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Twilight of the wiseguys (continued)


When Patriarca died of a heart attack in 1984 at age 76, it marked not just the end of an era of mob rule, but the beginning of the end of the New England family that carried his name. The person most responsible for the collapse, some law enforcement officials say, was none other than Patriarca’s son, Raymond, whose nickname is "Junior."

Many mob observers, and mobsters themselves, according to law enforcement sources, questioned the ability of "Junior" to run the illegal empire built by his father. "He couldn’t run a Brownie troop," quipped Vespia at the time of Junior’s racketeering trial in the early ’90s. Junior’s tenure was rocky at best. In a brazen move, two of his own capos once went to New York without his knowledge and sought permission to "whack" him from representatives of John Gotti. Although the request was denied, Junior knew he was in trouble. But his biggest mistake came on October 29, 1989, at a house in Medford, Massachusetts. That’s where he held a Mafia induction ceremony to bolster his ranks and offer an olive branch to various factions of the Boston mob that weren’t pleased with his position as boss. There was only one problem — an FBI bug.

The FBI, acting on information from an informant inside the Patriarca family, recorded for the first time the secret ceremony that transformed street hoodlums into "made" members of the organization. With the exposure of saint cards and secret oaths, Junior brought embarrassment to the Mafia. He was convicted on numerous racketeering charges and spent nearly seven years in prison. There was much speculation about the possibility of the younger Patriarca getting "whacked" when he returned to Rhode Island. But he’s kept a low profile, law enforcement sources say, and he’s now partners with his wife, Barbara, in five different companies dealing in land development and real estate, according to records at the secretary of state’s office. The mob associate who spoke with me for this article says jokingly of Junior, "You could win a decision over him [in a family dispute]."

With Junior out of the picture, there was no clear leader for New England’s crime family. "Baby Shacks" Manocchio, it was said by sources at the time, really didn’t want the responsibility of the job, so Frank "Cadillac Frank" Salemme of Boston took control of the faction to the north. But the FBI crackdown on the local Mafia continued, and Salemme and many of his associates, along with Rhode Island members of the family, were soon behind bars. The disorganized family continued to make illegal money, though. O’Donnell, the state police captain who infiltrated the Patriarca family for six years, befriended mobsters while he was "serving" a sentence at the Adult Correctional Institutions. O’Donnell’s work resulted in hundreds of arrests and thick files of intelligence on the workings of the mob. Asked to compare current mobsters with the ones he met while undercover, the detective offers a chilling insight.

"They’re sneakier and more slipperier about the crimes they commit," he says with a grin. "They’re more covert today than the way they were back then." With the advent of sophisticated bugging devices, undercover and surveillance cameras, and "made" guys becoming informants at a dizzying pace, Mafia members take great pains to not be seen in public together, for fear of law enforcement drawing connections. Years ago, it was common to see high-ranking members of the Patriarca family meeting on a street corner near Atwells Avenue, settling disputes or planning the next caper.

Some elements of the mob myth endure, however. The mobsters in the movies and on television shows like The Sopranos drive luxury cars, wear handmade $2000 Italian suits, and live in mansions among wealthy neighbors. The late Raymond L.S. Patriarca drove a used Cadillac, and lived a low-key life, however, living first in an unassuming Lancaster Street house in a middle-class Providence neighborhood, and later in Johnston, in a ranch house owned by a sister.

The real mobsters this reporter has observed in Rhode Island over the years are definitely lacking in sartorial splendor. Patriarca’s regular wardrobe consisted of a worn cardigan sweater, baggy wrinkled pants, black shoes and white socks. Alfred "Chippy" Scivola, who is about the size of a Sumo wrestler, looks comfortable with shirttails hanging out of his pants with an open collar shirt. And then there are the ever-popular work-out suits worn by gangsters and seen in so many of those memorable "perp walks" for the cameras.

NATIONALLY, THE CRACKDOWN on La Cosa Nostra continues. A document obtained from a federal law enforcement agency by the Phoenix lends some insight into efforts to keep mobsters on the run.

"There are more than two dozen La Cosa Nostra families in the United States today," the document states. It recommends that law enforcement agencies should use such tools as asset forfeiture and DNA evidence in organized crime investigations. Previous high-profile investigations have netted major convictions of Mafia dons, the most famous being John "Dapper Don" Gotti of New York, who died in prison last year. According to the federal document and a law enforcement source familiar with New York’s five families, mob families are now involved with Asian gangs, Internet gambling, and stock market fraud, along with the traditional staples of illegal mob money — extortion, prostitution and labor racketeering. And, one source tells the Phoenix, contemporary Mafia leaders deal heavily in drugs with Colombians and other cartels, something that old-school mobsters like the late Raymond L.S. Patriarca supposedly didn’t believe in.

Law enforcement officials across the country are now focusing their attention on dozens of other ethnic organized crime cartels. One of the most prominent is the Russian Mafia. Although this ruthless group hasn’t made its way into Rhode Island, according to law enforcement officials, it has become a nemesis in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, according to Walter Zalisko, the founder of PMC International, a police management consulting firm in Clarksburg, New Jersey. In a comprehensive report compiled earlier this year, Zalisko found that Russian Mafia families operating in the United States and countries such as Poland, Austria, Israel, and Canada have "established themselves as a dominant criminal force."

Zalisko’s investigation reveals that along with such traditional mob activities as bookmaking, loan-sharking, drug dealing and extortion, the Russian organized crime cartels deal heavily in sexual slavery of women and children. "Prostitution and the trafficking in human beings has become a $6 billion a year business of choice for Russian organized crime," according to the report. In the New York/New Jersey area, Zalisko says, the Russian mob is "forced" to pay a "tax" to the Italian mob on profits made from illegal activity.

In Providence and other New England cities, Asian and Hispanic gangs are a concern. These loosely organized groups are primarily made up of young men and some women, according to Lieutenant Michael Wheeler, who heads the Providence Police Department’s gang squad. "The gangs here pattern themselves after the infamous Crips and Bloods gangs of LA," Wheeler says, "but they’re not official chapters and they are no way as violent as their California counterparts." Wheeler and Sergeant Oscar Perez comprise the two-man squad, trying to keep a tight lid on gang violence through an intervention program that seems effective. The two officers, who often spend their off-hours bringing gang members to job interviews, or attending weddings, birthday parties, and funerals, say idle time and petty jealously among the various gangs are the biggest problems they face.

"If a gang member is disrespected by a rival gang or gang member, violence can occur," Wheeler says. Disrespect can be triggered by something as trivial as one gang member paying an unannounced visit to another gang’s territory. The Providence gangs communicate their displeasure with rivals through graffiti. Wheeler and Perez say they can learn of a gang’s violent intentions by reading the graffiti and observing a slash mark though one gang’s name, indicating that another gang may be planning an attack.

Meanwhile, the Patriarca crime family, although reduced in size, continues its illegal activity. Down from a membership of about 22 "made" members during the heyday of Raymond L.S. Patriarca, the Providence mob is now said to have 12 reputed players, including, according to the Providence police’s Verdi and a longtime mob associate: Manocchio, Frank "Bobo" Marrapese, 60 (in prison); Robert "Bobby" Deluca, 58 (in prison); Eddie Lato, 56 (in prison); Rudolph Sciarra, 79; Anthony "The Saint" St. Laurent, 62 (in prison); Patty Galea, 60; Vito Deluca, 59; Alfred "Chippy" Scivola, 62; Matthew Gugliemetti, 55; William "Blackjack" Delsanto, 60, and Raymond J. "Junior" Patriarca, 58. Despite the advancing age of these individuals, law enforcement officials don’t anticipate the disappearance of organized crime. As Vespia says, "There will always be somebody who needs $500, or make a bet, or buy a hot suit."

What’s left of the Patriarca family still deals mostly in the traditional Mafia illegal money-making crimes, sources say. But the mob associate says that under Manacchio’s rule, it’s mostly bookmaking. "He’s not a greedy guy," the associate says, adding that there’s some drug dealing.

In Rhode Island, the Patriarca crime family remains part of the state’s mythology. The real namesake was somewhat of a larger-than-life figure whose story will be repeated for generations And for all the challenges faced by today’s wiseguys, La Costa Nostra’s solemn oath of omerta remains firmly in place — at least when it came to members of the local faction declining to comment for this article.

Jim Taricani can be reached at jim.taricani@nbc.com

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Issue Date: October 31 - November 6, 2003
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