Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mobster Turns Lemons into Lemonade

It's too bad for Joey Vallaro that so many people want him killed. Otherwise he could make a killing himself on the speakers' circuit with his story of how even in adversity there is opportunity.

In Vallaro's case it would be about how he turned a jail stretch for extortion into a career as a Staten Island trucking magnate.

Always a step ahead, so far at least, Vallaro is the Mafia "rat" at the centre of a 170-page indictment against 62 mobsters and crooks, including the bosses of New York's Gambino family, which resulted in 57 arrests last week. It was a crippling blow to one of the city's notorious Five Families.

Twelve years and a lifetime ago, Vallaro became pals with the Gambino captain Nicholas "Little Nicky" Corozzo while they were in the can. Not long before he was jailed Vallaro and a partner had started a trucking company.

Court documents, referring to Vallaro as "John Doe #4", show that on the outside another Gambino captain, Thomas "Tommy Sneakers" Cacciopoli, recovered a debt owed to Vallaro's company "and, in return, demanded monthly extortion payments from that point forward". After his release from prison in 1999 Vallaro made the payments directly to Cacciopoli, 58, and to stay in business he has since handed over more than $US160,000.

In return, the Gambinos sponsored his business: ushering him into exclusive rights at development sites and granting him permission to start a cement company. When Vallaro wanted to sell after a buyer approached him, he first had to obtain permission from the family.

"In keeping with instructions from Gambino family captains Nicholas Corozzo and Leonard DiMaria to consult them before making any decisions concerning his business, John Doe #4 informed DiMaria of the [buyer's] offer. DiMaria later informed John Doe #4 that the family had agreed to allow him to make the sale, provided he pay $100,000 to the Gambino family," court documents show.

Vallaro's partner did not fare so well: "In early January 2008, Gambino family soldier Joseph Scopo approached John Doe #4 on behalf of Gambino family captain Thomas Cacciopoli and instructed him that when the sale of his cement company took place, John Doe #4 should not provide his partner with the more than $300,000 in sale proceeds due to him, and that Cacciopoli would collect the money himself when he was released from prison."

Long before he OKed selling Vallaro's business, Lenny "Fatso" DiMaria, a family member since the 1970s, had unwittingly given investigators an insight into corporate techniques Gambino-style when he was captured on a surveillance audio tape.

"You have to go bother these people for your money," he was heard telling a subordinate. "Rough them up a little. Tell them 'You're a f---ing stiff' … Crack a face. F--- them up. Don't you do it, send a f---ing kid to rough them up, a f---ing joke."

The most senior of those charged is John "Jackie the Nose" D'Amico, who rose from the rank of soldier to acting boss of the Gambinos. Seventy-three years old and facing racketeering and extortion charges, he may well die in prison like an earlier Gambino boss, John Gotti.

Also indicted are D'Amico's underboss, Dominic "the Greaseball" Cefalu, 61, and Joseph "Miserable" Corozzo, 66, the family's counsellor or consigliere. This trio was the Gambino "administration".

"The Gambino family operated through groups of individuals headed by captains, who were also referred to as skippers, caporegimes and capodecinas. These groups, which were referred to as crews, regimes and decinas, consisted of 'made' members of the Gambino family, also referred to as 'soldiers', 'friends of ours', 'good fellows' and 'buttons' as well as associates of the Gambino family," the indictment reads.

"With the assistance of the underboss and consigliere, the boss was responsible for setting policy, resolving disputes between members and associates of the Gambino family and members and associates of other criminal organisations."

Corozzo's brother, Nicholas "Little Nicky" Corozzo, is charged with the 1996 murder of the Lucchese crime family associate Robert Arena who refused to return marijuana he stole from a drug dealer. Arena was already suspected of killing one of Corozzo's crew - Anthony "Tough Tony" Placido - when Corozzo ordered his killing. A friend of Arena's who happened to be with him when he was shot was also murdered. Of the shooter, Little Nicky is alleged to have said he "did good work".

One longtime soldier who was spared the indignity of a physically demeaning nickname - and possibly with good reason - was Charles "Charlie Canig" Carneglia.

Grey-bearded and with an improbable grey ponytail, Carneglia has allegedly been killing for the Gambinos since the 1970s, and not necessarily always while under instruction.

In 1975 Albert Gelb, 25, intervened when he saw a young woman being harassed in a diner by a man who produced a gun before Gelb disarmed him. The man was Carneglia. Gelb was shot dead seated at the wheel of his car shortly before Carneglia's trial.

Carneglia, 61, has been charged with five murders in all and also is suspected of a notorious hit on one John Favara, who disappeared in July 1980. Favara was the unfortunate motorist who struck and killed Gotti's 12-year-old son. The boy rode his bike into the path of Favara's car. Carneglia is suspected of shooting Favara and of disposing of his body in a cement-filled barrel. Favara's body has not been found.

The FBI this week was making a body count of another sort. In the Gambino takedown they counted three family captains, three acting captains and 16 soldiers. "Once ruled by the powerful Carlo Gambino and 'Dapper Don' John Gotti, the Gambino family has been reduced to a shadow of its former criminal self over the years … but it is far from dead, continuing its efforts to infiltrate such industries as trucking and construction," the FBI said. "Still, the investigations and ensuing indictment represent another crippling blow. A total of 25 alleged Gambino mobsters - including each active leader of the family not already in jail - were indicted."

Among those charged are members and associates of the Bonnano and Genovese crime families and figures from the construction industry and unions. The charges span three decades and involve murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion and various scams.

The Labour Department inspector-general, Gordon Heddell, said the scams involved some of New York's biggest building companies. "Many of these construction companies allegedly paid a 'mob tax' in return for 'protection' and permission to operate," he said. "The Gambino organised crime family caused the theft of Teamsters union dues, and of health and pension funds, directly impacting the welfare and future of many workers."

In addition, Carneglia ran marijuana. Other family members dealt cocaine. Corozzo and DiMaria oversaw illegal bookmakers, and acting captain Frank Cali ran illegal poker machines "including approximately four or five machines in Caf Italia in Brooklyn. Cali split a percentage of the gambling profits with the owner of the restaurant, with 10 per cent off the top going to the administration of the Gambino family," court documents reveal.

"In the 1990s, Cali was involved in overseeing the Gambino family interest in the annual Italian Feast on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn. The Gambino family received a percentage of the fees charged for the booths and rides, which generated tens of thousands of dollars each year. Cali split the money with other Gambino family associates, with 10 per cent off the top going to the administration of the Gambino family."

Joey Vallaro was a good earner for the Gambinos. In January 2006 they allowed him to start a new operation, an excavation business. That alone brought in $30,000 in extortion payments.

The New York Post said the crunch came when he was busted with two kilograms of cocaine in 2004. He turned informant rather than face a possible life sentence.

Contrary to expectations, Vallaro apparently did not enter the witness protection program after authorities swooped on the family: some reports claim that Joey stayed around to make a brazen appearance at a sushi bar last Saturday. It was just two days after the arrests, and two doors from the restaurant run by his now-abandoned wife, Trisha.

He is not expected to reappear until his time comes to testify in the looming Gambino trials. That is especially so since Little Nicky Corozzo, the man who ushered him into the fold, was not home when the police came calling. And he is still out there, somewhere.

Thanks to Ian Munro

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