In The Grim Reaper's Shadow: Revisiting Colombo Pre-War History

"We whacked Tommy Ocera. We gave him a luparo bianco."
Colombo acting boss Vic Orena in discussion with Luchese acting boss Al D'Arco at a December 1989 dinner meeting of Colombo and Luchese family leaders, as per D'Arco testimony.

Greg Scarpa
Greg Scarpa surveillance image.

Attorneys for Victor (Little Vic) Orena say they have uncovered never-before-revealed evidence that will blow the lid off the case -- or rather, the door off Orena's prison cell at FMC Devens.

As we recently noted, they claim they can't reveal details of this evidence because it could lead to people getting killed. How else are we to interpret the words of Orena attorney David Schoen about the evidence being “unbelievably shocking” and possibly dangerous if revealed publicly?

Once again and possibly for the final time, Vic Orena, 86–the former Colombo acting boss who had visions of cementing his position permanently atop the crime family and is today wheelchair-bound and suffering from dementia—will appeal his life sentences. Orena needs to be completely resentenced because of a legal technicality related to a minor gun charge, and his lawyers are hoping to use the opportunity before a judge to successfully press for his release. This is courtesy of a Daily News report by Noah Goldberg.
Orena's lawyers said they hope to get Vic out by arguing he has been reformed. They also will present the evidence, which they say includes previously unreported government misconduct related to the murder of Colombo wiseguy Thomas Ocera, which ostensibly had nothing whatsoever to do with the early 1990s third Colombo war. The Ocera murder was the top charge in the case against Orena, who was convicted in December 1992 and sent away to serve multiple life sentences.

The new evidence also has something to do with a top-echelon confidential informant—and would seem to have the name of Gregory Scarpa—the murderous, double-dealing top-echelon FBI informant who died in prison in 1994—written all over it. (Scarpa's name is written all over it.....As our favorite Yankees catcher once said, "It's deja vu all over again.")

Allegations about an improper and murderous relationship between Scarpa and FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio surfaced in Federal criminal proceedings against Orena as they did in many other proceedings. One investigator involved in the Orena-DeVeccio case has said that 20 or more mob-related convictions resulted from information attributed to Scarpa.

“Almost all the Colombo war convictions hinged on testimony that originated directly or indirectly from Greg Scarpa Sr.,” said Stephen Dresch, an independent consultant who spent years investigating links between DeVecchio and Scarpa Sr.. 

“Everything from 1980 that involved Greg Scarpa is potentially fair game here.”

Nicky Black Grancio's murder triggered the internal FBI investigation into the relationship between Scarpa and DeVecchio. The probe's inconclusive findings led federal authorities to decline to prosecute DeVecchio. Then in 2006, a Brooklyn grand jury indicted DeVecchio on four counts of aiding and abetting Scarpa in connection with four murders, not including Grancio's. The State dropped the charges after the chief witness, Linda Schiro, unexpectedly changed her story.

In 1997, Orena sought to have his murder conviction overturned on the grounds that DeVeccio and Scarpa -- not Orena -- had conspired to kill Ocera. Orena argued that the prosecution's failure to disclose the relationship between DeVecchio and Scarpa violated Brady v. Maryland.

Judge Weinstein held that the prosecution should have disclosed the connection, but that its failure to do so "had no discernable effect on the criminal activities of [Orena and his co-defendant] or on their trials."

Orena mounted another collateral attack in 2004 when he sought a motion for relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure. He alleged then that newly discovered evidence supported his claim that Scarpa and DeVecchio were responsible for Ocera's murder.

At a hearing before Judge Weinstein, Orena counsel Flora Edwards called Scarpa protégé Larry Mazza as a witness. Mazza testified that on January 7, 1992, he, Scarpa and James Delmasto were surveilling a social club that belonged to members of the Orena faction and "ultimately ... spotted Nicky Black. During the surveillance, Mazza observed Scarpa "[t]ake a cell phone" and make "several calls." Mazza did not know who Scarpa was calling. Mazza further testified that they later learned that Grancio had been under police surveillance, but that "[a]t that moment in time we didn't know."

On cross-examination, Mazza testified that they were not expecting to come across Grancio, but that once he arrived at the club, "a plan was immediately put in place to try to kill him." He also clarified that the phone calls he referred to on direct examination took place before Grancio arrived:

Q. And from the moment you first saw Mr. Grancio till the moment he was killed, there was no time to make any phone calls, correct?

A. No there wasn't. No, right.

Edwards then attempted to impeach her own witness by eliciting testimony from Stephen Dresch, a self-described "independent consultant and independent scholar" with a Ph.D. in economics, who spent years investigating links between DeVecchio and Scarpa Sr.

Dresch had interviewed Mazza in 2003 in connection with an investigation into "official misconduct" by the FBI and summarized the interview as follows:

[Mazza told me that] members of the Scarpa crew, including Greg Scarpa and Mr. Mazza himself, had gone to eliminate, terminate, murder Mr. Grancio. When they arrived where they expected to find Grancio ..., they apparently determined that he was in fact, you know, at that location, but they also observed that he was under surveillance, and that Greg, meaning Mr. Scarpa Sr., had become very upset at discovering the surveillance....

Mr. Scarpa became upset and immediately called, and I don't recall exactly how Mr. Mazza characterized this, either his law enforcement source or his girlfriend, I think the term "girlfriend" was used. But it was very clear it was someone in law enforcement.... [Scarpa] essentially ordered, demanded that the surveillance team be withdrawn from the location, the surveillance of Grancio....

[R]elatively shortly after this telephone conversation, between Scarpa and this law enforcement source they returned to the scene, discovered that the surveillance had been terminated, and that they proceeded to terminate Mr. Grancio.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Weinstein stated that in light of Mazza’s testimony, Dresch's testimony had "[z]ero probative force.”

"What [Mazza] says to Dresch according to Dresch does not seem to be of any weight.... His testimony was nugatory on the issues before me. I have the direct witness. I don't want hearsay."

Scarpa died in prison in 1994, and DeVecchio has adamantly denied he helped the mobster.

The Feds have argued from the time of the convictions that what happened to Ocera is this:

In 1989, Orena directed subordinates to murder Ocera. One of these subordinates was Scarpa, who would, two years later find himself opposed to Orena in the Colombo War.

In the early fall of 1989, Ocera and his girlfriend were stalked by Orena shooters.

On November 13, 1989 in the Merrick, Long Island home of Colombo capo Patty Amato, Ocera was murdered. Ocera "disappeared" into a shallow grave on Orena's order.

As per testimony at Orena's trial, Orena had a number of motives to kill Ocera.

Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano testified that one major reason for the murder was to please John Gotti, Gambino boss. At the time, many mob figures believed Ocera was responsible for the murder of Greg Reiter, the son of a close Gotti associate. John Gotti most definitely believed Ocera was the culprit and was known to be "ripping mad" at Ocera for the hit, according to Gravano.

Gravano was present one day when Orena visited Gotti at the Ravenite Social Club. Gravano observed that, prior to Orena's arrival, Gotti seemed agitated. After Orena arrived and conversed privately with Gotti, Gotti appeared calmer. Gotti later reported to Gravano that "they whacked that Tommy Ocera."

D'Arco's testimony corroborated Gravano's as to this motive. At a December 1989 dinner for Colombo and Lucchese bosses, Orena boasted to D'Arco that he had had Ocera "whacked," as a favor to Gotti because Ocera had killed Reiter.

Another motive may have been to punish Ocera for skimming money from Orena's money lending business. This would communicate to others what would happen to them if they did the same.

Orena's primary motive, however, was to silence Ocera after he put Orena in jeopardy.

On October 5, 1989, Suffolk County police executed a search warrant at the Ocera-operated Manor Restaurant in Merrick, New York. The search resulted in the seizure of Ocera's loansharking records. Orena had been using the Manor on Monday nights as a regular meeting place, and the seized records implicated Orena.

Ocera's girlfriend, Diane Montesano, testified that about four days after the seizure of the loansharking records, Ocera tried unsuccessfully to retrieve them. He had Montesano go to the police station to ask for them. When Montesano failed to bring back all the records, Ocera became despondent. In an effort to blunt his anxiety, Ocera uncharacteristically got drunk, rapidly downing four or five martinis.

Montesano had to leave him at her house so that he could sleep it off.

Later that day, two of Orena's sons paid an unexpected visit to the Manor in search of Ocera. After checking with Ocera, who said it was okay, Montesano brought them to her house to see him.

Later that month, Montesano and Ocera were followed as they left the Manor.

Montesano, as was customary, took home that night's proceeds, and Ocera intended to follow her to make sure she arrived safely. Departing the restaurant, Montesano noticed two cars without license plates parked at the railway station across from the Manor. Ocera watched her enter her car and leave.

Later, when Montesano approached her house, one of the cars she had noticed earlier appeared and veered directly at her, head-on. She managed to avoid a collision, and the car disappeared. Montesano made out the profile of one of the drivers, testifying that it might have been Gregory Scarpa.

Vic Orena
Prison put the period at the end of Vic Orena's Mafia career.

The following night, Orena appeared at the Manor and told her that he heard she was a good driver and that she had "done a great job the night before."

Weeks later, in mid-November, Ocera was murdered.

Testimony directly linked Orena to the crime. Harry Bonfiglio testified that Gioachino (Jack) Leale, a Colombo soldier in Amato's crew, told him that Orena ordered Ocera murdered.

Michael Maffatore and Bonfiglio had driven Leale to a meeting with Orena outside of Orena's club in Cedarhurst, New York. Remaining in the car, they observed Leale and Orena go on a "walk-talk" Mafia parlance for a conversation held while walking outdoors in order to avoid audio-surveillance. When Orena and Leale approached the car, Bonfiglio overheard Orena tell Leale that he wanted "this thing taken care of." At first, Bonfiglio did not understand the reference, but Leale later told Maffatore and Bonfiglio that Orena had given him a contract to "whack" Ocera. Leale's participation in the murder did not go unrewarded. The next day November 14, 1989 Leale was "given" Ocera's two gambling clubs, in keeping with Mafia practice. After a "made-member" of a family dies, his criminal enterprises revert to the family for redistribution.

Slightly less than two years after the killing, Maffatore agreed to cooperate with the F.B.I.

Although he did not participate directly in the murder, he admitted that he and Bonfiglio dug Ocera's grave on the night of November 13, 1989. Using directions provided by Maffatore, F.B.I. agents found and exhumed Ocera's body in Forest Park, Queens. The metal wire described by Orena's underlings as having been used to strangle the loanshark was still around his neck. The method of killing and disappearance of the body so the victim and his mourners would be denied the dignity of a funeral and formal burial (and the widow, life insurance proceeds) was one chosen by Orena.

Arrest warrants were issued for Bonfiglio, Leale, and two other participants in the burial. Leale was not apprehended. Four weeks later, he was found shot to death in a Long Island hotel parking lot.

Maffatore's and Bonfiglio's testimony linking Orena to Ocera's murder was supported by other evidence. D'Arco testified that at the December 1989 dinner meeting of the Colombo and Lucchese Family leadership, Orena admitted to D'Arco that he had ordered the murder. 

Orena bragged that "we whacked Tommy Ocera. We gave him a luparo bianco," meaning that they made his body disappear.

The Ocera murder was unrelated to the war, according to court papers.

As per evidence presented at Orena's trial, in early 1991 Carmine Persico announced that his son Allie Boy, upon his release from prison in June 1993, would become boss of the Colombos. The announcement raised tensions between family members loyal to Orena and those loyal to Persico.

Orena suggested that Colombo consigliere Carmine Sessa disparage Persico to Colombo captains. Specifically, Orena told Sessa to call Persico a "rat" who should be "knocked down."

Sessa reported Orena's slur to Allie Boy's brother, and Colombo captain, Teddy Persico.

Upon learning of Sessa's disloyalty, Orena planned to kill him at a "making" ceremony for new Mafia members.

In an attempt to build support on the Commission for his moves, Orena launched a campaign to destroy Carmine Persico, calling him a "rat" because Persico had violated the prohibition against admitting the existence of the Mafia code of omertá. He also criticized Persico for providing information to a New York Daily News journalist and for talking to a reporter with CBS's 60 Minutes about appearing on that show.

According to Gravano, these accusations were the sort that would lead the Commission to label Persico "no better than an informer," a black mark in mob circles that was also fatal.

D'Arco and Gravano testified that Orena approached them with a request for assistance in murdering Scarpa, who Orena suspected was fiercely loyal to Persico.

D'Arco was unwilling to provide such assistance without permission from Luchese boss Vic Amuso and underboss Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso, both of whom were fugitives at the time. Gravano was, on Gotti's instructions, to assist Orena. Therefore, his crew monitored Scarpa and was prepared to kill him. They never followed through, however, because Orena retracted his request, having decided that having another family eliminate Scarpa would not look good for him as the boss.

The third Colombo war began in earnest after Carmine Sessa and others made a move against Vic. They waited in a car outside Orena's home on the night of June 20, 1991. Orena spotted them and drove off unharmed.