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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lucchese mob boss turned informant details his first murder

First flipped mob boss’ bloody beginnings
Alfonso “Little Al” D’Arco, acting head of the Luchese crime family, was the first mob boss to turn government witness. He flipped for the feds and helped send more than 50 gangsters to prison. Safe in witness protection, D’Arco shared his life story with reporters Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins for their new book, “Mob Boss.” In this excerpt, D’Arco tells the story of the first man he murdered with his own hands — and gives a glimpse into the Mafia’s hold on New York City.

For all his brash talk over the years about wanting to kill people who angered him, Al D’Arco, then a 56-year-old capo in Canarsie, had never actually done it. He was the messenger, relaying orders to others to carry out executions.
He’d never had blood directly on his hands. In the spring of 1989, however, the blood got not only on his hands. It got all over his body.
The blood was that of a veteran Luchese crime-family member named Michael Pappadio.
Pappadio, 66, was a holdover from the days of the old Luchese regimes. Along with his brothers, Pappadio had been helping manage the crime family’s vast interests in the city’s garment business since the 1950s.
The rag trade, as it was known both on and off Seventh Avenue, was always crucial to the family’s leadership. It supplied both huge profits and acceptable entrée into New York’s political and business establishments.
Thanks to their positions as owners of legitimate garment shops, family leaders could count on influential friends in places both high and low.
When family boss Thomas Luchese was summoned before a state crime commission in 1951, he could honestly say he was just the moderately prosperous co-proprietor of a ladies’ coat manufacturer called Braunell Ltd. with showrooms on West 38th Street.
Most of the garment rackets had been run by Jewish gangsters, led by Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, whose thugs worked both sides of the industry’s many labor battles. But Luchese worked out an accommodation, cutting Lepke into the family’s small but growing narcotics trade in exchange for room at the table on Seventh Avenue.
After Lepke was convicted of his Murder Inc. slayings and died in the electric chair in 1944, Luchese’s men had things mostly to themselves. The crime family’s principal role in the garment district was officially confirmed by a Mafia Commission ruling in the 1950s. The other families were allowed to have pieces of the trade, but the Luchese crew ruled.
In a bid to avoid notoriety, Thomas Luchese juggled the spelling of the family name. Police and newspapers spelled it as “Luchese.” Joe Valachi gave him an extra “C” when he began singing to prosecutors. His own preference was “Luckese.” Jokesters had teased him with rhymes of “cheese,” he explained. That’s how the name was carved on his tombstone when he died in 1967.
Over the years, garment manufacturing steadily slipped out of the city, headed to cheaper labor ports in the South and overseas. The mob’s tax on every piece of clothing, estimated at $3 per garment at one point, didn’t help make clothing jobbers want to stick around. But even as the industry declined, the Luchese crew retained its dominant position and zealously defended its turf. By the late 1980s, when Al got his first good look at the family’s operation, he was impressed.
“It was bigger than anything we had, the biggest moneymaker of all.”
Michael Pappadio, who spent more than 40 years in the business, had mastered all the threads of the garment industry.
But his fall from grace began when the power center shifted in the Luchese family. Gone was the old East Harlem-Bronx axis represented by the family’s founding fathers. The new family chieftains in Brooklyn, Vic Amuso and Gaspipe Casso, had cut their criminal teeth on drug dealing. They knew little about the often byzantine world of the garment center.
What they did know was that it spun off immense amounts of cash. And when one of the family’s crime associates started telling them that Mike Pappadio was holding back shops and earnings, they listened closely.

Pappadio was edged toward the exits, but refused to go. He kept pleading his case to the bosses, to D’Arco, to whoever would listen. He later confided that he couldn’t get out of his garment businesses because he needed the money. Luchese heads started to worry Pappadio would become an informant rather than go quietly.
The garment kingpin’s fate was decided a few weeks later at a tavern in Canarsie. By the time Al got there, the decision had already been made. He sat down at a table alongside Amuso and Casso. “Mike is going,” Amuso told Al when he arrived.
Casso already had the murder all planned. The Avellino brothers, Carmine and Sal, were old and trusted friends of Pappadio. They’d tell him they needed to meet with him. They’d pick him up and bring him to a bagel bakery on Rockaway Boulevard in the Queens neighborhood of South Ozone Park.
Carmine Avellino was a part owner in the bakery and would arrange for the place to be deserted. Al was to meet them there.
Waiting with him would be George Zappola, one of the family’s younger recruits and a fiercely devoted Casso aide.
“After you kill him, go through his pockets,” Casso instructed. “I want to see whatever he’s got. Any piece of paper. I want to know if this guy’s cooperating.” Al nodded.
They’d have a body bag ready for the corpse, Casso said. He nodded his head toward a man at a corner table. Al looked over. He recognized Vic Orena Jr., son of the Colombo crime-family acting boss. Al recalled that the Colombo family had a major funeral-home operator in their borgata. Gaspipe came prepared, Al thought to himself.
On Saturday morning, May 13, 1989, Michael Pappadio and his wife, Frances, rose early. They were planning a small party for the afternoon, a barbecue on their lawn overlooking Little Neck Bay in Bayside, Queens. The weather looked like it was going to cooperate. It was clear, the temperature in the mid-60s.
The party was to be a dual celebration. Michael’s birthday was on Sunday. He’d be 67 years old. Sunday was also Mother’s Day. It was to be a family get-together. He told his wife he had an errand to run but would be home soon.
As they waited at the bakery, Al and Zappola went over their plan of attack. Al was to slug Pappadio with a heavy homemade sap, an 18-inch length of thick copper cable wrapped in blue rubber insulation. Then Zappola would shoot him with a .22. They put the body bag in an open file-cabinet drawer in the office and put the gun on top within easy reach.
Al had lost track of time when he heard Zappola speak. “Here they come!” he hissed. Zappola was standing directly behind Al, both of them shielded from view by the blinds. Al saw Carmine Avellino coming through the bakery’s outer door with Mike Pappadio behind him.
Carmine Avellino opened the office door. Pappadio stepped into the office, blinking at the sight of the two men. Avellino let out a shout. “Surprise!” he yelled. “Look who’s here!”
As he shouted, Al smashed the sap on Mike Pappadio’s head, swinging the heavy cable down as hard as he could. The businessman was solidly built, 5-foot-8, weighing about 200 pounds. He didn’t fall.
Mike Pappadio
Mike Pappadio

“He’s looking at me. He puts his hand up to his head and says, ‘What’d you hit me for, Al?’ ”
Al hit him again. He still didn’t go down.
“I don’t know how the hell I didn’t knock him down. I banged him hard, about four times. I guess the fear was holding him up.”
Zappola reached for the .22. He pointed the gun at Pappadio and pulled the trigger. The bullet ricocheted wildly off the victim’s head, lodging in the office door.
“The guy had a head like a rock. Then Georgie pulls out a big snub-nosed gun, a .357. I didn’t even know he had it. He puts it up to Mike’s head and shoots. The guy was still standing. I couldn’t believe it.”
Mike Pappadio was stubborn to the end. But he was now finished.
The three killers watched as he slumped against the wall, then slowly slipped to the floor.
He lay there, a gurgling noise coming from his throat. “We waited, and then he stopped making the noise, and we knew he was dead.”
Blood from the savage attack was everywhere, splattered on the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. “It was on my clothes, my jacket, my hands.”
Avellino was the first to recover. As per Casso’s instructions, he bent over the body, rifling the pockets. Al watched as he pulled a thick wad of cash from one pocket. Another held a brown leather item. At first, Al thought it was a wallet, but it was an address book. Avellino passed them to Zappola for delivery to Casso.
They packed up the body in a trunk. D’Arco washed off the bloodstains in the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. A partially balding man looked back at him. A man who had just finished participating in a ferocious murder. He saw something else as well.
“I’m looking in the mirror, and I see I still have blood on my jacket.”
He had foolishly worn a new suede, bomber-style coat that his children had given him a few months earlier for a Christmas present.
Home in his apartment, he pulled off his shirt, pants and shoes. He cut them all into pieces. Then he took them to the garbage chute in the building and tossed them inside. He hesitated at the jacket. He put it aside, thinking that his kids would want to know what had happened to their gift.
An hour or so later, he went to a dry cleaner on the East Side. It was one he’d never been in before, and he left the jacket under a made-up name. On his walk back to the neighborhood, he thought better of it.
They have all these sophisticated methods for detecting blood on items, he thought. “I figured I’d just have to tell them I lost it or something. It wasn’t worth the chance.” He never went back to get the coat.
Pappadio’s little brother Fred came looking for him later. “I said, ‘What are you asking me for? What the f–k do I know? Maybe he ran away with a girl.’ That was the old thing you always said when someone was made to disappear. ‘He probably ran away with some girl.’ ”
There was never any evidence that Pappadio was talking to the feds. None of the agents working the Luchese family ever wired him up. D’Arco would eventually plead guilty to 12 murders and murder conspiracies.
D’Arco justified the grisly killing as simply part of the business he had chosen. “It’s like the Army. You’ve got a job to do? You do it.”
Contrary to popular wisdom, murder wasn’t a required initiation rite for admission to the secret society. But when ordered, a member had to participate. “The press pushes all that stuff. They write how you’ve got to make your bones before you get made. Nah. It doesn’t hurt to have done it, but guys also get made because they earn, or because they’re smart.”
But the order might come at any time. “You could be in the Life for 20 years, and you don’t do anything. But you gotta remember that there will come a day, the guy will say, ‘Al, you gotta do this.’ And you can’t say, ‘No, I quit.’
“You do or die. It’s blood in, blood out.”
Excerpted with permission from “Mob Boss: The Life of Little Al D’Arco, the Man Who Brought Down the Mafia” by Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins. Out Oct. 1 by St. Martin’s Press.



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