Giannini Crew's Bloody Rise And Fall Under Longtime Bonanno Wiseguy Baldo Amato

As noted, Paul Ragusa, 48, an associate of the Bonanno and Gambino families, was recently sentenced to six years--because in 2017, he met with a CW whom he knew through their prior affiliation with the Giannini Crew, which this story profiles at length....

Gambina, left, Senator D'Amato, Sciulla, right, who was found in a trunk.

Sicilian-born Bonanno capo Baldassare (Baldo) Amato reminds us of the Mafia version of the cat with nine lives, if such a thing could be contemplated.

And while he didn't have anywhere near nine resurrections, we presume over the years he’s extricated himself from some very tricky situations. While it's never been empirically ascertained, to our knowledge, we're betting that Mafia politics of the 1970s-1980s, particularly when involving the Bonanno family, had a much higher than average mortality rate.

A seemingly Zelig-type figure, Amato either possessed the luck or guile (or both) to survive and thrive when others couldn't (and were eventually found, say, fermenting in a 55-gallon glue drum).

Amato was one of two Sicilian bodyguards/ longtime suspects in the 1979 slaying of their one-time patron, Bonanno capo Carmine Galante, in one of New York’s most storied gangland hits.

Amato also was the key figure behind the bloody rise—and fall—of the so-called Giannini crew, a group of violent wannabe wiseguys.

Today, Amato, 67, is at FCI Gilmer in West Virginia and his slated release date is LIFE.

He was described in a transcript of a 2000 detention hearing as a ''respected and powerful member of the Bonanno crime family" who had been indicted on charges of associating with the Giannini crew ''to make money and, at times, settle personal grievances.''

Amato, following the gunning down of the cigar-chomping mob boss and two of his luncheon companions, was aligned with then-Bonanno boss Phil Rastelli and Joseph Massino.

In 1981, Baldo allegedly also took part in the killings of the three Bonanno capos –Anthony (Sonny Red) Indelicato, Phil (Phil Lucky) Giaccone, and Dominick (Big Trin) Trinchera—during an internal family feud.

Baldo then moved up in the Bonanno crime family.

Cesare Bonventre, the other Sicilian suspected of killing Galante, had not been nearly as lucky under the Rastelli/Massino regime: he was murdered, shot up and hacked to pieces, by Sal Vitale and Louie (Louie HaHa) Attanasio in April 1984. Massino ordered the murder because he viewed Bonventre as unstable and prone to violent outbursts. (Prior to the hit, Massino warned his brother-in-law: "He's a very sharp guy; you gotta be careful.")

Amato was later nabbed as part of the network of Italian and American mobsters involved in the $1.65 billion Pizza Connection Case of the mid-1980s. But while others were sent away for decades, some for as long as 45 years, Baldo caught a break and wangled a five-year prison term.

After his release, he was reborn—so to speak—as the role model (and boss) of some very violent hoods who were aligned with the Bonanno, Colombo, and Gambino crime families. They used the Caffe Giannini, a Ridgewood, Queens coffee shop owned by Amato for five years as their base of operations. As many as dozens of wannabes were once part of the Giannini crew that allegedly wreaked criminal havoc from New York City to the Catskills, robbing houses, stores, and banks and committing a range of violent crimes, including executions

By the late 1990s-2000, the crew had run itself out and was collapsing. Some members faced multiple prosecutions, which led to more than two dozen others copping guilty pleas and the closure of Caffe Giannini in 1998.

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

Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney, who prosecuted some of the first 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.”

In court documents, sworn statements, and interviews with investigators, a portrait of the crew emerged. They were brazen hoodlums attracted to all types of crime -- bank robbery, loan-sharking, arson, extortion, drug dealing, gambling and murder. Crew members were sophisticated in that they knew how to gauge police response times (by calling 911 outside houses they planned to rob).

They also were wantonly vicious -- capable of shooting a woman in the stomach while she was pregnant with a crew member’s child after  she refused to get an abortion.

Baldo Amato
Baldo Amato

Prosecutors in court described the murders of two drug dealers, John Ruisi and Steven Pagnozzi, as perhaps the most brutal of the Giannini crew's crimes.

On Jan. 8, 1992, Ruisi and Pagnozzi were lured to the Giannini social club, where the crew planned to force them to reveal the location of their stash of marijuana. When the men refused to speak, they were each shot in the head. Members of the crew stuffed the two bodies into plastic garbage bags, loaded them onto Ruisi's truck, and drove them to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where crew member Anthony Sciacca doused them with gasoline and set them on fire. Sciacca later told other gang members that Ruisi, though shot in the head, had still been alive, and apparently had been roused to consciousness when the cold gasoline hit his skin.

While the crew frequently worked with the Bonanno crime family, it was largely a freelance operation. ''They were … per diem wise guys,'' said one defense lawyer. ''A little Colombo. A little Bonanno. The Gambinos needed a leg broken -- they'd do that, too."

In November 1992, three crew members joined forces with Vito Guzzo, a Colombo associate, to kill Colombo soldier Vincent Ricciardo. Wearing Halloween masks, the gunmen cut off Ricciardo's car on a quiet street in Queens and fired dozens of rounds at him at point blank range. (He survived the shooting.)

Guzzo pleaded guilty to a host of crimes, including five murders and the Mill Basin home robbery. He is not due out of prison until 2030. Allegedly the most violent Giannini crew member, Guzzo once shot a man in the head while the man knelt and begged for his life inside a social club. (When sentenced, an assistant U.S. attorney convinced prison officials that Guzzo was a “special case” who should be treated like the Dapper Don and sent directly to Marion, which is normally reserved for incorrigibles who have engaged in violence in other prisons.)

One man who eventually ran the crew for Amato for a time was Fabio Bartolotta. Born and raised in Ridgewood, Queens, Fabio initially was part of the black jacket-clad Ridgewood Boys, a street gang whose members wore their names and gang affiliation stenciled on their jackets, which seems to represent everything the mob itself historically was not about.

Fabio Bartolotta’s mother, Francesca Bartolotta, owned the building at 66-12 Fresh Pond Road that housed the Caffe Giannini and served as a sort of den mother for the 20-something mobsters, letting them use her house and finding them lawyers when needed. Fabio’s father, Salvatore Bartolotta, and great-uncle, Fillipo Ragusa, were linked in the early 1980's to the Bonanno heroin ring that had formed the basis for the notorious 'Pizza Connection drug-trafficking case.

Fabio by age 20 had taken over the Giannini Crew after Bonanno soldier Baldo Amato took him under his wing.
In 1996, when Fabio was still only 23, he was nailed on racketeering charges stemming from his involvement in five murders and a slew of other violent crimes. Detained without bail, he was facing so much time in prison he decided to cooperate, according to court records.

Another crew member was the son of a bookmaker who was part of John Gotti’s crew. Gambino associate Frank Guidice reportedly was proposed for membership—and was rejected. Guidice and two cohorts were convicted for taking part in a conspiracy to rob a Mill Basin, Brooklyn home that they believed held as much as $2 million in cash and jewels. More than a dozen gang members were involved in as many as three attempts to rob the place. On Mar. 11, 1997, Guidice, who had supplied bullet proof vests for early efforts, got directly involved in an attempt. He and two others broke in, subdued a housewife, but found no cash and no jewelry.

One of the crew’s most brazen murders involved Samuel (Sammy) DiFalco, who owned and operated the Giannini restaurant, which was frequented by members of the Bonanno family. It was located in Ridgewood about one block away from the Caffe Giannini, which Amato ran from 1990 to 1994.

DiFalco went missing on February 27, 1992. The police discovered his body three weeks later in the trunk of his daughter's car, which had been reported stolen. DiFalco had been shot twice in the back of the head for arguing with Amato, who believed DiFalco had been stealing money from him somehow.

Giannini crew member Giuseppe (Joey) Gambina surfaced a few years back in 2013, when he testified in Brooklyn Federal Court at the murder trial of Gambino mobster Bartolomeo (Bobby Glasses) Vernace.

A Gambino mobster who sat on the crime family’s ruling panel, Vernace was convicted of executing two men in 1981 over a spilled drink in a Woodhaven, Queens tavern.

"They were killed over a spilled drink” that splashed a wiseguy’s girlfriend, Assistant US Attorney Amir Toossi told the jury at the start of Vernace’s murder racketeering trial in Brooklyn.

Vernace pulled the trigger and shot bar owner Richard Godkin “through the chest,” the prosecutor said, while another Gambino shot co-owner John D’Agnese point-blank in the face.

"I seen him fall. The blood was pretty vivid. I knew that he was in trouble,” tavern patron Douglas Lindberg recalled on the witness stand during the five-week trial.

Giuseppe “Joey” Gambina
Giuseppe (Joey) Gambina
Gambina recalled the gang’s bloody heyday.

Under questioning by prosecutor Evan Norris, Gambina detailed how he began his criminal career at “11 or 12” when he worked in his uncle’s social club, stole cigarettes from him, and resold them.

Gambina was a sixth-grade dropout whose parents went to jail for peddling heroin. He started working in mob cafes at age 14. "I got spoiled making too much money," he said.

He worked his way up to arson, drug dealing, loansharking and other scams with his partner-in-crime, Gambino associate Ralph Sciulla, a member of Vernace’s crew, who introduced Gambina to Vernace, as was noted at Vernace's trial.

Sciulla’s body was found stuffed in a car trunk on Long Island on Aug. 7, 1992.

A photo of Sciulla, Gambina, and then-Senator D’Amato had been hung in a Queens social club run by Vernace. “It was on the opposite side of the counter, against the wall in the middle,” Gambina told a jury. Gambina explained that the picture was snapped at Giannini’s, a restaurant in Queens where people gathered to support the Republican senator.

“It was a fund-raiser for Senator D’Amato,” Gambina recalled.

At his 2016 sentencing, Gambina "wiped a tear from his eye" when Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis gave him a no jailtime sentence -- and then thanked him for his help in putting away Bonnano boss Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano in 2011 as well as Vernace.