By Scott M. Deitche
Florida was once again the backdrop for a major organized crime operation. On Feb. 13, a joint task force of local and federal law enforcement agencies arrested eight men accused of running a multimillion-dollar illegal bookmaking operation. The men were described as associates of the Genovese crime family, one of the original “Five Families” of New York City, and were based out of Broward and Palm Beach counties (the two counties north of Miami-Dade).
The arrests were the third in a series of recent police operations targeting the Genovese family’s illegal gambling empire. The first arrests occurred in August 2014, when police in New York arrested Genovese family capo Daniel Pagano. The second set of arrests occurred in December 2014.
The main defendant in the latest arrest (and also netted in December 2014) is West Palm Beach resident Pasquale “Patsy” Capolongo. Patsy has a long relationship with illegal gambling and the Mob. He was among those charged in April 1987 as part of a gambling ring that police said was “the backbone of the Genovese crime family.” In December 1997 Capolongo was part of another Genovese gambling ring that spread across New York City. Capolongo was also accused of fixing harness racing at the Yonkers racetrack.
Like many New York mobsters tired of the cold weather and the law’s prying, Capolongo relocated to West Palm Beach. The South Florida area has been a magnet for mobsters for decades. Miami was the original destination of choice for Genovese family leaders. Former boss Fat Tony Salerno had a gated mansion in exclusive San Marco Island. Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo, close friend of Meyer Lanksy, was a regular fixture in Miami. Longtime soldier Patsy Erra was a year-round resident who lived within walking distance of The Forge, a local landmark and well-known Mob hangout. In the 1980s, with the rise of the Cuban and Colombian cartels in Miami, the Mob moved north to Broward and Palm Beach counties.
This latest gambling bust comes at an interesting time in Florida. The state Legislature is considering changes to Florida’s gambling laws. Among these changes could be the introduction of Las Vegas-style casino resorts, or simply retaining the existing gambling compact with the Seminole Indian tribe (which runs two successful Hard Rock casinos — one in Tampa, the other in Hollywood).
But while legal gambling may become more prevalent in Florida over the coming year, the allure of underground sports betting shows no sign of wavering. As long as sports betting remains illegal, bettors will be looking to the neighborhood bookie, or online casinos, to fulfill their vice. And guys like Patsy Capolongo will be there to serve their needs.
Scott M. Deitche is the author of five books on organized crime. He is the senior writer for Tampa Mafia magazine, and has also written dozens of articles on organized crime for local and national magazines and newspapers. He has been featured on the Discovery Channel, History Channel, A&E, C-SPAN and both national and local news and radio shows.