Browsing: Organized Crime

Antonio Cristofaro’s crocodile, a trend-setter in cost-effective muscle

​While the American Mafia may be in retreat, its counterpart in Italy is still playing an up-tempo game. Take boss Antonio Cristofaro. During a search of his condo an hour outside Naples, police found a 90-pound crocodile living on his terrace. Forest service officials say it was capable of yanking off a man’s arm in one bite.

This kind of muscle comes in handy when extorting businessmen or encouraging loanshark customers to keep current on their balances. It’s also cheaper to feed than a large and menacing man named Rocco, since it lives off rats and rabbits.

Italian detectives say Cristofaro used the reptile to convince colleagues that his wishes were usually best for everyone involved, especially if they appreciated their limbs. But it’s apparently against the law to keep endangered species — or have pets than can bite off your face. He’s been charged with illegal possession of animals, which doesn’t entail a lot of bragging rights when you’re in the joint.

See previous episodes of Mob Watch.

Vincent Palermo has found new troubles in Houston

​In 1999 Vincent Palermo, acting boss of New Jersey’s DeCavalcante family, was looking at a slew of charges including the murder of an informant. So instead of spending his golden years in prison, he decided to rat.

Palermo’s testimony would wipe out the leadership of the family, which was the basis of The Sopranos. He served two years and disappeared into the witness protection program, never top be heard from again. But you apparently can’t teach an old mafioso new tricks.

Prior to his arrest, the admitted murderer and extortionist owned the Queens strip joint Wiggles, home to prostitution and drug dealing. Then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made it a focal point of his crackdown on New York strip joints. Now he’s reappeared in Houston as Vincent Cabella, and he’s exported his illicit expertise to Texas…

Black Dom could use a stint in prison to brush up on his criminal skills. Think of it as time at finishing school.

​It’s been said the Mafia’s in swift decline due to increased police scrutiny and a rash of turncoats. Then again, maybe they just suck at being criminals.

In today’s edition of Mob Watch, we turn now to Dominick (Black Dom) Dionisio, reputed associate of the Colombo Family. He’s currently awaiting trial for shooting a guy in the family’s 1991 civil war, sticking up pot dealers, and robbing a yeshiva worker. But he recently petitioned a judge to have his electronic ankle bracelet removed, contending he’s now legit and gainfully employed at the famed New York pizzeria Lucali’s.

The feds, however, think Black Dom’s full of shit, because he hadn’t been providing any pay stubs since he supposedly started working almost a year ago. They say he’s simply using Lucali’s as a front, perhaps for sinister purposes. So Dionisio countered by producing said stubs — 10 in all. Problem is, they came from the personal account of Lucali’s owner Mark Iacono, not the restaurant. And they were written on sequentially numbered checks, implying that Dom was hastily paid for an entire year all at once.

Unless the judge has an IQ under 40, Black Dom likely won’t be seeing loosened bail conditions.

There’ll be no dumping of industrial waste for you, pal

​The American Mafia might wish to take a page from their Japanese counterparts, the Yamaguchi-gumi, which is attempting to curtail low-level soldiers from getting their bosses in trouble.

Under Japanese law, ranking gangsters can be sued for the crimes of their subordinates. So the Yamaguchi-gumi, the country’s largest organized crime clan, has taken to administering written tests to keep the bosses from litigation. A sample question from one test found by police:

Question: What kind of activities are banned?
A: Dumping industrial
B. Bootlegging fuel
C. Theft of construction vehicles and other expensive
D. Phone fraud scams.
E. All of the above.

If you answered E, you’re on your way to a not-so-lucrative career — judging by all the things they can’t do — in the Yamaguchi-gumi.

They were once the most prominent Mafia clan outside New York and Chicago. Bruce Springsteen immortalized them in song (“Someone blew up the Chicken Man last night”). And with the coming of legalized gambling in Atlantic City, they looked prepped for a reign of prosperity.
But according to Philly police, today’s Philadelphia mob is down to just 20 made members — and nine of them are in prison…

Steve Buscemi, the new-old boss of Atlantic City

​Next year, HBO will begin airing 11 episodes of Boardwalk Empire, a new series set during prohibition and starring Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, a Jersey gangster and politician (is that redundant?) who rules Atlantic City.

This should be good. Martin Scorsese directed the pilot, and he’s teaming up with Mark Wahlberg and Terence Winter (a writer for The Sopranos) as producers.

The series is based
on the book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City, by Nelson Johnson. It also stars
Dabney Coleman, Michael Pitt and Kelly MacDonald.

Lewis Kasman, seated to the right of John Gotti, in a picture taken at a wedding

Lewis Kasman likes to describe himself at John Gotti’s “adopted son.” Whether or not that’s true, there’s little doubt he and the deceased Dapper Don were close.

Writes the New York Daily News: “He used his contacts with hotel queen Leona Helmsley to plan John A.
(Junior) Gotti’s wedding at the Helmsley Palace in 1990, was a family
spokesman during the elder Gotti’s prison cancer battle, and gave the
eulogy at his 2002 funeral.” He also gave Gotti a $70,000 no-show job and visited him in federal prison. What Gotti didn’t know is that Kasman, who’d married into a wealthy
family with a women’s wear business, had become an FBI informant as far
back as 1996…


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Midge Renault’s disappearance has a striking similarity to the Jimmy Hoffa abduction

​It was as if his killers took the abduction and murder of Jimmy Hoffa and followed it to a T. The year was 1979. New Haven, Connecticut’s most notorious mobster, Salvatore “Midge Renault” Annunziato, kissed his wife goodbye and got into a car driven by Genovese Family soldier Tommy “The Blond” Vastano. A second car, driven by Midge’s acolyte Pasquale “Shaggy Dog” Amendola, followed. But somewhere along the way, Midge waved Amendola off. It was the last time anyone saw him.

The 30-year-old disappearance of Midge Renault is being recaptured this week in the New Haven Independent, where reporter Christopher Hoffman is delivering a smartly written five-part series. Though little-known outside Connecticut, Midge cut a wide swath within the city. Writes Hoffman: “He’d shot men, beaten them, started riots, destroyed
restaurants, shaken down contractors, corrupted cops, politicians and
union officials, run illegal card and craps games and been arrested
dozens of times for everything from breach of peace to attempted
murder.” But Midge was also known for throwing around $100 bills, picking up restaurant tabs, and buying drinks for the house.

By 1979, his reign was coming to an end. The FBI warned of a contract out on him. Midge had been reduced to shaking down residents and skimming from union Christmas parties. But as Hoffman writes, the three decades leading up to this moment were very good while they lasted.

The FBI’s notion of what Whitey Bulger looks like today

​The FBI is still on the hunt for Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger more than a decade after he fled the city before he could be charged on 19 counts of murder, money laundering, and drug trafficking. The agency has released new age-enhanced photos that hopefully depict what he now looks like on the verge of turning 80.

Bulger, the basis for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed, ran the Irish faction of the Boston mob while serving as an FBI informant, ratting out Italian rivals to diminish the competition. He became close to his FBI handler, John Connolly Jr., who tipped Bulger off before he could be arrested, allowing him to bolt town with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig. (Connolly is currently serving a 10-year sentence.)

Bulger was last seen in London in 2002. The FBI believes he has money stashed in banks around the world, funding his life on the lam. Though there’s been a flurry of recent sightings in Florida, he’s also thought to have traveled from Ireland to South America.

If you happen to see the guy, it’ll be worth your time to call the FBI. There’s a $2 million reward for his arrest.

John Gotti not long before his death

​Popular opinion says the Mafia is no more — or at least not what it was in its heyday. That theory says it’s been reduced to a collection of informants, poseurs, and expired HBO shows. But the New York Daily News makes an argument that it’s alive and well, reincarnated for a changing economy.

Though the mob has lost juice in its traditional fields of union racketeering, construction and garbage, it’s making up for that by basically following the criminality of Wall Street. The paper points to scams involving hedge funds, mortgage securities, and house-flipping. Mobsters are also heavy players on the web, running porn and off-shore gambling sites, not to mention swiping credit card numbers.

One member of the Gambino Family even owns an energy drink company called American Blast, presumably used to launder money.

The difference with today’s mob is that it’s not composed of preening sociopaths like John Gotti Era. These days, it’s less violent, more quiet, and quicker to commit mortgage fraud than hijack a truck.

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