Giannini Crew In Queens Was Linked To Several Crime Families

Joseph Galante was a member of the notorious Giannini Crew, a group of dozens of young wannabes based in a café in Queens, when he helped get rid of the corpse of Thomas Sanjane, whose throat was slashed in 1991 as part of a cocaine rip-off scheme.

Galante would later flip, hoping that his efforts to help the Feds would help mitigate his prison time.

But then he resumed committing crimes -- and prosecutors discarded their cooperation agreement with him.

Then at his 2016 trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shreve Ariail told Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis: "The defendant committed one of the most heinous crimes you can conceive of committing."

Galante, faced 30 years to life, and got away with a 10-year sentence. Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis was well aware of "the extraordinary length of time he served as an informant and making secret recordings of mobsters from the Bonanno, Colombo and Gambino crime families."

The crew showed up on the Fed's radar following the mid-1980s Pizza Connection Case, when they learned that some Bonanno wiseguys were still generating cash from the drug business. Crack cocaine had replaced heroin as the major item on the menu, as per court records and testimony. 

Law enforcement soon noticed crews were selling crack and powder cocaine out of some cafés and coffee shops in Queens and Brooklyn.

Prosecutors suspected that the Brooklyn-based cocaine trade was being operated and overseen by associates of Anthony Spero, the Bonanno consiglieri with social clubs on Bath Avenue. Then in Queens, federal investigators stumbled across Baldo Amato, who had been convicted years earlier in the Pizza Connection case. Amato appeared to be mentoring a bunch of mob associates who were based out of a café in Ridgewood known as Café Giannini.

The “Giannini Crew” robbed some gambling operations in other clubs and also became involved in drug dealing, according to investigators.

James Walden, a prosecutor in the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office, filed indictments against Amato, Spero, and associates.

Years later, Walden "thought it plausible that Massino, who had warned Frank Lino about drug dealing, may have taken a cut of the money as tribute, even if he knew it was narcotics cash."

The Giannini Crew
They often hung out where 78th Avenue met 74th Street in Glendale, Queens.

Describing one of them, a source told Jerry Capeci how the gang member would stand there on the street, "flexing his muscles and trying to impress girls at Junior High School 119."

"He worked at Hot Bagels on Metropolitan Avenue for a while, but he ran with the punks in the Giannini Crew and the Middle Village Boys."

Back in the 1990s, the Giannini Crew had ties to the Gambino, Colombo and Bonanno crime families. The crew robbed banks and businesses primarily concentrated in Ridgewood, Maspeth, Rego Park and Middle Village.

The crew used Baldo Amato's Caffe Giannini, in Queens's Ridgewood section as its home base, hence the name.

Many of them were sons of Sicilian gangsters and drug dealers.

These Mafia-afiliated gangs were once visible in most of the neighborhoods of New York's boroughs. The Ridgewood Boys among the Queens gangs; in Brooklyn, there was the Bath Avenue Crew; Staten Island had the New Springville Boys.

They had commonalities: they were violent gangs of young men, most of whom had grown up in Mafia-run neighborhoods and families. All wanted their own button.

The New York Times, in 1998, described the Giannini Crew as "a scourge of western Queens, who robbed banks and businesses, committed arson and extortion and murdered other gangsters in disputes and double-crosses..."

The Times, in June 2000, noted that members of the crew were already prosecuted twice through a pair of linked indictments that led to more than two dozen guilty pleas and the closure of Caffe Giannini in 1998.

And later in 2000, 16 additional members, including Baldassare "Baldo" Amato, were scheduled to go on trial as per a third indictment, in Brooklyn.

"The crew's exploits were so unusually vicious that a judge once said in court that she had never seen anything like them in all her years on the bench."

Richard A. Brown, a Queens district attorney, prosecuted some early cases against the gang, said, ''They have never hesitated to use violence to settle a personal score, to extort a small businessman or to commit a robbery,''

They were "a nefarious band of brazen hoodlums attracted to all types of illegalities -- bank robbery, loan-sharking, arson, extortion, drug dealing, gambling and murder. Crew members were sophisticated enough to gauge police response time by calling 911 outside houses they planned to rob, yet barbarous enough for one to shoot a woman (15 years old) in the stomach because she was six months pregnant with his child and refused to have an abortion."

Among the group's victims were drug dealers John Ruisi and Steven Pagnozzi. This double murder is considered the crew's most atrocious crime.

On Jan. 8, 1992, Ruisi and Pagnozzi were lured to the Giannini club. The crew tried to force them to reveal where the duo had hid a major marijuana stash. They refused -- and were each shot in the head.

The crew stuffed the bodies into plastic garbage bags and hid them in Ruisi's truck, which was driven to a street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where Anthony Sciacca, a crew member, doused the corpses with gasoline and set them afire.

Sciacca later revealed Ruisi, who'd been shot in the temple, was still alive.

''Ruisi apparently said the gas felt cold when it splashed on his body,'' a court filing said.

In September 1998, the man named as the Giannini crew's boss, Vito Guzzo, 33 at the time, stood before a federal judge in the Brooklyn courthouse and pleaded guilty to five murders, among other crimes.

"His plea marked what officials said was the final step in smashing the so-called Giannini crew, which was fast developing into a Mafia-style organized-crime gang in Queens in the early and middle 90's," the Times wrote.

He was the 26th member of the group to plead guilty to charges that ran the spectrum, from murder to arson and racketeering, and everything in between.

Guzzo pleaded guilty and the United States Attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York agreed with the judge that 38 years in prison was his due.

Gibson's attorney noted that the decades long stretch was ''certainly better than the death penalty," which is what prosecutors had supposedly been considering meting out if Guzza had forced them to go through a trial and they obtained a guilty plea.

Joseph Galante
Joseph Galante.

Two years prior to Guzzo's sentencing, the FBI and NYPD started arresting suspected members of the group.

The arrests followed a years-long-year probe by the Joint Bank Robbery Task Force, comprised of FBI agents and NYPD detectives, which linked the 14-member crew to a "series of anything-goes armed robberies, violent assaults and arson conspiracies dating from 1992," as the Daily News noted in July 1996.

Some crew members were arrested as far back as 1989.

"These are bad kids who have been doing this for a long time," said one law enforcement source, adding that "wanna-be mobsters" focus on showing their willingness to take risks to earn.

The owners of the building in which the cafe was housed, Francesca and Salvatore Bartolotta, were convicted in the 1980s Pizza Connection case.

The Bartolotta's then-22-year-old son, Fabio, was then named as the boss in a federal indictment in which he and his 13 co-defendants were charged with five armed bank robberies, shooting two retired cops during a botched armored car heist, assorted store robberies, arson-for-profit, extortion and transporting stolen goods.

Those murdered by the gang mostly were other gangsters.

One victim, Ralph Sciulla, was killed because ''he was committing lucrative crimes'' but not allowing other members of the crew to participate. (He "ate alone," meaning he didn't pay his cohorts).

Judge Johnson asked Guzzo to describe his crimes aloud. The young mob associate then read from a piece of paper "in the matter-of-fact tones of a waiter reciting the offerings at a cafe."

''I killed Ralph Sciulla by shooting him in the head,'' he said. ''I killed Anthony Mesi by shooting him. I shot John Borrelli...''

 Baldo was arrested on charges of associating with the Giannini crew ''to make money and, at times, settle personal grievances,'' court documents say.

Ultimately, law enforcement said Baldo ran the Giannini Crew.

Amato, on the streets since Lilo's days, finally went away for good. The enduring Sicilian gangster long rumored to have helped kill Mafia boss Carmine Galante in one of New York's most storied mob slayings, was hit with a slew of racketeering charges, including murder.

The charges against Baldassare (Baldo) Amato were part of a sweeping federal indictment against 21 associates of the Bonanno, Gambino and Colombo crime families all members of a violent Queens gang that wreaked criminal havoc from here to the Catskills.

Amato, 47, headed the Giannini crew, a gang of "Mafia wanna-bes" that operated out of Caffe Giannini, a Ridgewood, Queens, coffee shop that Amato owned from 1990 to 1994....

The crew has been operating for at least 10 years, according to three indictments filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. Amato first gained prominence in 1979, when he was a bodyguard for Galante, allegedly standing guard when his boss was shot dead on an outdoor patio with an after-dinner cigar in his mouth, Amato was charged with murder, drug dealing, arson, extortion and kidnapping....