Larry Mazza On Greg Scarpa, The Colombo War, And Life After The Life

Gregory Scarpa Senior, the longtime Colombo capo/FBI informant who stopped counting his murders at 50 (think about that), was done in not by a bullet, but by a little white pill.

Larry Mazza

He took too many aspirins.*  That caused stomach problems, which resulted in surgeries, then the blood transfusion from which he contracted the AIDS virus that wore him down to nothing and ended his life.

So think about this: If Greg Scarpa had only taken Tylenol, then lots more people probably would've been robbed and murdered in New York City.

"He was vicious and he corrupted people," Larry Mazza, Scarpa's protege, recently recalled. "He was cunning and wily -- he had all the street smarts."

For Larry, life is less deadly today and much  better. He's written a memoir of mob life in New York, The Life, and was in the two-part A&E John Gotti documentary, Godfather and Son. He scored a high-profile role in what will be the hottest Mafia movie in decades, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, due out in December or early 2019. (Larry guns down Albert Anastasia in the film). He's also busy with Irishman alumnus Craig DiFrancia, who invited him to read for a few pending projects.

Mazza's previous work includes episodes of I Married a Mobster and I Lived With a Killer. He also will be in mob documentaries for Reelz and Bedlam Productions, a UK production company interested in doing a documentary on the Colombo War, Larry said.

Larry also is co-producing a documentary with Kevin Kaufman (of Kaufman Productions) on the downfall of the mob, proposed name: Downfall. Kaufman has cast Larry in an upcoming episode of The Perfect Murder airing on September 6 on Discovery ID at 9 pm.

And USA Today is doing a feature on him later this week in its upcoming TGIF section.

Larry spent nearly two decades on the streets with Scarpa, who was among the most ruthless mobsters in New York in a career that spanned back to 1950, the year Joseph Profaci inducted him into one of the Five Families. (The Gambino crime family was still the Mangano crime family.) He had followed his older brother Salvatore into the life and got his start cracking heads for Charlie the Sidge, Profaci’s consigliere. LoCicero was gunned down in Brooklyn in a Borough Park luncheonette -- very possibly by Gregory Scarpa. By 1960, Scarpa was elevated to capo. He'd already flipped before his promotion after he was nabbed for hijacking a major haul of liquor.

Check out Larry Mazza's website THE LIFE

Within Cosa Nostra, Scarpa could have served as a role model for ambitious gangsters. (That's what Selwyn Raab wrote in a 1994 New York Times story.) "His underworld persona was that of a steadfastly loyal capo," who for decades ran lucrative rackets that enriched him and others in the family's hierarchy. Scarpa wore pricey suits and carried at least $5,000 in walk-around money. At one point, he owned homes on Sutton Place, one of the more affluent and exclusive neighborhood's on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and in Las Vegas, in addition to in Brooklyn and on Staten Island.

Scarpa was known for his "remarkable ability" to evade imprisonment, despite multiple indictments on Federal and state charges. (And not just New York state.) This may be why Scarpa seemed to act like he was invulnerable. Despite his decades on the street and despite a flurry of indictments, the man spent very little time in prison, about 30 days in 42 years on the streets. Most mobsters, even the more ruthless ones in the trenches assaulting and killing, on a rudimentary level, don't want to go to prison. (Let's face it, who ever wants to go to prison? ) Even some of the most well-established Cosa Nostra members, with Mafia royalty in their blood, have flown the coop when they feel some real heat approaching. In 1980, when he saw the hammer falling, Alphonse (Allie Boy) Persico, brother of Carmine, lammed it, and was in the wind for seven years. Gambino capo Nicholas (Little Nicky) Corozzo was prepared to lam it for the long haul but turned himself in after only three months when the television show America's Most Wanted spotlighted him in 2008.

Scarpa seems to have believed that because he was giving the FBI information, he had an insurance policy who'd move heaven and earth to keep him out of prison. (His first name was Lin.) Scarpa likely believed that he had free reign to do whatever he wanted on the street because of his status as a top-echelon informant. Would that have made him more or less dangerous?

Greg Scarpa

Ironically, as the third Colombo War approached in the late 1980s, though Scarpa may have felt invulnerable, he was, physically speaking, never more vulnerable. But appearances can be deceiving, as Larry Mazza learned shortly after Scarpa got out of the hospital. This was in 1988. We know the year because Scarpa attended a meeting and two weeks after the meeting, the guy who met with Scarpa disappeared. That was something that probably happened frequently.

Scarpa knew he was dying from a fatal disease (he first learned that back in 1986), and despite being in a hospital bed for the preceeding five months, he was still able to put on a genuine display of his cunning in a meeting with Colombo consiglieri Vincent "Jimmy" Angelina, who wanted to speak with him about what was coming. Specifically, he wanted to know where Greg stood, with Vittorio (Little Vic) Orena or Carmine (Junior) Persico. Larry was at the meeting, which took place inside Angelina's social club on Highlawn Ave. in Brooklyn. Scarpa offered his protege a lesson he’d never forget: When Angelina finished, Greg seemingly digested his words and nodded thoughtfully. When Scarpa answered, he spoke in a flat, measured voice. He'd just gotten out of the hospital, he told Jimmy, and needed time to consider. And that was  that.

He and Larry walked back to the car. Once out of earshot, Larry had to ask: "Why didn't you declare who you were for?"

Scarpa explained that if he had said a word, had even offered the slightest hint of an answer, he likely would've put both their lives in danger. Quite possibly, the two of them might never have left that meeting.

"I don't know who Jimmy is speaking for," Scarpa told Larry.

"Greg was playing the middle," Larry recalled.

Two weeks later, Jimmy Angelina was missing, a foreboding development within a Mafia family.

"A consiglieri is untouchable," Larry explained. "No one kills a consiglieri."

Another consiglieri who was murdered and who readily comes to mind is Antonio (Tony) Caponigro of the Philadelphia mob family. Tony Bananas ended Angelo Bruno's peaceful reign by ordering his violent 1980 murder. For years afterward, they were finding bodies (including Caponigro's) all over the Northeast. That was a fitting sign of what the Colombos were in for. It is also the last period in recent Mafia history  you'd want to be associated with, on any level.

Vic Orena

Larry lived through the Colombo War, which ran from June 1991 to October 1993, and has penetrating insight into the deadly stretch of volatility. He can clearly trace the key developments that resulted in the factional fighting that lasted for about two years, mostly in Brooklyn.

"Carmine Sessa was one of Greg's soldiers," he said. Greg also liked Carmine. That meant, anyone who wanted to "impact" Scarpa could do so based on how they  treated Carmine. That was what Vic Orena, Colombo acting boss, was counting on as he strategized his takeover of the crime family.

He wanted Carmine Sessa to replace Jimmy Angelina.

"Vic figured he'd win over Greg" with that move, Larry said.

Later, "Carmine asks Greg if he'd back Vic in a takeover. Greg tells him, 'You're going to wind up like Jimmy Angelina.' "

Sessa, no dummy, realized instantly which way the wind was blowing. (Sessa would later say that he whacked Angelina on Orena's orders.) If he wanted to remain upright and breathing, Carmine Sessa had some work to do.

As Larry explained it: "Now Carmine has to act, he has to kill Vic Orena."

Carmine Sessa
 So one night shorty thereafter, Vic Orena is driving home to Cedarhurst, a sleepy affluent town on Long Island, part of the so-called Five Towns. Driving down the block to his driveway, he spots four men sitting in a car parked suspiciously across the street from his house. He recognizes Carmine Sessa as one of the men in the car. That was the second-to-last face he'd want to see in a car parked suspiciously across the street. (Guess who was number one....) Orena instinctively recognized the four as members of a hit squad come to kill him.  He hits the break, swerves the car around into a U-turn, and speeds away.

 The war was on.

Years after the Colombo War ended, Jerry Capeci described it in one of his classic Gang Land News columns as "the worst kind of mobster recidivism or the stuff that only happens in the movies, further reduc(ing) one of the city's weakest crime families, one that had been in decline for years. An innocent 18-year-old was among the dozen casualties, but in some ways, the public won the war. A bunch of gangsters killed a bunch of gangsters, and the feds put a lot of the survivors  behind bars."

Mazza recalled: "We became a very dangerous crew. It was kill or be killed, it was our downfall. The Feds weren't going to sit back and let innocent people get killed by stray bullets."

And bringing things to an even lower level, "Greg started to get dementia and wasn't making good choices."

 "Basically we (the Persico loyalists) were not the rebels, they were trying to label us the rebels. We were protecting one of the sacred rules." Nevertheless,  Mazza said that many Colombo wiseguys, especially longtime ones, had legitimate problems, "lifelong gripes with Junior. Some of them never moved up."

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A tactical mistake Persico made was putting a weak guy in the top spot. Carmine considered Orena loyal and trustworthy -- but Carmine also didn't believe Orena had the balls to pull what he attempted to pull. "If Carmine had put a stronger guy like Vinny Aloi in that slot, he would've really thought twice about trying to take over the crime family." He would've recalled also that very few people double-crossed Carmine Persico and survived. (The Gallo brothers didn't name him the Snake for nothing.)

Then there's the John Gotti factor.  A strong acting boss also would've been less likely to fall under his influence, Larry said. "Gotti envisioned himself as being the next Carlo Gambino. John also had Joe Scopo, who was Vic's underboss." Scopo in fact was made Orena's underboss to appease Gotti, who had suggested it. Had Orena won the war, he wouldn't have lived long anyway, Larry said.

"Had they won the war, Vic would've been killed and Scopo would've been made boss," Larry said. Which may be why Scopo was slain by Persico loyalists.

Scopo, 47, was shot to death in late October 1993 in front of his Queens house. His nephew and future son-in-law were with him. It was feared that the murder signaled a resumption of hostilities nearly one year after the last war hit, in October 1992, though in fact Scopo was technically the last Colombo War casualty. (Colombo underboss William (Wild Bill) Cutolo is the last, as a former NYPD detective told me. I'm actually working on a story about Wild Bill.)

Joe Scopo

Scopo was a former vice president of Local 6A of Cement and Concrete Workers in New York City. His father, Ralph Scopo Sr., died in prison in March that same year while serving a 100-year sentence following his conviction in the Commission Case.

"Joe Scopo was definitely a big score," and a "tremendous loss" to the Orena faction a law-enforcement official said at the time. Scopo, was "a tough guy physically, tough, big and burly."

In May 2014 a Persico went down for ordering the rubout. Colombo capo Teddy Persico Jr. was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Teddy, a nephew of Carmine Persico, was reportedly on the short-list of candidates to assume official leadership of the crime family.

In the summer of 1993, Persico ordered the hit while on a prison furlough to attend his grandmother's wake at Scarpaci Funeral Home in Bensonhurst. He was sitting in the chapel with three associates when he whispered the order, as Anthony Russo lafter testified. His guard was out of earshot.

"He (Teddy) told us, 'You have to go after Joey (Scopo),'" Russo testified. 'To end this war we got to get Joey. Joey is the target.'"

Months later, Scopo got it --- and the war was over. One unintended consequence of the Scopo hit was that it launched a separate bloodbath by young Colombo wannabe John Pappa, who in May 1999 was convicted of racketeering, drug dealing and four murders, including the Scopo killing.

The judge sentenced the would-be wiseguy to life in prison -- and due to Pappa's young age, he had the dubious distinction of potentially serving one of the longest sentences in U.S. criminal history.

Larry met Greg Scarpa through his wife. At the time, Mazza was a clean-cut 18 year old who worked at Danza’s supermarket in Bensonhurst. He attended John Jay College and wanted to become a firefighter like his father, who was an FDNY lieutenant.

Someone in Larry's shoes would seem to be on thin ice with Greg Scarpa. But as probably was often the case with the longtime Colombo capo who'd earn the nickname "The Grim Reaper," very little was as it seemed.

Larry recalled the day they had the talk, the one that Larry on some level knew they would eventually have.

"We walked into his office and he sits at his desk. He tells me that I am adult enough to have this conversation. Now my heart is beating because I knew where he was going."

Larry had seen the Godfather and had always recalled how Michael Corleone had dispatched with Carlo, the brother-in-law who betrayed Sonny Corleone by concocting a brilliant "don't insult my intelligence" line of questioning.

In Scarpa's office that day, Larry recalled the scene and reminded himself what  he already decided: Even if Scarpa tried a similar line of questioning, "I'm still not gonna admit it."

There was a closet in Scarpa's office and during the meeting Scarpa may have noticed Larry's eyes occasionally wander away from him and toward that closet door.

"I watched that door. I had heard stories about someone sitting in my seat in his office and never leaving it alive. They got carried out in a rug."

Larry is waiting for the closet door to open.

And Scarpa just spits it out. He knows, he tells Larry. He knows everything.

Larry continues to sit there quietly.

Then Greg surprises him by instantly giving him the solution to their seemingly insurmountable problem: "As long as this stays between the three of us we will both stay alive."

You can't date, never mind sleep with, someone else's wife. That was a cardinal rule among wiseguys. It also meant that it wasn't only Larry's life on the line. If the situation were exposed, it would've created a fatal impression for Scarpa himself as well. Larry also believes that he had taken a burden off the aging Mafia capo. Scarpa was by that time in his 50s. (It also seems to us that Scarpa may have had some genuine affection for Larry.)

Call it whatever you want; the bottom line is the two of them literally went through thick and thin together for the next 18 years.

Larry, who has lived a life filled with surprises, still was in for the biggest one yet. That came when he was finally arrested and in a holding cell after all the shooting had finished. And who do you think was in the bunk directly below his head when he tried to sleep at night?

Vic Orena.

The Colombo guys who were arrested at the time were in cells near each other. They lived like wiseguys again, holding meetings in the men's room. At one such meeting Larry learned about Scarpa flipping, when Orena asked him: "Did you know about Greg being rat?"

Mazza thought Orena was trying to start trouble. "I was ready to fight Vic -- I was ready to fight with my then-ex boss."

Ultimately, Little Vic had given Larry an idea of the way the wind was blowing for him. Mazza was in a no-win position ultimately, as he recalled. Everyone in the Mafia thought he had to have known about Greg all along. 

Larry later met with the other Allie Boy Persico, Carmine's son. Larry was in for another big surprise when Allie Boy made a startling admission, telling Larry that "him and his father knew about Greg for 20 years."

Today, Larry is finished with all things Mafia, and he's meeting with people like Robert DeNiro, who stars in the upcoming The Irishman as the Irishman, and Martin Scorsese, who he met at the director's home.

DeNiro was researching a couple of upcoming film roles and wanted to meet someone who was really in the life; his security guys set the meeting up between him and Larry.

"He called me and we meet, and it turned into a three-hour meeting." DeNiro, who gave him tickets to the play of A Bronx Tale, also had some very specific questions to ask Mazza.

"One of the things DeNiro was interested in was when you shoot someone, do you put the gun against their head? Now I know two guys who survived that -- they feel the gun and move -- it deflects off the skull." (Now is probably a good place to admit that we truly hope Larry likes this story.)

The other question had to do with shooting someone you were walking with. Specifically, DeNiro asked how do you pull your gun out without the guy you're walking with seeing you?

"Greg had a way of doing that. He'd walk and suddenly cough and reach for his handkerchief to cough into. Greg would put his prey at ease by pausing and taking a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe or blow his nose. Then when he put the handkerchief back, he would bring the gun out."

* "He took the aspirin as a 'precaution,' so as to not get a headache because of the wine we would be drinking, " Larry told us. "He even got me into taking them along with him. I, however, took them with water. He just popped them down alone."