East Coast mob sweep is straight out of a Scorsese movie

Francesco Depergola, 60, is arrested in Massachusetts.
(Greg Saulmon / Associated Press)

Filled with descriptions of pipe attacks and old-fashioned “whackings,” a federal indictment unveiled Thursday accused 46 reputed mobsters of a conspiracy that included loan-sharking, extortion, gun-running and violent acts of retribution.

“You get Buddy and let Buddy go there and choke him, choke him,” one alleged Genovese crime family “capo” was quoted as saying on a wiretap – telling his crew how to deal with an associate who refused to hand over illegal gambling winnings.

“And tell him, ‘Listen to me … next time I’m not gonna stop choking … I’m gonna kill you,’ ” he said on the wiretap.

Adding to the colorful depiction of this alleged organized crime operation were the nicknames of the defendants – among them John “Tugboat” Tognino, Anthony “Tony the Cripple” and Nicholas “Nicky the Wig” Vuolo – any of which could have been lifted straight from a Martin Scorsese movie.


Threatening to assault, maim and kill people who get in the way of their criminal schemes remains the go-to play in the mob’s playbook

U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara

But U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara of New York said investigators had uncovered a very real criminal enterprise that operated up and down the East Coast, including in Little Italy in the Bronx, Philadelphia, Massachusetts and Florida.

He said the indictment showed that the country’s organized crime families, many of whose leaders were imprisoned after aggressive racketeering prosecutions in the 1980s and 1990s, continued to wield power.

“Today’s charges against 46 men, including powerful leaders, members and associates of five different La Cosa Nostra families, demonstrate that the mob remains a scourge on this city and around the country,” Bharara said.


The indictment said the defendants – all alleged members of the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonanno and Philadelphia organized crime families – had engaged in wide-ranging criminal activity.

“From loan-sharking and illegal gambling, to credit card and healthcare fraud, and even firearms trafficking, today’s mafia is fully diversified in its boundless search for illegal profits,” Bharara said. “And as alleged, threatening to assault, maim and kill people who get in the way of their criminal schemes remains the go-to play in the mob’s playbook.”

One particularly brutal attack described in the indictment happened in 2011, allegedly ordered by Pasquale “Patsy” Parrello, a reputed Genovese family capo who ran a crew out of a restaurant in the Bronx called Pasquale’s Rigoletto.

After women in the neighborhood complained that a panhandler had bothered them in a parking lot near the restaurant, Parrello allegedly ordered his associates to “break” the man’s knees.


Gerald Daniele, 51, of Longmeadow, Mass., is in custody.
Gerald Daniele, 51, of Longmeadow, Mass., is in custody.
(Greg Saulmon / Associated Press )

According to the indictment, one of the men who allegedly carried out the beating, Ronald “The Beast” Mastrovincenzo, was later recorded on a wiretap saying: “[R]emember the old days in the neighborhood when we used to play baseball? … A ballgame like that was done.”

Prosecutors said evidence in the case came from thousands of hours of secretly recorded conversations made by a cooperating witness, who was not identified, and an undercover FBI agent.

According to the indictment, the cooperating witness worked with Parrello and the two other alleged ringleaders of the criminal conspiracy: Joseph “Joey” Merlino, reputed boss of Philadelphia’s crime family; and Eugene “Rooster” O’Nofrio, another reputed Genovese capo who allegedly ran crews in Manhattan and Springfield, Mass.


The charges allege that the leaders of the various crime families were in touch and planned crimes together, meeting at restaurants and highway rest stops and speaking in code to avoid detection.

In another crime described in the indictment, members of Parrello’s crew allegedly agreed to assault a man who had stabbed one of their associates, Anthony “Muscles” Vazzano, during a bar fight in the Bronx on Jan. 22, 2013.

One of the associates was recorded on a wiretap saying he would “whack” the man, while Parrello was allegedly recorded saying, “keep the pipes handy and pipe him, pipe him, over here [gesturing to the knees], not on his head.”

The defendants are charged with racketeering conspiracy, arson, illegal trafficking in firearms, and conspiracy to commit assault in aid of racketeering. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.


Haller is a special correspondent.


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