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

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Underworld rejoices as longtime former Bonanno Boss Joseph Massino dies in witness protection program

Joseph Massino, the low-key Mafia boss who stunned the world of organized crime in 2005 when it was revealed he had become a government witness, has died after a short illness, sources close to his family told Newsday.

Massino, once a trim and powerful man who would jump off the Cross Bay Boulevard bridge in Queens and swim for hours, battled a number of chronic health conditions including diabetes and obesity. He was 80 and lived until recently in Ohio. Massino died Sept. 14 at a rehabilitation facility in the New York City area, according to the sources.

Massino’s youngest daughter Joanne, who asked that her last name not be published, confirmed his death but declined to comment further.

Over the years Massino navigated the treacherous world of the Mafia families in New York, all the while running legitimate businesses such as a sandwich shop in Queens, catering firms in Farmingdale and the CasaBlanca Restaurant in Maspeth, which he forfeited after a federal racketeering conviction in 2004.

“He ruled with an iron fist and kept order within the ranks,” said former FBI supervisory special agent Charles Rooney, who investigated the Sicilian faction of the crime family in the famous Pizza Connection drug case.

Through tribute paid to by fellow mobsters along with illegal and legal earnings, Massino amassed a fortune and after his conviction, had to turn over $10 million in cash — some of which he had kept in his Howard Beach home — as well as gold bars and other assets.

Massino actually wanted to cooperate within minutes after a Brooklyn federal court jury found him guilty in July 2004 of racketeering, including the orchestration of six mob murders, as boss of the Bonanno crime family. Massino immediately approached presiding Judge Nicholas Garaufis and said he wanted to cooperate, at which point Garaufis appointed him a special lawyer to negotiate.

After several months, it was revealed that Massino, who faced a federal death penalty trial in a different case, was cooperating against fellow mobsters. In 2005, Massino formally entered the federal witness security program. His life sentence was reduced to time served in 2013.

Born in Queens in January 1943, Massino was one of three sons of Anthony and Adeline Massino and lived close to Maspeth. Massino was an athletic young man who earned a reputation as being a street tough after dropping out of school in the seventh grade.

Massino took a number of jobs, including working as a lifeguard at Atlantic Beach on Long Island. As a young adult, Massino started a coffee cart business, serving businesses in the Maspeth area.

But it was in the 1970s that Massino became associated with Philip Rastelli, who rose to become boss of the Bonanno crime family. After Rastelli went to prison, investigators said his trust in Massino grew.

Massino was inducted into the Mafia around 1977 and became a captain in 1979, according to the FBI. Two years later, in May 1981 according to federal court testimony, Massino helped engineer the killings of the three upstart captains — Philip Giaccone, Alphonse Indelicato and Dominic Trinchera.— suspected of trying to gain control of the Bonanno family.

After Massino served time in federal prison in the 1980s, he was officially anointed as boss of the Bonanno family in 1991 upon Rastelli’s death.

Although Massino was a friend of his neighbor John Gotti, head of the Gambino family, he didn’t emulate his public stance and nightlife. Instead, Massino kept a low profile and closed down mob social clubs to frustrate FBI surveillance. To keep his name out of conversations that could be bugged, Massino asked that fellow gangsters refer to him only by tugging on their ears, a gesture that earned Massino the moniker “The Ear.”

But by 2000, the FBI again focused on Massino. The result was a federal indictment that led to his arrest on Jan. 9, 2003, along with his wife Josephine's brother, Sal Vitale. But soon after, Vitale became a government witness against Massino and testified at the mob boss’s 2004 trial.

After he became a government cooperating witness, Massino helped build a case against his former street boss, Vincent “Vinnie Gorgeous” Basciano. Massino also gave information to the FBI that allowed investigators to dig up the bodies of the captains killed in May 1981.


Friday, September 15, 2023

Bonanno Soldier Stevie Blue tells judge his lawyer suffers blackouts like Senator Mitch McConnell

 The Bonanno crime family soldier convicted of killing a witness in a murder case says that his lawyer suffers from the same blackouts as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Stephen “Stevie Blue” LoCurto, 62, wants a Brooklyn federal judge to appoint assistant counsel to help with his attempt to get his sentence lowered from life in prison for his role in the murder to 20 years.

“My attorney Bernard Freamon is having trouble focusing for long periods of time,” LoCurto wrote in a letter to Magistrate Sanket Bulsara on Sept. 6. “It’s gotten so bad, they took his driver’s license. What he has is similar to what Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader has when he freezes up.”

LoCurto has asked the judge to have lawyer David Schoen question him on the stand for his case.

The mobster filed a civil case to shave eternity off his prison time, arguing that his lawyer told him not to take a plea because he misunderstood a change to federal racketeering law.

Freamon did not immediately respond to an email sent Thursday night


Monday, September 11, 2023

Jailed Bonanno Soldier seeks to overturn life sentence in killing of witness in murder case


A Bonanno crime family soldier who whacked a witness in a murder case will get a hearing to determine whether one of his lawyers screwed up by telling him not to take a plea deal.

Stephen “Stevie Blue” LoCurto, 62, argues that he thought he could only get 20 years maximum, not the life sentence he’s currently serving, because one of his attorneys misunderstood whether a change to the federal racketeering law applied to his case.

“If I had known there was no chance of me getting less than life I would have taken the plea,” Locurto wrote in a 2010 motion to vacate his sentence. “Why would I take a 20 year plea when I had nothing to lose? All I could get is 20 years if I blew trial anyway.”

A judge ordered a hearing on the matter in 2016, but it was pushed back after years of procedural delays — and a 2022 psychiatric exam that followed a series of bizarre claims that correction officers were trying to poison him and hiding in his walls, while a group of onlookers bet on when he’d die while he was hospitalized.

“While dying in the ICU unit at NYU-Langone, there was a man in the wall, behind my bed, cursing me, telling me to hurry up and die, pouring soda from bottle to bottle and playing his ring tone over and over,” he wrote in a 2021 complaint to the Department of Justice.

His hearing was initially supposed to happen in Brooklyn Federal Court this Thursday, but it’s been pushed back to a later date.

LoCurto was convicted in Brooklyn Federal Court back in 2006 of racketeering and the 1986 murder of Bonanno associate Joseph Platia.

The mob marked Platia for death because he was hanging out with his pal, fellow Bonanno associate Robert Capasio, on May 9, 1986, when members of the crime family lured Capasio from Manhattan to a Brooklyn apartment where they fatally shot him in the head.

Rather than risk the killers’ identities getting out, LoCurto’s mob higher-ups ordered him to rub out Platia.

LoCurto shot Platia several times in the head as he sat in a car near W. 35th St. and 10th Ave. in Manhattan. Unluckily for LoCurto, a nearby cabbie flagged down police, who caught the mob killer with the murder weapon still warm in his pocket.

LoCurto managed to beat the charges in Manhattan Supreme Court in 1987, but was convicted by a federal jury in 2006.

In both trials, he took the stand in his own defense — a rarity in Mafia cases, since mob members who are still loyal are typically not supposed to take the stand and risk giving the government information on the inner workings of their crime families.

He’s been fighting the conviction ever since, including an appeal that failed in 2009.

LoCurto raised the question of ineffective counsel in 2010, arguing that lawyer Laura Oppenheim, who was assisting his trial attorney with research, gave him bad advice about whether a 1988 amendment to the racketeering law would apply to his case. The amendment raises the maximum sentence from 20 years to life.

She wrote in a 2010 affidavit that she told him, incorrectly, that applying the amendment to his case would violate the Constitution, because Platia’s murder happened in 1986.

But LoCurto’s trial lawyer, Harry Batchelder, had a different recollection of what happened — one more favorable to the prosecution.

“In fact, I told Mr. LoCurto that this was not a viable argument and advised him that if convicted at trial, he would receive a life sentence,” Batchelder wrote in a 2021 affidavit. “I never advised Mr. LoCurto that he should go to trial because he had nothing to lose.”

LoCurto insisted on going to trial because he had beaten the state charges, and never would have accepted a plea deal, Batchelder wrote. “Mr. LoCurto expressed that he was expecting a parade on Arthur Avenue after his anticipated acquittal,” he wrote.

Federal prosecutors also contend that the 20-year offer was never made as a formal plea deal.


Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Elderly Queens man struck and killed by Bonanno associate

An 88-year-old man who was mowed down around the corner from his Queens home by a rogue tow truck driver with connections to the Bonanno crime family has died three weeks after the accident, police said Tuesday.

Chung Lun Shao was crossing Dry Harbor Road and 84th St. in Middle Village just before 5 a.m. on July 29 when he was struck by a Chevrolet Silverado being driven by Long Island resident Filippo Bonura, cops said.

EMS rushed the victim to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he appeared to be on the mend, police said. But the senior took a turn for the worse Sunday and died from the injuries he sustained in the crash, according to cops.

Bonura was a former longshoreman until his registration was revoked in 2017 by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor after an administrative judge found that he consorted with three high-ranking members of the ruthless organized crime family.

As a teenager, Bonura worked at a deli owned by Giacomo “Jack” Bonventre, an acting Bonanno capo. He also worked as a tow truck driver for Bonventre, the judge found. Bonura palled around with Ronald “Ronnie G” Giallanzo, another Bonanno capo and convicted racketeer. He was also chummy with Sandro “Santo” Aiosa, a Bonanno soldier, according to the judge.

The Waterfront Commission administrative trial uncovered other unsavory facts about him.

“Bonura’s previous addiction to drugs and problems with gambling, and ... Bonventre’s conviction for gambling and extortion and his association with Aiosa, who also had gambling convictions, put Bonura ‘at a risk for corruption if he should ever lose so much gambling that he needs money,’” according to the commission.

Bonura told police that Shao, who immigrated from China in the 1960s and rose to be the head chef at Shun Lee West, had stepped out from two parked cars when his Silverado slammed into him.

Shao’s only daughter, however, provided video to the Daily News that tells a different story.

The footage shows the old man clearly visible in the roadway for several seconds when the driver struck him.

“It’s completely the driver’s fault. He basically killed my father. Even everyone in this building, they expected to see my father for another 20 years,” Alice Shao, 48, told The News.

“He had no serious issues. he took care of himself pretty well. He was still able to do a lot of things that most people couldn’t at that age,” she added.

Neither Bonura nor his lawyer could immediately be reached for comment.

“After the crash, I was upset and a little angry, because I didn’t know how that could have happened,” Alice Shao said. “Then as more details came and I saw the footage, I realized the driver lied, and even his demeanor after hitting him — throwing his hands up in the air — it was as if it was an inconvenience to him.”

She said her dad, who was a light sleeper, frequently took walks around the neighborhood at that time.

The elderly father suffered numerous injuries in the collision, including a punctured left lung, contusions, broken ribs on both sides, a fractured left pelvis and a shattered right pelvis, his daughter said.

She said that her father fought hard to recover, but last week the doctors offered a choice to take him off the breathing tube with the chance that he would die — or leave it in for the rest of his life.

“His quality of life would have been nothing. He would have still been hooked up to a machine. He liked moving around. He kept himself busy and was in pretty good shape. That would have been hard for him, to be hooked up,” she said.

When the tube was removed, she coached her father to breathe.

“He responded when I was calling to him,” she said. “I told him you have to breathe, and he did, he really tried.”

Ultimately, he could not survive on his own.

“It was hard. Honestly, I wanted to give him a chance, even if it’s a slim chance, but you have to remember their wishes. It’s not what he wanted. He wouldn’t have been happy living like that. I didn’t want him to be in pain, I didn’t want him to be in discomfort. I didn’t want him to be unhappy. It was the only choice I could have made given the circumstances,” she said.

Bonura, 48, remained at the scene and was charged with driving without a valid license.

This was not his only scrape with the law.

In August 2019, he was operating an unlicensed tow truck when he was arrested for possessing burglar tools. A police officer found him at the scene of a car accident trying to solicit the driver for a tow, and he had a police scanner in his truck in what may have been an effort to circumvent the city’s Directed Accident Response Program that allocates tows to licensed companies.

It’s unclear what the tools were.

After he struck Shao, Bonura was released without bail during a brief arraignment proceeding at Queens Criminal Court the next day.

He’s due back in court to answer the charges on Oct. 31, prosecutors said.


Saturday, August 12, 2023

Dementia stricken and deteriorating former Colombo Acting Boss appears in the NYTimes

At Federal Medical Center Devens, a federal prison in Massachusetts, there is a prisoner who thinks he is a warden. “I’m the boss. I’m going to fire you,” Victor Orena, who is 89, will tell the prison staff.

On some days, Mr. Orena is studiously aloof — as if he were simply too busy or important to deal with anybody else. On other days, he orders everyone around in an overwrought Mafioso tone: a version of the voice that, perhaps, he used when he was a working New York City mob boss decades ago, browbeating members of his notorious crime family. This makes the real prison warden laugh.

On a recent morning, Mr. Orena sat in his wheelchair beside a man with bloodshot eyes. I asked them if they knew where they were.

“This is a prison,” Mr. Orena said, brightly.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“I don’t remember,” he frowned. “I don’t know.”

Timothy Doherty, a senior officer specialist at F.M.C. Devens, which houses federal prisoners who require medical care, estimates that 90 percent of the men he oversees “don’t know what they did. Some of them don’t even know where they are.” Mr. Doherty helps to run the Memory Disorder Unit, the federal prison system’s first purpose-built facility for incarcerated people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Down the hall from where Mr. Orena was sitting — past the activity room with the fish tank, where a cluster of men were watching “King Kong” on TV — there is a cell belonging to another man who wakes every day to discover anew that he is in prison. Some mornings, the man packs up his belongings and waits at the door. He explains that his mother is coming to get him.

“She sure is,” a staff member might say, before slowly leading him back to his cell.

In recent years, I have reported on many aspects of life with dementia. One image has especially haunted me: that of a prisoner who, as a result of cognitive impairment, no longer remembers his crimes — but is still being punished for them.

We don’t know exactly how many people in American prisons have dementia because nobody is counting. By some estimates, there are already thousands, most of them languishing in the general inmate population.

Older adults represent one of the fastest-growing demographic groups within American correctional facilities. Between 1999 and 2016, the number of prisoners over 55 increased by 280 percent, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts; over the same period, the number of incarcerated younger people grew by just 3 percent. This trend is largely attributed to “tough on crime” reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, which lengthened sentences and ensured that many more people would grow old and frail and then die behind prison walls.

Incarcerated life is also thought to accelerate the aging process, such that many longtime prisoners appear more than a decade older than their chronological ages — and are considered “elderly” at 50 or 55.

Early on, a prisoner’s dementia might go unnoticed. Federal prisons do not routinely screen older people for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia unless they exhibit symptoms. And the rigidity and monotony of institutional life can often mask them: A person can get by, for a while, just by following the man ahead of him.

But later, things will start to fall apart. At first, a person with dementia might struggle in the normal way that other aging prisoners do: to walk long distances for meals or medication, to get up from a low-lying toilet without a handrail, to climb a bunk bed on command. Over time, he might start to pace or repeat phrases over and over. He might have hallucinations or delusions or paranoia. He might fall. He might be incorrectly medicated by a doctor who does not understand his condition. He might struggle to distinguish between items of similar color — mashed potatoes on a white plate, say — and so have trouble eating. Or forget to eat at all.

A prisoner with dementia might wear slippers outside his cell, even though this is against the rules. Or wander somewhere he is not supposed to go. He might have trouble judging the distance between things and bump into people who might, in turn, mistake the stumbles for deliberate affronts. He might begin to smell, because he can’t remember how to wash his body — and he might expose his body to others, because his disease leaves him sexually disinhibited. He might get hurt by another prisoner who takes advantage of his impairment and then forget that he was hurt. He might hurt someone else. He might become incontinent. He might grow afraid of shadows because he perceives them to be holes in the ground.

Eventually, the man will find himself living inside an unyielding system whose boundaries and principles he can no longer see or interpret or remember. And because he can’t stop breaking the rules, he might be punished — in some cases, with solitary housing. There, his condition might worsen. “Noncompliance with correctional rules and directions is often treated as a disciplinary issue rather than a medical issue,” explains a 2022 report, “Persons Living With Dementia in the Criminal Legal System,” copublished by the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging. Because the prisoner has nowhere else to go, he might muddle along as best as he can until he becomes so impaired that he is transferred to a medical center, where he will spend the rest of his incarcerated days lying in bed.

The Memory Disorder Unit at F.M.C. Devens, which opened in 2019 and was designed to resemble a memory care facility, offers an alternative path for such a prisoner. Its correctional officers have received training from the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners and currently supervise around two dozen men with an average age of 72. These officers have been given a tall task: to bend an institution designed to punish and sequester into a place that can provide care to some of the most vulnerable people in the system.

In the end, they are proud of what they have built. Why else would they let a journalist come to see it? And still, the M.D.U. seems to challenge several of the classic justifications for the prison system itself: to segregate the dangerous, for instance (many M.D.U. residents are weak and unthreatening), or to reform the morally corrupt (many M.D.U. prisoners don’t remember doing wrong).

Amy Boncher, who was the warden of F.M.C. Devens when I visited in May (she is now the Bureau of Prisons’ Northeast regional director), told me that when she first met the residents of the unit, it was hard to make sense of the entire project. “I looked at them. And I’m thinking: Why haven’t we released all of them?”

“Do you know history?” An M.D.U. resident shuffled toward me. I could only make out bits of speech: “Fidel Castro” and “revolution” and “United States took over Cuba.” This man was born in Cuba and now spends his days reliving its past. As he moved closer, I noticed the smell; since arriving at the M.D.U., he has generally refused to brush his teeth.

I’m told that he’s a “big teddy bear” — though he can get agitated if, say, another prisoner gets annoyed by his revolutionary babble and tells him that Fidel Castro is dead and that nobody liked him. When this happens, a staff member will play the man some old Cuban music, and he will weep as he listens to it.

Most days, he doesn’t seem to know why he is in prison, though sometimes he will allude to a past transgression. “I was a young man,” he will insist. “I told them who did it.”

After a few minutes, an “inmate companion” named Oswaldo Ornelas put his arm around the Cuban man’s shoulders and led him down the hallway. Mr. Ornelas is one of four cognitively healthy prisoners, men without dementia, who are trained to live and work in the M.D.U. in exchange for $30 to $100 a month in wages and, possibly, time off their sentences. The companions are selected based on criminal history — they can’t have been convicted of a sex crime or another violent crime — and temperament. “You’ve got to make sure they won’t take advantage of the men in any way,” Mr. Doherty, the senior officer specialist, said.

Mr. Ornelas told me that a few years ago, while incarcerated, he received a kidney transplant and that he wanted to work in the M.D.U. “to give my life back.”

When I arrived at the unit, Mr. Ornelas was on duty with another companion, Richard Lotito, and the two men had just spent three hours waking, showering and dressing the other prisoners. Their work is physically demanding and exquisitely intimate. Several of the men need help with the toilet and wear diapers. Over many months, the companions have learned their individual needs and tempos. “One guy poops every other day, another poops all day,” Mr. Lotito said. Another gets confused and urinates in the trash cans. “The key to this job is patience.” (Mr. Lotito and Mr. Ornelas were both released in July.)

The M.D.U. is made up of two long hallways that are lined with cells and several common rooms. Unlike standard prison units, the M.D.U. has a kitchen filled with snacks, because sometimes the men forget that they have just eaten and insist that they are starving — and then one of the companions can make them peanut butter sandwiches.

Across most of the unit, the walls are painted a pale pink. In the world of dementia care, pink is sometimes thought to be a calming color that reduces combative behavior. Two officers and one nurse are walking the floors at any given moment, but they do not carry guns, and they are not everywhere. Near the entryway, the prisoners’ artwork is displayed on the wall: paper lanterns, painted tiles, flowers made of pipe cleaners. On the doors to the cells are pictures of favorite objects that help the men to locate their rooms: a Cadillac, the Red Sox logo, an umbrella. Most of the time, the doors inside the unit are unlocked, and the prisoners can come and go as they please. If the whole place weren’t locked down and made of windowless concrete, it would almost look like a day care center.

During the day, there are activities. Trivia, with questions about events from the ’50s and ’60s. Bocce ball. Music therapy. Outside of scheduled time, the men are encouraged to be active. One folds laundry. One sits on the patio on a metal rocking chair and watches birds fly by. Another is given a paintbrush and a can of washable paint so that he can paint the walls all day — “because he gets upset when he’s bored and doesn’t know what to do with himself,” Mr. Doherty said.

As I was led around the unit, I heard screaming. I was told that the screaming man had suffered a brain injury and that he screams often, sometimes because of pain from the spots on his legs where he has rubbed the skin raw. Alexandra Kimball, an occupational therapist, rushed to his side. “Do you like Tom Brady?” she asked gently, referring to the former N.F.L. quarterback.

The screaming stopped. “I love Tom Brady.”

The staff members of the M.D.U. maintain a binder with profiles of the prisoners, including information on how to soothe them. The binder entry for the screaming man advises officers to reference Tom Brady.

Compared to officers in the rest of the prison, M.D.U. staff members can exercise a bit more discretion when it comes to rule breaking. Ms. Boncher, the former warden, told me that the M.D.U. has its own unique “disciplinary procedures.” Her staff members, she explained, are skilled at deciding which prisoners should be disciplined for bad behavior, which she says involves a psychological determination about whether the offending man knew that he was doing something wrong and did it anyway and is therefore responsible and worthy of punishment or was simply acting on impulse, a victim of his own damaged mind. This approach assumes that it is even possible to deduce the mental state of a man who only sometimes or partially understands himself.

But sometimes the M.D.U. residents will fight in the TV room. Or someone will spit on someone else — or walk into the wrong cell and get punched in the face. In most cases, a man who acts out will be “redirected” to a new activity. In other cases, he will lose his commissary or phone privileges for a few days. In rarer cases, he will be locked alone in his room until he calms down, an approach that would not be used in a typical nursing home.

A few men are only allowed out of their cells for two hours each day, with supervision. This includes someone whom Mr. Doherty describes as “absolutely the nicest of inmates” until he starts hearing voices. Some of the men understand that they are being punished and some don’t, and some understand but then forget.

“All the prisons need this,” Mr. Doherty told me, gesturing around him. “What do other places do with these guys?”

On the day I visited the unit, a few of the medical staff members told me that they previously worked in community nursing homes and that the M.D.U. prisoners are probably receiving better care than they would on the outside, in whatever Medicaid-subsidized beds they were likely to find themselves. Behind bars, the men have easy access to psychologists, social workers and a pharmacist with a specialty in geriatrics. Perhaps that’s true. And yet, the existence of the M.D.U. seems to impugn the basic logic of the carceral system or at least its classic rationales.

For some, the point of prison is chiefly to incapacitate dangerous people. The men inside the M.D.U. vary in their physical abilities, but many are very sick and confused and use wheelchairs or walkers, and they probably couldn’t hurt anyone if they wanted to. With them, appeals to public safety fall short. More broadly, the Department of Justice has concluded that “aging inmates are generally less of a public safety threat.” And researchers have found that recidivism rates drop to nearly zero for people over 65.

For others, prison is meant to offer retribution for wrongdoing. In this view, if a person does something wrong, he deserves to be punished in proportion to his crime — and justice depends on it. Dementia tests this logic in different ways. Proponents of this view might decide that even a just act of punishment becomes unjust if the offender no longer understands why he is being condemned. Alternatively, they might conclude that those who are ailing and weak deserve mercy. Many of the M.D.U. residents have already served several years of their sentences.

Some believe that incarceration is an opportunity for rehabilitation. “But with dementia, there is no rehabilitation,” says Lynn Biot-Gordon, of the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners, the organization that provided training to M.D.U. staff. Moral education is impossible for a person who cannot be educated. And a prisoner cannot reflect on his crimes — and then maybe regret them or feel ashamed of them or be repulsed by them or resolve to do better in the future — if he does not even remember them or feel responsible for them.

Kelly Fricker, a psychologist at F.M.C. Devens, told me that she can’t do much in the way of talk therapy for her M.D.U. patients. “An inherent part of mental health therapy would be to remember from session to session. Many guys here don’t even know who I am.”

But what if the point of imprisoning people for decades is to deter others from committing crimes? Arguably, this rationale survives. Letting the M.D.U.’s prisoners go would, in this view, weaken the overall deterrent effect of criminal law. To hold this view, however, you would have to hold the unlikely belief that a person’s decision to commit a crime would be affected by the knowledge that prisoners with advanced dementia are sometimes released from prison early.

Of course, dementia is not the only medical condition that casts doubt on the principles of incarceration. A prisoner who is very old but cognitively healthy might be similarly frail and unthreatening — or might have changed in drastic ways since his incarceration. A person with a severe mental illness might similarly forget his crimes — or feel psychically disconnected from them or be incapable of thoughtfully reflecting on them later. But dementia might pose the paradigmatic challenge.

Within the philosophical literature on cognitive impairment, there is a debate about whether a person with advanced dementia is even the same person as he was before it. If he cannot be considered the same person, then the men of the M.D.U. are, in an important sense, being punished for someone else’s crimes.

At one point during my visit, I spoke with a white-haired man who had a large nose and reddish skin. “I want to go home like anything,” he told me softly.

“What brought you here?” I asked.

“What brought me here?” The man paused. “Hmm. I don’t know.”

As we walked away, Mr. Doherty shook his head. “He remembers,” he said. Then he told me that the white-haired man had raped his granddaughter.

Later, I wondered how much it should matter whether the old man remembered what he did. And what if he remembered sometimes but not other times? Many people with dementia exist in a kind of middle ground of partial comprehension or have memories that surface and then disappear.

“We get into difficult metaphysical questions about personhood here,” said Jeffrey Howard, a professor of political philosophy and public policy at University College London, when I told him about my conversation with the white-haired man. “But you might think that there are two versions of the man: One of them deserves the punishment, and the other doesn’t. In order to punish the version of him that deserves it, you have to take along this hostage for the ride. It’s hard to see how that sort of collateral damage could be justified.”

There is, technically, a way out. A few of the M.D.U.’s residents have received so-called compassionate release, which allows prisoners with extraordinary or compelling reasons, such as severe illness, to be released early from their sentences. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and most state systems have a version of it. But compassionate release, according to the 2022 American Bar Association report, is “rarely used,” and many prisoners die over the months it takes for their applications to be reviewed. Release is especially rare for people with dementia, because the Bureau of Prisons has historically misinterpreted the federal statute to mean that only prisoners who are terminally ill and very close to death are eligible.

State programs are also limited. Lilli Paratore, the director of legal services at UnCommon Law, which offers pro bono legal representation to incarcerated people in California, told me about representing a woman with Parkinson’s disease and dementia who applied for medical parole. Parole board members looked at her client’s memory gaps with suspicion, Ms. Paratore told me. “Your lack of memory appears to be selective,” one commissioner said. (The client was eventually released.)

Even people with dementia who do obtain early release can find themselves stuck in prison, because they can’t be released without a plan and there is nowhere else for them to go. Some have lost contact with family members. They don’t have anyone on the outside who is able to provide or fund round-the-clock care. And nursing homes usually won’t take them, particularly if they have violent histories — which some but not all of the M.D.U. residents do. “Some people get released but we can’t find them a spot,” Christina Cozza, a social worker in the unit, said.

Within the medical field, there has been very little research on how a history of violence might present itself in the context of dementia. Would a violent impulse be heightened or diminished as the brain it dwells in grows more impaired?

Patricia Ruze, the clinical director of F.M.C. Devens, does not believe that the men of the M.D.U. pose a threat to anyone. “They are probably better behaved than most patients in dementia units generally, because a lot of them have spent many, many, many years in custody and so are rule followers.” Dr. Ruze thinks it would be “totally appropriate” to release the whole unit on compassionate grounds and relocate the men to community nursing homes, which already have experience dealing with aggressive behaviors brought on by cognitive impairment — and which cost much less than operating a prison unit.

“It doesn’t make sense for our country to pay so much to house 15, 20 guys,” Dr. Ruze said.

Ms. Boncher, the former warden, is now equivocal. “They’ve done some horrific things. They’ve been abusive to other humans.” Collectively, the men of the M.D.U. have murdered, attempted to murder, stabbed, kidnapped, extorted, swindled and brought fear to entire cities. There were victims of these crimes, and some of them are still living. They will have their own opinions about the need, or not, for mercy.

Within the M.D.U., staff members believe that the future of the correctional system lies in more M.D.U.s. “This is the future,” one unit nurse told me.

“Have people from other institutions visited, to learn about the model?” I asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Doherty said. Then he turned to his colleagues. “Didn’t we have people from Guantánamo?”

In the meantime, some researchers are proposing a more modest approach: building more “dementia-friendly prisons.” Such prisons might have cell doors painted in different colors to help confused inmates orient themselves — and handrails, nonslip floors and accessible showers. They might guarantee that prisoners with dementia get bottom bunks and a bit more time to drop to the floor during drills. They might have pictures above the sinks to remind prisoners how hand-washing works and “scheduled toileting” for people who are incontinent. They might permit a person to wear Velcro clothing if he can no longer manage buttons or clasps. They could give him longer to finish his dinner.

Dr. Ruze, the clinical director, is skeptical of all of it. “In this country, we incarcerate way too many people for way too long. We give people life sentences. And then they turn 90, they’re in diapers, they get demented. We have to ask ourselves, what are we accomplishing?”

Whatever we are currently accomplishing or mean to accomplish, it seems to require that America’s prisons undergo a strange and maybe absurd conversion: into something that more closely resembles a locked-down, fenced-off, barbed-wire-enclosed nursing home.

As I left the M.D.U., a man was moving slowly down the hallway in a wheelchair, his head wrapped in a thick bandage — because, I was told, he bangs his head on the concrete walls when he gets frustrated. In the common room, another man was helping the person beside him to open a plastic container holding his lunch, a hamburger. Another man sat to the side.

“Do you like it here?” I asked him.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” he said. “But I’d rather be in … oh, what’s it …?” Then he forgot where he wished he could go.


Friday, August 11, 2023

Jailed Lucchese Boss denied compassionate release


Vittorio “Little Vic” Amuso, the notorious Lucchese crime family boss convicted of ordering nine deadly mob hits, was denied compassionate release from federal prison on Thursday. 

A federal judge said Amuso, convicted in 1991 on racketeering charges and for nine murders, had sent too many people to their graves, and caused too much destruction and mayhem, to deserve a premature end to his life sentence. 

In June, the now 88-year-old mafioso requested his release on time served due to suffering a hodgepodge of age-related ailments, most notably debilitating osteoarthritis that has left him wheelchair-bound.

He also argued that he’s had a flawless behavior record while incarcerated at Federal Correctional Complex, Butner in North Carolina.

But on Aug. 10, senior District Court Judge Frederic Block denied Amuso’s petition, asserting that the scope of his crimes was “simply too serious, too disrespectful of the law, and too destructive to the fabric of society to warrant anything other than a life sentence.”

The court also contends that Amuso has continued to run the Lucchese family from prison, which he denies. 

Amuso was dubbed “the Deadly Don” by an assistant US attorney, and the Lucchese family under his tenure “enjoyed a particularly bloody reputation” even by the standards of the mob. During his reign in the late 80s and early 90s, Amuso directly ordered the murders of at least a dozen individuals, nine of whom were successfully whacked by his underlings.

They include Michael Pappadio, a soldier in the outfit accused of skimming off the top of the Luccheses’ textile interests. He was bludgeoned to death with a length of metal cable and shot on Amuso’s orders at a Queens bagel shop in May 1989.

The following year, another soldier, Bruno Facciola, was lured to an autobody shop and executed on the orders of Amuso, who suspected him of squealing to the feds. After shooting him between the eyes, the killer placed a dead canary in the victim’s mouth as a warning to others thinking of cooperating with prosecutors.

The man who killed Pappadio, Al D’Arco, would later become acting boss but ultimately turned state’s witness and, with capo Peter “Fat Pete” Chiodo, helped put Amuso behind bars with his testimony. Chiodo survived an assassination attempt after Amuso suspected he had turned, while D’Arco defected after narrowly escaping what he suspected to be the setup of a hit.

In addition to the murders, Amuso was also convicted on charges of labor racketeering, tax fraud, and extortion. He was a central figure in a massive scheme to defraud the New York City Housing Authority by inflating the cost of window installations, pocketing about $1 million in kickbacks from vendors.

Amuso continued to run the family from his prison cell, but insists he is no longer in charge and is not involved in Lucchese affairs. The feds contest this, however, noting testimony from a former soldier that Amuso orchestrated an internal leadership change from his cell as recently as 2017.


Thursday, August 3, 2023

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Genovese associate will join his dad in prison after being sentenced for illegal gambling


It’s a family affair.

An associate of the Genovese crime family is set to follow his dad behind bars — after getting sentenced Wednesday in the same racketeering conspiracy.

Michael Poli, 37, was hit with a 31-month prison term in Manhattan federal court for the illegal gambling and extortion scheme he ran with his father and four mobsters, according to prosecutors.

His dad Thomas Poli, 66, looked on from the gallery in the same courtroom where Judge John Koetl sentenced him to 22 months in the slammer just weeks ago.

The elder Poli is set to start serving his sentence on Sept. 29, while his son is expected to report to the federal Bureau of Prisons about a month later on Oct. 27. 

Michael Poli’s attorney, Anthony DiPietro, tried pleading with the judge for compassion, noting how his client’s family would suffer with both father and son behind bars.

“How will [their family] continue on without the two men they rely on?” DiPietro said in court.

He said Michael was a “good man” who had helped his own family when his third child was born with Down Syndrome.

DiPietro also asked the judge to give Michael the same sentence as his dad so the “family could be reunited” at the same time.

But Assistant US Attorney Cecilia Cohen pushed back, calling Michael’s conduct “egregious” — and describing to the judge how he had threatened debtors who got roped into the scheme.

“Do I need to f–king punch you in your f–king face to get my point across?” Poli told one debtor, according to prosecutors.

“I’ll put a f–king bullet so far into your f–king head.”

The prosecutor noted that Michael had made threats to people who owed the gang money with a gun at least once.

“What I didn’t hear today was any commentary about Mr. Poli’s victims,” she said. “What about the people who were told they would have a gun down their throat if they didn’t pay?”

Prosecutors also said that Michael had learned nothing from a prior federal racketeering case in which he pleaded guilty in 2016 — charging he “lied” to a different judge about his association with La Cosa Nostra in order to get off supervised release early.

He pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy in the more recent case on Feb. 8 and had faced up to 51 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

Koetl said he had weighed all aspects of the case before handing Michael the two-and-a-half year prison term, plus three years supervised release and a $15,000 fine.

The gangster could have gotten a minimum of 41 to 51 months in prison — but weighed all points before issuing the 31-month sentence.

“I just want to say thank you for reading my letter and I was sincere about what I said. Thank you,” Michael said before learning his fate. It’s not clear what he wrote in the letter to the court.

The father and son were part of a six-man Bronx-based bookkeeping crew busted in April 2022 for allegedly raking in money for the crime syndicate for a decade “through a pattern of racketeering activity” including extortion and illegal gambling, the feds said.

Two of the co-defendants — Genovese capo Nicholas Calisi 54, and soldier John Campanella, 48 — were sentenced to 24 months and 13 months, respectively, by Koetl in June.

Genovese associate Thomas Poli — who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy — was sentenced July 6 and fined $200,000.

At his plea hearing last year, he admitted to threatening people who didn’t pay their gambling debts.

“I just yelled at people and threatened them,” the wiseguy told the judge. 

Following his son’s sentencing Wednesday, Thomas Poli made a quick jet from the doors to hide from cameras.

But Michael’s mother pulled over a photographer and asked to see how her son looked in the photos.

“I’m his mom — he’s not that notorious,” she said.


Monday, July 31, 2023

Ailing Lucchese mobster insists he is not the Boss of the crime family

A murderous mob boss asking for compassionate release from prison pushed back on federal prosecutors’ claims he still runs the Luchese crime family — saying that the allegations come from an unstable government cooperator who believes in ghosts.

Vittorio “Vic” Amuso, 88, argued in court filings last week that his killer history, which included ordering nine hits and three attempted murders between 1988 and 1991, shouldn’t factor into whether he’s allowed to die in dignity, surrounded by family.

“Simply put, justice is not built on getting even, and punishment need not be aimlessly held in perpetuity because it was once a legally justifiable result,” Amuso’s lawyer Anthony DiPietro wrote in a filing last week.

DiPietro took particular issue with prosecutors’ allegations in a filing earlier this month that Amuso, who has been behind bars for 32 years, would still be a threat to the community because he still runs the Luchese crime family.

Prosecutors based that allegation in large part on testimony by Mafia turncoat John Pennisi, who said that Amuso was still in charge and set up a leadership change in the crime family through a series of coded letters in 2017.

Pennisi never met or spoke with Amuso, DiPietro said, adding, “He apparently suffers mental delusions and had claimed that the spirit of his deceased loved ones had provided him a message, by shaking the structure of his home and the dishware therein for hours on end, to cooperate with the FBI.”

In an April 2021 interview with podcaster Gary Jenkins, Pennisi said he asked his dead grandparents for a sign as he fretted about becoming a government informant — and he got one.

“I didn’t live by a train station... There was no planes flying around. It was an earthquake,” he said. “Everything was shaking in the house, like ‘Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!’... This went on for hours.”

Amuso is seeking release under the First Step Act, saying that he’s a changed man facing down his mortality and deteriorating health, including chronic arthritis so painful he needs a wheelchair to move, clouded vision and the loss of all his teeth.

“The government’s opposition provides no convincing reason as to why an elderly and ailing prisoner, after serving an extremely long term of imprisonment, must medically suffer and ultimately perish in a prison cell when the court possesses the perfect power, provided by the First Step Act, to compel the end-of-life care of such a prisoner to his family,” DiPietro wrote.

Federal prosecutors argued this month that no “compelling and extraordinary circumstances” exist for Amuso’s release, but even if one did, his many crimes were too ruthless to consider it.

“The murderous means that Amuso employed to reach his criminal ends weigh heavily against any form of compassionate release and, in the government’s estimation,“ prosecutors wrote. “Amuso’s significant sentence was consistent with the seriousness of his crimes and reflects the heartlessness that Amuso routinely employed as the boss of the Luchese crime family.”

Brooklyn Federal Judge Frederic Block will decide on Amuso’s motion.


Pasta conversation sends Bonanno Boss back to jail for parole violation

Reputed Bonanno mob boss Michael “The Nose’’ Mancuso is headed back to the slammer for 11 months — thanks partly to a phone chat with an alleged fellow wiseguy about making pasta “gravy.”

Mancuso, 68, who was released in 2019 after serving a decade in prison for signing off on a murderous hit, also had been using his girlfriend’s Long Island eyeglass shop as a meet-up spot to huddle with mob types and chowed at eateries with them, prosecutors said.

All of the occasions were no no’s, since Mancuso has been barred from any contact with other convicted felons.

“Are you gonna do the gravy today or make the sauce?” Mancuso asked reputed Colombo soldier Michael Urvino on an Oct. 24, 2020, wiretapped call, according to a transcript previously presented by prosecutors in court to argue Mancuso was violating his release provisions.

Urvino responded, “No, I’m making it in the morning … cause we’re not gonna eat early. What time you want to eat tomorrow?”

“The Nose” responded, “I don’t care, five o’clock or so?”

The conversation appears innocent, given that other times Mancuso allegedly used code words for Mafia business, the feds flagged it up in the papers. 

But the Italian food chit-chat was still taboo, since Urvino was convicted of racketeering, illegal gambling and conspiracy.

Mancuso attended his Brooklyn federal court hearing over the violations Friday — accompanied by eyeglass purveyor and girlfriend Laura Keller — and was slapped with the additional prison time over the forbidden contact with the reputed La Cosa Nostra members.

Mancuso used Keller’s Great Neck eyeglass shop Real Eyes Optical “as a meeting place” while he tried to cover up his rendezvous with the alleged fellow wiseguys, prosecutors said in court papers in May.

In some of Mancuso’s calls, others could be heard “talking about Mafia business,” prosecutor Michael Gibaldi said during the Friday hearing as he asked the judge to put Mancuso away for another two years.

Gibaldi said Mancuso attended “at least one dinner where Mafia business was discussed” and added that he had “significant concerns about these contacts.”

Mancuso went to one Oct. 7, 2020, dinner at Elmont’s Salvatore’s restaurant that was attended by Uvino, Colombo captain Vincent Ricciardo, convict David Del Franco, Gambino associate Vito Cortesiano and convict Joseph Russo, the feds claim.

But Mancuso’s lawyer, Stacy Richman insisted that while he may have violated the conditions of his release, he had committed “no crimes.”

Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis told Mancuso he must surrender Sept. 6 to serve the new prison term.

“In between now and then, there are no dinners,” the judge said.

“This isn’t about someone who is jumping a turnstile,” Garaufis said. “This is about being in touch with individuals or members who are associated with organized crime or have a history of felonies.”

The judge also said that when Mancuso gets out, he can’t go back to the eyeglass shop during his three years of supervised release. 

Mancuso went to prison after pleading guilty to murder conspiracy for signing off on the hit of Bonanno associate Randolph Pizzolo in 2004 when he was acting boss.

Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano had ordered the murder while he was locked up because Pizzolo was considered reckless and disobedient and Mancuso had Dominick Cicale carry out the deed.


Thursday, July 27, 2023

Colombo associate charged in Brooklyn burglary spree

A reputed Colombo crime family associate with a history of theft and burglary arrests dating back to the 1980s has been charged with committing a half-dozen break-ins in Brooklyn.

Career crook John Catullo, 55, and accomplice Samuel Kravchenko, 36, were indicted Wednesday and charged with breaking into two homes and four stores, stealing more than $82,000 in cash and merchandise, an array of Rolexes and fancy jewelry.

Catullo and Kravchenko’s spree lasted from August 2022 to January of this year, Brooklyn prosecutors allege, and was bookended by a pair of home burglaries — one on W. 12th St. in Gravesend on Aug. 8, the other on 76th St. in Bensonhurst on Jan. 18.

They also hit two grocery stores and a vape shop in Bensonhurst, plus a grocery store in Bath Beach, prosecutors allege.

Investigators caught a break in the case after Kravchenko was arrested Jan. 26 when he was stopped for failing to signal. Police found 39 oxycodone pills and two police scanners, with detectives going on to use cell phone data, video and other evidence to link them to the break-ins, prosecutors said.

Catullo is a Colombo crime family associate, law enforcement sources said.

His lawyer Lance Lazzaro denied the connection to organized crime.

“That was used to inflame the judge against my client without any basis to support that allegation,” he said. “We will fight the charges vigorously and he will be exonerated. He is innocent.”

Both men were arraigned in Brooklyn Supreme Court Wednesday on a 74-count indictment, charged with multiple counts of burglary, conspiracy, grand larceny and other offenses. They were ordered held without bail.

“These defendants are allegedly professional burglars whose crime spree violated the sanctity of local homeowners and businesses in the Bensonhurst community, and we will now seek to hold them accountable,” Brooklyn D.A. Eric Gonzalez said Wednesday.

Catullo has served four stints in state prison, starting with a 1986 conviction for grand larceny auto in Brooklyn. He also served time for criminal possession of stolen property in 1994 and for burglary in 2008.

Most recently, he was hit with a three-and-a-half to seven year prison term for a 2017 burglary conviction on Staten Island. He and two accomplices broke into a home in 2015 and ripped the alarm system and motion sensors from the walls, but were caught by detectives laying in wait for them, the Staten Island Advance reported at the time.

Catullo was released in April 2021, and his parole ended in July of last year.


Sunday, July 23, 2023

Death penalty dropped against killers of notorious Whitey Bulger

Federal prosecutors informed the court Wednesday that will not seek the death penalty for the two inmates who are accused of killing Boston mobster Whitey Bulger in prison, reported The Boston Globe.

Prosecutors said a court filing that they will not seek a death sentence for 56-year-old Fotios “Freddy” Geas, a Mafia enforcer, and 49-year-old Paul J. DeCologero, a gangster from Lowell, if they are found guilty of federal murder charges.

Whitey Bulger, 89, was found beaten to death in his cell at US Penitentiary Hazelton on Oct. 30, 2018, less than a day after he was moved to the West Virginia federal prison.

A five-count indictment returned last August alleges that Geas and DeCologero killed Bulger by striking him in the head multiple times.

A third inmate, 37-year-old Sean McKinnon of Vermont, allegedly acted as a lookout during the assault and later claimed to know nothing about it. 

Geas, DeCologero, and McKinnon are all charged with conspiracy to commit murder, which carries up to life in prison. McKinnon is charged separately with lying to the FBI.

All three men have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go on trial in Dec. 2024 in federal court in West Virginia.



Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Feds say jailed Lucchese Boss responsible for too many murders to be released

Front page of the New York Daily News for June 19, 2023: Mobster tied to 9 slays moans about arthritis. Bloodthirsty ex-Luchese boss Vittorio "Little Vic" Amuso (r., in 1977), now 88, says he should go free because his hip aches and his teeth are falling out.

Mob boss Vittorio “Vic” Amuso has ordered so many killings, including one where a suspected snitch had a dead canary shoved in his mouth, that he should never be released from prison — and he’s still running the show behind bars, federal prosecutors say.

Amuso, 88, the head of the Luchese Crime Family, is asking for compassionate release, but federal prosecutors described a laundry list of murders and attempted murders on par with the bloody baptism scene from “The Godfather.”

“The effects of Amuso’s actions are long-standing, as the families of those slain at his command will never be able to obtain the relief that Amuso himself now seeks,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elias Laris wrote in a court filing Friday. “The murderous means that Amuso employed to reach his criminal ends weigh heavily against any form of compassionate release.”

In a court filing last month, Amuso’s lawyers described him as a changed man facing down his mortality and deteriorating health, including chronic arthritis so painful he needs a wheelchair to move, clouded and worsening vision and the loss of all his teeth.

He’s seeking release under the bipartisan First Step Act, which has led to the reduction of more than 4,000 prison sentences since it was signed by then-President Donald Trump in 2018.

But the feds say he’s still calling the shots for the Lucheses from his prison in Butner, N.C., describing how he orchestrated a leadership change in the crime family through coded letters in 2017.

“Amuso seriously misleads the Court when he touts his ‘perfect institutional record’ and low likelihood of recidivism, when in actuality he has continues to orchestrate the Luchese Crime Family’s affairs,” Laris wrote.

Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Frederic Block will decide on Amuso’s motion.

Block last year gave a break to Anthony Russo, ordering the killer Colombo capo’s life sentence cut to 35 years, which led to his release in February. Block praised the First Step Act and said Russo was punished with a longer sentence because he took his case to trial.

The feds laid out the nine murders and three attempted murders Amuso orchestrated between 1988 and 1991.

Nalo made the mistake of threatening to kill a Luchese associate and take over a gambling establishment in Queens that made Amuso $1,000 a week. He was shot to death at an Astoria travel agency.

On Feb. 6, 1989, Luchese associate Thomas Gilmore was murdered behind his home at Amuso’s command, because the boss thought he was an informant.

Three months later, Michael Pappadio, a Luchese soldier, met a bad end at a Howard Beach bagel shop because Amuso thought he was skimming from the boss’ garment industry proceeds. He was bludgeoned to death with a cable and shot in the head on May 13, 1989.

Then, on Sept. 13, 1989, Amuso ordered the killing of John Petrucelli, who bragged he was hiding Bonanno associate Gus Farace — who had murdered undercover DEA Agent Everett Hatcher earlier that year.

The La Cosa Nostra commission ruled that no one was allowed to help Farace escape, and Amuso ordered Petrucelli kill the fugitive. When he didn’t do the deed, Amuso ordered him whacked outside his Yonkers apartment. The mob later had Farace killed.

Four days after Petrucelli’s death, Amuso had John Morrissey, an iron workers union shop steward, killed because he was afraid Morrissey would cooperate with prosecutors and inform on the mob’s window replacement racket. He ordered Morrissey driven to a secluded area of New Jersey, where he was shot and buried.

In June 1990, Amuso ordered the killing of fellow Luchese member Michael Salerno, who was bitter about Amuso rising up the ranks of the family instead of him. Amuso thought Salerno might turn snitch, so he had his rival shot through the heart and stabbed in the throat.

On Aug. 24, 1990, longtime Lucchese soldier Bruno Facciola was killed because Amuso thought he was cooperating with prosecutors. He was lured to an auto-body shop, then tried to escape when he realized he was going to die. His attackers dragged him back inside, shot and stabbed him to death, and stuck a dead canary in his mouth — “which served as Amuso’s warning to potential informants,” according to federal prosecutors.

Facciola’s friends, Larry Taylor and Al Visconti, planned to avenge their buddy’s death, so Amuso ordered them killed as well — Taylor in February 1991, Visconti that March. Visconti was shot in the head and groin because Amuso heard a rumor he was bisexual, prosecutors said.

Amuso was convicted in June 1992 of murder and racketeering in a Brooklyn Federal Court trial where prosecutors linked him to the murders and attempted murders.

The prosecution that led to his downfall started in 1990, when he was indicted in a Mafia scheme to rig bids in the city’s window-replacement industry. Mob turncoats Peter Chiodo and one-time acting Luchese boss Alfonso D’Arco helped link Amuso to the killings.

Chiodo’s witness turn came after Amuso tried to have him whacked, because the boss thought he had already started cooperating.

Amuso’s lawyer, Anthony DiPietro, declined to comment on the government’s argument, saying that he’ll respond in court filings next week.


Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Colombo family heir apparent pleads guilty to union shakedown

The heir apparent to the Colombo crime family pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in a labor union extortion plot that led the feds to bust the Mafia clan’s entire leadership in 2021.

Theodore “Skinny Teddy” Persico Jr., the nephew of notorious Colombo boss Carmine “The Snake” Persico,” pleaded guilty to racketeering in Brooklyn Federal Court for what will likely be a six-year federal prison sentence.

Persico, 59, is the latest bigwig in the once-powerful Colombo family to take a plea in the case which brought down then-boss Andrew “Mush” Russo, underboss Benjamin “Benji” Castellazzo, consigliere Ralph DiMatteo and capos Richard Ferrara and Vincent Ricciardo.

DiMatteo pleaded guilty on July 6. Once Ricciardo enters his guilty plea on Friday, all of the 14 suspects in the case will have taken a plea — except for Russo, who died in April 2022 at age 87.

The labor union shakedown started in 2001. By 2019, the family’s hierarchy started plotting to turn the Queens union, which represented construction workers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, into a mob-run operation — taking scoops out of officials’ salaries and pillaging its health fund.

Ricciardo, known as “Vinnie Unions,” threatened to murder a construction union boss who was forced to surrender a portion of his annual income to the mob, according to the feds.

A month before Russo’s death, federal prosecutors described Persico as the “boss-to-be” of the Colombos in a letter opposing his release on bond.

His career of crime started in 1981 at age 17, when he was busted for attempted grand larceny on Staten Island and later spent 17 years behind bars for drug dealing until his release in 2004.

The prison sentence didn’t stop him from doing the mob’s deadly business. In 1993, while on a brief furlough for his grandmother’s wake, he ordered members of his crew to kill Joseph Scopo, a member of a rival Colombo faction.

He pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy in 2012 in exchange for a 10-year sentence, and was freed on supervised release in May 2020.

“I assure you I’ll do my best not to be here again,” Persico Jr. pledged to Brooklyn Federal Judge Sandra Townes at his 2014 sentencing.

Persico’s future in the family became a topic of conversation during a meeting of the Colombo minds at Brooklyn’s notorious Brennan and Carr restaurant in 2020. Persico was tapped to take over for Russo once his supervised release ended, according to the feds.

On Wednesday, Persico pleaded guilty to racketeering, admitting to extortion conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy in connection with the labor union plot.

Though the charge carries a 20-year maximum sentence, prosecutors don’t expect to ask for more than 71 months, and he can appeal if the sentence exceeds 105 months.

Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Hector Gonzalez set his sentencing for Oct. 17, and when Persico chimed in that date was his fiancee’s birthday, the jurist told him, “She can come to court.”

When asked when the wedding would take place, Persico’s lawyer Joseph Corozzo told reporters, “It depends on the sentence. Hopefully sooner than later.”


Saturday, July 8, 2023

Lawyer launches new bid to release dementia stricken 90 year old former acting Colombo Boss

The one-time head of New York’s notorious Colombo family won’t rejoin the criminal underworld if he’s released as he doesn’t even remember who he is — sometimes mistaking himself for the president of the United States — his lawyer argued Thursday.

The attorney for the 88-year-old Victor “Little Vic” Orena, serving three life sentences for one of the bloodiest mafia wars in New York City history, is taking a new approach to getting his client free.

At a Brooklyn Federal Court hearing, Orena’s lawyer David Schoen said that were his client to be re-sentenced and ultimately released, there’s no chance he’d reconnect with his old allies, as prosecutors have argued is a risk.

“My client is suffering from advanced dementia. He, at times, does not know who he is and assumes that he is the president of the United States,” Schoen said. “Sometimes he thinks he is the president. How will he even introduce himself to these people?”

Earlier this year, an appeals court panel found that a judge may re-sentence a prisoner when a count against them is overturned.

Arguing that that scenario applies to Orena, who’s expecting one of nine counts he was convicted of to be overturned, the retired mob boss’s lawyers want him to get a new sentencing and ultimately be released so he doesn’t die behind bars.

Prosecutors, who have fought against Orena’s release, objected to the maneuver. They say there’s no need to re-sentence him for the whole case and that the judge should simply vacate his conviction on the one count to be thrown out — using and carrying a firearm concerning a crime of violence — which carried five years.

In the early 1990s, Orena served as the acting head of one of two factions battling for control of the Colombo family, waging a bloody war against imprisoned family boss Carmine Persico that led to a dozen deaths and injuries to 28 people.

Orena was convicted and slapped with three life sentences plus 85 years in federal prison three days before Christmas 1992.

The patriarch with five sons and 20 grandkids has already seen multiple requests for release on compassionate grounds denied by appeals courts, most recently in August last year. The court found that Orena’s medical issues were “extraordinary,” as prosecutors agreed, but not enough to spring him loose.

Among multiple arguments, Schoen, in court filings, said his terminally ill client was wrongly convicted. He cited Orena’s rehabilitation behind bars, “model inmate behavior for during the more than 30 years he has served,” service to others and spiritual development, among reasons the judge should revisit his punishment.

“Mr. Orena stands before the Court today on the eve of his 89th birthday a very different man for all purposes relevant to sentencing,” Schoen wrote.

At Thursday’s hearing, Judge Eric Komitee said the probation department should speed up paperwork on their recommendations so he can take steps to make a ruling on Orena’s request.


Thursday, July 6, 2023

Colombo Consigliere pleads guilty to racketeering and awaits sentencing

No swim trunks for this photo op.

A high-ranking gangster in the Colombo crime family who infamously appeared lounging shirtless in a swimming pool while on the lam pleaded guilty to racketeering Thursday.

Ralph DiMatteo, who prosecutors say was the clan’s consigliere, admitted to extortion, conspiracy and money laundering from 2020 to 2021 in Brooklyn federal court — including a scheme to threaten a union official identified only as “John Doe No. 1.”

The 68-year-old opted for a dark blazer, dark blue shirt and dark green tie in a sedate change from the picture of him posing shirtless in a pool — a snapshot that surfaced one day after DiMatteo was supposed to turn himself in September 2021.

The Colombo family’s third most powerful member memorably jetted to Florida a day before the feds charged 13 co-defendants with major raps, including labor racketeering, extortion and money laundering related to the infiltration of a Queens labor union.

In the photo, the wise guy appeared shirtless and half-submerged in a swimming pool with a gold crucifix resting against his burly chest.

But DiMatteo’s days on the run were cut short after his son posted the pool photo to Twitter — leading to his surrendering just a day later.

The sweeping indictment involved other reputable Colombo leaders — including then-boss Andrew “Mush” Russo, who died in April 2022 while awaiting trial, and underboss Benjamin “The Claw” Castellazzo, who is set to plead guilty Friday.

Captains Theodore Persico Jr., Richard Ferrara, and Vincent Ricciardo are also named in an indictment.

DiMatteo didn’t mention the Mafia or the Colombo family during his appearance — only referring to the group as “the enterprise.”

Judge Hector Gonzalez said the guidelines for sentencing DiMatteo range between 41 and 51 months in prison.

He will be sentenced on Oct. 5.

When approached outside the courtroom, DiMatteo turned shy.

“Give us a break, will you fellas?” he said.


Genovese associate sentenced to 22 months for racketeering


A mobster whose links to disgraced Bronx County Clerk Luis Diaz led to the pol’s conviction last year was ordered Thursday to serve just 22 months in prison for an unrelated racketeering scheme.

Reputed Genovese associate Thomas Poli — who pleaded guilty in September to threatening people who didn’t pay their gambling debts — got the lenient penalty from Manhattan federal Judge John Koeltl.

Poli was also fined $200,000.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, the gangster could have gotten a minimum of 33 months and a max of 41 months.

But judges aren’t bound by these guidelines.

Poli, 66, admitted to being a part of a Bronx-based bookkeeping operation that included five other Genovese mobsters, including Poli’s son and two capos.

“I just want to apologize to my family and the court,” Poli said before the sentencing.

Poli’s lawyer Calvin Scholar asked Koeltl for leniency not only because of the gangster’s age, but because of his role in caring for an autistic grandson.

The lawyer added that a long prison stint would also end Poli’s legit business, M&L Vending, a vending machine equipment and supplies company.

Scholar asserted that Poli wasn’t likely to commit another crime in the future.

“He’s had a life that has touched a lot of people,” Scholar said, as Poli’s family members looked on from the courtroom gallery.

Meanwhile, Manhattan Assistant US Attorney Rushmi Bhaskaran said it wasn’t Poli’s first conviction, and didn’t buy the argument that Poli’s family would keep him in line.

“All of this occurred when the defendant had serious family obligations,” Bhaskaran said.

Koeltl, however, said he considered Poli’s grandson, his business and the fact that Poli was the first person to plead guilty in the case in handing down a lighter sentence.

In July 2022, Diaz was convicted of accepting a bribe after lying to a Bronx court that Poli had fulfilled community service in a 2019 criminal case.

Diaz was barred from holding public office again or working for nonprofits in the state.

He also had to complete 100 hours of community service.

Last month, two other Genovese co-defendants of Poli — mob captain Nicholas Calisi, 54, and soldier John Campanella, 48 — were sentenced by Koeltl to 24 months and 13 months, respectively.

All the men were charged in April 2022 with gambling and extortion in a scheme that ran from 2011 through 2022.

At Poli’s plea hearing, he admitted he “yelled at people and threatened them” when they didn’t make good on their gambling debts.


Sunday, July 2, 2023

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Two Genovese gangsters sentenced in gambling and extortion scheme


Two alleged Genovese mobsters avoided serious prison time at their sentencings Tuesday after pleading guilty to racketeering charges earlier this year.

Alleged Florida-based Genovese captain Nicholas Calisi, 54, and soldier John Campanella, 48, were sentenced to 24 months and 13 months in prison, respectively, by Judge John G. Koeltl in Manhattan Federal Court.

The pair were among six alleged wiseguys charged over a scheme to rake in money for La Cosa Nostra through a “pattern of racketeering activity,” including gambling and extortion, from 2011 to 2022, according to an indictment.

They faced a maximum 20 years behind bars.

Calisi, who pleaded guilty in February, received the stiffer of the two terms — 24 months in prison — despite prosecutors requesting up to 33 months behind bars.

He offered a brief apology, saying he was sorry for the trouble he caused the court and his family.

His attorney, Lawrence DiGiansante, argued that Calisi, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., had started a new life by moving to the Sunshine State a few years ago.

He said his client cares for his blood relatives — not the crime family he allegedly swore allegiance to.

“He made a decision about his family, not the Genovese family,” DiGiansante said.

But prosecutor Celia Cohen poked holes in DiGiansante’s claim about Calisi’s supposed new life, pointing out that the Genovese family has connections in Florida.

She also noted that the capo’s apology left out the victims of the gambling scheme.

“There is no apology to the public for the harm caused by the Genovese family,” Cohen said.

Meanwhile, Genovese soldier John Campanella brought his extended family to the courtroom — including his mobster dad, John Campanella Jr. — in an effort to show his close ties to the community.

His attorney Stacey Richman argued the judge should allow Campanella to continue to communicate with Genovese associates — after the prosecutor asked that Campanella be cut off from talking to fellow mobsters.

“This is not a rotary club, this is not a community organization,” Cohen argued.

After sentencing him to 13 months behind bars, Koeltl said Campanella could speak to his father, but would need permission to speak with other alleged mob-members.

Calisi and Campanella were charged with racketeering conspiracy in April 2022 along with four other alleged Genovese family members, including capo Ralph Balsamo, solider Michael Messina and associates Michael Poli and Thomas Poli.

Balsamo and Messina are scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.