Most Depraved Mafia Hit? The Colombo Family And The Deep Throat Murders

In 1982, mob shooters killed an innocent bystander while gunning down a father and son duo suspected of stealing from the Colombo family's proceeds from the classic porn flick Deep Throat.
Joseph Peraino Sr. was the target. He survived, but was paralyzed

The incident was later dubbed one of the New York underworld's most depraved acts. The victim, Veronica Zuraw, was a former Roman Catholic nun for the Brooklyn Diocese. The Colombos couldn't have picked a worse innocent bystander to shoot in the head if they'd deliberately tried.

Former Colombo shooter Salvatore (Big Sal) Miciotta discussed the gangland hit -- that ended the lives of both a mobbed-up pornographer and the former nun -- in a documentary that never disclosed certain details about Big Sal, including how his testimony had been so discredited, a judge ruled he could never testify again. Miciotta's false testimony got several gangsters off scott free on a host of mob charges, including murder, and destroyed an honest NYPD cop's career (and ultimately his life).

"I wouldn't say it would be death to call him, but I would think twice. Maybe three times. Maybe four times," one law enforcement source once said about putting Big Sal back on the witness stand.

Still, we're stuck with Miciotta because he provided the only detailed account of the killings. The Grim Reaper wasn't around to put his spin on the incident. In fact it was the very same year the Deep Throat hits happened that an eager FBI agent named Lindley DeVecchio commenced a years long campaign to cultivate a relationship with Gregory Scarpa Sr. to convince the Colombo capo (aka The Grim Reaper) to once again inform for the bureau.

Colombo family porn czar Anthony Peraino had a Cosa Nostra lineage: he was the son of notorious South Brooklyn underworld boss Giuseppe Peraino, who had been a major power in the Italian-American underworld during the Prohibition era. His twisted, partially paralyzed hand earned him the nickname "The Clutching Hand." No relation to Giuseppe (the Clutch Hand) Morello (this guy):

Clutch Hand Morello, gunned down in 1931.

Anthony Peraino, who would become his own version of an underworld power, started out by becoming an inducted member of the Joseph (The Olive Oil King) Profaci family, for which he ran gambling operations along the Brooklyn waterfront and also dealt in swag.

The Profaci family became the Colombo family, and Peraino was arrested over the years for murder and other things, including on obscenity charges, which foreshadows Peraino's eventual raison d'etre for the Colombo family: Bringing in a shitload of money from the porn business.

In the 1970s, Anthony Peraino,his brother, son, and nephews got involved in the pornographic book and film industry, earning much of their revenue from the production and distribution of cheap adult films called "loops," which prior to home video, played on sticky screens in seedy theaters across the country, including along New York's Time's Square. The Perainos interests in porn steered them to invest in the enormously successful porn flick Deep Throat, which put them at the helm of a multi-million-dollar racket.

Deep Throat practically fell onto their prodigious laps thanks to a creative hairdresser who dreamed up and wrote the comedic porno script and brought it to them. Gerard Damiano was a wannabe filmmaker with lots of drive who managed to find the perfect actress, Linda Lovelace, for the film.

Damiano shot Deep Throat in about a week using $20,000 in financing from the Perainos, who decided to fund the production after Lovelace offered both father and son a demo of her titular skills. Damiano, who wrote and shot the film, was paid a mere $22,000 for his efforts. But because he was aware of who was really behind the financing, he humbly accepted payment and bowed out -- later confessing that he was thankful to depart the project with his life.

Serious problems arose in 1982, when an ongoing dispute between the Perainos broke out regarding the porn movie’s proceeds. According to Miciotta, Anthony Peraino complained to Colombo brass that his own family was robbing from him. Apparently word about this reached Carmine Persico, who responded by ordering the execution of Anthony's brother, Joseph, and Joseph's son, Louis.

Deep Throat, which hit theaters in 1972, became a high-profile property that supposedly brought in a ton of money. It was released a few years after LBJ's President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography convinced the American public that porn was mostly benign and didn't pose a threat to the fabric of American society. Deep Throat was revolutionary, one of the first (and only) porn flicks to impact mainstream American culture to the extent that it reportedly gave the porn genre itself a veneer of social respectability. American housewives went on television to talk about Deep Throating their husbands, basically. With all the media coverage, Deep Throat became a hot button political issue too. (Woodward and Bernstein [or was it their editor?] even christened a shadowy FBI Watergate source "Deep Throat" -- who, we learned in 2005, was former top FBI bureaucrat W. Mark Felt.)

Salvatore (Big Sal) Miciotta
Salvatore (Big Sal) Miciotta

There's no consensus on how much cash the film actually brought in. One Deep Throat documentary includes a scene in which a source exclaims that the flick made so much cash, it was too much to count -- so they weighed it. In 2005, the producers of that documentary, Inside Deep Throat, were lambasted for claiming that the film earned around $600 million, a figure they arrived at based on an FBI affidavit that claimed a source had overheard a Peraino claim that Deep Throat generated $100,000 per week in two theaters alone. The bottom line: some believe the $600 million figure (and most of the numbers trotted out on the Wikipedia page) are sheer "baloney" -- countering that it is implausible that Deep Throat earned anywhere near $600 million, given the realities of economics and the movie trade. Not to mention, film accounting methods in 1972⸺even for non-mobbed-up porno productions, were there any such things⸺are not fondly recalled today for their accuracy.

However much cash Deep Throat earned wasn't nearly as important to Carmine Persico as the fact that someone apparently was stealing from him.

The father and son were told to attend a meeting on the night of January 4, 1982, to discuss the Deep Throat money. The meeting was the lure to get them to visit a house located on a quiet, residential side street in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn at around 8 p.m., just when Colombo shooters fired shotguns at both men from a car as it drove by 431 Lake Street, off Avenue W.

Two people were killed, but Joseph Peraino Sr., the actual target, wasn't one of them. Joseph was seriously wounded in the buttocks and taken to Coney Island Hospital, where he was listed in serious condition but survived. (This was not the first attempt on Joe Peraino's life -- he'd been shot and wounded in New York City a few months prior.) Louis Peraino and a 52-year-old housewife in the process of storing laundry in a hallway closet in her home at 431 Lake Street, off Avenue W, were both shot to death that night. The housewife, Veronica Zuraw, was killed when shotgun pellets fired at the two men on her front porch punched through the bottom part of her white front door and hit her once in the head.

She and her husband, Louis, had only recently moved into the second floor apartment in the three-family detached building. Zuraw, when murdered, was a social worker with the Italian Board of Guardians, though she'd formerly been a nun for the Brooklyn Catholic Diocese (before she married her husband in 1974). Zuraw, who had been known as Sister Mary Adelaide, had once run a Bensonhurst charity operation that provided assistance to Italian immigrants. 

Years later, the inside story of the Deep Throat hit was revealed. In April 1993, the 350-pound Miciotta flipped. Conveniently for Big Sal, the third Colombo civil war was reaching its end. (Revelations about corruption involving Colombo capo Greg Scarpa and his FBI handler, Lin DeVecchio, were surfacing in press reports.)

The Feds would later tout Miciotta as a prize witness whose word led to the arrest of 17 alleged Colombo gangsters. But when wiseguys started getting acquitted rather than convicted, the Feds changed their tune.

Miciotta stated that Persico approved the hit on the Perainos and that the members of the hit team included Joseph (Jo Jo) Russo, John Minerva, Vincent (Jimmy) Angelino (who's name is spelled differently every time it is noted: Angelina, Angellino), Frank Sparaco, and Anthony (Chucky) Russo.

Members of the team met and reviewed the plan at Joseph (Joe T) Tomasello’s Avenue U social club, where two sawed-off shotguns had been stashed for use by Miciotta and Angelino.

The Perainos were driven to the Gravesend neighborhood, where they were to be hit. Miciotta and Angelino were driven to the scene by wheelman Minerva. (There had to be at least one other car, a "crash car," to foil possible pursuing law enforcement.)

The Perainos were supposed to be murdered in front of a house on Village Road, which is around the corner from the actual Lake Street house where they were both later found on the ground, the father wounded, the son dead. The Peraino duo apparently spotted their assailants and bolted, only to be trapped nearby. (Miciotta told a somewhat different story in the later documentary on the hit. On television he claimed that back in January 1982, he searched for a house with a big enclosed front porch to serve as a death trap for the father and son. The plan called for the use of shotguns. Such artillery was deemed necessary because both father and son were enormously overweight.)

Whatever the case about the plan, according to an FBI debriefing report, “Miciotta shot and killed Peraino Jr., who was standing to the right of his father, while Angelino shot and wounded Peraino Sr.” Who shot the nun? Not Miciotta, according to Miciotta. The FBI couldn't ask the other alleged shooter; he and alleged wheelman Minerva were both dead then, both casualties of the Colombo war. Jimmy Angelino (Angellino?), who rose to Colombo consiglieri, was killed in Kenilworth, New Jersey, in 1988. Minerva was killed with Michael Imbergamo, another member of the Colombo family, in a car outside a diner on Long Island in 1992.

So: who actually fired the blast that killed Zuraw? We don't know. We do know that the accidental murder caused Thomas (Tommy Shots) Gioeli  lots of anguish over the years (and his anguish is probably lots more honest than anything Big Sal told the FBI). Tommy Shots -- who just learned that he won't escape COVID-19 because the judge denied his appeal  -- was so unnerved by the former nun's death, he implicated himself in the shooting, telling his confederates that he was going to hell for killing her.

Tommy Shots was "definitely" at the house when the Peraino's were shotgunned, a law enforcement source once told us, adding that Joel (Joe Waverly) Cacace was likely there as well.

Big Sal later claimed that he worried that the Colombo bosses would take the hit team out due to unwanted media attention. He took solace in the fact he was too difficult to kill, in his opinion.

Miciotta testified against then Colombo capo William (Wild Bill) Cutolo and five others. All six were acquitted on Dec. 20, 1994. He was next slated to testify against former Colombo acting boss Vittorio (Vic) Orena (whose supposedly getting out of prison soon for the same thing that inspired Gioeli's latest appeal, the novel coronavirus pandemic) and six associates, but he never did.

In time, the Feds reassessed their former star witness. Citing a pattern of lies, criminal conduct and inadequate co-operation, they charged Miciotta with gun possession while he was still in the witness protection program. He faced a 40-year sentence for all his admitted crimes. But his story doesn't end there.

Brawling With Gaspipe
Big Sal became a jailhouse snitch and exposed a bribery scheme involving corrections officials and mob turncoats at the witness protection unit of Otisville Federal Prison. He informed on Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso for his role in the bribery scheme, which involved a prison secretary smuggling food, drugs, cigars, cellular phones, and other contraband into prison. 

Casso was the former Luchese underboss who lammed it and was arrested in 1993 while butt-naked in the shower after the FBI traced him via his cellphone to a house in Mount Olive, N.J., where he was laying low with a woman identified as "Rosemarie Billotti." Casso attempted to flip. He was a far more prolific killer than Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, the previous underboss who flipped (Casso had 36 bodies, Sammy the Bull only 19), but like Gravano, Casso had lots of great stuff to spill in court, including details on Genovese powerhouse Vincent (Chin) Gigante, Russian mobsters, murderous cops, and other things.

The problem was that many of the allegations Gaspipe dished out, the Feds had no appetite for. (Casso apparently wouldn't or couldn't see the big picture and didn't seem to grasp that he no longer called the shots.)

For example, Casso copped to selling large amounts of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana to Gravano for over two decades. Gravano had helped the Feds finally nail Gambino boss John Gotti. The Feds had very little interest in anything that could potentially undo the Gotti conviction. (Though Casso was vindicated at least in the sense that Gravano would later plead guilty in 2000 to operating a massive narcotics ring that sold ecstasy.) Casso also claimed that he and associate Herbert Pate along with DEA agent Everett Hatcher had been part of the infamous sequel to the French Connection case, which involved 400 pounds of heroin and cocaine, much of it seized in the 1962 French Connection drug bust, walking out of a police property vault and reaching the street, where the narcotics were resold... By the time the theft was discovered in 1972, the drugs, then valued at $73 million, had been replaced in the vault with flour and cornstarch...  Gaspipe offered up little corroborating evidence to what seemed to be a concocted story that defamed the memory of a revered DEA agent who was slain on the job on Staten Island. 

(Gaspipe... last we heard of him, about 12 years back, he was still in prison and still stewing... over old vendettas... over betrayals.... over heart problems and prostate cancer.... He was still claiming he knew what happened to the stolen French Connection drugs....Prosecutors questioned what his information could be worth, as well as what perils awaited them for renewing an attempt to make a deal with a man who could be compared to the fictional Hannibal Lecter... Casso, who is 77, at Tucson USP with no release date [LIFE, it says on the BOP site], the once fearsome underboss of the Luchese family continues serving multiple life sentences amounting to 455 years for murder.)

Anthony Gaspipe Casso
Anthony Gaspipe Casso, former Luchese underboss.

Big Sal and Gaspipe got into a fistfight on New Year's Eve 1996-1997, after the 5'8 165-pound Casso learned that the 350-pound Miciotta had implicated him in the bribery scheme. Casso attacked with a magazine rolled into a makeshift billy club, a not-great weapon. The fight broke out after dinner while Miciotta was playing cards with other inmates. Casso, standing on an elevated cellblock walkway, attacked Big Sal from behind, leaning over the railing and beating Miciotta on the head with the rolled-up magazine. Miciotta grabbed Casso by the shirt, pulled him down off the walkway, and proceeded to beat the daylights out of him -- until the guards arrived.

In 1997, Casso was thrown out of the Witness Protection Program. Prosecutors alleged numerous infractions, including bribing guards, assaulting other inmates, and making "false statements" about Gravano and former Luchese acting boss Alphonse (Little Al) D'Arco. (Apparently, pissing the Feds off about one major witness's supposed corruption wasn't enough for Antknee...) And perhaps the worst part of the Casso debacle: the two "Mafia cops" -- Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito -- got to enjoy many additional years of freedom, during which they presumably spent all that cash they earned from the Luchese family by killing people. The two weren't convicted until 2006. Caracappa died on April 8, 2017, and Eppolito died on November 3, 2019, both in federal custody.

Big Sal's jailhouse snitching helped him win his way back into the good graces of the fed's. In 1997 Brooklyn Federal Judge Eugene Nickerson knocked nine years off his sentence. His reward for snitching.

The ex-mobster got to begin life anew in 1999. He moved to Canada.