and finally put a gun in his mouth,” said a source familiar with the story. “He gave him a pen and paper, and said, ‘Either the location of the bodies, or your brains will be on this paper.’”
Scarpa got the information he wanted.
Pileggi told me, “It’s a fabulous story. Stallone is interested. He likes the script.”
Irwin Winkler, of “Rocky” fame, would produce with Avi Lerner, who produced “The Expendables” and its sequels.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Broke Mob Wife has brother pay $20k of her restitution tab

Alicia DiMichele is due to plead guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court next month for stealing union funds.
She’s gone from “Mob Wives” to being one Broke Girl.

Sexy ex-reality TV star Alicia DiMichele agreed to pay $40,000 restitution to Teamsters Local 282 for embezzling funds when she handled the books for her mobster husband's trucking company — but her brother had to step in Tuesday to write the first check.

“The years of litigation with her husband in jail have taken a toll on her family and her financial stability,” said DiMichele's lawyer Steve Zissou.

“She was fortunate to have her brother ready and willing to help out when necessary.”

Her brother Anthony ponied up the $20,000 due as initial payment for the restitution.

DiMichele, 40, is married to Colombo enforcer Edward "Tall Guy" Garofalo, Jr., who is serving time for murder conspiracy.

She resigned from “Mob Wives” earlier this year but still owns the Addiction Boutique in Cherry Hill, N.J.

DiMichele withdrew her guilty plea after the union demanded $2.8 million in restitution, but with a settlement reached she will plead guilty for a second time next month in Brooklyn Federal Court. She faces up to six months behind bars.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Turncoat Bonanno captain asks judge to show leniency for son of Vinny Gorgeous

Ex-Bonanno capo asks judge to show leniency for mobster’s son
The same murderous mobster-turned-rat who helped get Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano sent away for life has asked a federal judge to show leniency to the Bonanno boss’ drug-dealing son, claiming the 28-year-old could become “the next John Gotti” if sent to prison.

Ex-Bonanno capo Dominick Cicale, 46, wrote Manhattan federal Judge Richard Sullivan a July 3 letter saying he believes the jurist’s decision days earlier to sentence Joseph Basciano to six months in jail for running a marijuana enterprise with his two brothers would only lead him down the “path” to becoming a lifetime wiseguy.

“Everyone [in jail] will be watching, guiding and grooming him out of respect for Vincent Sr.’s stature and status,” Cicale wrote. “This good young man will walk out of federal prison feeling that he is the next John Gotti.”

Sullivan had actually cut Joseph a break, considering he faced up to two years in prison under his plea deal.

Cicale said he still recalls Joseph as the “smart college boy” he once knew before providing the “government with the nail in the coffin to convict” Papa Basciano, who is serving two lifetime sentences for murders.

Cicale had faced two life terms for the same murders the elder Basciano was convicted of, but Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis gave him a break for the “extraordinary assistance” he provided the feds, and Cicale was released in 2013 after spending nearly eight years behind bars.

Joseph Basciano and his brothers, Vincent Jr. and Stephen, were busted last September.


Alicia from Mob Wives plans to plead guilty to embezzlement

Former ‘Mob Wives’ star will plead guilty to embezzlement
Former “Mob Wives” star Alicia DiMichele will plead guilty to an embezzlement rap next month after finally hammering out a restitution deal.

DiMichele was busted along with her hubby, Colombo enforcer Edward “Tall Guy” Garofalo, for skimming union pension funds from the defunct New Jersey trucking company they once ran.

She had earlier backed out of a plea deal when the union demanded $2.8 million in payback from the scheme.

But the two sides have since agreed to have her pay far less — just $40,000 — and she will cop to the crime on Aug. 14.

She faces up to six months in prison.

DiMichele, 40, who made $8,000 per episode during her run on the VH1 show, resigned from the cast during her lengthy court wrangle.

Prosecutors had argued that she was making plenty of money on the show and shouldn’t have groaned about the restitution demands.

Garofalo pleaded guilty to a murder-conspiracy rap and was sentenced to seven years in prison last December in Brooklyn federal court.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Four Gambino associates busted for drugs and extortion

Ex-cop among alleged mobsters busted for drugs, extortion
Four alleged Gambino crime family associates – one of them a former Port Authority cop – were busted Tuesday in connection with the sale of narcotics and the extortion of a Manhattan businessman, sources told The Post.

Two of the four, ex-PA cop Steve Cilluffo, 62, and Quentin Carbone, 49, were expected to be charged with extortion for pressuring the owner of an office cleaning business to pay more than $60,000 in protection money, the sources said.

Cilluffo, Angelo Gurino and Mike Gamble were also charged with illegally selling the powerful prescription narcotic hydrocodone, the sources said.

The four, all from Howard Beach, were rounded up by the FBI agents and investigators from the Manhattan DA’s office.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Gambino soldier given light sentence for violent threats

It’s legal to yell at someone over the phone — but you better not threaten them!

That’s the message Manhattan federal Judge Kevin Castel had for reputed wiseguy Anthony Bazzini Tuesday as he sentenced him to a year and a day behind bars.

“The important point here today is it’s not against the law to lose your temper and get angry — even if you’re a New Yorker,” Castel said.

But Castel added that “threatening someone with bodily harm” is a “crime” — and to think otherwise shows “a lack of respect for the legal system.”

Bazzini was one of 32 people busted by the feds in January 2013 for being part of a massive gangland effort to control the New York-New Jersey garbage carting industry. He previously pled guilty to interfering with commerce by threatening bodily harm on a confidential government witness between 2011 and 2012.

In addition to the jail time, Castel hit him with a $3,000 fine and he faces three years of supervised release when his prison sentence ends.

The 54-year-old from Glen Head, LI — who bizarrely tried in court filings to previously distance himself from comparisons to fictional mob boss Tony Soprano played by the late James Gandolfini— had claimed he was provoked into threatening the witness over a phone call.

His lawyer, Raymond Perini, in seeking a non-prison sentence of probation for Bazzini, said the wire-wearing witness went out way to “push [Bazzini’s] buttons” while beating him for thousands of dollars in business deals.

He claimed the witness was so desperate because he faces a minimum of 10 years in prison for a sex crime that he accidently recorded himself saying that getting Bazzini to threaten him “would be good” for his situation.

“This is New York, and when you [provoke] someone you get yelled at,” Perini said.

Assistant US Attorney Brian Blais responded, “Being a New Yorker is not an appropriate justification for threatening someone over the phone.”

He also said Bazzini has a history of making violent threats, including a 2003 federal extortion conviction related to Bazzini threatening “to cut off his stockbroker’s mother’s hands,” putting the broker’s “brother in four casts” and “killing” the broker’s whole family.

The threats were made after Bazzini suffered losses in the stock market.

The feds say Bazzini was the “ghost owner” of Galaxy Carting in Ronkonkoma, which also did business in New Jersey. They had sought 12 to 18 months in jail for Bazzini.

He and 31 other reputed mobsters were busted for allegedly scheming with rival Mafia families to trash efforts to clean up the garbage business — and using strong-arm tactics to shake down owners of legitimate companies and secretly assume control of their operations.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jury finds Lucchese wiseguy Scarfo Jr guilty on all counts during financial fraud trial

Mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and his business associate Salvatore Pelullo were convicted today of looting more than $12 million from a Texas-based mortgage company through a series of phony business deals and bogus consulting contracts.

Scarfo, 48, the son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, was described by the government as the behind-the-scenes power in the secret takeover of FirstPlus Financial in 2007.

Pelullo, 46, an Elkins Park businessman with two prior fraud convictions, was the point man in the scheme, according to authorities. A wannabe wiseguy who quoted lines from The Godfather and brought a street corner swagger to business meetings, Pelullo was accused of using threats and intimidation to force company officials to do his bidding.

The anonymous chosen jury, which deliberated for parts of 10 days over two-weeks, also convicted former FirstPlus CEO John Maxwell and Maxwell's brother, William, a lawyer who worked for the firm.
The verdicts were announced shortly after 11 a.m. to a courtroom packed with friends and family members of the defendants and with government officials. The process took more than twenty meetings as Judge Robert Kugler read each of the 25 counts in the case and the jury foreman declared "guilty" or "not guilty" to each charge faced by each defendant.

Scarfo and Pelullo have been held without bail since their indictments in November 2011. They showed little emotion as the process played itself out. Scarfo heard the word "guilty" tied to his name 25 times. Pelullo charged with one less count, heard it 24 times.

Both men, because of their prior criminal convictions and because of their principal roles in the scam, face from 30 years to life when sentenced by Judge Kugler. The verdicts capped a federal investigation that began more than seven years ago and became public in May 2008 when the FBI conducted a series of coordinated raids in Philadelphia, South Jersey, Miami and Irving, Tx (where FirstPlus was based).

Authorities charged that the takeover of FirstPlus began in the spring of 2007 when Scarfo and Pelullo began to maneuver for control of the troubled mortgage company and at one point was a key player in the subprime lending business but had subsequently fallen into bankruptcy.

Scarfo and Pelullo were accused to using fear and intimidation to insert their own candidates on to the company board of directors in the summer of 2007and were controlling the company by that point, even though their names never appeared on any company documents or on filings with the SEC and other government agencies.

Full of bravado and bluster, according to witness testimony, Pelullo was involved in the day-to-day operations of the company and used his own arrogance and allusions to his organized crime connections to instill fear into those who balked at doing his bidding.

At one point, according to a company official who testified during the trial, Pelullo threatened the official, telling him his wife would be raped and his young daughters sold as prostitutes if the official didn't go along with Pelullo's directions.

Testimony from former employees, including Cory Leshner a top Pelullo associate who became a key prosecution witness, helped the government build its case which was also based on hundreds of secretly recorded phone conversations and thousands of pages of documents.

The jury verdicts were followed by the start of a forfeiture proceeding this afternoon. The government is seeking a yacht and an airplane purchased by Scarfo and Pelullo, a Bentley purchased by Pelullo and other assets and bank accounts tied to the probe.

The readings of the verdicts came in a tense courtroom where friends and relatives had become gathering earlier in the morning. The jury panel had sent a note to Judge Kugler late yesterday afternoon announcing that it was close to a consensus but wanted to sleep on its findings before announcing them.

The verdicts announced for the racketeering conspiracy count that topped the indictment set the stage for what was to follow. Scarfo, Pelullo and the Maxwell brothers were found guilty, but Adler, McCarthy and Manno were found not guilty. What followed was the recitation of the remaining counts and as the jury foreman declared "not guilty" again and again on separate fraud charges, friends and family members of Adler, McCarthy and Manno began to smile and quietly nod to one another.

One friend of McCarthy's offered a quiet fist pump as he sat in the third row of the packed courtroom as heard "not guilty" announced to a securities fraud charge, 17 wire fraud charges and one money-laundering charge that McCarthy faced.

The reaction was similar from friends and family members of the other defendants. Manno's wife, Rita, broke into tears of joy after the final "not guilty" was announced to one of the five charges her husband faced. One of her daughters sat next to her, gently rubbing her back.

"A six-year ordeal is finally over," said Manno, a veteran criminal defense attorney who had represented Scarfo for years.

Manno, who represented himself, said he never second-guessed his decision. He said it gave him a chance to "personalize" the defendant. Throughout the trial he spoke of himself in the third person and in a detailed closing argument he hammered home the key point in his defense: he was a lawyer trying to counsel Scarfo, not a member of the conspiracy. More important, he argued and the government's own wiretaps appeared to confirm, neither Scarfo nor Pelullo followed his advice.

Like the two other lawyers acquitted, Manno contended that he was lied to by Scarfo and Pelullo and was never fully aware of what they were doing behind-the-scenes at FirstPlus.

"They split the case the way we had argued for in a severance motion," Manno said of the jury's verdict, referring to a motion rejected by Judge Kugler who have Scarfo, Pelullo and the Maxwell brothers tried together and Ader, McCarthy and Manno tried in a second trial.

Adler declined to comment as he left the courtroom, but smiled and said any questions should be handled by his defense attorney Barry Gross.

Gross, himself a former federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, thanked the jury and the judge and said his client "looks forward" to returning to his legal practice. Adler, based in New York, specializes in SEC filings.

In a prepared release later in the day Gross, who works for the Philadelphia law firm of Drinker, Biddle&Reath, said in a statement released by the firm later in the day, "There was an enormous quantity of information that the government presented in this case, but the jurors clearly took their responsibilities very seriously and justice was finally achieved."

Manno said the same thing more succinctly. "It ended the way it should have," he said, before heading off with his wife, daughter and son-in-law to celebrate the outcome.

Neither Maxwell brother offered any comment. Both appeared to numb as the guilty verdicts, one after another, mounted against them.

Before the jury came in, John Maxwell, who despite his complaints about media coverage has consistently and graciously made himself available to the media, said "It is what it is...As a kid I used to do some bull riding. This can't be any harder than that."

Three other defendants, lawyers David Adler, Gary McCarthy and Donald Manno, not guilty of the charges they faced.

The government has alleged that mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and his business associate, Salvatore Pelullo, secretly took control of FirstPlus, a troubled Texas-based mortgage company, in 2007. The two then orchestrated a series of phony business deals and bogus consulting contracts that allow them to siphon $12 million from the company, according to the case against them.

The money was used to support a lavish lifestyle. Authorities allege that Scarfo and Pelullo bought a yacht valued at nearly $900,000; that Pelullo purchased a $217,000 Bentley automobile, and that Scarfo and his wife, Lisa Murray Scarfo, bought a $715,000 home near Atlantic City.

Throughout the trial, the defense has argued that FirstPlus failed because of a poor economy and the negative impact of the federal investigation which became public after a series of raids in May 2008. The defense also argued that the government has used the specter of organized crime to sensationalize the charges but insisted there was no mob involvement.

Thirteen defendants were originally named in a 25-count indictment handed down in November 2011. Six defendants, including Scarfo's wife, have pleaded guilty. She is awaiting sentencing on bank fraud charges linked to a mortgage for the home near Atlantic City.

In addition to Scarfo and Pelullo, those on trial include former FirstPlus CEO John Maxwell, his brother, William, who worked as a lawyer for the company, and lawyers David Adler, Gary McCarthy and Donald Manno.

All seven are charged with racketeering conspiracy. Other counts in the indictment include bank fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Not every defendant faces every count. Scarfo and Pelullo also face weapons offenses.


Son of Vinny Gorgeous sentenced to six months in prison for running marijuana enterprise

Son of mob boss ‘Vinny Gorgeous’ gets jail time in drug bust
A federal judge on Wednesday cut a son of imprisoned-for-life Bonanno crime-family boss Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano a break — and then told him to “get a real job!”

Manhattan federal Judge Richard Sullivan sentenced Joseph Basciano, 28, of the Bronx, to six months prison followed by six months of home confinement after the crime-scion pleaded guilty to running a marijuana enterprise with his two brothers. He was also ordered to forfeit $27,000 to the government.

Sullivan then gave Basciano — who had faced up to two years in jail under his plea agreement — some fatherly advice.

“Go out there and get a real job,” Sullivan said. “Pay taxes and do all the things ordinary people do.”

Basciano and his brothers, Vincent Jr. and Stephen, were busted last September for running a mini-marijuana enterprise in which the feds say hundreds of pounds of pot from California was brought to
New York for distribution between August 2009 and April 2013.

All of the brothers pleaded guilty. Joseph was the first to be sentenced after admitting to conspiring to hawk 20 to 40 kilograms of pot.

His lawyer Matthew Mari called the judge’s decision “fair.”

Papa Basciano is serving two life sentences for mob murders.