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

Friday, October 7, 2011

From fighting mob in NYC to illegals in Herricks

Paul CastellanoPaul CastellanoWhen Mafia bosses Carmine Galante and Paul Castellano met their violent ends, Joseph Wendling was one of the investigators at the scenes.
Wendling, 65, is currently a private investigator checking into residency violations of students who go to Herricks and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park district schools.
But at one time he was a detective in an elite unit of the New York City Police Department focused on the illicit activities of the five Mafia families that ruled the city's underworld.
"It was called the Pizza Squad," Wendling recalled.
His participation in the investigations of the Galante and Castellano hits is chronicled in a documentary about the 10 greatest Mafia hits slated to be released by a British production company in January.
Galante, head of the Bonnano crime family, was assassinated while having lunch in a garden restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn on July 1979. Castellano, who succeeded Carlo Gambino as the head of that family, was gunned down on the street outside of Sparks Steak House in midtown Manhattan in December 1985.
Wendling recalls that his unit was caught flat-footed by the hit on Galante, whose assassination was reportedly sanctioned by the five Mafia families commission because he was dealing in drugs and not sharing the profits.
"That was a big surprise to us. He was well-respected in terms of being feared," said Wendling, who said members of the Gambino family carried out the hit with the cooperation of Gambino's chauffeur, Baldassare "Baldo" Amato.
"He wouldn't talk," Wendling said, who noted that Amato subsequently committed a parole violation and was sent back to prison.
"We assumed that was his way not to get whacked," Wendling said.
Federal officers told the Pizza Squad they didn't know it was coming - but Wendling doubts that.
"There were 10 shooters on the street. When you have that many shooters, there's going to be some chatter. They knew something," he said.
The Castellano hit was engineered by John Gotti, who thought that Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce, a Gambino capo, should have been made head of the family. Dellacroce died of lung cancer before the hit, and Gotti became the foppishly infamous "teflon Don."
The Pizza Squad immediately pegged - and eventually helped convict - nine of the 10 Castellano assassins, thanks to a witness who was convinced to cooperate.
"We identified every shooter within a day. There was a Jewish rabbi with a hooker who saw the whole thing," Wendling recalled.
Not long before, the Pizza Squad learned one of their own was liable to be whacked because of their constant surveillance of the Gambino crews.
That was the idea of Antonio "Nino" Gaggi, a Gambino capo who headed a notorious crew that included the infamous Roy DeMeo, whose crew is believed to have killed as many as 200 people.
"They thought about killing one of us and having our head sent back to the DA's office as a message," Wendling recalled. "So we sent them a message."
Wendling walked into a club with one of his partners, Kenny McCabe, where Gaggi was having dinner. He recalled McCabe telling Gaggi, "If you kill one of us, you'd better kill all of us at the same time. Because you guys are all going to get killed and we'll get medals."
It was a different era, when the Mafia code of "omerta" forced "made" men to strict secrecy about the Cosa Nostra - "our thing" in Italian - or die.
Wendling's first honed his skills in the 73rd Precinct, a poor precinct in central Brooklyn nicknamed Fort Zinderneuf, after a French fort in Algiers where the soldiers fought to the death.
"You had to be a better detective when I was a detective. There was no specialization. It was a tremendous learning experience for me," he said.
In "Murder Machine," an account of the New York City Mafia by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci, Wendling is described as a "high-key, hefty, brash and cocky" detective who butted heads with his superiors, a characterization he agrees with. Wendling, 27 years old when he joined the Mafia special task force, had a hand in its creation when he told his supervisor, John Nevins, about several related murders he believed the DeMeo crew committed.
Wendling was on the scene when DeMeo's body was found in the trunk of a car. He was killed on the orders of Castellano who feared the Gambino crew boss might "flip" and give the police evidence against the crime family.
For one year, starting in 1972, Wendling went undercover as a hot dog vendor on Mulberry Street near a club habituated by Joey Gallo. Gallo engineered the assassination of Mafia boss Joe Columbo in 1971. He was also reputedly one of the gunmen who killed Albert Anastasia, the Gambino enforcer who headed the mob assassins dubbed Murder, Inc., on a contract from the Profaci crime family.
Wendling wore his hair long in a ponytail and ingratiated himself with the crews that hung out in the club.
"I got to be a gofer for them. If they wanted Italian bread, I'd go get it," he said, adding that they allowed him into the club to use the bathroom.
But he never succeeded in his intended task to plant a wiretap in the club.
One day he was selling a hot dog to Frank "Punchy" Illiano, one of the "barbershop quartet" who gunned down Anastasia with Gallo while Anastasia was relaxing in a barber chair in Manhattan's Park Central Hotel. Wendling dropped the change he was handing to Illiano. As Illiano bent down to pick it up, a gunshot rang out from a nearby rooftop and Illiano was wounded in the neck.
Wendling grabbed the shotgun he kept concealed under his hotdog cart, as Illiano watched and said, "Oh shit, now I'm dead."
Breaking his cover, Wendling told Illiano that he was a cop and assured him he was safe.
"Here's a guy shot. I had to take police action," he said.
Apart from his Pizza Squad activities, Wendling was one of the detectives who arrested David Berkowitz, the infamous "Son of Sam" killer who terrorized New York City with a string of murders in 1976 and 1977. A yellow Volkswagen had been seen leaving the scene where more than one of the murders had taken place, and Wendling interviewed one woman who insisted that a yellow VW had been ticketed near a location where her own car bad been parked in Brooklyn. But Wendling located the patrolman who wrote tickets in the area that day and found the ticket on the VW the patrolman had forgotten to turn in.
With the car identified, Wendling and other detectives set up a stake out and caught Berkowitz leaving his apartment.
"When Berkowitz came out, we jumped him," Wendling recalled.
Inside the apartment, they found the bulldog .44 revolver that Berkowitz had used to murder six people and wound several others, claiming he had acted on the orders of a neighbor's dog. But there was also a cache of weapons, including a machine gun and ammunition in the apartment. And to this day, Wendling believes that Berkowitz, who had no gun permit, had an accomplice to amass his arsenal.
He is also unsettled by the fact that descriptions of the shooter in more than one of the "Son of Sam" attacks didn't match Berkowitz.
"Where did he get the automatic weapon and the ammo? There were too many unanswered questions," Wendling said.
Wendling served more than 18 years on the police force before retiring in 1987. He feels he got a "raw deal," because it took him 10 years to earn his gold shield.
But on balance, he said he feels "lucky in a lot of ways." In 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines, but instead of being shipped to Vietnam, he saw duty in California, created facsimiles of Vietnam villages as Marine practice grounds, and eventually being transferred to lifeguard duty on an officer's beach.
"I have no complaints. Somebody looked over me," he said.
Wendling became a private investigator for the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park School Board a decade ago. Former New York City Police Lt. David Del Santo, who had been the school district's investigator, was elected to the board and Wendling said he was recommended to Del Santo for the job. He was retained by the Herricks School Board in the same role this year.
Wendling said he's proud of his police work, which resulted in numerous convictions. He said he's also happy that he survived to help out the local school districts.
"I worked some real good homicides in Brooklyn," he said. "My attitude was the attitude of survival."



Post a Comment