"Five Families" Book Incorrectly Credited Spero

By Ida Libby Dengrove
Boots, left, and his lawyer Klein.

REVISED SLIGHTLY: We'd hate to hazard a guess as to how many Mafiosi are named in Selwyn Raab's excellent Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. But we do know one who is not mentioned. Raab not only failed to name this Bonanno family gangster; the former New York Times investigative reporter also inadvertently credited onetime Bonanno consiglieri Anthony Spero for something that resulted from the innovation of this unnamed mobster.

The revelation of Raab's fumble is based on Sal Vitale's testimony. Antonio Tomasulo, also known as "Boots," is the mobster who built up and operated a highly lucrative Joker Poker slot machine gambling operation (one establishment outfitted by Boots reportedly served up $15,000 per week).

Yet, in Five Families, Raab gives full "props" to Spero, writing that the profitable racket was a product of "the family's imaginative consiglieri" who had "his gorillas" place the "gambling games in groceries, restaurants and candy and bagel shops, and shared the proceeds fifty-fifty with the proprietors." He has to be referring to what Tomasulo had done, before dropping dead of unnatural causes: severe asthma.

Boots's son Anthony, who eventually assumed daily control and was a partner in the business, presumed he'd inherit the operation. But the Bonanno family claimed the racket for itself. Anthony objected -- and also made his own execution mandatory when he threatened the life of his mob superior.

Sal Vitale ordered the young man's 1990 murder so he could personally reap the profits of the illegal Joker Poker racket for which the Bonanno family became so well known. Other members operated video gambling machines, but Tomasulo had excelled in the business to the extent that the lucrative operation was worth killing over. Spero was among those involved in the murder in that he allegedly advised Vitale, who already seemed pretty convinced. Control of this particular operation is known to have changed hands; likely Spero reaped the benefits of the racket at some point. But that is all.


"Boots" Tomasulo (whose nicknamed had to do with the fact that he wore boots) was a low-key member of the family who lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. One newspaper article described him as "wearing thick glasses and looking like the neighborhood shoe repairman." He was one of the mobsters indicted by the Feds as a direct result of Operation Donnie Brasco.

Sal, after he was "Good Lookin' Sal"

In the 1970s, he was inducted into the family and was a soldier in Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano's crew. He spent idle time at Napolitano's Motion Lounge social club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was located inside Sonny Black's apartment building. Napolitano lived on the third floor; he'd installed his pigeon coops on the rooftop. The Motion Lounge was a key location in the Donnie Brasco investigation, for which Tomasulo was convicted on RICO conspiracy charges related to gambling and drugs. The conviction was overturned on appeal. 

According to a New York Times report, Tomasulo's lawyer, Irwin Klein, "did his best" to get his client "off the hook"... "even if that meant making Mr. Tomasulo look a little silly."

Had Marlon Brando known that these ''little fish'' were what the Mafia was all about, he never would have played ''The Godfather,'' Mr. Klein told the jurors in his summation.

According to Pistone's book, Boots owned an auto body shop called Capri Car Service that was located "across the street from the Motion Lounge." A "cluttered place," it was where Sonny Black made telephone calls and Boots carried out activities related to a numbers operation that he and Sonny Black operated.

Napolitano supposedly ran the video poker operation first, then Massino, before it was given to Boots, who then built it up into a big moneymaking operation. Tomasulo's innovation seems to have been expanding distribution of the machines: he supposedly placed Joker Poker machines in pizza parlors, bars and other shops across New York City. He gave proprietors half the revenue in return for placement. The machines ate quarters and dealt five-card hands of poker. Obviously, players' chances of winning were slim.

Joker Poker and other types of illegal slot-machines quickly grew into a much more profitable operation, and "Boots" faced great difficulty simply collecting the money -- all of which was in quarters.

As Tomasulo's slot machine empire grew, Boots's son, Anthony, an associate of the Bonanno family, took over the day-to-day business. Anthony visited the various establishments in which machines were placed to collect payment, half of which was given to the proprietor; the rest to his father.

Then, quite suddenly, Tomasulo dropped dead from a severe asthma attack while sitting on the front porch of his Bensonhurst, Brooklyn apartment building. (He couldn't possibly have died in 2003, as a dubious, unsubstantiated Wikipedia entry claims; his son was murdered in 1990 -- Boots died prior to the son's murder. The Tomasulo entry has not a single footnote.)

Around the time of Boots's death, Sal Vitale had been a powerful figure in the family and was eventually named underboss by Massino, who was in prison until 1992. When he was released, Massino still had two years of parole to get through and he was very much looking forward to benefitting from his ascendancy to the top of the family. For a while, he needed Vitale to be his face and buffer on the street.

Vitale finally had the power. After two decades of playing second fiddle to Massino, committing cowboy crimes such as arson, hijackings and robberies, Sal found himself carrying out the day-to-day affairs of the family. Vitale suddenly wore dark-colored tailored suits with wide lapels and sharp lines. On his finger he sported a fat gold ring as well as a gold bracelet on his wrist. He was "money hungry" and his rise in one of the storied five families went to his head. This is when Sal was indeed "Good Lookin' Sal." 

He was not particularly well liked by other members of the crime family.(This and his John Gotti-like ways were among the chief reasons why Vitale later fell into disfavor with Massino.)

After Boots was buried -- with "full Mafia honors" -- Vitale decided to assert his authority. By rights, Boots's poker slot-machine operation was to go into the Bonanno family's pocket (meaning Vitale's pocket). The crime family was entitled to "inherit" all of a wiseguy's rackets once he died, Vitale maintained.

Click book cover.

Soldier Michael Cardello was ordered to inform Boots's son. Anthony was so angered upon hearing the news, he did something that made his position untenable. "If I have to, I'll kill you and I'll kill Sal!" he shouted at Cardello.

Anthony later informed another Bonanno capo of a revised plan. He was going to Vincent "The Chin" Gigante to arbitrate.

Vitale met with Spero to discuss the situation. Kill this kid, Spero advised. "You better do it. Get it behind you. God forbid he kills you. We all lose." 

In May 1990 Anthony Tomasulo's body was found in the rear seat of his own car (some reports incorrectly say he disappeared). Vitale inherited the gambling empire.

Yet somehow, Raab gives the credit for this operation to Spero and fails to acknowledge the existence of either Tomasulo, father and son warrant not a mention.

Anthony "Tony Green" Urso was among the Bonanno members who paid the piper for the Tomasulo murder. 

As Anthony DeStefano noted on his blog: 

In a little noticed letter he wrote in 2005 just before sentencing, former Bonanno acting boss Anthony "Tony Green" Urso, related how he thought turncoat underboss Sal Vitale, Joseph Massino's brother-in-law, got him involved in racketeering action so that if he refused Vitale could justify killing him.

As Urso explained it, Vitale was jealous of him because had a close relationship with Massino.

"Vitale was my biggest enemy within the family, so much so that on several occasions (sic) he (Vitale) attempted to have me killed by bringing false accusations against me. These accusations were dismissed as ridiculous by Massino because he knew of the jealousy on Vitale's part and he knew that I was a loyal friend to him."

Urso was Massino's driver. Because he is dyslexic and can't read or write, Urso had someone else write the letter to Judge Nicholas Garaufis in the hopes of getting a sentence less than 240 months, something Urso felt was a death sentence at his age.

"While I am not the shooter in this case, nor any other case for that matter, I still battle with my demons over this young man's death," said Urso in the letter, an apparent reference to the Vitale-ordered slaying of the son of Anthony "Boots" Tomasulo. (Something else we found: some reports give the father's nickname to the son, which is incorrect).

Vitale told the FBI in his debriefings that Urso had the victim follow him by car to a location where others did the killing. Massino didn't order the slaying, which was done because the younger Tomasulo was causing problems for the Bonanno gambling interests, according to Vitale....

The TimesLedger noted in June 2005: "Louis Restivo, 70, of Ozone Park, who Newsday reported suffers from diabetes, poor circulation and the early stages of dementia, pleaded guilty in February to the 1990 murder of crime family associate Anthony Tomasulo, whose body was found wrapped in a body bag in the back of a truck. Prosecutors said Restivo conspired to kill Tomasulo for withholding proceeds of the family's "Joker-Poker" gambling machines...."