Feature Articles

January 15, 2000

Round Up The Usual Suspects 1

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

compiled by John William Tuohy

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New York: Twelve alleged leaders of the Decavalcante's, New Jersey's reigning organized crime family have been arrested on charges stemming from a racketeering operation. Of the 12 charged, 10 were arrested in New Jersey and New York and one in Florida. One defendant was still at large.

The Decavalcante family is one of the oldest and most entrenched American mob families. Authorities said that the Decavalcante family, based in Elizabeth, N.J., had been resurgent in recent years as prosecutions decimated New York's five major crime families.

The family includes about 50 active members, and it has been involved in traditional mob activities such as loan sharking and labor racketeering, officials said. It also has exerted great influence in the painting, wallpaper, and construction industries.

"They are an extremely violence-prone and trigger-happy crime family," a prosecutor close to the case said: "This three-year investigation will effectively dismantle the Decavalcante family and essentially eliminate its criminal grip on businesses and labor unions in New Jersey and New York. The alleged murders date back to 1978 and included people suspected of cooperating with the government or being a risk to cooperate if arrested or some other act of misbehavior or disloyalty as viewed by the family hierarchy."

Among those charged was Giovanni Riggi, the 75-year-old alleged boss of the family who has been incarcerated since 1990.

Prosecutors allege Riggi continued to work as boss of the family, ordering murders from prison and giving instructions about how the family should wield its power over labor unions to earn kickbacks for construction.

Riggi allegedly took over the family from founder Sam "The Plumber" Decavalcante, who retired and moved to Florida in 1978.

A federal racketeering conviction in Newark in 1990 did not break Riggi's hold on the family because he continued to give orders from federal prison in Fairton, N.J., authorities said.

Also charged were two men who prosecutors say were part of a three-member ruling panel that served as acting bosses in the absence of the jailed Riggi. The third alleged member of the panel was previously charged.

Alleged "Consigliere" or counselor of the family, Stefano Vitabile was also named in the indictment and arrested.

The indictment alleges the family operated a racketeering enterprise that carried out at least five murders and conspired to murder eight other people in New York and New Jersey.

Investigators say they were aided in their three-year probe by the crumbling of the mob's code of silence. Informants described grisly murders, loan sharking, gambling, extortion, obstruction of justice and securities fraud.

"This prosecution will effectively dismantle the Decavalcante crime family and eliminate its grip on business in the New York area," U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said at a news conference.

FBI assistant director Barry Mawn said at the same news conference that a September 1989 murder of a man named Frederick Weiss was committed to "curry favor" with Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. He said Gotti feared that Weiss would become a witness against him.

Mawn further charged that the Decavalcante's "plotted and committed murders on the streets of New York while at the same time trying to make a killing on Wall Street." However, the indictment showed that two members of the family, reputed captains, Philip Abramo and Francesco Polizzi made profits of a paltry $10,000 in an alleged conspiracy offering and selling securities through the mail.

The indictment alleged that Abramo and Polizzi also ran loan sharking and other illegal operations with the help of Decavalcante associates Anthony "Marshmallow" Mannarino and Louis "Louie Eggs" Consalvo.

Abramo and Consalvo also were among five men indicted last year in federal court in Tampa, Florida in connection with various "pump and dump" schemes in which unsuspecting investors bought shares in companies whose stock prices were artificially inflated.

Abramo, 55, formerly of Saddle Brook, N.J., pleaded guilty on September 22, 2000, to securities fraud charges in Tampa and was ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution.

Consalvo, 43, of Old Bridge, N.J., also pleaded guilty in the case and was free on bail at the time of his arrest.

Chicago: Chicago's former chief of detectives was indicted by a federal grand jury today on charges of masterminding a ring of Mafia related thieves who stole $4.85 million in jewels in heists across the nation.

Chicago has long been the center for the Mafia's stolen jewelers business and was pioneered by Nicky "the Ant" Spilotro.

The ring was involved in eight previously unsolved thefts of jewelry, gems and watches in Arizona, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, according to the indictment.

William Hanhardt, 71, who retired in 1986 after 33 years on the force, personally took part in some heists and got other officers to use police computers to target victims, the indictment says.

"He was at the top ranks of the Chicago police department, which is a frightening prospect," U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar said in announcing the charges against Hanhardt and five other men. The indictment said the thieves had started work well before Hanhardt left the department.

"Hanhardt's organization surpasses -- in duration and sophistication -- just about any other jewelry theft ring we've seen in federal law enforcement," Lassar said.

Hanhardt served as Chicago's chief of detectives but also had been chief of traffic, commander of the burglary section, deputy superintendent for inspectional services and a stationhouse commander.

Five other men were named in the indictment, including Joseph Basinski, an alleged jewel thief who already was facing federal charges of trying to intimidate a witness in a post-midnight visit to his home.

Basinski was arrested in March 1999 and accused of attempting to intimidate William Friedman, a witness in this case, in a post-midnight visit to the Friedman home.

Basinski, 55, was released on bond, provided he wore an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle. However, he was brought back into court and accused of a possible bond violation after getting into a drunken brawl at a Chicago restaurant with a 38-year-old woman who described herself as his "trophy girlfriend" and sent him love poetry.

He was ordered confined to his mother's home except for trips to court and for necessary medical treatment.

Charged along with Hanhardt and Basinski were Paul J. Schiro, 63, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Sam DeStefano, 46, of suburban Downers Grove and Chesterton, Ind.; Guy Altobello, 69, of Elmhurst; and William R. Brown, 74, a former Chicagoan who has been living in Gilbert, Ariz.

Altobello worked at a suburban jewelry store, Altobello Jewelers, and provided one or more of the other defendants with information about jewelry salesmen to help plan heists, according to the indictment.

Lassar said members of the ring maintained surveillance over traveling jewelry salesmen, keeping detailed records of their routines to calculate when to take jewels from their hotel rooms and cars.

Seized in the investigation were smoke bombs, electronic listening devices, bulletproof vests and disguises, he said.

Boston: The remains of a woman believed to be those of Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi's girlfriend who disappeared in 1981 were dug up near the former home of gang leader James "Whitey" Bulger. Authorities examined the site after a tip from a mob insider who agreed to cooperate in a plea bargain.

The body was believed to be that of 27-year-old Debra Davis, who disappeared Sept. 17, 1981, just after a family vacation in Acapulco, Mexico.

Federal prosecutors say Bulger and Flemmi thought Davis was a threat to their organization.

The two were indicted September 28, 2000 on charges of involvement in 21 murders. Bulger has been in hiding since he was indicted in 1995. Flemmi is in prison awaiting trial.

Brazil: The Western Hemisphere defense ministers concluded a four-day meeting and have agreed that drugs are a real threat to peace in the Americas, but the worst drug-related conflict in the region, Colombia's, must be resolved domestically.

The ministers warned that post-Cold War threats to stability could spread as profits from illicit drug trafficking enriched organized crime. At the same time, Colombia's $7.5 billion, U.S.-backed fight on the drug trade was seen as potentially pushing Bogot´┐Ż's problems across borders.

"The evils that threaten the hemisphere's countries are terrorism, drug trafficking, cyber crimes and organized crime," Brazil's Defense Minister Geraldo Quintao told journalists at the close of the meeting in the Amazon jungle capital of Manaus.

Mexico City: The so-called anti-corruption czar, Francisco Barrio, said he expected his war against drug families to trigger a potentially violent backlash from organized crime.

"I'm not ruling out that there will be threats, and even that this work will carry risks of reprisals," Barrio told a news conference.

Barrio, of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), and his allies have said seven decades of one-party rule have led to entrenched corruption in government, police and even the armed forces. This, he argues, has given rise to organized crime groups engaged in everything from car theft, kidnappings to drug trafficking.

Barrio said a story this week in the El Paso Times that linked him to the late head of the Juarez cocaine cartel, Amado Carrillo, was just an example of the kind of pressure the new administration would face.

The story quoted a Mexican federal attorney general arrest warrant that alleged Carrillo gave Barrio cash in exchange for protection while Barrio was Chihuahua governor, an allegation Barrio strongly denied. El Paso sits across the Rio Grande from the Chihuahua city of Juarez.

Hong Kong: Police said they have arrested 26 Mainland Chinese stowaways inside a terminal container bound for the United States. The Organized Crime and Triad Bureau has taken over the case for further investigation.

One Year Ago: Chicago's Dominic Cortina, who was called "Big Dom" and "the Hat," died of cancer.

Cortina was convicted in 1990 of running an illegal gambling empire for the mob that raked in $127 million in sports bets.

"He was considered an overseer for the Outfit's gambling interests in the Chicago area," said Wayne Johnson, chief investigator for the Chicago Crime Commission.

Mr. Cortina is among the alleged mobsters listed on the commission's organizational chart of the Chicago "Outfit." Authorities described him as a "middle-management mobster" who had declined a ruling position in the Outfit because of the considerable risks involved.

FBI tapes captured Cortina and his associate, Donald "The Wizard of Odds" Angelini, treating their clients politely, never strong-arming them. In some cases, prosecutors said, the duo even suggested that their clients give up gambling for their own well being.

Cortina earned early notoriety in the late 1940s, when he bought a cigarette tax stamp machine and reported it stolen. Before it surfaced, millions of dollars in bogus tax stamps had been run off for the mob.

In 1963, Cortina was among associates of the Chicago Outfit named at a U.S. Senate hearing.

Seven years later, Mr. Cortina and four other alleged gangsters, including crime syndicate chieftain John "Jackie the Lackey" Cerone, were sentenced to five years in prison on federal gambling charges. The convictions were touted as a milestone in the FBI's effort to smash coast-to-coast betting rackets on sports.

"Round Up The Usual Suspects" is produced by the

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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