The entire leadership of the Colombo organized-crime family in New York was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday on racketeering charges, including drug trafficking, illegal gambling, loan-sharking, bribery and widespread extortion in the construction and restaurant industries in New York City.
The 51-count indictment, returned in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, names 11 leaders and associates of the crime organization, including all those who have controlled it since the early 1970s.
The indictment charges that the Colombo family, one of five organized-crime families in New York, controls and dominates key union organizations in restaurants and construction.
"It is one of the very few times in the history of law enforcement that the entire top echelon of a major organized-crime family has been charged in a single federal indictment," Attorney General William French Smith said in an announcement yesterday.
The Justice Department has been involved in an ongoing crackdown on organized-crime figures, Smith said.
He added that the indictment of the Colombo family members "takes on added importance because of our other major successes in the fight against organized crime recently, including numerous drug and racketeering indictments of top figures and our unprecedented joint operations with Italy against organized crime and drug trafficking."
Asked by reporters whether there were political reasons for announcing the indictment less than two weeks before the presidential election, Smith responded angrily, "None whatsoever . . . . That's total, unqualified nonsense . . . . I resent any such suggestion. I think anyone who raises that question is committing a great disservice to all the fine people who risked and sacrificed to achieve this result . . . . For some hollowhead to raise the question that this has been done for political purposes is just insane."
Among those named in the indictment was Carmine (The Snake) Persico, 51, who is alleged to have taken over leadership of the family when Joseph Colombo Sr. was shot at an Italian-American rally in New York's Columbus Circle in 1971. Colombo, who was paralyzed in the shooting, died in 1978.
The indictment is described as the result of a 3 1/2-year investigation -- code-named "Operation Star Quest" -- by the FBI, the New York City Police Department and the office of U.S. Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Kenneth Walton, deputy assistant director of the FBI's New York field office, said:
"The finely manicured hands of the Colombo family were at every construction site in New York City. Someone was getting paid off. You can't pour concrete in this city without paying off the Colombo family."
Walton added that, as a result of the indictment, "if the Mafia is not on the run, they are certainly doing a fast walk."
The indictment charges that "the Colombo family used its control of various labor unions to demand and receive payoffs from employers and prospective employers of members of various unions and to steal money from the unions."
It said the crime organization "controlled and dominated" two locals of the Concrete Workers of the Laborers' International Union of North America, two locals of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and three locals of the Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union.
The organized-crime family is charged with extorting money from 10 construction companies and several New York restaurants in return for labor peace.
In addition, the indictment charges that the Colombo family was involved in receiving and disposing of millions of dollars worth of stolen goods, heroin trafficking and an illegal gambling operation that brings in at least $15 million a year.
"The Colombo family used proceeds from its illegal activities to bribe government officials to fix cases and improve prison conditions of family members and leaders," the government charged.
In addition to Persico, those indicted include Gennaro (Gerry Lang) Langella, 45, and Thomas (The Old Man) DiBella, 78, described as onetime "bosses" of the family.
Also indicted were Dominic Montemarano, 46; John J. DeRoss, 47; Anthony Scarpati, 51, and Frank Melli, 42. They were identified as having the high rank of "capo" in the family.
Two defendants were identified simply as "soldiers" of the family -- Dominic Cataldo, 48, and Ralph Scopo, 55. The other defendants, identified as "associates" of the family, are Frank Falanga, 64, and Vito Pitta, 57.
Langella, Scarpati, Cataldo, Falanga and Scopo were arraigned yesterday before Judge Robert Carter in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. All were held without bail except Scopo, who complained of heart trouble and was taken to Beekman Downtown Hospital, where he was held on $300,000 bond.
Pitta was to surrender to authorities later, according to Giuliani's office. DiBella was in a hospital, a Giuliani spokesman said.
Persico, Montemarano, DeRoss and Melli were at large.
The Justice Department said that court-approved electronic surveillance and wiretapping were used extensively in the investigation, which involved two intricate undercover operations in New York City. More than 30 orders, authorizing both audio and video surveillance, were issued by courts for the investigation.
In one of the two operations, FBI agents set up electronic surveillance, including videotapes, in a pasta-importing business frequented by members of the Colombo family in New York's Little Italy.
In the other operation, an FBI agent posed as a wealthy buyer of stolen goods and entertained his business associates on a yacht moored at a New York City dock as other agents conducted electronic surveillance.