Spumoni Gardens: Botched Robbery or Mob Hit?

On Wednesday, more than 100 people attended the funeral of Louis Barbati, 61, co-owner of L&B Spumoni Gardens Pizzeria, a popular New York City eatery, who was shot to death at 7 p.m. on June 30 right outside his home in Brooklyn's Dyker Heights section, on 12th Ave. near 76th St.

Mourners paid their respects at St. Ephrem’s Church in Dyker Heights. "Disgraced" former Rep. Michael Grimm (aka "Mikey Suits"), described in news reports as a family friend, was among the attendees.

Among those Barbati leaves behind are his wife of 25 years, Joanne, and two sons, Louis, 24, and Joseph, 18.

While his mortal remains reposed in a coffin placed inside a waiting hearse, the NYPD released video of the suspected shooter and is requesting the public's assistance in identifying the man, believed to be in his thirties, who killed L&B Spumoni Gardens Pizzeria's beloved proprietor.

Spumoni Gardens is considered an institution in Bensonhurst and is known especially for its square, or Sicilian-style, pizzas and rainbow-colored spumoni ice cream. (Supposedly one of the eatery's secrets was that it placed the sauce on top of the cheese.)

The man on the video is seen wearing a black hoodie and jean shorts; the gunman who shot Barbati five times also was wearing a hoodie.

Law enforcement is describing the murder as a botched robbery. But it's difficult to believe that this was anything other than premeditated murder.

I contacted several sources about the shooting and nearly all don't believe this was a mob-related shooting; nobody believes it was a botched robbery, either, however.

One former high-level New York Mafia source noticed something in the video I myself never would've: the suspect is wearing sneakers too large for his feet. Also he seems to be aware of the camera, not once looking at it during his walk.

The shooter fired five shots into the victim. Supposedly, as part of the "botched robbery" theory, he had to disappear quickly without taking the money. So he committed a homicide for nothing? Or did he accidentally shoot the man, then decide to finish him off -- firing off shot after shot -- before fleeing without grabbing the plastic bag filled with cash that must've fallen to the ground beside him (unless Barbati was able to toss it far enough away, say over a fence -- though this is speculation. It's unknown exactly what happened to the bag he was carrying while he was shot. Barbati carried the cash and a loaf of bread.)

Former Gambino associate John Alite, who is known to have shot some people is among the minority who thinks this was a mob hit.

Asked why, he replied via text message: "Because he shot (the victim) in the head (and then) when he went down (he shot him again with) one in the back.

John Alite

"Okay, if it's robbery he doesn't shoot (the guy) in the head (and) then do the finish when (the body) goes down. Plus if it's robbery he'd shoot in the body out of fear.

"This (shooter) was calm. He hit him again on floor."

A likely scenario, distilled based on the available information, plus sources speaking on background, is that the shooter was not there to steal the $10,000 the victim had on his person at the time of the murder. Meaning, he didn't care about the money -- and/or he didn't know there was cash involved.

"It was unusual for Barbati to bring home that much cash — something he did only about six times a year, according to sources," The New York Daily News reported.

If you're carrying that much cash you likely wouldn't publicize the days when you were carrying it home, would you?

The well-known story of the stolen "gravy" recipe may or may not have played a role in this crime. But it is definitely something worth further exploration.

Briefly, longtime Colombo crime family associate Francis "BF" Guerra, who in 2013 was sentenced to 14 years in prison for selling his own prescription drugs, has an ex-wife who is a part owner of the pizzeria. 

Guerra is now in prison, but he was acquitted of the indictment's top-line charges, a double murder and the extortion of a former Spumoni Gardens' employee who Guerra accused of stealing the pizzeria's recipe for its secret gravy -- sauce to you non-Italians. (I personally don't think anyone can beat Vincent's sauce, which I'd guzzle from the jar.)

Louis Barbati often had a retired cop around him who was likely ready to serve as a bodyguard if anyone ever tried to give Louis Senior a case of agita.
Barbati funeral.
However, there's been a long dispute going on between Spumoni Gardens and another restaurant.

A Shooting in Brooklyn
Louis Barbati Jr. reportedly has a pistol permit and was often seen with a .38 tucked in his belt, according to The Daily Beast. The victim himself was known to have a retired cop around him who was likely ready to serve as a bodyguard if anyone ever tried to give Louis Senior a case of agita.

On the day of his death, Barbati left the pizzeria around 6:30 p.m. and made the short drive home in his white 2015 Mercedes SUV. Aside from the small fortune, which he'd stored in a plastic bag, he had a loaf of bread (for dinner). 

The Daily Beast provides the best description I could find, short of a police report.

He came to the five steps leading to the back of the tidy brick house where his wife was preparing dinner. His two sons were also inside. Flowers were in bloom to his left and to his right as he ascended. 
A man in a black hoodie and grey pants who must have been awaiting his arrival stepped up behind him and fired five times with a revolver. Barbati was struck at least twice and called to his wife. She had at first thought the gunshots were fireworks set off as the Fourth of July approached. She now stepped from the house into horror. 
“He got shot! He got shot!” she was heard to cry out. 
On Friday, detectives were still canvassing the surrounding homes for surveillance camera video that might tell them whether the motive had been money or murder. Did the gunman go for the bag of cash but then panic? Or did he just blaze away and flee? Detectives suspected it had been a bungled robbery. 
Perhaps the killer also knew that Barbati had a gun permit and decided just to blast away without warning. Robbers who hit armored cars are known to forsake announcing a stick-up and shoot the armed guards rather than risk being shot themselves.

Several years back, the former Spumoni Gardens' employee -- the one Guerra accused of stealing the pizzeria's sauce recipe -- gave said recipe to a Bonanno crime family associate who had opened a Staten Island-based pizzeria.

Guerra, who learned of the subterfuge, and another Colombo mobster paid a visit to the Staten Island eatery. It wasn't to pay their respects.

Sitdown Over Sauce
Rather than pull out guns and fire away, the Colombo and Bonanno crime families held a sitdown at Panera Bread (the nationwide chain).

The Colombo representative, acting captain Anthony Russo, subsequently flipped on his cohorts and offered in testimony during the 2012 Guerra trial the story of what was decided.

Bonanno guy: "Are we gonna go after every pizzeria that puts sauce on their slice?"
Russo: "You got a point there."

The news site Broadly spoke to a veteran FBI agent about the murder and the likelihood of it being a mob hit.

James Wedick, a 34-year FBI agent noted how September 11 forced the Feds to cut their resources focused on organized crime, giving the mob some breathing room.

"For almost 10 years, there wasn't a lot [of focus on] the mafia. What you saw were career agents and investigators migrated out of organized crime to fight terrorism."

In 2011, when the FBI arrested more than 100 alleged mobsters for various crimes, it publicly showed that the Bureau had not totally forgotten about old friends back in New York.

"That showed that the Bureau and other law enforcement agencies are back on it, bringing the resources back into [fighting organized crime]," said Wedick of that and other high-profile crackdowns. "It was a way for the Department of Justice to say 'We haven't forgotten you guys.'"

"The crime families are still problematic. They are dangerous. They kill people. They threaten people," he said. "As long as there is gold on this planet they fill find a way to take it."

They haven't really been killing people, for quite some time, actually. But with this murder in Dyker Heights, who knows?

Another mob source told me: "There have been so many sitdowns over that place, going back years, all over the place."

He said it wasn't simply a dispute over sauce. In fact, there had been an earlier dispute that the source believes was related to one restaurant copying Spumoni Gardens' employees' uniform too closely.

The source also believes the killing "had nothing to do with a robbery."

At the same time, he added, "The Bonannos are staying away from murders."

"They are even saying 'If you see a rat, cross the street and keep walking.'"