Myths Of The Mob!
By J. R. de Szigethy
"The vow of silence that is part of the oath of Omerta is more myth than reality today!"
Those were the words FBI Agent Janice Fedarcyk used in announcing the largest scale takedown of American Mafia members in U. S. history, in which 127 not-so-wise guys along the Eastern Seaboard were rounded up by an army of almost 800 members of law enforcement. Members of all 5 of New York City's Mafia Families were among those arrested, although the Colombo Family was hit hardest, with virtually every member in leadership positions now under Federal lockup. The quote of Agent Fedarcyk, head of the New York City Office, is a reference to evidence obtained by high-ranking members of the Mob who had broken their oath of Omerta and wore a wire on members of their own criminal gang.
The ramifications of this unprecedented sweep are many. First, the sheer size of the group of Defendants is a tactical weapon being played by the Feds. If, for example, only two men are arrested and charged with a crime, all each has to worry about is if the other one will "flip," become a co-operating witness, in order to receive a reduced prison term, in exchange for testifying against his co-defendant. If each man knows the other very well, and believes he is committed to the oath of Omerta, there's a good chance both men will stand firm and hope their criminal lawyers will be able to win the case against them.
When, however, a Defendant is among a pool of multiple such Defendants, it's a given that several will flip. Time is of the essence once these Defendants are arrested. If three men are charged with a certain crime, and the evidence against them is not an airtight case, the Feds will usually give a get-out-of-jail-free card to whichever one flips first, and is willing to testify against his co-defendants, certain to ensure their convictions.
Some Americans following this story came under the mistaken impression that the multiple indictments in several States meant the indictments were related. That was not quite the case. What frequently happens, however, is that when a criminal from one Family "flips" he often has information to offer about criminals in other Families. By making these arrests all at the same time, what the Feds accomplish is to magnify a sense of panic and anxiety in a way of life in which paranoia is the norm. Statements alluding to the betrayal of the Mob by members of it's own creates a climate in which few in the American Mafia will now trust his fellow partners in crime.
Thus, the 127 men arrested in these series of indictments are under enormous pressure to make a deal with the Feds - if there is still time. Agent Fedarcyk's choice of words is a reminder to all of those in the American Mafia that the discipline that once existed, in which members of organized crime played by the set of rules they pledged to adhere to, is no longer there. The Colombo Family is a particularly good example of this. In recent years the Colombos have learned that from the 1960s to the 1990s a key member of their gang, Greg Scarpa, Sr., lived a double life as an Informant for the FBI. The fact that Scarpa as a consequence was able to spend most of his adult life out of prison has not been lost on the members of this crime family. The late Scarpa, who died of AIDS in 1994, may be hated and despised by the Colombos but his legacy is that every Mob member knows what he did, and that they too have a choice as to doing the same.
This is the line of thinking the Feds are counting on as the carrot of Freedom dangles before those who are facing incarceration for most or all of the rest of their lives. Of the numerous crimes detailed in the various indictments, one particularly stands out in regards to the vow of silence. That case is the murders of two men, Richie Godkin and John D'Agnese, who were murdered by three alleged associates of the Gambino Family back in 1981. The murders took place in public, in a bar in Queens, with many patrons of the bar witnessing these crimes but who chose to remain silent. That was back in the early 80s when the Mafia Families of New York still had structure and discipline, and used the weapon of fear to cloak their crimes. According to Court documents, one of the accused had the charges against him dropped after an eyewitness recanted her identification, and when the other two finally went to trial two decades later, key evidence in the case was missing, most notably the murder weapon. Both men were then acquitted in a State Court murder trial. Now, 30 years after the murders, the case of one of the alleged perpetrators, Bartolomeo Vernace, on Federal racketeering charges related to those murders, may be the barometer by which how much the Mafia has changed will be measured. However, Vernace's criminal lawyer in the State trial, Gerald Shargel, immediately denounced the charges once they were made public. Shargel is a prominent criminal lawyer whose clients have been the late Gambino Godfather John Gotti.
This case is also significant for a reason that appears further along in this narrative.
Another Mafia rule that is becoming a myth is in regards to the Edict that no member of law enforcement ever be harmed. The Colombo Family offers examples of how this rule was enforced by members of the Family, as well as violated by members of the Family. Gus Farace, Jr., a minor player in the Bonanno and Colombo families, is an example of what happened when a member of the Italian Mafia broke such rules. In 1989, in a drug deal gone bad, Farace killed a man who turned out to be an undercover agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Everett Hatcher. As a result, the Godfathers of all 5 of New York's Italian Mafia Families put out a Contract on Farace's life. Farace was soon murdered by the Mob.
As the 1980s progressed, the discipline within the Colombo Family began to fall apart. First, Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico was indicted by Prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani in what would become the landmark "Commission" case against the leadership of all 5 of New York's Families. The trial, which began in 1986, was also remarkable for the fact that Persico inexplicably chose to act as his own attorney. This tactic had proved successful three years earlier in Ohio, where Youngstown Sheriff James Traficant successfully beat a Mafia bribery case in Federal Court.
Persico, however did not succeed and wanted revenge, but instead of putting out a Contract on the life of Giuliani, Persico put out a hit on Federal Prosecutor William Aronwald. Aronwald was not part of the prosecution team that convicted Persico, although he did prosecute Persico's brother, although that trial ended in an Acquittal. The Contract was accepted by Joel "Joe Waverly" Cacace, who farmed it out to too subordinates, brothers Vincent and Eddie Carini. As is too often the case, however, the Carini brothers were sloppy, and in a tragic case of mistaken identity, stalked and executed Aronwald's father, George Aronwald, who also worked as a Judge. Cacace now had a major problem; if the Godfathers of the other 4 New York Families found out he was part of the Contract issued by Carmine Persico against a member of law enforcement, the Godfathers would put out a Contract on him. Also, at the very least, the 4 Godfathers of the Commission would remove Persico as Godfather of the Colombo Family, a position he maintained despite his sentence to life behind bars. Barring that, the Commission could attempt to have Persico killed. Thus, Cacace had to "erase" any evidence leading back to him and Persico. First, Cacace recruited hitmen from different families, Carmine Variale of the Lucheses , and Frank Santora of the Bonannos, to murder the Carini brothers. During the funeral of the brothers, Cacace plotted the murders of Variale and Santora, to take place that very day. Eventually, Cacace would succeed in these murders, and would marry the widow of Eddie Carini, Kim Kennaugh. (1)
Cacace was indicted for the murder of George Aronwald in 2003. Cacace pleaded guilty to those and other charges in exchange for a sentence of 20 years. The Feds, however, were not through with Joe Waverly. After Cacace divorced Eddie Carini's widow, Ms. Kennaugh married a New York City Police Officer, Ralph Dols. Dols was gunned down by two assassins in July, 1997, in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn. In December, 2008, Cacace was indicted by the Feds in Brooklyn for the murder of Officer Dols. In this case, Cacace my face the same sentence he so easily imposed on others; Death.
With a cast of characters such as these running the Colombo Family during the late 1980s, it's no surprise that the crime gang descended into a "Mob War" which lasted into the next decade, during which at least 12 people, possibly more, including one innocent bystander, were murdered. The war was a fight for control of the Family pitting those aligned with Acting Boss Vic Orena, and those loyal to Alphonse Persico, the son of Carmine the Snake. Key players in this war were FBI Informant/Mafia hitman Greg Scarpa, Sr., Orena supporter "Wild Bill" Cutolo, the Vice-President of a corrupt New York Union, "Tommy Shots" Gioeli, and Joe Waverly Cacace. Gioeli, who would become an Acting Boss of the Family, was named a co-Defendant with Cacace in their indictments, and is accused of his alleged role in the murder of "Wild Bill" Cutolo.
Yet another Mafia myth is expressed in the following quote attributed to Ralph "Fat the Gangster" Eppolito, a gambler for what today is called the Gambino Family. "Nobody never gets killed for no reason!" That quote is from former NYPD Detective Lou Eppolito, in his now-discredited "auto-biography" MAFIA COP. This statement, and others similar to it, have been used for decades by members of the Mob to rationalize the crimes they commit, and to diminish their effect on law-abiding citizens. The fact is that people who are in no way involved in organized crime often are killed, for no reason of their own making. Detective Eppolito's life story offers one example of this.
Back in the 1980s Eppolito and his partner in crime Stephen Caracappa were secretly on the payroll of Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, the deranged Underboss of the Luchese Family who murdered over 30 people. Gaspipe was seeking to murder several men involved in an unsuccessful attempt to murder him, and he turned to the Mafia Cops for help. One day Casso asked the two cops for an address for one of the assassins, Nicholas Guido. The Mafia Cops used a police department computer to find an address in Brooklyn for this man and they sold that information to Gaspipe.
Unfortunately, the Mafia Cops gave Casso the address for a young man by that name who was not Casso's would-be assassin. On Christmas Day, 1986, 25-year-old Nicholas Guido stepped out of his family's modest Brooklyn home to proudly show to his Uncle his new car. Suddenly, without warning, a gunman approached and opened fire on Nicholas. The young man, challenged all his life by a slight case of brain damage at birth, was never involved in criminal activity and had no idea why he was being murdered. All Guido knew in that last moment of his life was that, while he could not save his own life, he could possibly save that of his Uncle by throwing his body on top of him and pushing him to the floor of his car.
The Guido family was devastated. For years afterward, the family had to suffer the further indignity of knowing that their neighbors suspected the family had to be involved in organized crime, otherwise such an event would not have happened. And, with each passing year, the family began to lose hope that some day Justice would be brought upon those responsible for the brutal murder of young Guido. That moment finally came on a day 20 years later in the Courtroom of Federal Judge Jack Weinstein. There was not a sound to be heard in the Courtroom as a small, elderly woman slowly marched through the front door on her lonely journey to the Witness Stand. The elderly woman was Pauline Pipitone, the mother of Nicholas Guido. Prosecutors showed the mother a photograph of her son, which she was asked to identify. Such was the obvious pain the woman was under she could barely bring herself to look at the photo. Pipitone then described how she rushed to her son in the moments after he was shot multiple times, and upon touching his cold fingers knew that her beloved son was dead. The grieving woman then described how her husband was devastated by their son's murder and that he died just 3 years later.
Detective Eppolito sat rigidly throughout this emotionally-wrought moment. His son, Lou Eppolito, Jr., was seated next to me. Lou Jr. was reporting with me for AMERICAN MAFIA MAGAZINE the trial of his own father, something that was unprecedented in journalism. While many in the Courtroom were on the verge of tears, Judge Weinstein reacted very differently. Weinstein was clearly angered by the Prosecutor's tactics, and once Mrs. Pipitone had cleared her way through the Courtroom, demanded of the Prosecutors what was their purpose in bringing Pipitone to testify. Weinstein apparently felt that her testimony was unnecessary and that the Prosecutors had unfairly Prejudiced the jury with the dramatic and sorrowful testimony of the elderly woman. "I don't want Witnesses like this brought in!" Weinstein declared. The family of Nicholas Guido did at long last receive Justice, as Eppolito and Caracappa were convicted for the murder of Guido and the murders of many others and are serving out their Life sentences in Federal prisons.
The new case of the murders of Richie Godkin and John D'Agnese contains elements of two conflicting Mafia Myths presented herein; that people outside the Mob are never victimized, and that the code of Omerta is the dominant rule in the American Mafia. Both men were working at the Shamrock Bar in Queens, New York, on an evening in April, 1981, when a young hoodlum, Frank Riccardi, the son of a member of the Gambino Family, came to the bar to celebrate his birthday. At one point a patron of the bar accidentally spilled his drink upon Riccardi's girlfriend, sending him into a rage. Godkin and D'Agnese attempted to calm Riccardi down, and when his behavior continued to escalate, they had him escorted out of the bar. Riccardi vowed to return, and did so shortly thereafter, with two associates. Before over a dozen witnesses, patrons of the bar, Godkin and D'Agnese were executed.
Bartolomeo Vernace now faces Federal racketeering murder charges in this case, and if this goes to trial, it will be interesting to see if any of the patrons of the bar there the night of the murders will testify as to what they saw, or if they will continue to maintain their silence. The trial will also be closely watched if the widow of Richie Godkin gets her day in Court, should the Prosecutors decide to call her, she agrees, and if the Judge in the case allows.
As in previous cases of multiple Defendants, most of the 127 accused gangsters recently arrested will never go to trial; most will plead Guilty, some under generous terms and some not so generous, depending on the circumstances. What some observers of the American Mafia, however, most want to know, beside the outcomes of these indictments, is this: Has, as FBI Agent Fedarcyk suggested, Omerta become one of but many of the Myths of the Mob?
to be continued
(1) "Tangled Tale of Botched Hit is Detailed in an Indictment," the New York Times, January 23, 2003.
The author of this Feature, J. R. de Szigethy, can be reached at:
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