Gambino Soldier Sentenced In Case That Harkens Back To Buffalo's Todaro Crime Family

A longtime Gambino soldier who faced 20 years in prison when he was arrested in November 2017 got less than 2.5 years in prison.

Lead Pipe Joe

Paul Semplice, a Gambino family soldier who was nabbed as part of a larger bust that also included several Bonanno wiseguys, plus wiseguys in Canada, including members of the Todaro crime family, a Buffalo-based group thought to be extinct, was sentenced on Friday, March 22, to 28 months in prison by United States District Judge Pamela K. Chen at the federal court in Brooklyn.

He was sentenced for conducting a loansharking scheme involving annual interest rates as high as 54 percent.

“Semplice targeted victims desperate for loans and used his status as a Mafia soldier to make sure they paid the exorbitant interest rate,” Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a media release.

“With today’s sentence, the defendant will pay for his crimes in prison.” Donoghue thanked the FBI and NYPD for their work on this case.

Prosecutors charge that Semplice, a long-time made member of the Gambino crime family, engaged in a conspiracy with others to make extortionate loans to multiple victims.

During one recorded conversation with a cooperating witness (CW), Semplice boasted that he had a “very special relationship,” “like brothers,” with a captain in the family and “answer[ed] to nobody but him.”

In another recorded conversation with the CW, Semplice explained that in connection with a $200,000 loan to victim John Doe #1, he collected $9,000 interest per month, or 54 percent, and personally kept $8,000. Semplice called the arrangement “a beautiful thing.”

On November 18, 2016, during a lawfully intercepted conversation, Semplice talked about abusing victim John Doe #2. “I started abusing him, right. He was in his forties…. Once I – I had to smack him. I go, ‘What?’ Bang! I go, ‘I’ll smack you again.’ He goes, ‘Why?’ ‘Cause I shouldn’t have to come see you.’ ”

The government’s case was handled by the Office’s Organized Crime & Gangs Section.

In November 2017, Semplice and three others--Damiano Zummo, an acting captain in the Bonanno crime family; Salvatore Russo, an associate of the Bonanno crime family; and Paul Ragusa, an associate of the Bonanno and Gambino crime families--were arrested and charged with narcotics trafficking, loansharking, and firearms offenses. Also, as part of a coordinated operation, Canadian law enforcement authorities arrested nine organized crime members and associates in Canada, including members of the Todaro organized crime family, who were charged with, among other crimes, narcotics trafficking.
Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the charges.

“Today’s arrests send a powerful message that this Office and our law enforcement partners here and abroad are committed to dismantling organized crime groups wherever they are located — whether local or international in scope,” stated Acting United States Attorney Rohde.

“The recording of a secret induction ceremony is an extraordinary achievement for law enforcement and deals a significant blow to La Cosa Nostra.” Ms. Rohde praised the exceptional investigative efforts of the FBI, and extended special thanks to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Ms. Rohde also expressed her thanks to the Office’s law enforcement partners in Canada, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the GTA Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Ontario Regional Office.

“Criminal enterprises, both national and international, contribute to the breakdown of a lawful society,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “And yet, the allure of this gangland culture is often embraced and glamorized in movies and on television, where the threats posed to our economic and national security are seldom displayed. Dismantling and disrupting major international and national organized criminal enterprises is a longstanding area of FBI expertise, which is significantly enhanced through collaboration with our law enforcement partners and our Canadian partners. While we have more work to do, this operation is a giant step in the right direction.”

The coordinated investigation lasted more than two years and revealed criminal activity spanning the United States and Canada. As detailed in court filings, in 2015, one of the defendants sponsored a confidential informant to become a full-fledged member of the Bonanno crime family and as part of the investigation, law enforcement secretly video- and audio-recorded the induction ceremony, which occurred in Canada.

As detailed in the indictment and other court filings, Zummo, an acting captain in the Bonanno crime family, engaged in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy with Bonanno associate Salvatore Russo and others introduced by the confidential informant. In one transaction, on September 14, 2017, Zummo and Russo sold over a kilogram of cocaine inside a Manhattan gelato store. Zummo is also charged with laundering over $250,000 in cash by providing business checks issued to a fictitious consulting company that purported to bill the company for consulting services. Zummo took a fee of approximately 10 percent for each money laundering transaction.

As also detailed in the indictments and other court filings, Semplice, a member of the Gambino crime family, is charged with conducting a loansharking scheme in which he and others extended extortionate loans with interest rates of up to 54% per year. The alleged scheme generated thousands of dollars per week for Semplice and others. Paul Ragusa, a long-standing associate of the Bonanno and Gambino organized crime families, is charged with being a felon in possession of nine firearms, including three automatic assault rifles and one silencer. As alleged, Ragusa transported the firearms in exchange for $2,000 in cash.

If convicted, Zummo and Russo each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; Semplice faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on each of three loansharking charges; and Ragusa faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

In 1989, Joseph Todaro Sr. and Joseph Todaro Jr. were named as suspected leaders of the 45-member Buffalo Mafia family.

The Todaro family was known for running a range of criminal activities, including labor racketeering, bookmaking, loansharking and narcotics trafficking, according to an affidavit by a special agent in the Buffalo FBI office.

"Various other investigative sources of the FBI, New York State Police and Buffalo Police Department have confirmed this information as to criminal activity," according to the statement by Special Agent Dean Naum, a veteran agent with expertise in gambling and organized-crime investigations.

His 53-page statement, which was made public several months prior as part of a State Supreme Court gambling case, named suspected leaders of the Mafia and supplied some detail about their alleged activities. It named Joseph Todaro Jr., of Amherst as the head of the local crime family, which he was running for his father, who was, at the time, described as “semi-retired,” and spending a good part of the year in Florida.

Laborers Local 210 official Leonard F. Falzone was running a local loansharking operation for "the Todaro crime family," as per Naum’s statement, and Victor and Daniel Sansanese, two other Local 210 officials who are brothers, were accused of controlling bookmaking for the Todaros.

Naum's statement was filed in State Supreme Court in 1988 when police were seeking permission to wiretap two telephones used by Vincent Spano, a suspected bookmaker.

Based on Naum's statement and affidavits from other investigators, Justice Frederick M. Marshall approved the eavesdropping warrant on May 13, 1988. Spano, 36, and 14 other suspects were subsequently indicted in October and are facing gambling charges in connection with "Operation BUGAS," a yearlong investigation conducted by the FBI, the Erie County district attorney's office, the U.S. attorney's office, the State Police, Buffalo police and other law enforcement agencies.

Spano, manager of the Washington Square bar at 295 Washington St., is identified in Naum's statement as the leader of the gambling ring.

But the ring, according to Naum, answers to Joseph Todaro Jr.

Naum attributes his information to an unnamed confidential source, or informant, referred to in court papers as CS-1.

"Spano has also informed CS-1 that he is himself a subordinate in the criminal enterprise headed by Joseph Todaro Jr.," Naum said.

"Spano has specifically told CS-1 that he answers to Joseph Todaro Jr. and that Todaro has authority over his illegal bookmaking activity. Spano has further informed CS-1 that he himself is in 'proposed' status as an official member in La Cosa Nostra."

"A member of this organization, or made man, confers special respect, status, income and benefits accompanied by an added responsibility of loyalty and secrecy to the overall group," according to Naum.

The statement contends that Falzone, 54, administrator of Local 210's pension fund, runs a loansharking operation for the Todaro organization.

One month prior, The Buffalo News reported that a union-owned car driven by Falzone was bugged with an FBI listening device for six months in 1988.

"Traditionally, La Cosa Nostra is a very secretive organization. The people at the upper echelons insulate themselves, while the street soldiers do the work," Special Agent Paul Moskal said.

"Because of the pyramid structure of organized crime, it is very difficult to prove direct contact, but we have a number of ongoing investigations which are targeting the La Cosa Nostra operations in this area."

According to F. Ron Webb, a special agent who headed the organized-crime section of the Buffalo FBI,  the Todaro family was a "very strong crime family," heavily involved in gambling and loansharking operations.

"The money from gambling and loansharking are the glue that holds the mob together," Webb said. "They are the biggest revenue producers for the mob."

The funds were then used in other criminal activities and eventually to infiltrate the legitimate business community, he said. 

In 1987, capo Falzone was promoted to consigliere, helping advise the Todaros in the day-to-day running of the crime family and was later being convicted of running a large loansharking operation with the help of top Buffalo Key Bank executives in 1996. 

Todaro Jr. helped maintain the crime family's labor and union operations in the Buffalo area through the influence he carried in local 210. 

The Buffalo crime family began to reach what was believed to have been the end of the line by 1995 when the Justice Department launched a major RICO case that included LIUNA executives with alleged crime family ties. Eight Buffalo crime family members were removed from the executive board of local 210 in 1996, including Todaro Jr. and Falzone.

Todaro died on December 26, 2012 at age 89 following a lengthy illness. (See tribute video here.)

The Buffalo crime family had historical ties to the Bonanno family and its Montreal faction during the Setfano Magaddino days era, and allegedly throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Reportedly, the crime family was believed to have lost ground to narcotics trafficking by Black and Hispanic groups that had moved into the predominantly Black East side and Hispanic West side.