RIP Joe Dogs Iannuzzi: A Better-Late-Than-Never Sendoff For The Former South Florida Gambino (Ex-)Wiseguy

Joe Dogs.... The garrulous Joe Dogs Iannuzzi (born June 14, 1931, in Portchester, New York), the little guy with the big New York accent...

Joe Dogs Iannuzzi
Joe Dogs.....

....The longtime Gambino associate who apparently fooled a slew of journalists into identifying him as a made member, a soldier, in his life after Cosa Nostra .... who wore a wire right beside his "how do you do"...who called Gambino soldier Tommy Agro TA..  … who was first called Joe Diners because he liked to meet friends in diners.... Who received two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, the third-highest military combat decoration that can be awarded to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, for fighting in the Korean war....Who dropped a dime on the Gambino family after his shortsighted best friend--who was notorious for going around with scissors -- and two others tried to beat him to death with baseball bats and their shoes...

Joe Dogs passed away on September 20, 2015, at the Kerrville Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Anthony Ruggiano Junior got us thinking about Joe Dogs. Then we found his obituary. We hadn't known he died. Neither did Anthony, which was good enough reason to put this together.

“I knew him well,” Anthony said of Joe Dogs. “He was always at my father’s house eating. My father used to call Joe Dogs all the time and ask him what he wanted to eat. I was friends with Joe Dogs, too.”

Fat Andy in fact paid a high price for knowing Joe Dogs and was later burned by the fire of Iannuzzi’s all-consuming rage....

Joe Dogs flipped and targeted TA for revenge after Agro nearly killed him. So Fat Andy and TA are major figures in the Joe Dogs books. Joe went on television to promote his stuff, too, and you can occasionally still see him in some dated shows from the 1980s-1990s. He’s silly looking in them, what with the very-obviously-fake wig and glued-on mustache. Still, Joe Dogs had one of the most hardcore New York accents you ever heard so in addition to espousing some of the all-time most intensely absorbing mob stories, he spoke them in a hoarse Murder Inc kinda voice. For a while it seemed you could see Joe Dogs on television just about every single night in those old interviews with A&E and on the Discovery Channel's The Rise and Fall of The Mafia.

And on those shows, as Anthony Ruggiano Junior reminded us, Joe Dogs “used to talk about how scared he was going into my father’s house (when he was wired up). He was afraid my father was going to chop him up and stick him down the garbage disposal.”

Talking about TA: “a squat, florid little man” with “incongruously large shoulders."

How did that specific fear enter Joe Dog’s head?

“My father used to chop people up and stick them down the garbage disposal.”

Iannuzzi, formerly an associate of a Gambino family crew in South Florida, flipped and testified in about a dozen trials and then became an author and published many books, most of them cookbooks. (In fact, one of our to-this-day go-to recipes was lifted straight out of one of them, a great take on Chicken Marsala with Grand Marniere being the secret ingredient). Iannuzzi wrote two books right out the gate in 1993: Joe Dogs: The Life & Crimes of a Mobster was followed by The Mafia Cookbook, which noted how for about 10 years, Iannuzzi made a lot of pasta for a lot of wiseguys, before flipping and becoming an FBI informant and a stoolepigeon, as Joe himself referred to himself.

Anthony told us that one of his father's recipes is one of those cookbooks.

“Mobsters love to eat. They’re always sitting around the table. They even get killed around the table,” Iannuzzi told one reporter by phone from a very undisclosed location. (He would be unceremoniously tossed from the federal Witness Protection Program after the Feds learned he was making an appearance on late-night television. Because he's Joe Dogs....)

What happened to Joe Dogs after he left the mob is almost as compelling as what happened while he was still in it. In 1993, after pocketing $250,000 from Simon & Schuster for his autobiography (that’s how much Joe Dogs was paid for his memoir, a quarter-million—an unthinkable amount today. Here’s to all the guys out there who flipped after the publishing industry collapsed. If only you’d done it sooner, and I started blogging the second there was an internet, we might all be wealthy good-for-nothings today). Joe Dogs next wrote his Mafia Cookbook and was offered a spot on the David Letterman show to promote it. Iannuzzi would claim he told the Feds all about his scheduled guest appearance on the show, and that they had had no problem with him promoting the book in witness protection. (Which was a straight up lie, as you'll see...) . He drove all the fcking way to Manhattan from the witness protection wilds, and was canceled quite literally at the last minute. He was pissed.

Hear TA telling Joe Dogs (who was recording him) how he (TA) was supposed to have killed him.....

Nonetheless, a New York newspaper caught wind of the story.

Joe Dogs sold a ton of books...

 Joe Dogs was booted out of the witness protection program. The government gave him $7,500 and said, Sayonara….

Joe Dogs, the book, is a gripping, nuts-and-bolts account of what it was like to work the rackets in a Mafia crew.

Joe Dogs, the now-deceased author, got early assistance from Nicholas Pileggi, who made the ex-wiseguy an auteur by putting him in touch with the Sterling Lord Agency. Another early supporter was Michael Korda when he was boss of bosses of the publishing industry (he was editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster in New York City). In the book's acknowledgements you can still read how Iannuzzi graciously thanks Korda for “the opportunity to get started on a new life and (I hope) career.”

“I was hustling like never before,” Joe Dogs writes regarding his longtime association with organized crime. “Shylocking. Shakedowns. Bookmaking. I started dealing drugs. The whole bit.”


When Joe Dogs’ first book was first released, it earned kudos for reproducing on the page “the real voice of a Mafia hit man.” Joe Dogs tells us in detail certain things that no citizen could know or imagine. Like when a shooter comes to kill you, he will shoot you in the head, to kill you, but then in the heart, to stop you from bleeding all over the fcking carpet. We learn how to get rid of dead bodies, fence stolen diamonds, fix horse races.

Iannuzzi loved most of all the heady high he got when those who feared him showed him respect.

“If someone owed money and didn’t pay, I knew how to break a leg. ...whenever I walked into a restaurant or a club, I was given the red-carpet treatment. And I loved it.”

The underworld Joe Dogs inhabited (the man spent time in a mind-bogglingly wide  array of places in the US) was saturated with casual extreme violence, extravagant sexual infidelity, medieval rituals, and the spectacular joys of Italian cooking.

Of his onetime mentor Tommy Agro, Joe Dogs wrote: He “a squat, florid little man” with “incongruously large shoulders.” (OK, so Iannuzzi had help from a ghost writer.)

In 1970, Joe Dogs was first introduced to the tough-talking, sharp-dressed Agro, who ran some of southeast Florida's mob operations as a Gambino soldier.

"My idol. I loved him. Fuhgedaboudit," Iannuzzi said. "Sharp dresser. A lot of money. He acted like a real big-time mobster. We became good friends and close."

Agro immediately staked his claim on Joe Dogs.

"He was my instructor. My mentor. And I learned fast," Iannuzzi said. "I used to walk into a place with a strut on me, fuhgedaboudit. I'd never been in the place before and people thought I owned the (expletive) place."

Iannuzzi had borrowed $60,000 from Agro and reloaned the money at a higher rate, paying off Agro and keeping the spread. But then he got behind in his payments because he had some trouble collecting on his own loans. That was when the bad thing happened, on Jan. 19, 1981. Agro was tired of waiting for his money and decided that it was time to make an example out of Joe Dogs.

Agro summoned Iannuzzi to a friend's Singer Island pizzeria. Iannuzzi went there to find Tommy Agro, Paul Principe, and Frank Russo there waiting for him inside. Iannuzzi went to shake Agro's hand and darkness engulfed him.
"The last thing I remember was Agro himself drawing back his legs and digging his dainty little alligator loafer deep into my ribs," Iannuzzi wrote in his memoirs.

Joe Dogs was in the hospital hurting and began thinking about revenge... he called the FBI....

The FBI fronted Iannuzzi money to repay Agro and the two men patched things up, or so the mobsters thought.

Operation Home Run was off and running.

For the next two years, Iannuzzi recorded every mob meeting.

Iannuzzi and undercover agent John Bonino, posing as John Marino, set up and ran a mob nightclub. The Gambinos didn't know it was bugged to the rafters.

"We didn't know where this case was going," Doss said. "It had a life of its own."

The case lived until September 1982, when the government decided to end Operation Home Run. It wasn't long after that Iannuzzi's cover was blown.

An overly ambitious FBI agent in New York cornered Agro and tried to bait him into becoming an informant by telling him of Iannuzzi's cooperation.

"It goes through the whole Mafia within a matter of hours that Joe is a rat," Doss said.

During the next 10 years, Iannuzzi testified in 12 trials. The FBI paid him $3,800 a month and moved him from city to city, state to state.

"He was good. The proof of the pudding is do you convict?" Doss said. "For all of Joe's shortcomings, his strength was the truth. One thing Joe never did was lie."

Iannuzzi's testimony sent more than a dozen people to prison. In 1986, Agro pleaded guilty to loan-sharking, extortion and attempted murder and was sentenced to 20 years in the Florida State Penitentiary. In 1987 he was granted a medical parole to die at home, which he did that June from brain cancer.

Among the others Iannuzzi sent away were Colombo boss Carmine "The Snake" Persico; Gambino capo Andrew "Fat Andy" Ruggiano; Riviera Beach, Fla., Police Chief William Darden; Agro sidekick Bobby "Skinny Bobby" DeSimone, whose brother Tommy was played by Joe Pesci in the movie Goodfellas; and a list of other Gambino and Colombo capos, crew members, and sluggers.

Iannuzzi, to his credit, never tried to prettify himself in print, and the ring of truth offered by his oeuvre is compelling.

Joe Dogs disavowed the Mafia’s twisted moral code, which he compared to a gang of juvenile delinquents. “In a way, being a member of a crew is like never leaving high school,” he says. “The boys are all ganged up and strutting around like roosters . . . and the jokes never get beyond the 12th-grade level.”

As to that never-aired Letterman appearance that got Joe Dogs kicked out witness protection, we found some details about what happened online. A website published Daniel Kellison’s memories of working for David Letterman in the 1990s (apparently, Joe Dogs threatened the guy and he ran to the FBI, but he and Joe worked things out in the end):

The Mafia Cookbook was written by Joe “Joe Dogs” Iannuzzi, a part-time chef who was also a former mob enforcer for the Gambino crime family — before he flipped and testified about the 1985 assassination of famous boss Paul Castellano.

I called his publicist about booking him for a cooking demo, but she said he couldn’t because he was in the Witness Relocation Program and living in Arizona. However, the next day she called back to let me know Joe was willing to give up his protective status to come on the show. I called him in Arizona, and he sounded like Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas, bemoaning how this was “no life”; the FBI told him that if he came on the show he would lose his status, but he didn’t care. He only asked that we not advertise his appearance, since many, many people wanted him dead and a lot of them were in New York.

I spoke with Dave and Morty about it, and everyone seemed fine, so we booked him. The day before his appearance, reality set in and more sensible heads noted that having him on was crazy. What if, say, a stagehand got wind of the booking, and something happened to Joe after — or even during — the show? Morty told me to “unbook” him. This wasn’t so easy. His publicist was alarmed that we were canceling — and since this was before cell phones and Joe was driving from Arizona, no one could reach him. The day of his appearance (at the time we’d scheduled for his rehearsal), a page called and said Joe was downstairs waiting for me in our green room. I was, I’ll admit, a little hesitant to deliver bad news to a former mob enforcer. I asked Morty to come with me, but once again, he said it was all me (tough love!). So I went downstairs. I didn’t candy-coat it; I told Joe it had become a safety issue. He went ballistic. “I drove all the way out here from fucking Arizona! I gave up my protection status! Do you know what that means??!” I tried to stay calm and started scrambling, telling him I’d try to get him on Conan or Regis. (Let them take their lives in their hands.) He stormed out, rightfully enraged that he’d been “bumped.”

Later that day, during the taping of the show, he called the office looking for me. Because I was on the set, the intern at the front desk asked if she could take a message. This did not go over well at all with Joe. She came down to the studio, crying, saying he had told her, “You tell that fuck he’s going to get his.” One of the security guys on our show was former FBI, so he made a call — and for the rest of the week I was assigned an FBI escort to bring me home and to work. The next morning, Joe Dogs did an interview with Bob Herbert, then the Mob writer for the Daily News; in the article Joe said, “[Dave] thinks he got a problem with that Margaret Ray showing up in his living room. Wait until he gets home one night and finds me waiting for him.” This was going from bad to worse. I went to apologize to Dave and tell him what Joe had said. Dave was typically unshaken. “Give him my address,” he said. “He’d be doing me a favor.”

Two quick postscripts. First, since Joe had threatened me, he put himself in danger of going back to prison (not a good place for a Mob turncoat). The FBI reached him, and he called me later in the week with a seemingly earnest apology. We forgave each other. Secondly, the last-minute replacement for Joe Dogs that day was the late comedian Bill Hicks; this was the night his un-vetted act (the one where he talked about how pissed Jesus was going to be when he comes back and sees everyone wearing crucifixes) was famously pulled by the censors. So remarkably, by the end of the day, the Joe Dogs debacle had almost been all but forgotten. Such are the vagaries of live television production.

We actually found a ton of biographical information we will eventually add here....