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

Sunday, May 23, 2010

From Behind Bars To Behind The Counter

John M. Cicilline, once a prominent defense lawyer, took the rap and now he is making the wraps at his new downtown sandwich shop and pizzeria: Federal Wrap.
The affable older brother of Mayor David N. Cicilline honed his new skills during 16 months at a federal prison in Massachusetts, where a fellow inmate affectionately nicknamed him “Johnny Wraps.”
Now, Cicilline has traded in his expensive dark suits for a T-shirt and jeans. He works 15-to-18-hour days kneading dough, slicing pepperoni and sliding pizzas into 600-degree ovens at his business at Richmond and Friendship streets.
“I’m making a living,” said Cicilline, who lost 80 pounds in prison. “I’m not killing it, but I’m making a living. I just got out of jail and I didn’t have a job. I dove into this thing.”
Cicilline is not running away from his time spent behind bars. The menu board high above the counter has wraps named after inmates he befriended at Fort Devens, the federal prison compound about 40 miles west of Boston. There’s Rex’s Wrap, Steak Joost, the Riggi Reuben, Ralphy Wrap, and Ernie’s Veggie. He also makes Deven’s Dog, which is a hot dog smothered with cheddar cheese and caramelized onions.
Cicilline’s world was turned upside down on Oct. 21, 2008, when he was sent to federal prison after pleading guilty to scheming to collect $150,000 from drug-dealer clients to manipulate the criminal-justice system.
Five of his closest friends dropped him off at Devens. Making wrap sandwiches in Providence was the furthest thing from his mind.
He spent the first four days in a cramped isolation cell. He was locked up 24 hours a day in the tiny quarters that had nothing more than a cot, toilet, shower and writing table. His meals were delivered to him through a slot in the door.
Periodically, a guard would stop by. “You all right?” he would say. “You want to kill yourself?”
Cicilline said the boredom was numbing and he wasn’t even allowed to have a book.
On the fourth day, a guard stopped by to talk.
“I know your brother,” he said.
“Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?” he said.
“It’s a good thing,” the guard said.
He returned with five books, a gesture that made the coming weekend more tolerable.
A few days later, Cicilline was moved to the low-security prison camp at Devens for inmates with no history of violence. He said that he experienced no problems in his new environs that the prisoners called Camp Cupcake.
But his time there was short-lived. Cicilline, who arrived at the prison weighing 300 pounds, saw his blood pressure skyrocket and prison officials decided to move him to the medical facility within the more secure section of the prison complex.
Cicilline was nervous about the transfer. He knew that many, if not most, of the inmates “behind the wall,” were career criminals who had spent decades in federal prisons. A friend from the camp gave him the names of two inmates who would take care of him: Rex Cunningham and Blind Eddie.
Cunningham, a tough-guy from Springfield, Mass., is a longtime associate of the New York-based Genovese crime family who has specialized in loansharking, racketeering and collecting debts from deadbeat gamblers. Blind Eddie is a Boston mobster.
The first day, Cicilline wandered over to the prison track to look for his new contacts. One of the guys walking the track was Bobby Joost, a mob associate and career criminal from Providence, serving a 26-year sentence for plotting an armored car robbery.
“Hey, John,” yelled Joost. He hustled over and gave him a big hug.
“He took care of everything,” Cicilline said. “Bobby looked out for me.”
The prison was loaded with wise guys from Boston, New York and New Jersey. Most of them knew Cicilline’s father, John F. “Jack” Cicilline, the longtime lawyer for the Patriarca crime family, otherwise known as the New England Mob.
Cicilline’s new friends were Theodore “Teddy” Persico, brother of Carmine “The Snake” Persico, the one-time boss of the Colombo crime family in New York. He said that Persico, 72, was like a “grandfather” to him during his 18-month prison stay. He also grew close to Giovanni “John” Riggi, the 85-year-old boss of the DeCavalcante crime family in New Jersey.
Tony Soprano and the family in the HBO series were based on Riggi and his Newark-based criminal outfit.
Sometimes, Cicilline walked the track with Samuel B. Kent, a federal judge from Galveston, Texas, who was sentenced to 33 months in prison for lying to investigators about sexually abusing two female employees.
Cicilline also bumped into former clients, including a convicted drug trafficker who was completing the 12th year of a 20-year sentence.
“A lot of guys knew who I was,” he said. “They were very nice. They knew I was coming.”
Cicilline quickly picked up on the rhythms of prison life. He knew that being with the right people and doing the right things could make his life easier. At first, he was puzzled when some of the mob guys approached him and said, “Want to get into the car tonight?”
He learned that getting into the car was joining the other guys in the recreation area or hanging on a bench in the prison yard on a summer night. The mobsters used the phrase to harken back to the days when they had the freedom to drive around Brooklyn or Boston’s North End.
About three months after he arrived, Cicilline said that Joost made him a salami and cabbage wrap “that was unbelieveable.”
The wrap sandwich got the wheels turning in Cicilline’s head. He had always enjoyed cooking, so he decided to hone his culinary skills in prison and parlay them into a possible business venture when he was released. He bought packages of wraps and other ingredients at the prison commissary. He also developed a network where prisoners would smuggle food from the dining hall for the wraps.
One day, he said, a guard stopped him leaving dinner. She pulled him aside and conducted a pat-down search. There, in his right pant pocket, were two baked potatoes. They were still warm. She confiscated the spuds and Cicilline’s plans to make a potato, pepperoni and cheese wrap were foiled.
In the ensuing months, Cicilline kept making more and more wraps. On some days, he made as many as 15 for his newfound friends. He said that Teddy Persico gave him the nickname, “Johnny Wraps,” and the mobster was instrumental in coming up with the name of his new business.
Cicilline was released from prison on Feb. 8 and, on April 1, he launched Federal Wrap with financial help from family and friends. He’s in the heart of the nightclub district and his best business has come on weekend nights. He said that it appears that he will bring home about $600 a week for now, a far cry from the days when he was a lawyer bringing home more than $100,000 annually.
Many of his old friends have stopped by for a bite to eat or to wish him luck. He’s hoping to tap into the lunchtime crowd at the Garrahy Judicial Complex, across the way, where he used to roam the halls and defend criminal clients.
Among those who have dropped in is his brother the mayor, who is running for Congress, and Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, a candidate for governor. On Wednesday, four state prosecutors stopped in for lunch.
The mayor, through his spokeswoman, had little to say about Federal Wrap.
“As with every new business in Providence, the mayor has every hope for its success,” she wrote.
Cicilline is divorced and the oceanfront house in Narragansett is gone. He has three daughters who help him with the business. He grew teary-eyed talking about how one of them couldn’t go to Hofstra University last year because he couldn’t afford to pay the tuition.
Cicilline can’t afford his own apartment, so he lives with his parents on Broadway.
“Today, I appreciate the value of a dollar,” Cicilline said. “I didn’t appreciate it before I got in trouble. I don’t want to say I’m glad it happened, but everything happens for a reason.”


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