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If you thought the traditional Mafia was dead, guess again. Authorities in New York offer a wake-up call

By Jeff Burbank

The recent indictments of 46 bosses, capos and members of several marquee New York organized crime families suggests that the old-guard Italian Mafia remains alive on the East Coast.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, FBI, New York City Police Department and Westchester County, New York District Attorney’s Office contributed to the classic Mob bust. A federal grand jury charged the defendants with a kitchen sink of crimes, including racketeering, arson, extortion conspiracy, loansharking, conspiracy to assault, health care fraud involving corrupt doctors, illegal gambling, gun trafficking, sales of contraband cigarettes and credit card fraud through use of a “skimmer” device. The case was bolstered by evidence from recorded conversations, a cooperating witness and an FBI undercover agent.

NYC_websizeThe grand jury claimed that leaders, lieutenants and soldiers from four of the traditional Five Families of New York – Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese and Bonanno – plus the Philadelphia crime family collaborated in the series of criminal acts committed out of New York, Philadelphia, Springfield, Massachusetts, and southern Florida.

Three of the 46 indicted were still at large, six were arrested in Florida, two were arrested in Massachusetts, and three were already in federal or state prisons. The rest were busted in New York and put in front of three U.S. magistrates. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan will preside over the case in federal court in Manhattan. While making the arrests, officers confiscated three handguns, a shotgun, gambling paraphernalia and more than $30,000 in cash.

Among those nabbed earlier this month were three men identified by prosecutors as the leaders of the alleged racketeering enterprise: Philly Mob boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, 54, while vacationing at his Boca Raton, Florida, hideaway; Pasquale aka “Patsy” or “Pat” Parrello, 72, a Genovese capo who worked out of his restaurant in the Bronx; and Eugene “Rooster” O’Nofrio, 74, acting Genovese capo who oversaw crews working in New York’s Little Italy and in Springfield. Associates of the conspiracy “met, coordinated and worked together with” Merlino, Parrello and O’Nofrio to put their schemes into effect, according to prosecutors.

“Today’s charges against 46 men, including powerful leaders, members and associates of five different La Cosa Nostra families, demonstrate that the Mob remains a scourge on this city and around the country,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated after the arrests on August 4 in New York.

“From loansharking and illegal gambling, to credit card and health care fraud, and even firearms trafficking, today’s Mafia is fully diversified in its boundless search for illegal profits,” Bharara said. “And, as alleged, threatening to assault, maim and kill people who get in the way of their criminal schemes remains the go-to play in the Mob’s playbook,”

FBI Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez stated that the grand jury indictment “reads like an old school Mafia novel, where extortion, illegal gambling, arson and threats to ‘whack’ someone are carried out along with some modern-day crimes of credit card skimming.”

“But the 40-plus arrests of Mob associates, soldiers, capos, and a boss this morning show this isn’t fiction. As alleged, Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, and Bonanno LCN crime families are still carrying out their criminal activities from Mulberry Street here in New York City to areas of Springfield, Massachusetts,” Rodriguez said.

TMM_BlogImages_TwoSides_083115_VestsThe evidence presented by U.S. prosecutors includes transcripts of thousands of hours of recordings obtained with the permission of an unnamed cooperating witness, and reports from an undercover FBI special agent, also not named by authorities. The FBI, Westchester County DA’s office, New York Police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office conducted the investigation from 2010 to this year.

The arson charged in the indictment arose from competition between an illegal gambling club operated by one of the charged men, Anthony “Anthony Boy” Zinzi in Yonkers, New York, and another club in the city in early 2011. Zinzi paid a cash “tribute” to Parrello from the club. Zinzi suggested torching the other club owner’s car, and defendant Mark “Stymie” Maiuzzo allegedly worked with others to find the man’s car, pour gasoline into it and set it ablaze.

When some female customers of Parrello’s restaurant in the Bronx complained about being approached by a panhandler in 2011, prosecutors claim the Genovese capo ordered Zinzi and defendant Ronald “The Beast” Mastrovincenzo to “break” the panhandler’s knees. Mastrovincenzo then recruited co-defendant Israel “Buddy” Torres to help. Later, Torres identified the wrong person as the panhandler but with other alleged racketeers beat the victim up with glass jars, sharp objects and steel-tipped boots, causing the victim substantial bodily harm.

Another alleged conspirator, a Lucchese associate and bookmaker named Pasquale aka “Patsy,” “Fish,” or Mustache Pete” Capolongo, had professional bettors associated with Mob boss Parrello make wagers while concealing their identities at the Yonkers illegal gambling club that competed with Zinzi’s. When Parrello was informed the club owner refused to pay $30,000 in winnings, Parrello sent Zinzi, Torres, defendant Vincent “Big Vinny” Terracciano and others to threaten him.

From a transcript of a taped conversation released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Parrello is heard egging on his henchmen to hurt the Yonkers club owner.

“You get Buddy [Torres] and let Buddy go there and choke him [the club owner], choke him. I want Buddy to choke him, choke him, actually choke the motherf—ker … and tell him, ‘Listen to me … next time I’m not gonna stop choking … I’m gonna kill you.’”

Prosecutors charge that Parrello was involved in three other extortion attempts. In one, while working with members of the Genovese and Bonanno families to collect a gambling debt, he told them in a taped conversation:

[C]ut his f—-in’ tire. That way he has to change the tire. So then you know you can catch up with him. Give him a flat. Take the air out of the tire, whatever the f— you got to do. Then you catch up with him because then he’s there, ya know, he’s got to get it fixed, he can’t go nowhere, and then you surround the mother f—er. That’s how yous do it.

In 2013, Parrello was alleged to have been part of a conspiracy in which he ordered Torres and Mastrovincenzo to assault a man they suspected of stabbing co-defendant Anthony “Tony the Wig” Vazzano in a bar fight in the Bronx.

Torres, in a taped conservation, stated that they would “whack” and “maim this mother f—–r.”  Also, Parrello was heard instructing Mastrovincenzo to “keep the pipes handy and pipe him, pipe him, over here [gesturing to the knees], not on his head.”

The racketeering conspiracy also allegedly trafficked in firearms, with defendant Mitchell “Mitch” Fusco selling 11 guns to a cooperating witness. In 2012, Zinzi was heard telling Mastrovincenzo to buy “at least a hundred” more firearms.

The group’s members are also charged with loansharking, earning proceeds from a casino that held poker and dice tournaments and took wagers on horse races and using gambling websites to keep track of illegal wagers and winnings. In one potentially lucrative enterprise, the members allegedly obtained for illegal sale hundreds of cases cigarettes, without required tax stamps, with a street value of $3 million.

Parrello, Torres and other defendants also are charged with conspiring to obtain and use a credit card “skimmer,” a device that captures the credit card numbers of unwitting card holders in order use the numbers to make new cards for unauthorized purchases.

In perhaps the most unusual alleged crime, Parrello and eight other defendants are charged with health care fraud for allegedly bilking insurance carriers by causing or having others induce corrupt doctors to write “unnecessary and excessive prescriptions” for an expensive “prescription compound cream” and then bill the insurers. The doctors would allegedly receive kickbacks as their share for assisting in the scheme.

Most of the defendants, who range in age from 24 to 80 years old, face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Parrello and Torres each face as many as 40 years, Maiuzzo and Zinzi are looking at 30 years, and alleged gun trafficker Fusco up to 25 years.

Jeff Burbank is a content development specialist for The Mob Museum. Contact him at jburbank@themobmuseum.org