New York gangster John Bologna was FBI informant for nearly two decades in midst of the Al Bruno murder plot

Shown here in a 2002 surveillance photo in Springfield are John Bologna, left, who police say is a "made soldier" from the New York Genovese crime family, and the late Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno.

Shown here in a 2002 surveillance photo in Springfield are John Bologna, left, who police say is a “made soldier” from the New York Genovese crime family, and the late Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno.

SPRINGFIELD – Both castigating and in defense of New York gangster John Bologna, an admitted co-conspirator in the 2003 mob murder of Adolfo Bruno, federal prosecutors have offered a conflicted presentencing memo in advance of his sentencing.

The 34-page summary — filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where the case ultimately landed — offers a fascinating picture of a mobster whom investigators have previously gone to great lengths to protect.

Bologna is a Westchester, N.Y.-based wiseguy and onetime “right hand” of former Genovese mob boss Arthur “Artie” Nigro, according to court records. He is among eight gangsters in Western Massachusetts and New York convicted in connection with conspiring to kill Bruno, longtime boss of the crime family here.

Two trials in New York City in 2011 and 2012 featured a handful of “made men” from Greater Springfield who provided a rare, public and detailed glimpse of the inner workings of the Mafia.

Bologna is set to be sentenced on May 7 in federal court in Manhattan on charges of murder, extortion and racketeering conspiracies to which he pleaded guilty in late 2009. These include the Bruno murder plot.

05.22.1993 | Republican file photo | Springfield, MA, May 3, 1993, Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno (center) talks with attorneys in the hallway of the Hampden County Superior Court during a recess in his trial for attempted murder.

05.22.1993 | Republican file photo | Springfield, MA, May 3, 1993, Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno (center) talks with attorneys in the hallway of the Hampden County Superior Court during a recess in his trial for attempted murder.

According to testimony, Bruno was targeted as a weak link in a power struggle here as he fell out of favor with New York mob bosses. Bruno was gunned down by a paid hitman in the parking lot of an Italian social club in Springfield’s South End on Nov. 23, 2003. Investigators struggled to piece together a solid case for years, and now say Bologna was a reluctant, but critical, witness who helped put it all together.

Bologna, 71, never made it to the witness stand because by the government’s admission – they discovered he was at once an FBI informant, a liar, a bully, an instigator and murderer.

Court records submitted in advance of his sentencing document Bologna was an informant for 17 years while ascending through the ranks of first the Gambino, then the Genovese crime families. He ultimately landed in the latter’s inner circle. Bologna helped plot murders, orchestrated shakedowns and manipulated the entire crime landscape in Greater Springfield from 2001 to 2003, prosecutors say.

In short, he was not the most believable courtroom witness and a potential embarrassment for the FBI.

“Bologna would not present as a credible individual to a jury, given his history of duplicity and repeated withholding of information. Bologna would be easily led, through cross-examination, to say things that were inaccurate; and Bologna still may not be telling the whole truth as to things about which the Government does not know,” a prosecutor wrote in the sentencing memorandum.

Federal prosecutors routinely file so-called 5K1.1 motions in support of government witnesses who offer testimony against their former cohorts. Those motions generally persuade judges to mete out far lower sentences than those called for by federal guidelines.

Cases in point in the Bruno case: Frankie Roche, the shooter whose sentencing stakes plummeted from a possible death penalty to 14 years in prison after he testified at both New York trials; Felix Tranghese, who was sentenced to four years in prison as opposed to a life sentence for his testimony; and Anthony J. Arillotta, Bruno’s successor who spear-headed Bruno’s murder and a series of unsuccessful vendettas against other rivals. Aside from Bologna, Arillotta is the only informant left to be sentenced in the case but may get a single-digit sentence for a string of murder plots.

Because Bologna lied to investigators even after he signed a formal cooperation agreement in 2007, he will face his sentencing before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel with a somewhat tortured sentencing memo by the government. The memo notes that Bologna began loosely cooperating with the FBI in the 1990s and was classified as an informant, but became a “cooperating witness,” a separate classification, in 2007 when he was implicated in a sports-betting operation in New York.

According to the government’s memo, Bologna began his association with the Gambino family four decades ago.

“John Bologna was a long-time associate of the Gambino Organized Crime Family, who from the 1970s to the 1990s ran large-scale bookmaking operations and assisted in the Gambino Family’s corrupt control of the garbage industry throughout the 1990s,” the memo reads.

Bologna switched teams to align with Nigro and the Genovese family in 1999 but no further details about the defection are provided in the memo. Bologna was never “made” but became Nigro’s “right-hand-man” in overseeing rackets in New York and beyond until Nigro was jailed on extortion charges in 2006.

Nigro was “acting boss” of the powerful crime family and is now serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2011 in connection with the Bruno murder and other crimes. Also convicted in the same trial were brothers Fotios “Freddy” and Ty Geas, of West Springfield, and mob enforcers. Emilio Fusco, a made man from Longmeadow, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy in a separate trial in 2012. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison though he was acquitted of the murders of Bruno and low-level associate Gary Westerman.

In 2001, Bologna began shuttling back and forth between New York and Springfield to step up extortion efforts at Nigro’s behest. He became close with Arillotta, while the two swaggered around strip clubs and other businesses they identified as marks, the memo states. The move to edge out Bruno was born.

In previous interviews, Massachusetts state police said they approached the FBI in New York when Bologna was noted in surveillance efforts at the time. Bologna mysteriously and abruptly stopped coming to Springfield. State police said they suspected a leak, but Bologna’s status as an informant was not confirmed until years later. The U.S. attorney’s memo does not address that aspect of the case.

Arillotta, an ambitious gangster, assembled a crew that began asserting themselves through shake-downs, a takeover of an illegal slot machine business, and beat downs and murder plots against anyone who crossed their paths. Most of it took place at Nigro’s urging, with Bologna managing nearly every maneuver, according to court records.

“Although Bologna did not have a direct role in the planning of the (Bruno) murder or in giving the order itself, he knew full well that the order had been given. Indeed, on multiple occasions when Arillotta and Tranghese were slow to carry out Nigro’s order, Bologna told them to ‘do what they had been told to do’ in carrying out the murder,” the memo states.

After formally signing on with the FBI in 2007, Bologna recorded 100 conversations with his associates, according to court records. These included one with Arillotta in 2008. Arillotta was intensely under investigation for the Bruno murder after he was released from state prison on a loan-sharking conviction. Bologna was dispatched to draw incriminating statements from Arillotta about the murder. The effort fell flat. Arillotta did not take the bait, according to the court memorandum.

“In general, however, Bologna continually and dependably recorded conversations during this period,” prosecutors said, while adding that he sometimes resisted his FBI handlers’ instructions to meet with certain individuals.

When Bologna entered a nine-count guilty plea on charges brought in connection with the Bruno murder, he was allowed release with no bail, as he continued to cooperate. His deal only began to unravel in earnest when Arillotta was arrested in early 2010. Arillotta was convinced Bologna’s cooperation was enough to seal any number of life sentences against him even though the evidence, in truth, was spotty by trial standards.

Arillotta, on the other hand, was a dream witness for investigators. He shared every detail of his criminal history while Bologna was evasive and left out critical details of his own involvement in several schemes.

“In essence, Arillotta described Bologna as the instigator for a good deal of the tension that arose in Springfield prior to Bruno’s murder. As Arillotta described it, when Bologna started coming up to Springfield, it was as though dollar signs flashed before Bologna’s eyes and saw a city ripe for the taking. In addition, Arillotta explained that Bologna was always pitting mobsters against each other, and creating strife where none had previously existed,” the memo states.

Arillotta stunned investigators when he confessed involvement in the attempted murder of New York union boss Frank Dadabo in 2003. They had no idea it had been Arillotta and the Geas brothers who had shot Dadabo several times at Nigro’s behest, prosecutors wrote. Even Arillotta was confused during his early debriefings with federal investigators, because he assumed Bologna had already clued them in.

“I have no idea why I’m not already charged with this,” Arillotta said during one meeting, according to the memo.

But, Bologna had hedged and withheld information in many instances. He also neglected to tell investigators he supplied Arillotta with AK-47 weapons. He was warned multiple times by the government to “come clean,” the memo says. The government finally bailed out of its agreement with him in 2010.

“Bologna’s withholding of information was repeated, and it was significant. More to the point, given the seriousness of Bologna’s underlying conduct and the importance of his information in charging others with serious crimes, it was inexcusable,” the memo states.

The government did some hedging of its own, concluding that Bologna was both a villain and a savior for the case and expanding the investigation far beyond the early suspects.

Prosecutors calculate Bologna’s sentencing guidelines call for around 30 years in prison, although they concede they would support a sentence “somewhere below” given the “value of his cooperation.”

“For approximately ten years, beginning in 1996, Bologna led a double life, as a mobster committing crimes with the Genovese Family on the one hand and providing the FBI confidential source information about certain Gambino Family members and associates on the other,” the report says.

Prosecutors concluded that Bologna was a lost cause when he was considered a potential defense witness in the New York trials. They asked why he was unconcerned about Arillotta blowing the whistle on the Dadabo shooting and Bologna responded that he “thought more of the kid” and believed he would lie to save others in the Mafia.

“Even though Bologna had been through the cooperation process, he still somehow did not accept that he and others were truly obligated to tell the whole truth,” the memo concludes.

His lawyer, Andrew G. Patel, concedes Bologna never had the “come-to-Jesus” moment prosecutors require from a totally compliant cooperator. He also states in his own memo that his client is deaf in one ear, walks with a cane, as had been “passed from prosecutor to prosecutor” over his years of cooperation and never had the chance to develop a trusting relationship with any single investigator.



Urine-troubled mafia boss headed back to prison after meeting with fellow gangsters while on probation

John Palazzolo, 77, was being treated for a condition that rendered him unable to stop urinating, sources said, but that didn’t keep him from gallivanting with fellow Bonannos.

John Palazzolo, 77, was being treated for a condition that rendered him unable to stop urinating, sources said, but that didn’t keep him from gallivanting with fellow Bonannos.

He’s a real a pee brain.

An ailing Bonanno capo was sentenced Tuesday to a year and a day in prison for violating his supervised release by meeting with fellow gangsters after he underwent surgery to repair his plumbing.

John Palazzolo, 77, was being treated for a condition that rendered him unable to stop urinating, sources said, but that didn’t keep him from gallivanting with fellow Bonannos.

“It’s rather astonishing that a person in your medical condition would be engaging in meetings with persons who may be involved in organized crime activities,” Judge Nicholas Garaufis lectured in Brooklyn Federal Court.

“I’m astonished that you would put those interests ahead of your health,” Garaufis added.

Palazzolo walked gingerly in the courtroom and requested a private conference at sidebar with the judge to explain his medical condition. At one point he gestured like he wanted to show the judge something, and Garaufis appeared to tell him that was not necessary.

“I have absolutely no comment on his medical condition,” defense lawyer Flora Edwards told the Daily News later.

Palazzolo was arrested last March for violating the condition of his supervised release, which prohibits him from associating with any members of the Mafia.

He was hobbling down the home stretch of his three-year term of supervision after serving nearly a decade behind bars for participating in the 1991 rubout of Bonanno mobster Russell Mauro. Palazzolo lured the victim to a social club, cleaned up the gore from the crime scene and got rid of the corpse.

“It’s rather astonishing that a person in your medical condition would be engaging in meetings with persons who may be involved in organized crime activities,” Judge Nicholas Garaufis lectured in Brooklyn Federal Court.

“It’s rather astonishing that a person in your medical condition would be engaging in meetings with persons who may be involved in organized crime activities,” Judge Nicholas Garaufis lectured in Brooklyn Federal Court.

With only a few months left of supervision, Palazzolo apparently threw caution to the wind last spring when he was allegedly promoted to street boss of the crime family, according to court papers.

A confidential source leaked information that Palazzolo was meeting with former consigliere Anthony Rabito at the Nevada Diner in Elmhurst, and a bunch of Bonannos at the Trattoria 35 in Bayside, court papers stated.

U.S. Probation Officer Lawrence Goldman told the judge that he had repeatedly counseled the geezer gangster to stay straight.

“I tried numerous times to beat it into his head, no pun intended, to stay away from organized crime figures,” Goldman said in court.

“Had he only heeded my instructions and the directions of the court, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

Palazzolo, who looked pale and drained, declined to make a statement in open court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez said the sentence was adequate given the mobster’s serious medical issues.



Former Columbo family capo to visit Mob Museum and tell how he left the mafia but lived to talk about it

Former mobster Michael Franzese poses for a portrait before he speaks to athletes at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007.

Former mobster Michael Franzese poses for a portrait before he speaks to athletes at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007.

Michael Franzese knows he’s lucky to be alive.

More than 30 years ago, he was one of the most powerful mobsters in America. In 1980, he rose to the ranks of caporegime, a “capo” or captain, in the Colombo crime family in New York. There he masterminded scams in the auto industry, on union kickbacks and gasoline taxes. He escaped several indictments and earned millions in cash every week.

Fortune Magazine listed him as one of the “Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses,” and Vanity Fair claimed he was one of the mob’s biggest money-earners since Al Capone.

The mafia was in his blood, too. His father, Sonny Franzese, was the underboss of the Colombo family in the 1960s. His father wanted Michael Franzese to be a doctor, but he threw that life away after his father received a 50-year sentence.

The mob was Michael Franzese’s life, until he met Camille Garcia. Franzese fell in love, but Garcia was a devout Christian. Franzese knew if he wanted to be with her, he’d have to do something no mobster he knew had ever survived — walk away without protective custody.

Franzese pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge, paid back $20 million to the government and served eight years in prison. Since then, by living a cautious lifestyle in Los Angeles, he’s managed to stay ahead of everyone who’s gone after him.

Now he’s sharing his story and giving motivational speeches to youth groups, schools, churches and professional athletes. Franzese will be at the Mob Museum on Friday to talk about his life. Before then, he spoke with the Sun about growing up around the mob, and what it took to get out.

Growing up in a mob family, how difficult is it to avoid that life?
It’s hard to avoid. … When I was growing up, my dad always had seven or eight different agencies investigating him, and every one of them would have a car parked outside house 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Quite honestly, I grew up hating police. I hated the government and anything to do with law enforcement because of what I witnessed. They were the enemy, and my dad was the good guy. I grew up with that distorted point of view.

What experiences with law enforcement did you have growing up?

One incident that always stood out in my mind, because I was younger, is I was playing ball on the street and a kid threw the ball over my head, and it rolled down over the hill. Two of the agents were parked in a car, and the ball rolls down to the car. He gets out and stops the ball with his foot. I was 10 years old. When I got there, he pulled his jacket coat aside and he had a gun there. He said, “This is going to be for your old man one day.”

What was the process like when you decided to quit the mob life?
There’s no blueprint for walking away from that life without going into a (witness protection) program or going into hiding. My plan was to take a plea on this other case they were indicting me on, do some prison time, pay the government some money, marry my wife and move out to California. … I figured after 10 or 12 years they’d forget about me, I’ll live happily ever after out in California. It didn’t work out that way. When I was put in a position to renounce my life and I did, I didn’t realize it was going to be broadcast all over the place.
It shot back to New York like a rocket, and at that point I was in a lot of trouble. … My dad disowned me at the time, the boss put a contract on me, the feds tell me you’re a dead man anyway, you cooperate with us, we’ll put you in a program. I had a rough time for a number of years.

How did you survive?
I knew the mentality of the guys. Your best friend walks you into a room and you don’t walk out again. I moved out to California, I don’t put the house or utilities in my name, I don’t walk my dog every morning at 7 o’clock, I don’t go to the same restaurant, I don’t go to any nightclubs. I changed my whole life around.
I’m on my guard the whole time. I never sold anybody short. What happened throughout the years, just about everybody I ran with is either dead or in prison for the rest of your life. So I kind of outlasted everybody.

Now that you give motivational speeches, what message do you try to convey to the audience?
It’s all about encouragement: letting people understand that if I can come back from this situation, anybody could. I believe strongly in my faith and forgiveness, and just try to encourage people that are struggling. That’s the theme, that’s the thread.

Had you been to Vegas as a mobster? What was that like?
Hundreds of times back in the day, in the late ’70s, early ’80s. The Dunes was my place. I would be down there every other week. … It was great. We had the run of the place. I had a $2 million credit line between myself and all the guys at the Dunes. Everything was comped. … We had a big presence back in ’70s and ’80s, and that was my time. It was wide-open back then, not like today where the Gaming Board is on top of everybody. It was great for guys like me; we had the run of the place.

Do you still look over your shoulder today or is your day-to-day a little more regular now?

It’s more regular, but I still don’t take things for granted. When I’m in certain places, I make sure I have resources around me I should have. I don’t sell people short, I never do. I was part of that life and there’s guys there that are very capable of doing things. … I’m just fortunate to be out of that life.



Shelton Man Connected To Gambino Gambling Ring Gets Prison

usdojlogoA 65-year-old Shelton grandfather was sentenced to six months in federal prison July 31 for running money within a large-scale gambling operation organized by two alleged associates of the Gambino crime family.

Prosecutors said Domenico Manchisi collected gambling proceeds in greater New Haven to give to Dean DePreta and Richard Uva, two “longtime organized crime associates” based in Stamford.

Manchisi was one of 19 people indicted by the feds in connection to the gambling ring, which used a website to lay bets and earned some $1.7 million in 38 weeks. Discussions about Manchisi’s role in the gambling ring were detailed through secretly-recorded conversations.

On March 28 Manchisi pleaded guilty to one count of operating an illegal gambling business.

Manchisi was far from a career criminal. He was a successful small businessman, operating several restaurants over the years, according to court documents.

He had a stable family life, having been married to the same woman for 42 years. He lived in Shelton with his wife, kids and grandchildren.

And he’s a first-time offender.

In a sentencing memo, prosecutors noted his background made his crime inexplicable. His lawyer called the crime a “terrible mistake.”

Manchisi’s lawyer argued he should receive probation, while prosecutors argued for a sentence of six to 12 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant in federal court in Hartford July 31 ordered Manchisi to pay a $20,000 fine in addition to spending six months in prison.

The case was investigated by the FBI Fairfield County Organized Crime Task Force, the Internal Revenue Service, the Stamford Police Department, the Bridgeport Police Department and the Connecticut State Police.


Mafia kin’s ‘discrim’ nix

International Union of Operating Engineers

International Union of Operating Engineers

A grandnephew of late Luchese “goodfella” Paul Vario lost his legal fight after claiming he had been barred from joining a union because of his Italian-American heritage.

Thomas Vario had sued Local 14-14B of the International Union of Operating Engineers, saying he was denied membership because of an “Italian criminal connection.” The union runs skyscraper cranes.

Brooklyn federal Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. ruled that the union’s court-appointed mob-connection watchdog had acted properly.



Europe’s Biggest Illegal Dump — ‘Italy’s Chernobyl’ — Uncovered in Mafia Heartland

Calvi Risorta

Calvi Risorta

It’s being called Italy’s Chernobyl — but with all the trappings of the mafia.

Authorities near Naples have uncovered Europe’s biggest known illegal dumpsite in history, spanning the length of 30 soccer fields, with tons of industrial trash feared to be toxic and adding to the region’s alarming cancer rate.

In the small town of Calvi Risorta on Friday, sanitation workers cloaked in hazmat suits and armed with Geiger counters resumed excavating over two million cubic meters of hazardous material, including containers with flammable solvents that had turned portions of the soil pink and blue.

Likening the discovery to an ecological “slaughterhouse,” Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said it would take over a month to conduct an initial cleanup and evaluate the possible risk of radioactivity.

“We still don’t know how much and what kind of trash it is,” he said.

Forestry officials began examining the 60-acre field after rumors of buried chemical drums prompted local journalists to investigate. Salvatore Minieri, of online daily, compared photographs from the 1960s to aerial images shot with a drone. After noticing the recent appearance of dirt mounds overgrown with brush, he and his cameraman began to dig.

“It ‘s one layer of toxic industrial waste on top of another, capped by cement, with only a few inches of soil on top,” Minieri told VICE News. “It’s been here for decades. Unfortunately it turned out to be the biggest illegal industrial dump on the continent.”

He and police say the dump bears the fingerprints of the Casalesi gang, the most notorious clan of the Camorra mafia. In 2006, their inner workings were laid bare in the international bestselling Gomorrah by Neapolitan author , who has been under round-the-clock police protection ever since.

Details of the Casalesi clan’s involvement in the waste racket emerged in 1997, when Camorra turncoat Carmine Schiavone outlined their methods to police, claiming the lucrative practice dated back to at least the 1980s.

Discoveries of numerous dumps since have earned the area between Naples and Caserta, in the Campania region, the ignoble moniker terra dei fuochi — land of fires, after the common mafia practice of setting trash ablaze, releasing untold airborne toxins.

“This is Italy’s Chernobyl,” Stefano Ciafani, vice president of environmental group Legambiente, told VICE News, citing cancer rates there that are 80 percent higher than the national average.

“It’s killed thousands of people so far, and it will kill thousands more,” he said.

Legambiente estimates that 10 billion tons of waste has been buried in the area since 1992, generating lucrative income for the mob. In 2013, the mafia’s eco-crimes netted nearly 17 billion euros.

The Camorra, which is comprised of 350 clans, has gone to great lengths to tighten its grip on underground waste. By infiltrating local sanitation departments, the crime group is able to hamper legal routes of disposal, leading to chronic clogging of dumpsites — thereby increasing the demand for their own illegal services. As a result, Naples streets are routinely overflowing with garbage. In recent years the problem has spread as far north as Rome.

But organized crime is not entirely to blame, experts said. Sometimes factories, many of which are based in Italy’s industrial north, knowingly seek out mobsters to dispose of their waste for cheap.

Companies will even bypass the mafia and do it themselves, says Anna Sergi, an expert on organized crime at the University of West London.

“The business is so lucrative that it also attracts white collar criminals, working from within legitimate businesses,” she told VICE News. “The aim is always profit, either by actively taking care of dumping or by ignoring rules for legal waste disposal.”

Italy’s failure to curb illegal dumping has racked up an impressive rap sheet.

In December, the European Court of Justice fined the country 40 million euros for longstanding violation of the EU’s waste-management laws.

“In particular, 218 sites …were not in conformity,” according to the ruling, noting that sixteen of those sites contained illegal hazardous waste.

It was the fourth time the court fined Italy in a decade, citing the country’s resistance to sustainable forms of waste management, such as incinerators that convert garbage into energy that are more common in northern Europe.

Italy lags behind in large part due to the mafia protecting its revenue. “It’s in their interest to interfere with the delay,” says Sergi.

The mafia has even been alleged to infiltrate the Italian government in its illicit disposal of trash, which can span far from home.

In 1994, Italian broadcast journalist Ilaria Alpi and Slovenian cameraman Miran Hrovatin were ambushed and shot dead in their jeep in Mogadishu by a commando unit.

A 1999 book by Alpi’s parents alleged they were killed to stop them from revealing an international arms and toxic-waste ring, implicating high-level political and military figures in both Italy and Somalia.

A former mobster confirmed those claims in 2009, alleging they were assassinated because they had witnessed toxic waste shipped by the ‘Ndrangheta, the powerful syndicate based in the southern Italian region of Calabria, to Somalia.

In Italy, residents who live near the massive dumpsite in Calvi Risorta hope stricter regulations will finally see the tide of toxic trash reversed.

Last month, Italy passed a law that makes illegal dumping a high felony that carries jail time. “Before, culprits would repeat the same crime over and over again, risking a mere slap on the wrist,” said Ciafani of Legambiente. “Perhaps now they’ll think twice.”

The Campania regional command of the forestry police said it would identify the culprits by triangulating the provenance of the buried materials, some of which bore labels from a variety of European countries.

With so much damage already done, it will take decades for the ecological and health consequences to play out. Legambiente says that rivers and streams around Naples are so contaminated that they will remain a health hazard until 2080.

“Everyone knows someone with cancer around here,” says Minieri, who lives just three miles from the dumpsite. “Just six years ago my cousin died of a liver tumor. She was forty-four. Meanwhile, no one ever noticed this enormous underground dump — either officials didn’t know about it, or they pretended not to.”


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Regrets but no remorse for Sicily’s mafia veteran

| June 24, 2015

Sicilian killer Giuseppe Grassonelli

Sicilian killer Giuseppe Grassonelli

More than two decades in prison spent studying and writing has made convicted Sicilian killer Giuseppe Grassonelli a changed man.

But the one-time petty criminal, who became a player in the island’s brutal mafia wars of the 1980s and early 1990s, expresses no remorse for his crimes.

“Pippo”, now 50, says they were necessary for his own survival and is resigned to spending the rest of his life in jail.

In the visiting room at Sulmona prison in Italy’s mountainous Abruzzo region, he greets callers with a steely gaze and recounts his blood-stained life in unflinching fashion.

With journalist Carmelo Sardo, Grassonelli has told his story inprize-winning book “Malerba”.

Between 1991 and his arrest in November 1992, Grassonelli was a leading figure in La Stidda, a group which emerge in the 1980s as a splinter from and rival to Cosa Nostra, thelong-established Sicilian mafia.

At the time, internal mob rivalries were claiming hundreds of lives per year on the island. He hides nothing: he killed or organised killings, time after time, because, he says, he had no choice.

“They killed my grandfather, my uncles, my cousins. Four times they tried to kill me,” he told AFP.

Barely in his teens when he took part in his first armed robbery, he was sent at 17 to Germany, where a Hamburg-based friend of an uncle taught him how to rig poker games.

The youthful Pippo had a talent for cheating at cards and the cash began to flow, funding a lifestyle of women, cocaine and BMWs pushed to their limits on the autobahns. “For me that was life, the wonderful life,” he recalled.

Smartly dressed killers

The idyll was interrupted on September 21st, 1986 when Grassonelli’s grandfather and five other relatives were killed in an attack which, he writes in the book, had it origins in a dispute between two families over a broken-off engagement.

At home for the summer, he escaped with a bullet wound to a foot and retreated to Germany to plot revenge, after his father told him that two prominent Cosa Nostra figures were toblame.

Money and arms were arranged for allies organising on theisland and, a few years later, he returned as the alleged head of his own clan of malcontents.

“Giuseppe Grassonelli was clearly the most intelligent member of the group. It was he who changed the killers’ way of operating,” said his co-author Sardo.

The new boss’s trademark became assassinations carried out by killers dressed in suits and ties rather than masked men on motorcycles.

Today, he insists that his victims were all mafia mobsters out to kill him and that, in the Sicily of the time, going to the police was not an option.

That does not mean he does not reflect on the past. “Nobody wants to be in a war, all it is is shit and blood,” he said. “And the ghosts of it haunt you all your life. I would never do again what I have done,” he added

“But if, at 23, I’d had the education I now have, in the historical context of the 1980/90s I don’t know if I would have acted differently.”

War and Peace

Grassonelli was arrested on November 15th, 1992 after he was betrayed by someone close to him. As a man steeped in Sicily’s centuries-old culture of honour and omerta code of silence, collaboration with prosecutors was never an option.

“I did not believe in the state,” he explained. “Now yes, but what good would it be for me to inform on anyone else now.It would only be a humiliation, they know everything that happened.”

That stance means Grassonelli will likely die in prison, a prospect to which he appears reconciled to since he refused to have a lawyer at his trial or appeal his sentence.

His rehabilitation began on the night he was sentenced when he discovered, in a dirty, freezing cell, a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”.

For the then barely-literate man who spoke only his local dialect and was facing perhaps half a century behind bars, it was an epiphany.

After three years in solitary confinement and five years of what he terms “torture” in the same cell as his father, the conditions of his imprisonment were gradually relaxed.

He passed his school leaving certificate, studied philosophy and became a model prisoner, eventually obtaining a Master of Arts degree with distinction.

“Now I would like to write other books,” said this unusual prisoner who likes to quote “dear old Nietzche” and raves about the Greek philosophers.

“They’ll be novels, not philosophical essays because that doesn’t sell. People always prefer food, sex and violence,” he said.

He has finished a draft in which the hero of “Malerba” gets out of prison: pure fiction since there is no prospect of it happening in real life.

“I don’t try to justify myself, I am paying my debt,” he said. “I have been in prison for 23 years and I know I will die in prison while people who have killed hundreds of people or dissolved children in acid are free because they collaborated.


Department of Justice, Colombian Authorities Charge 17 Drug Kingpins in International Cocaine Trafficking Scheme

| June 24, 2015

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos talks during a news conference after an EU-CELAC Latin America summit in Brussels on June 11, 2015

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos talks during a news conference after an EU-CELAC Latin America summit in Brussels on June 11, 2015. ERIC VIDAL/REUTERS

Updated | On Tuesday afternoon, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos hosted a press conference announcing a series of indictments for drug-trafficking charges. A total 17 people were charged with a cocaine production and distribution system which extended from Cali, Colombia, to the northern United States. The conference, held in Bogota, Colombia, was attended by Southern District of Florida Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer and Eastern District of New York Acting Attorney Kelly T. Currie.

Five indictments were unsealed by the U.S. before Santos’s press conference. Those arrested are high-ranking officials in Colombia’s largest drug trafficking gang, Los Drabness, also known as Clan Usuga. Six of those involved were charged in both Brooklyn and Miami. All defendants face life in prison if convicted.

In a case of The United States v. Eduard Fernando Giraldo Cardoza, the U.S. brought international cocaine distribution conspiracy charges. Araujo was named a leader of a drug-trafficking organization based in Cali. The U.S. alleges he “facilitated the transfer of multi-ton shipments of cocaine…for ultimate importation into the United States.” As a drug kingpin, Araujo is accused of imposing a “‘tax’ on any drug traffickers operating in regions under [his group’s] control.” He charged a fee for every kilogram of cocaine produced and transported through his region. Araujo is also accused of hiring hit men who murdered and kidnapped on behalf of his drug gang.

Orlando Gutierrez-Rendon is also accused of operating a drug trafficking organization. He allegedly shipped tons of cocaine from Colombia into Mexico, El Salvador and Panama, which was then transported to the U.S. His drug gang “also acted as a collection agency, using violence and murder in order to obtain payments and collect outstanding debts related to cocaine shipments.” He also hired hit men to collect shipping fees and intimidate rival gangs.

Another of those indictments unsealed on Tuesday names 11 defendants, all of whom are charged with various crimes related to cocaine trafficking. The majority of the defendants named in this charge were high ranking commanders within the gang. Ramiro Caro Pineda, a drug organizer, managed to control entire airstrips and ports on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast. He used these to ship cocaine undetected for the Urabeños organization. Between June 2003 and March 2012, these 11 men are charged with trafficking over 73,000 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S., over 80 tons.

“The indictments announced today are the result of a sweeping national and international effort to stem the flow of drugs across the world and into our communities. We stand united with our partners in Colombia in our unwavering commitment to root out the leaders of drug trafficking criminal enterprises wherever they may be found,” said Currie.

“These indictments are the culmination of years of work and far too often heartfelt sacrifice by the brave men and women of the Colombian National Police and the Office of the Prosecutor General of Colombia,” said DEA Regional Director Jay Bergman. “These indictments represent the United States’s steadfast bilateral commitment to conclusively dismantle what is the largest and arguably the last of the nationally structured criminal bands in Colombia.”

Authorities continue to search for Dairo Antonio Usuga David, alias Otoniel, who is the leader of the organization. There is a $5 million bounty for information leading to his arrest.

Araujo Imdictment Signed


Mexico captures son of drug kingpin in troubled western state

| June 24, 2015

A mugshot of Ruben Oseguera Gonzalez  is displayed on a screen during a news conference at Interior Ministry in Mexico City June 23, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

A mugshot of Ruben Oseguera Gonzalez is displayed on a screen during a news conference at Interior Ministry in Mexico City June 23, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican security forces in the western state of Jalisco have captured the son of one of the country’s most wanted drug lords, a state government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Ruben Oseguera, the son of Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera, is believed to be an important figure in his father’s gang, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which in recent weeks has become a major headache for President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The Jalisco government spokesman said he did not have details of the arrest, but another official in the state said the younger Oseguera, known as El Menchito, was captured in a pre-dawn army operation in a house in a western part of greater Guadalajara, the state capital.

No shots were fired, the second official added.

The New Generation gang was blamed for killing at least 20 members of federal and state police during attacks in March and April, and on May 1 it shot down a military helicopter in Jalisco.

Officials in the state said gang-related attacks on May 1 followed a botched attempt by the government to capture El Mencho.

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