NYPD's Famed Mob-Buster Joe Coffey Dies

NYPD Detective Sgt. Joseph Coffey died this past Sunday. He was 77 and had suffered from cancer.

The high-profile mob buster was known for his frequent media appearances, as well as an organized crime taskforce he led that solved more than 80 gangland hits. Coffey also personally arrested John Gotti three times, earning the deep animosity of  the feared former Gambino boss, who in the early 1990s ordered the beating of the then-retired detective.

NYPD detective Joe Coffey led a distinguished career as a mob buster.
Joe Coffey, the mob buster who John Gotti wanted sent to the hospital.
“He was one of the greatest detectives in the NYPD ever,” Jerry Schmetterer, a former Daily News police bureau chief who coauthored The Coffey Files: One Cop's War Against the Mob, told The Daily News. “He was a larger-than-life guy who always wanted to be involved in the biggest cases."

Turncoat John Alite named Coffey and 10 other lawmen as being on the Gambino crime family's take. Coffey and others, including acclaimed private investigator Bo Dietl, a former NYPD detective and media personality for Fox News and Imus in the Morning, vehemently denied the charges.

Coffey's career in the NYPD touched on many high-profile cases, including that of serial killer David Berkowitz known as the Son of Sam (as well as the .44 Caliber Killer).

Coffey frequently used the media to assist his investigations, which earned him criticism, as TJ English wrote in The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob. English also noted that Coffey's media technique nevertheless proved quite effective.

Coffey's direct appeal to the public for information regarding the Son of Sam helped the NYPD eventually arrest Berkowitz.

In a near eight-year run, Coffey ran his own Organized Crime Homicide Task force at the request of then-Mayor Ed Koch. Supposedly New York's first Mafia-related taskforce ever, the group solved 82 murders.

Coffey was given the go-ahead to form the squad following a rash of gangland hits in early 1978 -- the work of the Italian Mafia. Although Cosa Nostra was the group's general focus, Coffey and his team also eventually went after The Westies, a group of Irish-American killers affiliated with the Gambino crime family. Coffey supposedly coined the group's name.

When forming the taskforce Coffey chose Irishmen such as Frank McDarby and Joe McGlynn, both of whom could be described as versions of Coffey himself. In addition to their heritage, all three were tall (well over six feet), tough, no-bullshit detectives. When grouped together they reportedly looked more like NFL linebackers than cops.

Upon hearing the NYPD Intel group's reports of murder and dismemberment, one of the first murders attributed to The Westies, Coffey said: "Are these guys fuckin' monsters or what?"

To which head of Intel Kenny McCabe replied: "You ain't gonna believe some of the things we been hearing."

Jimmy Coonan, Westies boss, was on Coffey's radar quite early in the investigation, as was his right hand man, Mickey Featherstone.

Coffey, McDarby and McGlynn were personally offended at the notion of  young Irish-American's using their ethnic heritage to form the framework of their own organized crime group.


Coffey had the distinction of arresting John Gotti on three separate occasions, something both Coffey and the media always remembered. So did John Gotti apparently.

Coffey retired from the NYPD in 1985 and went to work for the state Organized Crime Task Force for the next 11 years.

Some time while Gotti was in the MCC (Metropolitan Correctional Center) word reached Jackie Nose D'Amico that the Gambino boss wanted Joe Coffey put in the hospital. Additionally Gotti wanted "Mikie Scars" to handle it. "He's a good kid," Gotti had said of him.

This came out in DiLeonardo's testimony.

When D'Amico passed the order to him, "Mikie Scars" couldn't conceal his surprise.

"You gotta be kidding me," DiLeonardo said was his response when Jackie told him he was supposed to put Coffey in the hospital.

DiLeonardo foresaw the ramifications of Gotti's order immediately. Based on Coffey's experience in law enforcement, Scars knew that any violent confrontation with the veteran law enforcement officer would involve the use of a gun. 

"Mikie Scars" knew he'd have a better chance simply shooting Coffey versus beating him up. "You can't walk up on a guy like Joe Coffey carrying a baseball bat," DiLeonardo said. "He's gonna see you."

Michael certainly was prepared to carry out Gotti's order, deciding he'd wear a mask when he carried it out. He also knew Coffey had a habit of drinking and socializing at Elaine's.

But the order was cancelled within two weeks.

Years later, while having dinner with Allie Boy Persico at Elain's, DiLeonardo noticed Coffey. He'd been drinking liberally and was himself wearing an expensive, nicely cut suit. "He was dressed like a gangster and laughing it up," Michael recalled of that night.

Michael also enjoyed a chuckle, knowing the former NYPD detective had had no idea that he and "Scars" had been on a collision course -- until Gotti called off the hospital job.


Coffey been raised in Manhattan's Murray Hill section weaned on his law-abiding father's tales of Manhattan's Irish gangsters. Joe Senior was himself a boyhood friend of Eddie McGrath, the Irish-American gangster who controlled the Hell's Kitchen Irish Mob as well as the West Side waterfront during the 1940s. 

McGrath, following a long stretch in Sing Sing, took control of the waterfront using as muscle Irish killers like John "Cockeye" Dunn, McGrath's brother-in-law, and Andrew "Squint" Sheridan. 

McGrather was reportedly allied with Albert Anastasia and Meyer Lansky. In 1949, when an ongoing investigation turned the waterfront hot, Lansky sent McGrath to Miami to work as an ILA organizer, where he spent the rest of his life.

But while in power, McGrath was once able to assist his old boyhood chum who continued driving a truck even while his pal was reaping a fortune from lucrative waterfront rackets.

Joe Senior had formed a teamsters local. When "Cockeye" went gunning for Joe Senior in a bid to rob him of his union -- even even firing a shot or two at him when son Joe Junior was 10 -- McGrath intervened, essentially saving Coffey Senior's life.


Coffey got in the last word, telling the New York Post in 2002 that despite Gotti's widespread popularity among the public, the "Dapper Don" had actually hastened the New York Mafia's downfall.

“He brought down the Mafia,” Coffey said. “He gave us all the finger, and he made himself and other people in organized crime bigger targets than they were. As a result, the Mafia is nowhere near what it used to be.”

Coffey certainly didn't mince words.

Steve Dunleavy, in an Oct 2007 New York Post story, quoted Coffey speaking at length about Lindley DeVecchio, and not in a favorable way.

In a story, DIRT BAG IS GRIME OF CENTURY, Coffey told Dunleavy:

“It was no secret in the ’80s that DeVecchio was on the take from [Colombo crime-family mobster Gregory] Scarpa. He was a loudmouth walking around with pinky rings and, even in those days, $2,000 suits. I worked on the same cases as he did, and a lot of us and other feds knew about him, too." 
“The last time I had words with him was at a retirement or promotion celebration in 1984,” Coffey recalled of DeVecchio. 
“He was blabbing how he would never share information with a cop from the NYPD – he just wouldn’t work with them. I said, ‘Yeah that’s why New York cops solve 80 percent of your cases.’ 
“I won’t tell you what I said next, but we had to be pulled apart.” 
... Coffey, over time, has been privy to some aspects of some investigations and is convinced “DeVecchio was dirty.” 
“I never spoke to him again after our confrontation, no use for him. I have many beefs with the FBI, not the least of which is they always get too close to their informants,” he said. 
“... I’m not saying DeVecchio in any way ordered hits,” said Coffey, “but he knew what Scarpa was – a stone-dead killer who may have murdered as many as 20 people.” 
“DeVecchio curried favor for professional and economic gains,” Coffey says. 
“Well he’ll have to live the rest of his life knowing that a lot of people know that he was virtually an FBI member of organized crime.”

Coffey is survived by his wife, Susan; sons Joseph Jr. and Steven; daughter, Kathleen Tonn, and six grandchildren. Coffey's first wife Patricia died in 1993.

Coffey on Today's Cosa Nostra

Sex and drugs are nothing new to organized crime, Coffey said in a 2010 interview with CNN.

At the time, New York’s Gambino crime family had allegedly introduced underage prostitution into its web of rackets, authorities said. 

“The Mafia, as we know it today, is no longer what it was. Although they’ve always been ruthless, greedy, unlawful, murderous, they always had a certain amount of respect, i.e., for women and children,” he said.

A law enforcement crackdown in the 1970s and 1980s targeting organized crime’s leadership left a power vacuum that has been filled by leaders with a greater appetite for sex and drugs, he said.

“The mob, as we see it today, has lost all respect, lost all the historical culture that it was intended to have since 1931 and that’s because they’re becoming their own best customers within the drug culture,” Coffey said.