A Mafia Informer Helps Investigators Charge 45 Suspects




April 26, 2001


A Mafia turncoat who secretly recorded thousands of hours of gangland conversations helped the authorities file charges yesterday against 45 men accused of committing a smorgasbord of savage and small-time mob crimes, from murder to stock fraud to shaking down two competing delicatessens.


The arrests occurred before daylight as more than 300 federal agents and police officers swept through New York, New Jersey and Miami. The three-year investigation was one of the longest and most extensive undercover mob inquiries in a decade, the authorities said. Its main target was the secretive Genovese family, the largest Mafia group in New York City, which the government called the "Rolls-Royce of organized crime."


The arraignment section of Federal District Court in Brooklyn was packed with federal agents in dark blue nylon jackets stenciled with the yellow letters F.B.I. The agents drew cool stares from the elderly men in velour track suits who sat outside the arraignment court or spoke with their lawyers, some of whom had been awakened at 5:30 a.m. by panicked calls.


At a news conference across the street, federal officials released a three-inch stack of paperwork, including indictments, with details on the men arrested in the case. While prosecutors accused 32 of being connected to the Genovese family, not all had traditional Mafia backgrounds. Among them were two retired police officers, a certified public accountant, a lawyer and a Hasidic man accused of joining in a Brooklyn labor bribery scheme.


Despite the voluminous court filings, there was little information about the informer in the case. Federal prosecutors said only that he was a well-placed Genovese associate who had developed the trust of the men he was betraying to the point where they freely discussed their crimes.


In one recorded conversation, court papers show, a defendant uttered this Mafia truism: "Hurting people. That's what this is about. If you're not capable of doing that, you might as well stay at home."


In another, a suspect in the case explained the chain of command for gangland murders: "No matter who you are killing, it's from the boss."


The authorities said that among the Genovese members taken into custody were Frank Serpico, a former acting boss (and no relation to the whistle-blowing police officer in the famous 1970's corruption case); Alan Longo and Rosario Gangi, two captains; and Salvatore Aparo and Peter DiChiara, two acting captains.


The remaining defendants were described as members or associates of New York's four other crime families — the Bonannos, the Colombos, the Gambinos and the Lucheses.


"These arrests open a window into the shadow economy of the mob," said Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn. "They have cracked down on a criminal industry that operated from Little Italy to Miami to offshore accounts in the Bahamas."


A single sentence from the statement released by Ms. Lynch captured the sweeping nature of the accusations: "The crimes discussed, planned and carried out by the defendants included murder, loan sharking, illegal gambling, extortion of businesses, drug trafficking, bank robberies, firearms possession, mail fraud, wire fraud, stock fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and labor bribery."


The core group of defendants is an eclectic Genovese crew led by Mr. Aparo, 72, and Mr. DiChiara, 58, the government said. The crew included Michael Norrito, a retired police detective who specialized in collecting debts, and Joseph Savarese Sr., a retired patrolman accused of helping to run a Lower Manhattan gambling den, according to court papers. Another member of the crew, the government said, was an accountant named Peter Tarangelo, known as the tax doctor, who was an expert on hiding money in overseas accounts.


The Hasidic man, Abe Weider, was charged with paying bribes to a building workers' union so that cheaper, mob-connected maintenance men could work in a Brooklyn apartment complex he owned without complaints from the union.


There were so many defendants that the government included thumbnail biographies of many in its court filings. Mr. Aparo, for instance, was described as a man who "constantly plans obstruction of justice, is armed with automatic weapons and stands ready to order murder." And his son, Vincent, 50, "is a prolific loan shark who quickly assaults victims who are unable to pay, and who stockpiles firearms to be used for organized crime," the papers said.


The indictments were a lightning blow to the Genovese family, which until now seemed to have escaped a recent spate of Brooklyn mob prosecutions. The authorities said the new case was the most substantial infiltration of the family since Peter Savino, another Genovese turncoat, worked undercover a decade ago, recording conversations that eventually led to the 1997 conviction of Vincent Gigante, the family's boss.


Prosecutors say that while Mr. Gigante, known as Chin, still runs the clan from prison, the family has a small committee of ranking members that oversees day-to-day operations. With at least 250 made members, it is the city's largest mob family, the authorities said. It stands to reason, then, that the crimes it is accused of committing are myriad, from the brutal to the mundane.


The indictments, for instance, charge that three men helped plan the 1996 murder of John Borelli, a Gambino family associate who was gunned down in his car on a street in Queens. But they also charge five other men with clogging city sewers with sand and concrete, then calling in a mob connected contractor to make emergency repairs.


Then there was the accusation that the Genovese family extorted $25,000 a year from a deli in Queens. "This payment was in return for providing protection to Gourmet Boutique from a rival business known as John's Gourmet Salads," court papers said, somewhat cryptically. "John's Gourmet Salads, in turn, enlisted members and associates of the Colombo family to protect it from Gourmet Boutique."


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