Many Ghosts Haunt Witness Protection Program

See part one of this story, Path to WITSEC Built on Omerta's Dead, here.

In December 1964, Pascal "Paddy" Calabrese robbed Buffalo's City Hall during daylight. While serving a five-year stretch for his daring but unsuccessful feat, he started nursing a deep hatred for his boss, Stefano Magaddino, who had cut him loose the moment he was cuffed by law enforcement.
Pascal "Paddy" Calabrese robbed Buffalo's City Hall during daylight.
Buffalo wiseguy Paddy Calabrese helped create the Witness Protection Program.

Magaddino had done the same to the drug-dealing Agueci brothers, forgetting about them as soon as they were arrested. Magaddino had been well aware of the brothers' narcotics business and was glad to pocket their generous tributes in return for extending them police protection. 

But Magaddino couldn't have cared less when the cops busted the two.

While out on bail, Albert Agueci threatened the 75-year-old Cosa Nostra boss, saying if Magaddino didn't use his connections to help him and his brother, he'd talk to the FBI about everything.

Albert was found dead a few days later, his body badly burned and missing 40 pounds of flesh, which had been sliced off. Both arms and legs were broken, as was his jaw. The sawing, cutting and breaking had been done while Albert was alive. He had been strangled to death, then doused with gasoline and set afire.

Magaddino was old but had lost none of his ferociousness.

Gerald Shur and his strike force had recalibrated their sights by 1964.

As noted in part one, Shur was one of 45 attorneys hired by Robert Kennedy to revitalize organized crime investigations. At the time some 25 various Federal agencies were working OC cases, and none of them showed a proclivity to cooperate with one another.

RFK, determined to end the infighting and put the focus on prosecuting organized crime figures, formed a special unit, of which Shur was part, named the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. Attorneys such as Shur were sent to investigate and prosecute crimes against 40 high-ranking Mafiosi whom Kennedy himself identified.

Realizing New York's powerful mob bosses were beyond their reach, Shur and the OCRS decided to focus on Buffalo, where Magaddino's crime family held sway.
An imprisoned Calabrese was well aware of the Agueci brother's fate, but he also knew that Albert and his brother were not made members. Calabrese, on the other hand, had been inducted into Magaddino's crime family and expected better treatment from the boss, who was viewed even by members of law enforcement as "a cheap old man."

Coroner's report documents Albert Agueci's torture murder after he threatened Stefano Magaddino
The coroner's report is not for the faint-hearted.

But soon enough Calabrese learned that Magaddino's willful short-sightedness was even worse than he'd thought: Membership's privileges apparently ended once one was arrested.

Calabrese, without even realizing, would go on to set the agenda for what became the Witness Protection Program by saying he'd testify against his boss in return for an end to his prison sentence; relocation for him, his girlfriend and her children; and new identities for all.

During a secret meeting on Feb. 27, 1967, Calabrese named every "major criminal" in the Magaddino family and also gave information regarding several Mafia-related crimes.

Although Calabrese was unable to implicate Magaddino himself, he gave up two important underlings, Freddy Randaccio (the murderer/torturer believed to have killed Albert Agueci) and Patsy Natarelli, who was known to be handy with an ice pick.

Before Calabrese testified, his girlfriend and her kids were relocated to a military base, while Calabrese was spirited to the "Valachi Suite" in a Texas federal prison.

The strike force eventually used the Hobbs Act to arrest Magaddino's two viceroys.

Magaddino's men hunted for Calabrese and his girlfriend immediately.

Mobsters questioned friends and family members of both. They even interrogated Calabrese's barber.

As the trial date drew near, the Buffalo mob grew more daring, calling up strike force members on their home phones and threatening their lives. Up until then, it was believed that the old informal "agreement" was in place: the mob didn't go after legit law enforcement officials doing their jobs.

But members of the OCRS started traveling in well-armed pairs. Some sent their wives out of town as well.

Albert Agueci worked in a bakery for his day job
Albert Agueci, above, was tortured and killed for threatening a boss.

Finally two OCRS members, Sam Giambrone -- the Buffalo police sergeant who brought Calabrese's offer to Shur in the first place-- and a former member of the FBN decided to have a talk with Magaddino.

They went to his Niagra Falls home and knocked.

Magaddino opened the front door.

Before he could say a word, Giambrone was pushing his gun inside the elderly gangster's mouth.

The strike force chief told the Buffalo Cosa Nostra boss: "If one more phone call comes in or anyone attempts to do harm to my family or anyone else's on the strike force, we're going to come back and blow your f---ing head off."

The harassment stopped.

The two gangsters Calabrese gave up were sent away for 20 years.

Afterward, Calabrese and his family were sent to Michigan and left to fend for themselves, save for a single $600 payment (strike force members had passed a hat around).

The "Angelos," Calabrese and his family's new surname, skipped town three months after their relocation. They'd taken out a loan -- they were a "legitimate family" after all -- and fled without repaying a cent.

Calabrese later was identified as the first mob witness to provide testimony in return for relocation and new identities.

"It was not an awe-inspiring beginning," Shur said.

Calabrese returned to haunt Shur, who labeled WITSEC's first customer as one of three "ghosts" that later haunted him and other officials involved in forming the Witness Protection Program.

In 1970, a lawyer called a strike force chief about Calabrese, requesting his address. Calabrese's girlfriend, Rochelle, and her three children had left behind a family member: her husband/father of her children.

Thomas Leonhard believed the government had helped a gangster kidnap his family, his lawyer argued.

Thomas Kennelly, the strike force chief who spoke with the lawyer, was immediately suspicious. The strike force knew that Rochelle once had been married -- but she had divorced her husband.

Nevertheless, the lawyer argued that the father had visitation rights.

Still, why had the man waited years to complain about his "missing" children? As it turned out the father, in fact, had not waited years; he'd been spending the time searching for his children. He'd been unable to find any government officials who could help him.

Once Kennelly confirmed that the man wasn't a Magaddino assassin in disguise, he realized what had happened and felt sorry for the man. Kennelly himself was a father and understood how the man felt. But there was little he could do because Calabrese and Rochelle didn't want to hear a peep out of the ex-husband.

A book was later written about Thomas Leonhard's story, which was later turned into a film, the 1980 release titled Hide in Plain Sight (which starred James Caan). Vincent Canby, The New York Times critic, called the film: "an unusually satisfying, almost perfectly scaled little melodrama about so-called ordinary people trapped in extraordinary events." 

The book didn't fuel support among the general public for the Witness Protection Program. It did quite the opposite, in fact.

The Leonhard story got lots of play back in the 1970s -- and WITSEC was widely viewed as a program that facilitated the kidnapping of a man's family by a "plotting gangster" who used the feds to get what he wanted in return for putting two mobsters away.

While Shur took note of the situation and went to great lengths to avoid something similar from happening again, the media would have more examples of gangsters who didn't "get" with the program.

Shur's second "ghost" was Gerald Zelmanowitz, a demanding witness who testified against New Jersey's once powerful Mafia Don Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo.

Mafia Don Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo
"Gyp" DeCarlo created a head ache for WITSEC.

Gerald had done quite well for himself while living his second life in San Francisco. Using his new name, "Paul Maris", he rose to the presidency of a small dress manufacturer. "Maris" had a great mind for legitimate business -- and after running a pioneering magazine advertising campaign, he exponentially increased the company's revenues and turned the small firm into "the hottest label in women's knitted tops and clingy dresses."

He and his wife grew extremely wealthy and the media showed interest. Since Maris couldn't reveal his true background, he chose to invent one, filling it with colorful anecdotes. Sharp journalists were soon looking into some "problems" with the exec's bio.

Long story short, Maris grew too big for his britches. He put 13 members of his wife's family on the company's payroll. The stockholders grew furious when they learned this and quickly decided they wanted him out. They sent an undercover private detective in to investigate. The detective eventually hit pay dirt, uncovering everything and delivering it to the unhappy investors.

They quickly warned Maris that they were going to issue a press release about his Mafia past, which would have been fatal.

The IRS, which had been keeping tabs on Maris the entire time -- the agency also believed he'd salted away millions in European bank accounts -- chose to hit him at the very moment he contacted Shur to save his life from angry shareholders.

The former mob associate and his family were relocated and given new identities --again -- and Zelmanowitz filed a $12.5 million lawsuit against Shur and WITSEC.

The end result was another book, this one the first to focus on WITSEC. Called The Alias Program, it was a hit. Since it was published on the heels of the Watergate scandal, it received an enthusiastic reception from the public, whose mistrust of the government was at its highest.

This also didn't help fuel general support for the program, flawed though the book was.

The Alias Program was deeply critical of Shur, who had ensured the funding of WITSEC by prompting the McClellan Committee to allow for the Justice Department to spend funds "for the care and protection" of mob turncoats.

"The Animal" Barboza gives false testimony.

Shur, the book charged, had taken "vague language" to justify manipulating the Justice Department to relocate turncoats and provide them with new identities.

The book also led to reams of media stories about WITSEC, most of which were critical and sought to frighten the general public with the pronouncement that a former Mafioso might be living next door to them.

The third ghost appeared in February of 1976.

Joseph Donait stopped beside his car, parked on a San Francisco street. In broad daylight, he stood there and searched for his keys.

A shotgun blast ended his life.

The van from which the killer had fired was found abandoned a block away, the shotgun inside on the backseat. The murder weapon's serial number was gone, thanks to an acid douse.

Law enforcement believed it to be a mob hit, though there was ostensibly no reason to believe "Joseph Donait" had anything to do with the Mafia.

Until, of course, the man's real name was revealed to be Joseph "The Animal" Barboza.

In a story about last year's Boston Mob: The Rise and Fall of the New England Mob and Its Most Notorious Killer, the New York Daily News noted
Joe (the Animal) Barboza, a mob hit man so vicious he “made Caligula look like a saint,” once tallied his violent crimes at 75 stabbings, 500 beatings and around 20 murders. Give or take a few gutted corpses.

Barboza grew up dirt poor in New Bedford, Mass. He'd spent years in prison before he decided to commit himself to Cosa Nostra life in 1962. Of Portuguese decent, he knew he'd never get his button but that was not a problem. The fast money and opportunity to commit violence were enough.

"The Animal" was associated with Raymond Patriarca, the legendary New England crime boss who worked out of The Office and had close ties to New York's  Genovese and Colombo crime families.

Barboza set a new low for turncoats starting over. He'd dealt drugs, fenced stolen securities (to the Patriarca crime family, no less) and even murdered a man over a soured drug deal. For that he was sentenced to five years in prison.

To get out of his sentence he tried to pass on "information" about Frank Sinatra being a puppet of organized crime. He was even called before a House committee investigating organized crime in 1972, where he testified that Sinatra was a front man for Raymond Patriarca, the true owner of the Sands casino in Las Vegas and Foutainbleau hotel in Miami, according to Barboza.

His charges were widely reported and Sinatra was compelled to appear before the House committee.

Sinatra was not pleased about having to testify, as noted.

The committee was dissolved shortly after it was revealed that all of Barboza's claims were based on rumors and hearsay.

WITSEC refused Barboza when he was released from prison, but federal agents recommended he leave California when he was paroled.

Instead he moved to San Francisco and shook down drug dealers. He'd tell them "I'm Joe Barboza, the mobster you've read about in all the newspapers. You better pay me or else."

Stories about Barboza's violent demise didn't help WITSEC either.


Paddy Calabrese, mentioned earlier, later turned up in Seattle, where he worked as a private eye.

A rather large number of turncoats who joined the Witness Protection Program were resettled in and around Seattle and Spokane, Washington.

One Spokane man, Michael Milano originally hailed from New Jersey. His real name is Nicholas Mitola Jr., and he also had no problem reapplying himself to a life of crime after he'd been relocated by the Marshals.

He was even described as a "one-man crime wave."

In 2006, he was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for selling a firearm to a federal witness.

Mitola was previously convicted for a 1991 killing in Spokane over a “drug scam gone sour” and involvement in the largest, most-sophisticated bookmaking operation ever busted in the city.

“I admit I’m not the cleanest person, but I’m not a violent gun guy,” he told a U.S. District Court Judge at his sentencing.

After his arrest in 2004, Mitola confessed to the FBI and offered to “help burn this town down” by providing the agency with information about gambling, drugs and other criminal activity.

But the FBI, who used Mitola to infiltrate the Luchese organized crime family in New Jersey in the late 1980s, turned down his offer.

When he’s released from prison, Mitola will be on federal supervision another five years. He will be banned from any form of gambling.

His September 2004 arrest was for selling a handgun to an informant for the FBI.

Mitola said he got the gun for Al “The Penguin” Anglisano, another former federally protected witness and also the man who turned Mitola in to the authorities because “I didn’t know if he was going to kill me and turn me in for a bounty” to Luchese family members Mitola testified against in the longest organized crime trial in U.S. history. The trial ended with acquittals. (Yes, The Boys from New Jersey trial, which was rigged.)

During its investigation, the FBI also learned about other criminal activity Mitola was involved in, including insurance fraud and food stamp fraud in the Spokane area.

Henry Hill, whose past deeds recently resurfaced in a book by a couple of our friends, Rob Sberna and Dom Cicale, was arrested there during the long dark journey he took after departing the Luchese family. Hill was arrested in Seattle in 1987 for cocaine trafficking. Using the name Martin Todd Lewis, Hill himself was so coked up he was unable to consummate a drug deal with an informant posing as a drug buyer.

Two years later he'd be divorced and jammed up over a string of additional crimes.

Vincent "Fat Vinny" Teresa, formerly of the New England Mafia (was he top-ranking figure or not? We're still not sure if that book he wrote is legit or not -- My Life in the Mafia), died in 1990 of kidney failure. He too had gotten in some trouble in Seattle when he was indicted there in the 1980s for smuggling either rare birds or cocaine -- Seattle Vice says the former, the Internet the latter.

In 1969, Teresa was indicted and sentenced to twenty years for conspiracy and transporting stolen securities. He served several months at Lewisburg, housed in a cell near John Gotti, Jimmy Hoffa and Carmine Galante. 

After Teresa discovered that Patriarca crime family members had nabbed a $4 million package meant for his family, he agreed to become an informant for the FBI. 

He testified in front of the US Senate in 1971 and was responsible for the indictments of over 50 mobsters. He entered the Witness Protection Program as Charles Cantino.

One more story, which might be a myth, though the story's end seems to indicate there was some truth in the fiction....

Max Kurschner put a smile on our face.

In the early 1980s, he was arrested in Seattle on income tax evasion charges. He'd been using the pseudonym Joey Black and had written a series of crime books in which the narrator was a professional killer. Supposedly, some of the story was based on true experience.

The author's fictional hit man, which was supposedly based on the author's personal experience, specialized in killing other hit men.

"Black" wrote that he'd killed 38 men, most for the mob. He claimed to have been investigated for 17 murders but had never been convicted.

The Seattle Times wrote about Kurschner while he was in prison, and he wasn't fond of it. When he got out he called up a reporter, saying he wanted to kill the scribe.

The "Joey Black" story -- a purported hit man who writes books about his crimes -- then got a good share of the media's limelight. Soon a San Francisco-based private detective was trying to link "Joey Black" to the slaying of Barboza.

Joey Black ultimately died by the gun as well.

Someone blew him away with a shotgun in a San Francisco hotel.

See part one...


  1. Both a great read! good coverage of some people you don't often hear about and what happens when they enter the program. Well done, more please.

  2. Since writing this I realize Carlo may have grown up with and known gangsters but I don't think he truly understood how the Mafia "works." Don't think he understood how power worked, either.....

  3. good article

    what i hear no one will kill john alite even if he posted his adress to the world to see. The guys of today want nothing to with that era of the gambino family junior gotti era was a disatter most of his crew became rats. The siggs wh run things today want nothing to with gottis peters is in prison, johns dead, gene wont be out to 2017, juniors out of the lifecould not go back even if he wanted to he is a rat everyone knows it know one will whack him though its not worth the heat that stabbing i believe was a spur of the moment thing if it was a proper hit junior would be coffin. Richard V. Gotti is retired, Richard G. Gotti is out now in halfway house i hear could be wrong though he might still be in the life but that gotti name does not help anymore.

    If gene wants to when he gets out he can have a high ranking postition he still has juice on the streets he has the respect but i dont know if he will or if he wants to go back to life things are very differant to when he went away he wont even recognize where he grew up


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