John Pappa Failed at Shooting His Way into the Mafia

In May 1999 John Pappa was convicted of racketeering, drug dealing and four murders, including the 12th and final killing of the Colombo family war, which ran its bloody course from 1991 to 1993 after other crime families tried to mediate a truce.

The judge sentenced the would-be wiseguy to life in prison -- and due to Pappa's young age, he has the dubious distinction of potentially serving one of the longest sentences in U.S. criminal history.
Pappa was convicted of four murders, including the alleged war-winning murder of Joseph Scopo
John Pappa looking to be in the pink of health.

Pappa, at the ripe age of 22, was nabbed while participating in a wedding rehearsal on Staten Island in 1997. He ironically had murdered the brother of the man getting married, along with two others. Pappa believed the trio had been seeking to steal "street cred" for killing one of the Colombo crime family's most powerful mobsters, Joseph Scopo, a key player in the Orena faction of the mob clan.



When armed agents arrived to arrest him during the rehearsal, Pappa, one of the bridal party members, ran inside St Ann's church, with everyone there at the rehearsal looking on.

The young hoodlum pulled out a 9-mm while making his dash.

"Don't shoot! Give it up!" an FBI agent yelled.

"Oh my God, he's got a gun!" a young woman inside the church screamed.

Agents and cops closed in, guns drawn.

Pappa tossed the handgun under a pew and surrendered. The FBI agents arrested him.

During processing a photograph captured the tattoo Pappa wears on his upper back, the Italian phrase for Death Before Dishonor -- supposedly the words Julius Caesar said before sending his Roman legions into battle. 


Death Before Dishonor, in Italian:
Morte prima di dishonore


Pappa’s trial took place in Brooklyn Federal Court, focusing on the Oct. 20, 1993, murder of Scopo, as well as the three others Pappa was charged with killing in the 12-month period following the Colombo war's final murder. Pappa was charged with other mob crimes.

During the month-long trial prosecutors built before the jury a solid case against Pappa and Calvin Hennigar, who was accused of one murder and drug dealing.

Prosecutors didn't have a single wiretap recording of either defendant admitting anything. Not a single turncoat accomplice with primary knowledge linking the murders to either defendant was available to put on the stand and question.

The case was made largely based on circumstantial evidence (as happened with former Bonanno consiglieri Anthony Spero).

There was some highly incriminating circumstantial evidence, however. Telephone records, for example, revealed that Pappa had called two of the victims right before they were murdered -- several times, in both instances. 

One witness testified to viewing a "slender teenager" running from the Scopo murder scene. 

A photograph of Pappa's upper-back tattoo was displayed for the jury as well, and an FBI agent testified that Pappa initially failed to reveal that he'd even had a tattoo (which is mandatory when one is arrested) and was then reluctant to even display the tattoo for them. This was said to be an indication of guilt.

In the end, Brooklyn Federal Judge Raymond Dearie sentenced Pappa, 24 at the time of his conviction in 1999, to four life-without-parole terms for the murders, plus an additional 45 years for drug dealing and other miscellaneous chargs. 

“This prosecution brings the terrible legacy of the Colombo war to a close, with the conviction of one of the most dangerous young hitman in the Colombo family,” said assistant U.S. attorney Stephen Kelly, at the time.

Cosa Nostra Lineage

Pappa’s father, Gerard aka "Pappa Bear," was first a Colombo associate, and then a Genovese crime family soldier who ran in a circle that included such notable mobsters as Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso and Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano (Pappa and Gravano were both members of the Rampers street gang). Pappa Senior had grown up in Bensonhurst, alongside Gravano, Casso and Frank DeCicco.)

While Gaspipe and the Bull went on to attain a certain infamy about themselves, Pappa’s career was cut short when he was murdered in 1980 on Vincent "The Chin" Gigante's orders for committing two off-the-record killings.

Pappa murdered Thomas "Shorty" Spero and mob associate Richard Scarcella. He buried both bodies in the concrete foundation of a building he owned that was then under renovation. Pappa hated Scarcella so much, he buried him underneath where the toilet bowl was to be located, supposedly so that every time someone urinated, they'd be pissing on his face.

On July 1980 a crew of Colombo shooters got Pappa in the Villa Sixty-Six Restaurant in Brooklyn, in a vendetta in Shorty's name in a hit said to be sanctioned by The Chin. The gunmen were Dominick Cataldo and nephews Nicholas and Joseph Cataldo Jr., also the sons of Colombo mobster Joseph Cataldo. Knowing Pappa's vicious reputation, they were armed to the teeth. (Pappa probably suffered from mental illness.)

The trio hid in the luncheonette's kitchen when Gerard Pappa arrived. He was shot from behind; a sawed-off shotgun blasted his head to pieces. 

Gigante was put on trial for ordering the murder in 1997 but was acquitted. 

On October 26, 1984, Cataldo was indicted on federal racketeering charges that included extortion, theft, loansharking, illegal gambling, bribery and drug trafficking. In 1985, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison. (Cataldo died of cancer in prison in April 1997.)

He was one of many taken down by Joseph "Joe Dogs" Ianuzzi, who gathered evidence for the Fed's against Tommy Agro, a Gambino mobster who nearly beat Joe Dogs to death with baseball bats in Florida.

Joe Dogs also wanted revenge.


Pappa, the son, was known to idealize his father, despite his mother's efforts to prevent that from happening.

As for Joseph Scopo...

As noted, Scopo also was a "hijacking buddy of Gene and John Gotti back in the early 1970s." 

Though Scopo was a Colombo mobster, he remained close to the Gottis – up until the day of his 1993 murder.

John Gotti, in the full bloom of power as Gambino boss, chose to throw his weight behind Vic Orena and his faction before even the first shots of the Colombo war were fired. (Gotti may even have advised Orena to "poll the capos".)

By helping install a new regime in charge of the Colombos, Gotti stood to benefit in major ways. He already was behind Bonanno boss Joseph Massino; as for the DeCavalcante crime family, when John Gotti said jump, they'd reply, how high? 

Gene Gotti and Scopo even had an "an unusual joint loansharking operation,” as Gangland News reported. The book was said to be "booming” in 2002, when the story was published. Joseph's brother Ralph, a Colombo soldier, took over his brother’s share of the operation, which in 2002 had more than $1 million “on the street” earning from 100 to 200 per cent interest a year.

Michael "Mikie Scars" DiLeonardo and John “Junior” Gotti were supposed to meet Scopo on the night he was killed.

Scopo was the last casualty of what was the third Colombo war. (Some would say Scopo actually was the second-to-last.) 

In October of 1993, he was shot to death in front of his Queens residence. He’d been driving home from dinner with his future son-in-law, Angelo Barrone, seated beside him and his nephew, Dominic Logazzo, in the backseat.


As they pulled up in front of Scopo’s house on 110th Street in Ozone Park, masked gunmen approached and fired, using a Mac-10 automatic pistol and a .380 automatic pistol.

Killing Joe Scopo was a major coup for Persico, and a massive loss for the Orena faction, said a law-enforcement official.

Scopo, a former vice president of Local 6A of Cement and Concrete Workers in New York City, also was the Orena education's underboss.

The Persico Order

Theodore "Teddy" Persico, a violent Colombo capo currently in prison, ordered the Scopo murder while attending his own grandmother’s wake with a contingent of correction officers guarding him.

“You’ve got to kill Joey,” Persico whispered to three Colombo cohorts at Scarpaci Funeral Home in Brooklyn's Dyker Heights in August 1993. This is based on the later testimony of one of the three, Anthony “Big Anthony” Russo.


A handcuffed Persico was referring to Scopo.

“He was whispering to us,” Russo later testified. “He said, ‘Get it done.’ ”

Teddy Persico's order was eventually carried out by a hit team that Pappa was part of.

But Pappa was in deep trouble not long after the Scopo slaying.

"TG" Graziano Angered Over Strip-club Shooting

In 1994, a Mafia capo ordered his Brooklyn-based crew to find and kill the two young Colombo-affiliated hoodlums.

Pappa and Hennigar's crime had been to shoot up the Staten Island strip club owned by the irate capo. One patron had been wounded during the shooting.

However, the capo found himself at a sitdown with members of the Colombo crime family.

A settlement was reached, and the capo called off the murder.

Still, in 2002, Anthony "TG" Graziano, father of Mob Wives producer Jennifer and lead character Renee, was indicted on two counts of murder conspiracy.

Some said it was a sign of how low the mob has fallen, calling on young uns to do a man’s work. Others say it was the Persicos at their Machiavellian best, picking a young gunsel who no Orena mobster could ever recognize.

In any event the war provided Pappa with an opportunity to prove himself, an effort that he believed would end with him becoming a made member of the Colombo crime family. But between the Scopo hit and his perceived induction, Pappa revealed his true colors by brutally murdering his own friends.

He finally exposed himself to law enforcement by failing to keep his mouth shut about his gangster prowess to impress his elders. He has something in common with John Gotti Sr. in this sense.

The best evidence against Pappa during his trial, according to Mafia expert Jerry Capeci, came from Pappa’s own mouth: His mob associates testified he made repeated admissions about murder, drug dealing and assorted mayhem in the early 1990s.

In addition to the Scopo slaying committed to enhance Pappa’s reputation (so he could eventually earn his “stripes” with the Colombo family), he plotted to kill former cohorts—his own friends—whom he felt betrayed him by trying to steal his thunder.

Pappa murdered the three, who were accomplices in the Scopo murder, because he felt they were trying to take credit from him for what he incorrectly perceived to be the war-winning murder of a feared capo/Orena loyalist.

John Sparacino was was lured to the home of Colombo associate Calvin Hennigar, who murdered Sparacino. (Hennigar is sitting in his own cell right now, having been convicted with Pappa.) Pappa was so enraged that his would-be victim was already dead by the time he arrived at Hennigar’s that he mutilated the body—yes, Sparacino’s is the face he tried to whittle off--before setting the body on fire in a stolen car on Aug. 15, 1994. (Pappa and Hennigar used to eat dinner at Sparacino’s house, the meals prepared by Sparacino’s mother, who considered Pappa and Hennigar to be among her son’s best friends. Pappa was in her other son’s bridal party when arrested....)

Pappa killed Eric Curcio, shooting him to death in Curcio’s auto body shop on October 4, 1994. Pappa actually described the deed over the phone to a confederate.

"He started making the sounds of gunshots on the phone," said a witness testifying at Pappa's trial.

"Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom,' then he'd stop for a second, start laughing and do it all over again, 'boom boom boom boom boom boom.'"

When asked what he was thinking at the time, the witness replied: "This guy's nuts."

In June 1994, it was time for associate Rolando Rivera to die.

The irony is that, as far as is known, Pappa never became a made man in the Colombo, or any other, family, for his services....





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