(From l. to r.) Rafael "Chispas" Sandoval, Jimmy Capola of the Gambino family, and Robert "Robot" Salas. Photo courtesy of Richard Valdemar.
On the strength of 16 indictments, federal agents arrested 119 alleged members of La Cosa Nostra (this thing of ours) Sicilian Mafia in late-January raids in the Northeast.
The arrests netted characters with names such as Joseph "Junior Lollipops" Carna, Benjamin "the Claw" Castellazzo, Anthony "Tony Bagels" Cavezza, Joseph "JoJo" Corozzo, Dennis "the Beard" Delucia, Anthony "Big Fat Larry" Durso, Vincenzo "Vinny Carwash" Frogiero, Richard "Nerves" Fusco, Anthony "Firehawk" Licata, Luigi "Baby Shacks" Manocchio, Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, and Giovanni "Mousey" Vella, were charged in the racketeering case. A majority of those charged are well known and documented organized-crime family members and associates.
This was an outstanding blow against the Mob, but it's not a fatal blow. For years, the reports that suggested that the Mafia in America was dead have been greatly exaggerated. The LCN had attempted to remain out of the public eye after the much publicized convictions related to John "Dapper Don" Gotti in 1990.
However, the Colombo family remains in the business of gambling, loan sharking, and narcotics. It remains in control of the Cement and Concrete Workers Union, Local 6A. The Gambino family is alleged to be involved in labor racketeering in the construction industry, and the murder of the owners of the Shamrock Bar in Queens. The Genovese family controls the International Longshoreman's Association at both the New York and New Jersey sea ports.
"Organized crime is a shadow of what it was 20 years ago," Bruce Maouw told the Wall Street Journal at the time. Maouw, who is now retired, was the FBI agent who led the probe that sent former Gambino boss John Gotti to prison.
"But you still have the five families (in New York), you have captains, you have crews," according to Maouw. "They still control a lot of labor unions, they still control a lot of the construction industry, different companies, still commit crimes, and according to the indictment, they still kill people."
Members off all five crime families were arrested and charged with running a criminal enterprise under the most effective organized crime federal statute — the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
What we know as Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, the Mob or the Black Hand, started in Sicily. By 1880, they set a foothold in this country. After murdering the chancellor, vice chancellor, and 11 wealthy landowners of a province in Sicily, Giuseppe Esposito and six other members of the secret organization fled to New York. Esposito was arrested and extradited to Italy in 1881.
The most notorious incident occurred on Oct. 15, 1890, when Sicilian assassins murdered New Orleans Police Superintendant David Hennessy. By this time, the Sicilian Mafia had established a strong presence in the "Big Easy." Nineteen conspirators were eventually indicted for the murder but were all acquitted. The city was filled with accusations of bribes and witness intimidation. An angry crowd of vigilantes conducted their own "trial," resulting in the largest lynching in American history.
The American Mafia was dealt many so called "death blows" by law enforcement over the years, but it has survived and remained in business. The conviction of Al "Scarface" Capone in 1931, Luciano Genovese's conviction in 1936, the narcotics conviction of "Don Vito" Genovese in 1969, the 1986 convictions of the heads of the Chicago, Cleveland and Kansas City mobs in Las Vegas, and the convictions of eight defendants (belonging to New York's 5 Families) in the Mafia Commission Trial in 1986 were all touted as the end of the American Mafia.
Several attempts were made against John "the Teflon Don" Gotti before his conviction in 1992. Vincent "the Chin" Gigante avoided conviction as the head of the Genovese family for 25 years until convicted in 1997. And the Genovese family was dealt another serious blow when 30 were indicted in 2006. But criminal organizations are resilient.
Because the LCN has camouflaged its activities, you would think it's not a danger to you or to the citizens in your jurisdiction. Think again. I have a 1970s-era photograph taken in a California prison of three dangerous convicts. On the far left is Rafael "Chispas" Sandoval, the front man for the Mexican Mafia's Community Concern, which is a fraudulent program to council youthful offenders, parolees, and drug addicts. On the far right is notorious Mexican Mafia member Robert "Robot" Salas.
And in the center with his arms around both Eme brothers is Jimmy Coppola, a soldier working for the Carlo Gambino family, one of New York's 5 Families. The godfather of the Mexican Mafia, Joe "Pegleg" Morgan, was in the heroin smuggling business with Coppola.
In 1987, a "tell all" book about the Italian Mafia was published called, "The Last Mafioso: The Treacherous World of Jimmy Fratianno." It was an autographical novel about Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno written by Ovid Demaris. Jimmy was a part of made mafia member Jack Dragna's Los Angeles crew. He also mentions fellow mafia member Dominic Brooklier the father of a now prominent defense attorney. In the book, Jimmy describes a meeting with Mexican Mafia member "Champ" Reynoso. The Italian Mafia was soliciting the aid of the Mexican Mafia to hit "two guys, maybe three" in Palm Springs.
Still can't believe that the LCN can be in your life or business? Listen up, Colombo. I'm the proud father of six kids. None of them are gang members or drug addicts, nor do they associate with criminals. Or so I thought. One of my boys played football for UCLA. He was a highly recruited member of the offensive line. Being proud parents of a football star, my wife and I tailgated and sat in the honored-parent section of the stadium for each game. Bob Toledo was the coach. I began to notice that none of the families were allowed on the field and three civilians were.
I asked about these men and their special access on the field, and I was told that they were UCLA alumni and supporters. My wife was an alumnus, and I was a supporter, so why did they have this special privilege?
In November of 1998, UCLA was undefeated and on Nov. 21 they beat rival USC for the eighth time in a row (34-7). The whole thing came crashing down on Dec. 5, when the Miami Hurricanes destroyed UCLA's title hopes and ended the UCLA winning streak. It was as if the defensive line failed to show for the game. South paw quarterback Cade McNown threw five touchdown passes for 513 yards and the offensive line bled and sweated and opened holes like a championship team. But not the UCLA defense team.
Four days later, we attended the UCLA football awards banquet. My wife and I had invited Liz Ratinoff, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney and gang prosecutor, and her husband (also UCLA alumni and supporters) to attend. As we took seats at the tables, we noticed that the three civilians who I had noted with special access to the football field were "holding court" at one of the tables.
One by one the UCLA football team members walked up to pay them homage and "kiss their rings." The three were later identified as Steve Bing, a millionaire real estate developer, who is also a friend of convicted private investigator and wire-tapper Anthony Pelicano, New York Colombo family capo Dominick "Donny Shacks" Montemarano, and Vinnie Gambino of New York's infamous Gambino family.
Here's how the plot goes. After the team's glorious undefeated standing was established, an employee of the UCLA athletic department approached the mostly black players on the defensive side of the team and urged them to protest UCLA's ending of affirmative action admissions within the University of California system. John Carlos, the former Olympic champion who protested at the Mexico City games of 1968 by raising his fist in a black power salute, spoke to the team.
Motivated to protest the end of affirmative action, many of the players on the defensive side demanded that the team wear black arm bands to the Miami game. Coach Toledo said no, and so did most of the rest of the UCLA team. Only it wasn't a team anymore. In the locker room following the game and on the airplane trip back to California, the UCLA offense squared off against the defense. At the Rose Bowl game against Wisconsin on New Year's Day, the team had still not mended. UCLA lost 31-38.
It's called point-shaving. I'm pretty sure that the New York families made millions on the "upset" loss of UCLA to Miami. It was ironic that the N.N. Sugerman Award for leadership went to quarterback Cade McNown for the offense and strong safety Larry Atkins for the defense.
It gets worse. The New York Daily News published the article, "FBI: Hood Feted Cade in Big Apple," on March 12, 1999. Staff writers Luke Cyphers and Jerry Capeci reported that while up for the Heisman Trophy, Cade McNown was accompanied to New York by Donny Shacks. They visited the Brooklyn neighborhood of Montemarano and dined at the Sparks Steak House where Mafioso Paul Castellano was murdered.
In the investigation that followed, the UCLA officials and the FBI found no wrongdoing by the Bruin football players. That's because in this scam, they were not the players, but the pawns.
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