Ties Between Gambinos And Sicilian Cosa Nostra "Very Much Alive," Italian Police Say

The relationship between Gambino wiseguys in New York and members of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra is healthier than ever, Italian investigators announced earlier this week following a series of raids in the Sicilian hinterland that netted 11 Mafia members, who allegedly had been working very closely with the New York-based Gambino family.

Italian police and the FBI arrested 19 in large joint op
A joint Italian-FBI operation in 2019 focused on the Inzerillos and the Gambinos.

“The connection is very much alive — the New York Mafia still takes pride in its cultural roots in Sicily while ties to the US are a strong point for the Sicilians,” General Arturo Guarino, the Palermo Carabinieri commander, said.

Members of the Gambino family and members of the Sicilian Inzerillo clan, which was nearly exterminated in the 1980s during a bloody Mafia war, have had longtime historical ties.

This week's arrests centered on Mafia members based in the town of Torretta, which is outside Palermo. Italian police have not released much by way of detail. But some of the tidbits are fascinating.

Italian investigators noted, in 2018, Sicilian wiseguys hosted visiting Gambino wiseguy Ernest Grillo, who was put up in a villa during the sojourn, which included offerings of cocaine between business meetings with bosses of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra.

The Sicilians looked to leverage their relationship with Grillo a year later when Gambino underboss Francesco (Frank) Cali, 53, was gunned down outside his Staten Island home in March 2019.

The Sicilians feared that the hit would fuel a protracted mob war that would jeopardize the business interests of the two crime families. The Sicilians sent an affiliate to New York to liaise with Grillo and learn what he could about the Cali shooting (primarily, who was responsible and which Gambino wiseguy would fill the sudden vacancy). But within a day of the shooting, we learned that Cali hadn't been assassinated in a mob hit. Rather, he'd been shot to death by a disturbed twentysomething named Anthony Comello, a believer in QAnon conspiracy theories who was charged with the murder.

When the Sicilian's liaison returned to Palermo, he noted that there was “a climate of real tension in the US,” according to a statement the Italian police released this week.

General Guarino said: “Did he establish who the new Cali was? We can assume there are still connections. They were very worried it would hurt their business because Cali was the connection with Palermo.

“Palermo was looking to import drugs from South America and needed the help of New York since the route is now monopolized by the Italian ‘Ndrangheta mafia from Calabria.”

Gambino wiseguy Ernest Grillo flew to Sicily to meet with Cosa Nostra members.

In the late 1970s, Palermo's Inzerillo crime family partnered with the Gambino family to export heroin from Sicily to the United States. John Gambino and his brothers Joseph and Rosario, who were distant cousins of the family's founder, were the "face," or point men, of the massive ring that smuggled heroin into the United States via the Sicilian Mafia. A key member of the drug trafficking ring in Sicily was boss of Passo di Rigano, Salvatore Inzerillo, who was related to the Gambinos.

The 1985 Pizza Connection Case trial exposed how Mafia members in Sicily and America had teamed up to organize a major narcotics trafficking ring that sold heroin across America via pizza parlors. Prosecutors contended that the ring smuggled more than $1.6 billion of heroin from Sicilian laboratories around Palermo into the United States between 1975 and 1984. The drugs were distributed through a network of pizza parlors in the Northeast and Midwest, and the money laundered through banks and stockbrokers in New York, the Bahamas and Switzerland. 

Investigators again vigorously examined the Gambino-Inzerillo ties in 2019, when Sicilian and American wiseguys were busted as part of coordinated takedown efforts by Italian police and the FBI, which served 19 arrest warrants in Palermo and in the United States, specifically in Staten Island and Philadelphia. The operation, dubbed New Connection, was an attempt to disrupt efforts by a Sicilian Mafia faction (specifically, Inzerillo family members in Sicily and their New York allies in the Gambino crime family) to take over the leadership of organized crime in Italy.  

The Inzerillo and Gambino crime families were in the process of rebuilding their powerbase in Sicily.

“It is a significant operation with real [Mafia] people,” one former FBI supervisor was quoted saying in 2019. Italian news detailed charges that included extortion, fraud, “unfair competition," and Mafia association, which is a crime under Italian law.

Members who were arrested were revealed to have had their fingers in several pies, including wholesale food supplies, gambling, and online betting. Among the arrested in Sicily were Francesco and Tommaso Inzerillo, respectively the brother and cousin of Salvatore (Totuccio) Inzerillo, the clan boss murdered by the Corleonesi in the 1980s. Salvatore Gambino, the mayor of the Palermo town of Torretta was also arrested and accused of Mafia association.

Michael (Mickey Boy) Paradiso
Tough old bird Mickey Paradiso, who supposedly punched John Gotti in the face.

While we can't vouch for what the Sicilians learned about Cali's replacement, as per Gang Land News, which attributed the news to law enforcement sources, the Gambino family tapped capo Michael (Mickey Boy) Paradiso—who, legend has it, once punched John Gotti in the face—to join the administration. Paradiso was to "technically serve as the family's consigliere, or number three man in the family hierarchy...  alongside two powerful members of the family's Sicilian faction," Domenico (Italian Dom) Cefalu and Lorenzo Mannino.

Frank Cali, aka "Franky Boy," as he was known, was married to Pietro (Tall Pete) Inzerillo's sister, Rosaria (called Roseanne), who is related to the Inzerillo crime family in Sicily.

"Tall Pete," Michael (Mikie Scars) DiLeonardo once told us, "is of the bloodline of the Inzerillos of Sicily."

In the 1980s, Salvatore (Totò) Riina, boss of the Cosa Nostra Corleone faction, viewed the Inzerillo family and its alliance with the Gambinos as an obstacle to his seizure of total control of the Sicilian Mafia. He also was furious that the Inzerillos and allied families were making fortunes from their American drug business, which they weren't sharing with the Corleonesi.

One of Italy’s most feared mobsters, Riina inflicted a reign of terror in Italy for decades as the “boss of bosses” of the Sicilian mafia. Before Riina died in 2017, he was caught on wiretap saying he regretted nothing: “They’ll never break me, even if they give me 3,000 years,” he said. Nicknamed “the Beast” because of his cruelty, Riina was an unrepentant criminal who assassinated criminal rivals on an unprecedented scale in the 1980s and 1990s. He also targeted prosecutors, journalists, and judges who he thought stood in his way.

Riina was so low profile, the police reportedly had only a 30-year-old mugshot of the boss of bosses from Corleone during the many years they were investigating him.

Riina was finally arrested in 1993. He refused to cede his position as boss of bosses and sought to lead the Mafia from his prison cell. (Italian prosecutors say Riina's relentless efforts to retain control while in prison is why the Sicilian crime syndicate is today a shadow of what it was.)

The Second Mafia War lasted for years and saw upwards of a thousand Mafiosi killed. The Corleonesi lost very few soldiers. The list of the murdered included 21 members of Salvatore Inzerillo’s clan, among them Inzerillo’s 15-year-old son, Giuseppe, who was abducted and killed.

Then one of Salvatore’s brothers, Pietro, turned up in the trunk of a Cadillac in Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey: his lifeless body, hands bound behind his back, was wrapped in a plastic bag. Five one-dollar bills were stuffed into his mouth. (Another New Jersey-based Inzerillo, Antonio, disappeared prior, and has never been found.)

The Inzerillo mob family of Palermo earned the wistful moniker of: gli Scappati, the Runaways.

In 1983 Riina was on his way to exterminating the rival Inzerillo clan when their American relatives and associates — including members of the Gambino family — intervened on their behalf.

John Gambino "bravely" flew to Palermo from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to meet face to face with Toto Riina. According to John Dickie in Mafia Republic, Riina agreed to allow the Inzerillos to continue to live, but he had conditions. They could never return to Italy.

 It also seems likely that Pietro, the brother of the murdered Sicilian boss Salvatore Inzerillo, had been killed by or on the orders of his own relatives, other Inzerillo family members, as if he were sacrificed to appease Riina.* The dollar bills symbolized the overwhelming greed that Riina had assigned to the Inzerillos, who didn't share any of the profits from their drug trafficking network with the Corleonesi. Antonio's disappearance also likely could be attributed to the Inzerillos.

John Gambino
John Gambino stood up for his family.

In 2003, the runaways began to return. Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, his successor and lifelong Corleone paesano, were both serving life terms in Italy. The repatriation opened up a major debate within Cosa Nostra. Salvatore Lo Piccolo voiced his support for the family, sensing the potential for an alliance that would make him even more powerful. On the other end of the scale was Antonio Rotolo, a Totò Riina loyalist who forbid the return, fearing vendetta. Bernardo Provenzano was somewhat inexplicably both for and against the return of the Inzerillo. It seems that the Inzerillos simply returned and nothing happened, no obvious resumption of hostilities.

At the same time, some anti-mafia officials suggested that the Corleone faction had likely agreed to allow the Inzerillo family to return in exchange for a share of the new business opportunities between Palermo mafia factions and the American Gambino family. According to these sources, such an agreement would act as a unifying force to strengthen the mafia and would most likely prevent a new mafia war. La Repubblica asserted that the return of the Inzerillo family could indicate an agreement between their enemy, the Corleone faction, and their allies, the Gambino and Lo Piccolo families, in exchange for access to the United States. As evidence of this, La Repubblica cited numerous meetings in the years after the repatriation between Sicilians and a member of the Gambino crime family known to be close to the Inzerillo family.

In 2007, Anti-Mafia Commission member Carlo Vizzini said that the return of the Inzerillo family indicated a rapprochement (or harmony) between the Gambino family of New York and the Mafia families in Palermo, with the strongest relationship being that between the Gambino and Lo Piccolo families.

Sicilian mobsters apparently grasped the massive potential financial coup that would result from business prospects between the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and their American cousins, the New York Mafia.

The Sicilian Cosa Nostra, at the time, was "undergoing a liquidity crisis and had lost their leadership position on the International crime scene." But then the Sicilians rediscovered America "so they sent their most trusted members to the USA.

"They sent them to the court of Francesco Paolo Augusto Cali, son of the shopkeeper in Ballarò."

* The Italians solved the New Jersey Inzerillo murders later via wiretaps on Sicilian mobster and Corleonesi ally Antonio Rotolo. The murders did involve an Inzerillo double cross to appease Riina. Tommaso Inzerillo betrayed his cousin Pietro Inzerillo. It was a "favor" done for the Corleonesi to save his own skin. "He shot his cousin" ...

On February 7, 2008, Repubblica reported: "Italian police have discovered who killed two bosses of the 'old guard' who lived in the U. S. A. One of the deceased was Antonino Inzerillo, who was killed with a sawn-off shotgun in the winter of 1981. The other was Pietro Inzerillo whose corpse was found on 15 January 1981 in the trunk of an abandoned automobile in front of the Hilton Hotel of Mont Laurel in New Jersey. He had a 5-dollar note in his mouth, and a two-dollar note on his genitals.

"The contracts on the two men were put out by the Corleonesi. To kill then they used two 'guides' from the Inzerillo-Gambino families: it was they who led their relatives into a trap.

"The investigation into the links between the Sicilian and U. S mafia revealed that it was Tommaso Inzerillo who betrayed his cousin Pietro Inzerillo. He was also a cousin of the boss Salvatore who was killed in Palermo in Via Brunelleschi. It emerged from surveillance interceptions that Tommaso Inzerillo "had helped in the situation... that guy they found in the trunk". It was a "favor" done for the Corleonesi to save his own skin. "He shot his cousin" Antonio Rotolo disclosed in a conversation to his accomplices which hidden surveillance microphones picked up.

"There was another mafia traitor within the ranks of the Inzerillo family: Filippo Casamento. At the time he was lieutenant in the Boccadifalco 'family' of Palermo. Once again surveillance bugs placed in the garage of Antonino Rotolo helped police put the pieces of the puzzle together; Casamento had "done a favor" for Toto Riina. He too, then, had collaborated in planning the homicide of Pietro Inzerillo.

"To slay Antonino Inzerillo the Corleonesi clan hired instead Tommaso Inzerillo as the "inside" man. He was the same person who had led his cousin into the trap in which his cousin ended up dead in the trunk of an automobile in New Jersey."