Feature Articles

May 2003

The 'Sopranos' Trial

Part One: New Jersey Mob Boss Whacked for Gay Behavior

By James Ridgway de Szigethy

     The trial of 3 members of the New Jersey DeCavalcante Mafia Family has begun in Manhattan with the Feds trotting out former members of the Family as Prosecution Witnesses. On trial for racketeering and murder are Stefano Vitabile, Philip Abramo, and Pini Schifilliti. Testifying against them are their former alleged partners in crime "Vinnie Ocean" Palermo, Anthony Rotondo, Victor DiChiara, and Anthony Capo.

     The DeCavalcante Family of New Jersey has provided the inspiration for the HBO hit series THE SOPRANOS. During the course of the investigations that led to the current trial, agents of the FBI tape recorded members of the Family talking about the hit television series and how they believe their own activities are represented in the program.

     Day 3 of the trial featured the sensational testimony of Anthony Capo, who admitted on the Witness Stand that in 1992 he and other members of the Family murdered the Acting Boss of the Family, "Johnny Boy" D�Amato, because of his gay activity. D�Amato allegedly had a wife and a girlfriend and it was the girlfriend who complained to Capo and others that "Johnny Boy" was frequenting sex clubs where he would sometimes have sex with other men. The sex clubs in question operate throughout the New York and New Jersey area, some of which are run by the Mob. Most of the clubs require admittance to couples only, offering a venue for mate swapping, and the rule also ensures that there will be an equal number of women as well as men in attendance.

     Capo told the jury that there was concern among the members of the Family that if the other Mafia families in the region found out about D�Amato�s gay behavior, it would cause them to lose respect for the Family. Killing a Mob Boss without permission from the "Commission" representing New York�s five Mafia families is, however, against Mafia protocol, so Capo claimed the members of the murder conspiracy agreed to quietly accomplish the murder without permission and without acknowledging responsibility. Capo alleged that Consigliere Stefano Vitabile approved of the hit. The murder was carried out, according to Capo, when he and an associate picked up D�Amato at his girlfriend�s house in Brooklyn. The New Jersey Mob Boss then climbed into the back of the car and Capo turned from the front and shot him several times with his gun.

     Capo�s story is similar to a plot line in the first season of THE SOPRANOS. That story line involved Tony Soprano investigating the private practices of his uncle who was Acting Boss of the Family. When Tony learned that the Acting Boss was performing a sex act on his girlfriend that Tony regarded as �unmanly,� Tony used that information in a treacherous power play against his uncle and his own mother.

     Sex scandals and the Mafia have a tradition going back many decades. In the 1950s FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover stunned law enforcement nationwide with his public pronouncements that there was no such thing as organized crime in the United States. It is now accepted as fact that Hoover was a homosexual who was blackmailed by the Mafia through the possession of secretly taken photographs of Hoover and his lover Clyde Tolson, the second-in-command at the FBI. Hoover and Tolson are buried together in our nation�s oldest national cemetery, the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D. C.

     In recent years, information has come to light regarding Hoover and his associations with many members of the Mafia. One of the more interesting stories has been that of Greg Scarpa, a hitman for the Colombo Mafia Family who died of AIDS in 1994. It is now known that Hoover recruited Scarpa as an Informant in 1961. In 1964 Hoover sent Scarpa to Mississippi, where he placed the barrel of an FBI agent�s revolver into the mouth of a member of the Ku Klux Klan, threatening to blow the man�s brains out if he did not reveal the location of the bodies of three missing civil rights activists. Scarpa was rewarded for solving this crime by literally been given a license to commit any crime with impunity, which he did for decades from his Bensonhurst headquarters which he named the "Wimpy Boys Social Club."

     The New York Times would later report that "from 1950 to1985 Scarpa was arrested 10 times on charges like carrying an unlicensed gun, assault, fencing hijacked liquor, heading bookmaking and loan sharking rings and trying to bribe police officers. His scrapes with the law included charges in 1974 that he was a major conspirator in the theft of $4 million in stocks and bonds and in 1985 that he was behind a plot to counterfeit credit cards." The result of all of this was that Scarpa spent a total of 30 days in jail.

     Scarpa�s protected status also allowed him to get away with several murders and attempted murders until he was finally arrested for his role in the bloody Colombo Family War of the early 1990s that left at least 11 people dead. By the time of his arrest, Scarpa was already dying of AIDS which he claimed to have contracted from a blood transfusion. Evidence of his bi-sexual activity, however, which has come to light in recent years, challenges Scarpa�s claim as to how he acquired the deadly disease.

     In the mid 1990s SPY Magazine devoted a story to the subject of homosexuals within the Mafia, which named several examples from recent years. Also during this time associates of convicted Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti investigated reports that former Underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano was both gay and had also committed more than the 19 murders he confessed to when he agreed to testify against Gotti. Gravano�s sexual appetite was said to have been fueled by his abuse of anabolic steroids, powerful muscle-building drugs that induce side effects of violent behavior as well as an increase in sexual libido. When Gravano was arrested for his role in selling drugs to kids in Arizona, anabolic steroids were among the illegal items found in his possession. Gravano�s recent arrest for his role in the murder of a New York City police officer, a crime he concealed for many years from the authorities, gives credence to the allegations made for many years regarding his private sexual behavior.

     In 2000 Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett created a sensation when he published a biography of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, which included details as to relatives of the Mayor whom were members of the Mafia. Among those was Giuliani�s cousin Lewis D�Avanzo, a gay mobster who was shot dead in a confrontation with the FBI. In 2001, D�Avanzo�s son Lee, the head of a gang calling themselves the "New Springville Boys," was indicted along with several associates, including "Fat Joe" Gambino, for carrying out drug deals and bank robberies. The New York Daily News reported that Lee D�Avanzo was romantically linked to the daughter of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, who, along with her brother, pleaded guilty to their role in the operation set up by their father that peddled drugs to kids.

...To be continued

Related stories:

The Agony of Ecstasy: The Fall of Sammy Gravano and Peter Gatien

MOB WAR! Murder, Deception, and Intrigue Inside New York�s Colombo Mafia Family

J. R. de Szigethy
New York


James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at

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