Feature Articles

April 2001

Vinnie Ocean, Sam The Plumber And The Manhattan Excursion

By John William Tuohy

     According to recent reports, New Jersey's leading and most powerful Mafia family, the DeCavalcante's, are continuing to shoot, punch and terrorize their way into Manhattan and the Boroughs by working closely with the weakening New York Gambino, Bonanno, Colombo and Lucchese families.

     Although federal prosecutors delivered a major indictment against the DeCavalcante's in December of 1999, a year later, the mob shows no signs of backing off its goal of establishing itself inside the Big Apple, a major no-no in the past for the traditionally weaker, less wealthy and smaller Mafia families of bordering New Jersey.

     However, the federal government's seemingly endless onslaught against the five major New York Mafia families has left the DeCavalcante's, traditional allies of the Gambino family, virtually untouched. As a result, throughout the 1990s, the family grew larger, richer and more powerful. Still, police professionals are quick to point out that the family, at best, has perhaps only seventy-five "soldiers" who work in about five or six "crews."

     Currently, at least two of those crews are active inside Manhattan.

     Federal agents also point to the fact that the family's acting boss, Vinny "Vinnie Ocean" Palermo, 55, is currently being held under federal indictment for racketeering, murder, extortion, loan-sharking and gambling.

     The family's actual boss, John Riggi, is in jail.

     "We want to give him the chair," said one New York cop, "and we've got enough on him to make it stick."

     However, and unofficially, the cops say that with or without Palermo's leadership, the DeCavalcante's New York faction has been keeping itself busy with everything from masterminding a $1.6 million failed Brinks robbery at the World Trade Center, to excursions into construction industry extortion, and running gambling and loan-sharking rings that have netted them an estimated $2.5 million to $5.1 million in illegal gains.

     (Investigators think that the October 10, 1998, murder of DeCavalcante associate, Joseph "Little Joey O" Masella, a gambler, was somehow tied into the Brink job.)

     Investigators also suspect that the family has made agreements with Mafia factions in Las Vegas, upstate New York and western Pennsylvania.

     The DeCavalcante's, named for founder Sam "The Plumber" DeCavalcante, rose to dubious fame due to the so-called "Goodfella Tapes," which were secretly recorded in DeCavalcante's plumbing supply shop by the FBI over a period of several years (1961-65). When transcribed, single space and in small print, the tapes produced a 2,300-page log of everyday life in the Mafia.

     The tapes were ordered by FBI director Hoover to prove that the testimony of mob informant Joe Valachi was, in fact, true.

     The tapes proved that and more. They demonstrated that there was a national commission as well as the size and structure of the five active Mafia families in New York at that time. The tapes also give a detailed explanation of the facts that would eventually lead to the so-called Banana War.

     The tapes also revealed that the Godfather, DeCavalcante, was having an affair with his secretary, who was also his business partner's sister, whom he also cheated on with other women.

     DeCavalcante was eventually convicted on extortion and sentenced to fifteen years in Atlanta federal prison. He reappeared briefly in the 1980s, when he was involved in a convoluted scheme to build three casinos. The plan failed when voters vetoed the plan to legalize gambling in their state.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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