Feature Articles

November 20, 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

Philadelphia: Friends of alleged Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino are inviting his supporters to an Oldies Night benefit at a local restaurant next week to raise money for Merlino's defense fund.

     According to the police, every book maker and drug dealer in the city of Brotherly Love has been "invited" to attend.

     Merlino, 38, and eight co-defendants are behind bars, awaiting trial in a federal racketeering case accusing them of murder, drug trafficking, extortion and other offenses.

     Newspapers allege that the chief ticket-seller as Merlino loyalist Roger Vella, 29, a convicted drug dealer who once said he would rather be in jail with Merlino than on the outside.

     When Merlono was arrested on drug charges last year, he had more than $10,000 in his pocket. He claimed that neither the money nor the pants belonged to him.

     The Internal Revenue Service has lodged four liens totaling more than $250,000 against him, and the state has filed a tax lien, too.

Boston: City police combed through the sand of a city beach for a second day after finding human bones in a suspected mob burial site.      The remains of one person were found in the course of a federal investigation into a gang once headed by fugitive James ``Whitey'' Bulger and Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi.

     Bulger has been a fugitive since 1995 and Flemmi has been in prison awaiting trial on a number of charges.

     Boston newspapers, citing anonymous sources, said police were searching for one or more victims of the gang after being tipped off by a former Bulger lieutenant turned government informant. The informant, Kevin Weeks, led police earlier this year to three bodies he said belonged to victims of the gang.

New York: The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor announced that Nicholas Romano, 45, of Warren, New Jersey and Carl Bilancione, 65, of Hightstown, New Jersey pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Katharine S. Hayden in Newark to a one-count Information charging them with conspiracy to steal from a motortruck, goods which were part of an interstate shipment of property.

     Romano is a longshoreman and a union shop steward and the Secretary Treasurer of ILA Local 1588 and Bilancione is a longshoreman and a foreman. Both are registered by the Commission and are employed at Global Terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey.

     In 1998, the Commission received 43 anonymous letters and other information concerning corrupt activities committed by Romano, Bilancione and others. Commission detectives, together with case agent Dennis J. Bolles of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and agents of the United States Customs Service, conducted an extensive two year investigation concerning this information. Evidence was developed which implicated Romano and Bilancione in the June 1995 theft of 2 containers of perfume valued at $2 million from Global Terminal. Both Romano and Bilancione are associates of the Genovese Organized Crime Family.

Japan: The number of crimes committed by foreigners in Japan in the first half of 2000 dropped slightly from a year earlier, but thefts and burglaries are on the rise, according to a survey by the National Police Agency.

     The survey stated that 5,826 foreigners were arrested during the period for 14,963 suspected violations of the Criminal Code and laws such as the immigration and refugees law and the anti-drug law.

     The statistics reflect an increase in illegal activities by foreign organized crime syndicates, the NPA said.

Washington: Lawmakers listened intently Wednesday as secretly recorded mobsters described bribing brokers as part of a scheme to pump up the price of a stock.

     The tapes, filled with profanity, were played for members of a House subcommittee following up on FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations of mob influence on Wall Street.

     Thomas Fuentes, chief of the FBI's organized crime section, said the mob looks for easy, fast profits, and that makes Wall Street inviting prey.

     During the past eight years, he said, organized crime has gone from shaking down indebted stockbrokers to larger schemes involving stock price manipulation, often by paying brokers to push worthless stocks on unsuspecting customers.

     Mob stockholders then sell their holdings at inflated prices, the sales trigger a decline in the stock price and the legitimate buyers are left with stock worth much less than the amount they invested.

     Richard Walker, director of enforcement for the SEC, told lawmakers there have been a variety of mob schemes to make an illegal killing in the stock market, but ``the commission believes such activity to be limited and not a threat to the overall integrity of our nation's securities markets.''

     A federal investigation earlier this year led to the indictment of 120 people and the arrest of suspects in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Illinois, Utah and California.

     The highlight of the hearing was the wiretapped conversations from the 1997 investigation of manipulation of the price of stock in HealthTech International.

     The company's chief executive officer, Gordon Hall, gave stock to organized crime figures, who then bribed brokers to find enough buyers for the stock price to rise. Hall later was found guilty of racketeering.

     Frank Lino, alleged to be a captain in the Bonanno crime family; Rosario Gangi, alleged captain in the Genovese crime family; and Eugene Lombardo, an alleged Bonanno soldier, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

     The secretly recorded conversations about that conspiracy at one point forced Oxley to burrow his face in a jacket sleeve, quashing his giggle after hearing an agitated voice worry aloud about using the telephone to talk about illegal dealings.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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