Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, assisted by the Police Department and state law enforcement agencies, last week executed the largest coordinated organized crime takedown in FBI history, cuffing more than 100 of 127 indicted individuals in the city, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
But an academic expert in criminal organizations noted that while the dramatic pre-dawn raids undoubtedly have struck an economic blow to La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia in New York has always regrouped and regenerated.
“They will adjust,” said Howard Abadinsky, professor of criminal justice at St. John’s University in Jamaica. “Whether [the arrests] will have a lasting effect on the structure of the groups — that, I doubt.”
Abadinsky also called the simultaneous arrests of so many reputed members of the mob “extraordinary,” because they’re not all tied to the same crime, and said he sensed “a little bit of a suspicion that maybe there is a bit of a public relations element to this.”
An FBI spokesman told the Chronicle, “The investigations just culminated around the same time.”
More than 30 of the defendants are made members of the Mafia, including high-ranking city shot-callers such as Benjamin Castellazzo, 73, acting underboss of the Colombo family, Andrew Russo, 76, Colombo street boss, Richard Fusco, 74, consigliere of the Colombos, Joseph Corozzo, 69, consigliere of the Gambino family and Bartolomeo Vernace, 61, a member of the Gambino family administration.
Among the charges in the 16 indictments unsealed in four judicial districts last Thursday morning are murder, murder conspiracy, loansharking, arson, narcotics trafficking, extortion, robbery, illegal gambling and labor racketeering.
Abadinsky, who is putting together the 10th edition of his “Organized Crime” textbook, said the charges are “nothing out of the ordinary” for the Mafia, though he was somewhat surprised to not see anything in the indictments related to cybercrime or medical insurance fraud, which have become lucrative rackets in the modern era.
Vernace, reputed Colombo capo Anthony Russo and Gambino associate Todd LaBarca also stand accused of four borough murders. According to one of 12 indictments returned in Brooklyn, Russo shot Colombo underboss Joe Scopo as he sat in the passenger seat of a car outside his Ozone Park home. Vernace allegedly murdered owners Richard Godkin and John D’Agnese inside the Shamrock Bar on Jamaica Avenue in April 1981. He was acquitted of state homicide charges in the case in November 2002. And LaBarca has been charged with pumping a single bullet into the back of the head of Gambino associate Marty Bosshart and dumping his body on 155th Street in Howard Beach in January 2002.
The cases were aided by confidential informants who surreptitiously recorded the accused discussing various criminal acts, including LaBarca allegedly boasting of the Bosshart hit.
The culture of turning on fellow members of a criminal enterprise has been pervasive in recent years. Perhaps the most notable examples are former Gambino underboss Salvatore Gravano, who helped put away the late Gambino boss and Howard Beach resident John Gotti; and Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino, former owner of the now defunct CasaBlanca restaurant in Maspeth, who cooperated with federal authorities after facing the death penalty.
For the mob, “it’s absolutely an ongoing problem, and that’s not going to end,” Abadinsky said of gangsters wearing wires. “We certainly will see more informants. But you’d think [members] would be more cautious by now.”
Abadinsky asserted that this has led to what he deemed a “recruiting problem” for the mob.
“What young Italian male, third or fourth generation, wants to get involved in organized crime?” he asked rhetorically. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Those who choose to follow that path, Abadinsky noted, are select individuals who “for the most part are psychopaths.”
“They like hurting people, they like the subculture, they like ‘The Sopranos,’” he said. “There’s definitely an element of life imitating art. They’re attracted to the glorified lifestyle.”
According to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the charges carry a variety of maximum penalties, including life in prison.
Asked if the indictments would result in substantial convictions and guilty pleas, Abadinsky said the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act “makes it relatively easy” to pin a conspiracy on the defendants.
“If not all of them will be convicted, certainly the made guys will,” he said.