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

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Federal judge rejects early release for Colombo Soldier convicted of five murders

Mafia killer Vito Guzzo, who the feds say became a made man behind bars — after he’d already confessed to murdering five people — will not get early release from prison, a Brooklyn judge has ruled.

Guzzo’s crimes were too serious and the danger he poses to the community is too great to consider springing him five years shy of his scheduled November 2028 release date, Brooklyn Federal Court Chief Judge Margo Brodie ruled.

“Guzzo’s sentence is not extraordinarily long in light of his eighteen convictions, which include five murders in aid of racketeering and other violent crime,” Brodie wrote in her ruling Thursday. “Guzzo committed five heinous murders using various weapons as the leader of the Giannini Crew, and conspired to commit five others. Guzzo was also convicted of a number of other violent crimes including arson and armed robbery.”

The 58-year-old Colombo gangster was sentenced to 38 years after admitting to the killings as part of a 1998 guilty plea.

Guzzo was seeking compassionate release under the First Step Act criminal justice reform bill, which was signed into law by Donald Trump in 2018.

In a court filing last year, Guzzo said he was “completely rehabilitated” and “has matured from a rash young man pursuing a lawless lifestyle, to a reflective, empathetic middle-aged adult.”

Guzzo described a series of ailments, including the effects of two shootings in 1990 and 1996, which left him with the loss of sight in one eye and the removal of part of his left lung, and said he feared continued exposure to COVID-19 in prison. He pointed to 132 classes he’d taken behind bars as part of his rehabilitation, and said he prevented a fellow inmate from committing suicide.

Federal prosecutors took issue with his claims of rehabilitation, though, contending that “multiple government sources” say he was inducted into the Colombo crime family within the past decade while he was locked up at the federal prison in Danbury, Conn.

Guzzo’s lawyer, Sanford Talkin, said in a January filing that the government made that claim about him becoming a made man “without providing any substantive evidence.”

“Guzzo categorically denies that allegation and offers to take a polygraph to refute the claim,” Talkin wrote.

When asked about Brodie’s ruling, Talkin said Monday, “We’re disappointed, but we feel that the judge gave it consideration.”

In his mafia heyday, Guzzo led the “Giannini Crew” — a death squad comprisingmembers of several Cosa Nostra families who used the former Caffe Giannini in Ridgewood, Queens, as their home base.

In January 1992, the crew lured pot dealers John Ruisi and Steven Pagnozzi to a Queens social club, forced them to their knees and demanded they reveal where they stashed their drugs and cash. Guzzo shot Ruisi in the head, while another crew member, Anthony Tabbita, did the same to Pagnozzi. The mobsters put both victims in a car and torched it.

Later that year, he lured Gambino associate Ralph Campione Sciulla to the basement of his accomplice Fabio Bartolotta’s home, then fatally shot Sciulla in the head for not giving the Giannini crew a cut of his drug dealing and fraud money.

A few months later, in November 1992, Guzzo orchestrated the shooting of Colombo associates Vincent Ricciardo, Anthony Mesi and Paul Schiava as they drove to a capo’s wake, the feds said. Mesi was killed in the ambush; the other two survived.

Guzzo, who suspected that Ricciardo killed his father in upstate New York in 1987, made sure to take part in the attack.

In October 1996, Guzzo and Tabbita murdered Genovese crime family associate John Borelli, who was dating Guzzo’s ex-girlfriend.


Friday, May 19, 2023

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Judge declines early release for Lucchese Soldier convicted of shooting sister of informant

Front page from March 11, 1992. Showing Patricia Capozzalo and her car after mob shooting.

A Lucchese crime family mobster used a lyric from Bob Dylan’s classic “Blowin’ in the Wind” to argue he should get early release for trying to kill the innocent sister of a mob snitch — but he didn’t get the answer he wanted from a federal judge.

Michael “Baldy Mike” Spinelli, 69, will have to wait until 2026 before he gets out of federal prison for the brutal 1992 attempted murder, after Brooklyn Federal Judge Raymond Dearie called his request for compassionate release a “nonnegotiable no.”

Spinelli contended that his host of health problems made him eligible for compassionate release and that he’s a fully rehabilitated man who practices yoga and teaches it to his fellow inmates.

He quoted the Nobel Prize-winning rock icon in his January filing to the judge, adding a notation in case the jurist didn’t recognize the lyric.

“I would further submit to the court for consideration, ‘How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? ... The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.’ See Robert Zimmerman, a/k/a Bob Dylan (circa 1962).”

Spinelli already caught a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Dearie trimmed two years off his 295-month sentence and let him spend about four months under house arrest at his sister’s home as the virus spread through the prison system.

He returned to the can in August 2020, and this past January, he asked Dearie to spring him for good under the First Step Act — a criminal justice reform bill that gives judges more sentencing discretion that got bipartisan support in Congress and was signed by then-President Donald Trump in 2018.

Dearie refused his request on Monday, citing the horrendous nature of his crime.

“The passage of time, Mr. Spinelli’s apparently genuine conversion, and his unfortunately declining health do not and will not outweigh the trauma suffered by Mr. Spinelli’s victim and the callous and unprecedented nature of his criminal act, which he carried out to advance his standing as a committed disciple of organized crime,” Dearie wrote.

Spinelli took orders from Luchese soldier Peter Chiodo, who ran his own crew. But in 1990, Chiodo was arrested by the feds and released on bail. That he was put back on the streets led Chiodo’s fellow mobsters to think he turned snitch.

Luchese boss Vittorio “Vic” Amuso ordered Chiodo whacked, and the mob took its shot on May 18, 1991, ambushing him at a Staten Island gas station, the feds charged.

The 6-foot-5, 435-pound Chiodo was shot 13 times but survived, and his brush with death turned his fellow mobsters’ suspicion into reality, leading him to become a government cooperator.

Ignoring Mafia code not to target relatives, Amuso turned his sights on Chiodo’s sister Patricia Capozzalo, the mother of three young children, who had no role in organized crime.

The crime family tapped Spinelli to plan the hit. Spinelli hoped the bloodshed would get him closer to becoming a made man.

He assembled a team and stalked Capozzalo for weeks, deciding that their best chance to kill her was after she dropped her children off at school in the morning, the feds said.

He test-fired the silenced gun in his own apartment, and on the morning of March 10, 1992, he drove the triggerman to Capozzalo’s Gravesend, Brooklyn, home.

The gunman, Dino Basciano, walked up to her 1985 Oldsmobile and started blasting, hitting her in the neck, behind the ear, and grazing her in the back. He missed several more shots.

After Spinelli and Basciano fled, Capozzalo managed to get back into her house and call for help. Basciano would ultimately testify against Spinelli.

Capozzalo needed surgery to remove a bullet from her neck, and was placed into witness protection with her family. She would describe her life as “completely devastated,” and told officials that “although she had not physically died, she felt that the attempt on her life had killed her emotionally and psychologically,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Roddin wrote in a March 23 letter to Dearie.

Spinelli, for his part, was more concerned about his status in the mob. Seven months later, after his arrest on other racketeering charges, he complained to another Luchese member that he should be promoted for trying to kill Capozzalo. And sure enough, in January 1993, he became a made man, Roddin wrote.

At Spinelli’s sentencing, Dearie called the attempted hit “an unthinkable act of cowardice,” and in 2007, when he rejected a motion to overturn the verdict, Dearie opined, “this case marks an extraordinary low point in the violent history of organized crime.”

Spinelli’s lawyer, Allegra Glashausser of the Federal Defenders, declined to comment.


Monday, April 17, 2023

Son of murdered Bonanno associate sentenced to life for killing his father in attempt to seize $45M real estate empire

The son of a Bronx mobster who ordered his dad rubbed out in a heartless bid to seize his $45 million real estate empire was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in Brooklyn federal court Friday.

United States District Judge Hector Gonzalez handed down two life sentences to Anthony Zottola, 45, for a greedy murder-for-hire and conspiracy plot that killed 71-year-old Sylvester “Sally Daz” Zottola in a hail of bullets in October 2018.

 “Why? Anthony, my brother, why? What did you do? Dad gave you everything,” Zottola’s brother, Salvatore, said during a victim impact statement in court.

“What you did to me and dad is unimaginable.”

Zottola hired hitman Himen Ross, 36, to gun down his father in a Bronx McDonald’s drive-through in a scheme to take control of his more than 90 properties, according to prosecutors.

The hit came after six failed attempts to take out the Bonanno crime family associate over roughly a year, along with Salvatore, who escaped a gun attack alive.

On Friday, Judge Gonzalez tore into Zottola for the money-hungry crime and failing to show remorse.

“He subjected his family to a reign of terror,” Gonzalez said.  “I see greed and money as one of the core reasons why this heinous crime was committed.”

Zottola, who burst into tears at the hearing,  was also sentenced to additional 112 years behind bars for weapons charges.

Ross was also sentenced Friday to mandatory life in prison as devastated family members of the dead mobster packed the courtroom.

“You were the man that shot my father, my lifeline, and murdered him in cold blood in his car,” Debbie Zottola told Ross in court before the sentencing.

“You killed me, you killed his grandchildren, especially my two sons who were old enough to understand every single thing that was happening.”  

She said her dad “had to live in fear” as he was hunted down by assassins and that “the last year of his life was pure torture.”

During Zottola’s six-week trial, prosecutors said he hatched the assassination plan with the help of bumbling Bloods gang leader Bushawn Shelton, with whom he exchanged hundreds of coded text messages about the slaying.

The hit came after six failed attempts to take out the mobster over nearly a year, along with his elder son, Salvatore, who escaped alive.

Sally Daz was an associate of the Bonanno crime family, one of the so-called “Five Families” that control organized crime in New York City.

His work for the mob included collecting money from illegal “Joker Poker” gambling machines at bars and “number holes” in the Bronx — and paying Bonanno boss Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano and Lucchese family mobster sprotection money, Salvatore Zottola testified during the trial.

Over decades, he invested the cash he made running the gambling machines into building a lucrative real estate fortune that his son desperately wanted, according to prosecutors.

“Over the course of more than a year, the elderly victim, Sylvester Zottola, was stalked, beaten, and stabbed, never knowing who orchestrated the attacks. It was his own son, who was so determined to control the family’s lucrative real estate business, that he hired a gang of hit men to murder his father,” Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said Friday.

“For sentencing his father to a violent death, Anthony Zottola and his co-defendant will spend the rest of their lives in prison.”Zottola and Ross were both convicted of murder-for-hire, conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, and firearms offenses.

On Friday, Zatolla’s lawyer, Ilana Haramati,  asked for leniency, calling him a family man in poor health.

“A life sentence bears a really awful finality,” Haramati said. “He just wants to continue to be a source of support to his children as much as he can.” 

Shelton pleaded guilty before the trial.


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Chicago Outfit Soldier turned informant dies at 80

Former Chicago mob hitman Nicholas Calabrese has died, a source said Monday.

A source confirmed to CBS 2's John Drummond that Calabrese had died. Calabrese was 80.

Calabrese was infamous as a top assassin for the Mafia in Chicago. Among the 14 murders in which Calabrese told federal prosecutors he took part were those of brothers Tony "the Ant" and Mike Spilotro. Tony Spilotro was the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the 1995 movie "Casino."

Calabrese later became known for turning on his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., in the Operation Family Secrets probe that took down several prominent organized crime figures.

Frank Calabrese Sr. was known as a brutal loan shark. During the Operation Family Secrets mob trial in 2008, he was charged with 13 murders.

During that trial, Nick Calabrese gave graphic details about how his brother strangled his victims and then slit their throats.

Frank Calabrese Sr. was convicted of seven murders and, two years later, was sentenced to life in prison. Frank Calabrese Sr. died in prison in 2012.

In addition to Frank Calabrese Sr., fellow Outfit figures James Marcello, Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, Paul "The Indian" Schiro, and Anthony "Twan" Doyle were the main defendants at the trial, and were convicted on conspiracy and racketeering charges. A jury also found Frank Calabrese Sr., Marcello, and Lombardo responsible for 18 murders in all.  

Meanwhile, Nick Calabrese was sentenced to 12 years and four months in prison in 2009 for the 14 murders to which he admitted. 

Nick Calabrese was most recently said to be in the federal witness protection program.


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

New FBI records reveal deceased top Chicago mobster worked as an informant

James "Jimmy I" Inendino has always been known as a devoted Outfit member and lately known as one of the top leaders of the Chicago Mob. Now, the I-Team is revealing what has been unknown to most.

Inendino is listed in FBI records obtained by the I-Team as Informant Number 6931-C. Documents show his FBI connection dates back in the late 1960s and mid-1970s. This information did not appear to be common knowledge all the way up to Inendino's death of natural causes at age 80 this past week.

Inendino was rarely pictured in Outfit stories, despite being a rising star and eventually running the powerful Cicero street crew, according to mobologists.

Inendino's organized crime career spanned decades. His wake was held Monday after he died this past Thursday at age 80.

Now, an FBI record obtained tonight by the I-Team may come as a surprise to those who knew Jimmy "The I" Inendino. Some suspect "The I" stood for ice pick.

According to the FBI, Inendino was carried as an informant of the Chicago office under symbol number 6931-C from March 1965 until May 1969 and from May 1974 until March 1975.

Inendino was furnishing FBI information about truck cargo thefts, an area that authorities say was his specialty back in the day.

"I doubt that the Outfit knew that he was an informant for the FBI for two clear periods of time and I think what you have is clear on incontrovertible proof that he was in fact an informant. There it is in an FBI memo," said Outfit expert and author John Binder.

Binder told the I-Team that Inendino as an informant raises many questions for his mob associates.

"Did he get jammed up on something related to current stuff and did he agree to therefore cooperate with them? And, if he cooperated with the FBI, did he really cooperate big time?" asked Binder.

Binder says Inendino was eventually a made, blood-oath member of the mob and would have been lately reporting only to Salvatore "Solly D" DeLaurentis, considered by law enforcement to be the Outfit's current leader. DeLaurentis apparently signed Inendino's funeral book online: "thank you so much for what you did for my boys. I am having three trees planted in memory of you."

Now, the lingering question is: how long did Inendino cooperate?

"I would guess there's some shaking of heads and some maybe some concern. If he was cooperating later, when he was a full member and really knew stuff, that could cause quite a bit of concern," Binder said.

The two attorneys most recently listed on Inendino's federal cases did not immediately return requests for comment by the I-Team.


Sunday, February 12, 2023

Six mobsters tied to the Genovese family plead guilty to racketeering

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the guilty pleas of four members and two associates of the Genovese Organized Crime Family to racketeering conspiracy.  Genovese Family associate THOMAS POLI pled guilty before United States District Judge John G. Koeltl on September 29, 2022, and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Koeltl on April 13, 2023.  Genovese Family Captain NICHOLAS CALISI, Solider JOHN CAMPANELLA, and associate MICHAEL POLI pled guilty before Judge Koeltl on February 8, 2023, and are scheduled to be sentenced by him on June 27, 2023.  Genovese Family Captain RALPH BALSAMO and Soldier MICHAEL MESSINA pled guilty before Judge Koeltl earlier today and are scheduled to be sentenced by him on June 28, 2023.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “We remain committed to protecting the people of the Southern District of New York from being preyed on by organized crime.  Today’s pleas demonstrate that those who swear a lifetime allegiance to criminal organizations will be prosecuted, no matter their efforts to insulate themselves.”

According to the Superseding Indictment, the defendants’ statements when pleading guilty, and statements made in related court filings and proceedings:

The Genovese Organized Crime Family is part of a nationwide criminal organization known by various names, including “La Cosa Nostra” (“LCN”) and the “Mafia,” which operates through entities known as “Families.”

Like other LCN Families, the Genovese Organized Crime Family operates through groups of individuals known as “crews.”  Each “crew” has as its leader a person known as a “Captain” and consists of “made” members, known as “Soldiers.”  Soldiers are aided in their criminal endeavors by other trusted individuals, known as “associates,” who sometimes are referred to as “connected” or identified as “with” a Soldier or other member of the Family.  Associates participate in the various activities of the crew and its members.  In order for an associate to become a made member of the Family, the associate typically needs to demonstrate the ability to generate income for the Family and/or that the associate is capable of committing acts of violence.

A Captain is responsible for supervising the criminal activities of his crew, resolving disputes between and among members of the Family, resolving disputes between members of the Family and members of other Families and other criminal organizations, and providing Soldiers and associates with support and protection.  In return, the Captain typically receives a share of the illegal earnings of each of his crew’s Soldiers and associates.

At times relevant to the charges in the Superseding Indictment, NICHOLAS CALISI and RALPH BALSAMO were Captains in the Genovese Family, MICHAEL MESSINA and JOHN CAMPANELLA were Soldiers in the Genovese Family, and MICHAEL POLI and THOMAS POLI were associates of the Genovese Family.

Members of the Genovese Family, including CALISI, BALSAMO, MESSINA, and CAMPANELLA, and associates MICHAEL POLI and THOMAS POLI, engaged in extortionate extensions of credit, financing extortionate extensions of credit, collecting extensions of credit by extortion, extortion, operating illegal gambling businesses, and the transmission of gambling information.

*                *                *

A chart containing the ages, residency information, and the charges to which the defendants pled guilty, as well as the maximum penalties they face, is attached.  

The maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as the sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the Office of the New York Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office and thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its assistance in this investigation.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Celia V. Cohen, Rushmi Bhaskaran, and Justin Rodriguez, as well as Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Pamela Murray, are in charge of the prosecution. 


Judge sends Bonanno turncoat turned podcaster to six months behind bars for parole violation

A Brooklyn federal judge sentenced Bonanno crime family turncoat Gene Borrello to six months behind bars for violating conditions of his supervised release Wednesday.

Borrello, 38, breached the terms of his release when he participated in organized crime podcasts and associated with other criminals, prosecutors said.

After helping the feds put more than a dozen members of his former crime family behind bars and serving five years, a judge sentenced him to time served and probation in 2019.

Instead of getting on the straight and narrow, Borrello kicked off a pattern of criminal behavior, prosecutors said, including taking to YouTube to discuss his violent past for entertainment purposes.

“Glorifying the mob is one thing. We’ve watched ‘Godfather’ 1, 2, 3, maybe this is 5,” Judge Frederic Block said at a Wednesday sentencing hearing. “But there comes a time when we need to stop.”

Borrello also violated the rules of his release by associating with felons through his podcast.

He once hosted “The Johnny and Gene Show” podcast with another former gangster who flipped, Johnny Alite. Another mob deserter, John Rubeo, nearly landed back in prison after making an appearance on their show.

“You want to know [why] I went out there?” Borrello said of his YouTube antics. “I’ll be honest with you. Every other cooperator is on there and I’m not allowed to. Sammy Gravano is on there talking about killing people.”

Borrello also visited Florida twice before asking Block if he could visit for a third time.

“I don’t like being made a fool of,” the judge said. “It bothers you, of course — that’s the essence of trust.”

Borrello’s lawyer Nancy Ennis requested that her client be able to turn himself in next week.

“Under the circumstances, I’m not comfortable setting him loose,” said Block.


Monday, February 6, 2023

Feds say Bonanno turncoat turned podcaster belongs behind bars for three years

He’s given up his mob life podcast, but not his life of crime, the feds say.

Bonanno crime family turncoat Gene Borrello, who recently co-hosted a podcast the feds say glorified his time as a mob enforcer, could find himself behind bars again for a string of new crimes in Florida.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn want a judge to toss Borrello, 38, in prison for three years, alleging he spent his time on probation fighting with a girlfriend, bragging about Mafia violence on YouTube videos and using a burner phone to talk about drugs and violence.

As a government witness, Borrello helped lock up more than a dozen members of the Bonanno crime family — and after he was jailed from 2014 to 2019, a judge sentenced him to time served and probation. His own crimes were particularly violent — multiple shootings, home invasions where victims were tied up, arson and beatings.

After his release, he’s been a blight on society, and his actions have been getting worse, federal prosecutors allege.

“He has shown no regard for the orders of this court or the law. He is a danger to the community. He has made no progress towards rehabilitation,” assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Galeotti wrote on Jan. 17, asking Judge Frederic Block to sentence him at a hearing this upcoming Wednesday.

“In fact, since the defendant was permitted to leave for Florida, his conduct has only become increasingly aggressive and dangerous. The defendant has breached this court’s trust over and over and over again.”

Those crimes include a January stalking arrest and a December burglary arrest in Pinellas County, Fla., a September stalking bust where he was accused of calling his girlfriend 58 times, and another September incident in which he allegedly threatened a Tampa Bay area bartender.

They’re the latest in a pattern of criminal activity and probation violations since his release in 2019.

Borrello first started smashing the rules of his release by associating with felons through his podcast, and by threatening an ex-girlfriend in 2021. He used to host “The Johnny and Gene Show” podcast with another former gangster who flipped, Johnny Alite. Another mob turncoat, John Rubeo, nearly landed back in prison after making an appearance on their show.

“In his podcast, Borrello glorified all aspects of organized criminal activities and described in detail various acts of violence in which he and his co-host, John Alite, had participated,” Galeotti wrote.

And in February 2021, Borrello was busted for threatening his ex in audio recordings over Instagram.

“The minute you call the cops on me … I’ll blow your husband’s head right off,” Borrello told his ex, prosecutors said. “Don’t forget about me. Remember what I used to do. I will grab your father right now and beat the dogs--t out of him.”

Borrello did end back in prison, but Block cut him a “break” in March 2021 and sentenced him to only 120 days behind bars, according to court filings.

But his bad behavior continued after he served those 120 days — starting with a YouTube video titled “Getting violated by probation and going back to jail” in which he disparaged his ex’s husband as “fat” and “goofy.” In another video titled “Ronnie do you smell that,” he described how he and Bonanno captain Ronald Giallanzo beat a man so badly the man soiled himself, prosecutors said.

Last May, he was accused of grabbing his girlfriend and smashing her phone during an unauthorized trip to Florida.

He avoided being sent back to prison at a hearing the following month, but immediately ran afoul of probation officers by ginning up two job offer letters with contact numbers that went back to one of his friends, prosecutors said.

His latest stalking and burglary arrests followed that.

When federal agents raided his home in September, they found a cell phone with text messages referring to tricking probation officials, to steroids and other drugs, and to a Sept. 3 confrontation with the Tampa Bay bartender.

“Bro I’m cracking him,” he texted a friend who had a problem with the bartender, according to court filings.

When the pal responded, “I wish you had a [GoPro] when all this went down omg,” Borrello texted back: “Bro he’s a herb he can’t talk tuff no more.”

In a letter filed on Sunday, Borrello’s lawyer, Nancy Ennis, asked the judge for leniency, contending that he “is making significant improvements in his life,” including getting a job as a car valet.

She also challenged federal prosecutors’ description of his September stalking arrest, and included a letter from his girlfriend in her filing.

“Following a heated argument, Gene perceived that his girlfriend was threatening to commit suicide, as she had previously threatened to do. This prompted Gene to pursue her frantically and call her repeatedly,” Ennis said. “In retaliation, she called the police, and Gene was arrested for stalking her. Thereafter, however, the charges were dismissed in court.”

Ennis didn’t return a message seeking comment, and attempts to reach Borrello were unsuccessful Monday.


Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

New photo surfaces of former President Donald Trump with turncoat Gambino hitman

A photo taken during the summer of 2022 shows a grinning former president Donald Trump flashing a thumbs up gesture while posing with John Alite, a podcaster and motivational speaker who was once a hitman for the Gambino crime family.

Alite, who confirmed the authenticity of the photo in a phone interview with The Independent, described himself as a political independent who supported Mr Trump’s push for criminal justice reform, and said his support for the ex-president is well known.

Though he described himself as a media figure who “speaks out against the street” and encourages young people to refrain from engaging in crime or violence, he spent years of his life as an associate of the Gambino family, one of the famed “five families” of the American mob. He has confessed to murdering six people and assaulting many more during that period of his life, which ended when he was arrested in Brazil after several years evading capture following an indictment in federal court.

Upon his extradition to the US, he eventually made a deal with prosecutors and testified against former associates who had fingered him for a slew of crimes, including top Gambino family figures such as John Gotti Jr (whose case ended in a mistrial) and Charles Carneglia (who got a life sentence).

Alite’s help to prosecutors got him a 10-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to numerous offenses including including murder and robbery.

Since his release from prison, he says he has changed his life.

“I'm a guy that's does TV, does movies, those talk shows, does talks for kids, works with the FBI, does events and talks with the FBI against the street to save kids lives. I do things with documentaries against drugs, openly against my past. So I'm a different guy,” he said.

Asked whether he believed Mr Trump was aware of his past when he posed for a photo with him, Alite told The Independent: “I assume he knows who I am, but possibly not”.

The Independent was tipped off to the existence of the photograph after reporting that Mr Trump had recently posed for a snapshot with Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, who ran the Philadelphia mafia in the 1990s when Mr Trump was a casino operator in nearby Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Merlino spent more than a decade in federal prison after he was convicted on extortion, bookmaking and receiving stolen property charges following a 2001 trial. After his release he moved to Florida but found himself back in the dock in 2016, when he was arrested on another racketeering indictment and tried in a New York federal court. Following a mistrial on racketeering, fraud and illegal gambling charges, he pleaded guilty to illegal gambling and received a two-year prison sentence.

Alite said Mr Trump’s photograph with Merlino is a good indicator that the ex-president doesn’t have anyone around him who can vet who he comes into contact with.

“I just think he doesn't realise all the people he's taking a picture with because he recently took a picture of someone and I guarantee he doesn’t know who that person is,” he said.

In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for Mr Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign denied that the ex-president has any awareness of the identity of people he is photographed with in informal settings.

“President Trump takes countless photos with people. That does not mean he knows every single person he comes into contact with,” the spokesperson said.

The existence of two photographs of the twice-impeached ex-president posing alongside people with strong connections to organised crime raises questions about whether Mr Trump is being adequately staffed as he ramps up his third campaign for the presidency.

In November, Mr Trump was photographed having dinner with antisemitic rapper Kanye West and an associate of his, notorious white nationalist podcast host Nick Fuentes.

Despite the denials from Mr Trump’s campaign, it’s possible that he knew of both Mr Alite and Mr Merlino. Both were active in organised crime circles in the 1980s and 1990s, when Mr Trump was active in New York City real estate development.