Capeci on Tracking New York's Five Families

Jerry Capeci enjoys lunch on the New York Times.....

For me it began with Carl Kolchak, a fictional Chicago newspaper reporter played by Darren McGavin, who investigated stories that invariably lead our intrepid journalist head-on into supernatural forces that had somehow infiltrated our universe.

Then it was Jerry Capeci... I voraciously read his Gangland column in print and then online. For all I knew gangsters fell into the same category as monsters and things of the night.

I figure despite who my heroes were, I'd never be personally involved, never thought I'd get to know one, never mind multiple wiseguys. 

Anyway, the following New York Times story starts off with mention of Montreal boss Vito Rizzuto, whom Capeci has not been covering as closely as I would've thought.

Turns out, law enforcement officials are more tight-lipped than they were in the pre-Guiliani days, Capeci says.

Not much meat here; it's a "lunch" story -- it's about, well, lunch... What I found most interesting was the fact that Jerry claims: “I’ve only had two honest-to-goodness mobsters — guys that were inducted into a crime family — who have been sources of mine,” he said. “One of them is no longer with us.”

As for current events: on the Junior Gotti stabbing"Hmm, Mr. Capeci said, or words to that effect. He had no idea what happened, he said, but he doubted that Mr. Gotti’s wound resulted from any altruistic impulse."

On “Mob Wives” and “Growing Up Gotti": "For Mr. Capeci, those [TV shows] are “like Italian-American versions of ‘Amos and Andy.’ ”

Writing About Gangsters, as Far Back as He Can Remember - Jerry Capeci was trying to get his mitts around an international tale written in blood, a case that put together a Mafia boss in Montreal and murders in Brooklyn and Acapulco, Mexico.

Mr. Capeci hoped to get to the bottom of it. He has been chronicling the Mafia for nearly four decades, first for two New York tabloids and now for his own website, He has also produced half a dozen gangster-themed books, including a new one about a big-time informer — “Mob Boss: The Life of Little Al D’Arco, the Man Who Brought Down the Mafia” — written with the estimable columnist Tom Robbins.

But his pursuit of the three-nation affair had hit some hurdles, and Mr. Capeci let frustration show during a recent lunch at an Italian restaurant in Corona, Queens.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s me,” he said, “but it seems that prosecutors and agents and cops, more and more, have the Rudy Giuliani attitude.”

Meaning what? It did not sound like praise.

“Meaning ‘I’m not going to tell you anything,’ ” he said. 

“The government seems to make you go through hoops to gather what normally is public information. It seems to be a trend that began, in my view, when Rudy was U.S. attorney in the Southern District.” That was in the 1980s, before Mr. Giuliani was elected mayor.

Pre-Rudy, Mr. Capeci said, “there was less of an us-versus-them attitude when you dealt with law enforcement.” What too many officials ignore, he said, is that they are, at best, temporary custodians of public information, not its proprietors.

We invited Mr. Capeci (pronounced kuh-PEA-see) to a meal out of curiosity. How does one go about tracking the five Mafia families of New York? The public’s fascination with the subject seems endless. At the very least, the mob never falls out of the news for long.

Of late, an imprisoned consigliere to the Colombo family faced new charges that he ordered the 1997 killing of a police officer who had the temerity to marry the mobster’s former wife. A federal jury found him not guilty last month. Then John A. Gotti — Junior Gotti in tabloid-speak — re-emerged. He had been stabbed, not fatally, in the stomach. Mr. Gotti, son of the dead Gambino family boss, explained that he was trying to break up a fight between two strangers in a parking lot. (Emphasis added.)
Hmm, Mr. Capeci said, or words to that effect. He had no idea what happened, he said, but he doubted that Mr. Gotti’s wound resulted from any altruistic impulse.

Mr. Capeci, 69, suggested lunch at Park Side restaurant, on Corona Avenue. He likes the veal there, he said. Was this a hangout for mobsters? He answered elliptically: “You never know who you’re going to run into.”

At the table, he sat facing the doorway. This was happenstance. The photographer put him there because the light was favorable. It was not a nod to some mob rule on how to position oneself in a public place.

The conversation began over a Bloody Mary for Mr. Capeci and a glass of Chianti for the interviewer. They moved on to shared appetizers of baked clams and a seafood platter. For his main course, Mr. Capeci chose veal Milanese and a salad while his companion settled on veal piccata with a side of spaghetti in garlic and olive oil. Both finished with espresso and a gift of biscotti from the restaurant. Mr. Capeci “corrected” his coffee, as they say in Italy, with a splash of Sambuca.

(Maybe a disclosure is in order. Mr. Capeci and the interviewer’s careers overlapped at The New York Post. That was long ago, in the 1970s. This lunch was strictly business, not personal.)

Inevitably, table talk turned to the nature of the American Mafia, which Mr. Capeci found to be decidedly diminished from decades ago yet still a force to be reckoned with. But the focus of the conversation was still on how he goes about his business.

Not to be too blunt, but does he ever have second thoughts about a career built on keeping tabs on sociopaths, no matter how quirky they may seem when they have middle names wrapped in parentheses? (Actually this is something I've been increasingly mulling these days.... Capeci has personal wealth and has enjoyed more tangible benefits than "Ed Scarpo".....)

“I never really analyzed it that way,” Mr. Capeci said with a laugh. “But I guess I have. I have covered quite a few sociopaths.”

Capeci deals with his own stereotyping issues, he said. He recalled a situation in 1976. He was sent by editors at The Post to cover the funeral of the Mafia boss Carlo Gambino, dead of a heart attack at age 74. With reportorial guile that had everything to do with his quick wits and nothing to do with his Italian roots, Mr. Capeci worked his way into a front-row pew at the church.

Later, fellow reporters and law-enforcement officials pestered him about how he had managed it. Whom did he know? Was he connected? “It got to the point,” he said, “where I had arguments: ‘Listen, you’re trying to tell me that just because my name ends in a vowel, I got in? Because I have a gangster in my family?’ It was a bone of contention.”

There are no mobsters in his family, said Mr. Capeci, who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Nor does he hang out with Mafiosi. “I’ve only had two honest-to-goodness mobsters — guys that were inducted into a crime family — who have been sources of mine,” he said. “One of them is no longer with us.”

How about threats from the mob? Is that a concern?

“Not really,” Mr. Capeci said as the food arrived. “The Gotti crew in court — I’m talking about the ’80s now — they used to look at you, talk about you, definitely try to intimidate you. But I’ve never really gotten a threat. Thankfully, the Mafia in the United States has a code, unlike their brethren in Italy, that prohibits them from going after reporters or law enforcement officials. They have adhered to that, with some exceptions. It’s not for any benevolent reason, but because it would cause more heat, more problems for them.”

Besides, he said, ever the proud chronicler, if anything were to happen to him, “who would they get their news from?"