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

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Feds say recorded prison phone calls show Colombo Underboss is conducting mafia business from jail

Benjamin "The Claw" Castellazzo

Within days of being arrested at a New Jersey nursing home, federal authorities accused the octogenarian underboss of the Colombo crime family of still conducting mob business inside a New York jail.

In three recorded phone calls from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, Benjamin “The Claw” Castellazzo, 84, told a woman to have a member of his family pass a message to other members of the Colombo crime family at a Brooklyn garage reportedly used for mob business, asked associates for money and directed a family member to remove items from his apartment and discard of his cell phone, federal authorities wrote in a detention memo.

The Brooklyn garage is where authorities said Castellazzo, a Manahawkin resident, often did business with other members of the Colombo crime family as they engaged in a conspiracy to take control of a New York City-based labor union.

Castellazzo has been indicted on a number of charges related to his role as the “number two” of the crime family, including racketeering, extortion and money laundering conspiracies, conspiracy to steal and embezzle health benefit funds, and conspiracy to commit health care fraud, among other charges, officials said.

Prosecutors used the phone calls to argue that Castellazzo should be held without bail. They said the calls show Castellazzo continues to associate with Colombo crime family members and that as the underboss, he still has the means to orchestrate mob business, despite his age and numerous health conditions.

“In short, the defendant has the capabilities to direct (and clearly has directed) others to take actions for him,” prosecutors wrote in arguing for his detention throughout the case.

A judge ultimately ruled last week to deny Castellazzo bail, citing his lengthy criminal history and his continued association with Colombo members.

“He’s continuing to affiliate with other individuals who are charged with serious crimes that arise out of that meeting,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara said at the bail hearing.

Bulsara said he was particularly troubled by Castellazzo’s demand that a family member discard his cell phone and other items. He called it “highly problematic.”

Prosecutors detailed the call in their detention memo:

Castellazzo: Did you find what you had to find? ... No, but what I’m saying, did you?

Family member: Yea, that I took yea.

Castellazzo: Oh, okay, all right that’s what I’m talking about, ha, all right, okay.

Family member: Yea, yea, they, ha, like I said, yup, I got it.

Castellazzo: . . . with my cellphone, when you get it, just throw it away

Prosecutors also said the other two calls detailed his continued involvement with the Colombo crime family.

Castellazzo’s attorney argued the phone calls were relatively standard after someone is arrested.

“Give it to [name], tell him to get in touch with my friend [name], okay? And for him, to tell somebody in the garage, he’ll know what I’m talking about, to send me money, they gotta do it through western union...and tell him, to ah, did he do everything that I told him to do?,” Castellazzo could be heard saying in the phone call on Sept. 17, three days after he was arrested.

In another call, he also directed another woman female to meet with the same member of the Colombo crime family on his behalf, according to the recorded phone calls.

Castellazzo’s attorney Jennifer Louis-Jeune said nearly all of her clients call family or friends and ask for money on their commissary after being arrested.

Though prosecutors said, “it’s not what’s being said, it’s who he’s communicating with and what he’s asking for.”

Louis-Jeune downplayed the recorded phone calls.

“As far as the phone calls that the government cites to, the government’s interpretation of these calls is just that. It’s the government’s interpretation. And I think that these calls could be easily explained in other ways,” she said, adding that Castellazzo knew they would be recorded.

She also argued that Castellazzo should be released on strict bail conditions, citing his age, lack of financial means to flee and lack of proper medical care at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, a jail notorious for troubling conditions.

Castellazzo has an extensive criminal history dating back to 1959, when he was sentenced to a four-to-eight-year prison sentence following a conviction for grand larceny after he was involved in a theft, with others, of a tractor trailer truck containing carpeting, according to court documents.

More convictions and prison terms would follow and by 2002, federal authorities identified Castellazzo as a captain of the Colombo crime family. After serving yet another prison term, court documents in 2008 named him as the underboss. He was last released from federal prison in 2015.

While the judge considering bail in Castellazzo’s latests charges agreed that conditions at the Brooklyn detention center are “horrific, horrendous, despicable, untenable,” he ordered him to remain jailed noting that Castellazzo is not the ordinary 84-year-old his attorney was making him out to be.

“Getting rid of a cell phone, directing the people meet up at a certain place, do certain things, it’s not clear at all that it has the kind of innocent characteristics that you would suggest,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara said of Castellazzo.



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