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

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Undercover New Jersey cop writes book about infiltrating the mob

Mike Russell was a New Jersey State Police officer who went undercover to infiltrate a organized crime syndicate. He brought down the family with 54 arrests and 48 convictions.

Mike Russell has quite a story to tell in “Undercover Cop: How I Brought Down the Real-Life Sopranos.” The former New Jersey state trooper unleashed hell on the mob in the form of 200 cops who took down 45 wiseguys on Sept. 26, 1986.

They all pleaded guilty.

Along the way he took a bullet to the head, passed on info about a plan to whack Rudy Giuliani and had to strip down to his underwear in front of a gang of riled mobsters.

Russell, who wrote the book with Patrick Picciarelli, first went undercover to sniff around a Luchese crew in Newark. That didn’t work out so well for him.

He started out just hanging around, looking for ways to prove himself to the boys. One night, outside the King’s Court club, he boosted a briefcase from a mobster’s Mercedes-Benz. It yielded 2,000 pages of useful info. But the mob guys soon figured out whodunnit, and — thinking he was just another greedy wanna-be — ordered him to return it.

Thinking that he was proving his cojones, Russell said no.

Instead of a slap on the back and a welcome to the mob party, two guys took him for a ride. In an alley, Russell took a shot square in his skull. He came to with a wino fingering his wallet.

Russell once passed on information about a plan to whack Rudy Giuliani, pictured, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

But Russell could be a lucky man, too. In the hospital, his superiors told him to get back out there, just leave the Lucheses alone. Cruising along, looking for action, he saw a middle-aged white man about to be mugged on a Newark street. Russell, a pretty good fighter, saved the guy by taking out two attackers.

The guy turned out to be Andy Gerardo, head of the powerful Genovese crew working northern New Jersey.

And they sure worked it. Gambling, toxic dumping, carting operations, loan collecting, protection rackets, armed robberies and murders, among other felonies. Gerardo’s crew also did business with the big boys in Manhattan — including family boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante’s right hand man, Bobby Manna.

Russell’s cover story was that he was a disgruntled former cop, fired for excessive force, looking for new opportunities beyond the small oil delivery business he was currently running. He liked to be known as Mikey Ga-Ga.

Gerardo was a good save. The big man brought him into the family business, step by step. Russell began by doing simple runs, delivering diesel fuel concocted from kerosene and a mix of heating oil thieved from major office buildings like the Empire State Building. Mob trucks, mostly used for garbage disposal or illegal toxic dumping, ran on the homemade brew.

Soon enough, Russell was “invited” to rent the front office of the building that housed Gerardo’s social club on Davenport Ave. in Newark, known as the Cage. It was a scene that all the local wiseguys from all the families made.

Vincent "The Chin" Gigante’s right hand man, Bobby Manna, at one time planned to assasinate Giuliani, according to undercover cop Russell.

Russell soon installed wires, and with a peephole, was able to supply the visual testimony that would make the wire evidence that much stronger in court. At this point, the probe had grown into the most in-depth investigation the New Jersey State Police had ever staged, and 50 detectives were following the boys.

To get keys made to the Cage, Russell pretended his arm was broken. While he was coming in and out of the club on “social” visits, he applied putty to the locks. He hid the forms in his cast.

It wasn’t all easy going. This was the mob, after all.

On what he thought was a routine loan-sharking collection call to a bar on Route 1 in Hudson County, he stepped away to use the men’s room. He came back to find the bar owner sprawled face-up on the floor in a pool of blood.

Sal Cetrulo, the made man Russell made the call with, said some guy had run in and shot the guy in the head. “Prick ran down the block. F------ neighborhood’s going to s---,” he complained.

Nobody higher up bought that story, and for a while it looked like Russell was going to take the heat for the kill. Nobody liked to see a source of income murdered.

Vincent "The Chin" Gigante was one of the wiseguys Russell helped to take down.

But the mobsters called a meeting and decided to let it rest.

Another job assigned to Russell was intimidating the managers of local Home Depot and Crazy Eddie stores into using the gangsters’ carting companies. Garbage was big business.

On one call, a burly wiseguy sent to accompany Russell and Cetrulo, hurled a chair into the manager’s aquarium. It was either the fish flopping on the floor or the use of the terms “accidental death” and “wood chipper” that convinced Home Depot to stay with Jersey Carting.

But it was Russell’s superiors who put him at real risk. The state police decided to raid a Genovese bar, The Finish Line, purely to “stir up some action.” The only arrests that came out of it were three detectives later convicted of stealing $70,000 from the bar and a gold Rolex from the trunk of a mob boss’ car.

The raid made no sense and put Russell at risk. Russell, who hadn’t been warned it was coming, walked into the Cage, to be confronted by a table of spooked and angry mobsters. He was ordered to strip down to his underwear to prove he wasn’t wearing a wire.

Some fast-talking got him out of that one, but it was a close call — too close. Russell walked out on the operation and quit the force.

Albert "Tiny" Manzo had been the biggest mob enforcer in New Jersey, and is the father-in-law of Caroline Manzo, one of the 'Real Housewives of New Jersey.'

He was furious.

After a standoff, he was talked back in as an independent contractor — with a considerable pay raise, a house in Connecticut and a new car.

Resuming his duties, Russell accompanied Cetrulo to break down a casino that top soldier Joe Zarra was improperly running in Luchese territory in the heart of Paterson. They were gathering the liquor bottles when a black Lincoln pulled out front, and Albert "Tiny" Manzo, “the biggest enforcer in Jersey,” stepped out. Manzo, the father-in-law of one of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” Caroline Manzo, weighed 400 pounds.

Meanwhile, another mobster strode toward the bar with a Browning automatic rifle in hand. Inside the casino, the guys hit the floor while the machine gun repeatedly strafed the building.

The fallout led to a meeting between the two families attended by Gigante’s right hand man, Bobby Manna. Fat Tiny Manzo made the mistake of constantly needling Zarra, humiliating him.

About six months later, Manzo was found dead, stuffed into the trunk of his car. His already large body had expanded with gas and it took the medical examiner two days to extract it.

Russell speculates that Zarra had just waited awhile for the heat to die down before clipping him as payback.

'Since John Gotti’s [pictured] ascension to Gambino boss, I was seeing more and more new faces, a new breed of wiseguys who were smarter, more ruthless, bigger earners and schooled in the ways of keeping more of the money they were supposed to turn over to the mob,' Mike Russell writes in his new book.

One day Cetrulo came out of a meeting with Manna visibly shaking.

“He wants to whack Rudy Giuliani. Can you f-----g believe it? You know what kind of heat that will bring down? What it’ll do to business? Whack the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District? F-----g insane.”

Russell phoned the information in.

Newark, and pretty much all of Northern New Jersey, was split three ways among the Luchese, Gambino and Genovese families. John Gotti had just come to power after whacking Paul Castellano. He sent Sammy “Sammy Bull” Gravano to a sit-down to explain just how much of the Genovese territory Gotti would be invading.

The plan was to open a social club on Sanford Ave. in East Orange, and nightclubs in Newark and West Orange. It was a bold move, but the Genovese crew was too intimidated to go to war.

“Since Gotti’s ascension to Gambino boss, I was seeing more and more new faces, a new breed of wiseguys who were smarter, more ruthless, bigger earners, and schooled in the ways of keeping more of the money they were supposed to turn over to the mob,” Russell writes. “I knew that I was playing with the big guys now, the heavy hitters, and I was concerned. I had to be careful.”

When the final raid came, Russell brought along a television news reporter, Frank Grimes. He could do that as an independent contractor. The two produced a show for HBO documenting the takedown of 45 Genovese members and associates, all charged with felonies.

And now, Russell’s story is slated for the big screen. Dreamworks bought the rights to his life story. The movie will be titled “Undercover Cop” and Jason Segal is attached. The book is out Aug. 6.



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