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Revealing Portrait : Wiretaps: Tuning In to Mob Life

October 23, 1987|BOB DROGIN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — As longtime underboss of the New England mob, Gennaro Angiulo was not an articulate man. But, when it came to business, he did not mince words.

"We're illegitimate business," he once explained, with many an expletive. "We're a Shylock . . . . We're a bookmaker . . . . We're selling marijuana . . . . We're, we're illegal here, illegal there. Arsonists! We're everything!"

Reluctant debtors, for example, required a special touch.

"What would you do . . . ? Meet him in a dark alley with an ax . . . . Throw it. Pray it hits him right between the eyes."

Still, the 67-year-old, silver-haired Angiulo had his sentimental side.

Used to Kick TV Sets

"Remember the old days?" he mused to a friend. "I used to kick televisions through on a day like this. Now I don't kick them no more."

Unknown to him at the time, the FBI was listening. In 1981, it placed an electronic bug in Angiulo's north Boston office. Thus, by his own words--hundreds of hours' worth--did a federal jury come to know "Jerry" Angiulo. Last year, the TV-kicking Mafioso and his chief cronies were convicted of racketeering and murder and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Angiulo's conviction was another notch in a historic roundup of La Cosa Nostra leaders. From Boston to Kansas City, New York to Los Angeles, federal prosecutors have convicted more than 900 mob members and associates. Last week, the feds broadened the attack, suing for the first time to take control of the allegedly mob-dominated commercial complex, Manhattan's landmark Fulton Fish Market.

Tapes Key Factor

Key to almost every case were court-approved wiretaps, sophisticated electronic surveillance and use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law. In courtroom after courtroom, prosecutors played gripping audio- or videotapes of mobsters casually discussing grisly murders, shakedowns, drug deals and more. Other details came from mob turncoats and informants.

Juries heard mobsters beg, brag, bully and badger. They heard mobsters weep, whine and philosophize. They heard mobsters complain about poor manners and bad toupees. They heard endless chatter about card games and point spreads. They heard that the Mafia does not work on Mother's Day.

They heard of Damon Runyon monikers like "Cuddles," "Peanuts" and "Benny Eggs." They heard a Chicago gangster sneer at California's "Mickey Mouse Mafia" and a Philadelphia loan shark charge 1,800% interest. They heard one hood ask another: "Are you alone or are you by yourself?"

They heard the mob as never before.

"The bugs have proved beyond a doubt that there is a mob, that there are families, that there is a ruling 'commission' and that they are involved in a wide range of criminal activities," said Ronald Goldstock, head of New York State's Organized Crime Task Force. "They also show these are not brilliant guys."

Brilliant, no. Powerful, yes. Two years before he was shot to death outside a Manhattan steak house in December, 1985, Gambino crime family chief and "boss of bosses" Paul (Big Paul) Castellano confided to his maid, Gloria, that he always was willing to lend a hand.

"If the President of the United States, if he's smart, if he needed help, he'd come, I could do a, some favor for him," Castellano said, according to a bug hidden in his white-pillared Staten Island mansion.

Not Unreasonable Boast

The boast was not unreasonable, according to a report last year by the President's Commission on Organized Crime. The report estimated that there are 1,700 "made" Mafia members, mostly in New York and Chicago, with lifetime vows to one of 24 "families." That hard-core group is backed by about 17,000 "associates" and is supported by 280,000 corrupt union workers, truck drivers, longshoremen and others, the report said.

The mob's work is as varied as America: gambling in Los Angeles, unions in Chicago, construction in New York, loan sharking in Kansas City, narcotics in Tucson, steel hauling in Detroit, stolen credit cards in Newark, N. J. (where mobsters reportedly work from the Hole-in-the-Wall Luncheonette).

Moreover, crime pays. The President's commission estimated that income to all organized crime groups (including black, Colombian, Chinese and other groups) last year would top $47 billion. If accurate, that's more than is earned by all U.S. iron, steel, aluminum and copper manufacturers combined.

Sees Mobsters' 'Edge'

Like other global cartels, the modern Mafia employs high-priced lawyers, sophisticated shipping companies and Swiss bank accounts. The difference is that mobsters have "an edge," said Nicholas L. Chiarkas, former deputy chief counsel and research director of the President's panel.

"To kill, to threaten, to bribe, that's OK (with them)," he said. "That's their edge . . . . It's a very, very different value system."

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