The Charley Wagons Days: Anthony Ruggiano Interview, Part One

Anthony Ruggiano Jr. "was on the verge of becoming a soldier" in the Gambino family, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian McCormick.

Who’s the toughest guy you know? Well, we know a few tough guys...

Relax. This isn’t going where you think...

Fat Andy Ruggiano and Anthony Ruggiano
A hungover Fat Andy in 1980, when he and Tony Lee ran a gold store.
Anthony here is about to turn 27. He was two weeks out of jail.

Anthony Ruggiano was a Gambino family associate for many years. Too many, he'd tell you. He was supposed to get his button—then he was supposed to get it again, and then again. Was it Life that kept getting in the way? Fate? We wonder how best to describe it. Of course we could just say, the law certainly kept getting in the way. It kept arresting him. The State, the Feds, Kings and Queens County, they all nabbed him for things like policy and bookmaking (and murder). Just one of the daily hazards faced by guys who get out of bed in the morning, put their shoes on, and go out to rob people….

Anthony had been told, more than once, to get his suit ready because on Saturday night, yada yada yada…. But then at the last minute, Anthony would be en route to the restaurant or the social club, only to suddenly find himself arrested again and put in jail. Anthony is perhaps one of the only people in history for whom the process of getting made by the Mafia became both a simple formality and a running gag.

And as for any tough guys you may know, they’re not nearly as tough as the toughest guy Anthony’s father knew. Fat Andy Ruggiano knew some tough guys. Some very tough guys... The toughest of them all, you could say...How else should we describe Albert Anastasia? The Mad Hatter himself, the Lord High Executioner....

“My father told me Albert Anastasia was the toughest guy he ever met,” Anthony told us recently. “And Carlo Gambino was the smartest.”

Anthony isn’t someone you can simply ask: tell us about the wiseguys you knew, because he knew them all. All of them. As he told us, “I was raised by them. They changed my diapers.”

Any wiseguys he didn’t know, he knew about in great detail, including their strengths and weaknesses, where they liked to go for drinks or dinner, where they played cards. And yes, the best time to kill them. Just in case something went down. Another daily hazard of that life when Anthony was in it. Every day, anyone you knew could try to kill you. Or you them.

In all facets of the game, Anthony had an ace in the hole. He was fortunate enough to be tutored by the best, his father, who gave him a Master’s degree in being a Mafioso. Under Fat Andy’s aegis were some of the most ruthless wiseguys the Mafia has ever produced.

We conducted multiple interviews with Anthony. The story burst out of him in a torrent that had us typing as fast as we could. (We believe we were capturing his words in real-time, after he warmed up enough.) While we had an exhausting list of questions at the ready, we never had to look at it once….

“My father went to Leavenworth during World War II for skipping the army.”

After he was released from Leavenworth, Andy hooked up with a neighborhood guy named Tony Lee (Guerrieri), and the two began doing things together. Mostly they tried to rob as much cash as humanly possible. Fat Andy and Tony Lee liked to rob card games, where the cash was piled on the tables... The only problem was sometimes the guys sitting around those tables were made Mafia members.

It's commonly known that wiseguys don’t like getting robbed, especially when they’re playing cards. (So commonly known that robbing wiseguy card games has become a useful plot device for filmmakers needing to juice up their stories. And The Sopranos used the rob-the-mob-game plot device, at least twice, to stunning effect.)

John Gotti with Charley Wagons right.

Some preliminaries first. Those with an interest in historical organized crime may recall the name Happy Maione. Harry "Happy" Maione (born on October 7, 1908, and died February 19, 1942) was a New York mobster gainfully employed by Murder, Inc., the mob’s enforcement arm, during the 1930s. (Maione was called "Happy" because he always scowled. Get it? In those days wiseguys had dry senses of humor.)

Happy Maione’s brother was Albert M, who was friends with a guy named Carmine "Charley Wagons" Fatico. Fatico (born January 19, 1910, died August 1, 1991) was many things, but eventually he was a capo in the Gambino family who’s best known as John Gotti’s early mentor.

We introduce these two for the next part of our story, which has to do with Fat Andy and Tony Lee robbing Charley Wagons while he was playing cards.

Pissed off and wanting his fcking money back, Charley Wagons reached out to Albert M and said, “hey, can you help me get my fcking money back?”

(“Because my father and Tony Lee had robbed him when he was playing cards. They robbed the game Charley Wagons was in.”)

Charley also started asking around about Fat Andy. Who the fck was this kid Fat Andy who robbed me while I’m playing cards? Soon enough, he found someone who knew Fat Andy.

The someone told Charley Wagons he had bad news: He’d never get his money back.

“You have to kill Fat Andy,” Charley Wagons was told. There always was an alternative, of course: “Or you could give him a job.”

That’s how Fat Andy started driving for Charley Wagons Fatico.

He also started hanging around with Fatico.

One day Fatico asked Andy whether he’d be willing to kill someone.

“Yeah,” Fat Andy told Fatico.

“And that’s how my father started with them.”

Mob boss Albert Anastasia 

Couple of years pass and one day in Brooklyn, when Fat Andy was in his 20s, he got into the backseat of a car and sat beside Charley Wagons. Then the car pulled away from the curb.

“My father whispered into the guy’s ear — the guy had been sitting in the front seat next to the driver.”


“My father killed him. That was the first time my father did that.”

Albert Anastasia was the boss of the crime family to which Fatico was a member.

Anastasia was born Umberto Anastasio on September 26, 1902, and was killed on October 25, 1957. Anastasia had boss experience by the time he became boss of what had been the Mangano crime family (and what would become the Gambinos).

Fatico was in Tommy Rava’s crew, as were Neil Dellacroce and others.

Of all the crew’s in the family then, Tommy Rava’s was among the toughest. It was the crew that did the work for Anastasia. 

It was the only crew Carlo Gambino worried about after Anastasia was gunned down in 1957 at the Park Sheraton barbershop. And wait till you hear about that...

Fat Andy became part of Rava’s crew too and started doing work for Anastasia. The books were closed at the time, meaning no one was getting made. But Anastasia decided he’d make Fat Andy anyway, because of all the good work he’d done for the family.

Getting Made By Anastasia In 1953: Anthony Ruggiano Jr. Interview, Part Two

In The Street Robbing, Pillaging, Plundering: Anthony Ruggiano Jr. Interview, Part Three

Who Fat Andy Loved; John Gotti's Other Side: Anthony Ruggiano Junior, Part FOUR

And we're in touch with Anthony, if you have any questions you'd like us to ask him, please submit them below in the comments....