A Queens-based illegal gambling ring was shut down and 17 Genovese and Gambino crime family members were arrested on Monday. The defendants face up to 25 years in prison on corruption and conspiracy charges if convicted, authorities said.
During the 15-month Police Department investigation, the families allegedly brought in $12.5 million in illegal bets at three Queens bars and through numerous gambling web sites.
The case is unique, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, because it is the first time that two organized crime families are being prosecuted for working together in an illegal gambling enterprise.
Although an estimated $15 billion in illegal bets are placed in New York City every year, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said any betting controlled by the Mafia is in a category of its own.
“There is no such thing as a friendly wager when the mob is involved,” he said. “Inevitably, the Mafia organizers of sports betting and other illegal gambling have blood on their hands.”
Family members and associates of the crime families allegedly operated out of at least three Queens bars including Club House Sports Bar in Maspeth and First German Sports Club as well as Tee-Dee’s Tavern, both in Ridgewood. None of the bar owners could be reached for comment, although a man at Club House Sports Bar said the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
Additional locations were used in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Westchester, according to authorities.
The extent of the organized criminal activity in their neighborhood may have surprised some residents, but the fact that the Mafia has been operating in Maspeth and Ridgewood did not.
“These neighborhoods have always had their share of organized crime so this is nothing new,” said one longtime community leader.
Another, who also declined to give his name, said it is likely that Maspeth was chosen for operations because it is a quiet, residential neighborhood and would not be suspect.
For years, Joseph Massino oversaw the Bonanno crime family’s operations from CasaBlanca restaurant on Fresh Pond Road. The restaurant is now closed. Massino also owned a house in Maspeth where his mother lived, until his property was forfeited to the government last year.
Last July, Massino was convicted of seven murders and multiple other crimes involving loansharking, extortion, gambling and money laundering. Recently, federal prosecutors said he would not face the death penalty because he has been cooperating with investigators.
With his help, authorities have been able to make numerous arrests and uncover a mob graveyard in Ozone Park.
Close relations between Genovese soldier Victor Colletti and his partner, Anthony Frascone, a Bonanno soldier who is prison, made the gambling partnership between the two notorious families possible, according to prosecutors. Last year, Frascone pleaded guilty to running a similar ring for more than a decade.
The crime ring brought in nearly $200,000 a week and $10 million a year by accepting bets on everything from horseracing to the Final Four NCAA basketball tournament and numerous other college and professional sports games.
The arrests were made just a day before the NCAA men’s basketball title game between Illinois and North Carolina. The Final Four tournament is second only to the Super Bowl in the amount of illegal and legal betting it generates, according to authorities.
During its busiest times, it is alleged that the ring booked up to about $30,000 in bets each day, often including single bets of $5,000 on big games, like major league baseball playoffs.
Crackdowns on such operations have led gambling rings to use web sites that typically are operated outside of the United States. In this case, numerous accounts were managed on the Costa Rica-based site datawagers.com, police said.
One of the biggest problems with mob-controlled gambling, according to Brown, is that the revenues are used to fund more dangerous criminal activity.
“Illegal gambling generates huge profits for organized crime, which uses them as seed money to capitalize its other more insidious forms of corruption such as labor racketeering, drug trafficking, auto theft, insurance fraud and loan sharking.”
The defendants face charges of enterprise corruption, a violation of New York State’s Organized Crime Control Act, promoting gambling, possession of gambling records and conspiracy.
The investigation leading to Tuesday’s arrest began in February 2003. During the past two years detectives and the District Attorney’s Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau developed information about the elaborate gambling system.
A number of clerks working with the operation accepted bets, managed accounts, maintained figures and operated telephone betting accounts, according to authorities.
The ring stationed runners at the three Queens bars to manage groups of bettors and settle their accounts. Gambling records and money were stored in the Bronx, Yonkers and at 61-12 69th Street in Middle Village.
Of the 19 defendants, Joseph Beninati and Anthony Mangiaracina are from Maspeth, Victor Colletti and Patricia Riebling are from Middle Village, Ercole Petrizzi is from Glendale, Frank Catalano is from Ridgewood and the others are from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Westchester and Florida.
All but one runner was arrested on Monday.