Pennisi Part Two: Meeting Dom Truscello; Further Luchese Doings from 2017

In May 2017, the Feds nabbed a slew of Luchese members and associates, most of whom were out on bail when John Pennisi started getting chilly vibes from his amico nostra later that same year.

Steve Crea, Matty Madonna, Dom Truscello
May 2017 roundup nabbed Steve Crea, Matty Madonna, Dom Truscello.

The bust was part of the government’s ongoing and endless effort to crack the mob, charging 19 individuals with ties to the Luchese family with an array of crimes (from 2000 to 2017), including murder, attempted murder, racketeering, gambling, witness tampering and narcotics trafficking. The indictment charged four captains, plus the Feds hit the trifecta in that they had nabbed the triumvirate of Luchese street bosses—underboss Steven Crea, acting boss Matthew Madonna, and consiglieri Joseph DiNapoli. (Of the three, Crea had been the longtime street representative for imprisoned for life boss Vittorio (Vic) Amuso.)

We left off with John Pennisi being asked by Anthony (Spanky) Castelle outside the Cigar Vault on Staten Island to take a ride to the home of longtime wiseguy Dominic Truscello (who died a year after the events described here, on July 26, 2018 at age 84, after suffering a long, withering illness).

Spanky’s message piqued John’s interest.

“I said, sure, I wanted to see Dom.” John liked Dom. “We used to talk all the time. I’d drive him up to Bronx.”

Dom –and by extension John – were poised for promotions around then. Because of the case against DiNapoli, and the likelihood he would be going away, Dom Truscello –a longtime Luchese wiseguy who was as old school as they come -- was slated to become acting consiglieri, filling in for DiNapoli, and John was going to become acting capo over Dom Truscello’s Manhattan crew.

“I was going to watch his crew for him – that’s how much Dom liked me.”

Because John had to pick his daughter up (to bring her back to Long Island for the weekend) he told Spanky he would meet him at Dom’s house.

John may have been on alert after getting those chilly vibes from John (Big John) Castellucci and Pasquale (Patty Red) Dellorusso, but in his mind, those were isolated events. He was always glad to see Dom, and it never occurred to him that he may have been walking into a trap.

So, he walked into Dom’s house with his daughter, thinking nothing of brining her to Dom’s house.

“There’s a lot of people there. Dom, Anthony Grado, Spanky, Frankie Cat, Dom’s son, and another guy I didn’t know.”

John sat next to Dom and placed his hand affectionately on his shoulder in greeting.

First thing out of Dom’s mouth: “Let me ask if you know who the rats in my case are.”

John, laughing, told him, “Dom, to be honest, I don’t even know what you were charged with, let alone who the rats are.”

John had known that Dom and the others had been arrested earlier that year, but that was about all he knew. The case didn’t include him, and he didn’t even know what specific charges Dom faced.

“Dom changed the subject. He asked me, did I know Anthony Grado?” Grado had been standing behind John since he walked into the house.

Luchese soldier Grado had a monkey on his back: He was a drug addict, and the Luchese bosses had shelved him over his drug problem, Pennisi says.

So, Dom’s attempt at an introduction didn’t go down right. As John says now, “Dom’s not supposed to introduce that guy to us. Grado was shelved over drugs; it’s like he was a garbage pail.”

“Dom made a bad judgement call by introducing me and Spanky to Grado because with Grado on the shelf, he exposed our being made members of the family, which is only meant for other made members of La Cosa Nostra to know. Grado has no business knowing this. His being let back into our family - through Dom- was knocked down and he remained on the shelf still. Which means Dom willingly exposed Spanky and me to Grado.”

“I didn’t hightail it out of there or anything because I didn’t have a dirty stomach. I’d done nothing wrong. I was there to see how Dom was doing. But to this day, i wonder what was on their mind. They weren’t expecting me with my daughter.”

"When I left Dom’s house that night, I was very confused. He’s the second person who came to me to talk about rats. Dom was an old timer and i respected him, but I was insulted. He’s supposed to warn me and tell me to keep my ears open. I know Dom was up there in age. Maybe I was taking things the wrong way."

The next event was the death of Dom’s wife.

“I tried to advocate for us to stop going to wakes. They are a field day for the government. Give the government less of an opportunity. They can tell a lot at wakes.”

John was a tireless advocate for doing everything humanly possible to stymie the Feds on every front. Going to wakes—funerals, weddings, all public events—was simply giving the Feds low-hanging fruit. Wakes etc. provided major opportunities to gather intelligence. The Feds turn the cameras on and observe, scrutinize, and evaluate. The guy who everyone greets first? He’s the boss – or at least, he’s the top wiseguy in the room in the moment. Who is talking to who, and who is not talking to who? And on it goes.

(John also said these greetings between wiseguys at wakes and other public events can be misleading. “Everyone is greeting each other, but then when you walk away from the group, they’re talking about you. People who don’t know better – who don’t understand that everyone hated each other—like these young guys who think they are joining a brotherhood. They’re mistaken.”)

“When I went to Dom’s wife’s wake, it was like I had the plague.”

John had been a top wiseguy in the Luchese family, earmarked for acting capo. He was a key player in shifting the Luchese family’s powerbase to Brooklyn from the Bronx. Mike DeSantis, acting boss, referred to John Pennisi as the future. And indeed John had felt he'd had a golden future sewn up with the Luchese family, before it all went to hell.

Next, we’ll focus on the shift to Brooklyn….