Secret Marijuana Farm Beneath Brooklyn Cherry Factory Leaves Many Mysteries


Arthur Mondella’s alternate life was buried behind a roll-down gate, behind a fleet of fancy cars, behind a pair of closet doors, behind a set of button-controlled steel shelves, behind a fake wall and down a ladder in a hole in a bare concrete floor.
Here, in a weathered basement below the Red Hook, Brooklyn, maraschino cherry factory he had inherited from his father and his grandfather, he nurtured a marijuana farm that could hold as many as 1,200 plants at a time. Here, below the office where he served as chief of Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Company, he kept a small, dusty library and a corkboard pinned with notes. Most of the books dealt with plant propagation methods. One did not: the “World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime.”
Much about the hidden operations of Mr. Mondella, 57, who shot and killed himself on Tuesday as investigators found his marijuana plants, remains frustratingly out of reach for his family and friends. Investigators do not know how he distributed the marijuana, how long he had grown it or who helped him. Most baffling of all are Mr. Mondella’s reasons for hiding his operation under a business that was, by all accounts, healthy and growing — and for taking his life so suddenly when he was caught.
On Thursday, the day of Mr. Mondella’s private wake, the company said the cherry business would go on. Major restaurant chains that bought Dell’s cherries, including Red Lobster and T.G.I. Friday’s, said their menus would be unaffected. But at the offices of the Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, the focus was on untangling what part of the business was cherries, and what part was marijuana, at the red-brick factory on Dikeman Street.
“We’re looking at the actual connections between marijuana and the factory and whether or not some portion of the cherry business there really was an effort to mask the marijuana operation,” said a law enforcement official close to the investigation, who asked not to be identified because the inquiry is continuing.
Given the thick scent of cherry processing and the large amount of electricity the factory would naturally consume, the official said, “it’s a very convenient place to be” to mask both the odor and the power needed to cultivate the marijuana plants.
Yet because the basement labyrinth was so well concealed, it seemed plausible that the cherry factory’s regular employees were unaware of their boss’s secret. Mr. Mondella may have been the only person with access to the garage where he kept several luxury vehicles and the entrance to the basement, the official said.
Still, the scope of the operation made it unlikely that Mr. Mondella was the only person involved. Spanning about 2,500 square feet, the underground complex included an office, a large grow room, a storage area, a freezer for the harvested plants and an elevator. A network of 120 high-end growing lamps shined on the plants with intensities that varied depending on each plant’s size; an irrigation system watered them. Investigators recovered about 60 types of marijuana seeds.
The investigators had never seen a larger operation in New York City, the official said.
“The way you have to set that up, there’s got to be plumbers and electricians working off the books who are very sophisticated,” he said, “and it wasn’t Arthur Mondella, as far as we know, that had that kind of skills.”
Investigators first received a tip about Mr. Mondella and illegal drugs about five years ago, he said, but nothing came of it then.
As part of a separate investigation into allegations that Dell’s was polluting Red Hook’s water supply, the district attorney and the city’s Department of Environmental Protection decided to search the factory for files on environmental infractions. It was during that search on Tuesday that they stumbled on the marijuana operation. (The pollution investigation is still active.)
The drug inquiry is still in its early stages. But the official said investigators were looking closely at whether the operation had ties to organized crime. Mr. Mondella would have required help to maintain the farm and distribute his product, the thinking goes, and an organized crime syndicate could have provided it.
To Mr. Mondella’s family and friends, the revelations about his hidden operations have been “aberrant and shocking,” Michael Farkas, the lawyer representing the Mondella family and the management of Dell’s, said in an interview.
The company was considered among the largest producers of the cherries in the country. Although many cherry suppliers were disappearing around the time that Mr. Mondella took over the business in 1983, the market appears stable now, thanks in part to maraschino cherries’ popularity abroad, said Robert McGorrin, the chairman of the food science department at Oregon State University, where the current method of processing the cherries in brine, rather than alcohol, was developed in the 1920s.
Law enforcement officials are just as perplexed about Mr. Mondella’s motives. Though investigators are sorting through a substantial bounty of evidence, they have no hope of gaining access to the data on Mr. Mondella’s iPhone 6, which, like other new-model iPhones, is encrypted with a user-created code that even Apple says it cannot unlock.

“No one seems to have had any clue that this was going on, and there certainly didn’t seem to be any strange or traumatic circumstances that would’ve explained this,” Mr. Farkas said. “The business was not doing poorly; the business was doing very well. We were unaware of any major problems in Arthur’s life. Somebody knows — but we’re all waiting for answers here.”

Cherry king tycoon killed himself after cops found his secret drug lab 'because the mob would have assassinated him anyway'

Arthur Mondella, 57, shot himself dead in the bathroom of Dell's Maraschino Cherries factory in Brooklyn, New York
Investigators looking into environmental offenses smelled marijuana coming from the walls
Mondella went into his private bathroom and shot himself in the head
Investigators had entered the premises on environmental warrants but suspected factory was being used as front for a grow lab 
Officials discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars, 80 to 100lbs of pot and a fleet of vintage cars, including a Rolls Royce and Porsche

By Snejana Farberov

Investigators are now looking into a possible link between a maraschino cherry factory and organized crime after the owner of the New York-based business committed suicide on Tuesday.
Arthur Mondella, 57, president of Dell's Maraschino Cherries factory in Brooklyn, shot himself in the head as police broke into a drug lab hidden behind a wall.
Mondella had cooperated with investigators for five hours over allegations the 67-year-old family business had been dumping hazardous waste.
A pot operation was found to be operating behind the walls of the family business during a separate investigation into hazardous waste
But a law enforcement source tells New York Post that the Breaking Bad-style drug operation at the cherry plant may have been been just the tip of the iceberg.
'He knew the mob would kill him,' the unnamed source told the paper. 'That’s why he shot himself.
‘Why else would you shoot yourself over 100 pounds of weed? It was the multi-million operation he lost.’
Investigators reportedly came across suspicious shelving in a storage unit - then behind a door found a false wall with the smell of weed seeping through.
The entrance to a dug-out basement was then found, with three bags of marijuana inside.  
According to the NY Post, generators were found inside the factory along with a high-tech security outfit of dozens of cameras, barbed wire and motion-detector lights.
Mondella then excused himself to go to his private bathroom, locked the door and shot himself at 1.30pm, a law enforcement source told Daily Mail Online.
Before committing suicide, the third-generation cherry tycoon told his sister who was present, Joanne Capece, 'Take care of my kids'.
Those present heard a single gunshot, according to CBS New York.  Mondella later died at a local hospital from the .357 magnum gunshot wound.
 The paper reported Wednesday that the cherry tycoon was hiding a .357 handgun strapped to his ankle. He had another gun in his office safe.
The DA's office and environmental regulators discovered 80-100lbs of pot in three large black bags and hundreds of thousands of dollars concealed in the secret room.
Shelves operated by magnets had been used to conceal the 50-by-50 feet drug lab, which has been described as an 'extremely professional' and very expensive operation. 
A row of luxury vintage vehicles, including a Porsche, Rolls-Royce, a Harley-Davidson and a Mercedes, were also found covered in tarp in a back lot of the factory in the industrial area of Red Hook.
Calls to the business went unanswered Wednesday.
Investigators had been looking into the company over allegations it was dumping hazardous material into the sewage system and waterways - but had suspected that the facility was also being used as a grow lab.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars along with 80lbs of marijuana were reportedly discovered in the secret room behind the factory walls in Brooklyn, New York
One official told the New York Daily News: 'It appears there was another activity going on, that's for sure. I don't think you kill yourself over a bag of weed. There has to be more to it.'
Brooklyn District Attorney's office had received a tip-off about the marijuana operation in 2013, the New York Post reported.
Despite watching comings and goings at the factory for six months, the DA's office was unable to work out if there was a marijuana business operating inside. 
An anonymous source told the paper that the environmental offense warrants were simply used to get into the building.
The DA's office said 'no further information about this tragedy is available at this time'.
Officers consult paper work during the investigation of the cherry factory on Tuesday. The Brooklyn district attorney's office had a tip-off in 2013 that the firm was fronting a marijuana operation 
Dell's Maraschino Cherries, which has been in business for 76 years, supplies to Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chick-fil-A and TGI Fridays for use in cocktails and desserts.
Arthur Mondella's grandfather, Arthur Mondella Sr, started the business as a Brooklyn storefront in 1948.
The Brooklyn factory now turns out 400,000 bottles of cherries each week - and 19 million pounds of cherries a year.
The company recently underwent a $5million overhaul and redesigned their bottles with a retro label last year after the company suffered following the financial crash in 2008.
At the time Mr Mondella told The Wall Street Journal: 'At this point, the maraschino cherry is just another commodity. We’re trying to change that.'
Some 25 investigators arrived at the facility at 8am on Tuesday with search warrants to inspect its operations.

Mondella is survived by his ex-wife Yevgeniya and their five-year-old daughter Antoinette. 

Sicilian Mafia now outgunned by Calabria's cocaine-trading mobsters 'Ndrangheta

The shadowy Calabrian crime syndicate ’Ndrangheta has beaten the Sicilian Mafia for control of organised crime in northern Italy, the country’s most senior anti-Mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti has said.
 The Calabrian Mafia, which has risen to prominence through its control of Europe’s cocaine trade, is now laundering its millions and integrating successfully into northern Italy’s economy. It is aided by the country’s ambiguous attitude to corruption, Mr Roberti said at the launch of the annual report of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate.
He said the dominance of the ’Ndrangheta in Milan and Lombardy, Italy’s richest city and region respectively, had “come at the expense of Cosa Nostra”. He added that ’Ndrangheta members living in the north for many generations had gradually acquired a full knowledge of the area by “cementing relations with local communities and prioritising contacts with local politicians and institutions”. Victims of ’Ndrangheta rackets in northern Italy were often too afraid to talk to police or magistrates.
But Milan, Italy’s finance capital, is not the only northern city to be heavily infiltrated by the Calabrian mob. Mr Roberti noted that in Bologna ’Ndrangheta had established “a criminal power network whose expansion has exceeded the worst predictions”.
Last month, more than 100 people were arrested in the region of Emilia Romagna, of which Bologna is the capital, including six suspected ’Ndrangheta bosses, serving police officers, a prominent local politician and several businessmen. ’Ndrangheta had spent decades infiltrating Emilia Romagna, Bologna’s chief prosecutor Roberto Alfonso told reporters.
Italian organised crime is also spreading abroad. In November last year, Paola Severino, the former Justice Minister, said mob clans originally from Sicily, Naples and Calabria were infiltrating the north of Italy and other EU economies – as ’Ndrangheta already had in Germany. Figures detailing Mafia activity around Europe, presented to the European Commission last year by the Italian government, showed that ’Ndrangheta was also active in France and Spain.
  But the UK is not immune. The figures suggested that outside Italy, only Spain and Holland had experienced more activity by the Camorra, the Naples-based Mafia. There were up to 20 Camorra-related incidents in Britain cited by Italian police between 2000 and 2011. But Mr Roberti said one of the keys to ’Ndrangheta’s power and wealth remained its “all-encompassing control” of the port of Gioia Tauro, which had become “the true gateway for cocaine in Italy”.
The prosecutor also warned that Cosa Nostra had not been mortally wounded despite a series of high-profile arrests. He said the crime organisation was making strenuous efforts to rebuild its central command in Palermo.
A lax attitude to financial crime is helping them. “Corruption, including tax evasion, has never been fought effectively, it was tacitly accepted and was not considered a serious crime,” Mr Roberti said.
Rosy Bindi, the head of the parliamentary anti-Mafia commission, agreed.
“The fight against corruption is also the fight against the Mafia and we’re paying the price for a system that’s too relaxed,” she said.
Experts say Mafia groups were helped in 2002 by Silvio Berlusconi’s move to partially decriminalise false accounting. Matteo Renzi’s government is seeking to overturn the Berlusconi legislation.

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Cocaine sales in downturn turn Italy mafia into powerhouse: report


 (Reuters) - The Calabrian mafia's role as one of Europe's biggest importers of South American cocaine has made it the most powerful economic force in its poor home region in southern Italy, a report released on Tuesday said.
Direct ties to Mexican and Colombian cocaine cartels, with which it has built trust over the years, have made the 'Ndrangheta a financial powerhouse, said Italy's national anti-mafia prosecutors' office in its annual report.
Both within Italy and in countries like Germany and Holland, "the 'Ndrangheta has no rivals and, for this reason ... because of its hegemony in drugs trafficking, it has become, against a depressed economic backdrop, the only financially significant player in Calabria and beyond," the report said.
Though the network has a well-earned reputation for brutality and violence, the 'Ndrangheta's real power is economic, said the report, based on mafia investigations and trials conducted between mid-2013 and mid-2014.
During the current economic slump, which began halfway through 2011, the Calabrian mafia has spread its influence north to cities including Rome, Milan and Bologna, often using its wealth to buy political influence.
"The 'Ndrangheta has not only been able to penetrate the north's construction sector ... but it has become one of the most important operators in the whole sector," the report said.
Companies "capitalized by the 'Ndrangheta" over time became "front runners in the different sectors where they operate", which include legal gambling, trucking, and the restaurant and hotel trade.
The 'Ndrangheta, Sicily's Cosa Nostra and the Camorra around Naples have long plagued Italy's south, but recent investigations have shown their influence spreading, which is terrible news for the economy, the euro zone's third biggest.
Calabria, in the southern toe of Italy, is one of Europe's poorest regions, with an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, and the oppressive presence of organized crime is one of the reasons for its decrepit state.
A 2012 Bank of Italy study shows that the economies of two southern regions, Puglia and Basilicata, where there was virtually no organized crime until about four decades ago, were crippled when mafia groups moved in.
The mob's growing presence hacked an estimated 16 percentage points off per capita GDP in those regions over three decades, the study said.

Mafia man Domenico Rancadore to be extradited to Italy

A convicted Mafia boss who lived in London for more than 20 years must be extradited to Italy, a judge has ruled.
Domenico Rancadore was arrested in August 2013 after he was found living in Uxbridge, west London, under the alias of Marc Skinner.
He was convicted in his absence in 1999 of being a member of a criminal organisation and sentenced to seven years in jail.
The 65-year-old had launched an 18-month battle against his extradition.
At Westminster Magistrates' Court, Judge Howard Riddle ruled there was no abuse of process and that Rancadore's Article 3 rights, regarding inhuman and degrading treatment, would not be breached by extradition to Italy.
Rancadore, who is known as The Professor, can now appeal to the High Court.
BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman, who was in court, said: "His extradition was sought under the European Arrest Warrant scheme and the grounds for opposing extradition under that scheme are very limited, and we are waiting to hear from his lawyers as to whether they intend to make this last ditch appeal.
"At the moment his extradition has been ordered here at court today and in the normal run of things that would mean him being returned under the extradition to Italy in the next 10 days."
Following the ruling, a spokesman from the Italian Embassy said: "We are pleased that a British judge has recognised that there is no longer a problem with the Italian prison system which prevents extradition to Italy in general."
Rancadore moved to London from his native Sicily in 1993 with his wife and two children after he was acquitted at the end of a three-year court case over Mafia allegations.
But in a second trial in 1999, the former teacher was convicted in his absence of being part of a criminal organisation between 1987 and 1995.
While in Britain, he had run a travel agency.
Since his arrest in 2013, he has fought a legal battle to prevent his extradition.
In March 2014 he defeated a bid to extradite him on grounds that prison conditions in Italy would breach his human rights.
Days later he was told he would not face an appeal because the Crown Prosecution Service had missed a deadline to lodge the appeal.

But he was rearrested in April after a fresh European Arrest Warrant was received from the Italian authorities.

Mafia man admits violence and murder

By: Lloyd Sowers, FOX 13 News

The University of Tampa has changed a lot.
"This dorm wasn't here. This is unbelievable," says John Alite, who came here from New York 35 years ago to play baseball for UT.
But when an injury ended his baseball dreams, his bat became part of his arsenal as a Mafia enforcer.
"I admitted to dozens of shootings, multiple, multiple murders," he tells me. "I would go do shootings myself. I wouldn't even bring guys. I would shoot three, four guys at a clip."
He was an enforcer with the Gambino crime family, headed by John Gotti, Jr. and before that, his father, the "Dapper Don", John Gotti.

Alite says he made lots of money as a mobster in New York, but saw opportunity in Tampa, the sunny and growing city he first visited as a teenager.
"Tampa was an open city," he says. “I moved money down here and I knew that I could push my way around a little bit. For years the Trafficantes were down here making big money, and now the Trafficante family is gone, I moved here and made a ton of money."
His businesses included valet parking and nightclubs -- cash businesses. His Club Mirage at Hillsborough Avenue and Dale Mabry was a hotspot.
"I had lines around the corner. I used to have 1,500, 2,000 people a night," he says.

But the FBI was on his trail. He fled the country and spent time in places like Paris, Colombia, and Rio de Janeiro. Finally, he was caught and put in prison in Brazil.
He was extradited to Tampa where he would admit to a shocking list of crimes.
"I believe I was involved in about 45 shootings," he says.
Alite says he doesn't know exactly how many people died in the shootings, maybe as few as eight or ten, he says.
"But at least I could be honest and say it could be up to 15 murders and 45 shootings."

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Alite was released in 2013 following a deal with prosecutors to testify against other mobsters.
I ask, "Will they come after you?"
He only pauses for a second.
"The risk I take of someone coming after me, that's fine. I've dealt with my whole life that way."
But, he said he's had enough of the mob.
"I've been beaten all over the street. I've been stabbed, I've been baseball batted. I've been hit with cars. I've been in solitary confinement for years at a time," he says.
His life is chronicled in a new book by George Anastasia called "Gotti's Rules." In the book, he goes after his old bosses, the Gottis. He says Gotti Junior was an informant and his father was a thug with a made for TV image.
"He was a monster. He wasn't a good guy," Alite said.

Alite says he would like to be a consultant for movies and TV shows depicting organized crime. He says there's no honor in the Mafia.
"They swear loyalty to you, and when the time comes, they get the order, that friend is the one who'll shoot you in the back of the head."
Alite says he wants to convince young people not to turn to crime.
"What I did in the past, I'm ashamed of," he says. "I can't take it back. I told my children, I'm your dad, I love you, but I made terrible mistakes." If baseball had worked out for him 35 years ago in Tampa, life might have been much different.

Italian complaint against Spanish restaurant La Mafia thrown out

Italian government demands restaurant change its name or close
By Imogen Calderwood

AN Italian appeal to have Spanish crime-inspired restaurant chain Mafia change its name has been thrown out.
The Italian government lodged the request for the restaurant to either be forced to change its name or be closed down.
But Spanish authorities insist that the word ‘mafia’ is so common now that it doesn’t specifically relate to the Italian mob.
The firm’s public relations manager Pablo Martinez said: “The word mafia is a brand that is immediately recognised, it’s a call to attention and everyone remembers it.
“We apologise to those Italians who feel offended but that’s not our intention”

The Wee Book of Irish-American Gangsters: Karl Breen lover's devastation over mobster death

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Firm with gov‘t contracts ‘hired’ accused killer, mobster

By Michael Gartland

A Manhattan firm that has received more than $45 million in city and state contracts had an accused killer and Bonanno family mobster working as the president of a key division — but failed to reveal his criminal past on state disclosure forms, sources told The Post.
Neil Messina, 52, was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison last April for his role in a botched 1992 home invasion robbery that left a man and his German shepherd dead.
But Tri-State Employment Services — which provides temps, consultants and other business services to a host of city and state agencies — never mentioned his January 2011 arrest on a murder charge when it filed vendor responsibility forms with the state comptroller in February 2012.
The forms require prospective contractors to disclose whether any of their officials were under investigation or had been charged with any crimes over the previous five years.
Susan Kennedy, Tri-State’s VP of government sales, answered “no” and provided no information about Messina’s widely publicized arrest.
“Everybody knew who he was,” said one source with knowledge of the company’s inner workings. “It certainly raised some eyebrows.”
Potential penalties could include contract termination, according to the state comptroller’s website.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Messina served as president of the company’s “professional employer organization” division from 1997 to 2011.
The feds described him as an associate of the Bonanno crime family.
Tri-State has raked in $45 million for scores of contracts awarded since 1996, including a $10.3 million deal with the city Department of Social Services to assign temporary workers, a $49,000 contract with the city Health and Hospitals Corporation for consulting work, and a $300,000 contract with the state Office of General Services for administrative services.
A spokesperson for General Services said, “If true, the contract will be terminated immediately.”
In a deal with Brooklyn federal prosecutors, Messina wound up pleading guilty to racketeering charges in the 1992 Brooklyn home invasion and murder of Joseph Pistone and his beloved dog, King.
Pistone was killed during the robbery when two Messina accomplices searched for cash they thought was hidden in the house.
Messina, who said he was only the getaway driver, was one of nearly 100 wiseguys rounded up by the feds in January 2011.
Tri-State founder and president Robert Cassera did not return calls for comment and didn’t respond to messages left at his office.
Gerald McMahon, Messina’s lawyer in the Pistone case, declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Bob Fredericks

Genovese crime family's sports betting ring takes hit in South Florida, police says

Broward deputies help to crack multimillion-dollar racketeering network

Author: Andrea Torres,

Pasquale "Patsy" Capolongo is obsessed with gambling. From horses to professional football, basketball, baseball and college sports -- he has bet on it all.
The grandfather -- who is accused of being linked to the infamous Genovese crime family -- ran out of luck. After a failed illegal gambling business, he moved from White Plains to West Palm Beach. And now the 66-year-old is behind bars again.
Investigators of the multi-state operation took a $4 million bite out of a multimillion-dollar sports betting ring operation -- including $1.2 million linked to the venture in South Florida, police said.
 “Criminal networks like these may not seem dangerous to the public," Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said in a statement. "But it is activity such as this that leads to violence and fuels organized crime throughout the country."
The sports betting ring used off-shore sports betting web sites and hand-to-hand cash transactions in Broward and Palm Beach, Broward Sheriff's Office deputies said Friday.
To disrupt the gambling ring, there were 10 law enforcement agencies involved including the Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminal division in New York. There were also about 60 search warrants served in Florida, New Jersey and New York in an operation that started in 2013, according to authorities.
Sgt. Dan Fitzpatrick, of BSO's organized crime unit, was involved in the investigation in South Florida, which involved undercover officers, wire taps, surveillance work and a Feb. 5th raid.
According to police, the others arrested in South Florida include Allan Klein, of Margate, and his son Darren Klein, of Coral Springs. Also Michael Dangelo, of Pompano Beach, and Erik Bishop, of Parkland. And from Boca Raton, Thomas Cuce, Joseph Petrolino and Devon Shaimi.
Klein, 71, was facing racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, 16 counts of bookmaking, conspiracy to commit bookmaking, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and unlawful use of a two-way communication device, records show.
Klein, 36, was facing racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit bookmaking, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering and unlawful use of a two-way communication device, records show.
Dangelo, 58, was facing racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, five counts of bookmaking, conspiracy to commit bookmaking, money laundering and unlawful use of a two-way communication device, records show.
Bishop, 35, was facing racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, five counts of bookmaking, conspiracy to commit bookmaking and unlawful use of a two-way communication device, records show.
Petrolino, Cuce, 32, and Shaimi, 30, were facing charges of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, bookmaking, conspiracy to commit bookmaking and unlawful use of a two-way communication device.
There were related arrests in New York City, Rockland County, Bergen County and New Jersey. The investigation is ongoing with several more arrests anticipated in the coming weeks,a BSO Friday the 13th statement said.
Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement that she applauded her office and BSO for their "hard work in shutting down" the scheme in South Florida.
In New York, one of the biggest fishes caught was Daniel Pagano, 61, the son of the late Joseph Luco Pagano -- former Genovese family leader.
Other related arrests in New York include: Jonathan Klein, Michael Palazzolo, Robert Aulicino, Williams Robbins, James Hayman, Gerardo Dimatteo, Benjamin Reiss, Frank Giordano, Carmine Potenza, Harry Floershiem, Thoma Feeney, Brian Kelly, Richard Simko, Richard Lacava, Eric Wachter, John Tognino, and Robert Wisiak.

The Death of the Mafia?

By Jack Boyd

In mid-1950s, the Italian-American criminal organization known as Cosa Nostra was enjoying the peak of its political influence and economic success. At the time, many questioned the organization’s presence. J. Edgar Hoover completely denied its existence for years. And unfortunately for the criminals describing themselves as “businessmen,” their reign atop the criminal underworld was swiftly coming to a close. Why did the power of Cosa Nostra begin to decline? Is this decline indicative of the death of the mob? And what does today’s mob look like?
The factors that led to this near cessation of overwhelming power are numerous, but two stand out as the most influential. The first is the death of omertà, the code of silence, and the resulting convictions. The second factor involved other criminal organizations pushing Cosa Nostra to the periphery as a result of competition. In spite of these factors, though, the mafia is still very much alive.
A Death in the Family
The downsizing of the mafia began in 1959 with the arrest of Joe Valachi. Valachi was associated with the Genovese family of New York, which was prominent in Cosa Nostra. Offered a deal in which he could either testify about the mafia or face the death penalty, Valachi decided to talk. In an interview with the HPR, Jeffrey Robinson, author of The Merger: How Organized Crime is Taking Over the World, claimed that this was a pivotal point in the history of the Italian mob: “He broke omertà. That’s really a very important moment because until then nobody talked … the FBI realized that they could get inside Italian organized crime.” According to Robinson, FBI agents began approaching mob figures and offer protection from prosecution in exchange for information on other mobsters. It was an overwhelmingly successful approach.
This strategy leveled serious blows to the structure of Cosa Nostra, culminating in the Mafia Commission Trials of 1987 that indicted each head of New York’s Five Families. In 1992, even John Gotti, known as “Teflon Don” because charges never seemed to stick to him, was convicted on charges related to his organized crime activities. Omertà was dead for Cosa Nostra. According to Robinson, so many people flipped that the Sicilian mafia was able to enter the scene and take control of three of the Five Families of New York. They have maintained control to this day.
Ending an Illegal Monopoly
Cosa Nostra’s peaceful cooperation with other criminal organizations also contributed to the group’s decline. Traditionally, moving onto another group’s territory ensured a war. But according to Robinson, as Russian fraudsters relocated to Miami (Colombian territory)—followed by Italians interested in the heroin market—nobody was being killed. Law enforcement soon came to believe that this was because of collaboration between the organizations. When crack cocaine became readily available, many new criminal organizations got involved, and their quickly expanding influence muscled Cosa Nostra into the periphery. This loss of total power, coupled with the end of omertà, forced the Cosa Nostra into a largely successful effort to downsize.
Several criminal organizations, such as the Russian mob and the Mexican cartels, have filled Cosa Nostra’s power void in the United States. New York University professor Mark Galeotti told the HPR that Russian operations in the United States consist mainly of fraud, including schemes that target the U.S. government. He explains, “There are millions upon millions [of dollars] being looted from Medicare and Medicaid [by Russian organized crime].” Similarly, law enforcement has largely failed in stopping the Mexican drug cartels. In an interview with the HPR, Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, argued that despite efforts by law enforcement to stop the cartels, “you still have a drug industry, you still have thousands and thousands of people working for organized crime, you still have millions of consumers of drugs, and you still have high levels of violence.” Grillo also acknowledged the success of other organizations in exporting their gangs to the United States, particularly Colombian gangs and Jamaican “posses.” These organizations may have supplanted the former power and influence of Cosa Nostra. However, despite their reduced influence, the Italians continue to operate.
Into the Modern Era
In the wake of September 11, the FBI’s focus on organized crime has decreased sharply in favor of counterterrorism operations. In a government document titled “10 Years After: The FBI After 9/11,” the FBI acknowledged that it shifted resources from criminal matters to counterterrorism. The document notes that the number of counterterrorist intelligence analysts has doubled. According to current New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton in a 2007 Policing article, “As law enforcement reacted to the aftermath of 9/11, and the United States’ federal dollars and priorities shifted, organized crime groups were able to exploit the reduction in law enforcement attention and moved aggressively to establish new ‘trade routes’ and alliances.” In a 2011 interview with CUNY TV, former New York Times reporter Selwyn Raab claimed that there were once 500 members of law enforcement working on organized crime in New York City. Now, he said, there are around 50, enabling the survival of Cosa Nostra.
According to Robinson, Italian-American organized crime has found a niche role in construction, extortion and protection rackets. In the construction industry, he explains, Cosa Nostra profits by winning bids to do contract work and then fraudulently collecting revenue for unnecessary or absent employees. According to a close friend of Robinson’s who is now in the witness protection program, five percent of all construction funds in the city of New York go to the mafia. Joseph Pistone, a former FBI agent who infiltrated Cosa Nostra in New York, told Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission, which was investigating construction bid corruption, that the mob controls the construction industry via unions. He said that the mafia bosses control unions and subsequently threaten to strike if the company doesn’t relinquish a “fee.” Robinson adds that the mafia still operates protection rackets, in which a business owner will be threatened and then asked to pay a fee for “protection” from this threat.
Despite its reduced influence, Italian-American organized crime is unquestionably alive. The death of omertà, combined with a crowded criminal market, resulted in a downsizing of Cosa Nostra’s criminal operations. It has transformed from a monopoly on the criminal underworld to another small player in a global network. Despite its diminished influence, it has successfully downsized its operations, paving the way for a sustainable, albeit smaller, operation. Cosa Nostra is not dead, and won’t be anytime soon

Authorities: Broward gambling ring had organized crime ties

FORT LAUDERDALE – Eight people have been arrested on racketeering and other charges in a major South Florida gambling operation that authorities say has connections to organized crime.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office says the recent arrests resulted from a six-month undercover operation. Investigators also seized $1.2 million in cash.
Authorities say the group was involved in offshore sports betting as well as bookmaking in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Those arrested also apparently have ties to organized crime families in New York and Boston.
Charges include racketeering, money laundering, bookmaking and several conspiracy charges. Investigators say wiretaps and surveillance provided key evidence, as well as undercover officers who were able to penetrate the organization.

John (Junior) Gotti brags he lied to feds, insists he's not a 'rat'

When the mob scion sat down with federal prosecutors in 2005 to discuss crimes of fellow mobsters, he planned to give them bad information and useless leads, Gotti and his lawyer revealed in an interview with the Daily News. 'No one suffered but me,' he said of the decision.


John (Junior) Gotti wants to make one thing perfectly clear — he’s not a rat.
In a sitdown with the Daily News, the mob scion and his lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman gave their most detailed explanation to date of Gotti’s stunning decision to sit down with federal prosecutors in 2005 for a proffer session where he discussed crimes of his own — and of other mobsters in the Gambino crime family.
But he insists the “rat” label is unfair, because he intentionally provided bad information to the feds he felt sick talking to.
“No one got indicted,” said Gotti, who recently published a memoir titled “Shadow of My Father.”
 “No one suffered but me.”
Gotti acknowledged that his old-school father, the late Gambino boss John Gotti, would never have approved of the legal strategy. But Junior said he was in a bad place at the time.
He was facing trial on racketeering and stock fraud charges that could put him away for 100 years if he were convicted. Gotti was furious over the indictment because he thought federal prosecutors had given him coverage on those alleged charges from a prior plea agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office.
Gotti said he planned to give the feds information that was either useless or out-and-out false, and refused to ever testify against anyone. He hoped that prosecutors would give him a sweetheart plea deal while he would get two of his archenemies, reputed capo Daniel Marino and associate Joseph (Joe the German) Watts, jammed up with the feds.
The plan made no sense to anyone except Gotti — and got him excoriated as a “rat” by his ex-underling John Alite.
Alite cut a deal to get out of prison and somehow got ahold of the five-page summary of Gotti’s blabbing, and published the secret FBI report in his memoir, “Gotti’s Rules.”
“I gave (prosecutors) inaccurate information,” Gotti insisted. “I’m not proud of this. To this day it still bothers me. I will never, ever, ever be a cooperator. I made a mistake. Just the fact that I was in the room with them (feds) made me physically sick. I gamed them and gamed myself.
Just the fact that I was in the room with them (feds) made me physically sick. I gamed them and gamed myself.
“That was 45 minutes I’m still paying for. Not one person was incarcerated. I never even offered to be debriefed, I refused to ever testify and I even walked in with my own script of notes to just give them information on a handful of useless subjects and false information.”
Lichtman said he was initially against the idea of his client meeting with prosecutors but came around when he was able to work out unique ground rules: Gotti would not discuss the pending charges in the indictment and would only talk about subjects of his own choosing.
 “The information he wanted to provide was useless as it was either beyond the statute of limitations, insignificant state crimes or, as I learned afterward, actually filled with falsehoods,” Lichtman told The News.
“It was an utter scam in the sense that it was not a real proffer — it was a ‘meet and greet’ with our providing some token good faith with this information. What he did, I learned later, was putting people into crimes who were already dead.”
Lichtman was referring to Gotti’s recounting of the 1983 murder of Danny Silva in a Queens bar.
Gotti claimed among those involved in the melee was Joey Curio — but Gotti said he knew full well that Curio wasn’t there because he had been slain three years earlier.
“It was an utter and complete farce,” Lichtman said of the proffer.
“I didn’t know he was going to lie, but we were clear with each other that he was going to give them bulls — that couldn’t go anywhere. In the end, he felt that by just going in as a Gotti for a proffer he might be able to hurt his enemies. It was a crazy idea and once we refused to go back for another debriefing that was the end of it and we mercifully could start and finish trial preparation.”
Gotti can’t be prosecuted for providing the feds with phony info, because the statute of limitations has run out.
Two former federal prosecutors who attended the session declined to comment on Gotti’s assertions.
Gotti, who turned 51 on Valentine’s Day, also gave The News his first public explanation of his mysterious stabbing outside a Long Island drugstore in 2013.
He said he was wounded breaking up a fight between two crackheads he knew — and has no regrets.
“If I had to do it all over again I would,” Gotti said.
Gotti refused to cooperate with Nassau County cops and prosecutors investigating the Nov. 10, 2013, stabbing in the parking lot of a CVS drugstore in Syosset.
Adding to the mystery, there were no witnesses, no surveillance video cameras at the parking lot, and cops found no bloodstains.
Gotti said he was home watching the Sunday night football game between the Saints and the Cowboys when “someone I’ve known my whole life called and said he had a problem at the CVS parking lot in Syosset just 2 miles from my house and asked for my help.”
“I got to the parking lot and two guys were fighting. I knew both of them,” he said, adding that they were “crackheads.”
“I tried to break up the fight and one of them pulled out a knife, swung it wildly, and the knife caught me in my lower abdomen,” he said. “The second cut missed my heart and caught the back of my stomach, about 4 inches deep.”
Gotti drove himself to Syosset Hospital, where he underwent surgery. While he was recovering in the hospital, he used the alias “Critical Kane” for privacy, he said.
“The one person who got me involved apologized for it, but I still don’t know which of the two stabbed me,” Gotti said.
Gotti explained that he did not meet with authorities because the stabbing was “a complete and total accident.” His wife, though, took a dimmer view of his rush to be a good Samaritan.
“The way my wife looks at it, ‘After all, you’ve been through, to be laying dead in a parking lot?’ ” Gotti said.