For the past decade now, Colombo family captain Joey Amato has been on thin ice in more ways than one. After fifteen years in the can, Amato, now 60, was released in 2009 and forced to rejoin a Mafia clan that had once marked him for death. Since then, he has delicately climbed the ranks of the Colombo family, becoming the captain of a crew and facilitating the inductions of his top men. Labeled by Jerry Capeci as the Colombo family's Staten Island boss, Amato has also been namedropped more than a few times by the feds, and it appears to be only a matter of time before he returns to a federal prison cell.
Joey's name first appeared on FBI files back on December 12, 1990, when one of the FBI's highest-ranking Colombo family's moles, Greg Scarpa, tipped off his handlers that Amato was a recent inductee into the organization's ranks. According to Scarpa, Amato was one of ten new wannabes given his "button," sponsored by his mentor Pasquale 'Patty' Amato, no relation.
Joey's induction, as well as those of many others, was approved by the family's new acting boss, Victor 'Little Vic' Orena. A stout 57-year-old from Queens, Orena was a cousin of the "official" boss, imprisoned-for-life Carmine 'Junior' Persico, who'd been a guest of the government since his 1986 conviction in the historic Commission case. Persico thought of Orena as an interim overseer, keeping the seat warm for his son Allie, who had also been convicted back in '86 and sentenced to a decade behind bars.
But Orena started to get ideas of his own. He curried favor with bigwig capos and tried to hold an impromptu election for boss in early 1991. Catching wind of this, Carmine Persico, from prison ordered a hit team to whack him as he returned to his Cedarhurst, Long Island home. But the bumbling killers were caught unprepared, and Little Vic pulled some slick driving maneuvers to avoid his would-be killers. Months of failed negotiations ensued until Orena declared war in November of '91.
Joey Amato, 32, followed his captain Patty as a rebelling Orena combatant. He called to arms his crew of young guns, including brothers Richie and Tommy Cappa, Paulie Rizzuto, Johnny Cerbone, and others. He organized carloads of assassins to patrol his turf in Brooklyn and murder any Persico faction members on sight. Even after the war's outbreak, the crew defiantly congregated at Amato's private social club on 71st Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway. Other hangarounds included Little Chris Barnett, Scotty Devivo, Chuckie, Joe Black, Nicky, Franke Dente, and Crazy Sal Salome.
According to Greg Scarpa and other FBI intel, Patty Amato's crew had little diversity other than standard loansharking rackets. Former Amato crew member Silvio 'Crazy Sal' Salome backed this up, claiming Joey Amato's underlings all worked under him as shylocks. Amato lent them money at a weekly interest rate of 1%, and the crew pushed it onto the streets at rates of 3-to-5%.
Crazy Sal also recalled that Joey was involved in illegal video poker machines placed in establishments and restaurants across Brooklyn. He also noted Amato's possible involvement in labor racketeering, which he learned about when he first met Joey in 1989. Salome, a licensed electrician who used his expertise to break into the city's power supply, was hired by Joey's father Bernie for electrical work. The young Joey struck up a conversation with Sal and, noticing that there wasn't much work to do, offered his new friend a job.
"(T)here was two unions bickering over something at the airport and he wanted me to go down there and keep the other union guys out, keep the trucks rolling; the trucks had to keep rolling. The other union was striking and they were trying to stop the trucks from going in and out." Joey was allegedly acting on behalf of a trucking company named Chimento, where Salome later received a job.
Getting Salome a job didn't require referrals or fancy job applications. Instead, "Crazy Sal" made his bones at Chimento Mafia-style. There was a union-backed maintenance man the company was trying to get rid of, and Salome, due to his knowledge in the electrical field, was asked to push him out and take his place. But even after Sal's threats, the guy wouldn't budge. The company had to do things the old fashioned way, locking him in a cage like a gladiator-style fightoff;
"They locked us in a fenced-off area and I had a fight with him."
Salome didn't stay out on the streets long enough to see the Colombo family's civil war, let alone take part in it. In 1991, just as he started shylocking on his own, he went to trial for a state cocaine possession charge from two years prior. He was sentenced to 15-to-life, and wouldn't get out until a 1993 appeal.
On December 6, 1991, Joey got a call from another member of the Patty Amato crew, 52-year-old soldier Louis 'Bobo' Malpeso. Hanging out at a nearby social club, Bobo heard a tip that an Orena faction soldier was murdered early that morning as he hung Christmas lights outside his house. Furious, Bobo and his young protégé Chris Liberatore started devising plans for revenge. Liberatore, who started cooperating with the government in 1995, testified that Joey and Bobo agreed in a meeting that night that two Persico earners, Francis 'B.F.' Guerra, and Anthony Ferrara, should be slain in revenge.
Just after dawn on December 8, Malpeso, who had been in more than one gunfights during the two-year war, brought the young Liberatore and his father Anthony, a struggling mob associate, to hunt down the two Persico goons. Amato came too, bringing along violent crew member Tommy Cappa, 24. Everyone but Malpeso was armed to kill; Malpeso's role was to drive the "safe car," which could block incoming police. The Liberatores were in one car, with the son Chris armed, while Amato and Cappa were in another.
The hit team first staked out Ferrara's house, and then Guerra's. No sign of either. They headed to Wanna Bagel, a Bay Ridge eatery on Third Avenue co-owned by both Guerra and Ferrara, big-time drug dealers close to Allie Persico and his first cousin, Skinny Teddy. Bingo. The lights were on, and someone was inside. But as the team approached, they realized the man behind the counter was just an unrecognizable employee. They called it off and did the rounds of Ferrara and Guerra's houses again.
By this time, anybody who was important was in hiding. The top Persico capos stayed at fancy hotels, while the lower-level guys hunkered down and shared rooms in "safe houses," sometimes on Long Island or down in New Jersey. But both sides never gave up in the daily surveillances of known enemy addresses.
Then, a black Lincoln caught their eye. The shady-looking car had been circling the block, following them. They departed, and the Lincoln followed, so Chris hopped into Malpeso's safe-car to give him some protection. Somewhere down the line, the Lincoln gave way and in a comical twist, the hit team found themselves following them, all the way until they ended up down a Brooklyn driveway. With the two cars, both windows tinted, staring each other down, Malpeso ordered Chris to open fire. Thankfully Joey, through his walkie-talkie, warned against it and in what must have been an awkward standoff, the two vehicles left the Brooklyn driveway, one after the other, and fled.
Malpeso was ruminating over the incident in his apartment when he got a call that his 31-year-son son, James, a low-level shylock, was shot and seriously injured in a Brooklyn gunfight. Fuming, Malpeso directed Chris to "get the guys in the black (Lincoln)," "go find Anthony and (Guerra)," and "go kill the guys in the bagel store." That was a lot for young Chris to take in, but he knew better than to argue, Without any leads, the kid got right to it.
First, Chris called his father Anthony, and the father-and-son hit team circled Ferrara and Guerra's houses, before again heading to Wanna Bagel. They needed to whack somebody; Malpeso wanted blood, one way or the other. Waiting until a customer left, Chris started interrogating the poor kid at the counter. He demanded to know where Ferrara & Guerra were, but the employee didn't budge. Maybe he'd been warned by his owners to keep his mouth shut. He asked Liberatore why he wanted to know.
Four years later, Chris testified that the kid, 17-year-old Matteo Speranza, reached under the counter for a gun. But Speranza wasn't connected to the Mafia at all. He had about as much knowledge of the Colombo war as any teenaged Brooklynite. Liberatore, barely an adult himself, probably just panicked in his adrenaline-filled state, perceiving Matteo to be reaching for a weapon. He reacted impulsively and at approximately 9:20 in the morning, riddled six bullets into Speranza's head and body. The kid was pronounced dead at Lutheran Medical Center 40 minutes later.
After Chris showered and Anthony disposed of the car, the two met up at Malpeso's off-track gambling spot where Bobo and Joey were hanging to relay the bad news. Worried, the wiseguys called Patty Amato in - they had no idea what to do. Amato was the first to chime in, ordering Chris to hide out with an associate, Chris Barrett, in case the police had I.D.'d him. He then headed down to Georgetown, Brooklyn, where Anthony had dumped the car. After driving it to an industrial section in Canarsie, Amato wiped down any fingerprints and yanked the ignition out to make it look like somebody else had stolen and dumped it.
It was the following day that the gangsters learned who they had shot.
Mob war widening, read the headline. Teen slain, capo's son wounded in Brooklyn.
The article also reported the shooting of James Malpeso, Bobo's son, from earlier that day. But the main story captivating New Yorkers was how a 17-year-old kid could be caught up in a dangerous Mafia war.
"He was lovable," said a 20-year-old resident of the neighborhood who identified herself only as Angie. "When I saw him lying there in a pool of blood, I became hysterical."
The slaying shocked a community of Brooklynites who were under the erroneous impression that the mob didn't kill insiders. Answering questions to the press and the public, Deputy Police Chief Emil Cicciotelli put that notion to rest.
"As far as people around here are concerned, we don't mind having the mob around because they keep the neighborhood safe," said Craig Konikoff, 33, who had an infant daughter. Ciccotelli told him, "it's not true at all."
"These shootings are threatening to everyone."
The intense warfare within the crime clan petered off as the summer of '92 came to a close. By then, the feds had caught up and were waging a war of their own, vowing to stop Mafia violence. They subpoenaed over 100 Colombo members and associates, and in April 1992, the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office indicted rebel boss Vic Orena and capo Patty Amato for a 1989 slaying.
The young Joey Amato was the obvious choice to take over from the man he called "Uncle Patty." Even though he wasn't far into his Mafia career, he was Patty's right-hand-man and had a great young crew of his own. Most importantly, he was ready to commit murder and was quick to his feet when cleaning up the Liberatores' mess. But Joey's reign was cut short by another acting capo who tore down the Orena faction from inside. Salvatore 'Big Sal' Miciotta, a 6', 320lb, 42-year-old tough guy started wearing a wire in May of '93 after being paid a visit by FBI agents on a warpath.
Big Sal quickly agreed to wear a wire and was allowed to continue his bread-and-butter loansharking rackets. He confessed to four murders, attended high-level Orena faction captain's meetings, tape-recorded conversations about the various slayings his side had committed and snared a double-dealing veteran cop named Joseph Simone. Joey Amato's promotion became his undoing. Acting as a stand-in for Patty, he was unwittingly caught on tape by Big Sal, who kept the feds abreast of Joey's many murder conspiracy plots.
On December 8, 1993, the government whisked Sal into the federal witness protection program along with a dozen relatives, including three daughters he had with a mistress. FBI agents fanned out across New York to topple the upper echelons of the Orena administration, a total of 17 powerful mobsters. The indictments finally sealed the deal for the beleaguered faction, whose de facto head instead of Little Vic, Joe Scopo, was whacked in October.
The December indictments nailed almost the entire Billy Cutolo crew, the faction's main hitmen during the war, as well as some of Joey Amato's outfit too, charging them with orchestrating the botched slaying of Matteo Speranza. Big Sal Miciotta had caught members of his faction talking about the hit, including Chris Liberatore. The feds also charged the faction's main moneymaker, construction tycoon Tom Petrizzo, and the sons of Vic Orena with racketeering and murder conspiracy.
Held without bail, Joey Amato's luck was running out. He was stuck in the Metropolitan Detention Center on Brooklyn's waterfront, which was actually a pretty good stay. Through bribery or plain-old poor decision making, prison guards decided to shift the 21 Colombos awaiting trial into a separate wing of the prison, dubbing it the "Colombo wing." Innocently enough, guards reasoned that the Colombos would be able to work together on legal strategies without bothering the other inmates if they stuck to their own dormitory-like wing. But, as mobsters tend to do, they started to run things their way, with little regard for prison rules.
The Colombos, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Pam Davis, got a cushy sense of entitlement. When guards did routine searches of the dorms, they were subject to obscenities and remarks from the wiseguys, who were confused as to why they had to suffer the same harassment as all the other "regular" inmates.
"Why are you enforcing the rules around here?" they would shout, in a scene reminiscent of the prison in Martin Scorsese's 'Goodfellas.'
Those routine searches usually uncovered stolen food that the wiseguys had hoarded from the prison cafeteria or the commissaries. On some days, said Davis, there was no food for the other prisoners; the small contingent of Colombos had looted it all. Then came the "Italians Only" sign on the prison TV room. After that, according to Davis, "no one else was seen in that TV room during this time when that sign was up."
"When you keep groups together, they form factions and start taking over the prison," she said.
Since faction head Vic Orena had already been whisked away into a far-off federal pen, it was Billy Cutolo who ruled the roost. His pals had his back; accused gunmen Chickie DeMartino, Gabe Scianna, Mikey Spataro, Little JoJo Russo, Frankie Notch Iannaci, and Frank Campanella. Nevertheless, Joey Amato continued to hold his title as "capo," and his fellow inmates were by his side; John Cerbone, the Cappas, the Liberatores, Chris Barrett, and Bobo Malpeso.
Putting their heads together, the wiseguys came up with a unique trial strategy that allowed them to shift the blame on another Colombo bigwig without technically "flipping." This is because prosecutors were forced to concede that Greg Scarpa, a powerful Persico faction caporegime accused of dozens of murders both before and during the war, was a longtime "top echelon" FBI informer. Because of Scarpa's shady and potentially corrupt relationship with Colombo FBI squad supervisor Lin DeVecchio, the Orena defendants argued, with reasonable success, that Scarpa incited the Colombo war himself. DeVecchio then allegedly tipped the AIDS-ridden Colombo soldier with the locations of crucial Orena members; an accusation denied by the FBI but backed up by Scarpa's top aides, and even a former FBI agent under DeVecchio.
Arguing on legal strategy, Chickie DeMartino, who decided to take his chances at trial, got into a heated prison row with Joey Amato.
"Vincent had lashed out at him, had an argument with Joe Amato," recalled Orena soldier Joe Campanella, who managed to avoid arrest in '93. "And Joe Amato told Bill, and Bill had to make Chickie understand that he couldn't talk like that - speak like that to a captain in front of everybody."
But it would be Chickie who got the last laugh. The Cutolo guys decided to go to trial on murder conspiracy charges and, remarkably, won. Most of them were released that very day, although Chickie had to finish off a gun rap from '92. Joey Amato and the crew were ready for trial themselves, eager to discredit the chief witness against them; Big Sal Miciotta. The hulking turncoat capo, according to court papers, had continued to commit crimes while on bail, including the assault of a church worker alongside Chris Liberatore. Those crimes, which went against his cooperation deal with the government, made him an easy target for aggressive defense lawyers.
But in April 1995, on the eve of his trial, Chris Liberatore got cold feet. Somehow, someway, the feds got him to join the shaky Big Sal on the witness stand. His father Anthony was quick to follow, possibly fearing retaliation from his enraged codefendants. Immediately, the feds pegged Chris as the leadoff witness in the upcoming trial of Bobo Malpeso, Joey Amato and Robert Gallagher, with Anthony following his lead. Ironically, the feds used the Liberatores to replace the discredited Miciotta, even though it was Big Sal who was scary enough to compel the father-and-son mobsters to flip in the first place.
The trial, which started in August of 1995, was a rollercoaster of emotions. Umberto Speranza, the slain bagel shop worker's father, dutifully attended every day of the trial, struggling to keep his cool. But after two days of silence, Umberto exploded in federal court after Chris Liberatore testified matter-of-factly about how he murdered the innocent teen.
"My God, why did you do this?" Umberto cried after Liberatore admitted to shooting the kid twice in the face, and four more times after he fell to the ground to make sure he was dead.
"You bastard, you killed my son!" he sobbed. Afterward, in an interview with Daily News reporter Jerry Capeci, Umberto opened up;
"I couldn't take it no more," he said, his English broken. "I tried to be very strong. I promised I would be strong, but I just couldn't take it no more. I hope my son rests in peace."
By the time Amato's trial had come to a close, the Colombos were on a winning streak against federal prosecutors. Fifteen wiseguys and associates had been acquitted of racketeering and murder charges after their defense had successfully used the Greg Scarpa angle to paint their clients as innocent men targeted by a bloodthirsty gangster and his FBI handlers. But Chris Liberatore's testimony was pretty severe and, in August 1995, a jury convicted the trio on trial of racketeering and murder conspiracy; but not for the murder of Speranza, which would have meant a determinate life sentence for all involved. That, agreed the jury, was a murder committed by Chris Liberatore and Chris Liberatore alone.
Malpeso, who the jury also convicted of the accidental non-fatal shooting of 15-year-old Daniel Norden, received a hefty 75-year sentence behind bars. He died in prison in 2003, at the age of 64. Robert Gallagher, an alleged triggerman in the Norden shooting, was hit with a 45-year sentence and is currently housed at Fort Dix FCI. He is slated for release on July 29, 2029, when he'll be 62 years old.
Despite being the highest-ranking member of the indicted trio, Amato got a relatively sweet eighteen-year sentence. At 36, that meant he'd be out before he was 60. That was pretty good, all things considered, especially because Amato's core crew were mostly able to escape prosecution. Although his underlings Tommy Cappa and Chris Barrett were behind bars with him, key earners like Tommy's brother Richie, Johnny Cerbone, Paulie Rizzuto, and Crazy Sal Salome stepped in to replace their fallen pals.
Crazy Sal recalled overseeing Tommy's lucrative loansharking, gambling and credit card rackets following his imprisonment, working with his brother Richie. The rest of the team pitched in to keep things running smoothly for Joey, and his debtors kept paying promptly. Johnny Brains Cerbone got Joey's cash to his prison commissary and his family, even taking the role of surrogate father for his kids. That's how mob associate Giovanni 'John the Barber' Floridia, a cherub-faced hairdresser who moonlit as a tough-talking shylock, first came to meet the Amato family, after Cerbone hired him for Joey's son. John the Barber came to Joey's wife's house, while Johnny Brains caught up with Joey on his Ohio prison phone.
To represent Amato's guys on the streets, William 'Wild Bill' Cutolo became their acting captain. Unlike Joey, Cutolo and his crew got off scot-free on their racketeering & murder conspiracy charges, winning across the board acquittals. But by the time the Cutolo gang were released from their short stay in the pen, the Orena faction they represented were forced into surrender. The Mafia's formal "Commission," after two years of indivision, eventually sided with the imprisoned Carmine Persico as the sanctioned head of the borgata.
By 1995, Persico's son and designated heir Allie Persico was ready to take the reins as acting boss. Although his aging uncle Andy oversaw the day-to-day family affairs, it was Allie that negotiated the peace terms for Cutolo. Ultimately, the pair agreed that Wild Bill and his crew would be bumped down to "button men," and ordered to report directly to Allie.
"Bill was home for a while," recalled Joe Campanella, who maintained Cutolo's operations while he fought his racketeering case. "And then eventually… Jack DeRoss had got together with him, and Jack DeRoss asked him if he would be interested in putting the family back together.
"(T)here was a message from Allie Boy that Allie Boy would be our captain, and we would all want to be with Allie Boy as our captain," Campy recalled.
As part of the peace arrangement, Bill also reached out to Joey Amato's leaderless crew and directed them to his hangout, the Friendly Bocce Social Club on 11th Avenue and 63rd Street. Crazy Sal recalled how Paulie Rizzuto, from Joey's old gang, reached out to him at his new convenience store on 13th Avenue. Paulie let him know that Cutolo, whose reputation Sal knew well, wanted Salome to report directly to him, on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.
"See, back then -- see, originally Tommy Cappa and Richie Cappa and John Cerbone and Paulie Rizzuto were on record with Joey Amato," said John the Barber Floridia. "But Joey Amato went to jail. So what happened is, his whole crew got taken over by Billy. So they were all reporting to Billy… They were on record with Billy."
Twice a week, Billy would host a dinner at his club where all his crew members could make their "drops," according to Salome.
"The money we would borrow we would pay the juice, whatever, we owed on the loans we took out," he said. Clarifying what he meant by "juice," Salome elaborated; "The money that you pay on top of the money that's laid out. If you lend out money it's like a percentage of the money that you collect." It appears the term "interest" wasn't really in Salome's lingo.
"You see this is -- just because Joey was in jail, he was still earning money," John Floridia explained. "His crew, which was Tommy Cappa -- Tommy, Richie, John Cerbone, Paulie, they were still earning money. So they were taking care of him while they were in jail, while he was in jail.
"But what happened is, when they went to -- when Billy took over his crew, from what I remember, Joey was complaining that he wasn't getting the money. It kept getting lower and lower every week.
"So what happened is, he thought Billy started assigning people to go directly to pay Joey's father. You know, he would get his cut."
Not a wiseguy himself, Joey's father Bernie started handling his son's books, even lending cash himself. But Allie promoted Billy Cutolo to underboss, people stopped giving Bernie the respect he deserved as an emissary of his powerful son. Instead, Cutolo's successor as captain, Jackie DeRoss, turned a blind eye to Bernie's old arrangements. He learned this the hard way when Vincent 'Chickie' DeMartino's sentence was cut short by an unusually generous parole judge and released from prison in 1997.
Penniless and on parole, Chickie's opportunities in the Mafia were few and far between, especially since Cutolo ordered him to stay away from the social club. Billy assumed, correctly, that the club was under tight surveillance from the Probation Department, and if Chickie were to hang around with the crew, the feds would have reason to knock down its doors.
Chickie didn't take kindly to Billy's sensible advice. He started forming a crew of his own, snatching up some of Joey's old associates. Jackie, who'd never met Joey Amato, paid it no mind. It was better to appease Chickie, a known hothead and reputed killer than abide by the conditions of a long-imprisoned has-been like Joey.
"He was looking to get guys to come with him -- you know, people who made money -- you know, earners to make money," recalled John Floridia, one of the guys eyed by Chickie. Floridia, who first considered himself "on record" with Tommy Cappa, wasn't a fan of Chickie. But he didn't argue when DeMartino asked him to join his crew since the rumors circulated the scary ex-con that he killed at a moment's notice.
As his coffers grew smaller and smaller, Joey tried his best to hold the reins in prison. From a prison telephone, he called up another Cutolo crew member, Joe Campanella, pleading for him to look out for his guys.
"Joey had told me he was a little annoyed that Vincent DeMartino, Chickie, was handling one or two of his guys. And he couldn't understand why," said Campanella. Apparently, Amato asked if his crew members - John Cerbone, the Cappa Brothers, Paulie Rizzuto, and Crazy Sal Salome - could start reporting to Joey Campanella, instead of DeMartino and DeRoss.
Committing what can only be described as career suicide, Campanella went straight to Jackie to ask for Amato's crew, boasting that the order came from Amato himself. DeRoss, naturally, wasn't fond of that idea - giving up valuable earners like Richie Cappa and John Cerbone didn't make sense. Later on, in 2000, DeRoss recalled the incident to Billy Cutolo Jr., who agreed to wear a wire for the FBI after correctly figuring Jackie had a hand in his underboss-father's 1999 slaying. On a vendetta to take down his dad's killers, William Jr. artfully pitted Jackie against his father's former crew, especially Joe Campy. The grouchy old DeRoss fell right into his trap, going on long, rambling tirades about the trials and tribulations of sitting in Cutolo's former throne.
"I'll tell you what happened… (Campanella) goes down to see Joey Amato. I told him when he gets back, he turns around and tells me, he says, 'I saw Joey Amato. Joey Amato is mad because guys were taken off him.'"
"I'm the captain," yelled DeRoss in one of his typical temper-tantrums. "'I'll tell you what to do,'" he quoted himself as saying. "'Joey Amato is with me, and I'll tell fuckin' Joey Amato what to do.' And I'm fuckin' smoking."
In response, Jackie ordered Paulie Rizzuto to accompany Bernie Amato in a visit with his son. The pair traveled to Ohio, with Paulie's presence presumably being to scare Joey.
"Jackie DeRoss had sent Paulie and Joey Amato's father to go see him," recalled Campanella. "And supposedly, they came back with a message that (Amato) said he had never said (that) and that I was a liar."
DeRoss described the incident a little more vividly in his chat with Bill Jr.:
"Yeah, I sat Paulie down with Joey Amato's father, Paulie Rizzuto, Joey Amato's father to prison, find out what's happening - How can Joey Campanella come to me and tell me what to do with people under my supervision. I want to find out what Joey Amato says. So (I) sends Amato's father, and what happens, Paulie comes back and feels the complete opposite."
"I catch Joey in the morning," DeRoss said, engrossed in his retelling. "'Joey, it's the complete opposite of your story. You lied to me. You lied. You said Joey Amato wanted these people."
"That night, I put Paulie and him together. Paulie says, first of all, Joey (Campanella), with the father there, I told (Campanella), first tell me, let me tell you something. There's a good kid here, and that's a friend of our father," an apparent reference to Joey Amato. "… Amato never says once for him to overlook the guys. That's a kick in my balls."
Campanella refused to back down and concede to lying. He got on a plane and zipped right back to Ohio, confronting Amato himself.
"I told Jackie, I will go back and see Joey in prison, and I'll tell Joey that he's a liar to his face," Campy recalled.
"I go back, I tell Joey and Joey tells me, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry I lied to Paulie and my dad. I should have fessed up to it. I should have admitted that I wanted these people put with you. I'm sorry I put you in that problem. I don't want that problem. I don't want to discuss anything."
Campanella continued: "I told Joey go see if you want to go. I came all the way over here, he was in Ohio, and I came out of the goodness of my heart." A month later, Amato penned a letter to Joe Campy, apologizing for getting him in that mess.
In May of 1999, Billy Cutolo was lured to a meeting with Allie Persico and Jackie DeRoss and was never seen again. Together, Jackie and Chickie wasted no time picking apart Amato's remaining crew, guys like Richie Cappa. While he was alive, Billy protected Joey's top men from the money-hungry advances of his successor Jackie and rival Chickie. Now that Billy was gone, Cappa's rackets were up for grabs. Before the dirt had set on Cutolo's makeshift grave, Richie Cap was caught off-guard early in the morning by a call from Jackie, who was next in line for underboss.
Cappa quickly got changed and sped over the Verrazano Bridge, probably hoping the impromptu call was so he could finally become an inducted member of the family. If that was his hope, he was severely disappointed. Instead, Jackie was accompanied by his scary new henchman, Chickie DeMartino, who demanded to know all of Richie Cap's dealings with Billy.
After they finished, the shaken Cappa quickly called the first person he could think of: Joe Campanella.
"I was surprised Jackie would even have to do that," Campy thought when he Richie phoned. "Because Richie is an associate, and Richie would have told Jack anything he wanted without going through that phase and getting threatened."
Campanella drove over to DeRoss' place himself to try and calm the hotheaded captain, whose erratic behavior was probably egged on by the equally-tempered DeMartino.
"I went to Jack's house… If I remember correctly his wife answered the door, and Jackie was home. And Jack and I went in his backyard. I needed to know what was going on with Richie Cap and just what was going on. Why did they have to threaten this kid? This kid was close to me. Jackie told me that he had to find out what the kid had." Then, in a sudden change of heart, DeRoss realized the error of his ways. He took a few deep breaths and reasoned with the confused and exasperated Campanella.
"And Jackie says, All right. Forget about everything. He said I'll put Richie with you from now on."
Over the next few months, Amato's crew, possibly with a bit of threatening from Jackie, fell into the arms of new soldiers. Paulie Rizzuto and Crazy Sal stuck with DeRoss, reporting to him at his dingy Bay Street plumbing office run by his nephew, Skippy.
"They wanted to go with Jackie, who was the underboss. And they used to be with Billy, who was the underboss. So I mean, if they go lower than that, they thought it was getting, like, demoted," said John Floridia, referencing a sit-down that took place at a Staten Island gambling club, where Jackie and Chickie argued over who would take Amato's leaderless associates.
Tommy Cappa followed Richie's lead and hooked up with Joe Campy upon his 2002 release from prison. They came to regret that decision when Campanella was ambushed that summer, catching two bullets at a beach in Coney Island. As he walked back to his stylish white Mercedes, Campanella saw a beat-up green minivan pulled up in broad daylight and Chickie DeMartino, from the passenger seat, unload his clip. Allegedly given the okay by DeRoss, a jealous and lovesick DeMartino finally got revenge for Campy's alleged infidelity with his wife while Chickie was incarcerated. Behind the wheel of the minivan, John Floridia witnessed a rage-induced DeMartino force Campy to look in his eyes before he unleashed a volley of bullets.
"Well, see, that's the whole part of Chickie that makes him, you know, a nut job," the Barber chuckled. "He wanted Joe to actually look at him when he shot him. He wanted him to see that he was shooting him because he could have easily shot him, you know, from his back and he would have never known. He probably would have been dead."
But alas, he survived and quickly agreed to cooperate with the FBI while cooling his heels in the hospital. Pointing the finger at Chickie and Floridia, Campanella gave his new pals in the FBI the ammunition to hand down indictments and helped bring the pair to justice, with Chickie receiving a 25-year sentence and Floridia agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. Crazy Sal was one of those caught in the crossfire, charged with wide-ranging loansharking and money laundering charges. Released on bail, Sal didn't skip a beat and kept on loansharking. He even snuck out of his house arrest, jumped some fences in his neighborhood, and met up with Jackie DeRoss at his Staten Island house, where the Probation Department confined him with an ankle monitor. It was only until feds arrested Crazy Sal yet again that he made a bizarre turn in his life. He was sentenced to 51 months in prison for shylocking and, for reasons still unclear, agreed to join the FBI's ever-increasing list of Colombo family canaries. Career-wise, that move by Salome is a bit of a head-scratcher. In 1991, Sal, sometimes referred to as "Sal the Nut," was given a 15-to-life state sentence on heavy-duty cocaine charges. Even then, he kept his mouth shut; it wasn't until an appeal that he was released from prison two years later. Yet in 2002, faced with a little more than four years, Crazy Sal decided to turn his life around and testify against Jackie DeRoss and other top-echelon Colombo figures.
Johnny Cerbone, the last member of Amato's old crew, stuck with Chickie DeMartino until the latter's 2003 indictment for the attempted Campanella murder. By then, the Colombo top brass had placed DeMartino, and by extension Cerbone, in a crew led by Tommy Gioeli, the facilitator of the Cutolo murder. That's probably how the Staten Island-based Johnny Brains came to meet an ornery, old Brooklyn soldier named Joseph "Junior Lollipops" Carna, whose Colombo career dated back to the violent Gallo Wars of the 1960s.
According to court papers, Junior Lollipops' activities didn't extend beyond loansharking and "protection" extortion rackets, neither of which were very lucrative for him. Far from an expert businessman, Carna's history in the Mafia is marked mostly by his money or lack thereof. When the family split in two in the early 1990s, Junior Lollipops ensconced himself in Vic Orena's faction, for the sole reason that Carna owed his capo, JoJo Russo, hundreds of thousands in shylock debts. JoJo was a cousin of the Persico brood and was a fervent supporter of imprisoned-for-life Carmine, so Carna figured his money troubles would go away if stood by Little Vic.
In 2008, Junior Lollipops was promoted to a caporegime and wasted no time enjoying the tribute money he was entitled. That was a source of contention for one captain caught on tape by an undercover informant. Capo Reynold Maragni was outraged when he learned that Carna was collecting money from a crew member whose brother testified against the mob back in the '90s. Even worse, Carna pocketed the measly $600-a-month instead of kicking it into a legal fund for his former captain and street boss, Tommy Gioeli.
Carna's affection for cash is what probably endeared him to Johnny Brains. By the late 2000s, Cerbone was an up-and-coming player in New York's drug trade, developing lucrative hookups for wholesale cocaine, pot, oxycodone, and Adderall. Whether it was true or not, Cerbone convinced himself he was on a fast track to being made, especially since in 2010, the Colombos started an initiation drive after years of calm.
With his induction on his mind, Cerbone remained under Carna even after Joey Amato's release from prison on April 3, 2009. By all accounts, Amato, 50, stayed under the radar until his three years of strict post-prison supervised release expired. That was probably a smart move - his parole coincided with a wide-ranging FBI operation against all levels of the Colombo family's hierarchy. From the piles of court papers spawned from the operation, which concluded on January 20, 2011, Amato's name failed to appear once.
Although Johnny Brains dodged any charges from that investigation, his capo Joe Carna (and all but one of the family's other capos) were among the 39 Colombo family defendants nabbed in a single indictment unsealed that day. Released on bail, Carna continued to meet with his crew and organize a succession plan for the imprisoned hierarchy. Shortly after his initial arrest, FBI agents watched him meet with Salvatore' Sally Boy' Castagno and Thomas' Tom Mix' Farese, two newly-appointed acting captains. Cerbone kept in touch too and was assured by Lollipops that he'd be rewarded with a cushy induction into the family if he played his cards right. All he had to do was wait until Lollipops finished a sweet six-month sentence he took for conspiracy to commit money laundering. But that day never came; Carna, in what Cerbone seemed to take as a personal insult, died on August 1, 2012, at a federal prison hospital.
"Story of my life," Cerbone grumbled on tape, referring to how he had spoken to Lollipops mere days before his death.
That comment came after some careful prodding by a new FBI informer, a yet-unnamed drug dealer, and Genovese family associate. According to Gang Land News, the cooperating witness (CW) is the grandson of late Genovese soldier Joseph "Socks" Lanza and was jailed on federal drugs and weapons charges in Yardley, Pennsylvania in early 2012. The CW, away from home and out of options, cut a deal with the FBI, promising to capture the man who had hooked him up with the coke: Johnny Brains.
The CW said Cerbone sold him a heap of coke earlier that year for street distribution until the FBI caught up with him in Pennsylvania. In the spring of 2012, he said, Cerbone sold him 7 to 10 ounces of coke in one deal, 500 grams for $20,000 on another occasion, and 200 grams for $10,000 once more. On August 15, he made his debut as a cooperating witness in a Staten Island meet-up with the up-and-coming coke kingpin.
At the outset, Johnny Brains boasted that his coke came from four different wholesale suppliers, including New York kingpin Roman 'the Jew' Kitroser, and promised it was top-quality stuff.
"So anyway," the CW said, cutting to the chase. "So if you get me a sample, I don't care, I'll take something small… You don't have the money; I don't care, I'll put up the fucking money for that…"
"Give me a couple of hours," Johnny Brains assured. "I'm going to see him now, go pick it up at one o'clock. See what he's got. If I have to, I'll come out there."
On August 24, as promised, the CW delivered the DEA with the 73.9 grams of cocaine. The coke was just as good as promised, setting in motion a three-year Drug Enforcement Administration sting that snared the Colombo associate on cocaine, marijuana, oxy, and Adderall distribution charges, as well as laundering the CW's money through a plumbing company where Cerbone worked. As it happens, the company, RCI Plumbing, was owned by Genovese family soldier Chris Chierchio.
On October 8, 2014, the DEA agents nailing Cerbone forwarded Joey Amato's name to the downsized organized crime squads in the FBI. The tapes are thought to be the first confirming that Amato had, since his 2009 release, rebuilt his status and cozied-up to the Persico-led Colombo family administration. Even though the internecine war was over 20 years ago, Amato's rise to power was no small feat. Wounds from the war were still fresh, mainly because the people on top were the same Persico loyalists fighting for their lives in the '90s. The family's street boss, Andy Russo, was the first cousin of Carmine Persico, and a jury had given his son JoJo a life sentence for two wartime murders.
The wartime wounds resurfaced in 2008, when acting underboss Benji Castellazzo, 70, attempted to take over the family after the detention without bail of street boss Tommy Gioeli. Castellazzo, an old-school gambling kingpin, probably thought he was doing the right thing; in the Mafia, the underboss is the designated heir of the boss. But from prison, former acting boss Allie Persico put the kibosh on that by personally appointing Ralph DeLeo, his prison pal from Boston, as the family's interim street boss. The confusing decision, according to Gang Land News sources, was to prevent another uprising from the still-sour rebels aligned to the imprisoned-for-life Vic Orena.
But somehow, Amato beat the odds and was promoted to captain, maintaining a violent, sprawling crew in Staten Island. Just like the old days, he hooked up with Johnny Cerbone once again after Lollipops' death and wasted no time proposing him into the Colombo family - something Johnny Brains considered long-overdue. In his chats with the CW, Cerbone commented that his old pal Joey had him "running ragged all over the place." He bragged that he was Amato's main guy on the streets, attending sitdowns with other Staten Island Mafia groups and collecting profits from loansharking, extortion, and gambling victims, according to court records.
Later in the chat, Cerbone hinted at his induction into the mob.
"If the guy is a real guy, he's gonna talk to me, right?" the CW asked, referring to an inducted member of organized crime meeting with him.
"He's not supposed to, but what makes you think he's not gonna?" Cerbone replied.
"Yeah, I don't know. That's why, you know."
"I went to a lot of them by myself, and nobody's ever questioned, and now they can question all they want," Cerbone chuckled, hinting that he was no longer afraid of anyone questioning his Mafia status since his new membership.
"Yeah, I got you," the CW replied. The FBI tape got him too.
"And even when they question it, I got the green light, but at the end of the day, they don't know the difference. Now it's different, you know what I'm saying?"
Amato didn't stop there. As well as taking back his old Brooklyn-based crew, the newly-released wiseguy also seized the leftovers from his comrades indicted in 2011. Because the FBI focused mainly on the big-ticket Colombos, like its administration and captains, lower-level guys were left unprotected on the streets. They had nobody to represent them, and for Joey Amato, that presented an opportunity. In November of 2011, mob scion Michael Persico, the son of the family boss, was indicted on wide-ranging loansharking charges dating back to the '90s. An associate, little-known valet businessman Anthony Preza, was arrested too. As prosecutors devoted their time to making sure Michael and his ultraviolent cousin Skinny Teddy were convicted, Preza was able to get a sweet home detention deal and never spent a day behind bars.
Unfortunately, with Michael gone, Preza was a prime target for money-hungry Mafiosi. One of these was a former friend of his, another tycoon in the valet industry named Joseph' Joe Valet' Sabella. A soldier in the Bonanno family, Sabella was sour over an apparent $25,000 debt that Preza insisted had already been repaid. So as Michael Persico fought his pesky loansharking charges, Preza was defenseless when Sabella came for his loot. According to a 2018 indictment leveled against the Bonannos, Joe Valet and his captain Peter 'Petey Bullshit' Lovaglio agreed to murder Preza once and for all. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, and Joe Valet was content to leave Preza with a brutal beating. As the Colombo associate enjoyed a coffee at Tottenville's Café Luna, Sabella and his goons struck.
Preza described what transpired as being "like I was in a car accident." Instead of going to a hospital, the Colombo associate nursed his wounds at home, ruminating over the out-of-the-blue attack. Angry and injured, Preza was quick to call Sabella from his house that night, and "told him he was going to kill him," according to Gang Land News. That's never a good thing to say to a Mafia soldier. Preza immediately regretted his decision and gave a call to the next Colombo he knew; Joe Amato. The up-and-coming wiseguy, who was probably captain by this time, agreed to look into the issue. Luckily for him, Joey and Petey Bullshit were good pals, having met during parallel prison stretches in the 2000s, sources say.
Lovaglio agreed to let bygones-be-bygones, probably due to both his friendship with Amato and the fact that Preza's supposed "debt" wasn't exactly real. From there, over five years, Preza joined Amato's sphere of influence, forking over $25,000 in tribute payments. Unfortunately, those payments bit Joey in the ass a few years later when his old pal Lovaglio started to cooperate with the NYPD.
Petey Bullshit, a hard-drinking captain, based in Tottenville, agreed to rat after he was arrested for an unprovoked drunken barroom assault and shelved by the not-too-pleased Bonanno administration. Lovaglio kept the feds abreast on Preza and also linked Amato to a violent dustup that took place in the Spring of 2015, a few months before Petey B.S.'s cooperation.
With this information in tow, the FBI then contacted the victim of the alleged dustup for the inside scoop. That man, little-known Lucchese associate Neil Devito, didn't take much convincing to talk. He quickly listed off two assaults from both Joey Amato's crew and the Bonannos, pointing the finger squarely on Amato's frisky-fingered son.
As he told federal investigators, Devito believed his assault at the hands of Amato's crew was due to some stern words he dished out to the Colombo captain's unnamed son for "abusing" a young woman at a local hotspot. Following the verbal discourse, the son went to his father, who rounded up "several carloads" of henchmen. In broad daylight, they "punched, kicked and lumped" Devito up in the middle of Hylan Boulevard, in front of dozens of spectators.
"Do you know who I am?" Amato asked the bloodied Devito, according to Gang Land News.
"No," Devito replied. That was apparently the wrong answer.
"You DON'T know who I am?" Amato, 60, exclaimed, before motioning for his crew to finish the job.
Eventually, Devito told the feds, Amato bought him a drink and "apologized" for the beating. Devito declined to tell police about it, and the duo let bygones be bygones. - Gang Land News, September 12, 2019.
Fast-forward five years and Joey Amato is still atop the Colombo borgata, two years after John Cerbone was behind bars. Meanwhile, his pal Petey Lovaglio had been kicked out of his crime family while Joe Valet Sabella had hit the heights as a Bonanno family ruling panel member. His newfound status, coupled with Petey Bullshit's loose lips, made Sabella a prime target for the FBI, who were very interested to learn about Anthony Preza's new underworld status. Preza's murky membership in Amato's crew was unceremoniously ended in the summer of 2017 after he stopped kicking Joey his protection money. Amato responded by beelining straight to Joe Valet to inform him, smugly, that Anthony Preza was no longer under his protection. He was open territory.
It's that abandonment by Joey Amato that might prove to be his undoing since it led to an aggressive attempt by Joe Valet to collect his imagined $25,000 debt that Preza owed. With Petey Lovaglio singing like a canary, the feds went to Preza and offered him protection from the federal government, instead of the Colombo mob. Preza detailed not only the history of his dealings with Sabella, but also his career in the Colombos and the inner workings of Joey Amato's crew, whom he referred to as the family's "boss" in Staten Island. The FBI probably has that information tucked away in the same FBI file as Neil Devito's information, waiting to include in a fully-fledged indictment.
By the end of this year, the FBI could have all the paperwork to prove a laundry list of new crimes against the man Gang Land called the "current boss of Staten Island." Racketeering laws have no statute of limitations, provided prosecutors can prove continuous involvement in a criminal enterprise within the decade. That means, if they act fast on their two new informers, the FBI can charge Amato with crimes dating back to his time with Silvio' Crazy Sal' Salome, who testified in-depth about his early career and rise with Amato in the 2006 racketeering trial of Michael' Mikey Spats' Spataro.
The FBI should then be able to piece together the tape-recorded utterances by John Cerbone, the extortion payments by Anthony Preza, and the alleged assault of Neil Devito, to prove that Joey Amato has since regained his status in the Colombo crime family and is a powerful "caporegime." But first, the vastly understaffed FBI squad investigating the Bonanno, Colombo, and Genovese families, has to wrap up their prosecutions of the Bonannos' hierarchy, which have so-far been duds due to Lovaglio's shaky turncoat testimony. They will also have to focus on collecting more-and-more evidence against Amato, who seems to fancy himself a well-known figure on Staten Island. Until then, the influential Colombo captain is living on thin ice. Stay tuned to thecolombomafia.com for more information and exclusive articles on New York's most dysfunctional crime family.