Alfonso "Little Al" D'Arco, the former acting boss of the Luchese crime family, was the highest-ranking mobster to ever turn government witness when he flipped in 1991. His decision to flip prompted many others to make the same choice, including John Gotti's top aide, Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, and his testimony sent more than fifty mobsters to prison.
In Mob Boss, award-winning news reporters Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins team up for this unparalleled account of D'Arco's life and the New York mob scene that he embraced for four decades.
Until the day he switched sides, D'Arco lived and breathed the old-school gangster lessons he learned growing up in Brooklyn and fine-tuned on the mean streets of Little Italy. But when he learned he was marked to be whacked, D'Arco quit the mob. His defection decimated his crime family and opened a window on mob secrets going back a hundred years.
After speaking with D'Arco, the authors reveal unprecedented insights, exposing shocking secrets and troublesome truths about a city where a famous pizza parlor doubled as a Mafia center for multi-million-dollar heroin deals, where hit men carried out murders dressed as women, and where kidnapping a celebrity newsman's son was deemed appropriate revenge for the father's satirical novel.
Capeci and Robbins spent hundreds of hours in conversation with D'Arco, and exhausted many hours more fleshing out his stories in this riveting narrative that takes readers behind the famous witness testimony for a comprehensive look at the Mafia in New York City.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
TOM ROBBINS has covered crime and politics in New York for more than thirty years as a reporter and columnist for the New York Daily News, New York Observer, and Village Voice. He now teaches investigative reporting at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
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The Life of Little Al D'Arco, The Man Who Brought Down the Mafia
By Jerry Capeci, Tom Robbins
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbin
All rights reserved.
On the evening of September 21, 1991, a veteran agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation named Robert Marston got a call at his home in the Connecticut suburbs. It was seven o'clock on a Saturday night and Marston and his family were just headed out the door. Neighbors were picking them up to drive them to a local church fair.
The phone rang just as the neighbors arrived. Marston picked it up in the living room as his wife and two young children went outside.
On the other end was an operator from the bureau's New York switchboard, which handled after-hours calls to the agency.
"I have a call for Agent Marston," a nasal-toned operator said. "Will you accept it?"
He said he would. He waited a moment for the call to be patched through. On the line was someone involved in an investigation that Marston was conducting into an illegal landfill. He'd spoken to the man several times, but he couldn't imagine why he would be calling him on a weekend evening. Whatever it was, he hoped it wouldn't take long. He could see his wife chatting with their friends, casting anxious glances at the living-room window.
The caller sounded nervous and rushed. He was speaking almost in code.
"There's this guy I know and he's involved with things. I'd like you to speak to him. I think he can tell you a lot," he said.
Marston asked who it was.
"His name is Al D'Arco," said the caller.
The agent had to skip a few beats to catch up with that one. For the past year he had been trying to wrap up his probe into a dump along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. It had started as a routine environmental-crime case. That was Marston's beat. He chased illegal dumpers, the corner-cutting trash haulers who tossed medical waste into the ocean, and toxic garbage down open mine pits.
He was part of what the bureau called "a white-collar squad." They pursued crooks who stole with pen and paper, not guns. It was why the bureau's elite mob-chasing agents referred to them as the "sharp-pencil guys." They were smart investigators, very good at deciphering financial records, but lacking in the street savvy needed to handle real wiseguys.
Marston wouldn't have disagreed with that analysis. He had an MBA and had been on the verge of becoming a certified public accountant when his application to the FBI had been accepted. But despite the white-collar nature of his work, several authentic wiseguys had walked into the landfill case just the same. One of them had ended up dead in the trunk of his late-model Jaguar, his blood leaching out onto the Bronx street where the car was abandoned.
On court-ordered wiretaps, Marston's team had heard dump operators voice greatest concern about someone in lower Manhattan's Little Italy named "Al." Whoever "Al" was, he was a mobster with high-level clout in the Luchese crime family, one of New York's five Mafia clans. They'd eventually learned Al's last name: D'Arco. He had done two terms in prison, one for stock theft and another for heroin sales.
Their interest had soared when they'd learned earlier that year from the bureau's Mafia specialists that D'Arco was serving as his crime family's acting boss. He was the pinch hitter for the family's two top figures, boss Vittorio "Vic" Amuso and underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso. Both men had gone into hiding just before their indictment on racketeering charges the year before.
That was where the intelligence had stopped. They had never heard his voice on the wiretaps or spotted him in a meeting. Al D'Arco was someone hidden in the corners.
And now he wanted to talk to Bob Marston?
He said that of course he would speak to him. The caller said he'd have D'Arco call Marston right back on the same number. Then he hung up.
A few moments later, the phone rang again. Outside on the lawn, his wife looked up at the sound of the ring. She gave an exasperated shrug. He held up a finger. He'd be a minute.
"Agent Marston, I have someone on the line who doesn't want to say who he is," said the high-pitched operator.
"That's all right," he said. "Put him through, please."
He heard a voice with a deep Brooklyn accent. "Mr. Marston? My name is Al." The caller paused. "Do you know who I am?"
"Yes, I think I do," he said.
"Okay, good. I was told you were someone I could talk to."
This is how Hollywood would have a wiseguy sound, the agent thought. Street-tough and tense. It suddenly flashed through Marston's mind that this was a gag, a couple of co-workers jerking his chain. In his office in New Rochelle just north of New York City, everyone knew he'd been hammering away at the landfill case. And everyone knew that he'd lately been chasing his own white whale, a mobster named D'Arco.
On the other hand, if the caller was who he said he was, this could be a very significant phone conversation. Robert Marston was thirty-nine years old. He'd been with the FBI for twelve years, long enough to know that agents spent entire careers hoping for calls like this.
If I screw this up, he thought, how am I ever going to explain it?
Marston's wife was now waving her hands, beckoning him to come on. She cupped her hand to her mouth. "Will you please hang up the phone and get into the car?" she yelled. He waved back just as urgently, signaling her not to wait for him. She shook her head.
"I'd be glad to talk," said Marston. They were both silent for a moment. This is like an awkward first date, the agent thought. "How can I help?" he added.
D'Arco began to talk. His words spilled out in a fast, agitated flow. Marston couldn't understand everything he said. It was a mob stream of consciousness, as though he had come in halfway through a conversation the gangster was having with himself.
People had tried to kill him, he got that much. And D'Arco wanted to retaliate. He heard that as well. He had weapons at his disposal, and he was prepared for anything that happened, he said. "I never broke the rules," the mobster kept saying.
Marston just listened. This had to be authentic. His agent pals could never be this creative. He made sympathetic sounds. His chief goal, he decided, should be just to keep Al D'Arco on the phone, to keep him from bolting.
"Tell me what's going on," he said, trying to sound encouraging.
D'Arco told him he was in a house on Long Island. His son Joseph was with him. He didn't give an address, and Marston didn't press him.
Marston couldn't tell whether the men D'Arco said were after him were right outside the house or far away. If the threat was imminent, he said, they might be better off just dialing 911. "We could have police cruisers there in a couple minutes if you want."
"No," responded D'Arco in a low voice. "It's not that imminent."
He next sounded almost embarrassed for having raised an alarm. "I don't need any help protecting myself," he said loudly. "And I can take care of my family. I've been doing it all my life."
All he wanted to do was talk, he insisted. "I'm willing to do this for a few minutes right now," he said. "But that's it. Nothing else," he said.
"That's fine," said the agent. "Let's just talk." He looked outside. The car was gone. So was his family.
Again, there was silence on the other end of the line. Marston started filling in the space. He told D'Arco a little about himself. He was from upstate New York, he said. He told him where he worked and the kind of cases he did.
As he spoke, Marston tried to keep his own voice as normal as possible, as though he were talking to a neighbor at the church fair he now knew he'd miss. He was trying to avoid being pulled into the undertow of the tough Brooklyn accent. It was something he had seen other agents lapse into when talking to hoods from the street. In a bid to gain their confidence, they imitated their language, their gestures, even their dress.
Marston had no illusions about who he was. He was a suburban WASP. If he was to start talking like a tough guy, Al D'Arco would instantly spot him as a fake. Worse, he would consider it condescending. He'd hang up and go a million miles away.
D'Arco sounded somewhat reassured by what he heard. He said he was glad to know that Marston wasn't one of the FBI men that followed the Luchese family. "Those guys have been harassing me," he said. An agent had recently stopped him in the street, he claimed, loudly thanking D'Arco for helping them, making it appear as though he were cooperating.
"He was trying to get me killed," said D'Arco.
The rant against the bureau continued for several minutes. He began a new tirade against those who were after him. Then he paused and seemed to take a breath. "If I was to come with you," he said, "what could you do for me?"
Marston felt a slight panic as he realized he had no idea what the answer was. He'd never handled a mob cooperator. Instinct told him to be honest about that.
"Well, I don't know exactly, Mr. D'Arco. I've never done this kind of thing before." He said he'd quickly find out though. And then he added some reassurance about some things he knew he could honestly pledge. "What I will tell you, though, is that I will never lie to you. I won't make any promises I can't keep. And I'll never mislead you. If I don't know the answer to something I will tell you I don't know."
D'Arco seemed to appreciate his honesty about his ignorance. "Well, I got an idea of who you are," he said. "And I think maybe you are someone I can talk to."
Marston said he felt the same way. What they should do, the agent said, was talk again in a little while after he'd had a chance to speak to his bosses, who would have a better idea of how to proceed.
He looked at his watch. It was 8 p.m. "Why don't you call me back at eight thirty?" he said. As he said it, he wondered if he was making a huge mistake. He might never hear from Al D'Arco again. Maybe the people who had tried to kill D'Arco, whoever they were, would find him before the FBI did. But he didn't know what else to do.
"Okay," said D'Arco. "I'll call you then."
Marston hit the switch hook on the phone and began dialing. He couldn't reach his supervisor, but he found Mike Flanagan, the assistant special agent in charge of his squad, the ASAC in the bureau's shorthand. Flanagan lived nearby. His brother John was also an agent and a member of the unit that chased the Luchese family that Al D'Arco had just told him he loathed.
Breathlessly, Marston told Flanagan he had just been on the phone with the acting boss of the Luchese crime family. He was talking about cooperating.
"Okay," the squad leader said calmly, as if this happened every week.
"We're going to talk again," said Marston. "This could lead to something."
"Get as many agents as you need, Bob," Flanagan told him. "See if you can bring him in. Spend what you have to spend. Let's hope it works out."
That was easy, Marston thought when he got off the phone.
His next call was to his partner, Jim O'Connor, who had been working the landfill case with him.
"You're kidding," said O'Connor.
"I thought maybe someone was kidding me," said Marston.
He made a few more calls to agents he knew would be eager to interrupt their Saturday nights for a mission like this. The bureau had a SWAT team, and Marston was friendly with a couple of its members. He asked everyone to just stand by. He wasn't sure they were going anyplace. Yet.
His phone rang again a little after 8:30.
The operator knew the routine. "I have your party, Mr. Marston," she said.
"How are you doing, Mr. Marston?" came the voice.
He told D'Arco that he had been authorized to bring D'Arco to a safe location. He asked if any other members of his family were with him.
"No, it's me and my son Joseph," said D'Arco. "We're out at my mother's place on Long Island."
Marston asked how many were in his family. D'Arco seemed to be counting. "Including my mother, my kids, my sister, my nephew, it's twelve," he said. He had sent his wife, his daughters, and another son away that morning, he added. "I know they're safe. I don't have to worry about them right now." He started to ramble again about how the rules were being broken. Mobsters were now going after families. "That was never allowed," he said.
Marston waited for another opening. One thing at a time, he thought. "We're going to start with you and Joseph," he said. "Why don't you give me the location of where you are right now. We will come and get you."
There was silence on D'Arco's end. I lost him, thought Marston. He's going to back off.
Then he heard the Brooklyn accent giving him an address on the North Shore of Long Island.
* * *
Late that night, Alfonso D'Arco, a balding fifty-nine-year-old lifelong gangster, known as "Little Al" for his modest height, became the highest-ranking member of the Mafia ever to defect to the government.
Other than sounding like one of the Dead End Kids, circa 1935, he wouldn't have been anyone's idea of a mob boss. He didn't smoke or drink, aside from an occasional glass of wine. He had been faithfully married to the same woman since 1955. There were no mob girlfriends tucked away on the side. He didn't gamble or bet on the races. He was a vegetarian, shunning meat on the advice of a prison doctor.
And he was a true workaholic. His greatest satisfaction was staying busy, running a pair of restaurants and overseeing the extensive holdings of his crime family.
But he was a mobster by both choice and conviction. "I was born made," he liked to say of a life of crime that began as a teenager in the streets near Brooklyn's Navy Yard.
Closing the door on that life was like stepping into a void. He was entering a world he had always viewed with suspicion and loathing. It was a core belief in gangland: There was no honor among cops and agents. They were capable of anything. They were as crooked as the criminals they chased, only less honest about it.
The problem for Al D'Arco was that he had no place left to go. He had become an orphan in his own crime family. Terrified as he was of the new world he was entering, he was certain of the fate awaiting himself and his loved ones if he stayed where he was.
A few nights before, he had sat in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan surrounded by his Mafia colleagues. It was supposed to be a mob business meeting. Gambling, loan-sharking, labor shakedowns, even a plan to grab control of the market for cardboard at produce stores, were all on the agenda. Toward the end of the meeting, he had spotted a concealed gun tucked in a member's waistband. He then realized something else was planned as well. His partners were going to kill him, right there in the hotel room.
He had been hearing the whispers all summer. "Al is no good," was the word being spread on the Little Italy streets. "Be careful with Al." Men he had known for years, longtime associates he considered good friends, were keeping their distance. He had been labeled an informant, a rat.
It wasn't true, but he knew the truth wouldn't help. Over the past two years, at the direction of his mob bosses, he had helped kill other men about whom the same claim had been made. He had harbored strong doubts about the accusations. But he had gone along. It was part of his mob oath, following orders.
He had also watched as the retribution was extended to families as well. That was also supposed to be against the rules. You didn't punish personal family members for the alleged sins of sons or fathers. But everyone, it seemed, had changed their minds about that one.
Before he had fled the hotel room, he had listened to an acting boss of another mob family, an old-school gangster, loudly insist that the way to end the threat of mob cooperators was simple: kill their entire families.
Listening, Al D'Arco felt like he was looking in a mirror. Now they were doing it to him.
* * *
He was not the first Mafia defector. A handful of other sworn members before him had made the same abrupt turn in their careers, including a trio of mob captains and a small squad of soldiers. But as a former acting boss, Al D'Arco was several notches higher than those who had preceded him.
He was different for another reason as well. Earlier mob turncoats had suddenly seen the light and agreed to cooperate when facing long prison terms or seeking to reduce sentences they were already serving.
The night D'Arco dialed the FBI's number in New York, he had no legal matters pending against him. No one was even close to having a criminal case that they could prove. Even Bob Marston wasn't sure his investigation of the crooked landfill would ever be able to tie D'Arco close enough to the scheme for an indictment.
Nor had he been caught in any parole violations, usually the soft underbelly for even the shrewdest mobsters. He had been on a special ten-year parole since his release from prison in 1986. All the government had to do was catch him meeting with any of the convicted felons who made up his circle of friends and associates. It would be enough to put him back behind bars for years.
Excerpted from Mob Boss by Jerry Capeci, Tom Robbins. Copyright © 2013 Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Luchese Organized-Crime Family, 1991 ix
I La Scuola delle Strade 1
1 The Call 3
2 Kent Avenue 14
3 The Arctic Circle 39
4 Mott Street 50
5 Sing Sing 76
6 Mulberry Street 98
7 32 Spring Street 121
II In the Life 145
8 Flatlands Avenue 147
9 Ray Brook 172
10 21 Spring Street 195
11 Cleveland Place 214
12 Rockaway Boulevard 228
13 Fort Hamilton Parkway 246
14 Foster Avenue 270
15 Matamoras 294
16 Fingerboard Road 314
17 Prince Street 331
III The Outlaw 343
18 The Kimberly Hotel 345
19 Trumbull 357
20 In America 371