Wiseguys Should NEVER Keep Written Records

Whatever the short-term benefits, wiseguys take critical risks whenever they commit certain information to paper....

Artie Piscano venting about Las Vegas in Casino.

Take what happened to Mike (The Butcher) Virtuoso, a reputed Bonanno family soldier and the owner of Graham Avenue Meats & Deli in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Federal prosecutors alleged that he operated a loanshark racket out of his deli, where he also prepared hero sandwiches and Italian specialties that won accolades from local foodies. (The Serious Eats blog, for one, noted “all Italian deli sandwiches should aspire to be” like the heroes prepared there.)

Virtuoso apparently never met a name, nickname, or phone number that he didn’t write down. The Bonanno wiseguy kept such a comprehensive file that FBI agents described the haul as a gold mine when they stumbled upon the Rolodexes and address books in which meticulously detailed contact information was listed for “members and associates of organized crime.”

Putting all of that information into writing “was an incredibly stupid thing to do,’’ a source said of the situation.

Virtuoso didn’t attempt to employ even the most rudimentary code. He did literally nothing to disguise his entries. “A slip of paper within one Rolodex contained the handwritten entry ‘Capo Lucchese’ and the names ‘Johnny Sideburns Cerello’ and ‘Glenn the Wheel Guadagno,’ ” Assistant US Attorney Stephen Frank wrote to a judge in a court filing. “Both men are convicted felons associated with the Lucchese organized crime family, and John Cerrella, also known as ‘Johnny Sideburns,’ is a captain in that family.”

Other names found in his records included Anthony (Little Anthony) Pipitone, then an acting capo of the Bonanno family, Pipitone’s brother, Vito, a Bonanno associate, and Vito Badamo, a made member of the family. Several numbers were recorded for Angelo Speciale, who was convicted in Italy of group sexual assault and armed robbery.

Virtuoso also kept something like a scrapbook, the feds said. FBI agents found newspaper clippings about cases involving numerous Bonanno mobsters, including articles on the conviction of Bonanno boss Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano and another about now deceased acting boss Sal (The Iron Worker) Montagna.

The feds argued that the contacts demonstrated that Virtuoso was actively involved in daily operations of the New York mob and was also a danger to the community.

Mike the Butcher

Ironically, Virtuoso seemed to be especially discrete when talking on the phone. In one call recorded by the feds, he and Speciale were conversing in Italian when Speciale’s discourse started to touch on certain incriminating topics, and Virtuoso tried to steer him away.

“I’m telling you, let’s not talk about these things,” Virtuoso implored. “When you come here, then we’ll talk about them. Understand?”

Virtuoso later pleaded guilty to shaking down former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s limousine driver in the store’s walk-in meat locker. In June 2011, Virtuoso developed pancreatic cancer and was granted a compassionate release from the Metropolitan Detention Center by Federal Judge Sandra Townes. He died at age 58 in 2012.

In the grand scheme of things, Virtuoso's sins were the most venial kind -- when compared to what one Midwestern wiseguy did back in the 1970s. The fallout from his records (expense reports, specifically) was much worse and cost several crime families (including the powerful bosses of the Chicago Outfit) millions and sent nine, including the record keeper himself, to prison for years.

Carl Angelo (Tuffy) DeLuna was the underboss of the Kansas City crime family and brother-in-law to Kansas City Boss Anthony Civella.

DeLuna also was a sort of de facto comptroller—and he took the job very seriously. He kept meticulous records regarding the vast amounts of cash the Midwest mob families extracted from casinos in Las Vegas. He also kept detailed notes memorializing related sit-downs and some of the decisions that were made. He even detailed a kind of “Mafia welfare system” for elderly Mafioso.

He at least used code to camouflage the entries, though FBI agent William N. Ouseley who found the books hidden in the basement, attic, and ventilating ducts of DeLuna’s house claimed he had no trouble cracking it.

A well-respected, trusted mobster, DeLuna was responsible for maintaining the Kansas City Mafia family’s close ties with the Chicago Outfit, the Milwaukee-based Frank Balistrieri family, and the Cleveland family during the mob's infiltration of several Las Vegas casinos in the mid-1970s.

DeLuna was featured in Martin Scorsese’s Casino as the fictionalized Artie Piscano (portrayed by Vinny Vella, the actor who also played in The Sopranos and who died this past February.)

No Records, Artie
Piscano was one of the more colorful wiseguys in the film. In a Midwestern deli, he hysterically vents his outrage (to his mother and brother-in-law) at having to repeatedly fly to Las Vegas on mob business. He later dies of a heart attack during an FBI raid on his home, literally clutching his chest and dropping when an FBI agent approaches him while happily flipping through a notebook and thanking him profusely for keeping copious handwritten notes.

In reality, we don’t know if the FBI actually thanked DeLuna when they raided his home on February 14, 1979, but we would imagine they might have considered it. And in real life, the mobster didn’t drop dead during the raid; he survived prison and died in 2008.

The FBI found extensive cryptic notes that, together with wiretaps, connected all the dots the FBI needed to prove the mob was illegally controlling casinos in Las Vegas.

DeLuna's handwritten documentation offered details of the cash skimmed from the Tropicana and Stardust casinos in Las Vegas. The ledgers revealed that between 1976 and 1979, the mob extracted $2.3 million from the counting rooms of the two casinos (before taxable revenues had been declared).

In an October 1977 entry, DeLuna recorded a sitdown in Chicago at which top mobsters decided how the skim would work. The bosses decided that couriers — one was code-named by DeLuna as ‘’Deerhunter’’ and another, a Chicago policeman, was called ‘’Stompy’’ — would deliver the loot each month to the families in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Cleveland. They chose to distribute the cash like corporations declare dividends. The bosses and underbosses in the four cities held shares, or ‘’points,’’ in the Stardust and Tropicana and each received a certain amount for each share. Sometimes the shareholders received extra dividends: as per the ledger, the skim had produced a $130,000 bonus in January 1979.

Ouseley, the agent who found the books, figured out the code. No. 22, for example, stood for Chicago boss Joe Aiuppa, and No. 21 was his enforcer, Jackie Cerone. “Fancypants’’ or “Beerman” were his nicknames for Milwaukee boss Frank Balistrieri. “ON” (for onorevole, which means honorable in Italian) was Nick Civella, the Kansas City Mafia chief (and DeLuna’s boss).

DeLuna was cautious. If he did not actually see money change hands, he would note that -- to distance himself from any attempted pilfering. An informant once told the FBI that DeLuna “kept track of who got what, just so if anybody asked, he could show everything was right, that he hadn’t grabbed a dime of that money for himself.”

In 1978, he recorded the details of one of his missions. He’d been ordered to fly to Las Vegas to compel Allen R. Glick (aka “Genius” in the notes), the licensed owner of the Stardust and the Fremont casinos, to sell out or risk the murder of his two children.

The mob had begun to distrust Glick, and believed its skim would be larger under another owner.

In Las Vegas, DeLuna met first with three members of the skim team: Carl Thomas (CT in the ledger), a gambling boss at the Tropicana, Joe Agosto (Ceaser), casino manager at the Tropicana; and Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal (‘’Crazy’’), the mob’s man at the Stardust who was the Robert DeNiro character in Casino. Next DeLuna met Glick, who two days later, announced that his casinos were for sale.

Four days after DeLuna departed for Las Vegas, his wife, Sandy (San), followed for the weekend. (DeLuna’s accounts show that he paid “personally for San’s fare out and in and also for any personal purchases.”)

The records also showed how the Outfit assumed the role of mediators in 1975 when the bosses in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cleveland started wrangling over casino spoils. The Outfit bosses got them to make the peace --for only a 25% fee.

DeLuna’s records also depicted how some skim money helped support a Mafia welfare program. DeLuna noted that after he, Civella, and others divided some $30,000, smaller amounts (ranging from $1,000 to $3,000) were paid to elderly Mafiosi and to the families of imprisoned mobsters.

See Gangland Wire for more on the real story of Casino....