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October 26, 1998

By Jerry Capeci

Ray's Pizza Won't Be The Same

Ralph CuomoIt's the end of an era.

Luchese mobster Ralph (Raffie) Cuomo, (right) who founded the original Ray's Pizza in 1959 and still manages the place, is going to prison for using his landmark Prince Street pizzeria to sell heroin along with pies.

Cuomo begins a four year sentence next month in a sweet deal that was an accommodation to the  62-year-old mobster, who recently underwent back surgery and suffers heart disease and diabetes.

He admitted only to using the pizzeria's telephones to discuss drug sales with fellow mobster Frank Gioia Jr., but Cuomo's been running a lucrative heroin business out of the pizzeria's basement for decades.

Al D'ArcoFormer Luchese acting boss Alfonso (Little Al) D'Arco (left) told the FBI that Cuomo often conducted business  meetings right below the pizza ovens. "In the basement," said D'Arco, "there are actual tree limbs holding up the beams of the building. These trunks have a polished finish to them."

Cuomo opened Ray's three years after he was caught red-handed during an armed robbery of a swank Park Avenue eatery. He was arrested and pistol whipped by cops who shot and killed his partner.

In 1969, he and three cohorts were nabbed with 50 pounds of high quality heroin worth $25 million and convicted of trafficking.

Despite suspicions, and numerous investigations by the NYPD, the FBI and the DEA, there was no official heroin stain on the Ray's Pizza name - one that has been copied by many other New York establishments - until Gioia cooperated with the feds.

In numerous discussions with investigators, Gioia described how he and  Cuomo would meet at Ray's Pizza to arrange $100,000 purchases and perform lab tests of the heroin they were distributing.

During one meeting, according to Drug Enforcement Administration reports, an excited Cuomo exclaimed: "The samples were dynamite! I want two units (about three pounds)."

The total cost of the two units was $204,000 and the men made a profit of $36,000, Gioia told the DEA. Cuomo took part in many heroin sales from 1989 to 1993, and had several discussions with Gioia about moving into the cocaine trade but no coke deals materialized, according to Gioia. Rather than go to trial, Cuomo copped a plea to a four-year bit. 

At sentencing, lawyer Scott Leemon asked Manhattan Federal Judge Allan Schwartz to give Cuomo less than the agreed upon four years because of his client's numerous, documented, medical ailments.

Assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey Zimmerman objected, noting that Cuomo was well enough to travel to the Meadowlands Racetrack the previous night and argued that prison would be less stressful than a night at the races.

Schwartz said a short prison stint might be the "best thing" for Cuomo, recommended he be designated to a prison hospital in Minnesota, and told him to surrender Nov. 3.

Gang Land Contest
There's only a few more days left to enter Gang Land's fourth contest, which tests your knowledge about the mob, movies and music.

The rules are simple as usual: One guess per person, via e-mail, of course. Anyone caught submitting more than one guess will be rubbed out - with all entries eliminated. Deadline is Nov. 1.

ANDY'S HANDSThere are three prizes. First prize is an autographed copy of Mob Star: The Story of John Gotti.  As most readers know, the book is one of the favorite mob books of Andy, Gang Land's organized crime historian. (Those are his hands holding Mob Star at the right.) It is also out of print. But we have a soft cover copy and it's up as first prize. Autographed, of course.

Second prize is a copy of Murder Machine, also by Gene Mustain and yours truly. Third prize is an autographed copy of Gotti: Rise and Fall. In case of ties, prize winners will be selected at random.

Just to be different, and difficult, there are six questions, each worth the same 15 points. Question No. 2 has a 10-point bonus part. Good luck.

1. Name the singer who originally had the Frank Sinatra-like role of Johnny Fontaine in "The Godfather" but backed out fearing a negative reaction? Hint. He had a top ten hit with "On The Street Where You Live."

2. Name the Canadian singing group that sang at the August 1956 wedding of Salvatore (Bill) Bonanno and Rosalie Profaci. For extra credit, name the group's three top ten hits at that point in their career.

3. Name the night club singer who became a comedian and a Las Vegas fixture noted for his "insult" humor after a Chicago gangster orchestrated a  disabling attack on him in 1927.

4. Name the Colombo capo who prevented Morris Levy, the Genovese family backed head of Roulette Records, from muscling in on the Shangri-Las after the group had a No. 5 hit with "Remember" (Walking In The Sand) and a No. 1 with "Leader of the Pack" in 1964.

5. Name the hit song by Mickey and Sylvia that typified the relationship  between Robert DeNiro and Sharon Stone and was playing when they first met in the movie, "Casino."

6. Name the three top ten hits that Jay and the Americans had while Jay Black, who sang at a couple of weddings of John Gotti's kids, was the group's lead singer.

Baldy Mike SpinelliProsecutors will start scraping the bottom of the mob barrel today as two brothers go to trial charged with the attempted murder of an unthreatening  woman in one of the low points in the history of the American Mafia.

Luchese mobster Michael (Baldy Mike) Spinelli (right) and his brother Robert are charged with taking part in the shooting of Patricia Capozzalo, a mother of three who was attacked outside her Gravesend, Brooklyn, home.

Peter ChiodoThe Spinellis allegedly plotted to kill Capozzalo in an effort to keep her brother, Peter (Fat Pete) Chiodo (left), from testifying against Luchese leaders. She was stalked for a month before she was shot twice in a parked car  after she dropped her kids at school on Mar. 10, 1992.  She is believed to be the first woman targeted by the mob in a move to keep a witness from testifying.

The Spinellis categorically deny the allegations - more about that later - but the fact that the mob singled out Capozzalo for death is undisputed.

The key prosecution witness in the case is none other than Dino Basciano, a  onetime wannabe mobster who pleaded guilty three years ago to firing several shots at the terrified woman.

Basciano said he had agreed to do a "piece of work" for his mob superiors  before he knew Capozzalo was the target.  When he learned, Basciano said, "there was no backing out."

He described how he and Michael Spinelli followed her as she drove her kids back and forth to school, never being able to get a clear shot without the children or her neighbors getting in the way.

The day before he shot at her, Basciano recalled, there were a "couple of kids coming down the stoop. We let her go."

"The next day," said Basciano, "she came down the block. She didn't park in front of the house, she parked on my side. I was on the passenger side. I told Michael, `Lock her in.' (We) had ski masks on, (I) had a pistol with a silencer inside a bag, and when I got out, she looked at the van. She didn't notice me coming on the side, and the van got close. She looked .... and spotted me and she tried to move the car. I shot her through the window. She went down. She went to put her head underneath the dashboard. She was screaming. I shot again. The silencer cracked, broke off. The thing I was holding it, I was shooting it. I hit her one more time and bullets were going all different ways."

Richard PagliaruloGregory CappelloRobert Spinelli, who completed a 56 month sentence for drug dealing last month, allegedly was part of the murder conspiracy along with his brother and mobsters who are either dead, like Gregory Cappello, (right) or jailed for other crimes, like Richard Pagliarulo (left).

Michael Spinelli, who pleaded guilty in 1994 to racketeering and murder charges in return for a 22-year sentence, refused to admit guilt in the assault on Capozzalo then even though his jail term would have been the same.  

"He didn't have anything to do with it," said his attorney Ephraim Savitt.

Lawyer Scott Leemon said the same thing about Robert Spinelli.

Prosecutors Elizabeth Lesser and Daniel Dorsky will use Basciano, Chiodo, Gioia and Luchese associate Corrado (Dino) Marino to try and prove otherwise during the next four weeks or so in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Gregory Scarpa Jr.His "I Spy" defense kept the jury out for three days, but in the end, Gregory Scarpa Jr. (right) would have been better off taking the 17 years the feds offered him to plead guilty to racketeering and murder charges.

A Brooklyn Federal Court jury convicted the 47-year-old Colombo mobster Friday of six counts of racketeering, loansharking, illegal gambling and tax fraud.

A dejected Scarpa was acquitted of five gangland murders, but in the end, the gangster, who has been jailed since 1988, faces about 90 more years for his conviction, which includes four murder conspiracies.

Defense lawyer Larry Silverman said he will ask for leniency at sentencing  because Scarpa cooperated with the FBI and spied on World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef while they were cellmates.

"We strongly believe that he prevented serious harm to people, both government officials and others," said Silverman, adding that he will appeal the verdict.

It's the end of an era. This is Andy's last week as Gang Land's resident organized crime historian. After a brilliant 18-month run, Andy's going off in some other direction. As Gang Land ponders how to replace the irreplaceable Andy (We're up for suggestions from reader/viewers.) here's his last effort for Gang Land, a reply to a multi-part query from Bill Montgomery who asks: "What is the current status of the Louisiana Mafia? What is factually known about ties between Carlos Marcello and Jack Ruby? Any truth to several recent accounts of a planned war against East Coast families by Marcello and Santo Trafficante, Jr.?"

In 1996, New Orleans boss Anthony Carollo and underboss Frank Gagliano were convicted of a variety of racketeering charges. Both men were long time members of the New Orleans La Cosa Nostra family and their downfall has relegated the operation to a minor league level. There's no way they could win a war against Canadian bikers, let alone the New York mob.

Carollo's father was the family boss prior to the reign of Carlos Marcello. Carollo was caught with Marcello, Carlo Gambino and about 10 other high ranking mobsters at an Italian restaurant in Queens, New York in 1966. Dubbed Little Apalachin by the media in deference to the major 1957 mob conclave that took place in Apalachin, NY, the mobsters were probably caught at the eatery after a Commission meeting that was held elsewhere.

As I've stated previously, I give no credence to claims that La Cosa Nostra  had anything to do with the assassination of President Kennedy. The desperate attempts to link Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald to the Mafia would be laughed out of court. However, it makes great reading for conspiracy buffs and the uninformed. For a more in-depth analysis, I suggest CASE CLOSED by GERALD POSNER.

As I have said before, an extensive FBI bugging and wiretapping attack on La Cosa Nostra from the late 1950's into 1964 picked up nothing, absolutely nothing to indicate a murder plot. There were a few mentions that some mob guys hated the Kennedys, but nothing to suggest an assassination plot. Furthermore, the FBI had some high placed informants during that era and they reported nothing. A Mafia role in the Kennedy killing is just not there.

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Copyright, Jerry Capeci, 1998
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