The Chicago Syndicate: Benjamin Ruggiero
Showing posts with label Benjamin Ruggiero. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Benjamin Ruggiero. Show all posts

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mafia Book Not So Easy to Forget About: The Last Godfather: The Rise and Fall of Joey Massino

Sometimes "forget about it" means just that - forget about it.

In the case of The Last Godfather: The Rise and Fall of Joey Massino, forget about it - it's a must-read for mafia nuts everywhere.

The book has everything a fan of "The Sopranos" could possibly desire: murder, mayhem and a plethora of shady characters with colorful names like Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero, Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano and "Patty Muscles."

The story concerns the rise to power and eventual downfall of Joseph Massino, a capo in the Bonanno crime family, one of the infamous five families of New York. After eliminating his rivals, Massino became capo di tutti capi, boss of bosses. At one point he had over 100 men and was involved in every conceivable racket, everything from "pump and dump" stock market schemes to good old loan sharking. After the FBI cracked down on organized crime in the '80s, he was the last don walking the streets.

And then it all came tumbling down, due in part to the infiltration of the family by FBI agent Joseph "Donnie Brasco" Pistone.

The Bonannos - named after Joseph "Joey Bananas" Bonanno - boasted an impressive track record of never having had a rat in their midst. During its nearly 100-year existence, members would often go to the electric chair before dishonoring the family. This was part of omerta, the conspiracy of silence, that made the Mafia so successful. But by the late '90s, the honor among thieves had largely dissolved. High-ranking members were ready to jump ship and sell out their compatriots rather than face brutally long stints in prison. One by one, Massino's capos turned on him, ratting him out for the murder of Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, an infamous mob murder dramatized in the film "Donnie Brasco."

If this sounds like a lot of back story, it isn't. The book jumps back and forth between courtroom testimony and an account of the family's activities in the late '70s and early '80s. The story involves hundreds of people and dozens of murders, and a dizzying amount of shadiness.

The book, while fascinating, is written rather poorly. It's sentences are clunky, and the author usually explains his rather elementary metaphors. This is mildly insulting to one's intelligence, but the story is fascinating enough to leave the bad writing as little more than a minor irritation. If you need something to while away the nearly eternal dead space between "Sopranos" episodes, this book has you covered.

Thanks to John Bear

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Joe Pistone - Legendary Lawman

Past issues of Legendary Lawmen have been key figures from our past. This month features a bit more recent individual. Many of you may already know him by his alias but may not know the story behind the man. Here is an individual that put his life on the line and his family on hold in an effort to bring down key figures within the mafia.

In 1969 Joe Pistone became an undercover FBI agent. In September 1976 he volunteered to infiltrate the Bonnano family and shortly there after, Donnie Brasco was born. Pistone would spend six years as a low-level jewel thief informing on the goings on inside the mob during some of the most volatile power struggles in organized crime. His story has been told in books, articles and in a major motion picture.

Joseph Dominick Pistone was born 1939 in Erie, Pennsylvania. Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey he graduated from Paterson State in 1965, receiving a degree in anthropology. Following a year as a teacher at Paterson School No. 10, Pistone secured a job at the Office of Naval Intelligence. From 1969 thru 1974 Pistone worked various jobs within the Bureau. In 1974 he was transferred to New York to work in the truck hijacking unit.

It was his ability to drive 18-wheeler and bulldozers that led him to work undercover infiltrating a vehicle theft ring. This assignment resulted in over 30 arrests and cemented Pistone's legend within law enforcement. Pistone was not only handy behind the wheel, he was also of Sicilian heritage and spoke Italian fluently. Of course growing up in Paterson, New Jersey didn't hurt matters either; he was already accustomed to the Mafia's idiosyncrasies.

During the 1970s there was a major influx of Sicilian mobsters coming to the United States which caused a great deal of tension with their U.S. counterparts. Pistone entered into the family while this rift was occurring. Many accusations and much finger-pointing went on during this time and Pistone soon found himself in the middle of being called out for stealing a quarter million dollars from the family. The penalty for such an infraction was death. After three sit-downs with the accuser (Tony Mirra) and his representatives, Pistone (Brasco) was found innocent of the theft.

Pistone was taken into the fold by Bonanno family capo Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano. He would eventually be tutored by Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero, a Bonanno soldier. Ruggiero would eventually provide the FBI agent with details on the activities of other crews outside of the Bonanno family. Pistone was eventually invited into the family as a "made man". To accomplish this Pistone would have to kill someone at the order of Napolitano. Once again the agent got lucky; his target, Anthony Indelicato, would vanish before Pistone/Brasco would be able to carry out the killing. The year was 1981.

Following the order to kill Indelicato, Anthony's father Alphonse Indelicato, together with Phillip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone and Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera were found murdered. Two days later, Napolitano and Ruggiero were informed that their longtime associate was in fact an undercover FBI agent. Ruggiero was arrested by the FBI and served 20 years in prison. Napolitano was subsequently murdered for allowing an undercover agent to infiltrate the family. On august 12, 1982, his body was found with several gunshot wounds and his hands were cut off. Pistone's testimony would help uncover an extensive drug distribution network that was being run out of New York City pizzerias. His relationship with Napolitano and Ruggiero would eventually lead to more than 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of mafia members.

In 1986 Pistone retired from the FBI and currently does lectures and training. Pistone would go on to write Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia (1987). This would eventually develop into the major motion picture staring Johnny Depp (as Brasco) and Al Pacino (as Ruggiero). Two subsequent books would later detail his experiences; The Way of the Wiseguy (2004) and Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business (2007).

Thanks to Charles Bennett

Charles Bennett was born in our Nation's Capital and grew up in the Maryland suburbs. Mr. Bennett has been working in all aspects of the publishing industry since the late 1980s primarily in the fields of commercial photography and magazine production. Moving to California in 1992 to attend college resulted in B.F.A and Masters degrees. California also supplied Mr. Bennett with his wife. The two of them are avid sports persons and participate in shooting, scuba diving, surfing, running and bicycling. As a long time hobby Mr. Bennett has studied the legends of American law enforcement which led to his writing these columns.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mother's Day from the Mob

Friends of ours: Jimmy "The Gent" Burke, Al Capone, Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, Vincent "The Animal" Ferrara, Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, Angelo "Buddha" Lutz, John "Junior" Gotti, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Robert Spinelli, Paulie Vario, Henry Hill

Each and every Mother's Day until he landed behind bars, mobster Jimmy "The Gent" Burke performed a sacrosanct ritual.

Burke, the mastermind behind the $5.8 million Lufthansa heist immortalized in Goodfellas, dropped a few C-notes on dozens of red roses from a Rockaway Boulevard florist. He then toured the homes of his jailed Luchese crime family pals, providing their mothers with a bouquet and a kiss.

He never missed a year, or a mom.

Burke's gesture was no surprise to his fellow hoodlums: Mother's Day was the most important Sunday on the organized crime calendar, when homicide took a holiday and racketeering gave way to reminiscing - often over a plate of mom's pasta and sauce.

"These guys, they do have a love for their mothers," said Joe Pistone, the FBI undercover agent who spent six Mother's Days inside the Bonanno family as jewel thief Donnie Brasco. "They thought nothing of killing. But the respect for their mothers? It was amazing."

So amazing, Pistone recalled, that Bonanno member Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero once told him that the Mafia - like a suburban Jersey mall shuttered by blue laws - closed for business when Mother's Day arrived each May.

No vendettas or broken bones. Just gift baskets and boxes of candy.

"Absolutely," said mob informant Henry Hill, who described his old friend Burke's annual rite. "It's Mother's Day, you know?"

The bond between gangsters and their mothers is more sacred than the oath of omerta and more complex than anything imagined by Oedipus. Pistone watched stone murderers suddenly grow misty when discussing their moms - or her meals.

"They're not embarrassed to say how much they love their mother," said Pistone, author of the new mob memoir Unfinished Business. "I can remember guys talking about cooking: 'My mom made the best braciole.' Or 'My mother taught me how to make this sauce.' "

No surprise there: The way to a made man's heart was often through his stomach, as many mob moms knew long before their sons moved from finger paints to fingerprints.

Mob heavyweight Al Capone - a man who never needed a restaurant reservation during his Roaring 20s reign atop the Chicago underworld - preferred his mother's spaghetti with meat sauce, heavy on the cheese. (Capone's sentimentality didn't extend to other holidays. On Feb. 14, 1929, he orchestrated the submachine-gun slayings of seven rival bootleggers in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.)

Capone wasn't alone in his mismatched emotions: warm, maternal love and cold, homicidal rage. Genovese family boss Vincent "The Chin" Gigante shared a Greenwich Village apartment with his ninetysomething mother, Yolanda, even as he ruthlessly directed the nation's most powerful organized crime operation during the 80s and 90s.

New England capo Vincent "The Animal" Ferrara did a 16-year prison stretch for racketeering, getting out of prison just two years ago. His first trip as a free man: a visit to see his 90-year-old mom. But gangland mother-son ties transcend more than just geography and generations; they cross ethnic lines, too.

Abe Reles, a Jewish hit man of the 30s, was known to contemporaries as "Kid Twist" for his preferred method of execution - he would wrap his thick fingers around a victim's neck for one final snap.

Despite 42 arrests (and 11 admitted murders), the "Kid" remained his mother's loving son. And he showed up at her apartment each Friday night for a traditional Sabbath meal of gefilte fish, chicken soup and boiled chicken.

One Friday, Reles showed up with a guest. The three shared a meal before the Kid's mother left for a movie. By the time the film was finished, her son - assisted by a mob associate - had bludgeoned and strangled their guest before disposing of the body.

Mrs. Reles returned to share a cup of tea and a piece of honey cake with her boy, according to Robert A. Rockaway's mob tome But He Was Good To His Mother - a history of loving Jewish sons turned heartless killers.

Those mobbed-up kids often had their affection reciprocated from mothers blinded by love to mounting evidence of their offspring's larcenous lifestyles.

Philadelphia gangster Angelo "Buddha" Lutz was arrested in 2001 on racketeering charges - and released on $150,000 bail when his mom put up her house as collateral. (She was later free to visit him in prison, where he was sentenced to serve nine years.)

Mob matriarch Victoria Gotti went even further for her son, John A. "Junior" Gotti, offering her $715,000 home up for his bail. When Junior went on trial three times in the last two years for racketeering, Victoria appeared in court each time - even as defense lawyers admitted that he once headed the Gambino crime family.

"If you're the president or a gangster, that has nothing to do with a mother's love," Pistone said. "I think that's one of the main reasons for their bond."

When authorities last year dropped the charges against Junior, the mob scion - his father was the late "Dapper Don" John Gotti - repaid his mom's devotion. Gotti spent Thanksgiving Day at Victoria's hospital bedside after she suffered a stroke.

For some, like Robert Spinelli, love of Mom complicated their chosen profession. Spinelli served as the getaway driver after his brother and a second man tried to kill the sister of mob informant "Big Pete" Chiodo, but he was stricken with guilt over the shooting.

At his 1999 sentencing, Spinelli stood with tears streaming down his face when recounting the botched hit against Patricia Capozzalo, who had just dropped her two children off at school. "She reminded me of my mother," the weepy gangster confessed before getting a 10-year jail term.

For Hill, his beloved mother provided a passport - Italian - into the Mafia back in the 1950s.

Young Henry was a mob wannabe, hanging around the taxi stand that served as the business office for Luchese capo Paulie Vario. When the mobsters discovered the kid with the Irish surname was half-Sicilian, on mother Carmela's side, he was greeted like a paisano. "Everything changed when they found out about my mother," Hill told author Nick Pileggi for the book Wiseguy, which chronicled his evolution from wiseguy to mob turncoat.

Hill, speaking from his current home somewhere on the West Coast, recalled that Jimmy Burke attached particular importance to Mother's Day because he was abandoned by his own parents at age 2. Hill also recalled how his hot-tempered pal wasn't so dewy-eyed one day later.

"He'd kiss all the mothers on Sunday," said Hill. "And then the next day, he'd kill their husbands."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Donnie Brasco Extended Cut

Friends of ours: Bonanno Crime Family, Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero
Friends of mine: Donnie Brasco

In the 1970s, FBI undecover agent Joe Pistone infiltrates the mob, leaving his family behind and assuming the false persona of the "jewel man" Donnie Brasco. His assignment: to become a trusted insider with the infamous Bonanno family by gaining the confidence of a low-level gangster.

Lefty Ruggiero is an aging, two-bit hit-man who sees a new future for himself with the smart, young thief Donnie Brasco and enlists him as his protege. Together the two men enter into a camaraderie that will not allow either one to distance himself emotionally. Meanwhile, Donnie begins to get lost in the distance between his real and undercover selves.

As Donnie moves deeper and deeper into the Mafia chain of command, he realizes he is not only losing the line between federal agent and criminal, between who he pretends to be and who he actually is, he is also leading Lefty, his closest friend, to an almost certain death sentence.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Unfinished Business of Donnie Brasco

The only real mobster I ever met was a funny little guy named Fred. He was short, stooped and rumpled, with basset-hound eyes and pallid skin. A wise-cracking, kewpie-doll of a guy with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. Maybe you remember him. Fred Roti, former alderman of the old mobbed-up First Ward. The representative, as Harper's Magazine once described him, of the "Italian business interests" in City Hall.

Freddy liked to hang out at the City Hall press room and share coffee and jokes with the beat reporters. In fact, he was the Art Linkletter of the city council. Freddy thought reporters, just like kids, say the darnedest things!

I happened to be there on the day he asked his legendary question: "So, boys, what should my campaign slogan be this year?"

"Vote for Roti," Bob Davis said without skipping a beat, "and nobody gets hurt!"

Furtive glances. A pause. A long pause. It seemed to get awfully hot all of a sudden, too. And then that old Linkletter look spread slowly across Roti's gnarled face. "You're baaaad," he chortled to relieved laughter all around.

If we're lucky, that's as close as most of us will ever get to an honest-to-goodness wiseguy. But Joe Pistone, a k a Donnie Brasco, has lived in the belly of the beast.

Pistone is the former FBI agent who went undercover as a Mafia soldier for six years and helped cripple the Five Families of New York. He told his story in a best-selling book that later became a movie starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp.

Now, Pistone is back with a sequel. Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business promises to reveal the tales that he couldn't disclose earlier. Unfortunately, it seems more like a ploy to cash in one more time on the Donnie Brasco brand. The book has all the drama of a night out with the boys, reliving the glory days. And it reads with all the charm of a 300-page federal indictment.

And that's a shame, since if you can endure the self-congratulation, insufferable stories about being on the set with Al and Johnny, and a Jack Webb -- just the facts, ma'am! -- style of storytelling, there are some fascinating insights here into what mobsters are really like, and what it takes to bring them down.

The best stories illuminate the moral ambiguity inherent in the double life of an undercover agent. In the name of the law, he has to be ready to break the law. To catch a criminal, he has to risk becoming one.

For the first time, Pistone admits to crimes that would have ended the Donnie Brasco operation if his superiors in the FBI had known about them -- hijackings, burglaries, armed robberies and beatings. "I had to gain the trust of criminals and gangsters," he says, "and there is only one way to do that. You got to do what you got to do."

Pistone tells a chilling story about a capo -- his boss -- ordering him to kill a mob enemy. It's a wiseguy's ultimate test. "The people I had been assigned to infiltrate engaged in murder the way a cabbie goes through a yellow light," Pistone writes. "I had long ago made my decision of what to do when this predictable occasion arose. If Bruno's there, he's gone. If I have to put a bullet in his head, I will."

There is a nagging conflict between what Pistone thinks he can achieve and what his FBI superiors think is reasonable -- and safe.

After blowing one assignment for his mob bosses, Pistone is called to a summit to face the music. He knows the FBI would rather pull the plug on the operation than risk his life. Pistone also knows the basic rule of mob life is "not to rat, and not to run." So he goes, without telling the FBI. "I was finally in so deep I was lying to the FBI by omission," he says. "Because of my job I lied regularly in my personal life to those I was closest to. I was finally in the mud at the deep end."

One reads on in anticipation and, finally, irritation, waiting in vain for more stories packing this kind of tension. The closest he comes is a brief description of how Donnie Brasco was ordered to abort his undercover pose just as he was on the verge of becoming a "made member" of the Bonnano crime family, a decision he describes as having "the keys to the vault and suddenly throwing them away." But there's no elaboration, no sense of what the debate was like, and what was really lost.

Instead, an interminable, mind-numbing timeline of recent mob cases descends into a tirade on a trial in which Pistone claims everyone involved -- wiseguys, investigators and prosecutors -- are angling ineptly for book deals. The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight winds up as The Gang That Couldn't Write Straight.

Thanks to Joe Kolina, a Chicago journalist with a long-standing interest in what Bonnano family soldier Lefty Ruggiero described as "the underworld field."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Joe Pistone Confesses to Crimes as Mob Mole

Legendary FBI agent Joe Pistone is confessing for the first time that he broke the law during the years he spent undercover as mob wanna-be Donnie Brasco.

Warehouse burglaries. Beatings. Truck hijackings. And even a conspiracy to murder a Bonanno crime family capo.

In his new memoir, Pistone details the crimes he committed to prove his loyalty to the gang he eventually took down. "Sometimes you have to do stuff you don't normally do, you wouldn't do," Pistone told the Daily News, which got an exclusive peek at "Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business."

For instance, there was the phone call that came in 1981 when Pistone and his mob buddies were playing cards in Brooklyn's Motion Lounge.

It was a tip that Bonanno big Anthony (Bruno) Indelicato, who took part in the infamous 1979 rubout of Gambino boss Carmine Galante, was camped out on Staten Island.

On the orders of his own capo, Dominick (Sonny Black) Napolitano, Pistone headed out to find Indelicato - with a .25-caliber automatic.

It turned out the caller had bum information, but the former lawman admits he would have pulled the trigger on Indelicato before jeopardizing his life or the operation. "If Bruno's there, he's gone," Pistone writes.

"If I have to put a bullet in his head, I will, and I'll deal with the federal government and the Staten Island DA later. ... There's no doubt they both would charge me for murder. The Bureau would brand me a rogue agent and hang me out."

During his six years infiltrating Sonny Black's vicious crew, Pistone dug up enough evidence to put away nearly 200 mobsters, all while making life-or-death decisions on how far to take his role-playing.

Now 65, the New Jersey native lives with his wife in an unidentified location, but will come out of hiding for a book tour in the coming weeks.

Over the years, Pistone - portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 1997 movie "Donnie Brasco" - has been cagey when discussing how he gained the trust of an insular gang of suspicious men because revealing more could have damaged prosecutions. But his most revealing book to date details the incredible lengths he went to.

Take the beating he delivered on two druggies dumb enough to stick up Pistone and his mob pal Benjamin (Lefty Guns) Ruggiero in the stairwell of a Little Italy walkup. "You just saw two dead punks run down the stairs," Ruggiero told him.

At Ruggiero's urging, Pistone caught up with them a few days later near Little Italy and meted out the punishment. "He hit the pavement as if I'd had a roll of dimes in my right fist," Pistone writes.

"I looked down at the kid on the ground and realized he was out cold and so I sprung suddenly and hauled off an overhand right on the other one and he went down ... "From the kidney blows they bled piss for weeks. And until the breaks healed they had no use of their fingers for such things as shooting a gun."

It was savage, but Pistone says the beating saved their lives. "Otherwise they would have got killed," Pistone said. "Either I go take care of it or they [the mob] will. You don't stick up a wiseguy and live to tell about it." He's quick to point out that the assaults he carried out always involved thieves or other wiseguys. "No citizens got hurt," he said.

Pistone also admits getting cuts of between $2,500 and $5,000 from warehouse burglaries he took part in but says he turned over the money to the FBI.

He doesn't offer details on the hijackings he carried out. But he admits that "my participation in Mafia hijacking has always been an open sore for me, something that I have hesitated to talk about."

Even after 30 years, Pistone is still angry that the FBI didn't let him stay undercover longer so that he could become a made man. "Imagine if I had been made," Pistone writes. "It would have been the biggest humiliation the Mafia had ever suffered. And it was the one chance the FBI would ever have to pull it off.

"Imagine the embarrassment for the Mafia from coast to coast and all the way to Sicily when the news got out that the exalted Bonanno crime family had made an agent."

Thanks to Thomas Zambito

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mob Murder Suggests Link to International Drug Ring

FBI file on Rockford Mobster Joseph J. Maggio shows likely motive for his 1980 killing and Mob efforts to gain access to FBI files - By Jeff Havens

Friends of ours: Joseph J. Maggio, Joseph Zammuto, Pietro Alfano, Gaetano Badalamenti, Frank J. Buscemi, Jasper Calo, Joseph Zito, Frank G. Saladino, Charles Vince, Phillip J. Emordeno, Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero, Michael Sa Bella, Tony Riela, J. Peter Balisrieri, Bonanno Crime Family, Carmine "Lilo" Galante, Gambino Crime Family, Carlos Gambino, Pasquale Conte Sr., Tommaso Buscetta, Frank Zito, Vito Genovese, Genovese Crime Family, Paul Castellano, Joe Bonanno, John Gotti
Friends of mine: John S. Leombruni, "Donnie Brasco"


He was found dead in the back seat of his car along Safford Road by two Winnebago County Sheriff's deputies on April, 6, 1980. The victim, Rockford Mob member Joseph J. Maggio, was shot once in the side of the head at close range with 6.35mm bullet, which was made in Austria.

His killer has never been charged, and the shooting remains an open and unsolved case. However, according to Maggio's extensive FBI file, a "prime suspect" was identified by unknown sources, and the motive for his killing was "a result of his objection to LCN [La Cosa Nostra or Mafia] entry into the narcotics business in Rockford." And according to an October 1984 FBI document, an unknown informant "was instructed by his 'associates' in either Las Vegas or Los Angeles that Maggio had to be killed. [Redacted] 'associates' are members of the LCN."

Maggio's murder and FBI file provides another piece to the puzzle that may one day directly link Rockford to the Mafia-run heroin and cocaine smuggling conspiracy of the 1970s and 1980s, which was known as the "Pizza Connection."

Of the nearly 1,500 pages The Rock River Times requested from Maggio's FBI file, only 90 pages were released by the U.S. Justice Department. Most of the 90 pages released were heavily redacted or censored for content.

However, the information that was released shows the Mob's determination to not only scam ordinary citizens out of money through businesses that appear completely legitimate, but also gain access to FBI files.

ORIGINS

Less than two months before Maggio was killed, he and other Mafia members met "several times" in February 1980 with Rockford Mob boss Joseph Zammuto in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. — where Zammuto vacationed during the winter each year.

Exactly what was discussed at the meeting is not known. However, Maggio's heavily redacted file indicates an unknown individual or group "began dealing narcotics in Rockford in August 1980, with Zammuto's sanction."

As to who began dealing drugs with Zammuto's approval is not known due to Maggio's redacted FBI file. However, what is known is John S. Leombruni was convicted in 1983 for trafficking cocaine in Rockford and the surrounding area.

According to a March 4, 1984 article in the Rockford Register Star, "There were indications in 1982 that a six-moth investigation by the FBI of cocaine traffic in Rockford had turned up Mob connections. Twelve persons were indicted, including John S. Leombruni, who was described as the city's biggest cocaine dealer. ...Leombruni had lived in Las Vegas the year before his arrest." And according to the Register Star article, an FBI affidavit indicated, Leombruni "was run out of town by 'the Mafia chief in Las Vegas.' Court approved wiretaps showed Mob involvement in the Rockford cocaine case FBI agents said, but were not allowed as evidence in Leombruni’s trial." He was tried in federal court in Rockford.

The sequence of incidents, from published sources, suggests a strong link between the Rockford Mob and other participants in the Pizza Connection, whose second in command for Midwest operations was Oregon, Ill., pizza maker Pietro Alfano.

According to a source for The Rock River Times, Alfano, now 70, "retired" and returned to Sicily shortly after his release from federal prison in 1992. As of 2004, Alfano's son operated the restaurant, which was still in business in Oregon.

Ralph Blumenthal, reporter for The New York Times and author of the 1988 book Last Days of the Sicilians, wrote that Alfano immigrated to the United States between 1963 and 1967 from Cinisi, Sicily, a town about 8 miles west of Palermo near the Mediterranean Sea.

Cinisi was also the hometown of former Sicilian Mob boss Gaetano Badalamenti, who was born in 1923, and died in 2004. Badalamenti became head of the Sicilian Mafia in 1969, but fled for his life to Brazil in November 1978 in the wake of the "Mafia wars" in Sicily.

Alfano and other Mob members born in Sicily, but working in United States, were referred to as "Zips" by their American-born counterparts. According to Selwyn Raab, former New York Times reporter and author of the 2005 book Five Families: The rise, decline and resurgence of America's most powerful Mafia empires, the term "Zip" may be Sicilian slang for "hicks" or "primitives."

DRUGS AND INTELLIGENCE FILES

On April 8, 1984, Alfano and Badalamenti were apprehended by police in Madrid, Spain. Authorities charged that they, along with 29 others overseas and in the United States, participated in a multinational, $1.65 billion heroin/cocaine smuggling and money laundering conspiracy.

The conspiracy stretched from poppy fields in Afghanistan to banks in Switzerland, ships in Bulgaria and Turkey, pay phones in Brazil, and pizza restaurants in New York, Oregon, Ill., and Milton, Wis. The conspiracy would become known as the "Pizza Connection," the successor to the 1950s' and 1960s' "French Connection."

Interim Chief of the Rockford Police Department Dominic Iasparro, head of the Rockford area Metro Narcotics task force, has been with the agency for about 32 years. Iasparro recalled area drug trafficking during the time of the Pizza Connection.

"As I understand it, the drugs weren't coming out here—they were staying in New York," Iasparro said during an April 12, 2004 interview.

In addition to being head of the local narcotics unit, Iasparro was also responsible for destroying police intelligence files concerning Rockford Mob members in the mid-1980s that Iasparro said was part of a nationwide effort to purge such information. Maggio's dossier was among the files requested by The Rock River Times last year, but apparently destroyed during the purge.

IMMIGRATION AND SPONSORSHIP

Under what circumstances Alfano arrived in the United States is not clear. However, what is clear is Alfano and other Zips in the Midwest and on the East Coast were employed in the pizza business. Also apparent is former Rockford Mob boss Frank J. Buscemi was reported by the Register Star to have facilitated the immigration of "several cousins to Rockford from Sicily and set them up in business."

What is not certain is whether Buscemi, a Chicago native, sponsored Alfano's move to Illinois. Buscemi was owner of Stateline Vending Co., Inc., and Rondinella Foods Co., before his death in Rockford on Dec. 7, 1987. Rondinella was a wholesale cheese, food and pizza ingredient distributor.

Stateline Vending began operating from the basement of the Aragona Club on Kent Street before moving to 1128 S. Winnebago St., which was owned by former Mafia Advisor Joseph Zito and Mobster Jasper Calo. The vending business eventually settled at 326 W. Jefferson St., in Rockford, before it was dissolved in 1988, after Buscemi’s death.

Winnebago County court documents from 1988 indicate alleged Rockford Mob hit man Frank G. Saladino worked for Rondinella in the 1980s when Buscemi owned the business. Saladino was found dead April 25, 2005 in Hampshire, Ill., by federal agents that went to arrest him on charges of murder and other illegal Mob-related activities.

According to Buscemi's recently released FBI file, Buscemi was also the target of a federal investigators from 1981 to 1986 in connection with Maggio's murder and "extortionate business practices."

"These allegations involved Buscemi's cheese distribution business, RONDINELLA FOODS, and his vending machine operation, STATE-LINE VENDING." Buscemi's also indicates that the investigation produced "numerous leads of extreme value, including contacts between Frank J. Buscemi and the subject of an ongoing Boston drug task force investigation."

Despite the years of investigations, Buscemi was never charged with any crime before his death in 1987. Also unknown is whether Zammuto's only sister, whose married name is Alfano, was related to Pietro Alfano through marriage.

BUSINESS MEETING

The Mob's historic ties to the vending machine business is significant in establishing an indirect link between the Rockford Mob and the Pizza connection because of a meeting that took place in July 1978 in Milwaukee between Mob members from New York, Milwaukee and Rockford.

In July 1978, federal court documents show Rockford Mafia Advisor Joseph Zito, Mob Underboss Charles Vince, and Phillip J. Emordeno along with other members of the Milwaukee and New York Mafia were alleged to have tried to extort money from a competing upstart vending machine company owner. The owner of the company the Mob members tried to shakedown, was actually an undercover federal agent named Gail T. Cobb who was masquerading as Tony Conte, owner of Best Vending Co.

According to page 229 of Raab's book, legendary FBI agent Donnie Brasco, whose real name was Joseph P Pistone, was "used" by Bonanno Mob soldier Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero "on cooperative ventures with other families in New York, Florida and Milwaukee."

Blumnenthal wrote on page 42 of his book that in 1978 Pistone traveled to Milwaukee to vouch for Cobb, and "Pistone helped Cobb cement an alliance between the Bonanno and [Milwaukee Mob boss Frank P.] Balistrieri clans."

Actor Johnny Depp portrayed Pistone in the 1997 movie Donnie Brasco, during the time in the late 1970s when Pistone infiltrated organized crime. ("Lefty Guns" Ruggiero was played by Al Pacino.)

The Register Star described the 1978 meeting in their March 1984 article as being partly arranged by Rockford Mob members. The article concluded the meeting "confirmed long-held intelligence information that...[the Rockford Mob] possessed the influence to deal directly with the Milwaukee and New York organized crime families." The meeting was set to quash a possible violent conflict between Cobb and Mafia members.

Ruggerio's Mob captain, Michael Sa Bella contacted Tony Riela—a New Jersey Mob member with ties to the Rockford Mafia. Riela called Rockford to schedule the meeting, and Ruggiero called Zito several times. Vince also called Balistrieri’s son J. Peter Balisrieri shortly before the meeting.

According to the Register Star article, "on July 29, 1978 Cobb met the three Rockford men and Ruggiero at the Centre Stage Restaurant in Milwaukee. ....Ruggiero told Cobb that the vending machine business in Milwaukee was controlled by the mob," and if Cobb wanted to enter the business he would have to share his profits with the Mafia or be killed. Since the New York and Milwaukee crime families worked together, "Cobb also was told he would have to pay a portion of his profits to the Bonanno family," which was headed at that time by Carmine "Lilo" Galante.

DEATH ON THE PATIO

Blumenthal wrote that the shotgun assignation of Galante in the mid-afternoon on July 12, 1979 while he was dining on the patio of a restaurant in Brooklyn, N.Y., marked a tipping point in the power struggle to control drug trafficking in America. Pizza Connection prosecutors believed Galante’s murder "cleared the way for Sicilian Mafia rivals in America to set up the Pizza Connection."

Raab said on page 207 that Galante attempted to injure the other four New York Mob family's interests in the drug trade, especially the Gambino crime family. "Perhaps even more grievous, after Carlo Gambino's death [Galante] had openly predicted that he would be crowned boss of bosses."

Although Frank Balistrieri and others would be sent to prison as a result of Cobb and Pistone's efforts, no Rockford Mob members were indicted in the Milwaukee case. The same may also be said about the Pizza Connection conspiracy.

SHOOTING ON THE SIDEWALK

Unlike Galante, Alfano survived a Mob attempt on his life.

After emerging from a Balducci's delicatessen in Greenwhich Village N.Y. the evening of Feb. 11, 1987, Alfano was shot three times in the back by two men who emerged from a red car. The shooting occurred during the October 1985 to March 1987 Pizza Connection trial.

Blumenthal wrote the failed assassination attempt was allegedly arranged by Gambino family associates, which left Alfano paralyzed below the waist and confined to a wheel chair.

Blumenthal alleged Salvatore Spatola, a convicted heroin and cocaine smuggler, said the attempted killing of Alfano had been arranged by Pasquale Conte, Sr.— a captain in the Gambino family.

The exact motive for Alfano's shooting appears to be a mystery. However, Blumenthal wrote that convicted New Jersey bank robber Frank Bavosa told the FBI and New York police he and two other men were paid $40,000 to kill Alfano "allegedly because of his continuing drug-trafficking activities."

AUTONOMOUS BUT UNITED

Even though the Rockford Mob has historically been considered part of the Chicago Mafia, which is known as "The Outfit," Tommaso Buscetta, Sicilian Mafia turncoat and lead witness in the Pizza Connection trial testified that Italian-based Mobsters based throughout the world acted as one in achieving their objectives.

Supporting that claim is a statement from Thomas V. Fuentes, special agent in the organized crime section for the FBI. During a 2003 broadcast on the History Channel, Fuentes said a Nov. 14, 1957 meeting of Mafia bosses from throughout the United States in Apalachin, N.Y., was in part to decide whether American Mob members would act cohesively to cash in on the drug trade.

Specifically, Fuentes said: "We believe that the main purpose was for the bosses of the American families to decide whether or not they would engage jointly in heroin trafficking with their cousins in Sicily."

Rockford Mob Consuleri Joseph Zito's brother, Frank Zito, boss of the Springfield, Ill., Mob was one of those who attended the Apalachin conference, according Joseph Zito's FBI file.

Also in attendance at the Apalachin meeting with Zito were at least 58 other Mob members, which included Carlo Gambino; Vito Genovese, boss of the New York Genovese crime family; Gambino’s brother-in-law Paul Castellano; and Joe Bonanno. Castellano would be Gambino’s successor after Gambino’s death in 1976. Castellano was murdered in 1986, and was succeeded by John Gotti, who died in a Missouri prison medical center June 10, 2002.

SCAM IN ALABAMA

In addition to a probable motive for Maggio's killing, Maggio's FBI file shows Mob's determination to not only steal money from citizens, but gain access to FBI files.

Maggio was convicted on Dec. 6, 1972 on seven counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy. The conviction was obtained after an unidentified male informant said the conspiracy involved a "boat registration scheme", wherein the name United States Merchant Marine was used to collect funds for a national boat registration service.

"He said they planned to circulate a letter to all boat owners for a $10 contribution, which would then be used as a registration fee for a registry to be maintained by the company [United States Merchant Marine Service, Inc.]. ...

"[Redact] had asked him if he had any idea how the United States Merchant Marine Service could patch into the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC)."

Maggio was born Aug. 30, 1936 in Rockford, where he lived his entire life, until his death at age 43. Maggio married in 1959, and had three sons and one daughter. He became a made Mob member in approximately February 1965.

About the author: Jeff Havens is a former award-winning reporter for the weekly newspaper The Rock River Times in Rockford, Ill. Havens lived most of his life in the Rockford area, and wrote dozens of news articles about the Mob in Rockford and Chicago.

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