Fittingly, on June 8, Michael (Baldy Mike) Spinelli, a made-in-the-bathroom mobster, was flushed down the drain for a rock-bottom misdeed. And he took one of the noble myths of organized crime into the sewers with him.
Spinelli was sentenced to 235 months for trying to whack Patricia Capozzalo, a mother of three who had the misfortune of being the sister of a mob turncoat. The attempted hit was the low point of the excessive mob violence of the last two decades and belied the supposed axiom that innocent, uninvolved women, children and family members are off-limits to the treachery of revenge, retribution and mayhem that still make organized crime the subject of R-rated movies, TV series, bestsellers and tabloid headlines.
Capozzalo was marked for death by Luchese crime boss Vittorio (Vic) Amuso in an ill-conceived attempt to convince her brother, Peter (Fat Pete) Chiodo, to change his mind about testifying at Amuso's then-upcoming racketeering and murder trial. Amuso is one of those hot-headed gangsters who don't always think things through. Capozzalo was shot in the neck and back in front of her home in 1992 after dropping two of her children off at school. Spinelli drove the van that carried the shooter. Had his sister died, it's hard not to imagine Chiodo being even more eager to testify against his old friends.
Baldy Mike's participation in the shooting earned him a place in the Luchese family. He was officially inducted at a makeshift ritual in a bathroom at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he was being held on racketeering and murder charges. Spinelli's inductors had to do without the gun and knife, props in the traditional ceremony, and instead of a picture of a Catholic saint, they set toilet paper afire in his hands as he swore undying allegiance to the family.
Spinelli, 45, isn't likely to resurface until 2027, if he lives that long. The new sentence was tacked onto the 13 years he still has to serve for other violent crimes. In a prepared statement, Spinelli with a straight face and no sign of remorse said he hoped his sentencing would bring closure to his and Capozzalo's families. "They've both suffered enough," he said.
Not surprisingly, the sentencing judge's sentiments were similar to the pervasive view of the shooting in many corners of Gang Land.
"This is not just another criminal living and dying by the sword or a gun," said Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie. "This is really an unthinkable act of cowardice" that broke one of the "rules that just aren't broken" and is a "black indelible mark (on the Luchese crime family) that will never be washed away."
Three days later, on June 11, in a federal courthouse 60 miles away, a Luchese mobster who once did much of the dirty work for a mob-linked carting company got a shorter stretch for the same crime. Jody Calabrese, 37, who pleaded guilty, got 10 years for his role in the attempted hit on Capozzalo, as well as the attempted murder of a salesman for a rival garbage hauler Calabrese shot five times in 1997. He's due out of prison in 2006.
In a plea bargain, Calabrese admitted his roles in both shootings and in two extortion attempts. Prosecutors expected his sentence to be between 135 and 168 months under federal sentencing guidelines. But Calabrese's lawyer, Joel Winograd, convinced Hauppauge, N.Y., U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley that because both shooting victims did not suffer permanent injuries and because Calabrese had no prior criminal convictions, the guidelines called for less, somewhere between 108 and 135 months.
Spinelli drove the van that carried gunman Dino Basciano to the Gravesend, Brooklyn, street where Capozzalo was ambushed. Calabrese and another mobster, Gregory Cappello -- who died in prison two years ago while serving time for unrelated crimes -- were in a "crash car" that tailed the van and was ready to block police or other pursuers.
Spinelli's brother Robert drove a "switch car" that took the hit team to safety after they ditched the van. He was also convicted and is to be sentenced next month.
Gregory DePalma flourished in those halcyon mobster days before federal racketeering cases.
In 1976, a smiling DePalma stood between Frank Sinatra and Mafia boss Paul Castellano for the now-infamous backstage photo with Carlo Gambino and other mobsters that would later be used to bolster tape-recorded evidence against DePalma and 10 others in a bankruptcy fraud case.
On June 11, hooked to intravenous tubes and breathing through an oxygen mask, the aging Gambino gangster, who unwittingly helped the feds make a racketeering case against John A. "Junior" Gotti, lay helpless in a sparsely furnished hospital room as he was sentenced to six years in prison.
White Plains, N.Y., U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker had traveled to the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla to put a cap on DePalma's criminal career.
DePalma, 67, suffers from cancer, diabetes and a host of other ailments. He could have received up to 13 years, but Parker cited DePalma's failing health in departing from the normal sentencing guidelines.
But a few hours later, back at the White Plains Courthouse, Parker showed no mercy for DePalma's mobster son Craig DePalma, meting out the harshest sentence he could for the 33-year-old: 87 months.
"You saw what your father's life was like and you saw what that life brought upon your family, particularly the women, [yet] you cast your lot with Gotti and associates," said Parker.
The DePalmas implicated themselves and Junior Gotti in numerous crimes in hundreds of conversations tape-recorded from 1995 to 1997. In an ironically memorable one, Junior and Craig made fun of the elder DePalma's propensity to get caught on tape.
All three pleaded guilty to racketeering charges that included loan sharking and extortion practiced on workers and owners of Scores, a trendy Manhattan strip joint popular with celebrities, sports figures and tourists.
Junior gets his turn before Judge Parker next month. Like Craig DePalma, he faces up to 87 months. Like DePalma, Gotti saw what his father's life was like and opted to follow in his footsteps, even to the point of getting caught on tape.
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hey, we'll accept endorsements from anybody
No matter what the feds say about Murray Kufeld, a longtime buddy of Bonanno family consigliere Anthony Spero, Gang Land thinks you gotta like the guy.
Kufeld, who shares Spero's love of racing pigeons, was called as a witness at Spero's recent detention hearing in an effort by prosecutor Jim Walden to buttress his assertion that Kufeld carried messages from Spero to underlings at a Bath Beach, Brooklyn, social club a block from Spero's pigeon coops.
Kufeld denied any improprieties, but admitted under grilling by Walden that he knew many people the prosecutor identified as mobsters, including Bonanno boss Joseph Massino, insisting however that he never knew any of them to commit any crimes.
"Where have you seen Mr. Massino?" demanded Walden.
"In the newspapers and in [Jerry Capeci's] 'Gang Land,'" said Kufeld.