When the Gambinos Dominated the Mafia's Infiltration of Wall Street

Salvatore Romano was an associate of the Gambino crime family who set up shop on Wall Street and became one of the wealthiest mobsters in organized crime's history.

Music legend Paul Anka, who wrote My Way for Frank Sinatra;
he rewrote the song as Sal's Way using the same melody but new lyrics.
Anka sang Sal's Way at a premiere party for one of Romano's business ventures

He was the consummate "mob earner" in his day; and this is the first of a series of stories I am writing involving him and Michael DiLeonardo.

Picture The Wolf of Wall Street, only with the Mafia. In fact, Romano and Jordan Belfort did cross paths early in their careers, or rather their respective paths to infamy.

There's more to Romano's story, however, than the show highlighted. The story includes a large list of notorious mobsters from the Gambino crime family -- as well as an infamous DeCavalcante capo known as the King of Wall Street.

Romano's story also shines a light on an interesting rift in the Gambino crime family. It soon grew into open confrontation between factions. The Fed's called the party off, however, arresting and indicting all the participants before any violence broke out.

(Romano and his Wall Street story have garnered a lot of interest. "I've been asked to write a book by so many people that I finally did." In addition to his memoir, which an agent is currently shopping, Romano has a proposed docu-drama series on the table with Michael (Mikie Scars) DiLeonardo, former Gambino capo. Michael played a pivotal role in Romano's life.)

Romano brought in big money; a consummate earner, one of his key partners tried to "hide" Sal by stashing him under the radar.

This was a key development in the reign of John "Junior" Gotti. Some may recall the "phony" proffer session, as he dubbed it. He hemmed and hawed and attempted the verbal equivalent of the backward pinwheeling somersault in an effort to wiggle his way out of the "fraudulent" 302s, though psychological tenets would seem to indicate he's not angry over the 302s as much as the fact that the documents exist. (Projection 101.)

Still, Junior never hesitated to admit that there was a reason why he went in and "gamed" the FBI.

He wanted to "bury" certain people.

In fact, he took steps to quite literally "bury" some people.

John A. (Junior) Gotti took over the Gambino crime family when his father went to prison for life in the early 1990s. Actually, Junior was the lead decision maker on a ruling panel, if you insist on getting all technical.

Junior Gotti was said to have ordered the murders of Daniel (Danny) Marino and soldier John Gammarano in the early 1990s. The hit was foiled when three wiseguys unexpectedly showed up.

Gotti had suspected them of skimming profits, aka robbing, the Gambino crime family.

This is where Sal Romano's story comes in.


Based on his life experiences in organized crime, Sal Romano has the credibility to make occasional immodest claims that are actually quite accurate.

He took a strategic approach to the businesses he was in, always staying one step ahead of the Feds to extend his cash-rich run. He'd change a company's name, change locations even -- do just about anything he could think of to keep as much money coming in as quickly as possible for as long as possible.

"Nobody could touch my story, based on me, my wealth, and my organized crime connections," Romano said.

When he arrived at the nation's financial capital in 1985, the mob was not viewed as a powerful force on Wall Street. It was more dominant on, say, Fulton Fish Street than on Wall Street. The boiler rooms, the pump-and-dump scams, so well-known today as to be cliches were slowly sprouting up due to the advent of guys like Romano. And he was right there at the forefront.

Certain mobsters had kept an eye out for securities scams as far back as the late 1960s.

One of the earliest Mafia-involved securities fraud cases came to light on November 18, 1970. The U.S. Attorney for New York's Southern District, working in conjunction with the SEC, unveiled indictments against Michael Hellerman, John Dioguardi, Vincent Aloi and others for securities fraud.

One of the earliest stories
about the Mafia on Wall Street.

The 1977 book Wall Street Swindler (coauthored with Thomas C. Renner, an investigative reporter who wrote several books about organized-crime figures) quotes Hellerman saying: "I had been manipulating stocks for years. Some of Wall Street's biggest swindles, frauds that had ripped off millions of dollars from brokerage houses and banks, had been my brainchild. In most of those frauds, the mob and some of its most notorious members had been my partners."

A 1980 Forbes article revealed that Hellerman (who by then vanished into the Witness Protection Program) manipulated several stocks, including Imperial Investments, with assistance from Dioguardi and Aloi, who had alleged organized crime connections.

READ Testimony Concerning The Involvement of Organized Crime on Wall Street

As organized crime advanced into the white-collar arena with bid-rigging etc. it made inroads on Wall Street too. Supposedly, it was the erosion of waste management and the Fulton Fish Market that facilitated Cosa Nostra's infiltration of the securities markets. In fact, according to a New York Times report, the mob lost about $500 million a year when the FBI decimated its garbage-hauling cartels, plus an additional $50 million a year arising from the mob's eviction from the Fulton Fish Market.

To make up for those losses, the mob supposedly got involved with scams on Wall Street.

Wiseguys historically focused on micro-cap stock manipulation (the stocks of public companies with market capitalizations of $300 million or less).

Mob activity on Wall Street reportedly increased in the 1990s. On February 10, 1997, The New York Times reported that "Mafia crime families are switching increasingly to white-collar crimes" with a focus on "small Wall Street brokerage houses."


Salvatore Romano was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and grew up on Staten Island in New Springville, where some major wiseguys once hailed. New Springville was home to Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, Frank DeCicco, Eddie Garafola, and Sonny Ciccone, to name some of them.

Romano's father, Dominic, was an associate.

"One reason he felt he was so clever was because he was so educated and he could handle himself on the street," Romano said. "I aspired to be just like him."

"My father was a college-educated businessman as well as a tough guy. He was around Frank DeCicco his whole life."

DeCicco, who was part of John Gotti's faction, had played a pivotal role in the assassination of Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti. It was his doom. For his involvement, a car bomb tore him to pieces outside the Veterans and Friends social club in 1986.

Sal's father had a saying that he often repeated to his son. "You can do a hell of a lot more with a pen than you can ever do with a gun," Romano said, voicing his father's mantra.

"It was a statement that resonated with me. You wanna rob a jewelry store, you get arrested and serve like six years in prison. Where's that gonna get you in life?"

Sal attended St. John's University -- the Staten Island campus -- for a year and a half and decided he'd had enough formal education.

"Everything that drove me was about making money and making my bones in the street and getting my button," Sal noted. "My father was never a made man but I absolutely aspired to be just that. My father was never out of the picture -- but for most of my success, he was away" in prison.

Jerry Capeci called Romano The Pizza Guy. It's not a mob nickname, Romano explained.

"During my rise, I was on parole and Joey D'Angelo (a Gambino soldier in Mikie Scars crew) was on home confinement. We could get violated for just meeting, so I dressed up like a pizza delivery guy and carried a pizza box filled with messages to him.

Sal had even borrowed a beat up old car for the drive over to Joey's house, where he'd deliver "the pizza" in person.

D'Angelo testified about this in open trial, saying Romano had looked just like a pizza deliveryman.

In 1985, using his father's Wall Street connections, Romano obtained a position as an assistant broker with Lehmann Brothers, where he worked from 1985 to 1988.

He'd found his niche. "I outperformed everyone in the sales department at Lehman Brothers," he said.

By 1988 he was working at a small firm in Paramus New Jersey, an outfit called FD Roberts Securities.

The firm was on record with Joseph "Joe Butch" Corrao, the legendary Gambino gangster from Mulberry Sreet.

Joe Butch, the Mulberry Street legend.

Within three months, Romano was promoted to assistant sales manager. Within five months, he was named branch manager.

At the ripe age of 21, Romano was pulling in around $50,000 a month.

"I bought my first Porsche at 22," he noted.

Next, he began to campaign for FD Roberts to go to Wall Street.

"I opened up this $2 million operation in lower Manhattan in Battery Park Place."

The firm's business was basically Stock Manipulation 101, as Romano told it.

"This was the start of it all and I was right there."

For about 60 days, anyway, which was how long it took the Feds to close the place down. The firm's partners silently did their time, never giving up Joe Butch.

"They didn't roll and got five-six years each."

Sal and other company employees underneath the partners weren't exposed in the operation. However, Sal did gain experience in the sense that this marked his first personal exposure to heat from law enforcement. It was something he was accustomed to while growing up, only his father was usually the target.

"Thank God I had had a street guy for a dad," he recalls thinking of certain times in his life. "I felt somewhat groomed for the life and the heat didn't bother me. I looked at it as the cost of doing business."

FD Roberts was where Sal crossed paths with the Wolf of Wall Street himself, Jordan Belfort. Sal outperformed him -- recall, he was named manager, not Belfort.

"He was a good guy, I have nothing bad to say about him but when it came to production, we were not in the same league. I ate him for breakfast," Sal said.

Speaking in general about his work ethic, he noted: "I am a consummate salesman and I can outwork anyone. I would be the first one in the office every morning and the last one out the door late at night. I guess I wanted to be successful more than anyone else did."

Sal and his family. He won...

In 1990, Romano turned 23 and branched off on his own. He purchased one of the first franchised brokerages ever. It was part of a firm called Financial Equity Resources.

"We opened up in New Springville, my neighborhood. It allowed me to get in earlier and stay later because I no longer had to commute."

During the next two years, he did extremely well in business. "I learned how to control a small cap stock by dominating the ownership of equity positions in publicly traded companies.

"We could control how high a stock went. The customers are buying and I am selling the same stock. This is a highly illegal transaction. Not only did I do it, but I did it better than anyone."

Next, an associate of Sal's asked him to make an investment in a loan brokerage operation. Sal named the new company Roman Enterprises. The business model was to charge excessive upfront fees for securing subprime loans, which basically are loans given to people with bad credit.

"I funded the operation and brought my father in to watch my back. It was only  $70-80 grand to start it."

The firm, the subject of a joint postal inspectors-FBI investigation, was soon raided, however. He made close to $1 million in the prior 10-month span.

"I was next door running my brokerage firm. I really wasn't involved in the scam but I was the owner -- I was guilty as anybody," Romano said.

Although he'd been arrested at 16 -- "kid mischief shit, fighting, reckless endangerment," as he explained it -- that was his first federal pinch, in 1992.

Convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy, he and Dominic Romano Sr., his father, were charged with running a loan brokerage out of Willowbrook that scammed applicants of more than $1 million.

Sal got 30 months, as it was his first beef with the Feds. His father was sent away for seven years. It wasn't his first.

Sal progressed so swiftly however that by the time his father was released, he was picked up in a chauffeur-driven limousine and Sal handed him $100,000 in cash. He paid his father $20,000 month for the rest of his life. (He died in 2004.)

"Everyone involved in the case rolled on me and my father. This was his second felony and he was on parole (when the raid occurred). There were 11 indictments and only he and I did time."

They were sent away together to FCI Morgantown West Virginia.

Prison didn't effect Sal the way the Justice Department would've hoped. Quite the contrary, Sal claimed to have had the "time of my life." Prison was simply the cost of doing business, as he saw it.

"I met a lot of wiseguys. I had a lot of fun and heard a lot of stories. (Prison) only intensified my aspirations for street life. The way wiseguys got treated in jail, I knew this was what I wanted to be."


In October 1994, Romano was transferred to a halfway house in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section. He only had to sleep there in the evenings; otherwise, he was free to come and go as he pleased.

He immediately began strategizing as to what he would do next. 

Once he returned to the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born, it was like he was wearing a badge of honor. He was now viewed as an earner who could keep his mouth shut and do his time. Wiseguys took notice.

It wasn't long before  John (Johnny G) Gammarano requested a meeting with Romano at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Manhattan. The meeting proved to be quite risky. Romano was technically still in the Bureau of Prison's custody. As for Gammarano, he was out on bail pending sentencing.

Johnny G knew that Romano was a sharp businessman. "He said to me, now that you're out what are you looking to do?"

Sal had a lot of ideas about that. He recalled of the meeting: "He seemed to genuinely like me. And he liked to pick my brain about other business deals he was entertaining. It got to the point where it was like we were joined at the hip. Every other day someone was pitching him ideas."

Johnny G was also known as "Johnny Slick." He was said
to have had the "gangster thing down perfectly." He was a
huge player in construction when he started working with Sal Romano.

Gammarano constantly asked Sal when he was looking to do something on Wall Street again. Sal knew he'd eventually return, in some capacity, but he first wanted to take advantage of an opportunity he'd been sizing up: The breakup of the Bell System.

Mandated on January 8, 1982, AT&T Corp., as it had proposed, relinquished control of the Bell Operating Companies that provided local telephone service in the United States and Canada, effectively splitting up the Bell System's monopoly into separate companies that provided telephone service. This created huge opportunities for small companies.

Wanting to leverage this opportunity, Romano hooked up with a small long-distance company in Manhattan called Cherry Communications.

Gammarano wanted in. He offered to pay all of the start-up expenses for the new office, an investment of around $20,000, for which he'd receive 20 percent of all profits.

At the time, Gammarano introduced Sal to Joe Watts, the infamous Gambino shooter. Watts was also in the telecom business operating a calling card company.

Watts "was a sharp guy, a sharp businessman," Sal said. "I was impressed by him. The way he dressed, the hair, the way he carried himself."

Although Romano and Watts didn't strike a partnership, Gammarano was impressed with how Romano had handled himself while meeting with Watts. 

Sal's next move involved a friend's quest to acquire a brokerage firm called Lexington Capital Partners (LCP). "Mark" -- as he refers to the friend -- wanted Romano's help, as other mobsters also were trying to buy LCP.

Sal and Johnny G, following several sitdowns, were able to secure Mark's purchase of the firm.

This gave them $5,000 a month in tribute money.  Sal also was paid a 5 percent override on all the brokers' sales production. The commission was paid to a "consulting company" of Sal's.

That's when the big money started to roll in.

Then, quite by chance, so did another mobster with another crime family. Phil Abramo (born 1945), aka "The King Of Wall Street," held the rank of capo in the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family.

At the time, Abramo, who silently ran about 10 or more firms, was in the business of putting small brokerage firms like Sal's out of business. Sal was determined not to let that happen.

Phil Abramo: the King of Wall Street

"He popped up on the short side of the deal," Romano said. He explained: "When shorting a stock, a person begins to sell a stock that they don't even own. Once it falls low enough, the person then covers his short position by buying the stock. His profit is then the difference between where he shorted it and where he bought it."

"I went to Gammarano and filled him in on what was going on. I owned millions of shares of stock in the company that was being shorted.

That company behind the short position was named Fiero Brothers.

What Sal and Johnny G didn't know was that backing Fiero was Abramo.

Gammarano sent two associates over to shake up the firm. But then Abramo came out to meet with them. Since Abramo was a made man, the guys left and immediately reported their findings to Gammarano

Next Gammarano sent Sal to meet with Abramo to try to work things out.

"Abramo came outside and told me he was glad I showed up. His plan was to take the stock to zero. But now he knew I was involved -- and I was with people."

Sal screwed up, he now admits, chuckling.

Abramo was a reasonable man. But his strategy would've cost Romano millions. So Romano wasn't feeling very friendly that day.

"I told him he had shown up at a party he wasn't invited to. He says to me: 'Whoa, kid. What do you think, I am trying to extort you?' I told him, No -- 'if I thought you were trying to extort me, I wouldn't just be talking to you.'"

Standing there on the sidewalk outside 60 Broad Street in Manhattan, Romano dropped Gammarano's name.

But it was too late.

Abramo was furious over Romano's implied threat. The DeCavalcante mobster said:

"Now I don't give a shit who you're with! You want me out? You're gonna give me 10 grand -- and if you don't,  no one, not even Johnny G, is gonna be able to help you."

Sal realized he'd made a mistake and that Abramo was in the right. "I paid him. And I learned a valuable lesson the hard way. You don't speak to made man like that." Still, the experience only intensified Romano's need to get his button.

Abramo moved off the stock, pocketed his $10,000 and Romano continued to make an absolute fortune.

"I am making in the millions now. And this was only 1995."

He purchased property in the wealthiest area of Staten Island called Todt Hill where he would build his family's dream home for $5 million -- in cash.

He also began to expand his empire beyond Wall Street, investing millions in cash into other businesses. He did this leaving no paper trail. If he was ever indicted again his family would still be well provided for.

"By being so mobbed up and so protected there is nothing that was going to stop me. My goal was to make this run last as long as it possibly could."

Next he goes back to Gammarano, his partner.

Johnny G wanted to keep Sal a secret; Sal didn't understand Gammarano's motives for doing this, but he knew that Gammarano was committing a full breach in standard Mafia protocol.

As Gammarano's prison report date neared, Sal started asking him (time and time again, actually): "What's the plan here? What do  I do? Who do I see while you're gone?"

Gammarano, who was going to be going away for five years, finally tells him: "You will probably see Mikie Scars."

Romano had not yet met Michael. "I knew his reputation, though, and everybody spoke very highly of him."

Then a couple weeks later -- mere days before Johnny G is going away, he changes his tune with Romano.

"Sal we have a legit business here," Johnny G tells Romano, "if you have any problems just go see my nephew."

John's nephew was a legit guy and not a street guy. But Gammarano had decided he wanted to keep his deal with Romano as low key as possible for some reason.

"I knew who and what I was as well as what kind of firm I ran. And Gammarano's plan was not going to work for me. This was anything but a legitimate business. We were prone to having 10 street beefs almost weekly.I knew I'd need someone who could handle this -- and Gammarano's nephew was not the answer."

"When I started to ask around about Michael everybody said he was the guy you want to get close to. He's going to be a boss someday."

Johnny G was firm, telling Romano to stay away from Mikie Scars.

Gammarano further said: "You don't need a street guy. Go to my nephew if there is a problem."

With that, Johnny G went to prison.


Sal was well acquainted with the nightlife. He owned two hot nightspots.

One was called The Blue Claw, and it was located in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge. The other, called Thirty Three Thirty Three, was on Staten Island.

Romano was a pretty high-profile guy at a time when he maybe should've ducked now and then.

Romano and his crew spent Thursday nights at Turquoise, a hot nightclub in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, at the time.

Michael DiLeonardo also hung out there with his crew on the same night.

"We were both players," Romano recalled. "We were out every night, we were bound to bump into one another eventually."

Still, after Gammarano went away, Romano said he purposely went there one night to see if Michael would talk to him.

That night in 1996, an associate of Michael's approached Romano, who was drinking at the bar and said "Hello, Sal, Michael would like to see you."