Luchese Murder Racketeering Trial Opens With A Bang!

Monday was the first day of the White Plains trial of three Luchese wiseguys, including two bosses, and an associate, who are accused of racketeering conspiracy, the 2013 Michael Meldish murder in the Bronx, and other charges related to New York-based organized crime.

Meldish murder scene in 2013

On trial are alleged Luchese underboss Steven Crea Sr., soldier Christopher Londonio (and the alleged wheelman in the key charge, the Meldish hit), associate Terrence Caldwell (allegedly the actual shooter in the hit) and former acting boss Matthew (Matty) Madonna.

Prosecutors rushed out of the gate alleging that Madonna ordered the Meldish hit because Meldish, allegedly a Luchese associate (and former Madonna pal), had failed to repay a $100,000 loan and that he also told Madonna to "fck off."

Prosecutor Celia Cohen told jurors that Madonna and Crea ordered the murder of the former notorious Purple Gang leader.

“Not repaying a boss is a dangerous game,” said Cohen, adding that Londonio and alleged triggerman Caldwell subsequently executed Meldish as he sat in his parked car in the Bronx in November 2013.

“Michael Meldish is dead because of these four men,” said Cohen.

In addition to racketeering, the reputed wiseguys are also accused of extortion, loansharking, illegal gambling and other acts of violence. Londonio is also facing a separate charge for stockpiling bed sheets while in custody — purportedly as part of a plot to escape out the window of a federal lockup.

Lawyers for the four men sought to denigrate the witnesses waiting to testify, saying, “They have lied, stolen, cheated — they put their own personal interests above all else."

Caldwell’s lawyer George Goltzer emphatically denied that his client killed Meldish — noting the two were such close friends that Meldish routinely drove Caldwell to the hospital for chemotherapy.

Later Monday, jurors heard testimony from the mother and daughter who found Meldish’s remains.

“We saw a car door and someone’s leg hanging out of the car,” retired nurse Janet Forbes testified. She drove the car around the block, and pulled up alongside to investigate, thinking he might be in a booze-induced stupor.

“When I saw him up close he didn’t look drunk, he looked dead,” said Forbes.

When Bronx-based Luchese associate Michael Meldish was shot to death in front of his home on November 15, 2013, at the age of 62, he was suspected of running a protection racket in the Edenwald area of the north Bronx.

Meldish's boots were still outside his apartment  door days after he was killed. 

As per early reports, initial law enforcement suspicion was centered on that racket as a possible cause of the shooting. Meldish, however, was known to have had a steady supply of enemies going back decades.

He'd been arrested five times in the 1970s on various charges including assault and weapons possession, and he had other convictions throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He was suspected of committing as many as 10 murders as well.

Meldish lived on 2nd Avenue near 111th Street in East Harlem. According to neighbors, he lived alone, was occasionally visited by a son and grandson, and was considered affable by many who knew him in the neighborhood. One neighbor claimed that Meldish held a job in construction.

"He was always a hardworking guy," said another neighbor, who had known him since she was 8. "Very friendly with everybody, but he was always keeping himself to himself."

Police believe his younger brother Joseph carried out dozens of contract murders for the Purple Gang, which was involved in the heroin trade in the Bronx and Harlem, as well as contract killings for the Bonanno, Luchese and Genovese crime families.

“We heard of over 70 different homicides, from the Bronx to Harlem, all the way up and down the East Coast all the way to Florida,” retired Bronx Homicide Detective Kevin Tracy told a Bronx newspaper.

Tracy had arrested Joseph Meldish in 2007 for the 1999 mistaken identity murder of Joe Brown inside the now defunct Frenchie’s Bar on Bruckner Blvd. at E. Tremont Avenue. (Meldish had worn a ski mask when he entered the bar, walked to a back table, and blew Brown away. Only he thought he was killing Brown's brother, Tommy. Weeks earlier, one-time drug dealer Tommy Brown had refused to lend Joseph Meldish $20, so Meldish then burglarized his home. Tommy reported the crime, then decided against pressing charges. Still, three weeks later, Meldish sought murderous payback.)

After the case had been unsolved for eight years, Meldish and alleged prostitute Kimberly Hanzlik, who fingered the wrong Brown brother, were both arrested and convicted in 2011. (In 2015, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison; she to 20 to life.)

“One of the reasons we believe both brothers weren’t killed a long time ago was that they’re related to Angelo Prisco, a capo in the Genovese family,” said Tracy. “A lot of people feared Michael and Joe. If you killed one, you’d have to contend with the other.”

“The Purple Gang pretty much doesn’t exist any more,” said another police source. “They moved on to other ‘careers’ with the Lucchese and other mobs.”

The mob rubout was the talk along tight-knit Ellsworth Avenue in the days after it happened.

“This is the safest neighborhood in the Bronx,” said one neighbor.

But another source recalled when the area served as a “Mafia dumping ground” during the 1950s and 1960s where contract killers would often exploit the street’s low-key vibe to whack rivals.

 Bonanno boss Michael (Mikey Nose) Mancuso and former  Luchese acting boss Madonna both were furious with Meldish a year prior to his murder.

Mancuso was never implicated nor charged. And the Bonanno acting capo who assaulted Meldish as per Mancuso's orders had an ironclad alibi; he was residing on Rikers Island when Meldish was gunned down.

Mikey Nose was angered by "disrespectful acts toward (him) on Meldish's part," as Manhattan prosecutors noted in July 2013. Meldish was to be "physically assaulted," Mancuso had decided.

The disrespectful acts stemmed from Meldish refusing to stop seeing Mancuso's girlfriend.

Court papers described how a "person with knowledge" of the attack had revealed that acting capo Ernest Aiello had assaulted Meldish in "upper Manhattan" in August 2012, over a year after Joseph Meldish's incarceration. Aiello was then "a rising star in the Bronx faction" of the Bonanno family, law enforcement sources had noted. Meldish was tuned up outside Rao's during the annual Pleasant Avenue Festival. Reportedly "dozens" had witnessed the assault.

Meldish, instead of taking the beating and giving up the girl, chose to get payback, which may have signed his own death warrant. Days after the beating, law enforcement visited Madonna and warned him against retaliating against the other crime family. Madonna then warned Meldish to bite the bullet and back away from the Bonannos. Madonna and other Luchese leaders didn't seem to have the time or inclination to put much effort into resolving the assault on the Luchese associate ordered by Mikey Nose.

Meldish's revenge plot, which occurred nine months after the assault, has been highlighted as a potential contributing factor in the decision to kill Meldish.

Ignoring the Luchese boss's warning, Meldish sought payback on May 29, 2013, at First Avenue and 111th Street (one block from where Aiello had beaten Meldish). The former Purple Gang boss participated in the attempted murder of Bonanno soldier Enzo (The Baker) Stagno, who was shot and wounded while sitting in his car.

Meldish was supposed to be the wheel-man during the hit, but he reportedly drove off leaving behind the shooter, Luchese associate Terrence Caldwell, who is charged with Stagno's attempted murder. Caldwell was filmed by surveillance cameras while walking away from the crime scene.

Caldwell also is the alleged trigger-man in the Meldish shooting, which happened six months later. Caldwell allegedly killed the man who left him high and dry at the scene of an attempted murder.

The five men they allege were responsible for killing Meldish: Caldwell, the alleged shooter, and Christopher Londonio, the alleged getaway driver, and their three mob superiors who are charged with ordering the Meldish hit: Madonna, Luchese underboss Steven (Stevie Wonder) Crea, and his son, capo Steven (Stevie Junior) Crea.

How exactly did Mancuso's edict make it from his cell at Danbury federal prison, where he'd been hanging his hat for more than a decade, to a Bonanno soldier in New York City? The feds previously revealed that Mikey Nose had used his nephew, Bonanno mobster Frank (Frankie Boy) Salerno, to get the word out to key Bonanno wiseguys.

Salerno's relatively short tenure as Mancuso's runner occurred in 2015, and was brief but consequential. To boost Salerno's cred with other wiseguys, and possibly to further legitimize him, Frankie Boy allegedly was among the dozen or so Bonanno associates formally inducted around that time.

Things in Washington are getting complicated now; a Fox News poll (Fox News! This is STUNNING, if you didn’t get the hint!) suggests that 51% of the country now supports the impeachment and prosecution of Donald Trump. I am not here to analyze or write about politics, but because of the magnitude of what's happening on Capitol Hill now, I feel compelled to address it on some level. 

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