Gangs Of Staten Island

In 1988, years before his wife became (something of) a household name and his father's first cousin became the mayor of New York City, Lee D'Avanzo was part of a crew of wannabe wiseguys who raked in the cash via drug dealing, loansharking, money laundering, home invasions, and up to 30 attempted or successful bank burglaries.

Staten Island was filled with gangs in the 1980s
Members of one of Staten Island's many gangs in the 1980s.

By December 2001, when 11 members of the New Springville Boys were indicted for terrorizing Staten Island and committing crimes up and down the East Coast, the indictment identified D'Avanzo as the head of the ragtag crew. Some other names identified in the indictment: Neat (Ned the Head) Bilali, Robert Catanese, Francis Costanzo, William (Big Billy) Fauci, and Edward Shamah.

Between 1988 and 2000, crew members schemed to burglarize over 30 night-deposit boxes at banks in seven states: One string of heists in Washington state in 1998 netted the gang $240,000, court papers say. They also allegedly planned to ship more than 200 kilograms of marijuana from Arizona to New York, but got busted along the way in 1999.

Less than a decade earlier, they hijacked a $1 million truckload of pot in New Jersey, and sold it in New York City, according to the indictment.

Lee was not among the members hauled into Brooklyn federal court in December 2001; he was already serving five years on a guilty plea in a drug smuggling case.

The New Springville Boys, which once included Miami club king Chris Paciello, allegedly committed a “crime wave that started in Staten Island and left almost no region untouched,” as Assistant FBI Director Barry Mawn said at the unveiling of the indictment.

Among a host of gangs that started up on Staten Island in the 1980s -- each of which had an organizational structure, identifying colors, and a defined territory -- the New Springville Boys were based out of New Springville and Bulls Head, two bordering neighborhoods located roughly in central Staten Island. Gang members attended Wagner High School or Port Richmond High School and were as young as 14 and as old as 22. The Staten Island Mall reportedly was their main hangout, although they also idled time at the old Movies at Staten Island and Showplace Bowling in Travis.

The New Springville Boys even had an offshoot gang: the Fannings Boys.

In February 1988, a member of another gang, the Wanderers, was attacked at the Mall. A New Springville Boy was arrested. Two days later, the Wanderers retaliated, launching a battle that involved pool cues inside Herman’s World of Sporting Goods in the Mall.

“They’re a bunch of punks,” one Wanderer said of the New Springville Boys around then. “They want trouble, they like to fight and if they start with us, we have to take care of ourselves.”

The SI Advance recently posted online a series about the gangs on Staten Island written by David Martin and originally published in the Advance in June of 1988.

The South Beach Sickies claimed to be the oldest gang in existence at the time, having been founded in 1980. Many had gone to Curtis High School. They hung out at Beachland Amusements and at South Beach.

Based in Eltingville, the Wanderers were Tottenville High School students, and claimed the Greenridge Shopping Center as their turf.

There were other gangs on the scene as well: The Oakwood Boys, the Heartland Village Boys, the Cavaliers of New Dorp, the Stallions and the Outcasts.

The Nasty Boys were aged 12 to 16 and hoped to become Wanderers someday. There were skinhead groups as well.

It’s said that some of the gangs grew out of sandlot football teams. Others, like the New Springville Boys became a so-called farm team for the Bonanno family.

"Despite worries expressed by police at the time, the gang violence on Staten Island never reached the levels of the drug-fueled gang crime that was seen at the time in other parts of New York City and in cities like Los Angeles," the Advance noted.

As crime declined in the city beginning in the 1990s, gangs became less of a presence.