Was Federal Hill Safer When Mafia Ran It?

Early mugshot of young Raymond Patriarca .
Was Federal Hill really safer back when Ray Patriarca ran all of New England from the Coin-o-Matic on Atwells Avenue?

I raise this question following a recent report that ran the following quote:

"There is a perception that things were less violent on Federal Hill during the Raymond Patriarca era but I disagree since it is only the nature of the violence that has changed,” explained Former Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet, who oversaw a major crackdown on mob activity during her tenure as Rhode Island Attorney General from 1984-1986.

Political leaders, law enforcement officials, historians, and Federal Hill community leaders offered their own insight into the historical context of recent violent crimes committed on Atwells Avenue.

Organized crime was prevalent in Rhode Island, and "when Ray Patriarca was the boss he ran all of New England from his chair outside of ‘The Office’ on Atwells Avenue,” recalled former State Police Superintendent Col. Brendan Doherty who served for 24 years in the Rhode Island State Police Intelligence Unit focusing on organized crime in the '80s and '90s.

“Back then in the 60s and 70s there was shall we say an "arrangement" between the police and organized crime. And it was an unspoken arrangement. The mafia was expected to keep the lid on it [violence pouring out onto the streets].   To keep violence out of their places of business, restaurants on Federal Hill would pay tribute to Patriarca for ‘protection,’ said Providence City Archivist Paul Campbell, who has been responsible for covering the city's history.

Inside the Coin-O-Matic vending machine company, which served as
the Patriarca family headquarters for around 30 years.

“Going back to the era of organized crime there were high profile mob hits.  You don't have that today,” explained Doherty.

Campbell spoke one specific episode that stood out.  “One of the early mob hits on Federal Hill was at a restaurant at 93 Atwells Avenue.  ‘Blind Pig’ Rossi and several other witnesses of the shooting were stricken with total memory loss,” Campbell noted.

Mob “hits” and such specific acts of violence were routine during the time when Raymond Patriarca was boss, according to Violet.

“Owners who didn't pay off the tab for protection were routinely beaten by mob enforcers in their place of work. A murder/hit of Raymond "Slick" Vecchio occurred in a Federal Hill restaurant in 1982. Kevin Hanrahan, an alleged mob enforcer, was killed on Atwells Avenue in 1992.   Another mob associate Willie Marfeo was shot to death on Federal Hill while his brother "ate lead" at a Providence grocery store. This ‘enforcement business’ was seen as fairly routine so residents were used to it and didn't fear being slain if they didn't run afoul of the mob.” Violet added.

These aspects of organized crime, Campbell noted, began to ebb in the 1970s with more active and aggressive involvement of the FBI and the enactment of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) in 1970.

“Under the RICO act you can prosecute people as part of a criminal enterprise.  Utilization of the RICO Act offered law enforcement a number of ways to break up these organized crime operations,” Campbell noted.
Violet recalled the crackdown on organized crime that she oversaw as Attorney General following the death of Raymond Patriarca in 1984.

“When Raymond Patriarca died in 1984 (the year I was elected as Attorney General) mob enforcement went into a hiatus since the principals were jockeying for position to take over from Raymond. Nonetheless, there was a mob crackdown by my office and the US Attorney's office for past crimes whose statutes of limitations continued to allow prosecution. So many of the  contenders for mob boss went to jail and left the mob with uncertain leadership. The eventual disarray of the mob by these prosecutions, the use of the RICO Act, and the witness protection program dismantled the mob and its stranglehold,” Violet said.

But while there hasn’t been a high profile mob hit on Federal Hill in decades, violence has not disappeared from the Hill.   Indeed, the violence has only grown more unpredictable and fearsome to Federal Hill residents.    

“Patriarca would never allow drunken brawls, for example, to spill out onto the streets since it was bad business for the many owners who paid protection money to avert such a calamity.  Today, there is a fear that violence could spill out onto innocent people by lone perpetrators.   At present, the violence is much more randomized,” said Violet.

Rhode Island State Representative John J. Lombardi told GoLocalProv that he cannot recall a time when Federal Hill was so violent.   Lombardi grew up on DePasquale Avenue and has represented the Hill for 26 years in the Providence City Council and General Assembly.

“I have been on this earth 62 years and simply cannot recall a time when Federal Hill was so violent.  Did people ever get murdered or shot?  Of course.  Let's not be naive.  But people bludgeoned to death in the middle of the day?  Twenty person mobs fighting with police outside of nightclubs?  I don't recall women ever catching beatings in clubs. It is just egregious. I was young once.  Growing up on Federal Hill, did we stay out until all hours of the night?  Sure.   But we always had respect for the police,” added Lombardi.

Doherty, from his role in law enforcement, said he commended the work the Providence Police have been doing "in keeping order and responding to emerging needs and demographic changes within the Federal Hill community."

“Federal Hill is a different place today than it was when I was stationed there.  Back then, for the people who lived and worked on Atwells Avenue, family meant a lot.  Today, you have different groups of people moving in from out of state.  Police have to adjust in a city like Providence and the Providence Police have done just that. The Providence Police have shown leadership on Federal Hill, but the police can't do it alone. They need the community and they need the businesses to help keep the streets safe,” Doherty added.


  1. Who cares what his voice sounded like, he was still a bad dude who was feared and respected on the street and still is.

  2. What has happened to Federal Hill is the same that has happened to almost all Italian or Italian-American neighborhoods across the country: A CHANGE IN DEMOGRAPHICS (emphasis on the demographics.) It's true that organized crime can be violent, but it is organized violence. I'm not justifying it, but stating the facts. Once in a blue did an innocent bystander get caught in the middle? Yes, but once in a blue. They don't mention the respect and order that came with the old neighborhood.
    Years ago on Pleasant Avenue, when East Harlem was an Italian oasis, a young man held open the apartment building door for a young lady who was the daughter of a very prominent person in the neighborhood. The young lady was carrying groceries. The kid not only held open the door, but helped her with the groceries to her apartment. After he came out of the building he was met by a couple of wiseguys who were permanent fixtures in one of many social clubs across the street. The kid was taken to the club and thoroughly interrogated on what his true intentions were and told next time to just hold open the door and never to allow himself to be outside of plain sight with the girl again.
    Years ago on Elizabeth Street, when Little Italy was an Italian oasis, a very attractive young lady was walking down the street. Across the street was a man whistling and making all kinds of comments on her beauty, but a little to suggestive for her taste. Her uncle was a big shot on Mulberry Street. She reported what happened to her uncle. Everyone knew who the guy was as everybody knew each other in the neighborhood in those days. The wiseguys eventually got a hold of this man wherever he was and brought him to Mulberry Street. They called the big shot's daughter and told her to come to the club, but to wait outside. When she arrived outside the club, they brought the man outside and made him bend down on both knees to apologize and beg her forgiveness. As he humiliated the woman in public, he too was humiliated in public and told if it ever happened again he would get a lot worse.
    Years ago on 17th Avenue, when Bensonhurst was an Italian oasis, a young hot piece of braciole was told to shut her face by a so called neighborhood tough guy. She too was related to someone big, and the tough guy got his arm broke. Being that it's Bensonhurst ( a johnny come lately Italian neighborhood that's now all Chinese) I'm pretty sure in this case the girl probably deserved to be told to shut her face.
    It is called CONTROL.
    The "change in demographics" phrase usually means the neighborhood has been overrun by blacks and Hispanics. If it's anybody else, they just say the neighborhood changed. I'm not a racial guy, but why is it when blacks and Hispanics inherit a neighborhood they destroy it? In every one of their neighborhoods across the country it's the same thing: senseless killings, wanton violence, dirty streets, unkept yards, killing each other for a cellphone or ipod, numerous rapes. There are no more excuses. The president is half black, although they keep saying he's the first black president. There are many black and Hispanic high achievers in politics and medicine today. There's an old African proverb that states it takes a village to raise a child. I strongly disagree. It takes a FATHER and a MOTHER to raise a child. LA FAMIGLIA!!!
    Now, that's the OLD SCHOOL.

  3. Old School, I would've run that as a separate story! Excellent comment. Mob violence was always overblown. Even during wars like the Masseria-Maranzano conflict and the Colombo wars -- private citizens were rarely involved. I hate generalizing (I never forget Barstow and Kubecka, for example) but the mob largely kept street crime under control so they could make the big bucks from racketeering, gambling and wholesaling drugs....

  4. Butcher played out like a horror novel. Especially the scenes when he killed Phyllis Burdi and when they killed Mike Harrigan ("I thought you were my friend...." Harrigan said as he bled out). Carlo's writing style was bizarre but I lost tons of respect for him after the Iceman book which was pure fiction from start to finish.


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