The Real Sopranos: New Book Details Probe Into DeCavalcante Capo Charlie (The Hat) Stango, Others

Just in time for the upcoming debut of the Many Saints of Newark, the theatrical prequel to the Sopranos television series, comes a new book about New Jersey’s only homegrown Mafia family, the DeCavalcantes, which many (including some DeCavalcante wiseguys) believe inspired David Chase’s acclaimed HBO series.

Charlie the Hat Stango and his son "Whitey."
Charlie the Hat Stango and son "Whitey."

Giovanni’s Ring: My Life Inside the Real Sopranos was written by Giovanni Rocco (the name is a pseudonym) and Douglas Schofield, a criminal trial lawyer and author. The G-man worked undercover as Giovanni Gatto, a pinky ring-wearing outlaw biker-turned-wannabe wiseguy who cozied up to an assortment of unsavory underworld characters during his three-year infiltration of the New Jersey crime family. During the probe, he made extensive surveillance recordings, including catching on tape a capo ordering the murder of a rival. 

By the end of it, 10 mobsters and associates were pinched for multiple crimes in 2015. The key target in the case was capo Charles (Charlie The Hat) Stango, 78, also known as Beeps, who ran his New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crew (with the help of son Anthony [Whitey] Stango) from a $180,000 two-story house in Henderson, Nevada, a town outside Las Vegas, where he lived with longtime girlfriend Patricia. Stango settled in Southern Nevada after his 2012 release from Federal prison, where he had served a nine-year bid that resulted from his conviction in a DeCavalante family racketeering scheme that also included murder charges. Stango was still on supervised release for earlier crimes when the FBI nabbed him in 2015. 

Charlie the Hat was a solid street guy from Elizabeth, according to Rocco's writing; he was considered an eager up-and-comer who put his back into it. He was willing to do anything the bosses wanted, up to and including you-know-what. Stango cultivated a string of felonies. In 1980, while still an associate, Stango and accomplices Ray Tango and Lou Pasquarosa killed Billy Mann, another associate, shooting him multiple times after luring him to the Newark Airport Sheraton.

Operation Charlie Horse, as the FBI called it, demonstrated that the DeCavalcante family—which has been around for more than 100 years—was once again under the thumb of the Gambino family as it previously was during the reigns of Carlo Gambino and John Gotti.

The case included a plethora of transcripts of dialogue that easily could’ve been purloined from a Sopranos script. Many of the transcripts had to do with Stango talking about hated rival Luigi (Dog) Oliveri, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, who many family members had issues with. Oliveri had a remarkable ability to irritate whoever was around him, old-time wiseguys especially. He certainly didn't win over any allies when he mocked veteran DeCavalcante wiseguy Joseph (Tin Ear) Sclafani, poking him in the belly.

“The Dog was aptly named,” Rocco writes (by way of the New York Post). “He looked like a soup sandwich—overweight, droopy eyelids, and sloppily dressed in a wrinkled baby-blue shirt, faded jeans, and a scruffy cloth cap.”

As per Gang Land News sources, the family’s boss during Operation Charlie Horse, John Riggi, who assumed control of the family decades earlier after Sam (The Plumber) DeCavalcante chose him as his successor, infuriated many when he inducted Oliveri into the family. (Riggi died in 2015 at ago 90, a few months after surviving what many thought would be a life sentence. See our story John Riggi, Mafia's "Last Legitimate Boss.")

As per the complaint, Stango’s “beef” was that Oliveri was “made by other leaders of the DCF (DeCavalcante Family).” Stango also was furious because Oliveri had made a move to claim the UC as a member of his crew. (As with Donnie Brasco, greedy rival wiseguys were once again feuding over a new associate who was an undercover FBI agent.)

In one violent rant, Stango said Oliveri was “out of control” and “had to meet death.” Stango told Gatto, “you gotta maim him, or you just gotta put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life or somebody’s gotta get a f**kin’ jar of acid and throw it in his f**kin’ face.” After initially waffling over whether he truly wanted the rival dead, Stango then confirmed that Oliveri badly needed killing. Stango trusted the agent enough to discuss the hit with him, agreeing that he should hire “two members of an outlaw motorcycle gang” to kill the victim. Stango said each hit-team member should be paid $25,000, which they could use to spend whatever time they needed to determine the best location to whack him. Charlie The Hat also gave the agent “two copies of a photograph of (Oliveri) so that the assassins could mark their target” and “assured the UC that other high-ranking members” of the crime family “also wanted to kill” Dog and “would support the decision” to whack him.

The FBI closed down Operation Charlie Horse about three months after Stango first issued the order.

In 2016, Stango copped to the murder-for-hire plot, accepting a plea agreement that called for 10 years in prison. The Feds also agreed to drop the other charges. Some of Stango’s cohorts in the case took guilty pleas. Prosecutors quietly dropped all charges against consigliere Frank (Shipe) Nigro and longtime associate Paul (Knuckles) Colella, who were initially charged as Stango's accomplices in the Oliveri murder plot.

Stango is now locked up at a Federal penitentiary in Jesup, Georgia, with a March 21, 2024, release date.

As for Rocco, he went into hiding after Stango was arrested. He and his family are in witness protection living under assumed names. (FBI agents going into the program supposedly happens rarely.) He has retired from the FBI and has only limited contact with friends and extended family members.

Meanwhile, the DeCavalcante family today is being run by Charlie (Big Ears) Majuri, though the Gambinos are calling the shots for the New Jersey borghata.

Giovanni’s Ring

We recently purchased the book and saw a disclaimer that some names have been changed. We also didn’t see the usual pages of footnotes in the back. We had concerns, but we were able to contact Giovanni’s Ring coauthor Douglas Schofield, a criminal trial lawyer and the author of several novels, and he clarified some things for us via email:

“As with all such books by former FBI operatives, the manuscript had to be submitted to the Bureau’s pre-publication unit for review. Certain names were changed at their behest, and the reasons for those changes varied. Naturally, we complied. Apart from certain changes to protect identities, no part of this story is fictionalized. This is Giovanni’s narrative of his lived experience, related by him.

“There are in fact footnotes, here and there, expanding slightly on certain aspects of the text. Other than that, there was no need. This book is not based on me researching extensively and interviewing widely. It is Giovanni’s personal account, related to me by the man himself. We spent many days together, on different occasions and in different locations, and those sessions were devoted solely to him telling his story. Everything he told me was supported by FBI 302s and actual recordings to which he had access. Any conversations with targets that he relates in the book are extracts from those recordings. Some, of course, were edited to eliminate the usual off-topic meanderings that feature in everyday discussion. I note that Jack Garcia (whom Giovanni also knows) didn’t use footnotes in Making Jack Falcone.”

As for the DeCavalcante family being the inspiration for The Sopranos, we've noted that the DeCavalcantes themselves bolster the comparison by seeing themselves in the show.

Several DeCavalcante wiseguys were secretly recorded on March 3, 1999, by family associate turned informant Ralph (Ralphie O) Guarino.

Joseph (Tin Ear) Sclafani: Hey, what’s this f****** thing, “Sopranos?” What the f*** are they . . .

Guarino: You ever watch it?

Sclafani: Is that supposed to be us?

Rotondo: You’re in there.

Guarino: (Laughs)

Anthony Rotondo: They mentioned your name in there. (Rotondo also became a cooperator.)

Sclafani: Yeah, what did they say?

Brooklyn club owner Billy: “Watch out for that guy,” they said. “Watch that guy.”

Rotondo: Every show you watch, every show you watch, more and more you pick somebody. Every show … One week it was Corky (DeCavalcante member Gaetano Vastola). One week it, from the beginning, it was . . . Don Giacomino.

Later, Sclafani: Yeah, but where do they get this information from?

Rotondo: Ah, where?

Billy: Joey, there’s somebody close to you there, Joe.

Richie the Boot Boiardo, NJ-based Genovese capo in 1969.

The Sopranos is based on New Jersey's DeCavalcante crime family has been written so many times, most probably agree. Fictional New York mob boss Carmine Lupertazzi once described the Sopranos crime family (technically, the DiMeo crime family, after Domenico Ercole DiMeo) like this:  

"They are not a family; they're a glorified crew.

Watchers of real life mobsters know that such charges were actually levied against the DeCavalcantes.

There is a logical assumption behind the notion about the acclaimed HBO series: The DeCavalcante crime family is based in New Jersey as is the fictional Sopranos crime family...

The only problem with the theory that the DeCavalcantes inspired The Sopranos is that show creator David Chase himself has said that the Sopranos was actually inspired by Ruggiero (Richie the Boot) Boiardo and his New Jersey-based Genovese family crew. (The Boot also is believed by some to have been the model for Don Vito Corleone, the fictional character in Mario Puzo's The Godfather.)

""Ninety percent of the show is made up. But it's patterned on this family," meaning Boiardo’s Genovese family crew, Chase told journalist Elizabeth Primamore for a story published in the April 2002 issue of New Jersey Monthly, which is not available online (this Facebook post references it. This City Journal article posted on April 4, 2007, includes many details from the 2002 Chase interview.)

Chase—actual surname DeCesare—noted that when he was a child, his family often visited relatives in Newark, including a cousin who Chase knew had "fuzzy connections to a prominent mob family in Livingston," which is where the Boot lived in his custom-built mansion, which included iron gates, a vegetable patch, and supposedly an oven large enough to burn bodies....

Boiardo, in the 1960s and 70s, was a ruthless mobster who operated out of Newark. He was thought to be a mob boss by just about everyone (other than members of Cosa Nostra, the FBI, and certain folks in the know who knew he was one of many capos in one of New York's Five Families.) He had his finger in every pie imaginable at the time: gambling, loansharking, politics, labor unions, even Democratic Mayor Hugh J. Addonizio, for a while.....

The following details are from In the Godfather Garden: The Long Life and Times of Richie "the Boot" Boiardo: Boiardo, an orphan born in Italy who was adopted and brought to America by the Boiardo family. Eventually, he landed in Newark when he decided to embark on a life of crime. He became a bootlegger and joined a gang led by the Mazzocchi brothers. Boiardo split from the Mazzocchis in 1928 and started to build his empire.

By 1930 Boiardo faced two prominent rivals in Newark, New Jersey, Longy Zwillman and Stefano Badami and their respective criminal organizations. The rivalry led to Boiardo's near fatal shooting in 1930. Genovese turncoat Joe Valachi confessed he was involved in the attempt on the Boot, at the urging of Badami.

The disbanding of the Newark Family in the late 1930s allowed Boiardo to finally truly expand his rackets and grow rich. He moved to a palatial home in Livingstone, which was likened to a castle. Life magazine described its architectural style as "Transylvanian traditional," and noted that the domicile featured the busts of Romans, which were positioned all over the grounds. The residence also supposedly contained a rather large furnace.... speculation has it that that was where the bodies, quite literally, were burned.

Boiardo was inducted into the Genovese family in 1946, and was promoted to capo sometime after Willie Morretti’s murder in 1951 at Joe’s Elbow Room in Cliffside Park.  During the 1950-60s, his interests included a Havana casino.

Among The Boot's longtime confidents were mobsters John "Big Pussy" Russo and brother Anthony "Little Pussy" Russo. Richie the Boot's son was named Anthony "Tony Boy" Boiardo.

Boiardo was still operating the crew throughout the 1970s. When he needed some assistance, he had Tony Boy to call on -- until  April 1978, when Tony Boy Boiardo died of heart illness at age 60 while awaiting trial for extortion and income‐tax evasion involving the shake down of city contractors.

After yet another trial in 1981, The Boot, 90, retired. Boiardo died in 1984 of a heart attack. 

Anthony Russo  (Little Pussy)

The Boot and his crew embraced violence, disposed of enemies without hesitance, and delighted in rehashing old war stories.

In one FBI surveillance tape, Tony Boy, Boiardo's son, described how The Boot dispatched a rival: “The Boot hit him with a hammer. The guy goes down and he comes up. So I got a crowbar this big. . . . Eight shots in the head. What do you think he finally did to me? He spit at me.”

In another tape, the mobsters gleefully recall locking a guy in a car trunk and then setting the car afire.

By 1988, the last of Boiardo's original crew members were quietly dying off when one of them accidentally stumbled into something unbelievable...

Retired undercover New Jersey state trooper Mike Russell* was driving through Newark when he suddenly spotted some men viciously beating an elderly man (or whatever). The former cop leapt into the fight and battled with the attackers. Afterward, the grateful old man invited Russell to join him for a drink at a dive bar near Newark's statue of Christopher Columbus.

Russell soon enough learned that the old man he was drinking with was Andy Gerard, the Genovese family capo who was running the remains of the Boiardo crew.

Russell and Andy became friendly, and HBO's Confessions Of An Undercover Cop was born.....

*  In 2013, Russell told his larger story—about how he infiltrated the mob and brought down dozens of wiseguys after getting shot in the head with a .32—in Undercover Cop: How I Brought Down the Real-Life Sopranos.

The thing to keep in mind about Russell is that you can't take his story at face value. 

"Some important facts are at best stretched, at worst fabricated," as the New Jersey Star Ledger noted of his memoir.

For example: Mike Russell was never employed as a New Jersey state trooper, according to State Police Sgt. Brian Polite. That doesn't mean he didn't work with, or for, the State Police in some capacity, but he was never a trooper as he claims on Page 3 of his book. Nor was he ever a Newark cop, according to Newark Sgt. Ron Glover, as Russell claims to have been on Page 86.

Russell, in a phone interview from his home in Florida, told the Ledger that the real story is about him and the mob, not the agency he worked for.... Read more about this here....