Feature Articles

May 2007

Last Days of the Gotti Gang

Part Fourteen: Heroin Chic

By J. R. de Szigethy

     New Yorkers take pride in their self-perception of being �worldly� and �sophisticated� but when it comes to the subject of the drug abuse, particularly that of heroin, both regular New Yorkers and many members of the Media who supposedly keep them informed of the issues of the day are grossly misinformed.During the last several decades, the Medical literature of health professionals in the United States have compiled numerous studies of the effects of various drugs on humans, and the overwhelming consensus of such research is that heroin is one of the most dangerous recreational drugs in American society, in terms of both it�s power of addiction and the violent and psychotic behavior it�s abusers inflict upon others.� Despite this, many members of the Media to this day negate or ignore the role of heroin in the commission of violent crimes by it�s abusers.

     Heroin, which first gained a foothold in American subcultures with the �Flower Children� of the 1960s, made a comeback as a recreational drug of choice during the mid 1990s, becoming fashionable among the �Fashionistas� of the Fashion industry of Manhattan, in which drug-influenced, emaciated models of both sexes projected the image of what was termed �Heroin Chic.� The �down side� to this use of heroin was a series of graphic crimes committed by heroin users in New York which betrayed the true effect of this drug upon it�s users.

     Two horrific murders within months of each other in the mid 1990s offered a window upon the world of heroin users and the threat the drug poses to Americans. On November 22, 1995, 6-year-old Elisa Izquierdo was brutally beaten to death in New York by her mother, a heroin addict.The violence by which this child was murdered was typical of those under the influence of heroin; according to the report in TIME Magazine, Elisa�s mother admitted to forcing her daughter to eat her own feces and using her head to mop the floor, this before slamming her daughter�s head against a cement wall, the final act that resulted in the child�s horrific death. There was also physical evidence of sexual abuse of the child.

     The murder of Elisa was a national sensation, and politicians, most notably then-Governor George Pataki, reacted by demanding changes in laws regarding child protective agencies, as if they, through lack of legislation or neglect or incompetence, were somehow responsible for the murder of Elisa. The role of heroin in the brutal murder of young Elisa was all but ignored by the Media and the public figures who interjected themselves into the case. In February, 1996, Governor Pataki signed into law �Elisa�s Law,� legislation which promised to prevent what happened to Elisa Izquierdo from happening to another innocent child.

     The second heroin-induced murder of that time to gain wide attention was that of Angel Melendez, a drug dealer from Colombia who was murdered in 1996 by a �ClubKid� known by his moniker �Freeze,� and his accomplice Michael Alig, a party promoter for nightclub magnate Peter Gatien. The violence by which Angel was murdered was typical of those under the influence of heroin; in Angel�s case his head was bashed open with a hammer, his mouth was sealed with duct tape, and he was then injected with Drano.

     Only after the stench of Angel�s rotting corpse became too unbearable after a week of decomposition did his murderers then dismember Angel�s body and discard his body parts in the Hudson River. Homicide Detectives who solved the grisly murder were confronted with evidence that parts of Melendez� body had been cannibalized.

     This horrific murder would become the subject of a motion picture, �Party Monster,� starring Macaulay Culkin in the role of the affable party promoter Michael Alig. Peter Gatien was portrayed in the movie by Dylan McDermott, the former star of the hit television show �The Practice.� Before he was deported to his native Canada for income tax evasion, Peter Gatien produced a motion picture written by his Limelight nightclub Doorman Chazz Palminteri, entitled �A Bronx Tale.�The movie featured Robert De Niro, who played the father of a young man growing up in the Bronx, played by actor Lillo Brancato, Jr., who was warned by his father (De Niro) not to fall into the influence of the Mafia drug dealers who ruled the streets.

     Apparently, that Thespian experience did not register with young Brancato, who was arrested for heroin possession in June, 2005 at age 29. Brancato had also been exposed to the dangers of drug abuse through the plot lines of the HBO series �The Sopranos,� upon which he appeared for several episodes during the second season.

     On December 10, 2005, Brancato and his 48-year-old pal Steven Armento were out committing burglaries to support their drug habit when they encountered a New York City Police Officer, Daniel Enchautegui, 28 years of age. In the gunfight that followed Detective Enchautegui fired off several shots from his service revolver, striking both Brancato and Armento, before succumbing to his bullet wounds. Brancato and Armento have both pleaded Not Guilty.

     The shooting death of Detective Enchautegui sparked an outrage among members of New York City�s law enforcement community, who noted that had Brancato been more severely punished for his prior heroin bust, he likely would not have been available on the streets of New York a few months later to have an opportunity to participate in the events that led to the murder of Officer Enchautegui. New York State has some of the toughest drug laws in America, the �Rockefeller Drug Laws� enacted in 1973 by then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, which impose some of the harshest prison terms nationwide for the possession of �small� amounts of narcotics. Critics argue that the application of the Rockefeller Drug legislation has been selective, targeting African-American and Hispanic drug offenders.

     Such existing statutes could have been invoked in 1995 to separate Elisa Izquierdo from her mother, as well as separate 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown from her heroin-addicted parents, �Elisa�s Law� notwithstanding. Sadly, despite the hand-wrenching by politicians over the murder of Elisa Izquierdo, a decade later, nothing had changed in New York City. Nixzmary Brown was allegedly brutally tortured and sexually abused over a period of at least 2 years by her drug-addicted mother and step-father. The violence by which this child was murdered is typical of those under the influence of heroin; in young Nixzmary�s case her step-father is charged with slamming her head against the bathtub of their apartment while dousing her in cold water. According to Media reports, Nixzmary weighed only 36 pounds at the time of her murder in January, 2006, and her body exhibited evidence of starvation and malnutrition, as well as �ligature marks� on her ankles, which revealed how she had been tied to a chair on several occasions by rope and bungee chords. Almost predictably, in the wake of this murder, a New York politician introduced a Bill entitled �Nixzmary�s Law,� which, like the previous �Elisa�s Law,� would supposedly prevent such further cases of child abuse by heroin addicts.

     Such legislation, even if it is effective, was too late to save the life of 2-year-old Sherlyn Polonia, who died in March, 2006 after she ingested heroin inside the New York apartment of her mother.

     While the cases cited above are extreme and received substantial publicity, many other instances of the violent, psychotic, and dangerous behavior of heroin abusers have been made public in New York City during the past 2 decades. Thus, it was against this backdrop of such instances that New Yorkers were this year treated to the story of two young people who led a violent life and met a violent death, Thomas Uva and his wife Rosemarie. Back in the early 1990s, the Uvas began a series of brazen robberies at gunpoint of �social clubs� owned by two New York Mafia families. �Social clubs� are places of business where Mafia members hang out, to have drinks, enjoy fine food, gamble, and, in the case of former FBI Informant/Mafia hitman Greg Scarpa, murder young women. It goes without saying that many of the Mafia thugs that hang out at such clubs are likely to be armed; all the more evidence of the outrageous behavior of Thomas Uva, who would burst into social clubs and rob all such inhabitants of their cash and jewelry.

     And, to add insult to injury, Uva would demand that the Mafia guys drop their pants while he searched them for hidden goods or weapons. Understandably, none of these robberies were reported to the local police department. Instead, the Mafia thugs concocted a plan to identify and eliminate the couple who robbed and disrespected them.

     One such was Gambino Family capo �Skinny Dom� Pizzonia, who was indicted in 2005 for his alleged role in the murders of the Uvas, who had twice robbed at gunpoint his social club. However, the timing of the indictment was suspect, coming just 2 days after Federal Prosecutors had failed to obtain a conviction against John "Junior" Gotti on charges including the 1992 shooting of talk show host Curtis Sliwa. At the Pizzonia trial, Federal Prosecutors in Brooklyn told the jury that John �Junior� Gotti, who was not indicted along with Pizzonia, had ordered the murders as the then-acting Godfather of the Gambino Family. Testifying to this allegation was �Mikey Scars� DiLeonardo, the one-time friend of Junior Gotti who was inducted along with Junior and Pizzonia into the Mafia during a secret blood ritual held on Christmas Eve, 1988. �Mikey Scars,� however, has credibility problems, as evidenced by the fact that his testimony in three successive trials in Manhattan Federal Court failed to procure the desired convictions against Junior Gotti.

     In the Pizzonia trial, jurors failed to convict Pizzonia on charges he was the hitman in the Uva murders, who were gunned down on Christmas Eve, 1992, but convicted him on the conspiracy charge, which carries a potential prison term of 20 years. Pizzonia was also acquitted along with co-Defendant �Freddy Hot� DiCongilio of the 1988 murder of Frank �Geeky� Boccia.


     Despite the numerous cases of violent, bizarre, and deadly behavior on the part of drug addicts, some members of the Media in New York celebrated the life - and deaths - of Thomas and Rosemarie Uva as a modern-day �Bonnie and Clyde,� the unlikely pair of bank robbers from the 1930s depicted in the infamous motion picture of the same name that premiered in the late 1960s. That motion picture, along with succeeding films such as the �Godfather� trilogy, has been condemned by various individuals and organizations for Romanticizing and glamorizing those criminals who prey upon America�s most vulnerable citizens, notably young people.

     Thomas Uva was one of those who fell for the glamour of organized crime, according to Court testimony, taking days off from his day job to offer moral support to Gambino Godfather John Gotti during his numerous trials. In regards to Thomas Uva, the simple truth about this young man was far from glamorous nor noble, nor is it a story that should be enshrined by the Cinema; Thomas Uva was a drug addict, and his addiction drove him to commit the brazen and suicidal robberies of Mafia social clubs, acts which signed his own Death Warrant. If, in fact, those Mafia families were the very ones trafficking the drugs that so violently raged through young Uva�s veins, then there is an Ironic message to be learned from the life of a man who dared to rob the Mafia.

Related Features by this author:

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Thirteen: Partial Victory for Gotti and Sliwa

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Seven: �Plan B� to �Get Gotti�

The Agony Of Ecstasy:
The Fall Of Sammy Gravano And Peter Gatien


James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:

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