My dad was the Mafia’s Grim Reaper

By Brad Hamilton
November 8, 2015 | 6:00am

On the morning of Nov. 18, 1991, Linda Scarpa learned, brutally, what it meant to be the daughter of a Mafia assassin.
Gregory Scarpa, known as “Grim Reaper,” was the most feared gangland enforcer in New York and executioner for one side of an internal war in the Colombo crime family.
But the enemy knew where his family lived in Bensonhurst and was waiting for Scarpa that morning as he pulled away from the house. Linda followed her father’s car out of the driveway and noticed a van speeding down the block.
 “When I backed out, I cut the van off,” she writes in her new memoir, “The Mafia Hit Man’s Daughter.” “It almost slammed into me … I yelled a few choice words and started driving again.”
At the end of the street, a truck had blocked the intersection. She pulled up behind her father, and the van stopped behind them. Not realizing the danger, she looked down to check on her 8-month-old son. “All of a sudden I heard popping noises that sounded just like fireworks.”
“I looked up and there were these guys dressed from head to toe in black. Their faces were covered in black ski masks, and they were carrying these long black guns with silencers. They surrounded our cars and started shooting at my father’s car. As soon as the first shots rang out, I saw my father go down.”
She wanted to place her child on the floor but was too afraid to move. “I was only 22 years old. The fear was paralyzing. It was like I was outside my body watching everything that was going on around me. I noticed this one guy with a walkie-talkie standing on the sidewalk, watching these guys shooting at my father’s car as if he was directing a movie.”
A friend of her father’s, Joseph “Joe Fish” Marra, jumped out of his car and returned fire. “One of the guys started shooting back at Joe, and I saw the wind from the bullet whiz right through his hair. He just missed getting his head blown up. I read his lips. He said, ‘Holy s–t.’ He jumped back in the car.
“The guy he was shooting at panicked. His automatic gun was spraying bullets everywhere. He even shot into my car. By now my father’s entire car looked like Swiss cheese.”
Scarpa’s car took off, wedging through the space between the stop sign and the truck.
“I was left there on the road — the baby and I — with the van, the truck and all these guys dressed in black. My heart was in my mouth. I knew I was going to die right then.
“Then the guy whose gun was spraying bullets — I’ll never forget him because he had the bluest eyes — came running over to my car. . . . He looked in the car, then turned and ran away.”
Linda raced back to the house and, assuming the worst, told her mother, “Big Linda” Schiro, that Greg Scarpa was dead.
Then Scarpa himself walked through the door.
“He was pale as a ghost. He saw me and the baby and he just started to cry. He grabbed my son and hugged him. Then he looked at me. ‘You saved my life. You realize that, right?’ ”
“Don’t worry,” he added. “Everything’s OK. I’m going to take care of this.” He turned to Linda’s mother and said, “They’re all f–king dead. They’re going to f–king die, starting tonight.”
The Colombo war
She grew up thinking a mild-mannered man named Charlie Schiro was her dad, and that “Greggy” was just a friend of the family. It was only as a teenager that she learned the truth: Her mother was Greg Scarpa’s mistress, and Linda and her brother Joey were his children.
Even before she knew Scarpa was her father, though, she loved him. Their home was filled with parties, and “we had the nicest cars and the nicest clothes,” she writes. “I got my first fur coat when I was 6.”
She and brother Joey would sometimes join their father at his crew’s Wimpy Boys Social Club on Thirteenth Avenue in Bensonhurst, where Scarpa worked from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. They were treated to chocolate egg creams at the luncheonette next door and candy from the store across the street — always free.
But when Linda was old enough to find out the truth, she lived in fear of his gangland dealings.
“He was known as the Grim Reaper,” she points out, “because if you did wrong and were in the life, or you hurt his family or anyone he cared about, it was his job to bring you death.”
Scarpa said he stopped counting the number of his victims at 50.
Many of the killings occurred during the Colombo civil war of 1991-1993, which erupted just as Scarpa was thinking about retiring and moving to Florida. By then he had AIDS — contracted during a blood transfusion over a life-threatening bleeding ulcer.
The mob family’s consigliere, Carmine Sessa, begged him to join the battle in support of imprisoned godfather Carmine Persico, who was at odds with rebellious acting boss Victor “Little Vic” Orena. Scarpa owed Sessa a debt of gratitude for having cared for him when most others stayed away because of his illness.
Through the war, Scarpa was assisted, Linda alleges, by Lin DeVecchio, an FBI supervisor and Scarpa’s handler during several years when the hit man secretly aided the bureau in exchange for cash and tips.
Scarpa, who loved James Bond movies, hinted at the relationship even when his kids were young. “That’s your father,” he once said. “Call me Greg. Greg Bond.” Linda just laughed. “It wasn’t until I was older that I learned what he was talking about.”
DeVecchio was tried in 2006 for helping Scarpa carry out four gangland murders, but the case collapsed because Linda Schiro had denied DeVecchio’s involvement in Scarpa’s murders a decade earlier in a Village Voice interview.
But Linda Schiro told the truth to investigators “about how Lin helped my father,” the daughter says. Little Linda even says DeVecchio helped spark the Colombo war by tipping Scarpa about the hit men who’d come after him.
“My father gave him the license-plate number of one of the trucks involved in the shooting,” she writes. “Lin checked around. He told my father that the truck belonged to William ‘Wild Bill’ Cutolo. So my father knew that Wild Bill and Vic Orena had called the hit — and now he knew who his targets were.”
Close to home
As a teenager, Linda Scarpa, now 46, fell in with a group of kids who used to hang around and smoke pot, a crowd that included her first boyfriend, Greg Vacca.
When she came home high one night, her parents raged at her. The next day, Scarpa went looking for her boyfriend.
The boy’s head and face were so badly beaten, “I couldn’t bear to look at him. His head was misshapen. There were bumps the size of grapefruits.”
She told her dad, “I hate you. How could you do that to him?” He said: “That’s what happens when you do stupid things.”
Greg Vacca gave his own account of that beating in Linda Scarpa’s book. He describes how Scarpa and his gangster friends tracked him down the day after the pot-smoking incident, chasing him in cars as he fled on foot.
“There must have been 10 or 12 guys,” Vacca recalled. “And they just friggin’ pulverized me. I ended up with a broken nose, a concussion, two fractured ribs, and the rest of my body was bruised everywhere. My head was so swollen, I looked like the Elephant Man.”
But Vacca credits Scarpa for steering him away from drugs and the streets.
“I don’t get high anymore or do drugs. I’ve been sober since 1991, completely sober — no drinking, nothing, zero. I don’t gamble at all. I don’t get involved with the mob.
“So, Greg, thank you, number one, for not killing me. Number two, I learned a lot from that.”
Another terrifying encounter happened about three years later. Linda was 16 and attacked by her car-service driver, Jose Guzman, who was supposed to take her to Bishop Ford High School in Park Slope but instead drove her to a secluded area of Prospect Park.
“He grabbed my hand . . . and licked the crease between my index finger and my middle finger as if they were my legs. ‘That’s what I’m going to do to you, baby.’ And then he ripped my shirt open. All that was going through my head was that I was going to get killed — raped and then killed.”
She got out of it by pretending to be interested and insisting that Guzman meet her later. When she told her mother, “She flipped out. Went totally crazy. Crying. Screaming at the top of her lungs.”
Scarpa tracked down Guzman and shot him as he ran from the front steps of his home, telling Linda, “I had actually saved other girls from being raped.”
Scarpa cut out a newspaper account of the murder and kept it in her wallet. “Every once in a while I’d take it out and look at it. He had kids, and I felt so bad and guilty about him getting killed. But what was I supposed to do, not say anything?”
Her lost brother
Joey, a “mama’s boy,” got pulled into his father’s Mafia world at 17, when Scarpa forced him to murder his best friend, Patrick Porco. DeVecchio found out Porco had been picked up on a murder charge and was going to flip.
“Greg told Joey he’d have to kill Patrick himself. Joey had no choice,” said Linda Schiro. Ultimately the teen couldn’t pull the trigger — but watched as Joey’s cousin shot Porco in the head.
Two years later, another friend of Joey’s, Joe Randazzo, was gunned down in front of him during a beef with drug dealers in which his father blasted Lucchese member Michael “Mickey Flattop” Derosa and his crew fired back. “A bullet went through Daddy’s nose and took out his eye,” Joey told his sister. “When I turned around to tell Joe to duck, he got shot in the head.”
Greg Scarpa ended up in the hospital under arrest, joking to Linda Schiro, “That’s all right, sweetheart. You can call me ‘One-eyed Greg’ from now on.”
Scarpa was eventually convicted and died in prison in 1994 at age 66.
Joey spiraled into depression.
“Life’s not the same without Dad,” he told his sister. But though he tried to get away from the life, Joey was killed after a member of the Gambinos lured him into a trap.
His death devastated Linda. “That was in 1995,” she writes. “Today it’s not better, not even a little bit.”

“I’ve often thought about the people my father murdered and the families he destroyed, and it’s very painful and disturbing. I knew what that felt like because my brother was murdered, too.”

Accused mobster gets 70 months for drugs, money laundering despite plea from FDNY widow


A plea for mercy from the widow of a hero firefighter didn't do much good for a reputed Colombo gangster who was sentenced Thursday to 70 months in prison for drugs and money laundering crimes.
John Cerbone, 43, who does double duty as a plumber and a goodfella, tried to portray himself as a good guy, too, in his bid for a five-year sentence.
Linda Graffagnino had written to Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis that Cerbone had helped take care of her two young children after her husband Joseph was killed in the Deutsche Bank fire in 2007. Cerbone is a longtime friend of Linda Graffagnino and is dating her sister.
"He's a good guy, that's wonderful," Garaufis said. "But he also had to do what he has to do to be law-abiding in other respects."
Assistant Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes stated in court papers that Cerbone is a member of Colombo capo Joseph Amato's crew, and had suggested to an informant last year that he had been inducted into the crime family as a made man.
Cerbone is a triplet and his two brothers attended the sentencing. Last year Cerbone tried to pass himself off as his brother Joseph when a Drug Enforcement Administration agent handed him a subpoena.
The mobster shed his blue dress shirt and donned a red T-shirt in a pathetic attempt to confuse the media outside Brooklyn Federal Court. Linda Graffagnino declined to comment.

Cerbone pleaded guilty to distributing cocaine, marijuana and oxycodone pills, and laundering the illicit proceeds after he was caught in a sting operation.

'Mafia Capital' mobster trial opens in Italy

One of Italy's biggest organised crime trials in years - dubbed Mafia Capital - has opened in Rome, where councillors and gangsters allegedly stole millions of euros of public cash.
A one-eyed, neo-fascist gangster called Massimo Carminati is accused of having run the criminal network. He will be questioned via a prison video-link.
According to prosecutors, mobsters flourished under Rome's former right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno.
It was a Mafia-type network, they say.
However, the operation was separate from southern Italy's traditional Mafia activities such as drug-running and extortion, anti-Mafia prosecutor Alfonso Sabella told Reuters news agency.
Forty-six defendants are on trial in the corruption case, which concerns millions of euros allegedly stolen from city hall. The suspects were arrested last December.
Gangsters allegedly conspired with local politicians to siphon off funds intended for migrant and refugee centres, and for rubbish collection in Rome and the surrounding Lazio region.
The politicians on trial include:
        Luca Gramazio, former head of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party on the regional council
        Mirko Coratti, former head of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) in the Rome city council
        Andrea Tassone, a PD member and former head of Ostia council near Rome.
Ex-mayor Gianni Alemanno denies wrongdoing. He is under investigation, but is not involved in this trial.
The alleged gang members on trial include two close associates of Mr Carminati - Salvatore Buzzi and Riccardo Brugia.
Like Mr Carminati, Mr Brugia used to be in a violent, outlawed far-right group called NAR (the Armed Revolutionary Nuclei).
NAR members were implicated in the notorious bombing of Bologna train station in 1980, which killed 85 people.
Mr Carminati, in jail in Parma, lost an eye in a shoot-out with police in 1981 while trying to flee to Switzerland.
The trial will move to a court bunker at Rebibbia prison on the outskirts of Rome after the opening session.
It is expected to last until next summer.

Last week, the current mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, was forced to resign in an unrelated scandal involving expenses.

How Breweries like Coors, Yuengling And Anheuser-Busch Survived Prohibition

This story appears in the November 23, 2015 issue of Forbes.
Kate Vinton

Prohibition crippled a thriving brewing industry in the United States. Between 1900 and 1913, beer production in the United States rose from 1.2 billion gallons to 2 billion gallons. By 1916, there were approximately 1,300 breweries in the country. But four years later, a nationwide ban on alcohol went into effect.
Only a handful of breweries were still standing when Prohibition lifted in 1933. Their secret? Switching production to something other than beer. These breweries made everything from ceramics and ice cream to barely alcoholic “near beer,” which used the same machinery as brewing beer. Some of these products were so successful that the breweries continued making them long after the end of Prohibition.
Here’s a look at what some of these breweries did to survive:
Faced with the looming threat of Prohibition, Coors started a ceramics business, taking advantage of the clay deposits around the brewery’s headquarters in Golden, Colorado. Today, Coors’ ceramics business, called CoorsTek, makes more money for the Coors family than its beer business does, according to Dan Alexander’s FORBES feature story on CoorsTek. With $1.25 billion in sales, CoorsTek is the world’s largest engineered-ceramics manufacturer.
Founded in 1829 and owned today by billionaire Dick Yuengling, the brewery weathered Prohibition by opening the Yuengling Ice Cream & Dairy plant, which operated until 1985. It resumed making ice cream last year.
Its two dozen nonalcoholic Prohibition products included anonalcoholic malt beverage called Bevo, ice cream, soft drinks and truck bodies.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
This Wisconsin-based brewery switched from making beer to making cheese. Aged in the brewery’s ice cellars, Pabst-ett cheese was sold to Kraft in 1933 at the end of Prohibition.
Family-owned Detroit-based Stroh’s made malt syrup and ice cream. The brewery survived Prohibition, but the family–once one of America’s richest–hasn’t been able to hold onto its fortune. Stroh’s Brewery was sold in pieces to Miller and Pabst in 1999.
Schell’s Brewing Company
Founded in 1860, the Minnesota-based brewery kept its beer-making machinery busy producing soft drinks, candy and near beer during Prohibition.
Minhas Craft Brewery
Wisconsin-based Blumer Brewing Company (as Minhas Craft Brewery was known in 1920) became Blumer Products Company during Prohibition. The company distributed case tractors, separators, silo fillers and road machinery.
Saranac Brewery
Utica Club soft drinks and other non-alcoholic products helped the brewery, which was founded in 1888, stay in business through Prohibition.
Pittsburgh Brewing Company
Pittsburgh Brewery survived Prohibition by making near beer and ice cream, in addition to running a cold storage facility.
Stephens Point Brewery
Wisconsin-based Stephens Point Brewery kept busy during Prohibition selling near-beer and soft drinks.

Follow me on Twitter at @katevinton.

Authorities release former New England mob boss from home confinement

November 10, 2015 - 4:49 am EST

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — A former New England mob boss who returned to Providence after leaving prison earlier this year has been released from home confinement.
Luigi "Baby Shacks" Manocchio pleaded guilty in 2012 to charges that he helped shake down strip clubs for protection money. He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.
The 88-year-old former head of the New England crime family had been living in his old Federal Hill apartment to serve the remaining six months of his sentence. Authorities say he was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device until his sentence expired.

WPRI-TV reports ( ) the Federal Bureau of Prisons last week released Manocchio from home confinement. He will now be on probation for three years.

Fatal Prohibition shooting in Herald Square spurs NYPD to create Intelligence Division & Counter-Terrorism Bureau's predecessor


Halfway through the fool’s parade of Prohibition, New York began to stink of Cicero, Ill.
Hard liquor had been the first-line intoxicant glugged in the Big Apple’s speakeasies.
But in 1927, the boys from Chicago arrived, with their Tommy Guns and needle beer, a low-test brew spiked through barrel bunghole corks with ether or ethanol.
Beer joints suddenly thrived in New York. So did casket-makers.
At 3 o’clock on June 17, 1928, a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, an eye-catching young brunette was perched behind the wheel of a Hudson sedan that inched up Broadway, plowing a furrow through the Herald Square masses. A well-dressed man twice her age rode shotgun.
As the Hudson idled near W. 36th St., a man stepped from a trailing Nash, strode to the Hudson and fired three shots through the passenger’s window. He calmly opened the door and delivered three more redundant bullets.
The passenger, a mug from Buffalo via Chicago, was good and dead.
The driver, described neatly by a broadsheet as “about 23, comely and dressed in pink,” stepped from the car and scooted into a nearby restaurant. She dabbed blood from her face, then walked out into the Herald Square human stream and disappeared.
A beat cop commandeered a taxi and raced after the Nash, pinging wild shots as the getaway car hurtled away, last seen heading up Park Ave.
The next day, the murder was on the front pages of the newspapers, on the lips of gabby New Yorkers, and on the agenda of Mayor Jimmy Walker.
New York has always shrugged at the occasional bump-off in certain neighborhoods — but not others.
Herald Square was one of the others.
This was a crossroads of commerce that attracted New York’s beau monde, and all that bang-bang in broad daylight can ruin a shopping trip.
After police sorted through his half-dozen aliases, the victim of the rubout was pegged as Edwin Jerge, who hadn’t lived many honest days in his 45 years. He’d been a pickpocket in Buffalo, a bank robber in Chicago, a forger in Newark, a truck hijacker in Cleveland and a dope peddler in New York.
Jerge’s murder was a mere splatter in the river of bloodshed in this city over the decades, and his bullet-shortened life is long forgotten today. But the shooting spurred an NYPD innovation when it exposed the department’s lack of gangland intelligence.
Police believed Jerge was a fatality of the beer racket, compliments of Al Capone & Co. of Illinois. But lacking a suspect, Inspector John Coughlin and his minions cast about for motives. They linked the murder to a missing-person case, a steamer ship heist and several variations on the old double-cross.
Briefly, the murder drew attention to a New York hoodlum with a nonpareil nickname. Jerge was said to have robbed a Lower East Side drug dealer, Samuel Weissman, who was known in his circle as Kitty the Horse, apparently a mash-up of his equine face and a tendency to emit a quavering meow when he got animated.
Kitty the Horse was corralled by police but released without charge.
Meanwhile, city morgues began filling up with more bodies — Capone frenemy Francesco (Frankie Yale) Ioele, murdered in Brooklyn; beer baron Tony Marlow, taken out in front of the Harding Hotel near Columbus Circle; a Brooklyn mug named Jimmy Abbatamarco, a beer runner named Hickey Senter, and a handful of others.

Police tallied seven murders they believed to be somehow related to Jerge. But how?
The press belittled the cops’ incompetence, tagging detectives as “bewildered” and “floundering.”
“The police are just scratching their heads, looking very wise and very mysterious,” Wilbur Rogers grumbled in the Brooklyn Eagle.
Mayor Walker put the spurs to Inspector Coughlin, who then lashed his men.
“I want this Jerge murder broken,” Coughlin bellowed at 100 detectives, “or some of you fellows are going back to patrol duty in uniform!”
But six months after the Herald Square spectacle, Mayor Walker fired his police brain trust, including Coughlin, Chief Inspector William Lahey and Commissioner Joseph Warren.

Walker replaced Warren with his friend Grover Whalen, a businessman with no police experience. Whalen said the NYPD was being outflanked by “the secret rackets.”
“All these mysteries might not have been mysteries at all if we had known what was going on in the underworld,” Whalen said.
In July 1929, he sought to fix the information deficit by creating the agency’s first spy unit, borrowing an idea from Scotland Yard.
Fifty fresh graduates of the Police Academy were assigned to go undercover as “criminals with their fingers crossed.” They carried no shields, owned no uniforms and were persona non grata at stationhouses.
Their task was to scrape the inside skinny from bad guys, then unload the lowdown in secret sit-downs with bosses.
The fledgling spies functioned as forerunners of today’s vast NYPD Intelligence Division & Counter-Terrorism Bureau.
They helped develop a few more theories on why the beer racket would want to ventilate Jerge. But the Herald Square hit men went unpunished.
And as the memory of the bloody Sunday faded, some reconsidered.

As Alva Johnston put it in The New Yorker, “Why should the city turn ungrateful and resent its good luck? Any community ought to be glad to have its population diminished by a Jerge.”

Lawyer: Turncoats Framed Old Gangster in 'Goodfellas' Heist


The government used opportunistic Mafia turncoats to make its case against aging mobster Vincent Asaro in a decades-old airport heist immortalized in the hit gangster movie "Goodfellas," a defense attorney said in closing arguments on Monday at Asaro's racketeering trial.
Lawyer Elizabeth Macedonio called the cooperating witnesses "despicable people" and "accomplished liars" who would say anything to save themselves. She singled out Asaro's mob associate cousin, who came forward in the late 2000s and agreed to wear a wire to record their conversations and try to implicate her client.
The cousin, Gaspare Valenti, "is a person who is able to lie to everyone around him — even his own family," she told jurors in federal court in Brooklyn.
The jury got the case late Monday and deliberated for about a half-hour before breaking for day. It was to resume on Tuesday.
The government alleges that the 80-year-old Asaro, in his heyday, helped plan the $6 million armed holdup at a Lufthansa cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. It also has accused the Bonanno organized crime family member of continuing his life of crime into his later year before his arrest last year.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicyn Cooley, in her closing argument on Friday, told the jury that Asaro, whose grandfather and father were members of the secretive Bonanno family, "was born into that life and he fully embraced it."
She said Asaro rose through the ranks and developed an "unbreakable bond" with the more notorious James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, the late Lucchese crime family associate who orchestrated the 1978 Lufthansa heist and inspired the mob character played by Robert De Niro in the film. She cited testimony by Valenti about how Asaro teamed with Burke to assemble the holdup crew and, in a separate scheme, kill a suspected informant with a dog chain.
Jurors have heard recordings made by Valenti on which Asaro complained in a profanity-laced rant, "We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get. ... Jimmy kept everything."
Asaro's attorney argued that the recordings only exposed the bluster of a broken-down old man with a gambling problem.
"Hardly the powerful organized crime figure the government alleges him to be," Macedonio said. "Rather, Mr. Asaro rode around all day with Gaspare Valenti fantasizing. Fantasizing about a way to make money."
Valenti, 68, testified he signed up to become a paid government informant because a gambling problem had left him destitute and he was fed up with the Mafia.
Asaro, if convicted of racketeering conspiracy and other charges, would face life in prison.
"Goodfellas," released in 1990, also featured Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and Joe Pesci, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actor. It was directed by Martin Scorsese.

Trial of Vincent Asaro Highlights Loss of Mafia’s Code of Silence

NOV. 9, 2015

After he had helped pull off one of the biggest cash robberies in American history — the Lufthansa heist of 1978 — and stashed millions of dollars, along with burlap sacks of gold chains, crates of watches, and diamonds and emeralds, in his cousin’s basement,Vincent Asaro thought first about the code: Protect the family.
 “He says, ‘We got to be real careful now,’” his cousin testified. “‘Don’t spend anything. Don’t buy anything major.’”
He kept quiet, but another part of Mr. Asaro, a Mafia yeoman working his way up through New York’s Bonanno crime family, could not resist. He bought a Bill Blass-model Lincoln and a Formula speedboat — symbols of a man who wanted to belong.
Mr. Asaro did not realize his world was vanishing.
Born in 1935, he entered the same business as his father and grandfather, also Mafia members: a company man even if the company business was murder and extortion. Growing old, Mr. Asaro stayed in his old neighborhood in Queens, shopping at Waldbaum’s, sticking with the routines he knew.
By then, though, other organized crime groups were squeezing out the New York Mafia with new, sophisticated businesses. More devastatingly for him, Mr. Asaro’s friends, superiors and even a relative began informing on him to the government — providing the material that allowed prosecutors to bring charges after all these years, and shredding the Mafia code that defined his life.
Now 80, Mr. Asaro has spent the last three weeks in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, the sole defendant in what may be one of the last big Mafia trials, accused of crimes including a 1969 murder, the Lufthansa heist at Kennedy International Airport — a plot point in the Martin Scorsese movie “Goodfellas” — other robberies and extortions. His arm tattoo has been covered up by sweaters. It reads, “Death Before Dishonor.”
In closing arguments, Elizabeth Macedonio, a defense lawyer, portrayed the cooperating Mafia witnesses as liars, and Mr. Asaro as someone who, despite years of being surveilled by federal agents, was never once caught doing anything wrong.
The case, which went to the jury Monday evening, has depicted a Mafia life from a time when the organization still ruled New York, drawn from testimony, recorded conversations, wiretapped phone calls, court filings and F.B.I. surveillance records going back 40 years. Vincent Asaro was brought down in his old age by a violation of the codes he so embraced; his is the story of the disappearing New York Mafia, and of a disappearing way of life.
To get by around Ozone Park, Queens, in the 1950s and ’60s, teenagers had to figure certain things out pretty young. “Down the hole” was an Italian area on the border with Brooklyn. Savvy lottery players picked lucky combinations from the Daily News horse-race charts. And, several people testified, around the time they became teenagers, they realized where the power in the neighborhood lay.
Peter Zuccaro, a Mafia associate who testified at Mr. Asaro’s trial, got into a fight over a customer’s not paying for goods at the auto-parts shop where Mr. Zuccaro worked. He was in danger until a Bonanno member intervened, a display of the raw power he came to crave. “It was the thing to do,” he said. “I wanted to be a made member of organized crime.”
The five New York families each have a boss, an underboss and a consigliere ruling them. Captains follow, then soldiers. Under that are associates, who are not made, or inducted, members.
Salvatore Vitale, a former Bonanno underboss, explained the rules: You did not cooperate with law enforcement. You did not sleep with another member’s wife or daughter. You could sell only pot, not other drugs.
Are the rules broken? an assistant United States attorney, Nicole M. Argentieri, asked him.
“All the time,” Mr. Vitale replied.
This was the family business Mr. Asaro seemed destined for. Anthony Ruggiano Jr., whose father, known as Fat Andy, was a Gambino soldier, began noticing Mr. Asaro when he saw him at Aqueduct or around the neighborhood. Fat Andy said that Mr. Asaro was going to be a third-generation wiseguy, and “thought it was a great thing,” Mr. Ruggiano testified.
By the 1960s, Mr. Asaro was known as an “earner” in the Bonannos, a prosecutor, Lindsay Gerdes, said. His cousin Gaspare Valenti, a Bonanno associate before he started cooperating with the government, testified about the early crimes they committed together, like hijacking truckloads of Oleg Cassini shirts. The “scores” were often at the direction of James Burke, a powerful Mafia associate who was Irish. (In “Goodfellas,” Robert De Niro plays the character based on Mr. Burke.)
In 1969, prosecutors said, Mr. Asaro graduated to murder.
One Sunday in 1969, Mr. Asaro and Mr. Burke met Mr. Valenti at a house Mr. Valenti’s father was building in Queens, bringing a sledgehammer and a shovel. “Vinny came up the steps,” Mr. Valenti testified, “and said, ‘We have to bury somebody.’” Mr. Valenti thought he was joking; he was not. The body was that of Paul Katz, a man Mr. Asaro suspected of being a government informant. Mr. Asaro and Mr. Burke had strangled the man with a dog chain, according to Mr. Valenti. Mr. Valenti said he helped them bury the body underneath the basement concrete.
In the late 1970s, Mr. Asaro was formally inducted into the Bonannos: Vinny Asaro was a made man. Mr. Zuccaro recalled being at a club called Little Cricket that night. When Mr. Asaro walked in, someone played a song called “Wise Guy,” and then “the whole neighborhood knew,” Mr. Zuccaro said. Soon, Mr. Asaro would show he merited the honor.
Rolf Rebmann was working his usual midnight-to-7-a.m. shift at Building 26 at Kennedy Airport on Dec. 11, 1978, when he heard a “holler” from outside the terminal. His co-workers were upstairs in the lunchroom for their 3 a.m. meal break, so Mr. Rebmann, a Lufthansa security guard, walked outside to see a man standing near a black Ford van.
“I asked him if I could help him, and he said ‘No,’ and stuck a gun in my face and told me to get in the van face down,” Mr. Rebmann testified.
The assailants wanted Mr. Rebmann’s keys to open the overhead door, and then they walked him upstairs to the lunchroom. “Somebody kept saying: ‘Just do as you’re told, do as you’re told. We don’t want to hurt anybody.’”
Led by Mr. Burke, they had been tipped off to the valuable cargo shipments by an airport employee.
They had pulled off what was then billed as the largest cash robbery in United States history, stealing $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels.
Gaspare Valenti, who testified he was one of the two men who attacked the guards, said Mr. Asaro had allowed him to come. In planning sessions at the Queens social club Robert’s Lounge, Mr. Burke, Mr. Asaro, Mr. Valenti and several other men looked over airport plans, and agreed to visit the terminal at least twice to map out escape routes, Mr. Valenti testified.
Mr. Asaro drove Mr. Valenti to Mr. Burke’s house the night of the robbery, giving him a .38 hammerless pistol and an instruction: “‘Anything happens, just stand your ground and continue to do the robbery the best you can,’” Mr. Asaro told him, Mr. Valenti testified. Mr. Asaro and Mr. Burke said they would wait in a decoy car a mile away, and the others piled into a van and headed for the terminal.
When they got into the vault, one of the robbers, Tommy DeSimone, took a box from a shelf and stepped on it, Mr. Valenti testified. “The yellow Styrofoam popcorn popped out of the boxes, and Tommy put his hand in there, and he pulled out two packages of money,” Mr. Valenti said. “Tommy says, ‘This is it! This is it!’”
After unloading the haul in Mr. Valenti’s basement, Mr. Asaro left for Fat Andy’s social club. When Mr. Valenti, feeling “euphoria,” met him at Fat Andy’s, Mr. Asaro issued his warning to be careful. Mr. Asaro was: He stayed away from Mr. Valenti for a while, kicked up $100,000 to his captain, distributed jewelry to the Five Families to keep the peace and asked friends to hold on to the cash so it wasn’t in one place. He even worried that throwing out the cardboard boxes that contained the cash might draw unwanted attention. So he came up with the idea for Mr. Valenti to sell Christmas trees, so a cheery bonfire would not look out of place.
He had reason for the concern. Headlines throughout that December blared about the daring robbery, and by just after Christmas, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were watching Mr. Asaro visit Mr. Burke’s house in Queens.
Style of the 1950s
In the years after Lufthansa, the participants who were still around had enough money that they should have been able to stop working. Mr. Valenti got his $750,000 share, as did Mr. Asaro. Most of the others were killed or disappeared (deaths prosecutors attribute in part to Mr. Burke, who died in 1996 while serving his sentence).
Mr. Asaro, smart enough to stay alive, aware enough not to talk too much about Lufthansa, apparently still wanted a little fun. He gambled heavily, and started a Rockaway Boulevard nightclub called Afters, which Mr. Valenti said was a reference to “After Lufthansa.”
Mr. Asaro acted, in some ways, as if it were the 1950s and the mob were at its height. He placed bets at Aqueduct. He played handball and paddleball, poker and Continental. He oversaw truck hijackings and armored-car robberies. In a series of surveillance photographs, he seemed the picture of easy confidence. He even waved at an F.B.I. agent one day, according to testimony.
But it was the 1980s, and the Mafia, after years of prosperity and influence, was beginning a steep decline. The police and F.B.I. agentsinfiltrated the mob. Federal prosecutors charged the bosses of the Five Families using a powerful racketeering act, and four of the five were imprisoned (the fifth was killed before trial). Suddenly, even friendly local politicians stopped supporting the families.
On the other side, the Mafia was getting squeezed by crime syndicatesfrom Japan, Russia, Mexico and Eastern Europe doing drug trafficking, human trafficking and arms dealing. The mob, though it still made money from extortion and gambling, was not evolving, and neither was Mr. Asaro.
Into the 1990s, Mr. Asaro was still threatening neighborhood shops. An Ozone Park resident, Guy Gralto, testified that when he opened his chop shop in the 1990s, Mr. Asaro asked for “protection money.” When Mr. Gralto could not pay, Mr. Asaro hit him and said that “when he was done with me my mother wouldn’t be able to ID my body,” Mr. Gralto testified.
But as he grew older, his bosses considered Mr. Asaro “hostile,” as Mr. Vitale, the former Bonanno underboss, put it. In the 1990s, the boss demoted Mr. Asaro because “he was abusing his leadership position by ‘robbing’ the individuals who reported to him,” and was low on money from too much gambling, prosecutors wrote. Prosecutors do not name the mob boss in the papers, but the details they give match those of Joseph C. Massino, who later began cooperating with the government. Prosecutors discussed calling him to testify at Mr. Asaro’s trial, according to transcripts.
An enfeebled New York Mafia limped into the new millennium. One associate, Peter Zuccaro, enthralled with the Mafia since he was a teenager, declined the offer when he was told he was being made around 2000. “I didn’t need it,” he said; he began informing a few years later. In 2003, Mr. Vitale started cooperating with the government, and helped convict more than 50 Mafia figures. That was followed by a once-unthinkable betrayal. In 2005, a mob leader flipped for the first time. It was Joe Massino, Mr. Asaro’s onetime boss.
Mr. Asaro did not seem to question it when his cousin Gaspare Valenti, who had been in Las Vegas and not speaking to Mr. Asaro, returned to New York and befriended him in 2010. Mr. Valenti was secretly working with the F.B.I.
By then, Mr. Asaro was hobbling around trying to generate cash. “I don’t come out early no more,” Mr. Asaro said in 2010. “Where am I going? I got no place to go.”
Since his divorce in 2005, he had been on bad terms with his only son, Jerome, a Bonanno captain. His jewelry had been in hock for two years. He still went to Fat Andy’s, where he had celebrated the Lufthansa robbery, but “people hate me in there: I don’t pay my dues,” he told Mr. Valenti, his cousin, in a conversation Mr. Valenti recorded.
He tried to look sharp, though his idea of sharp by then was fresh sneakers and a jacket from Kohl’s. As other organized crime was getting ever more sophisticated — hacking into bank accounts, stealing identities — Mr. Asaro was still talking about small robberies and little shakedowns.
He worried he was so irrelevant he would be kicked out of the Mafia altogether. “They’re going to take my badge away. You’re going to see, it’s going to happen,” he told Mr. Valenti in 2011, according to a recording played in court. By 2012, the group’s waning membership was such that he told Mr. Valenti that he was promoted to captain again. It did not change his fortunes. “I ain’t got a penny. I swear to God. No gas. Twenty dollars can you lend me?” he told Mr. Valenti.
In 2014, the F.B.I. finally closed in, arresting Mr. Asaro at his girlfriend’s Howard Beach residence. Prosecutors charged him with racketeering conspiracy, including the Lufthansa robbery and Paul Katz’s murder, and extortion. Four other Mafia members, including his son, were arrested the same day. They all struck plea bargains. Mr. Asaro did not.
 During the trial, which started in October, traces of Mr. Asaro’s verve were on display. He insisted on a clear line of sight to the turncoats, mouthing obscenities as they testified. Some moments struck him as amusing — when he heard a tape of himself telling Mr. Valenti he had a “face made of [expletive] plutonium,” he put his head in his hands and chuckled.
But the trial made it clear. Omertà was no more. People above him had flouted the code, people below him had flouted the code, and the last one left was Mr. Asaro clinging to his credo. He seemed angry and betrayed.
Partway through the trial, angry that his lawyers were not cross-examining more aggressively, he asked to speak to Judge Allyne R. Ross of Federal District Court. “I just want some input in the case, your honor,” he said. “This is my life. This is my life. I’m 80 years old.”
Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting, and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.
A version of this article appears in print on November 10, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: At Trial, a Fading Mafia Ready for Its Close-Up. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscri

Criminologist connects Mafia with Chicago street gangs

Brian Flood

UIC professor John Hagedorn has studied gangs for over three decades. But he was forced to rethink much of what he knew about gangs while researching and writing his latest book, The In$ane Chicago Way.
The book was developed after three years of interviews with a soldier from Chicago’s Mafia, also known as the Outfit. Hagedorn’s source dishes on a covert 1990s plan by Chicago gangs to establish a Latino Mafia modeled after Al Capone’s mob.
Hagedorn said the organization of Latino gangs, called Spanish Growth and Development (SGD), was formed by 17 Latin Folks gangs, including the C-Note$, a group he describes as a Grand Avenue-based “minor league” team of the Outfit.
“Their role was to attempt to channel this new form under the Outfit’s influence,” said Hagedorn, professor of criminology, law and justice, who said he’d never heard of the plan until informed by his tipster.
The book augments the disgruntled informant’s perspective with secret documents and interviews of top leaders, court records and media reports.
Hagedorn talked to city gang leaders, who agreed there was plenty of money to be made for everybody involved. From those discussions, a similar question arose. Why didn’t the plan work?
“These gangs form families and are contending for power,” Hagedorn explained. “They also rely on police corruption.”
The group’s demise was sealed when a “war of the families,” or factional struggle for power, led to a shooting shortly after a gang-organized peace conference, he said. The incident was the final straw for the Outfit, which withdrew from the endeavor.
The In$ane Chicago Way reports on the role of police corruption and the differences between Latino, black and white gangs, and their relationship to organized crime.
Hagedorn tells the story of how the 1990s shaped the nature of gang organizations today.
He details how organized gang wars, led by incarcerated gang chiefs, produced homicide rates in the 1990s that were double current levels.

Gang leaders lack authority to stop violence
“The wars didn’t end because of any new police tactics, but rather they exhausted and fractured the gangs and broke the hold of the old gang leaders,” he explained. “Today’s black gang members particularly are rebellious even against their old gang chiefs.”
Shootings today are more spontaneous, and less controlled, which makes them more dangerous, Hagedorn said.
“Young men hand out violent street justice as retaliation since police can’t seem to find the actual offenders,” he said. “Gang leaders today simply do not have the legitimacy, organization or authority to stop the shootings.”
The current violence problem in Chicago is predominantly about race, not gangs, guns, laws or cartels, Hagedorn said.
While asserting that an easy answer to reduce violence doesn’t exist, he contends any plan must be based on a steep investment in African American communities.
“Chicago’s leaders must address the city’s legacy of racism in employment, housing, education and policing,” he said. “The best way to prevent violence is to provide hope to the desperate underclass of African Americans in our city.”
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Prosecutor: Mobster accused in $6 million 'Goodfellas' heist embraced Mafia lifestyle

NEW YORK (AP) — An aging mobster who stayed in shadows for decades by adhering to the Mafia's strict code of silence should finally be held accountable for his crimes including the 1978 airport heist that was retold in "Goodfellas," a prosecutor told jurors on Friday.
Vincent Asaro, whose grandfather and father were members of the secretive Bonanno organized crime family, "was born into that life and he fully embraced it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicyn Cooley told a jury in Brooklyn. "The defendant was a rare breed in the Mafia — a third-generation wiseguy."
The defendant's devotion to the crime family "was as permanent as the 'death before dishonor' tattoo on his arm," Cooley added at a trial that's given the jury a lesson in the lifestyle of gangsters from a bygone era.
The prosecutor described how Asaro rose through the ranks and developed an "unbreakable bond" with the more notorious James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, the late Lucchese crime family associate who orchestrated the armed robbery of a Lufthansa cargo terminal at Kennedy Airport. According to trial testimony, Burke — played by Robert de Niro in the film — and Asaro also teamed up to kill a suspected informant with a dog chain.
Asaro showed that "when necessary, he'd kill to enforce La Cosa Nostra's code of silence," Cooley said in a daylong closing argument.
The defense was to give its summation on Monday.
Asaro, 80, has pleaded not guilty to murder, extortion and other charges.
Until his arrest in 2014, Asaro was an obscure mobster who had only been convicted of lesser crimes. He survived a bloodbath portrayed in "Goodfellas," with De Niro's character going ballistic over fellow mobsters' purchases of flashy cars and furs and, fearing they would attract law enforcement attention, having them whacked.
But that changed in 2008, when Asaro's cousin, mob associate Gaspare Valenti, agreed to became a cooperator and wear a wire to try to implicate Asaro in the holdup and other old crimes. Taking the witness stand last month, Valenti testified that Asaro ordered him to join the robbery crew, telling him, "Jimmy Burke has a big score at the airport coming up, and you're invited to go."
Asaro was "very happy, really euphoric" when he learned about the mountain of $100 bills and jewels scored in the heist, Valenti testified.
"We thought there was going to be $2 million in cash and there was $6 million," the witness said.
Cooley's summation on Friday stretched nearly six hours as she methodically detailed what she called "45 crime-filled years" of Asaro's life, including several less-compelling allegations of loansharking that prosecutors say he resorted to when his $750,000 cut of the Lufthansa heist ran out.
The defendant looked alert and engaged throughout, muttering and passing notes to his lawyers. He even smiled and waved to supporters only moments after hearing the prosecutor's coda.
"Even though it's been delayed for too long," Cooley said, "justice is still within reach."

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