A high-ranking member of the Gambino crime family who literally got away with murder for decades has finally been found guilty of that crime and others and could go to prison for life.
Bartolomeo Vernace, 64, variously known as “Bobby Glasses,” “Pepe” and “John Canova,” was found guilty on April 17 of a racketeering conspiracy that included his participation in the 1981 murder of two Queens bar owners — killings sparked by a spilled drink.
Vernace and one of two Gambino associates who were with him gunned down John D’Agnese, 22, and Richard Godkin, 35, at the Shamrock Bar, located at 86-06 Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, on April 11, 1981.
D’Agnese had asked patron Frank “The Geech” Riccardi to leave after he argued with another customer who had spilled a drink on the woman Riccardi was with. But instead of just leaving, the government says, Riccardi left and returned with Vernace and another alleged mobster, Ronald “Ronnie the Jew” Barlin. Together they killed D’Agnese and Godkin in front of dozens of witnesses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Afterward, according to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, Vernace went into hiding, while another Gambino associate “tried to question” witnesses to the killing, intimidating them. Vernace later returned to Queens, operating a Mafia crew out of a club on Cooper Avenue in Glendale for years.
In 1998, Vernace was charged with the Godkin-D’Agnese killings in state court, but he was acquitted in 2002 after a trial.
During this year’s federal racketeering trial, one eyewitness testified that he had lied during the state trial out of fear of retribution. “Two men were dead over a spilled drink,” the witness said. “That was reason enough to be afraid.”
Riccardi also went into hiding and was arrested 20 years later in Boca Raton, Fla. He was acquitted in a state murder trial and is since deceased. The charges against Barlin were dropped.
Vernace was rearrested in January 2011, along with more than 100 other suspected members of the Mafia, in what was touted as the largest coordinated takedown of organized crime figures in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was at the time one of three people who had been running the Gambino crime family since 2008, the government said.
“The 32 years since Vernace took part in the ruthless double murder of two good men represent half his lifetime,” New York FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos observed in an announcement of last week’s conviction. “They have not been years spent atoning for those murders. It has been time spent living the life of a mob soldier, captain, and overseer — half a lifetime committing and directing crimes for the Gambino crime family. We expect that Vernace’s remaining years will be spent behind bars where he belongs. There is no expiration date on the FBI’s resolve to see justice done.”
In addition to the Godkin-D’Agnese murders, Vernace was found, as part of the racketeering conspiracy, to have been involved in heroin trafficking, robbery, loansharking and gambling. He was also found guilty of separate firearms and gambling allegations. The government said he had been involved in the Mafia since the early 1970s and eventually became a captain, or capo, in the Gambino family. The racketeering charge covered his activities from 1978 through 2011.
One of the Five Families that dominates Italian-American organized crime in New York City and its environs, the Gambino group was for a time considered the most powerful Mafia conglomerate in the country. It was led, starting in 1957, by namesake Carlo Gambino, then Paul Castellano and then John Gotti of Howard Beach, the “Dapper Don.” Also called the “Teflon Don” for his ability to beat various charges in court, Gotti was convicted of racketeering in 1992 and sent to prison for life, dying there 10 years later.