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May 4, 1998
Lucchese Class of '91
By Jerry Capeci
Beaming with pride and looking as dapper as John Gotti, 13 mobsters joined hands in October 1991 and celebrated the induction of five new members into the Lucchese crime family.

There had been a formal Mafia blood oath, administered by consigliere Frank Lastorino, then these words spoken in unison: "We are brothers now, one family, one borghata."

Their boss was in federal prison, their underboss was on the run, but the five Class of 1991 grads were all smiles as they entered a life they thought was full of promise, glory and ill-gotten riches.

Within six years, however, each would wind up behind bars -- where one would die and another would become a prosecution witness.

The fall of the Class of '91 is symbolic of the mob's malaise today, its ranks infiltrated by mob turncoats and wiretaps, and its numbers shrunk by aggressive prosecutions.

Since 1990, the top three mobsters in four crime families have been convicted and sent to prison -- including Gotti, the boss of the Gambino family, and his Disheveled Don counterpart, Genovese boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante.

But the mob's downfall is about more than high-profile cases; it is about the scores of capos, soldiers and associates from all five clans who have been put behind bars, many for life.

Here's the lowdown on the rise and fall of the Class of '91 and their Lucchese comrades -- according to a review of court documents and interviews with numerous sources on both sides of the law.

Coronation night began with the soon-to-be mobsters -- Frank Gioia Jr., 24; Thomas (Fat Tommy) D'Ambrosia, 47; Joseph (Torty Jr.) Tortorello, 32; Gregory (Whitey) Cappello, 33, and Jody Calabrese, 36 -- waiting in a living room of a large home in Howard Beach, Queens.

In a finished basement, eight Lucchese mobsters sat around a table, where a knife and a picture of a saint rested.

Anthony BarattaLastorino headed the table, seconded by capos Salvatore Avellino, Anthony (Bowat) Baratta (left) and George (Georgie Goggles) Conte. Acting capos Richard (The Anthony TortorelloToupe) Pagliarulo and Anthony (Torty) Tortorello, (right) and mobsters Frank (Bones) Papagni and Thomas (Tommy Red) Anzellotto filled the other seats.

For the record, Baratta was D'Ambrosia's sponsor; Anthony Tortorello had recommended his son Richard PagliaruloJoseph; Pagliarulo (left) had proposed Cappello and Calabrese, and Conte was filling in for Gioia's sponsor, George (Georgie Neck) Zapolla, a fugitive at the time.

Joseph Tortorello was the first to be summoned downstairs. Replying to questions from Lastorino, he promised to love and honor the Lucchese family above his own.

One by one, the others followed, repeating the ritual.

Their trigger fingers pricked, all promised loyalty to the family and watched Lastorino burn tissue paper in their hands and say: "May you burn in hell like this if you betray us."

They didn't know their fates were already sealed.

Little Al D'ArcoA month earlier, Lucchese acting boss Alfonse (Little Al) D'Arco (left) began cooperating with the FBI, telling mob secrets about murders and racketeering schemes. The feds in Manhattan and Brooklyn had already empanelled grand juries, preparing for wide-ranging indictments. Finally, wired-up operatives for the Manhattan District Attorney's office were taping them in drug deals.

Inducted as a group, the Class of '91 celebrated at different restaurants with their sponsors later that night, and went their separate ways.

Tortorello ran a drug operation in lower Manhattan. D'Ambrosia ran a heroin ring in East Harlem and The Bronx. Cappello became a street thug. Calabrese did strong-arm work in the private carting industry. Gioia did double duty as a hitman and drug dealer.

As a whole, they earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Lucchese family, bringing riches on borrowed time.

By 1993, three had been arrested and ultimately sentenced to prison. By 1997, all had been arrested -- with one dying behind bars.

Thomas D'AmbrosiaJoseph TortorelloThe pitfalls varied; Tortorello (right) and D'Ambrosia (left) went down together after a four-year undercover drug probe by the Manhattan District Attorney.

Calabrese was nabbed for trying to kill a cohort in a dispute over garbage stops. He is awaiting trial.

Gioia, a hefty martial arts enthusiast, was arrested twice -- first in June, 1992, on a gun charge in Brooklyn, and then in 1993 on federal drug charges in Boston in a joint investigation with the Manhattan District Attorney for running a heroin pipeline from Manhattan to Boston.

But the strangest arrest arose from a quirk of circumstances that brought down Cappello on the Fourth of July in 1994.

Cappello, who was being sought by an FBI-NYPD task force on an extortion charge, came out of hiding to celebrate. He would later tell authorities that he assumed that any lawmen who knew him would be off for the holiday.

But because of crowd-control concerns near Coney Island, NYPD Detective John Kenna, a task force member, was pressed into uniform. He happened to spot a dead ringer for Cappello, then noticed the man had a crack pipe protruding from his back pocket.

Kenna collared the man, who turned out to be Cappello's younger brother, said FBI spokesman Jim Margolin.

Suddenly, Gregory Cappello, eyes wild with anger, ran up.

"What the hell are you doing with my brother?" he screamed at Kenna --  and was arrested himself.

As FBI agents took him into custody, Cappello moaned, "I lay low for months and come out for a few laughs on the Fourth of July 'cause I know you federal guys are off, and I get popped by a cop doing crowd control."

Cappello died last December in prison.

Today, the only living member of the Class of '91 not behind bars is D'Ambrosia, who was released in October after three years in prison.

George ZapollaGioia became the informer. In late 1994, he called the feds and offered his services. Sources said he learned from a jailhouse visitor that the Lucchese mobster who had driven him to his induction, Frank Papagni, was plotting to kill Gioia's father in a money dispute.

The feds moved quickly. On Jan. 3, 1995, FBI agents nabbed Zapolla, (right)  Gioia's fugitive sponsor, at a public phone in Manhattan after a series of monitored calls and beeper messages from Gioia's father.

As for the rest of the attendees at the induction ceremony, all of them -- including the eight mobsters who welcomed the class into the family -- are in prison.

 

Andy

ASK ANDY

Andy -- seen here with "Mob Star: The Story of John Gotti," one of his all-time favorite Mafia books  -- gives his take on some charges and countercharges that have come out in Boston about the FBI's seemingly outrageous actions in dealing with underworld informers for decades.

There are some startling and disturbing revelations coming out of the pretrial hearings of alleged New England Cosa Nostra Boss, Frank (Cadillac Frank) Salemme and the leader of the Winter Hill Gang, Steve (The Rifleman) Flemmi. Along with some associates, Salemme and Flemmi face racketeering charges based on an alleged criminal conspiracy between the Italian and Irish gangs.

Flemmi, a long time FBI informer, claims that in return for his insight into mob doings, his FBI handlers had given him permission to commit crimes and thus the charges against him should be thrown out. All the defendants also claim FBI agents lied to a federal judge to get permission to plant bugs and that the resulting taped conversations are tainted and should not be used as evidence against them.

Prior to the hearing, the feds turned over evidence to the defendants that included material from Flemmi's FBI informer files of Flemmi. He and his absent codefendant, James (Whitey) Bulger had been on and off FBI informants for decades.

In affidavits, Flemmi claimed that he and Bulger enjoyed a very friendly
relationship with the FBI. He stated that gifts were exchanged, dinner parties were held and that one of the agents had been lent $ 5,000. That wasn't all. Flemmi also claimed: that he had been warned of a coming indictment in 1969, that he was told to avoid a certain place that the FBI had bugged, that the FBI kept him out of a 1979 indictment, that he was given the names of a key Cosa Nostra informant, and that Bulger was tipped about the present indictment which came down in January of 1995. These were devastating charges, if true.

Bulger ran and is still a fugitive. In an unrelated but interesting matter, Bulger lost an expensive court case in his absence. He had claimed a one sixth interest in a Mass Millions lottery win of $14.3 million. The government successfully proved that Bulger had not been a legitimate winner but had paid the real winner $700,000 in cash for the one sixth share. It was a method of laundering illegal money. Bulger was to get $119,000 a year till 2010. Before taxes it would have amounted to over $1.9 million. Pending appeals, Bulger is out the $700,000 cash plus the nearly $2 million in payoffs.

At the hearing, it was revealed that at least some of Flemmi's claims were true. Retired FBI agent, Nick Gianturco admitted a "mistake in judgement" in accepting gifts from the two Winter Hill leaders and acknowledged having them for dinner four times and eating at the home of Flemmi's parents. Gianturco said John Connolly, the FBI handler of Flemmi, also exchanged gifts with the two hoods. Gianturco claimed that while working undercover, his life was saved when Connolly was tipped by Flemmi and Bulger that Gianturco was going to be killed at a scheduled meeting. Naturally, the agent did not go to the rendezvous. In another startling development, Gianturco said that famous undercover agent Joe "Donnie Brasco" Pistone was present at one of the dinners with the hoods that he hosted. It is not clear if this meeting was part of Pistone's undercover assignment. Pistone wrote the introduction to "The Ceremony," a book which details the FBI's bugging operation which captured a Cosa Nostra induction of four New England Cosa Nostra members.

In his affidavits, Flemmi also accused the presiding judge, Mark Wolf, of leaking information when Wolf was an assistant district attorney. At first, both the defense and prosecution agreed that the judge could be impartial. As the pretrial hearing continued however, Wolf revealed that he had "found" some personal papers that indicated he had been involved in another Flemmi case while working in the DA's office. In addition, the judge discovered a mid-1980's memo he wrote about his suspicions that either former agent Dennis Condon or agent John Morris (now retired) had leaked information about a bribery case involving a state representative. The prosecution demanded that he step aside but Judge Wolf recently ruled that he would stay on.

If these revelations were not enough, the next ones were stunners. A former agent testified that there was in house suspicion by some FBI agents that agent Connolly was protecting his source Bulger. A New England Jai Alai operator had been gunned down in 1981 and an underworld informant, Edward "Brian" Halloran, had claimed that the deed was done by Bulger. During eight days of testimony, John Morris, former supervisor of Boston's Organized Crime Squad, admitted telling Connolly of the informer's claims about Bulger. In 1982, Halloran was gunned down. Connolly has denied this and many other allegations that have surfaced but when called to testify at the hearing he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination and refused to testify. Connolly has told the press he only spoke to Flemmi and Bulger about Halloran after he was killed. Both Flemmi and Bulger denied any involvement in the killing but refused to take a lie detector test. 

Morris, who testified under a grant of immunity, has also admitted taking a total of $7000 in cash, on three different occasions, from the two informants. He claims that Connolly actively played a role in obtaining the money from Bulger and Flemmi.

There does appear to be at least some good news for the prosecution. They have produced FBI documents, signed by Flemmi, which state that he did not have permission to commit crimes.

These fascinating proceedings are just the latest in a series of "stunners" concerning the New England Family. Back in the mid 1960's, the FBI, under pressure, released transcripts of some of their illegal recordings made in the office of then New England boss, Raymond Patriarca. The newspapers had a field day publishing tales of political corruption, police on the take, murder and a host of other crimes. The next shocker was the roll over of mob associate Vincent (Big Vinnie) Teresa. In the 1970's, he co-authored two books that detailed his mob career and Teresa became a professional informant till he was discredited as a hype artist. Jerry Anguilo, Patriarca's underboss from 1964 to 1984, was also the victim of an FBI bugging, but these recordings were legal and led to a conviction and life sentence for Anguilo. In October of 1989, the FBI scored a historic coup when it bugged  an induction ceremony of the New England mob. This accomplishment has been used numerous times to "prove" the existence of Cosa Nostra and had been instrumental in jailing a number of members of the New England Family. The legality of this recording is now being challenged by the defendants, Salemme, Flemmi and the others.

It is unclear whether there will be further revelations of FBI misdeeds in the weeks to come. Furthermore, the fact these misdeeds took place do not mean that Flemmi and Bulger had permission to commit crimes. The hearings certainly expose some pretty murky business dealings between FBI agents and informers. Stay tuned.

Email Jerry Capeci: editor@ganglandnews.com

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