Path to WITSEC Built on Omerta's Dead

Meet the Tweetfellas. Former mobsters living large, and in public.

So notes a recent Daily News article that sought to take to task these "media characters" who have the gall to balk "after completing their government service as informants." Instead of "vanishing into America’s heartland with new identities... they are sticking close — some would say dangerously close — to their stomping grounds and stoking high-profile on social media, personal websites and reality TV shows."

WITSEC was perfected by the time Fat Pete Chiodo was ready for it.

"Former NYPD Police Commissioner [from 1996 to 2000] Howard Safir, who created the witness protection program when he was a top official of the U.S. Marshals Service, said they’re foolhardy if they think they’re getting a pass on the death sentence for violating the mob’s code of silence."

“Organized crime is very patient, even if it means it’s going to be years down the road for there to be retribution,” Safir warned.

"The old school wiseguys must be spinning in their graves and mausoleums at the audacious behavior of these traitors hiding in plain sight."

Considering recent major Mafia busts including murder conspiracy charges, "revenge" is now the stuff of films  versus a real life practice. Today, the Five Families outsource hits.

Howard Safir distinguished himself in law enforcement, holding numerous high-level positions--Assistant Director of the DEA, Chief of Witness Security for the U.S. Marshals Service, Associate Director for Operations for the U.S. Marshals Service--but he was certainly not the man who "created" the Federal Witness Security Program. 

Gerald Shur was the architect of the witness protection program, which he formally founded while he was Attorney in Charge of the Intelligence and Special Services Unit of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the United States Department of Justice. (Safir came along later and transformed the ragtag group of low-level, under-compensated agents into the elite, well-funded unit some think of today.) 

Watch the video below. (He's described as "one of the founders" by C-SPAN.)

WITSEC was formally established under Title V of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, which defines how the United States Attorney General may provide for the relocation and protection of a witness or potential witness. Witnesses are put in the program at either the federal or state level.

The program falls under the purview of the U.S. Marshals Service, "the nation’s oldest and most versatile federal law enforcement agency" which has "served the country since 1789, often in unseen but critical ways," reveals the U.S. Marshal Service's website factsheet [PDF]. An excellent book that details the origin story  is: Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program (2003).

The Witness Security Program has successfully protected an estimated 18,400 participants from "intimidation and retribution" since the program began in 1971.

A young but deadly Carmine Persico was almost Shur's first target.

According to Shur, about 95% of witnesses in the program are "what we call criminals." They may be intentional criminals, or people who are doing business with criminals, such as the engineer who bought off a mayor "because that's how you do business in the city. In his mind, he wasn't doing anything criminal," as Shur said.

When Snitches Were Body-Bagged
The mob has not shown a proclivity to kill turncoats in recent years (except for Whitey Bulger, who was killed after the initial version of this story was published). But once upon a time, the story very different.

As is widely known, after JFK was elected president, his brother, as Attorney General, wanted to reinvigorate law enforcement's efforts to combat the Mafia.

Huge obstacles awaited them.

"The Mob had better sources than we did," Shur said in Witsec, which he cowrote. "Omerta was very, very real" at the time. Shur noted that law enforcement had proof of Omerta's strength in the form of a multitude of photographs of dead bodies.

Click book cover.

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 not one showed a proclivity to cooperate.

The worst offender on this front was J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI.

Kennedy was determined to end the infighting and put the focus on prosecuting organized crime figures.

He formed a special unit, of which Shur was part, named the OCRS (Organized Crime and Racketeering Section). Attorneys such as Shur were to investigate and prosecute crimes against 40 high-ranking Mafiosi whom Kennedy himself identified.

Shur held the view that getting high-level informants to give solid information was the best way to combat the Mafia bosses.

His first target was Carmine Persico -- Shur actually thought Persico might flip. At the time "The Snake," as the Gallo brothers commenced derisively calling him for his duplicity in betraying them and attempting to garrot Larry Gallo, had been given a 15-year prison sentence. Shur believed Persico might flip to avoid the prison term.

Turns out Shur never got the opportunity. New York prosecutors refused to believe Persico would ever flip -- the very thought was outrageous to them. They stopped Shur in his tracks.

"Do you guys know who Persico is?" shouted one prosecutor when he learned that Shur and his men wanted to offer The Snake a deal to inform.
"He's not some small-time hood! He's a boss, for God's sake! What's wrong with you guys!"

Magliocco was related to the bosses of the Bonanno,
Magaddino and Profaci crime families.
He put the fear of God into Shur.

OCRS was focusing on bosses (40, as noted) but Shur quickly realized they needed to recalibrate their sights and focus on smaller game if they wanted to make progress.

At the time Joseph Magliocco, in an attempt to consolidate his position as Profaci crime family boss, was making a lot of noise about wanting the street littered with bodies, especially of the Gallo brothers, before the Commission took over what was left of the tattered, troubled Profaci borgata.

Magliocco ultimately proved to be too well insulated, even though his hold over what was renamed the Colombo crime family was tenuous.

Christopher "Christy Tick" Furnari, then a low-level Luchese mobster, happened to get jammed up when he was caught meeting with a Magliocco lieutenant while on parole.

Inside Furnari's home while arresting him for violating parole, Shur attempted to flip the loyal soldier, who's response was, basically, "stick it up your ass -- get lost."

"The fear of being sent back to prison was simply not enough to make Furnari crack."

Furnari—filled with contempt for the federal agents rifling through his belongings and discovering photographs of the Gallo brothers hidden inside a bible—let loose sarcastic retorts that indirectly confirmed Shur's suspicion that "Christy Tick"  had been sought to hit the Gallo brothers.

Asked about the photos, Christy Tick said: "I sell life insurance and my boss gave them pictures to me. He told me to avoid selling life insurance policies to those guys. They might not be living too much longer."

Shur closely looked through the photographs -- and made a horrific discovery. The photographs of the Gallo brothers he held in his hands had been taken by the NYPD during surveillance. He realized Magliocco was getting information from Shur's own people.

At the time, so many cops, judges and politicians were on the mob's payroll it was impossible even to bust a bookie's wire room. The law would track down a location and before they could kick in the front door, the occupants had vanished.

The first-ever mobster to flip, testify and get witness protection was Paddy Calabrese.

The program's earliest incarnation left much to be desired.

Part two is right here....


  1. This is what i don't understand,these guys come out into the open and give interviews and walk around there old neighborhood's like they have done nothing wrong. Why not clip a few of them to make a statement that we can get you even if you run to the government. I never understood how the government can take one murderer's word over another. To get Gotti they turned there eyes away from the fact Gravano was a 19 time killer himself. What about the victims of Gravano and there families? The Mafia could get the fear factor back by popping a few of these guys. Besides drawing heat from the FBI can anyone tell me why they don't?

  2. You touch on different issues. Sammy "managed" most of those 19 hits .... He didnt pull the trigger. I hope to know a lot more about him very soon.. ;-) We won't see another Sammy Gravano anytime soon. As for killing witnesses bet Peter Gotti regrets that stupidity. The Sicilians running half the mob couldn't care less about these guys and the FBI has taken most of the shooters off the street. With the ongoing ban on killing whatever shooters are left probably lost their aim.

  3. Hard to order hits with all the play-by-play going on. Except for Genovese family. Never an indictment on the Lawrence Ricci hit from around 10 years ago. I've read who is believed behind it, but again, no indictment. Anything on the Ricci hit? And will be impatiently waiting part 2. A good impatience though.

  4. lethal injection..someone sooner or later will give it up

  5. Demeo, you bring up an extremely important point here. Listen, prosecutors are just like ball players. They love 'em their stats. Moreover, they are sensitive touchy sorts. They don't getting their noses rubbed in shit. So they make deals with no shit serial killers like Sammy to nab the big name types like Gotti. I'm sure all of us on this site are familiar with Gaspipe and his assertions that gravano lied about a lot of stuff. What happened to Gaspipe? The Feds shut him out. Now, I am fully aware that Anthony is a liar in some respects but Sammy took the Feds to town!!! So you tell me......who was worse? Sammy or Gotti? But who was the most famous gangster since al Capone?

    Want another example? Look at Johnny Martorano in Boston.....not only did he admit to killing almost twenty people, he killed a friggin civilian in Oklahoma of all places! A business man who as far as I'm aware, was not involved at least knowingly in illegal activity. He got a sweetheart deal to testify against who is worse? You can't really quantify a concept like who is a worse mass murderer but whitey made the govt look he had to go. And please don't get me started on the abomination that the gift pulled on six men in Boston in the sixties by knowingly suborning perjury from the animal Barboza. If I were on a jury where a animal like Sammy or martorano testified, I'd vote to acquit just in general principal.

    Take it from me.....I'm not trying to generalize but federal prosecutors are a different sort of archetype....don't for one minute that their primary motivation is anything but glory. See Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani....

    As for why these canaries don't get clipped....imo it's that the mob is too busy trying to simply survive. Back to Barboza, in town sent jr russo all the way to San fran to finally shut him up in 76. But Henry hill was a semi regular on the stern show for decades! They just don't have the power they once had.

  6. Ed, can I posit a different take? How do we know Sammy managed most of those hits? This goes back to my response to Demeo. When a man is enmeshed in criminal behavior to such an extent, imo for what it's worth, he simply cannot be believed about anything.

  7. good luck.. watching all the playoff games.. i was ready to call the coast guard looking for you.

  8. These days when a rat sends a guy away, his crew looks to take over his business and his money...maybe throw some cash to his family. But they aren't seeking revenge and getting themselves involved in a murder conspiracy. It's all about money....they would kill for money but nobody's chasing down rats, they simply care more about making money than risking heat from the law.

  9. Good points, Hawk. I go into Barboza and a few other early witnesses, a large number of which were relocated in Spokane, for some reason. Part two already mostly written... I decided to post a part one because I didn't have time to edit the rest. Strange thing is, I have about a half dozen stories to write and this story wasn't one of them. It sort of wrote itself, if you can believe it. I used a couple of books and the Christy Tick anecdote, plus others in part two, I think inspired me to write this one... maybe....

  10. I don't believe he personally killed many of the 19. But I believe for the feds it was get-Gotti-at-all-costs. Also Gotti talked too damn much. I know a lot of guys get burned on wiretap but I hear of others, like Mikie Scars who was caught on tape but said nothing incriminating despite hours and hours of tape. Gotti talked about murders too.... sure you heard saying, when you discuss a hit it's like doing the crime all over again. It's kind of funny how Capeci posited that Gotti said so much trying to get Frankie Lo to respond, cause Locascio, also taped, I believe didn't say anything.....

  11. Scarpaci's, the Feds probably have more pictures from there than any other place in Brooklyn. Including social clubs. Cusimano & Russo, was also a popular place for wiseguy wakes. I know this has nothing to do with the main story but the picture made me laugh. Looking forward to part 2 Ed…Be well :) …

  12. The part about the Snake being an informant is total bullshit! Your gonna try to convince me that a man who's been in prison 40 out of the last 50 years was a rat? Why keep an informant in jail when he can be more valuable to u on the street? Isn't that what they did with Whitey Bulger? You can look at it now n say that was a bad move but at the time they thought it was great to have a boss on the street giving them info, again, total bullshit!

  13. That YouTube video won't let me post. Whoever published doesn't allow it to be shared....

  14. One rat gets whacked or one rat's family member goes and watch them all think twice before flipping! It might be worth the heat in the long run. The bosses might not care when a soldier goes away because of a rat but I bet Gotti, Amuso, Scarfo etc wished there'd been more of a deterrent. Money shouldn't be everything - what good is today's million dollar racket when tomorrow you're locked up because someone wasn't scared enough to keep their mouth shut? I don't mean to seriously advocate the murder of innocents by the way, just theorising in the mind set of those we're reading about.

  15. Remember the story where someone hinted Castellano may have flipped in the Commission case if we lived. We probably don't even know 1% of what goes on/went on.

  16. That's odd because I just cut and pasted the Youtube Link HMM ?


  18. Anyone know whose funeral that the Lucchese's were attending at Scarpaci Funeral home in that pic above?.......What is ironic is it probably was someone that Vic and Gas eliminated themselves......I wonder if it was Buddy's funeral.

  19. I heard this last year. And again last week. I don't say it's true. There's another guy who I also heard was an informant who you wouldn't believe....

  20. That's crazy if true. He and Fat Tony seem to be held as the embodiment of a "true" mafioso....goes to show...can't trust any body. Wouldn't Carlo have been taken down though if his underboss was a rat?

  21. frank decicco

  22. Maybe he was a confidential informant, like Gotti's associate Willie something (Johnson?), but wouldn't "come out" as an informant and testify? It does seem unlikely though after all the time he's spent in jail.


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