Allan May, Crime Historian
Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He also writes a monthly column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Contact him at AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com
Wilfred “Willie Boy” Johnson
By Allan May
Wilfred “Willie Boy” Johnson wasn’t constrained when it came to providing information to the FBI and the New York City Police Department when it suited his needs. However, in 1987 Diane Giacalone, an Assistant United States Attorney from Brooklyn, revealed his informant status. Her over zealous pursuit of his testimony against John Gotti may have cost Johnson his life.
Johnson was described as a mob guy that other wiseguys loved to have around. He was a “gofer” who would do anything he was told in order to curry favor with the men he idolized. A long time friend of John Gotti, Johnson served the Dapper Don in many capacities including driver, bodyguard, and gunman. By the time he was in his mid-40s, Johnson had already spent eighteen years in jail for assault, robbery, and murder.
Johnson’s mother was Italian, but his father was part Cherokee Indian thus preventing him from ever becoming a made member of the mob. Nevertheless, with people like Gambino Family underboss Neil Dellacroce appreciating his talents, he became a trusted and valued family associate.
Retired Lieutenant Remo Franceschini of the Queens District Attorney’s Squad in his book, “A Matter of Honor,” gives this description of Johnson:
“He was real stocky, about five feet nine inches and well over two hundred pounds, looked like a professional wrestler. Size twenty-one neck, gravel voice. You didn’t want to meet Willie Boy on the street, and if you met him you’d better have backup ammunition in your pocket because six bullets were not going to stop this guy. He was the type of guy who, if he got shot, he would almost try to rip the bullets out of his own chest and then get really pissed off. ‘You shot me? Now you’re in f—kin’ trouble.’”
When Gotti joined the Gambino crew headed by Carmine Fatico, he brought Johnson with him. Willie Boy was used as an errand boy and to collect overdue loans. In the book “Underboss,” by Peter Maas, Sammy Gravano comments on the relationship between Gotti and Johnson:
“Although, on the surface, Willie Boy played the obedient Tonto to Gotti’s Lone Ranger, he seemed to take special pleasure in reporting what Gotti was up to. Gotti’s idea of humor left plenty to be desired. And Johnson seethed with resentment as Gotti delivered derisive asides about ‘redskins’ and ‘half-breeds’ and often treated him as a second-class citizen.”
In the mid-1960s, Johnson was convicted of robbery and jailed. Mob protocol decrees when a crewmember is sent away to prison that the capo makes sure the wife and children are provided for. Apparently Johnson believed this myth and when Fatico failed in his duty, Willie Boy decided he would get even by becoming a paid government informant.
To the FBI, Wilfred Johnson became BQ 5558-TE. The “TE” stood for “Top Echelon,” and the “BQ” meant “Brooklyn-Queens.” Johnson’s code name was “Wahoo.”
In May 1973, John Gotti, Angelo Ruggiero, and Ralph Galione were involved in the murder of James McBratney in a Staten Island bar. There are some misconceptions as to the reason for the killing. (See my column dated October 24, 1999.) Ruggiero and Galione were soon identified by a waitress from the bar, but Gotti’s identity was still unknown. Johnson heard Gotti bragging about the killing and notified the FBI who then notified the New York City Police Department. When Gotti realized the police were looking for him he went into hiding.
The FBI arrested Gotti on June 3, 1974, over a year after the murder. A note placed in Johnson’s FBI file stated that he “was the sole basis for the apprehension” of John Gotti. Johnson was paid $600 for his effort.
After Gotti pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted manslaughter for the McBratney murder, he spent most of his prison time at the Green Haven Correctional Facility. There, ironically, he would share time with his good friend Willie Boy Johnson, the man responsible for his capture. Johnson was serving time for armed robbery.
Johnson’s FBI handler, Special Agent Martin J. Boland, let his superiors know how valuable an informant Johnson was. In addition to supplying information so Gotti could be arrested, he helped solve several burglaries and provided information that led to the arrest of Gambino Family associate Salvatore Polisi. But, as Jerry Capeci points out in “Mob Star,” informants “whose value depends on maintaining criminal credibility can be troublesome. They test the patience and resourcefulness of agents.” FBI Agent Boland noted:
“Case agent had handled this informant single-handedly; has to contend with the informant being arrested [for] counterfeiting,…receiving stolen property…and armed robbery… the above arrests and informant’s activity within the underworld has presented problems which Agent Boland has handled efficiently without recourse to higher bureau authority. It is noted Agent Boland received a letter of commendation in [a fraud case] for handling liaison with the Brooklyn District Attorney.”
In the late 1970s Johnson reported on the murders of several Gambino associates including Tommy DeSimone, a minor mob figure who was made famous by Joe Pesci’s fictionalized portrayal of him in the movie “Goodfellas.” One of the cases Johnson came up empty on was the disappearance and presumed murder of John Favara, Gotti’s ill-fated neighbor who was responsible for the accidental death of John’s young son Frank Gotti. Up until this time the FBI files had indicated how accurate his information was, but on this incident he crapped out. One would think that with his close friendship to Gotti, and the fact that he couldn’t provide any information in this matter, that maybe he had some involvement in it.
There was no doubt Willie Boy had been involved in the murder of Anthony Plate in Florida in 1979. Plate worked for Neil Dellacroce in a loan sharking operation in Miami. He once jumped on the desk of a debtor, spit in his face, and threatened to bite chunks out of his flesh. Plate had been indicted with Neil Dellacroce in the death of another loan shark. Dellacroce was afraid that the mere presence of the sinister looking Plate by his side at the defense table would hinder his chances. Plate walked out of a Miami Beach hotel one August morning and was never seen again. Shortly after this Gotti, Ruggiero and Johnson appeared at the Bergin sporting deep suntans. Plate’s murder helped Dellacroce win an acquittal in his case.
After Johnson’s release from Green Haven, his control agent, Martin Boland, was transferred. Although not sure of his new handler, James M. Abbott, Johnson agreed to continue with the same stipulation that “he never be compromised or told to testify.” In fact, a memo placed in his file stated: “He will not testify under any circumstances and would deny he ever cooperated in the event he was ever surfaced. Source is very sensitive as to his confidential relationship and was given assurances by agents Boland and Abbott.”
In December 1981, New York police detectives watched as Johnson handed a package to a drug dealer in exchange for a paper bag that he threw into the trunk of his car. Detectives followed Johnson to his home in Brooklyn. When Willie Boy opened the trunk to get the bag the detectives approached him. The bag held $50,000 which Johnson quickly claimed came from his gambling operation. Still on probation after having served less than four years of a ten-year sentence, Johnson got scared. He told the officers to take the money because if his parole officer found out about it he would be sent back to prison.
The detectives arrested him for attempted bribery and Johnson was soon indicted. The indictment was sealed as Willie Boy agreed to become an informant for the New York City Police Department. Johnson did not tell the district attorney that he was already an informer for the FBI, nor did he tell the FBI about his new position with New York’s finest. With the $50,000 donated to the police pension fund, Johnson began work for the New York Police Department. One of his first tips was where they could find the body of Bonanno capo Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, in whose murder Johnson may have been involved. He also reported on Gotti and his brothers, and in June 1981 gave up a dice game in Little Italy where Frank DeCicco and Anthony Rampino were arrested, and $100,000 confiscated.
Most of Johnson’s information, however, went to FBI Agent Abbott. He helped draw a layout of Angelo Ruggiero’s home so agents could plant listening devices in the area where he held his meetings. They also tapped his daughter’s telephone after Angelo blabbed to Johnson how he used it to make telephone calls. Johnson kept the agents abreast of Ruggiero’s narcotics involvement especially after his brother, Salvatore Ruggiero, was killed in a private plane crash. It was Johnson who let the FBI know that Angelo believed he was a “dead man” when he realized Paul Castellano and Neil Dellacroce, his uncle, were going to find out about his role in dealing narcotics from the FBI recordings.
When the arrests from the Ruggiero drug operation came down, they included, in addition to Angelo, John and Gene Gotti, John Carneglia and several others. Johnson reported to his FBI handlers that “John Gotti is on the carpet with Big Paul Castellano over the drug bust. Paul feels John was either involved himself and if he was not, then he should have known his crew was involved and therefore he cannot control his crew.”
Shortly after the arrests the FBI picked up rumors that two of their agents were to be hit. When an agent brought this to Gotti’s attention he became annoyed and claimed, “That’s just Angelo, shootin’ off his mouth, blowin’ off steam.”
Johnson reported that “no personal recrimination will be made on any FBI agent as they would have to be approved by Big Paul and at this time Gotti and Ruggiero are lucky they have not been clipped themselves.”
To be continued next week!
Copyright A. R. May 1999