Member And Associates Of The Lucchese Crime Family Plead Guilty To Extortion Conspiracy


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Member Carmine Avellino and Associates Daniel and Michael Capra Admit to Threatening Two Victims in Efforts to Collect a $100,000 Loan
On Friday, August 12, 2016, at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, Carmine Avellino, a member of the Lucchese organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra, pleaded guilty to an extortionate collection of credit conspiracy.  The proceeding took place before United States Magistrate Judge Marilyn D. Go.  United States District Judge Ann M. Donnelly accepted the guilty plea earlier today.  Avellino’s co-defendants, Lucchese crime family associates Michael Capra and Daniel Capra pleaded guilty to the extortion conspiracy in July and August of this year.  When sentenced, the defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.    
The guilty pleas were announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office; and Timothy D. Sini, Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department.  Mr. Capers extended his grateful appreciation to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and the City of New York Business Integrity Commission for their assistance with the case.
“Avellino, relying on his reputation as a member of the Lucchese crime family, and Lucchese associates Michael Capra and Daniel Capra, used intimidation and threats of violence to obtain payment from victims on an outstanding debt,” stated United States Attorney Capers.  “These convictions make clear that we hold accountable members of La Cosa Nostra and their associates who use extortion as a tool of their trade.”
“As this case illustrates, members of La Cosa Nostra are still doing business as usual and continue to threaten victims with violence when a loan is not repaid.  The FBI, working with our law enforcement partners, stand committed to rooting out organized crime enterprises in our communities,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Rodriguez.
“We will not tolerate organized crime operating in our communities.  It has no place in a civilized society.  This case makes clear that law enforcement is committed more than ever to bringing criminals such as Carmine Avellino to justice,” stated Suffolk County Police Commissioner Sini.
According to prior court filings and facts presented during the guilty plea proceedings, between January and July 2010, the defendants conspired and attempted to collect a loan through the use of threats.   Avellino had previously loaned one of the victims $100,000.  After making the majority of the payments on the loan, the victim had difficulty repaying the remainder.  The defendants then used force and coercive means, including threats of physical violence, in an attempt to collect the outstanding loan amount.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Maria Cruz Melendez and Nadia Moore are in charge of the prosecution.

The Defendants:
Age: 72
Stony Brook, New York
Age: 58
Hauppauge, New York
Age: 52
Smithtown, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 13-CR-632 (AMD)
Königsberg/Preußen, Preußen

Drug arrest of John Gotti's grandson triggers cops to raid late mobster's Howard Beach home for the first time

Updated: Thursday, August 4, 2016, 10:27 PM

It’s the Fall of the House of Gotti.
The late mob boss John Gotti must be spinning in his grave after NYPD cops raided his iconic home in Howard Beach early Thursday to arrest his namesake grandson on drug charges.
The raid marked the first time ever that members of law enforcement crossed the Gotti threshold armed with a search warrant.
“They destroyed the house,” claimed Gerard Marrone, the lawyer representing John Gotti, the grandson. His father is mob scion Peter Gotti.
Detectives seized $40,000 and 500 Oxycodone pills inside a safe in Gotti’s bedroom where he was shacked up with girlfriend Eleonor Gabrielli, who was also busted, officials said.
Retired FBI supervisor Phil Scala said the 23-year-old grandson’s reckless behavior in the House of Gotti violated a sacred rule. The Dapper Don never conducted mob business in his home because he wanted to protect his family from exposure to his criminal activities, according to Scala, who headed the Bureau’s Gambino squad for years.
“If John was still alive he would be spewing every pejorative he could, knowing that somebody did something so stupid to besmirch his home and his family,” Scala told the Daily News.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Gotti and a crew of dope dealers were peddling Oxycodone pills on the streets of Howard Beach and Ozone Park for $23 to $24 per painkiller pill.
Just like his grandfather was brought down by a bug planted in an elderly woman’s apartment above the mob boss’s Ravenite Social Club in lower Manhattan, investigators secretly installed a listening device in Gotti’s Infiniti sedan as part of their drug probe dubbed “Operation Beach Party.”
Gotti was recorded on a wiretap stating that he sold more than 4,200 pills a month and the illicit business pulled in $100,000 a month.
Undercover cops allegedly made 11 buys from Gotti, purchasing $46,000 worth of Oxycodone from him. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Investigators also executed a search warrant at the Rebel Ink Tattoo Parlor where Gotti is a part-owner.
“He’s lucky his grandfather is not alive,” said Lewis Kasman, the deceased Gotti’s so-called adopted son. “John Sr. would have killed the kid himself.”
He also said the elder Gotti never brought business home.
“No wiseguy was allowed in that house and the only non-blood family member permitted inside was me,” Kasman said. “That was his (Gotti’s) palace, so to speak. This is a desecration of everything that John stood for in terms of the family house being sacred.”
The bedroom of Gotti’s son Frankie, who was killed in a tragic car accident, was maintained as a shrine in the house, Kasman said.
Also charged are Shaine Hack, 37, Edward Holohan, 50, Steve Kruger, 57, Justin Testa, 41, Michael Farduchi, 24, Melissa Erul, 23, and Dawn Biers, 46.
Investigators seized $200,000 from Hack’s home in Howard Beach — allegedly drug proceeds he was holding for Gotti.
The feds never sought a search warrant for the home in the past although there were unproven suspicions the “Gotti legacy,” — a massive stash of cash reaped from Gambino family rackets — was possibly hidden somewhere inside, Scala said.

The Hit Man Next Door: Did a Jersey Gymnastics Coach Kill for the Mob?

The Hit Man Next Door: Did a Jersey Gymnastics Coach Kill for the Mob?
Joe Passalaqua claims "103 kills," but one judge described his elaborate tales as little more than "criminal fantasy"

By David Kushner

Did all-American gymnastics coach Joe Passalaqua kill for the Mob, or get lost in his own criminal fantasy?Illustration by John Ritter
The murder-for-hire deal went down inside the Edison Diner, a small red-brick eatery off Route 1 in New Jersey, on September 13th, 2009. Joe Passalaqua, a dark-haired 54-year-old with arms as thick as his Long Island accent, scribbled "$30,000" on a piece of paper and slipped it across the table to Chris Kontos, a Greek-American who owned strip clubs and restaurants throughout the state. "Thirty for the three," Passalaqua said. "I need cash, half upfront." He also asked Kontos to supply the weapon, "a .357 or a .40-caliber, has to be a revolver. And if you can, get hollow-points." When Kontos asked how soon the hit could be done, Passalaqua told him, "Within two weeks, maybe sooner."
Six months earlier, on St. Patrick's Day, two masked men with guns had stormed into Kontos' high-end steakhouse in Woodbridge, zip-tied two employees and held a gun to the head of Kontos' 25-year-old son and co-owner, Maik, as he handed over about $150,000 in cash from the restaurant's safe. Passalaqua had approached Kontos, telling him he knew who did it, and offered to murder the burglars. He wore a gold St. Michael pendant around his neck, a symbol of his right-eous vigilantism. In more than 30 years as an enforcer and hit man, he claimed, including a stint collecting debts for legendary mobster John Gotti, he only targeted criminals. "I only do things if I think it's right," he told Kontos. "I've turned away thousands of jobs. I have 103 of these that I've done in my life. One hundred and three. It's got to be something personal like this, where somebody did something bad to somebody that the police can't help them. The police give people like me business because they're incompetent."
But if Passalaqua was a seasoned hit man, he was leading a surprising double life: as a former Olympic hopeful and 30-year owner of a family-friendly gymnastics center for youth tumbling teams and cheerleaders. At his trial in 2011, Judge Faith S. Hochberg told him, "How one man could take such gifts that you have and were born with and turn them into such human wreckage is almost unfathomable."
Today, as he sits behind bars in a federal prison in Maryland, his hair is long, his beard graying, his voice raspy and weary. He knows some friends, family and former students still wonder how a pillar of their community could also have been, as Passalaqua claims, a contract killer in an underworld of drugs, strippers and Mob bosses. With little evidence to substantiate his most elaborate tales, including the "103 kills," one judge described it all as little more than "criminal fantasy," but Passalaqua maintains he committed far worse crimes than the handful that got him locked away. Over many interviews, he was calm and reflective, and never once demurred, characterizing his past with a mix of bravado and shame. "I just became an animal," he tells me. "There's nothing more addictive than power."
Passalaqua grew up in a middle-class suburb on Long Island in the 1960s. His father owned a successful exterminator business, and his mother was a Sunday-school teacher. According to his aunt, Patricia Ametrano, he was "very skinny" and often terrorized by a gang of older kids at school. "I was definitely not a bully," Passalaqua says. "I looked like Olive Oyl."
Around the sixth grade, he watched a gymnastics competition on TV and decided to transform himself into one of the -muscle-bound athletes. He eventually became a specialist on the rings – he could hold the iron cross, steady and still with outstretched arms, longer than anyone in his district. He earned a scholarship to Temple University, home to one of the country's fiercest squads, and became co-captain and league finalist. For Passalaqua, the solitary nature of the sport, which pitted him as much against himself as others, suited his temperament. "I always liked to stand alone," he says. "I never liked to have to lean on anybody else for success."
Passalaqua says that his Olympic dreams were dashed during his senior year, when he broke his wrist doing a double backflip. He turned to coaching after graduation, opening his own school, Flip Over Gymnastics, in an East Brunswick, New Jersey, industrial park. Holly Baumgartner, who began taking classes there at age five, recalls Passalaqua as a compassionate disciplinarian who comforted her when she fell with his adage "Progress, not perfection." "He wasn't just a coach to me," she says. "Joe was like family."
The Jersey moms admired Passalaqua (who'd divorced after a short marriage to a Temple University classics professor) not only as a devoted coach, but as charming eye candy. "Joe was an exceedingly good-looking man," recalls Karen Baumgartner, Holly's mother, who regarded Passalaqua like a brother. "He had a commanding presence." He also had a big heart. When Baumgartner could no longer afford classes for her daughter, Passalaqua gave her a secretarial job at the gym to cover her costs.
Passalaqua settled into a successful suburban life. He married a Flip Over gymnastics instructor, Cherie, with whom he had three kids. His only son, Joseph "Joey" Passalaqua IV, recounts fond memories growing up around the gymnastics club. But even as a young boy, he knew there was a darker side to his father too.
When he was around 12, Joey remembers, he was riding in his dad's black Hummer when another driver cut them off. Passalaqua sped up and peeled sideways around the offending car, forcing it to pull over to the side of the road. Joey watched as his father ripped the guy from the driver's seat and began pummeling him into a pulp on the pavement. It wouldn't be the last fit of road rage. "I can remember countless times of him beating someone up on the side of the road," Joey says. "He was in tremendous shape and he was very respected, but at the same time, he fit the part of being more than what he appeared to be."
"The steroids," his aunt recalls with a sigh, "that's when he became a different person." In the mid-Eighties, Passalaqua noticed some guys at his gym who worked out less than he did but "looked like fucking King Kong," and he eventually developed a crippling habit: Deca, testosterone, Primobolin, human-growth hormone, Anadrol 50s, D-Bols, and even some intended for animals, like Equipoise (horses) and Finajet (cows). He would sit alone in a backroom at the gym and use a 13cc horse needle to shoot up in a hip, shoulder or thigh, or around his bellybutton. He recalls occasionally hitting an artery and blood shooting clear across the room. His muscles made his shirts look like children's clothes. "One of the things about steroids is you never realize you're as big as you are," Passalaqua says. "It's a psychological thing. I never really contemplated the way it was changing my personality and my life."
With his testosterone surging, Passalaqua seduced women from strip clubs, bars and his own gym, not seeming to care if his employees walked in on him having sex in his office. "One time, I went into my club," he says. "My wife is on one StairMaster, my mistress is on another and my girlfriend is on the one next to her." His son recalls passing his father's Hummer on the highway – inside, a young woman was straddled over Passalaqua, having sex with him. "He saw me and gave me a thumbs-up," Joey says with an embarrassed laugh. Passalaqua also became obsessed with martial arts, spending long nights in training, and grew so eager to brawl that he took a side job as a bouncer at a New Jersey disco called Hunka Bunka. "It was a place to fight without legal problems," he tells me. "Plus, it was a chickfest."
People around Flip Over noticed a new level of aggression in their once laid-back coach. When a fight broke out between two trainers, he pinned one up against the wall like a rag doll. "He was very big, very strong and very intimidating," says a former Flip Over trainer, Blair Gaertnier. Though Passalaqua kept his smile on for teams and parents, gym members could sense something simmering. A local priest who worked out at the club says, "I knew just from talking to him that if his anger came out, he would be a very dangerous man." Baumgartner heard others around the gym referring to her boss as Steroid Joe. But if anyone commented on Passalaqua's gargantuan size, he would simply joke, "Yeah, I rent myself out as a car jack on weekends."
In fact, Passalaqua claims, he was spending his time away from the gym as an enforcer for the Mob. His connection came through working on charitable causes for disadvantaged kids with the owner of a number of Italian restaurants around the state. "He wanted to come in and help," says the restaurateur, who asked not to be named. "That's the side of Joe I know." According to Passalaqua, the restaurateur also took an interest in his martial-arts skills. In 1987, during a Republican fund-raising lunch, Passalaqua says, the restaurateur – who was later indicted as part of an alleged drug-dealing operation run by the Nicodemo Scarfo organized-crime family (the charges were later dropped) – told him there was someone he should meet. Passalaqua says it ended up being the head of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti.
The meeting took place one bright afternoon at a social club in New York's Little Italy, Passalaqua says, where he found the Dapper Don in a stylish suit, seated behind a large wooden desk, flanked by two large goons. "What makes you so special?" he says Gotti asked.
"I can put those two guys in intensive care in less than 10 seconds," Passalaqua replied, nodding at Gotti's bodyguards.
Gotti laughed and said, "You're pretty sure of yourself."
"No," Passalaqua responded, "I just know what I'm capable of."
Gotti then explained that he needed someone "to collect money," Passalaqua recalls. "I'd have to use brutal force, which I had no problem with at that time in my life." If Passalaqua failed, Gotti told him, he'd pay with his life. "I didn't take it as a threat," he says. "It was something I accepted before I agreed to meet him." Gotti then asked what he wanted his nickname to be. "Angel," Passalaqua said. It was part of his rationalization, an avenging angel going after criminals and mobsters. "I had a warped sense of morality," he says.
His stories of the next five years of his life seem ripped from the pages of a Mario Puzo novel: stalking mansions in night-vision goggles and pummeling the coke-snorting debtor inside; protecting Gotti during a secret visit with cartels; watching a friend take a bullet to the head. From nine at night until five in the morning, he says, he'd be out in the city, cavorting with strippers and thugs as Angel, then racing against the dawn in his red Lotus back to New Jersey. When he arrived at the gym, he would trade his black Versace suit for baggy sweats and a red Flip Over muscle shirt. By the time he hit the mats, he was once again beloved Coach Joe.
Others close to Passalaqua attest to suspicious activities that support his claims. Gaertnier, the Flip Over trainer, says he was having lunch with Passalaqua in the late 1980s at the Seville Diner in Sayreville, New Jersey, when he saw Gotti approach his boss outside. "It was him," Gaertnier says. "There's no doubt in my mind." Another time, he says, cops showed up at Flip Over searching for weapons, though he "knew better" than to press Passalaqua for details. Baumgartner says she began fielding calls from gruff men who would demand to speak with Passalaqua but not leave a number. Despite their close relationship, she too was uncomfortable confronting him about it. "He always had that aura where you didn't want to overstep your bounds," she says.
Passalaqua's son says their lavish lifestyle seemed far beyond the wages of a gymnastics-club owner. Passalaqua moved his family into a sprawling two-story house on a manicured cul-de-sac and collected a fleet of exotic sports cars – Lotuses, high-end Mercedes and Hummers. He installed an elaborate security system with motion detectors around the house and glaring spotlights over the yard. He also competed in underground cage-fighting matches, which he videotaped and proudly showed to his son.
One night, according to Joey, Passalaqua came home with a bullet wound in his leg and treated the gash with foaming hydrogen peroxide. There was also a safe the size of a refrigerator in the basement that "was just full of guns," Joey says, though his mother denies this. He never felt that his dad was trying to recruit him into a life of crime – it was more about sharing parts of his world. "I think Dad wanted to be everything," Joey says. "He wanted to be good, and bad."
In 1989, Passalaqua claims, he became a made man in the presence of Gotti and Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. "It let me understand that this really was for real," Passalaqua says. He is calm and consistent in his recollections, claiming he continued his side work for Gotti up until the Mob boss's incarceration in 1992. But federal agents and former mobsters alike say there is no evidence to support his alleged Gambino ties.
The Italian restaurateur completely denies Passalaqua's account. "Whatever is said has to be proven," he says. "That's how I live in my universe." J. Bruce Mouw, the retired FBI agent who led the agency's investigation of the Gambino family, tells me, "There wasn't much we didn't know about Gotti by the time we put him away, and I never heard of this guy before." Neither has John Alite, a former Gotti hit-man-turned-government-informant. "What this guy is saying is just not feasible," Alite says. But after seeing an old photo of a massive Passalaqua in his Flip Over muscle shirt and St. Michael necklace, Alite adds with a laugh, "He certainly looks the part."
Passalaqua says it is easy to explain why others didn't know about him, albeit conveniently so: They weren't supposed to. He was brought on specifically to help Gotti explore a burgeoning interest in the drug trade, he says, which was still somewhat verboten in the Gambino family. Gotti wanted someone outside the fold to provide necessary muscle. "I was like a phantom," Passalaqua says. "John had people like me up until the day he went to prison because he couldn't trust the people he was around."
Regardless of whether his Mob ties were real or imagined, Passalaqua fashioned himself as the ultimate Jersey hero. Flip Over, with more than a thousand students, had become a renowned farm of talent. There was the U.S. Girls Gymnastics Team; a wrestling squad and karate classes; a Paralympic weight lifter who pressed triple his body weight despite having spina bifida; and a champion cheerleading squad called the Jersey Knights. "He produced a lot of good kids," says Karen Drew, a former tumbling coach at Flip Over. "He was one of the best bosses of my life."

With his smiling face and sharply cut mullet, he put his steroid-sculpted body to use as a professional bodybuilder, winning the Muscle Beach Championship on the Jersey Shore, and – by benching twice his weight, more than 425 pounds – making the Bench Press Weight Lifting nationals. He divorced his second wife and married Miss New Jersey herself, Michelle Graci, a stunning brunette who soon coached the cheerleaders at Flip Over (Graci declined to comment for the story). Passalaqua ran on the Republican ticket for Middlesex Township Council, donated to Republican campaigns and framed a photo of himself with former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.
One day in 2005, his longtime friend and secretary, Karen Baumgartner, walked into Flip Over, past the girls on the tumbling mats, the moms on the elliptical machines, the teenagers in the tanning booths, and burst into tears at her desk. "Holly was raped," she told Passalaqua of her 15-year-old daughter, long one of his best gymnasts. Baumgartner watched an icy-cold glare enter her boss's eyes. "If you want me to," he told her, "I'll make sure something is taken care of."
Baumgartner, who'd caught glimpses of Passalaqua's other life for decades, knew he was offering to kill or otherwise severely maim the rapist. For the first time in her presence, he was breaking down the wall between his two worlds. "I had heard rumors he was working with the Mafia," she now admits.
She asked her daughter if she wanted to let Passalaqua get involved. "My mom told me Joe would handle it if I wanted him to," recalls Holly, who at one point, on a phone call with her mom, heard her old coach demanding the rapist's details in the background. "I knew how scary he could be. He would not let it up, he wanted to know who this person was and he was going to take care of the rest." In the end, it's unclear what happened to the rapist. Passalaqua will only say, "I couldn't do anything at the time." But it wouldn't be the last occasion he made such an offer.
One verifiable period of Passalaqua's lawlessness begins in 2007, when he met a crew of criminal weight lifters at a Jersey gym called the Muscle Mill. The recession was on, work was slim and, for Passalaqua, who had moved into a larger and more costly 15,000-square-foot facility, business at Flip Over was struggling. The popularity of gymnastics was on the decline, and Flip Over's bread-and-butter of birthdays and private tumbling classes had taken a hit. "He couldn't pay rent and had a hard time making payroll," Gaertnier recalls. When one of the guys from Muscle Mill, Raffaele Danise, a hulking 21-year-old used-car salesman, said the owners of his dealership often cheated customers and deserved to get robbed, Passalaqua agreed.
The crew of four went to the owners' home late one night, and balanced a ladder on the roof of Passalaqua's Hummer to break into a second-floor window. They sped away with a safe that was stuffed with envelopes full of cash. Their total take was $140,000. "After that," Danise recalls, "we were off to the races."
Over the next two years, they committed at least a dozen burglaries. The jobs often began at strip joints. They'd stake out a known drug dealer raining cash on dancers, and then run his license plate with the help of a dirty cop. Then they'd show up at the guy's house and steal his money. Passalaqua was double the age of the rest of the crew, so he mainly served as the getaway driver. "Cops aren't going to pull over a 55-year-old white guy," Danise explains. In Passalaqua's mind, targeting bad guys meant he was less a hood than a vigilante. "These people were legends in their own mind and detriments to society," he says.
But, as Passalaqua tells it, Danise and the others were soon spinning out of control. At one home invasion, they assaulted the woman inside, and doused her with bleach in an attempt to destroy any trace of DNA evidence. Afterward, Passalaqua chastised them for using violence against an innocent bystander, but they had little interest in his moralizing. Tensions again rose when the men engineered a robbery of a high-end steakhouse where two of them had previously worked – the one owned by Kontos. "I told them I wanted nothing to do with it," Passalaqua says. "That it was too close to home, and Kontos was a regular businessman who hadn't done anything wrong."
To the crew, Passalaqua was becoming a nuisance. He soon learned from one of them that Danise was leading a charge to take him out – a fact Danise doesn't deny. Danise says he was worried that Passalaqua might flip as an informant or simply turn them in.
Passalaqua decided to strike first. When he met with Kontos to make the murder-for-hire deal, he says, he had every intention of going through with it. "I had to get these guys before they got me," he says. "I was going to kill them anyway, so I might as well let Kontos pay me to do it."
By then, Passalaqua had fallen in love with a young brunette from Texas, who had first dropped by the gym for a sales call. (She asked not to be identified for this story, but agreed to a pseudonym, Julia.) He showered her with money and nights on the town, and sometimes brought along Danise and the others, telling her they were his bodyguards. "At the time, nothing made me suspicious," she says. "I was young, I was wild and I wanted to party."
But Passalaqua didn't keep her in the dark for long. Once they were living together, he confided to her over dinner. "I trust you," he said, "and I want to tell you about what I've done in my past." And so he revealed the alleged secret life that others only suspected or still refuse to believe: the Mob, the crews, the beatings and killings. "I was a little intimidated and a little scared," Julia says, "but he was like, 'That's my past life – I don't do that anymore,' and I believed him."
She had been wanting to return to her hometown in Texas, and Passalaqua agreed to sell Flip Over and move with her. When he proposed marriage in August 2009, she said yes. She moved down that month, and in mid-September, he texted her a picture of her engagement ring: a four-carat princess-cut diamond set in a platinum band with stones around it. "He was going to give it to me the next time he came to Texas," she says. But there was something that Passalaqua didn't disclose: He had to finish one last job.
September 23rd, 2009, began like any other day at Flip Over: kids tumbling, weight lifters benching, moms stretching. After finishing some paperwork around 2 p.m., Passalaqua says, he scribbled a note for Gaertnier, telling him he'd be away for a few days, and drove his red Dodge Charger to a Perkins restaurant in Woodbridge. Kontos was waiting in the far end of the parking lot in his black BMW. He seemed nervous, but at first that didn't alarm Passalaqua. "That was normal," Passalaqua says. "He was giving a man $15,000 to kill three people." Kontos handed him a thick envelope full of cash, and Passalaqua put it straight into his pocket. "Are you going to count it?" Kontos asked.
"No," Passalaqua said calmly. "I would have no problem collecting the balance."
"When will it be done?"
"This weekend."
Before Passalaqua left the car, he noticed some sweat misting on Kontos' face. What had seemed like simple nerves now gave him a more ominous feeling. The moment Passalaqua stepped out of the car, a SWAT team rushed him, throwing him to the ground. A helicopter circled the sky, he says, as cuffs were snapped over his wrists.
When he looked up, he saw FBI agent Carrie Brzezinski, a steely woman with gray hair who'd been working violent crimes in New Jersey for more than two dec-ades. A Middlesex County police detective had contacted her with suspicions that the Kontos case might be tied to a string of unsolved robberies and home invasions in the area, potentially with links to the Mob. At Brzezinski's first meeting with Kontos, he had told her about Passalaqua's offer and agreed to cooperate with the feds, later recording every detail of the murder-for-hire deal.
Now, with Brzezinski staring down at him, Passalaqua says, he tried to play it cool. "Where's Ashton Kutcher?" he joked. "Am I getting Punk'd?"
Passalaqua pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threat or violence for his role in nine burglaries and one armed robbery, and is now five years into a 15-year sentence. Danise and other crew members are serving similar time. During our many conversations, Passalaqua was quick to disparage his violent past – blaming, in part, his abuse of steroids for fueling his brutality. "I did what I did because I could," he says. "Arrogance combined with ignorance leads you to get worse and worse. All you care about is self-gratification and pleasure. I wanted to be the big shot."
Passalaqua has been largely cut off by those closest to him. His second wife, Cherie, thinks he's a man deeply lost in his own self-aggrandizing mythology. "His ego continues to create a history of himself that did not occur," she tells me. "He has destroyed lives to reach his own level of greatness." For all his childhood suspicions, their son, Joey, who now runs a pair of fitness centers in New Jersey, never imagined his father would become a common thief. "Maybe those people were hardworking people," he tells me. "It is not justified to be able to do that to someone." At the same time, he hasn't lost much affection for the man who raised him, explaining, "Dad was a really good dad."
Despite the elaborate details of his recollections, and being caught on tape boasting about more than 100 killings, the FBI found nothing to tie Passalaqua to past murders or the Mafia. This raises an obvious question: Why would he continue to insist he was once a ruthless killer? Is he still trying to be the big shot, spinning tales about the one chapter of his life that no one can, or will, corroborate? With a sigh of resignation, Passalaqua answers his doubters with a question of his own: "Why would I lie to God?"
Although he spurned his mother's Sunday-school teachings as a child, he has finally found religion. Of course, he's not content to just sit in the back row of the prison church. He has come to lead the services himself, counseling younger prisoners on the dangers of drugs – especially steroids – and steering clear of the violence that he claims once defined much of his life. When he gets out of prison at age 70, he hopes to have his own congregation, a Flip Over for lost souls. "I sold my soul to the devil when I became Angel," he says. "Now, I'm just Pastor Joe."

John Gotti, Grandson of the 'Teflon Don,' Arrested for Peddling Drugs in Howard Beach John Gotti, the grandson of the former boss of the Gambino crime family, was indicted for trafficking prescription pills in Queens.

By Brendan Krisel (Patch National Staff) - August 4, 2016 8:24 pm ET 
HOWARD BEACH, QUEENS — It's been a rough day for the mob. On the same day that 46 mafiosos were charged in a federal indictment, seven more were indicted for allegedly running a prescription pill ring in two Queens neighborhoods.
John Gotti, 23, was one of the seven arrested and charged Thursday for selling selling Oxycodone and other pharmaceutical controlled substances in Howard Beach and Ozone Park for the past 12 months, announced Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Gotti's grandfather, also named John Gotti, was the former boss of the Gambino crime family and one of the most recognized mobsters in recent history.
Gotti, Justin Testa, Shaine Hack, Steve Kruger, Edward Holohan, Michael Farduchi and Melissa Erul have been charged with first, second- and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, second-degree conspiracy and second-degree money laundering, according to the indictment. Gotti, Kruger and Testa have additionally been charged with operating as major traffickers, also known as the "kingpin" statute.
“As alleged, John Gotti and the other defendants peddled prescription painkillers from Howard Beach to Ozone Park, contributing to the rampant supply of these potent drugs," NYPD Comissioner Bill Bratton said. "I commend the Queens South Narcotics detectives for their work on this case and my thanks, as always, to the Queens District
Officials executed search warrants on three of the mobsters' homes, including Gotti's, a tattoo parlor and two vehicles owned by Gotti during the investigation. As of Thursday, police have recovered nearly $240,000 in cash, more than 850 Oxycodone and Xanax pills and drug ledgers and other records.
During a months-long investigation, police used various surveillance techniques and undercover drug buys to gather information about the pill ring, officials said. A listening device placed in Gotti's car, an Infiniti G35 sedan, recorded Gotti bragging about selling more than 4,000 pills for a profit of $100,000 each month, according to the indictment.

"In recent months, we have seen a significant rise in the use and abuse of prescription painkillers. Drugs such as Oxycodone are extremely potent and have a high potential for abuse and death. Today’s arrests not only cut off the suppliers of these drugs, but the distributors as well," said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. 

East Coast mob sweep is straight out of a Scorsese movie

Vera Haller

Filled with descriptions of pipe attacks and old-fashioned “whackings,” a federal indictment unveiled Thursday accused 46 reputed mobsters of a conspiracy that included loan-sharking, extortion, gun-running and violent acts of retribution.
“You get Buddy and let Buddy go there and choke him, choke him,” one alleged Genovese crime family “capo” was quoted as saying on a wiretap – telling his crew how to deal with an associate who refused to hand over illegal gambling winnings.
“And tell him, ‘Listen to me … next time I’m not gonna stop choking … I’m gonna kill you,’ ” he said on the wiretap.
Adding to the colorful depiction of this alleged organized crime operation were the nicknames of the defendants – among them John “Tugboat” Tognino, Anthony “Tony the Cripple” and Nicholas “Nicky the Wig” Vuolo – any of which could have been lifted straight from a  Martin Scorsese movie.
Threatening to assault, maim and kill people who get in the way of their criminal schemes remains the go-to play in the mob’s playbook— U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara
But U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara of New York said investigators had uncovered a very real criminal enterprise that operated up and down the East Coast, including in Little Italy in the Bronx, Philadelphia, Massachusetts and Florida.
He said the indictment showed that the country’s organized crime families, many of whose leaders were imprisoned after aggressive racketeering prosecutions in the 1980s and 1990s, continued to wield power.
“Today’s charges against 46 men, including powerful leaders, members and associates of five different La Cosa Nostra families, demonstrate that the mob remains a scourge on this city and around the country,” Bharara said. 
The indictment said the defendants – all alleged members of the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonanno and Philadelphia organized crime families – had engaged in wide-ranging criminal activity.
“From loan-sharking and illegal gambling, to credit card and healthcare fraud, and even firearms trafficking, today’s mafia is fully diversified in its boundless search for illegal profits,” Bharara said.  “And as alleged, threatening to assault, maim and kill people who get in the way of their criminal schemes remains the go-to play in the mob’s playbook.”
One particularly brutal attack described in the indictment happened in 2011, allegedly ordered by Pasquale “Patsy” Parrello, a reputed Genovese family capo who ran a crew out of a restaurant in the Bronx called Pasquale’s Rigoletto.
After women in the neighborhood complained that a panhandler had bothered them in a parking lot near the restaurant, Parrello allegedly ordered his associates to “break” the man’s knees.
According to the indictment, one of the men who allegedly carried out the beating, Ronald “The Beast” Mastrovincenzo, was later recorded on a wiretap saying: “[R]emember the old days in the neighborhood when we used to play baseball? … A ballgame like that was done.”
Prosecutors said evidence in the case came from thousands of hours of secretly recorded conversations made by a cooperating witness, who was not identified, and an undercover FBI agent.
According to the indictment, the cooperating witness worked with Parrello and the two other alleged ringleaders of the criminal conspiracy: Joseph “Joey” Merlino, reputed boss of Philadelphia’s crime family; and Eugene “Rooster” O’Nofrio, another reputed Genovese capo who allegedly ran crews in Manhattan and Springfield, Mass.
The charges allege that the leaders of the various crime families were in touch and planned crimes together, meeting at restaurants and highway rest stops and speaking in code to avoid detection.
In another crime described in the indictment, members of Parrello’s crew allegedly agreed to assault a man who had stabbed one of their associates, Anthony “Muscles” Vazzano, during a bar fight in the Bronx on Jan. 22, 2013.
One of the associates was recorded on a wiretap saying he would “whack” the man, while Parrello was allegedly recorded saying, “keep the pipes handy and pipe him, pipe him, over here [gesturing to the knees], not on his head.”
The defendants are charged with racketeering conspiracy, arson, illegal trafficking in firearms, and conspiracy to commit assault in aid of racketeering. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Haller is a special correspondent.

Mob Arrests In U.S. Show Wiseguys With Ties To Costa Rica Still Active In N.J.

By Rico on 6 August 2016

(Q24N) With ties to sports gambling businesses based in Costa Rica, and arrests earlier this week of nearly four dozen people in New York, including four from New Jersey, U.S. law enforcement officials say it is a reminder that organized crime – wiseguys – remain a force to be reckoned with.
“Tony Soprano may have gone off the air, but the mob never did,” said Lee Seglem, acting executive director of the State Commission of Investigation in New Jersey. “In the real world these guys are still active and, as this indictment shows, they haven’t faded away—because there’s a lot of money to be made.”
According to the report by, in the cases announced by federal prosecutors in New York on Thursday, the schemes ranged from old-style loan sharking to the move by organized crime into health care fraud. With aliases that included names like “Mustache Pat,” “Fish,” “Harpo” and “Tugboat,” the FBI’s New York assistant director, Diego Rodriguez, said the indictment read like an old school Mafia novel.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the charges against members and associates of five different crime families demonstrated that the Mafia remained “fully diversified in its boundless search for illegal profits.”

Editor’s Corner: Arson, extortion, racketeering and… healthcare fraud?

by Evan Sweeney |
A screenwriter salivate: Patsy, Rooster, Tony the Wig (not to be confused with “Tony the Cripple” or “Nicky the Wig”), Big Vinny and Tugboat.
The list of those arrested was 46 strong, all of them from four different mafia families stretching from Philadelphia to Florida known as the “East Coast La Cosa Nostra Enterprise.”
The indictment, unsealed last week by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, outlines a litany of crimes, all of which are painfully cliché to anyone that’s watched one “Godfather” installment or even a few minutes of “Goodfellas.” They include extortion, arson, illegal gambling operation, firearms trafficking and assault.
A car belonging to the owner of a competing gambling establishment was set on fire. A panhandler outside an Italian restaurant was assaulted with “glass jars, sharp objects and steel-tipped boots.” Underlings were instructed to intimidate a sports gambler who refused to pay a $30,000 debt by allegedly choking the man and telling him, “Listen to me… next time I’m not gonna stop choking… I’m gonna kill you.” Icepicks, pipes, and, good ol’ fashioned pistols were the weapons of choice when it came to extortion.
Buried toward the bottom of the indictment, below the allegations (and at least one "yous" reference) was a healthcare fraud charge.
Aside from intimidation and brute force, mobsters are particularly adept at finding ways to make a lot of money by any means necessary. With that in mind, it probably shouldn’t be a huge surprise that they targeted compounding pharmacies, an industry that has seen an explosion of fraudulent payments over the past several years. According to the indictment, mafia members partnered with “corrupt doctors” to bill insurance companies for “unnecessary and expensive compound cream,” although the feds didn’t attach a number to the scam.
This isn’t a new trend. Investigators have been noting a mob presence in fraud schemes for the last several decades, whether it's Italian, Armenian or Russian. In 1996, New Jersey Attorney General  Peter G. Verniero told the New York Times that members of the Genovese crime family--also implicated in last week’s sting--had infiltrated a company that managed medical, dental and eye plans. Tony Soprano may have laundered his money through strip clubs and waste disposal, but today’s capos appear to be targeting the medical community.
In an interview with Vice, mafia expert Scott Burnstein, who runs the website “Gangster Report,” offered some context to the crimes that appear out of place next to the violence of extortion and racketeering:
“Many of the Italian mafia families across the nation have sought to diversify their interests into more high-tech, white-collar crimes for a while now, dating back, really, to the 1980s. Smart mobsters in this day and age no longer just line their pockets with traditional rackets (gambling, loansharking, extortion)--and some try to stay away all together. When you compare prison sentences, it makes the most sense.”
Burnstein’s right about those prison sentences. While healthcare fraud sentences typically range from five to 10 years, extortion, racketeering and arson carry maximum sentences of 20 years. Add in firearms trafficking, and you’re looking at 15-25 years served consecutively for each offense.
Burnstein also noted that for most mafia members, organized crime is “in their DNA.”
“They literally don’t know how to live their lives on the straight and narrow and away from crime,” he told Vice.
Translation: These guys aren’t your typical criminals; they are good at being criminals. They take pride in it, and they’re well aware that healthcare is a $3 trillion dollar industry.
And when guys named Rooster or Tugboat get in the healthcare fraud game, that's a fairly scary prospect for insurance companies that could end up footing the bill for fraudulent claims.

What the Latest Mafia Bust Says About Organized Crime

 By Seth Ferranti

Even if informants are running rampant in mob circles like never before, the Code of Omertà more pop-culture catchphrase than criminal fact, the American Mafia is still alive and kicking. Or at least so suggests the sprawling indictment filed by federal prosecutors against 46 alleged members in a massive East Coast bust last week. Charging the men with a smorgasbord of crimes like gambling, loansharking, extortion, arson, gun- and cigarette-running, and conspiracy to commit assault, the feds are also alleging white-collar offenses like healthcare fraud, credit-card fraud and extortionate extensions of credit.
Members of the Gambino, Bonanno, Lucchese, and Genovese crime families from New York, along with a crew allegedly led by Joseph "Joey" Merlino in Philadelphia, were collectively labeled the "East Coast LCN [La Cosa Nostra] Enterprise." Merlino and two Genovese caps—Pasquale "Patsy" Parrello and Eugene "Rooster" O'Nofrio—effectively called the shots, according to the feds. From Mulberry Street in Little Italy to Springfield, Massachusetts, to southern Florida to Pennsylvania, the multi-family operation allegedly worked together by reverting to time-honored mob practices like running illegal-gambling ventures, strong-arming businesses, and (at least talking about) busting kneecaps.
"Today's charges against 46 men, including powerful leaders, members and associates of five different La Cosa Nostra families, demonstrate that the mob remains a scourge on this city and around the country," Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said Thursday.
For some perspective on the bust, we reached out to mob sage Scott Burnstein, co-author of Mafia Prince: Inside America's Most Violent Crime Family and the Bloody Fall of La Cosa Nostra and the man behind Gangster Report, a true-crime site. He offered some context on the ideology of the modern mobster, the Joey Merlino–led Philly faction allegedly working with their New York counterparts, and how the game keeps changing—and staying the same.
VICE: At this point, in 2016, why do these guys think they can keep getting away with organized crime in big American cities?
Scott Burnstein: This is all most of these guys know—it's who they are. It's in their DNA. They literally don't know how to live their lives on the straight and narrow and away from crime. Most aren't embarrassed by this fact. They say to themselves,"Hey, I'm a criminal. I'm a bookie. I'm a thief. I'm a hit man. That's what I do. That's my identity." And in some circles that holds weight, so they don't have a negative stigma attached to their behavior in their social strata.
If you are raised in that kind of twisted environment, it's sometimes very hard to break away from it, go in the other direction. A lot literally don't want to.
It's one thing for the feds to make splashy arrests, but is the mob still a threat to public safety? Edward McDonald, who used to prosecute the mob in Brooklyn,told the New York Times, "The Mafia is just not engaging in the significant criminal activities they were involved in the past. I'm not saying the war has been won, but it's pretty close."
The mob in America might no longer be what it used to be in terms of overall power and reach, but it's hardly a thing of the past and still quite formidable in many areas of the country.
The new indictment includes what most of us might think of as "normal" mafia crimes like assault, gun trafficking, and loansharking, but also a few that surprised me, like healthcare fraud and credit card skimming. When did the mob get into these white-collar crimes ?
Many of the Italian mafia families across the nation have sought to diversify their interests into more high-tech, white-collar crimes for a while now, dating back, really, to the 1980s. Smart mobsters in this day and age no longer just line their pockets with traditional rackets (gambling, loansharking, extortion)—and some try to stay away all together. When you compare prison sentences, it makes the most sense.
One name that caught my eye in the indictment was Philadelphia Mafia Don Joey Merlino, who tends to be romanticized as an old-school mobster like John Gotii or Lucky Luciano.
For Joey, it's was only a matter of time before he was back in handcuffs. He doesn't know the meaning of keeping a low profile. Why be a gangster if you can't act like a gangster? He's been living like that since his 20s—now he's in his 50s. It hasn't changed. He turns the old underworld adage, "Make money, not headlines," completely on its ear. He wants to make money and headlines and give the finger to anyone who gets in his way. His entire last five years since his release from more than a decade in prison has been documented on his and his friend's social-media accounts. That's why I call him the"Instagram Don."
What else can you tell us about him?
Very slick, very intriguing, very confident, very vain, very hungry, very dangerous, very lucky. He's always lived life like he's playing with house money and puts a ton of stock in"cool," considerably more than any of his mob-don peers. You could put him on a poster as the picture of the New Millennium mobster, which isn't a good thing for the future of the Mafia in this country.
Since Joey got out of prison the last time, what's he been doing? Didn't he say he was retired?
Joey got out in 2011 from a racketeering conviction in Philly and moved to Florida, opening a restaurant and, if you believe the FBI, kept running his mob family from afar through a group of intermediaries. Just like he did in the 1990s when he first made his name on the nation's mafia landscape, he fancied the finest threads, expensive cars and jewelry, frequent high-end steak and cigar dinners and trips to trendy nightclubs and bars with his ever-expanding entourage—all with no visible means of legitimate income.
Genovese crime family mobsters are peppered throughout the indictment. What's the story with this alleged honcho Pasquale Parrello?
"Patsy" is a major player in the Genovese Family, the Cadillac of mob regimes in New York City for years. He runs the Family's Bronx faction and headquarters out of his restaurant, Pasquale's Rigoletto, on Arthur Avenue.
There's also been a lot in the papers since the bust about the East Coast La Cosa Nostra, like it's all one group, instead of separate families working together. Is that the right way to think about it?
Crime families, especially ones on the East Coast and New York City specifically, have always worked together and partnered in mob rackets. In this case, four of the five "Five Families" were allegedly teaming with Joey Merlino's Philly crime syndicate on a series of illegal-business ventures. Now, remember, these connections and ties between all these families could be incredibly loose—except in a conspiracy it doesn't matter. If they're in for a penny, they're in for a pound.
And what about the fifth New York family, the Colombos? How'd they stay out of this sweep?
Rumors are rampant that a superseding indictment is imminent, maybe multiple indictments. I wouldn't be shocked if members of the Columbo Family make into one of those. If not, they're lucky, because make no mistake about it, the Colombos are still around and very active in the New York and New Jersey area.
What makes this criminal subculture so enduring despite bust after bust and prediction after prediction that the party is over?

As I call them, the "Three Pillars" of organized crime are gambling, loan sharking, and extortion—they're the lifeblood of any crime family. They've always existed and always will exist. And that's why, in one form or another, organized crime will always hold a place in our society.

Bonanno gangsters’ lawyers whine that judge’s orders to bar them from mob friends and places are too vague to enforce

Tuesday, August 9, 2016, 6:34 PM

You can have your cannoli but you can't eat it too.
Alleged mafiosi Vito Badamo, 53, and Ernest Aiello, 36, have concerns about a judge's order that bars them from commiserating with fellow goombahs and whether it could prevent them from going to get a bite to eat.
Lawyers for the pair argued Tuesday that their clients — who were freed after a mistrial on enterprise corruption and other charges in May — wouldn't know which paisans to avoid under the vague prohibition that prosecutors pushed for.
Lawyer Joseph Donatelli said prosecutors asked that his client stay away from mobbed-up people and places, but failed to specify who they think is a gangster in the defendants' circle of Italian-American pals.
"Who is an organized crime member?" Donatelli asked during a hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Donatelli noted that Badamo is a regular at old school Italian bakery Fortunato Brothers Cafe in Williamsburg.
"My client frequents a pastry shop," said Donatelli, who owns DeStefano's steakhouse nearby.
"If he walks in and buys a zeppole and walks out that's okay," the judge said, but it could be problematic "if he walks in and has a conversation for an hour."
Dwyer added that Badamo could politely say ciao to old pals with a reputation as long as he keeps moving.
"If he's walking down the street and sees an old friend, he can say ‘hi’ and end the conversation," the judge said.
Aiello lawyer Stacey Richman had asked for a list of prohibited contacts from prosecutors, challenging the overbroad request and called it a "dangerous restriction."
"The people do not give us a list as to who may be a mob affiliate," Richman said after the hearing.
"The people define pretty much everyone and every place as mob-related."
Richman said that even a McDonald's was made into a "mob locale" at the first trial.
Badamo and Aiello, alleged members of the Bonanno crime family, are charged in an extortion, gambling, loansharking and prescription pill peddling scheme along with alleged boss Nicholas (Nicky Cigars) Santora, 73, and Anthony (Skinny) Santoro, 52.
Santora, who is wheelchair-bound, is still being held on $1 million bond and Santoro is behind bars on $500,000 bail.
They all face a maximum of 25 years behind bars though some of the lesser counts were dismissed against Aiello.
Jury discord and scheduling problems left them without a panel of 12 to deliberate after a lengthy trial.

A new trial date has not yet been set.

FBI, NYPD Arrest Dozens Of Suspected Organized Crime Family Members

August 4, 2016 2:30 PM

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The FBI and NYPD made dozens of arrests Thursday morning in a broad-based mob bust. New York federal prosecutors unveiled an indictment charging nearly four dozen suspects with organized crime-related charges, saying they operated a massive East Coast syndicate.
Prosecutors said the defendants committed crimes ranging from extortion to illegal gambling throughout the East Coast. By 10 a.m., some 41 of those charged were in custody.
An indictment in Manhattan U.S. District Court said the crime activities of the organized crime group, known as the East Coast Enterprise, were mostly based in New York, but officials said its tentacles reached into Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
Those arrested are alleged members of the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonanno and Philadelphia crime families, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported. They allegedly formed an unusual alliance and joined forces or conducted overlapping business, Papa reported.
Among those charged were Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, the reputed boss of a Philadelphia crime family. Also named in the indictment was Pasquale “Patsy” Parrello, identified as a longtime member of the Genovese organized crime family in New York City.
The indictment “reads like an old school Mafia novel, where extortion, illegal gambling, arson and threats to ‘whack’ someone are carried out along with some modern-day crimes,” such as credit card skimming, said Diego Rodriguez, head of the FBI’s New York office.
Crimes allegedly carried out by the 46 suspects included loansharking, casino-style gambling and sports gambling, credit card fraud and health care fraud. A local focus of the investigation was an apparent gambling operation known as the Yonkers Club, where poker and dice tournaments were held, Papa reported.
Other crimes alleged in the indictment included firearms trafficking, arson, extortion and assault.
Members used coded language to arrange meetings at highway rest areas and restaurants, Diamond reported.
No murders were listed in the indictment, but in one case a victim was beaten and stomped outside a rival’s restaurant, Papa reported.
One count accuses the 72-year-old Parrello of ordering a beatdown in 2011 of a panhandler he believed was harassing female customers outside his restaurant in the Bronx, telling a cohort to “break his — knees.” The panhandler was “located and assaulted with glass jars, sharp objects and steel-tipped boots, causing bodily harm,” the court papers say.
Afterward one of his cohorts was recorded saying, “Remember the old days in the neighborhood when we used to play baseball? . . . A ball game like that was done,” the papers say.
Prosecutors also detailed how in 2013, Parello ordered retaliation against a man who stabbed a member of his crew outside a Bronx bar. After an associate agreed to “whack” the attacker, Parrello cautioned him to “keep the pipes handy and pipe him, pipe him, over here (gesturing to the knees), not on his head,” the papers say.
Merlino, 54, was implicated in a health care fraud scheme with Parrello and others that got corrupt doctors to bill insurers for unnecessary and excessive prescriptions for expensive compound creams in exchange for kickbacks.
The 44-month investigation was dubbed Operation Moving Target. During the arrests, agents recovered three handguns, a shotgun, gambling paraphernalia and more than $30,000 in cash.
In Massachusetts, five alleged associates of the New York-based Genovese crime family were arrested on extortion-related charges as part of the sweep.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Mafia loses its influence in New York's Little Italy

Published August 11, 2016
 Associated Press

NEW YORK –  In a recent conversation with an undercover FBI agent wearing a wire, a reputed mobster from Connecticut named Eugene "Rooster" O'Norfio proclaimed himself the new boss of the "Mulberry Street Crew" in Manhattan's Little Italy.
New Yorkers could be forgiven for responding: Rooster who?
"I didn't even know he existed," said Joseph Scelsa, who has run the Italian American Museum out of a storefront on Mulberry Street for the past eight years.
The obscurity of O'Norfio, the vagueness of the allegations against him contained in a new federal mob indictment and an absence of fear in Little Italy reflect how a tourist destination with its shrinking cluster of Italian restaurants and gift shops has changed since the days when it was the turf of marquee Mafia bosses like John "Dapper Don" Gotti and Vincent "Chin" Gigante.
Though the indictment suggests organized crime still has at least a toehold in the neighborhood, visitors to Mulberry Street would have a far better chance of dropping $400 on designer shoes than spotting a preening gangster.
"The colorful names remain the same. Some of the scams and the shakedowns remain. But the vice grip on businesses and others is not the same as it used to be," said Randy Mastro, an attorney who once served as a mob-busting point man under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
In the 1990s, authorities used electronic surveillance at Gotti's Little Italy headquarters, the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street, to help bring down the mercurial boss of the Gambino crime family. They also removed the stranglehold Gigante's Genovese crime family had on the annual Feast of San Gennaro street festival, where it once ran gambling games, imposed a "mob tax" on vendors and raided donations at a neighborhood church. Both bosses died in federal prison.
Yet, forces far more powerful than the FBI may have had a bigger impact.
The Ravenite is now a boutique for "handcrafted" shoes in a gentrified part of Little Italy that was long ago rebranded as Nolita (North of Little Italy).
Art galleries, brunch spots and upscale clothing stores are steadily encroaching on what remains of the old neighborhood.
But the mob investigations have continued, resulting in an embezzlement conviction in 2000 of a former San Gennaro organizer, testimony at a 2004 trial that another feast leader was a made man, and a 2013 guilty plea by a Genovese capo in a case accusing him of trying to extort the festival.
In the current case, court papers quote O'Norfio recounting how the capo told him, "I want you at the helm" of the Mulberry Street Crew while he was in prison.
The new indictment accuses the 74-year-old O'Norfio, of East Haven, Connecticut, of loansharking, but it doesn't go into specifics. He has pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges that also accuse him of being in charge of another crew in Springfield, Massachusetts.
His lawyer, Thomas Nooter, declined to comment.
News coverage of the recent cases has rankled Little Italy boosters.
The nonprofit that runs San Gennaro each September complained in a 2012 letter to The New York Times that the coverage was overblown and "rekindled old, derogatory stereotypes" about Italian-Americans while ignoring the festival's charity work.
The new charges "really disgust me," said Scelsa, whose museum focuses on the accomplishments of Italian-Americans, evidenced by a copy of a platinum record for Billy Joel's "The Stranger" perched in the front window. He believes the case represents an invisible vestige of a bygone era when the so-called Black Hand extortion racket terrorized the neighborhood.
"I wouldn't have opened up on Mulberry Street if I thought it was still there," he said.
Still, today's organized crime networks need to be seen as "a struggling business that's trying to survive by diversifying," said James Walden, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, citing the credit card and health care fraud charges in the indictment.
Mastro cautioned that even with the modern serenity of Mulberry Street, law enforcement must stay vigilant.
"Trying to eliminate La Cosa Nostra," he said, "is like trying to kill a vampire."