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DONS: Mafia big shots

Some newsmen have traced the rise of a particular
mobster upward in importance with a crime family
until they finally announce he has been made a don.
In that sense the don is the most capable leader of a
group. Within the divisions of a crime family the sol-
diers following a particular capo or underboss might
refer to him as "Don."

The title of don derives from Italy; it is a title of
respect and honor all over southern Italy and Sicily
and, for that matter, Spain. Although comments in
the press and by law enforcement officials posit the
title of "Don" as a specific position in the Mafia hier-
archy, it has nothing to do with the structural
makeup of the mob.

As a matter of personal vanity some mobsters
want to be addressed by the title. Thus Vito Gen-
ovese was referred to as Don Vito. Joseph Barbara Sr.
the host of the notorious Apalachin crime confer-
ence, was often called Don Giuseppe, a recognition
of the fact that he was for many years an important
member of the Buffalo Magaddino family.

The title don was sometimes cynically applied. In
the early years of the syndicate, for instance, Gen-
ovese bridled at the increasing number and power of
Jewish chieftains, and when Frank Costello sug-
gested the Luciano-Lansky forces bring in the power-
ful Dutch Schultz, Genovese screamed, "What the
hell is this? What're you tryin' to do, load us up with
a bunch of Hebes?" Before Luciano, Meyer Lansky
and Bugsy Siegel, Costello wheeled on Genovese and
said very quietly, "Take it easy, Don Vitone, you
nothin' but a fuckin' foreigner yourself." It was the
custom thereafter of both Costello and Luciano and
occasionally some other important boss, to call Gen-
ovese Don Vitone when they wanted to rub his nose
in the dirt. Genovese never forgot this and his per-
sonal vendetta against Costello would extend over
some three decades, always obsessed by the Don
Vitone affront, until he masterminded the attempt on
Costello's life.

Costello himself was often referred to as Don
Francesco by mobsters and even by columnist Walter
Winchell. Costello was a very tight-lipped gambler
and often had information on a good thing, and
when he did, other mobsters found the one way to
get him to share the information was to ask, "Have
any good tips, Don Francesco?" Costello could sel-
dom resist such flattery and would share his hot
information — although it inevitably cut into the odds
he would receive.

Unlike "Mustache Pete," used disparagingly
against some old-line mafiosi who could not alter
their ways and adapt to the new methods of syndi-
cate crime in America, the term don usually indicates
a much respected oldster, of which there were and
are many today in the American Mafia. In the New
England crime family under the late Raymond Patri-
arca there was even a mob advisory council made up
of the "old Dons," respected by the current leaders
as the men who had made the mob decades previ-
ously. Informer Vinnie Teresa said of them: "They
got the town [Boston] in the bag, and it's been in the
bag ever since. They were the ones who made the
connections with the police departments. They'd had
connections in the district attorney's office for thirty
or forty years. They made the mob."

In their twilight years these men were accorded the
title of don and although they no longer did anything
except sit around in lounge chairs, Patriarca saw they
got their cut from some kind of racket. And when
they were needed in a crisis they were called to a
meeting, just to get their thinking since they knew the
nuances of mob mentality around the country. In this
sense the concept of don has remained uncorrupted
within the Mafia from its meaning in the old country. 

DIO, Johnny

 (1915-1979): Labor racketeer
Under crime family boss Tommy "Three-Finger
Brown" Lucchese, Johnny Dio, real name John Dio-
guardi, was one of organized crime's top "labor rela-
tions experts" — that is, labor racketeer. Dio was vital
to Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, who used him in his
efforts to capture control of the union in New York
City. Authorities also said Dio was the man who
ordered the acid blinding of labor columnist Victor
Riesel in 1956. At the time Riesel was causing Hoffa
a good deal of grief with his hard-hitting columns.
The law had conspirators ready to testify to Dio's
role in the case but because of threats that reached
them behind bars, these witnesses refused to speak in
court and Dio went free.

Dio's standard labor relations method was to
frighten everyone who might talk; it worked in the
Riesel case as it did so often in the garment industry
where the Lucchese family established any number of
shops with no labor difficulties of any sort. If other
manufacturers wanted the same consideration, they
had to pay for Dio's assent. The underworld looked
upon Dio as a master of his craft and other crime
families invited him into their area to show them
how to engage in the same rackets.

The Dragna family in Los Angeles brought Dio in
as a consultant to advise on how to open factories by
controlling the unions. Dio's blueprint for financial
success showed the Dragna forces how to use terror
against the International Ladies Garment Workers
Union so that mob businesses could run without wor-
rying about union pay scales and rules. By getting
waivers on just about every contractual stipulation,
the mob businesses got the edge on competitors who
had to run under strict union conditions. The Dragna
plan worked to perfection; profits, using what
amounted to Mexican slave labor, were enormous.

Dio, who started out in crime as a protege of
Louis Lepke and Gurrah Shapiro, worked as a sol-
dier in the Brooklyn Murder, Inc., troop. In the
1930s, New York racketbuster Thomas E. Dewey
described Dio as "a young gorilla who began his
career at the age of 15." By the age of 20, Dio was
already an important mobster and a gang chieftain at
24. In the 1950s Senate investigators named Hoffa
and Dio as the masterminds behind paper locals of
the union that eventually got control of the highly
remunerative airport trucking business in New York
City. "It cannot be said, using the widest possible lat-
itude," the McClellan Committee declared, "that
John Dioguardi was ever interested in bettering the
lot of the workingman."

Informer Joe Valachi was able to add some addi-
tional illuminating details about Dio. For about 12

Labor racketeer Johnny Dio (center, being booked)
 allegedly ordered the acid blinding of labor columnist
 Victor Riesel to score points with Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
Dio was finally convicted when he branched out
into stock fraud and he was sentenced to 15 years in
prison in 1973. He died in a hospital in Pennsylvania
where he was moved from a penitentiary by federal
authorities. Dio's death attracted no newspaper
attention for several days, even though a paid death
notice appeared in the New York Daily News. It was
as if the name Dioguardi had not meant anything. 


"Mr. Neil" (1914-1985): Gambino
crime family underboss

In many respects, Aniello "Mr. Neil" Dellacroce was
the model of the mythic Mafia don. His name in Ital-
ian meant "little lamb of the cross," and the under-
world is rife with tales of the pleasure he took in
killing people. A federal agent once said of him, "He
likes to peer into a victim's face, like some kind of
dark angel, at the moment of death." Sometimes he
even traveled about the country on mob business
done up as Father O'Neill, a play on his first name.
On other occasions he was Timothy O'Neil. He also
sought to confuse his enemies on both sides of the
law by occasionally having a lookalike pose as him
in public.

Dellacroce spent decades in the Mafia and was a
faithful follower of the murderous Albert Anastasia
and, later, Carlo Gambino. Gambino had conspired
in Anastasia's 1957 assassination but there is no
accurate information on whether Dellacroce was
involved or whether he believed a boss ever should
be deposed. When Gambino took over the Anastasia
crime family, Dellacroce stepped up to the position of
underboss and seemed to be in line eventually to suc-
ceed Gambino. He had all the prerequisites, includ-
ing the cool toughness and mercilessness the job

However, when Gambino was dying in 1976, he
tapped his brother-in-law Paul Castellano as his suc-
cessor. Gambino was smart enough to realize that if
the tough Dellacroce wanted to fight, he could prob-
ably crush the less-than-imposing Castellano. To pla-
cate Dellacroce he offered him essential control of all

Gambino crime family underboss Aniello "Mr. Neil"
Dellacroce was said to take extreme pleasure in killing:
"He likes to peer into a victim's Pace, like some kind of
dark angel, at the moment of death."

the family's lucrative Manhattan activities. It was not
an offer Dellacroce could refuse, and for a time it
defused the harsh feelings by the Dellacroce and
Castellano factions.

Compromises seldom stay glued in the Mafia; it
figured that power would sooner or later shift to the
stronger side of the Gambino family. Except for the
fact that Dellacroce was in ill health, it seemed he
would eventually take over. Certainly the Young
Turks aligned with Dellacroce favored expansion
into more violent types of crime, such as armored car
robberies and hijackings as well as narcotics. Castel-
lano laid greater emphasis on loan-sharking, union
construction shakedowns and relatively easy crimes,
such as car theft on a wholesale level.

Police experts indicated that only Dellacroce could
hold the Young Turks back, especially John Gotti, a
dapper though deadly capo in the organization,
described as having patterned himself after his idol,
Albert Anastasia. Gotti held back striking at Castel-
lano, it was said, out of fear and respect for Dellacroce.

Then on December 2, 1985, Dellacroce, who was
suffering from cancer, died in a New York hospital.
Two weeks to the day later Paul Castellano and one
of his trusted capos, Thomas Bilotti, were gunned
down outside a mid-Manhattan steak house.

There was speculation that Dellacroce's death
made certain Castellano's demise. Castellano, who
was likely to go to prison for a number of federal
offenses, was planning to name Bilotti as underboss
to take over as acting boss if need be. A police source
was quoted, "When Dellacroce died, it left Gotti
without a rabbi." It was a situation that forced Gotti
to move with more than deliberate speed against
Castellano. If he didn't, Gotti knew that Big Paul
would tighten a death noose on him.

A curious story in Time magazine, datelined on
the day of Castellano's murder but printed earlier,
declared that Dellacroce had been an informer for
the FBI for some two decades. Among other things, it
claimed Dellacroce had tipped off the FBI when
Carmine Galante, a would-be boss of bosses, was
marked for death. He also was said to have given the
FBI leads on the long-unsolved murder of Teamsters
boss Jimmy Hoffa and that he helped to break some
major narcotics cases. Perhaps the most stunning, or
the most unbelievable, part of the story was that Del-
lacroce never asked for some kind of a payoff — most
Mafia informers want legal clearance for themselves
or money or both.
Not unsurprisingly the New York media seemed
underwhelmed by Time's disclosures, ignoring the
story pending some additional proof. It can be specu-
lated whether the story would have appeared if
Castellano's murder had become known first. Some
observers looked on the story as a form of FBI disin-
formation. It was possible that the FBI — clearly the
source of Time's account — was seeking to rattle the
boys in general or quite possibly was intent on using
the story as a ploy to cover up its real informers.
There had been for many weeks some feeling in the
underworld that Castellano might break or indeed
might have already broken, that he was not tough
enough to take a long prison term at the twilight of
his life. Maybe the FBI was carrying out a "dirty
trick" operation to plant suspicions on all the elderly
dons it was bringing to trial? That could make them
hit candidates and perhaps more interested in accept-
ing a deal with the government.

The one thing that was certain was that Aniello
Dellacroce, alias Father O'Neill, remained as enig-
matic a figure in death as he had been in life — the
quintessential Mafia don. 


DeCAVALCANTE Tapes: FBI eavesdropping
Some of the most enlightening and, happily for some
tabloids, the juiciest reading about the Mafia was
released in 1969 in the 2,300-page FBI eavesdrop-
ping log of the DeCavalcante Tapes. The text, based
on recordings made in a plumbing supply shop run
by Samuel Rizzo "the Plumber" DeCavalcante, the
boss of a 60-man Mafia family in New Jersey, was
transcribed in newspapers, magazines and two
paperback books. The New York Times for days
allocated as much or more space to the DeCaval-
cante conversations as to the Ecumenical Council in
Rome. While the tapes revealed much of DeCaval-
cante's romantic interests, they did serve a greater

The tapes, covering a period from 1961 to 1965,
confirmed much of what informer Joe Valachi had

Sam "the Plumber" DeCavalcante, boss of a 60-man
crime Family in New Jersey, had his office bugged for four
years by the FBI, an operation that confirmed much of Joe
Valachi's revelations about the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra.
revealed. They effectively demonstrated that, in the
New York Mafia's five families, there existed the
same formalized structure of the boss, underboss,
consigliere, capos and soldiers. The tapes also con-
firmed that there was an organ called the commission
supposedly designed to monitor crime family activi-
ties around the country. What the recorded conversa-
tions did not do is establish that the commission was
an effective body; in fact many of its own members
paid it little attention.

The DeCavalcante Tapes revealed much of the
struggle the New York families were having con-
trolling the ambitious Brooklyn boss Joe Bonanno
as well as much of the intrigues leading up to the
Banana War. They indicated that the commission
and many mafiosi regarded Bonanno's son, whom
the father was trying to position as his successor,
"a bedbug."

Some felt the tapes had value in explaining the
social organization of the Mafia as DeCavalcante
arranged for his crime family to pick up the tab for
the wedding of his underboss's daughter or sought to
help resolve the affairs of the son of his organization
whose marriage was on the rocks. Sam the Plumber
considered failed marriage a blot on his crime fam-
ily's good name. It was intriguing to hear a man
deeply involved in nefarious practices just as deeply
concerned with the intricacies of the seating arrange-
ments at a mob wedding.

DeCavalcante's own behavior might have left
something to be desired. The recordings revealed he
was having an affair with his secretary, Harriet, the
sister of Sam's partner in the plumbing supply busi-
ness and with whom DeCavalcante could converse in
passable Yiddish. Married man DeCavalcante was
not only cheating with Harriet but also cheating on
her with a number of other women. Some readers of
the tape transcripts got their biggest kick out of Sam
talking to Harriet's husband on one telephone while
whispering words of endearment to Harriet on

DeCavalcante was hardly an important Mafia
godfather, although he played his role to the hilt.
Really a sort of gofer for the commission in its efforts
to tame Bonanno, DeCavalcante was noted to feel
frustrated by his status. He also felt nothing could be
done about resolving the Bonanno crisis, which he
felt could explode into "World War III."

The release of the tapes did DeCavalcante no
good. He was convicted on an extortion-conspiracy
charge and sentenced to 15 years. After serving his
term in Atlanta, DeCavalcante retired to Florida and,
in the 1980s, was linked to a secret plan to invest in
three casinos in Miami if the voters approved legal
gambling. The voters rejected the move by a two-to-
one margin. It may have been a bigger disappoint-
ment to DeCavalcante than the revelations of the

DeCARLO, Angelo "Gyp"

DeCARLO, Angelo "Gyp" (1902-1973): New jersey racket

A longtime New Jersey boss of Mafia loan-sharking,
gambling activities, and stolen securities operations,
Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo was maudlin about the
Mafia. Based on FBI tapes made from illegal bugging
of DeCarlo's office from 1961 to 1965, some star-
tling sentiments were revealed. Released under court
order, portions of the transcripts appeared in the
press. As reporter Fred Graham noted, "reputations
collapsed throughout New Jersey as racketeers were
quoted as swapping favors with police chiefs, prose-
cutors, judges, and political chieftains."

Among those who saw their political fortunes
wrecked were Hudson County political boss John J.
Kenny and Newark mayor Hugh Addonizio. Con-
gressman Peter Rodino escaped censure by the public
by explaining away satisfactorily the kind of things
said about him. Singer Frank Sinatra got another
heavy dose of the constant linking of him with mob

Equally important was the picture painted of
DeCarlo himself, especially in view of the kindly
treatment he was to receive later from a national
administration. DeCarlo spoke glowingly of the old
days in the "combination" and his self-approval of
his role as a thug and murderous brute. At one point
Harold "Kayo" Konigsberg, a notorious mob
enforcer, asked him: "Will you tell me why every-
body loves you so?"

DeCarlo's reply was honest if perhaps not totally
responsive. "I'm a hoodlum," he announced proudly.
"I don't want to be a legitimate guy. All these other
racket guys who get a few bucks want to become

The tapes, typical of many mob conversations,
turned to discussions of past murders, which, what-
ever embellishments or contradiction with known
facts, were reflective of the characters involved.
DeCarlo had to observe rather philosophically to
other mobsters that victims "as little as they are, they

He seemed most happy reminiscing about one vic-
tim to whom he said,

"Let me hit you clean. " ... So the guy went for it . . .
we took the guy out in the woods, and I said, "Now lis-
ten . . . You gotta go. Why not let me hit you right in
the heart, and you won't feel a thing?" He said, "I'm
innocent . . . but if you've gotta do it . . . " So I hit him
in the heart, and it went right through him.

DeCarlo almost certainly had a financial mystery
man named Louis Saperstein poisoned with arsenic,
but when DeCarlo and an aide were sent to prison in
1970 for 12 years, it was for extortion, not murder,
in the Saperstein case.

DeCarlo was back on the front pages just 19
months later when President Nixon mysteriously
commuted his sentence and let him out of prison,
only one of four acts of clemency Nixon granted that
year out of hundreds of applications.

What made the clemency so unusual was the odd
way it came about. DeCarlo petitioned for his
release, claiming he was suffering from cancer; he
had made that claim for years. Normally such a
request would automatically be routed to the
Newark prosecutor's office and then through Crimi-
nal Division in Washington for recommendations,
before reaching the attorney general. This particular
petition simply zipped straight to Attorney General
Richard Kleindienst who approved it and shot it on

Coming out of prison on a stretcher, New Jersey mafioso
"Gyp" DeCarlo was said to have enjoyed special pull when
he won a lightning-fast presidential pardon in 1970.
Although suffering from cancer, he was well enough to
carry on mob rule for a time.

to White House Special Counsel John Dean. Presi-
dent Nixon's signature came through so that
DeCarlo could be released two days before Christ-
mas, 1972, a touching reward for a kindly hit man
who popped a victim straight through the heart to
save him pain, especially from an outspoken remem-
ber-the-crime-victim administration.

Naturally the tale churned through the Washing-
ton gossip mill. There were reports that, through
Vice President Spiro Agnew, the clemency had been
arranged by singer Sinatra — whose smiling picture
graced DeCarlo's office wall and whom DeCarlo, on
tape, praised lavishly. There was also talk that
DeCarlo had contributed handsomely to Nixon's
reelection campaign, which would be a stirring
example of citizenship for a man behind bars.
Denials and no-comments filled the air and Special
Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox even conducted
an investigation into the irregular events. Nothing
came of the probe.

DeCarlo had returned home on a stretcher and
then seemed well enough to pick up his mob rule.
But 10 months later he succumbed to cancer. His
death revealed an added bit of irony. DeCarlo had
been hit with a $20,000 fine when he was sentenced,
and he was told that if he did not pay the fine by
October 25, 1973, he would be returned to prison.
DeCarlo died on October 20, his debt still unpaid.
To the very end DeCarlo managed to live by his
stated credo: "I don't want to be a legitimate guy."

COPPOLA, Michael "Trigger Mike"

COPPOLA, Michael "Trigger Mike" (1904-1966):
Syndicate capo

Trigger Mike Coppola earned notoriety in Mafia and
popular folklore. A raging sadist and brutal trigger-
man, his violent nature carried over to his personal
life. Allegedly, he arranged to have his first wife mur-
dered in the hospital where she had given birth. Fear
of Coppola and his mob's vengeance drove his sec-
ond wife to suicide. In Florida, after Mike's death,
locals for years pointed out the old Coppola house.
Haunted, they said. The tale ran that Wife No. 2's
ghost was searching for the millions Trigger Mike
was known to have squirreled away.

When Lucky Luciano went to prison in the 1930s
and Vito Genovese fled to Europe to avoid a murder
rap, Coppola had taken over much of the New York
crime family's rackets, including the lucrative arti-
choke racket. He also ran much of the crime family's
numbers operation in Harlem. His net was estimated
at around $1 million a year — not bad for a man with
little on the ball other than a penchant for violence.

Sometimes Coppola had trouble keeping track of
all the money coming his way. In 1960 Coppola
became one of the first 11 undesirables listed in the
Black Book issued by Nevada state officials. All
eleven were barred from the casinos; in Coppola's
case it was like keeping him from visiting his money.
An oft-told underworld story concerns the time he
woke up in the middle of the night suddenly recalling
that he had forgotten a package in the freezer of one
of his favorite night spots. A hurried phone call
brought delivery of the package to his door and a
sweating Coppola spent the rest of the night thawing
out $219,000 of mob money, which he had charge of
distributing the following morning.

One need not speculate what Coppola would have
done had the money been gone. He would simply
have killed off a few employees at the joint and
blamed them for taking the money. Coppola was
always ready to kill almost anybody to advance his
fortunes or protect himself. His first wife, according
to the subsequent testimony of his second wife, Ann,
happened to be around when her husband and
another hood discussed plans for the murder of a
New York Republican political worker, Joseph Scot-
toriggio. The first Mrs. Coppola had been called to
testify against her husband in the case, but her
appearance was postponed because of her pregnancy.
She gave birth to a baby daughter and then conve-
niently expired in her hospital bed. Coppola's second
wife, Ann, later charged that Trigger Mike had
bragged about killing Wife No. 1 to keep her from

Ann Coppola was to learn that marriage to Trig-
ger Mike was a living hell and that his first wife was
probably better off dead. At their honeymoon party
Coppola entertained the guests by taking a shot at
Ann. When she became pregnant, Coppola called in
a mob doctor to perform an abortion on the kitchen
table with Trigger Mike helping out. He was to help
out on three more abortions; Ann realized he got
kicks out of it. In 1960 Ann discovered her husband
was supplying drugs to her teenage daughter by a
previous marriage. She filed for divorce and testified
in an income tax case against Coppola, who sent
strongarm men to kidnap her and administer a harsh
Mafia beating. Found severely mauled on an isolated beach,
she recovered and prepared again to testify
against him.

Finally, Trigger Mike threw in the towel and
pleaded guilty, taking the fall as the mob ordered.
The mob had decided they didn't want their racket
secret revealed in open court. Trigger Mike served a
year in Atlanta Penitentiary and then was put on an
additional four years' probation.

Meanwhile, Ann had squirreled away something
like a quarter million dollars in underworld money
and secretly fled to Europe to escape the mob's hit
men. In 1962, in Rome, she would run no more. She
wrote a final letter to Internal Revenue, addressing
certain portions of it to Attorney General Robert F.
Kennedy. Then she wrote a farewell to Trigger Mike,
saying: "Mike Coppola, someday, somehow, a per-
son or God or the law shall catch up with you, you
yellow-bellied bastard. You are the lowest and
biggest coward I have had the misfortune to meet."
Then she wrote in lipstick on the wall over her hotel
bed: "I have always suffered, I am going to kill

Mafioso Mike Coppola and his first wife together in a
happier moment, before he allegedly had her killed in the
hospital where she had given birth to a baby daughter.
She could, it was said, link Coppola to a murder.
She took a dozen sleeping pills and lapsed quietly into death.

Trigger Mike got out of prison in 1963 and he
spent his remaining years in disgrace with the mob,
both for letting his wife learn his secrets and for
being unable to keep her mouth shut. Trigger Mike
whiled away his time growing orchids. He might well
have been disturbed in even that pursuit had Ann
Coppola's last request been honored. She wanted to
be cremated and her ashes dropped over his house.