Law enforcement authorities are investigating the ownership of certain pizza parlors and Italian-style restaurants in the Washington metropolitan area to determine whether they are being used by organized crime as fronts for narcotics trafficking, money laundering and profit skimming.
State and federal authorities agreed that the number of restaurants suspected of being controlled by organized crime exceeds 100 in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. area alone.
The investigation, which has been in progress for about two years and covers at least five states, involves the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, Maryland and Virginia state police, the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Prince William County police and District of Columbia police.
State and federal authorities involved in the investigation said it focuses primarily on restaurants whose operators and employes tend to be recent immigrants, most of them young Sicilian or Italian males. Some came directly to jobs in established pizzerias in this region, authorities said. But frequently, they said, operators and employes of such restaurants moved here after working as cooks or managers of businesses in the Northeast run by recognized members or business associates of organized crime.
Authorities in the Washington area who uncovered mob connections to some area restaurants in earlier investigations say the number of establishments apparently affiliated with organized crime has grown remarkably in the past five years.
Individuals who law enforcement authorities claim are members of organized crime families or are their known business associates are listed as operators of pizzerias and Italian-style restaurants in the District of Columbia, Prince George's, Howard and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland and Fairfax and Prince William counties in Virginia, according to records checked by The Washington Post. Records also show similar links to eateries in communities from Hagerstown, Frederick and Baltimore to the Virginia Beach-Hampton area and Bristol, Va., on the Tennessee border.
Local, state and federal law enforcement officials emphasized that most pizzerias and Italian-style restaurants are not connected with organized crime. They said their investigation is only targeting business operations that fit the specific profile developed by their investigation.
The officials also emphasized that some businesses once owned by persons connected with organized crime may have been sold to legitimate proprietors who may have retained the original trade name. FBI officials also said repeatedly that any federal investigation of pizza or Italian-style restaurants "is not a blanket indictment of the pizza industry" or of persons of Italian or Sicilian descent.
A U.S. immigration service official involved in the investigation in the metropolitan area said it was part of a "widespread federal investigation ongoing into pizza restaurants in the entire region. It extends through Virginia, Maryland and D.C., to Frederick, Hagerstown and into Pennsylvania and beyond. . . . It covers drugs, illegals aliens without valid visas , profit skimming unreported profits on which taxes are not paid ."
He said authorities are "concerned about the narcotics moving through these places, but they are more concerned about the skimming and money laundering that's going on than anything else. The amount of money that no taxes of any type are paid on is astronomical."
A state police source involved in the probe said investigators tied "one store to a five-state network."
"What we feel we have is a drug-smuggling operation, and we've got connections to spots all up and down the East Coast," a state investigator said. "And our problem is, of course, to find the dope."
Authorities said no charges have been brought in connection with the current investigations.
"Virginia authorities believe that organized crime views the state as a lucrative location for its businesses," a state police official said. " . . . We see signs of organized crime sending an advance guard into Virginia. They are testing the waters."
Maryland state police said they have identified at least 24 restaurants with "firm ties" to organized crime, and they suspect a number of others.
Joseph Gentile, spokesman for the District of Columbia Police Department, would not comment when asked if his department was investigating organized crime in Washington "because of the sensitivity of the nature of their investigations."
While law enforcement officials have long monitored organized crime's involvement in an interlocking network of pizza and Italian-style restaurants across New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland, they claim organized crime has steadily expanded that network in recent years in the South and Midwest.
As a measure of concern about the scope of the problem, about 80 representatives of U.S. and Canadian federal police agencies and 10 Eastern Seaboard states -- including the District, Maryland and Virginia -- met in Lancaster, Pa., April 22 and 23 to exchange information on organized crime's spreading involvement in the pizza industry and to discuss ways to deal with it.
The meeting centered on "the narcotics involvement, profit skimming and money laundering and employment of illegal aliens . . . and it touched on the distribution and manufacture" of pizza-related products, a source said. Representatives from the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Customs Service, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration attended.
A 1983 Senate Judiciary Committee report on organized crime in America estimated that "nearly $80 billion in drugs is being trafficked in this country each year. . . . Organized crime drug sales volume ranks ahead of total sales by every major American corporation except Exxon, and drug profits exceed those of every company in the entire United States."
Although in recent years a new breed of organized criminals, including Colombian and Cuban elements, has become increasingly involved in drug trafficking, authorities say traditional organized crime families play a major role and that drugs have become their main source of profit.
A recent FBI assessment, quoted by the Pennsylvania Crime Commission's 1985 report, said, "It has been determined by federal investigative agencies that Sicilian organized crime members control a sizable portion of the heroin importation to the U.S. . . . They all appear to be associated through various business ventures, particularly through pizza parlors located throughout the Eastern Seaboard and as far west as Illinois."
According to an October 1984 interim report by the President's Commission on Organized Crime, "Much of the heroin handled by American Mafia figures has been processed in laboratories under the control of their Italian counterparts in Sicily. . . . Out of a total take of some $2.5 billion from heroin sales, U.S. Mafia families probably send up to $1 billion annually in payments to suppliers in Sicily."
In the past, authorities had maintained that organized crime had not ventured deeply into the District of Columbia or Virginia, while it had flourished to some extent in Baltimore and other parts of Maryland. "Washington used to be 'no man's land,' " said a Pennsylvania police official. "It was sacred ground. Organized crime just didn't do anything then because they didn't want to aggravate federal authorities ."
Law enforcement officials now claim that younger leaders of organized crime syndicates apparently decided in the mid-1970s that the Washington metropolitan area represents a lucrative market that could no longer be underplayed.
One of the principal figures identified in organized crime's pizza network, according to officials of the FBI, New Jersey State Police and the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, is Louis Piancone, 56, who owns Roma Pizza & Restaurant in L'Enfant Plaza. Piancone is president of Roma Foods Enterprises Inc. of Piscataway, N.J., which federal authorities say is a major force in the pizza supply business from New York to Florida and into the Midwest. Roma Pizza Enterprises Inc., a subsidiary headed by Piancone, owns the L'Enfant Plaza shop, District records show.
The 1983 Senate Judiciary report identified Piancone as a "soldier" in the Colombo crime family faction headed by Salvatore J. Profaci, son of late New York Mafia family boss Joseph Profaci. It said Salvatore Profaci "directs his operations from Roma Foods Enterprises Inc." offices in South Plainfield, N.J. Profaci's brother Dominic J. Profaci, a New Jersey attorney, was listed on D.C. alcoholic beverage control board records until March 1983 as an officer, director, registered agent and general counsel of Roma Foods.
In an interview, Louis Piancone told The Post that allegations by law enforcement authorities that he was a "Mafia soldier" and that Profaci directs his operations from Roma Foods are "totally disgusting . . . totally irritable . . . totally untrue."
Piancone said investigators had never proven allegations that he had ties to organized crime and that law enforcement authorities "could say anything they want. . . . All they have to do is prove it to me."
"I came to the United States from Sicily in 1951 with practically nothing and built a company today of this size and employes, 215 employes . . . for authorities to be incriminating me of such a thing, that's a crime in itself. I have nothing to hide."
According to Pennsylvania Crime Commission officials, Piancone has not been charged or convicted of any crime.
According to an internal Justice Department memo, "one of the main areas of employment for Italian illegal aliens brought into the United States by organized crime is a well-organized chain of pizza shops and Italian restaurants that covers the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania-Delaware area and as far south as Virginia. These establishments appear as a network through which individuals may be moved to different areas for whatever purposes or reasons may occur. It provides those who are recruited into organized crime with a cover and legal source of income."
Virginia authorities have investigated the operations of Richmond businessman Salvatore Giambanco, who has been instrumental in the establishment of at least 15 Virginia pizzerias and Italian-style restaurants, including two in the Dale City-Woodbridge area. Police said Giambanco was a close associate of convicted heroin trafficker Emanuale Adamita.
Adamita, identified in a Senate Judiciary Committee report as a high-ranking member of the Gambino crime family, is a former business associate of Tommaso Buscetta, who is being held in a New Jersey prison on heroin trafficking charges and has become an important informer for U.S. and Italian authorities battling organized crime.
Giambanco, 38, who also uses the name "Jimmy Fontana," was indicted following a special grand jury investigation probing organized crime in Richmond and convicted of grand larceny and inducing perjury, court records show. He served one year of an 11-year prison sentence.
Giambanco's brother Vincenzo, 30, who operates the Apollo pizza and Italian restaurant in Richmond, said Wednesday that his brother was on vacation in Sicily, could not be reached and that he did not know when Salvatore planned to return to the United States. Vincenzo also said he knew nothing about any investigation and had not been contacted about it by authorities.
Victor F. DiVivo and Louis Pesce, who established a chain of Italian Delight and Roman Delight pizza shops in the Northeast, also hold interests in restaurants in this area, some of which are being investigated by state and federal authorities. Pennsylvania records show DiVivo and Pesce were founders and officers of LU-LO-VI Inc., the chain's parent company, which moved aggressively into the pizza trade beginning in 1971.
The Pennsylvania Crime Commission's 1980 report on organized crime in the pizza industry said the LU-LO-VI restaurant chain had been shown by law enforcement authorities to be an "employer of illegal aliens" and part of a large operation that skimmed at least $4 million a year in unreported income on which tax was not paid. The report said Frank Garafalo, also known as Frank Galofaro, who is "a relative of organized crime leader Joseph Bonanno," was a corporate officer of LU-LO-VI and collected "monthly cash payments from franchise operations."
Vittorio's Italian Restaurant in Georgetown Park is owned by Italian Delight of Georgetown Park Inc.
D.C. liquor board records show the company is jointly owned by Pesce, and Leonard Schiano of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Frank Bongiovanni, a longtime DiVivo associate and employe. DiVivo, who is listed in the company's articles of incorporation as a director, also leases an Italian Delight pizzeria at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax County to Bongiovanni and Schiano, according to Virginia records and a mall spokesman. In addition, DiVivo has another Vittorio's restaurant at Lake Forest Mall in Gaithersburg, Md., records indicate.
In a 1982 agreement with federal prosecutors in Maryland, DiVivo and business partners Bruno Fabi and Michael Gialanella pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy to evade personal and corporate income taxes. Authorities said the three had skimmed at least $424,000 in profits from four Italian Delight restaurants and bakeries in Columbia Mall in Columbia, and Golden Ring and Security malls in Baltimore over a period of about 2 1/2 years. Government prosecutors said DiVivo's share of the skimmed cash on which tax was not paid totaled more than $114,000. He served about four months of a one-year prison sentence at Lewisburg Federal Prison Camp and was fined $10,000.
A related civil tax case filed by the IRS is still pending against DiVivo, an attorney for DiVivo said.
In an interview with The Washington Post, DiVivo denied any connection with organized crime and said that Frank Garafalo was never an officer of LU-LO-VI.
The Post found no evidence that Garafalo had been an officer of the parent corporation, LU-LO-VI. According to New Jersey State Police records, DiVivo, Pesce and Garafalo formed a LU-LO-VI franchise corporation, Italian Delight of Westmont Plaza in Westmont, N.J., in the mid-1970s, with Garafalo listed as corporate vice president.
An attorney for DiVivo, who asked not to be identified, said DiVivo "has dealt with these kinds of rumors and allegations for years. And it has always been his position that there's just no truth to it. . . . Frankly, we're tired of having this innuendo in the newspapers.
"Mr. DiVivo has been investigated repeatedly by all kinds of people, and other than that the criminal tax evasion conviction , there has never been another charge brought against him," the attorney stated. "Mr. DiVivo is not engaged in any criminal activity."
Schiano and Pesce could not be reached through Vittorio's in Georgetown Park or through Italian Delight's Baltimore headquarters.
Reached at his Italian Delight restaurant at Security Mall in Baltimore, Bongiovanni declined to comment.
In court records, DiVivo's wife, Rose Marie, said her husband in 1982 had current interests in at least 14 corporations, most of them cash businesses, including a Beef 'N' Burger fast-food restaurant and a Great Cookie shop in the Baltimore area.
In various combinations with other partners, DiVivo and Pesce are listed on state records as owners or franchisers of at least a dozen Italian Delight restaurants in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.