Anthony Spero Bred Pigeons and Gangsters

Anthony Spero, former consiglieri/acting boss of the Bonanno crime family, died nearly six years ago.

The once-supremely powerful "Old Man" of the American Mafia was 79 when he passed, a guest of the Federal Medical Center of the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.
Spero died in prison in 2008.

Spero lived it, walked it, talked it, breathed it. The only thing that may have captivated him as much as "the life" were his pigeons. That and frying chicken cutlets in the back of his club on Bath Avenue in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. He also ran the Big Apple Car, a limo service.

He spent near-uninterrupted decades on the street before finally going away for life in 2002 on racketeering and murder charges in a case considered surprisingly circumstantial in that no direct testimony against him was ever offered.

According to the book "Mob Boss," about Al D'Arco's life in the Luchese family, it was noted that while serving as acting boss of the Bonanno family, Spero made a jolting remark regarding informants' families: "All the family members of those who become rats should be killed. Women, children, everything. Murder them."

[A similar sentiment was expressed by another Bonanno gangster caught on wiretap. While serving as acting boss, years later, Anthony "Tony Green" Urso spoke of killing the child of a cooperating witness: "Why should the rats' kids be happy, where my kids or your kids should suffer because I'm away for life?" Urso asked. "If you take one kid, I hate to say it, and do what you gotta do, they'll f---ing think twice."]

Spero was given an opportunity to save himself and flip on his boss, Joe Massino. Spero turned it down, quickly. Not even considering it. Massino didn't return the favor, but by then it didn't matter, not for Spero.

He was inducted into the Bonanno crime family by Carmine Galante on June 14, 1977. The ceremony, held in a Queens bar, included Massino and several others.

He climbed up pretty quickly. In grainy, crude 1970s surveillance photos, the FBI identified him as a captain. In the pictures, Spero is seen standing outside social clubs in New York City, usually alongside guys like Sal "Good Lookin' Sal" Vitale and Vincent Aloi, a onetime Colombo family acting boss.

By 1990, the Bonanno family seemed to be "a fading show of the expansive empire that Joe Bonanno, its first godfather, had created," wrote Selwyn Raab in his book Five Families, noting that the family had about 100 soldiers and was the "smallest and weakest" of the New York Borgata.

Battered by the Donnie Brasco operation, it was earning mainly from family drug dealers (primarily Zips), as well as mob mainstays such as bookmaking, loansharking and minor labor racketeering.

Younger Spero.

Spero, by then consiglieri, was one of the more enterprising members, creating an innovative "victimless" money-making operation. Under his direction, Bonanno goons installed video poker machines in grocery stores, candy stores, bagel shops and other such places in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Typically, the slot machines were placed in mob-owned storefronts and casinos.

But Spero was able to gain widespread compliance because he was generous, splitting the proceeds fifty-fifty with the owner of the storefront. And the goons were always on hand to enforce Spero's distribution strategy.

Spero was tight with Sal Vitale, Massino's brother-in-law and man on the street. Spero helped Vitale plan the murder of Robert Perrino, a supervisor at the New York Post who the Bonannos feared might cooperate with a law enforcement probe. Massino later was angered by the hit and it was probably the beginning of the end of Vitale's career (and ironically, most high-ranking men in the borgata when Vitale later flipped).

Massino, back in the decades before he turned, was a respected boss, cagey, closing all family social clubs and was wary of fiery gunsels like Vinny Gorgeous Basciano.

Spero, despite helping Vitale pull off the hit on Perrino, earned a rare place within Massino's good graces: the boss let Spero alone flaunt the social club ban. Others dispute this. One former member of the Bath Avenue Crew, which reported to Spero, told us a boss wouldn't order his men to close down their social clubs.
Benanti, on left, at a wedding. He's sitting beside
Dominick Trinchera.

"The boss respects his guys," the source said. "He may tell them to be careful, to watch out what the say, but he won't tell them to close the social clubs. The older guys had nowhere else to go," he added, noting that social clubs were a haven for older gangsters, a place to hang out and see friends, play cards, drink espresso.

Spero was said to be a "reserved guy" by another source who knew him. "He was old-school, the exact opposite of the flashier mob guys like John Gotti."

Unlike Gotti, Spero wasn't known for flashy clothes and walking around like a strutting peacock with an entourage. Rather, he loved breeding racing pigeons. Other gangsters had this thing about pigeons, too. Like Sonny Black Napolitano, a powerful capo who helped Massino stop a cold war before it got hot.

Spero never set foot outside Massino's camp in the days when the troubled family split into factions. He spent most of his decades in the mob living in Brooklyn, although he had a nice house on Staten Island. He tended to his pigeons atop a building on Bath Avenue.

Spero held meetings there on the rooftop among the pigeon coops. He also held court in the West End Social Club on the same street.

The West End Social Club was where the Bath Avenue Crew met with Spero to get their orders. But they never got them directly from Spero. Rather, Spero sidekick Joe Benanti was the one the crew considered to be their "father" to the Bonanno family.

Benanti didn't even report to Spero (Cosa Nostra is strange; I think its reputation for organization is overblown). But Benanti, who often drank to excess and was known to smoke joints and walk up and down Bath Avenue in a stupor, apparently hung around Spero and served as his acting viceroy on the street, Spero's "face," so Spero could stay in the kitchen or up on the roof with his pigeons. (Spero wasn't particularly fond of Benanti, whom, Spero would say, "was a rowdy drunk," but he used Benanti as a buffer.)

Benanti had his own colorful history in Cosa Nostra. He was a former stickup man who enjoyed newfound life as an earner thanks to the Bath Avenue Crew. "He was a brokester until he met the Bath Avenue Crew," said our crew source. "We put him back in the swing of things. We made him start earning on the street again."

The crew could give Spero around $6,000 a week through Benanti, our source said. Benanti might keep $1,500-$2,000 a week from the crew's endeavors, which mostly consisted of drug dealing and robbing.

Benanti also issued orders for the Old Man. Spero was involved, allegedly, in many key sitdowns involving life and death decisions. He was supposed to be at the meeting at which the planning of the Gus Farace hit went down.

Then, in 1990, one such sit down let to the order to kill Louis Tuzzio, a Bonanno associate who had screwed up the hit on Gus Farace, the mob soldier who shot to death a DEA agent the year before. Unfortunately for Tuzzio, Gus was not alone on the night of his death; Joseph Sclafani was driving him. The hit team had tried to avoid the man in the car with Gus, but in the end, Sclafani was shot out of his shoes but survived. He was arrested while in the hospital.

Joe Benanti under arrest in 1956
following a failed stickup attempt
on Prince Street in 1956.

John Gotti ordered the deaths of the entire Farace hit team for wounding and involving Sclafani, who was the son of a trusted Gotti capo (and, at the time, was also engaged to former "Mob Wives" star Ramona Rizzo, the daughter of another well-respected Gambino capo.) This is according to a retired NYPD detective.

Since Louis Tuzzio had been the key shooter in the Farace hit, the Bonannos and Lucheses apparently were able to get Gotti to agree to the killing of only Tuzzio, versus the entire hit team. This largely worked to Spero's own advantage. Tuzzio had been a pain in the ass to the older mobster, apparently, annoying him repeatedly with demands that he be made. After the Farace hit, Tuzzio likely believed he had earned his button, although he knew the trick: that he could be going to his own murder. "I'm either gonna get made or get whacked," he supposedly told an associate before going off to certain death.

In January 1990, Tuzzio was found dead in his car in Brooklyn with a bullet in the back of the head.

In 1991, Vincent Bickelman put his neck on Spero's chopping block. A pretty dumb burglar from Brooklyn, he had broken into the home of one of Spero's two daughters and stolen her jewelry and a fur coat. On September 15, 1991, Bickelmen's body was discovered in Bath Beach, six slugs had been fired into him.

Bickelman was murdered by Bonanno associate Paul Gulino, an ambitious young mobster who ran the Bath Avenue Crew. "Paulie Brass" as he was called wanted his button even more than Tuzzio had. Once again Spero was dealing with a guy who didn't know his place in the pecking order. Only Gulino went so far as to put his hands on Spero and shove, something not even Tuzzio had dared to do.

Can you guess how Spero dealt with him?


  1. This guy made that crappy Hoffa movie? He should get the book thrown at him for that alone.

  2. Ed you still looking for a job? Send me your cover letter and resume to

  3. Tony Green said the remark about the families of informers being killed. Not Spero.

  4. what is your source? I got that in Mob Boss -- Spero said it at what was primarily a Luchese meeting....

  5. Big Lou Tartaglione picked up Tony Green saying it on a wire.

  6. That does not preclude Spero from saying it as well. Same family, maybe it was an ongoing sentiment expressed by more than one. The quotes differ -- I really don't feel compelled to delete that part, but I will add Urso's comments for context.....


    "Court papers say the capo recorded numerous conversations with acting boss Anthony (Tony Green) Urso and acting underboss Joseph Cammarano in the past six months. In one exchange, Urso spoke of killing the child of a co-operating witness."

    "Why should the rats' kids be happy, where my kids or your kids should suffer because I'm away for life?" Urso asked. "If you take one kid, I hate to say it, and do what you gotta do, they'll f---ing think twice."

  7. This article is rather feminine and the pictures don't help either LOL

  8. well if you got it in Mob Boss...IT must be true! Just like every other thing you read must be true...and whatever the prosecutors advise the rats that are begging for their lives to say must be true too!


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