Hard Days for the Mafia

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The Mob is being squeezed. From within, old age and illness are weakening its tired family bosses; impatient younger Mafiosi are killing each other in their brutal reach for power. From without, federal and state authorities seem to be putting aside old rivalries to gang up on the gangsters in a new drive to put their leaders behind bars and shatter their murderous ways of conducting business. There were no fewer than 3,118 indictments against organized-crime figures in the nation last year, and 2,194 convictions. Last week a rash of arrests and the preparation of new charges against the five Mafia families operating in New York City threatened to cripple even further the controlling structure of syndicate crime in the U.S.

No law-enforcement official is claiming that the Mafia is about to be knocked out of operation. But the Justice Department hopes that its attack on the Sicilian-bred traditions and cohesiveness of U.S. mobsters will have a demoralizing impact. "The vice of the Mafia that makes it worse than ordinary crime is its organized structure," contends Rudolph Giuliani, 40, the aggressive U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "We're trying to indict and take out an entity, an organization, and not just the individuals."

The weapon brandished by Giuliani and other federal prosecutors is a 1970 law dubbed RICO, since it is aimed at "racketeer-influenced and corrupt organizations." Under the statute, the leaders of any organization can be prosecuted when the group's members commit crimes that show a pattern of racketeering. Prosecutors do not have to prove that the leader personally committed the illegal acts, only that he supported the specific crimes in some way, such as approving them or sharing in any illegal profits.

The RICO law had already been used to indict some Mafia clan leaders in New York (including Carmine Persico, 51, a Colombo family chieftain), Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Rochester. Charges of skimming $2 million in cash from casinos in Las Vegas have also been leveled against high Mafia figures in Chicago, Kansas City and Milwaukee.

Last week federal law enforcers turned their attention again to New York City, where most of the Mob's muscle is concentrated. After a five-year investigation, a Brooklyn-based federal organized- crime strike force headed by Edward McDonald brought indictments against the Lucchese family and two officers of Mafia-dominated Teamsters Union locals. The indictment charges that Salvatore Santoro, 69, a Lucchese underboss, other gang members and Teamster officials extorted more than $246,000 from companies handling air freight at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The gangsters allegedly bragged that "we rule the airport," and shook down the trucking firms in return for promises of peaceful labor relations.

Federal prosecutors also cracked down on New York's Genovese family. Racketeering charges were brought against Matthew ("Matty the Horse") Ianniello, 65, a Genovese underboss, as well as three of Ianniello's brothers and 15 other suspects. One indictment claimed that Ianniello and his associates skimmed $2.5 million in profits off New York City restaurants, topless bars and a nightclub that he secretly controlled, thus evading taxes. Ianniello and others were also charged with hiding their ownership of garbage- disposal companies that had once done millions of dollars of wasteremoval work for New York's Consolidated Edison Co.

Giuliani also persuaded a federal grand jury to charge Salvatore Catalano, underboss of the Bonanno family, and 34 associates with racketeering. The indictments expanded charges brought last April, in which the same mobsters were accused of participating in a $1.65 billion heroin-smuggling operation. The drug was distributed primarily through pizza parlors in several U.S. ^ cities. The new indictment accused Catalano and four others of plotting the 1979 murder of Carmine Galante, then the Bonanno family boss. Galante, 69, was slain by five gunmen while lunching at an Italian restaurant.

Much of the evidence for the recent Mob indictments was gathered through the use of court-approved buggings and wiretaps. The most comprehensive indictments so far, which could be announced this week, are expected to result partly from the planting of a tiny radio transmitter behind the dashboard of a 1982 Jaguar owned by the chauffeur of Antonio Corallo, 71, the Lucchese family boss. Corallo talked freely to his trusted driver and to other top mobsters as he traveled around the New York area. Detectives trailing the car in a van were able to record the incriminating conversations.

The Corallo investigation demonstrated a new degree of cooperation between state and federal lawmen. The bug was planted in 1983 by agents of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. That 20-minute operation was carried out while the Jaguar was parked near a Long Island restaurant. The eavesdropping continued for five months and produced 75 hours of tapes. State officials used the evidence to bring charges in suburban Suffolk County against Corallo and 20 other men, alleging that they had conspired to control local garbage-collection franchises, using death threats, sabotage and bribery. The task force then turned the tapes over to Giuliani's office.

Armed also with FBI wiretaps, Giuliani is prepared to bring RICO charges against the leaders of all five New York-based Mafia families. Those expected to be charged, besides Corallo, include Paul Castellano, 72, titular head of the Gambino group, the Mafia's most powerful family; Anthony ("Fat Tony") Salerno, 73, boss of the Genovese clan; Jerry Langella, 46, the Colombo group leader; and Philip Rastelli, 67, the Bonanno boss.

The core of the federal case is expected to be its charge that the Mafia is governed by a national commission consisting of the five New York bosses and family leaders from Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New England. Federal investigators contend that the Mob's most lucrative operations and major disciplinary acts, including the elimination of top figures who have disobeyed the rules, must be approved by the commission and that the New York bosses effectively control this ruling body. Investigators say that Corallo talked frequently about the commission in his conversations in the Jaguar. Thus the commission itself is expected to be cited in the indictment as a corrupt organization.

The existence of a top council coordinating organized crime has been known by federal agents and many police investigators since it was established in 1931 after a bloody gang war among the New York clans. The first taped evidence of the commission's makeup was acquired by the FBI in 1959 when bugs placed in a tailor shop on Chicago's North Michigan Avenue caught Tony Accardo, the city's boss, ticking off those members of the commission he thought would support his gang in a dispute with the Bonanno family.

Federal investigators in Boston claim to have collected a virtual 20-year history of Mob operations in that city in the form of 640 video and audio tapes. The FBI in 1981 planted bugs in the North End apartment and operating headquarters of a once rising Mafioso, Gennaro (Jerry) Angiulo, 65. Hidden FBI cameras also videotaped mobsters entering and leaving the apartment. Angiulo, four of his brothers and one of his sons have been charged with racketeering and will soon face trials in Boston. The city's respected First National Bank has been accused in an FBI affidavit of having failed to report huge cash transactions with firms controlled by the Angiulos, as required by law. William Brown, the bank's chairman, admitted last week that the Mob may have "used" the bank to launder more than $2 million in cash, but if so, he claimed that bank officials had helped "unwittingly."

It apparently was a coincidence, but mobsters worried about informants who might cooperate with prosecutors to lessen their own penalties could take no comfort from hearings conducted in Miami last week by the President's Commission on Organized Crime. That group paraded a number of former Mafiosi who publicly regretted their criminal past. Luigi Ronsisvalle, 44, told of growing up in Sicily, where he followed Mafia developments "like an American kid follows baseball." He said he spent 13 years in the syndicate, mostly as a hit man, after moving to New York City, and eventually killed 13 people. He also took part in armed robberies and carried heroin for the Bonanno and Gambino families. He had expected to become "a man of honor" in the Mafia, he explained, but he became ashamed of his own actions when he killed a woman in a $2,000 robbery. "In Sicily," he said, "you don't touch a lady even if there's a million dollars in her handbag."

The commissioners also heard from Leroy ("Nicky") Barnes, 52, a former Harlem gangster convicted of heroin dealing. Wearing a hood to hide features that have been altered by plastic surgery, Barnes said he had controlled drug sales of some $200,000 a day in Harlem, but insisted that he had done so without violence.

In Chicago, the combination of federal pressure and a new challenge to family discipline by Mafia underlings and independent bookies has led to three Mob executions since Jan. 10. Investigators contend that the murders were sanctioned by four aging Windy City Mafia chieftains as they spent the Christmas season in the warmth of a Palm Springs, Calif., retreat. The four, according to investigators, were Accardo, 79, the longtime Chicago boss, who suffers from cancer and heart trouble; Joseph Aiuppa, 77, the operating chief, who has a bad heart and is rumored to suffer from throat cancer; John (Jackie) Cerone, 70, the Chicago underboss, who has been indicted with Aiuppa for allegedly skimming Las Vegas casino profits; and Joseph ("Joe Nagaul") Ferriola, 58, who heads the Mob's gambling operations in Chicago and has had heart-bypass surgery.

Ferriola, who apparently aspired to rule the Chicago empire, carried some complaints to his aging superiors. A Mob source told an investigator that Ferriola said, "Things are coming apart in Chicago and something has to be done about it." Some of the syndicate's bookies were holding back too much of the profits. One such deadbeat, Ferriola declared, was Leonard Yaras, the North Side betting boss. "Yaras has to go," Ferriola said. "He's putting our money in his pocket." Another sports bookie, Hal Smith, was said not to be giving the Mob any cut at all. According to the Mob source, Ferriola contended that Charles (Chuckie) English, 70, once an aide to former Chicago Boss Sam Giancana, was trying to regain the power he had lost after Giancana was killed in 1975. Complained Ferriola: "Chuckie's been bad-mouthing me all over Chicago. He tells everyone who will listen what a bunch of bums we are."

Ferriola's bosses were apparently sympathetic. On Jan. 10 Yaras was sitting in his car near Rogers Park in Chicago, where he normally collected the Mob's cut from bookies, when two gunmen opened fire, killing him. On Feb. 10 Smith's body was found in the trunk of his car in suburban Arlington Heights, Ill. He had been brutally beaten, and his throat was cut. On Feb. 13 English finished a roast pig dinner at Horwath's restaurant in Elmwood Park, Ill., trading small talk for more than two hours with, among others, two Cook County judges and two village trustees. He patted his stomach, hitched up his belt, waved goodbye and walked toward his white Cadillac De Ville coupe. As he reached for the car door, two men wearing ski masks pumped five shots into his body, one hitting him between his eyes.

More such Mob executions are expected elsewhere. "With so many of them facing heavy indictments," says one investigator, "they can't run the risk of anybody talking. So they've been buying insurance." Said another: "There are a lot of scared hoods out in the street wondering if they are next."