Not Bonanno-linked Burglary Crew's Finest Moment

Some of the bank burglary crew members mentioned here were apparently members of the same crew as Gerard Bellafiore as well as the trio recently busted...

Lee D’avanzo had a past, but it was, like, no big deal.

Besides, he was a changed man, a business owner, as he told his wife, Drita, who believed him, "but boy was she in for a shock!" as Hollywood Life wrote back in June 2011.

Lee D’avanzo had a past, but it was, like, no big deal.   Besides, he was a changed man, a business owner, as he told his wife, Drita,
Credit: Starcasm
Drita then told exclusively "that she didn’t know that Lee was a bank robber when she started dating and then later married him!" Lots of reality show blogs seem to have an addiction to exclamation points.

“When I started dating Lee, I knew he had a business,” Drita said. “As for bank burglary and stuff like that? No way!"

“Honestly, I just thought a lot of guys I knew that were in the neighborhood and street guys, you just know they are street guys and make money off the streets.

"I don’t know what they do, because they don’t say. I never thought of anything like that, because to me that’s insane.”

And helping fuel Drita's fantasy world was the fact that Lee owned a car wash! So Hollywood Life reported.

"He had the money from the car wash and I was working when we moved in together,” Drita said. “It was normal like anybody. We’d go through the bills. It wasn’t like Lee was like, ‘I got it — here’s $20,000 on the table.’ We did it together.”

One night, Lee told Drita that he was going out with friends. He didn't tell her that he and these friends were planning to  pull off a bank job.

"They poked the ceiling and these guys came tumbling out onto the sidewalk like a broken pinata," quipped the source.

“He called me at 2:00 a.m. and he goes, ‘I got arrested,'” Drita said. “Why would you think a criminal tells his crimes? That’s insanity.” (Actually, she probably got that call closer to 3 am.)

Considering the timing, and other things, I believe Lee's arrest on the aforementioned occasion was part of what law enforcement officials creatively titled Operation Turkeyshoot.

What happened was in November, 2008, NYPD Major Case Squad officers and the Federal Probation Service were eyeballing a group of men suspected of pulling off a series of bank robberies.

The squad's surveillance gave them cause to establish a post near the Richmond County Savings Bank at 2555 Richmond Ave on Staten Island.

It wasn't until 2:30 in the morning that the robbers tripped the bank vault's alarm. The four man had entered the bank via the basement of a neighboring office building. Getting an assortment of power tools, chisels, hammers and saws, the crew got to work.

They managed to knock off some 3 inches of concrete from the vault's base, plus a layer of rebar.

Still, hours of work remained before they could get their hands on the contents of the bank's 1,000-plus safety deposit boxes. The bank was closed the next day because of a holiday, so the four weren't concerned. It's called planning.

(Did anyone notice that this crew was following the exact blueprint used in Sexy Beast, an excellent heist film. The film starred Sir Ben Kingsley in what I consider one of his greatest performances. Sexy Beast also put Ray Winstone on the map. Well, my radar, anyway. But I digress.)

Only in the film, they pulled the job off successfully. ....

When heavily armed Emergency Service Unit officers finally entered the bank to nail the suspects, they surprisingly found no one inside the place.

"That's when we realized they had gone at it from the basement next door and escaped into the outdoor soffit that lines the exterior of the building," said a source.

  1. the underside of an architectural structure such as an arch, a balcony, or overhanging eaves.

The officers realized the crew members were hiding in the eaves' crawlspace just above the entrance of the nearby Pearl Express eyeglass store.

"They poked the ceiling and these guys came tumbling out onto the sidewalk like a broken pinata," quipped the source.

The unlucky foursome was staring up at about 100 heavily armed cops, plus a few armored trucks, some K-9 units and two NYPD helicopters.

Arrested by Detective Sean Mahon of the Major Case Squad were Bekim Fiseku, 37, of Garfield Avenue, Arrochar; Lee D'Avanzo, 39, of Woodvale Avenue, Pleasant Plains; Mislim Ruci, 38, of Court Street, Stapleton, and Joseph Cotarelo, 34, of Bayview Place, Ward Hill.

At the time, Fiseku and D'Avanzo both were on federal probation for similar crimes. Fiseku also had an ongoing case for marijuana possession. Making the situation worse for the whole group is that they also were suspected in an Easter Sunday weekend bank heist. The Sovereign Bank branch in Howard Beach, Queens, had been robbed of around $100,000 and jewelry.

In 2001 it was reported that as far back as the 1980s, Lee and the New Springville Boys had been pulling off bank jobs and drug deals.

There was actually a huge splash in 2001 about Lee, his old buddy Chris Paciello (born Christian Ludwigsen in 1971 in Borough Park, Brooklyn) and The New Springville Boys, reportedly a violent mob crew that not only robbed Staten Island banks but had also "terrorized ... and committed crimes up and down the East Coast," as then-U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad told the media.

Between 1988 and 2000, the crew schemed to plunder more than 30 night-deposit boxes at banks in seven states. And it wasn't only the East Coast, either. The crew's 1998 bank burglary binge in Washington state netted a cool $240,000, according to court papers.

They also allegedly planned to ship more than 200 kilograms of marijuana from Arizona to New York, but got busted along the way in 1999.

Less than a decade earlier, they hijacked a $1 million truckload of pot in New Jersey, and sold it in New York City, according to the indictment.

Paciello also was heavily involved in criminal activity during this period in the 1990s. He was known to launch his own burglary binges (his nickname was "The Binger," in fact).

Chris Paciello

One planned job, in which Paciello brought in members of the Bath Avenue Crew, was meant to be a quick home invasion. It turned into a tragic homicide and brought everything tumbling down....

Paciello, who planned the botched heist but served only as the wheelman during the actual job, was arrested for murder. He flipped and made a plea deal with the U.S. attorney’s office.

Paciello admitted to his role in the February 1993 slaying of Staten Island housewife Judy Shemtov, which brought to a screeching halt mega hot lifestyle as the club owning king of Miami’s super trendy South Beach nightlife.

(But here again, this wasn't, like, a big deal .... for Paciello, anyway. He "lost it all, and has slowly risen back to the top," as The Huffington Post recently reported.

When a December 2001 Eastern District indictment hit the crew, D'Avanzo was already serving a five-year sentence, having pleaded guilty to drug smuggling. The 2001 charges claimed that the group worked for the Bonanno crime family. (This five-year stint must've included Lee's rendezvous, or lack thereof, with Carmine Agnello when he was fighting off three Puerto Ricans in MDC Brooklyn.)

Then-Assistant Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Gregg Andres brought the indictment, which charged that since 1988 the crew sold drugs, acted as loan sharks and money launderers.

Lee and Bekim are longtime partners in crime -- and Bekim was the boss, not Lee, despite what you read in Michelle MacPhee's book, which is riddled with errors, sources have told me.

I don't think Drita is lying. I think she was a "mob wife" kept in the dark about everything. Wiseguys can talk their way out of almost anything -- when it comes to nonlaw-enforcement personnel.


  1. I'm sorry, I call bs on Drita didn't know what Lee did bs. Karen & Lee were together for seven years. During that time,part of it anyway, Drita lived with Karen & Lee for a while. Drita knew, but like a good mob wife she keeping her trap shut!

    1. Can you contact me? cosanostranews at gmail dot com


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