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Wanted: One boss for notorious crime family
See Squitieri indtment and related articles
Sunday, March 13, 2005

With the reputed acting boss and underboss charged in a federal racketeering indictment, the tattered remains of what was once the nation's most glorified - and perhaps most ruthless - crime family are up for grabs.

And when the dust settles, someone other than a Gotti, or Gotti appointee, may run the Gambino family for the first time since the mid-1980s, authorities say.

Two reputed ranking family members, Joseph and Nicholas Corozzo, are being talked about as the possible next boss, said people familiar with the inner workings of the family.

"Looks like Little Nicky and his brother JoJo are back in the driver's seat," a onetime mob insider said. "Power struggle begins."

Authorities created a power vacuum on Wednesday when Arnold "Zeke" Squitieri, 69, of Englewood Cliffs became the latest in a long line of alleged Gambino crime family leaders slapped with racketeering charges.

First there was John J. Gotti. Then John A. Gotti. Then Peter Gotti.

Just how much luster the Gambino family has lost since the mid-1980s is exemplified by the rapid ascension of Squitieri, a Harlem-bred, heroin-dealing tough guy, to acting boss, authorities said.

Alternately known as "Zeke," "Bozey," "Sylvester" and "The Animal," Squitieri is a veteran of the notorious "Purple Gang," which controlled heroin trafficking in Harlem in the 1970s. He also was a John J. Gotti confidant who spent many late nights partying with the Dapper Don, those familiar with both men said.

"John loved this guy," said Bruce Mouw, a retired FBI agent who for 18 years headed the New York office's Gambino unit. "But he was not qualified to be underboss, let alone acting boss of the family."

At the side of Gotti and Squitieri during those wild nights, Mouw said, was another Englewood Cliffs wiseguy, Alphonse "Funzi" Sisca, who also was among those charged with racketeering in the 53-count indictment.

"Funzi and Zeke," Mouw recalled. "They are tough guys. Street guys. Crazy. Have a wild streak. Drinkers. Gamblers."

Mouw said they were also loyal soldiers who were among the first Gotti "straightened out" - wiseguy slang for inducted as members - after he wrested control of the family from Paul Castellano in a bloody coup in 1985.

Squitieri and Sisca both emerged from federal prison in 1999 after serving 11 years on heroin convictions. Since then, Squitieri, 69, rose from soldier to capo to underboss to acting boss, a rapid ascension that insiders attribute to his close relationship with John J. Gotti.

"When Gotti went to jail in '92, he kept the power with the Gottis," Mouw said. "It's a good thing that these guys don't use a talent scout to find their best CEOs."

The vast majority of Gambino operations lies in New York. In New Jersey, the family that once made millions on labor racketeering has been forced out of the union business and into relying mainly on shakedowns of local businesses.

With recent prosecutions of other families in the Garden State, however, the Gambinos have once again begun to expand operations.

"Quite frankly, we've had a lot of successes with the Genovese and DeCavalcante families that created a vacuum that the Gambinos have tried to fill," said James E. Furry, supervisor of the FBI's Gambino squad in Newark. "At least until the others regenerate."

Experts estimate that the Gambino family, traditionally with its headquarters in Brooklyn, has upward of 200 "made" members and as many as 2,000 associates. The Gambinos are active in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada.

"In the Twenties, gambling, extortion and labor racketeering were their big business," Furry said. "In the Forties, it was gambling, extortion and labor racketeering. In the Seventies, it was gambling, extortion and labor racketeering.

"In the Nineties they spread out ... but still their bread and butter is gambling, extortion and labor racketeering."

The Gambino hierarchy will likely quickly appoint a capo to oversee New Jersey operations, and that person will travel to see Squitieri and the new bosses for guidance, Furry and others said.

Squitieri's arrest nonetheless could mark the end of the Gotti reign over the family, they said.

John J. Gotti's son, John A. Gotti, and then his brother Peter, a former sanitation worker, ran the family after the Dapper Don's conviction.

Some authorities viewed Squitieri as a "seat warmer" for one of the Corozzo brothers.

"Little Nick" Corozzo was once slated to succeed Gotti as boss, but a guilty plea to a 1996 racketeering indictment sent him to prison and left control of the family with the Gotti clan, authorities said.

Nicholas Corozzo, who was released from prison in June 2004, remains on federal parole.

But according to published reports, Nicholas Corozzo is the target of a federal grand jury probing two murders as well as the 1992 shooting of radio host Curtis Sliwa.

Peter Gotti, who is in prison, remains the "official" boss, according to authorities.

Mouw said the Gambino family remains a force in organized crime despite a repeated assault over the years by the government.

"Still the most powerful and influential is the Genovese family," he said. "The Gambinos are probably No. 2 ... There's a lot of young guys coming up.

"The FBI and the DOJ [Department of Justice] can't just say we've won our war on organized crime or in five years, they'll be back."

Federal authorities in New Jersey are already setting their sights on the next generation of mobsters.

"It doesn't mean that they've gone away. They regenerate. We're working guys right now that are the sons of guys that are prison for life." Furry said.

The most important conversations for the family's future may be taking place inside the Metropolitan Corrections Center in Manhattan.

"Believe me, a lot of politics is taking place in MCC," said one former mob associate. "A lot of messages are being sent to the streets through lawyers and girlfriends.

"For sure, if 32 were indicted, you can bet a half-dozen are trying to make deals [with the government] right now."

E-mail: troncone@northjersey.com

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