Unfairness of "Testifying Down"; Mob Boss's Great Suspense....

Mob Boss: The Life of Little Al D'Arco, the Man Who Brought Down the Mafia includes an anecdote about the "testify down" strategy used in mob trials.

In two recent cases in Brooklyn, the government used cooperating witnesses who were"big fish"—meaning they had admitted to more serious crimes than the charges faced by the people they were testifying against.
Alphonse D'Arco, former Luchese acting boss, in only surveillance photo
D'Arco in only surveillance photograph.

This is, generally speaking, the opposite of how cooperating witnesses are supposed work. Usually, legal experts said, the goal is to get those witnesses to admit to wrongdoing, cooperate with the government and to walk the investigation up the ladder, obtaining evidence against leaders or those potentially engaged in more serious crimes. In exchange, on the recommendation of prosecutors, cooperators typically end up serving reduced or no prison time.

"If you can only punish big or small fish you obviously want to go after the big fish, the most responsible, those who have committed the most harm, the most dangerous," Bruce Green, a professor who teaches legal ethics classes at Fordham Law School, told the WSJ.com.
Louis Daidone didn't throw in with D'Arco and rose to acting boss. He's serving a life sentence today.
Louis (Bagels) Daidone spurned Al's offer to rebel against Gaspipe. 

Referring to the recent trial of Luigi Grasso and Richard Riccardi, both of whom were found guilty for the killing of James Donovan and now face life sentences, the government used a cooperator to "testify down," as one defense attorney put it. Prosecutors ultimately walked away with mixed results.

Back in 1997, when Al D'Arco was giving testimony in courts throughout gangland, there arose one certain trial that stopped the Feds in their tracks. The defendants "were all painted as nobodies," prosecutor Anthony Siano said in the book. "Jurors want you testifying up. They don't want the chairman of the board of Chase Bank testifying against the tellers. It's fundamentally unfair."

He was correct; in that case, the jury acquitted the mobsters on trial, which concerned an illegal landfill's business operations.

Once Al flipped and began testifying "most cases never went to trial," Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins wrote in Mob Boss: The Life of Little Al D’Arco, the Man Who Brought Down the Mafia.

In fact, guilty pleas were offered up by 19 members and associates of the Luchese crime family to which Al had once belonged, serving a stint as acting boss for fugitive bosses Vittorio Amuso and Anthony Gaspipe Casso. It seemed easier and less painless to just plead guilty rather than face the formidable "tag team" of D'Arco and another former member, Pete Chiodo.

Among those who pled guilty: Sal "the Golfer" Avellino, Steve Crea, and Frank Lastorino.

Interestingly, according to Al, in the days before he flipped, he and Steve Crea had talked about whacking Gaspipe and Amuso; Crea was willing to shoot it out as he and Al discussed it was time for new management. (I will have to confirm if this was before or after Amuso was dimed.)

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If Louie "Bagels" Daidone, a burly then-soldier who'd been made on the same day as Al -- the two remained friendly and loyal to each other, at least until a certain point in time -- had not casually declined Al's tacit offer to launch a takeover, mob history might have altered course. But in the end, Al and Steve were alone and knew they were powerless to change the family's management.

Which was the point all along, as the fleeing Casso-Amuso team first purged the family of all its "rats" -- the Luchese family's muscle, whose names were given to Gaspipe via his crystal ball -- the so-called "Mob Cops." In other words, Gaspipe's "rats" not so coincidentally were also the family's key shooters.

Al knew Gaspipe had access to intel. But in the end, Gaspipe, shall we say, didn't limit himself to what his informers told him; he also had an agenda. When he and Amuso had to lam it as the Windows case rose before them, they made sure to eliminate the family's key heavy hitters -- the crews that had both the skill and muscle to assume control of the family.

Sal Avellino, according to D'Arco, also was almost slain in that hotel room in the meeting with the Luchese powers that be
Sal Avellino was so lost in thought at one family meeting, he didn't realize what seemed to be happening to him.

But for Steve Crea it was the better move; he's boss of the family today. Daidone had the acting title for a while, but is now serving life in prison, along with Amuso and Casso, who for all his palaver had tried to flip, but, as also noted in "Mob Boss,"it gets to a point where somebody is just too evil to put on the stand."

I know there's some controversy over what happened with Casso, but according to the book, prosecutors made the judgment about Casso being too evil because he was, well, too evil.

For example, Gaspipe couldn't stop laughing as he told the hysterically funny story of how he slaughtered a young man, first shooting him, then dumping him in a grave and sticking a dirt-filled shovel in the young man's mouth when he sat up. Casso held him down with the shovel while others continued to bury the victim, still alive.

As for Avellino, in some of the best suspense writing I have ever read, Capeci and Robbins powerfully re-create the surrealistic scene that took place in room 29B of the Manhattan hotel the Kimberly, when Al realizes he's about to be killed.

He already knew his downfall had begun -- he had been much closer to Amuso, than Casso; when Amuso stopped looking him in the eye, Al knew he was a dead man.

The writing put me there in the room with Al, I felt the impending doom.

The meeting began at 4pm and included a long agenda. A group of Lucheses was there, including Avellino and Lastorino. Bonanno acting boss Anthony Spero was there as well, as one item on the agenda involved the Bonanno family; Spero chose to hang around, however. During idle discussion he made his now infamous remark on informants: "All the family members of those who become rats should be killed. Women, children, everything. Murder them."

Certain little details were quickly noticed by Al, who'd spent way too many years in the life to miss the signs. Two guys in the room seemed to exchange "little smiles" and pass remarks such as "Maybe things will be better soon." It was so blatant, with some of the men acting like there was some kind of "inside joke" going on there in the room.

Lastorino kept going into the bathroom in the hotel room: "Al counted five trips." Everything going on in the room became "increasingly ominous" to Al. "Every little action was magnified."

Lastorino kept reaching inside his shirt to scratch his chest."He's trying to get me used to [the motion], so I won't notice when he grabs [the gun]." Another guy started cleaning the suite, taking away empty glasses, cups and plates. Al wondered: He's boss of a crime family, not a waiter, and determined the mafioso was probably getting rid of evidence.

"Al's mind was racing... Even the discussions were no longer making any sense to him. It sounded like mindless babble. They were filling up time, he decided..."

He looked at the window and could see it was growing dark.

Luches boss Steven Crea is in serious legal troubles, tied to murder.
Steven Crea, a top Luchese power today.

Avellino, also a mob veteran, seemed utterly oblivious to what was going on until one of the family's "workers" suddenly walked into the room carrying a big plastic bag.

Avellino then jumped up out of his seat. "Oh, a bag!" The clear bulge of a gun was evident to D'Arco when DeSantis, who'd just entered the suite, placed the bag down. He made a trip to the bathroom; when he returned, the bulge was gone.

The scene goes on, but Al came to two conclusions: he and Avellino were going to be killed, and Lastorino was going to carry out the hit by making another trip to the bathroom to retrieve the gun DeSantis had planted there for him.

Eventually, Al stood up and bolted from the room. He called Avellino the next day.

He asked Avellino if he'd realized what had been going on in the hotel room.

"Yeah," said Avellino. He sounded shaky.

"They were going to kill us."

"Yeah," he repeated.


  1. In the book gaspipe, he said that the feds used his information and got nothing in return. What guidelines do the feds have when they are giving out these deals? Is there some congressional overweight over this stuff?

    1. Gaspipe was foolish; he didn't have an attorney when he formally flipped. He didn't sign any kind of deal. He claims he told the feds he didn't need that stuff, he trusted them. Then he started talking. Aside from the fact that he was just too evil, he was claiming Sammy Bull had been involved in major drug deals which likely was true but it was one crime the Bull had never admitted to. Did the Feds believe Sammy? Who knows. Remember the time period; the feds wanted Gotti locked up for life and Sammy Bull was their prized pig. He got a truly sweet deal. Most turncoats give testimony until they're not needed; Sammy had a short shelf life and was even allowed to not incriminate his own crew, as well as Gotti Jr., who otherwise would today be serving life. Casso would've shit the Feds' bed had he been used for testimony and allowed to smear their key get-Gotti guy. He obviously didn't want to play ball so the Feds "whacked" him with life inside. There's other stuff Casso did that only helped the Feds. For instance, he trafficked in illegal contraband in prison under the watchful eye of Sal Miciotta, the jailhouse rat/Discovery ID "pained guilt-ridden former hit man." Sal ratted Casso out for getting booze and other bullshit. The feds probably had every intention of honoring the agreement until Gaspipe started acting like, well, acting like Gaspipe.

  2. Gaspipe's a fuckin beaut. Whackin people close to him cos his coked up mind tells him. No class whatsoever. How can he try an flip when he's murdered so many people? Rizzuto clan much bigger than any NY family now in spite of the fact that vito's passed.

    1. I wonder why you didn't just come out and say what you wanted to say without the preamble. Rizzuto family is much bigger than any NY family. I actually agree with you but can't find accurate, recent data that quantifies that or even names who took over for Vito. The real question for me is, as large as the Sixth Family is, how big is it versus the Canadian Ndrangheta faction?

    2. I highly doubt the Rizzuto organization has more made members then the Genovese family. Can you back that assertion up with any hard facts?

    3. I can't...I did find an interesting article, from 2011 by Jerry Capeci, whom I was just researching....


    4. Nice drawings. I tend to think the families are somewhat larger then the FBI estimates by 15 to 25 soldiers. I remember reading somewhere that the rizzuto family operates in 3 cells. 2 larger cells with 40-50 members and a smaller cell with 25 members. Now are all these members actually made guys i don't know but at best I'd put them size wise somewhere between the colombos and the bonannos.

    5. Me too, I think the same of FBI stats; also with Rizzuto I think his family may be larger because he supposedly has people in Canada, South America, and Sicily (and Europe) but I don't know for certain if they are members of his group or partners; that might be what they mean by cells, as in isolated groups.

    6. The cells I'm referring to operate in Montreal. Any people they have in south america or sicily are most likely just networking and making drug deals. They wouldn't have anything on the scale of a crew anywhere outside of Canada and possibly limited to just Quebec.

  3. Genovese family is the biggest and baddest, those guys in Canada are serious too and not to be fucked with


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