The Mob's Underground Railroad: How Allie Boy Persico Survived On The Lam For Seven Years

In 1987, reputed Colombo boss Carmine Persico knew that, short of his lawyers one day cooking up a miracle, he would in all likelihood be spending the rest of his life in prison. He had been convicted in  two separate trials: the Mafia Commission trial and a separate racketeering trial involving the Colombo family's operations. (Persico died in 2019 at age 85 after serving 32 years of that 136-year prison sentence following his two convictions.)

Allie Boy Persico was on the run for seven years.

The cases were separate, but overlapped, the common denominator being FBI surveillance recordings of Colombo soldier Ralph Scopo’s conversations, which alerted the Feds to the initial evidence that would help them build the Commission Case. Scopo was the bagman in a large-scale ongoing racket involving shaking down concrete contractors at major construction projects. As the president of the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council of the Laborers' International Union of North America from 1977 to April 1985, Scopo used his position to extort money from cement contractors in New York in return for large construction contracts and labor peace. Contracts between $2 million and $15 million were reserved for contractors who belonged to the Mafia Commission-selected "Concrete Club." In return for membership in the club, the contractors gave the Commission a kickback worth 2% of the contract's value.

Carmine’s first choice for acting boss to supervise the family in his absence was his older brother, Alphonse, the original Allie Boy. But when Carmine went away following one of his 1970s convictions, his brother's reign lasted only a few months. Allie Boy, who was officially the crime family's underboss, lammed it to avoid a potentially long prison sentence for a 1980 extortion conviction. 

Specifically, Allie Boy Persico was convicted on May 1, 1980, of using force and its threat to collect $10,000, which he lent at a weekly interest of 2%. He was facing 60 years for the loan sharking conviction. 

He was on the run for seven years.

He vanished on June 23, 1980, avoiding the presentencing hearing before Chief Judge Jack B. Weinstein in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. (The New York Times later reported that "By failing to appear for the presentencing hearing in June 1980, [Allie Boy] forfeited $250,000 in bail. It meant that the homes of Mr. Persico and his brother, Carmine, in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn, became Government property.")

How they caught him: Federal law-enforcement officials finally focused their search and combed Connecticut's DMV databases, locating two of Persico's aliases. They also heard from ''tipsters'' that he was in West Hartford. Carrying photographs of Persico, deputy marshals canvassed West Hartford and found several people who ''thought they recognized" the fugitive wiseguy.

Persico was arrested alone while cooking sauce in November 1987 at around 5:30 pm by seven deputy United States marshals at an apartment building in West Hartford. Allie Boy had around $7,000 in cash when he was taken into custody. (They reportedly couldn't link him to any type of employment that could explain the source of the money.) Persico had been considered armed and dangerous and was known to travel with armed guards, but he did not resist arrest and was not armed.

Mike Pizzi, who led the seven-year effort to capture Allie Boy, recounts the capture from a high level in Mike Pizzi U.S. Marshal Adapt and Overcome.

Finally Facing the Music

In December 1987, Allie Boy was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his 1980 conviction. He died of cancer of the larynx at age 61 in September 1989 at the medical center for Federal prisoners in Springfield, Mo.

As for how Allie Boy survived on the lam, Persico alleged he had only $60,000 on him when he skipped out--plus his aliases, "Al Longo" and "Anthony Perri." He reportedly posed as a retired accountant and/or a rug dealer.

Brothers Carmine, Theodore, and Alphonse Persico
Persico brothers from left: Carmine, Theodore, and Alphonse. 

According to a UPI report, a probation department memo, which was confirmed by Edward McDonald, the chief of Brooklyn's Organized Crime Strike Force, said that Allie Boy had found refuge via the Patriarca crime family's "underground railroad," which had supplied him with funds and phony identification papers.

Among his many other roles, William (Billy the Wild Man) Grasso ran a sanctuary for fugitive wiseguys and associates in the 1980s.
When Allie Boy Persico went on the lam, he "lived for years under Grasso's protection in a West Hartford apartment," the Hartford Courant reported in 2014 in The Mob In Connecticut: Grasso's Reign Of Terror, which was based on newly released FBI files.

Salvatore (Mickey) Caruana also was given protection by Grasso in the1980s. He was the Patriarca family's principal marijuana smuggler and fled in 1983, following his indictment for distributing $173 million of marijuana. He went missing in 1984 and is believed to have been murdered.

The sanctuary operation relied on two Grasso associates. First, Grasso had a guy inside the state Department of Motor Vehicles who was able to make phony identifications. Then, Hartford area restaurateur William (The Hot Dog) Grant, whom Grasso had put in charge of much of the gambling in Hartford, arranged apartments from a principal in one of the state's largest real estate companies. Grant disappeared in May 1988.

Before Grasso lured him away (as part of a takeover attempt, Grasso ensured an alliance with Grant by "buying" his debt to the Genovese family), Grant had been a loyalist to Genovese capo Frank (Skyballs) Scibelli, who controlled Springfield for the Genovese crime family. Grasso had recruited both Grant and John (Sonny) Castagna, a Hartford gangster who would later flip and join the Justice Department's witness relocation program.

Not long after Grasso's 1973 return to Connecticut from a prison in Atlanta (where he had gotten his "big break" when he shared a cell with Raymond Patriarca Senior), he embarked on a spree, seizing chunks of Connecticut and pushing into Western Massachusetts and toward Springfield for the Patriarca family. At the same time, wiseguys in those places who posed rivalries to the Patriarca family (and/or Grasso) began getting shot, blown up, or vanished off the face of the earth.

According to an FBI affidavit, "since the disappearance of Salvatore Annunziato and the gangland murders of Ralph 'Whitey' Tropiano and Frank Piccolo, Grasso has been able to absorb a number of the interests of the deceased (or missing) individuals."

Salvatore (Midge Renault) Annunziato, 59, was the portly longtime capo for the Genovese crime family who oversaw rackets in Connecticut. A former boxer—Midge Renault was his ring name—Annunziato was last seen getting into a car with Tommy Vastano, his driver, to head to a meeting with Grasso. In the months prior to his disappearance, Annunziato supposedly had robbed some of Grasso’s gambling dens.

Whitey Tropiano, 67, was the longtime capo in the Colombo family (he was bumped up around the time when the Profaci family was being renamed) who operated in Connecticut. Tropiano was gunned down in April 3, 1980, in Brooklyn by masked assailants as he was seeking to make a comeback that put him head to head with his onetime protégé, Grasso. A reputed hitter for the dreaded Murder, Inc., the mob's enforcement wing in the 1930s, in his early years, Whitey had put Grasso in charge of his New Haven gambling operations in the 1960s.

Frank (Frankie Cigars) Piccolo (aka The Attorney) was 58 when on September 19, 1981, the Gambino crime family’s longtime Connecticut capo was gunned down outside a telephone booth. Prior, Piccolo had been encroaching on the Genovese crime family's territory in Bridgeport and New Haven. When slain, he was also facing trial for extorting Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton.

Grasso became Patriarca underboss in 1984. Many in the FBI as well as the mob believed Grasso was de facto boss rather than Raymond (Junior) Patriarca, who reached the top after his father died from a fatal heart attack in 1984. Junior was viewed as weak, inexperienced, and ineffective.

William (Billy the Wild Man) Grasso
The only photo of Grasso, who once ran a sanctuary for fugitive wiseguys.

Grasso's luck finally ran out on June 13, 1989, when the Hartford crew got Grasso into a van on the pretext of traveling to a meeting in Worcester. Grasso was shot in the back of his neck. On that same day, Grasso's right hand in Boston, Frank (Cadillac Frank) Salemme, was shot up while exiting the International House of Pancakes. Salemme survived and is today serving a life sentence for murder.

Patriarca mobsters from Hartford, Springfield, and Boston plotted to murder The Wild Man, which became part of a wider attempt by disgruntled Patriarca factions in Hartford and Boston to seize control of the family.

The guys who finally got rid of Grasso, according to The Gangster Report, were "members of a faction in the Family led by Boston capo Joseph (J.R.) Russo and his young protégé Vincent (Vinnie the Animal) Ferrara who were trying to take control of the New England mob for themselves by force. The Patriarca soldiers who clipped Grasso included "triggerman Gaetano Milano, brothers Frank (Frankie Pug) Pugliano, Louis (Louie Pug) Pugliano, and Frank (Frankie C) Colatoni." 

All  were convicted of the crime and have since been released from their respective prison sentences.

Of course it also could be said that the FBI also played a role in the Grasso murder. 

According to a Writers of Wrong report, years afterward, it was learned that "some in the FBI had worked with informants within the New England underworld to create a destructive rivalry" within the Patriarca crime family. "Seeds planted by the FBI convinced groups within the Connecticut and Massachusetts branches of the organization that the Patriarca administration was planning to eliminate them. That prompted them to act against Grasso and Salemme, and it also figured in several other murders.

"Defense attorney Anthony Cardinale revealed in a 1997 affidavit that intentional FBI activities caused the plots against Grasso and Salemme and that the FBI knew of the plots but kept silent about them for a period of sixteen months. FBI improprieties were documented in the following years."

As for Grasso sidekick Grant, according to The Gangster Report, "Grant’s hit was called in from New York and related to a belief that" the 56-year old Grant was feeding information to the FBI. "The contract was given to Grasso by the Colombo Family."

A reddit page devoted to Missing In Connecticut includes original information, much of which is attributed to anonymous underworld sources.

The nonbylined report notes: "Law enforcement described William F. Grant, JR, as a lieutenant of William Grasso... Grant helped William Grasso win control over a scattered network of largely independent bookmaking offices in the Hartford area.

"William Grant has also been linked to Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico, the former underboss of New York’s Columbo crime family. Allie Boy was a convicted murderer. When Allie Boy applied to an apartment on Talcott Ridge in Farmington using the alias “Al Longo” to get away from a federal indictment, he wrote “OK per Biz. Friend of Billy Grant.” The word “Biz” referred to the company that owned the apartment, and the former employee of that company. The former employee states he recalls nothing about the rental agreement.

"William Grant admitted he knew Allie Boy while he was a fugitive and went under an alias, but didn’t realize he was Persico. He recalled occasionally seeing “Al Longo” at the bar at the Place for Steak in West Hartford on Friday nights (the restaurant is no longer open). Allie Boy often visited the bar for drinks and to play cards. Allie Boy admitted that he never told William his real name, but felt the other man knew who he was anyway.

"Allie Boy lived as a fugitive in the area for seven years. He had also lived briefly in Massachusetts. ... Allie borrowed money from William to purchase that house. A mutual friend of both men stated that William was a regular visitor at the property. Allie Boy’s residence in both Massachusetts and Connecticut were part of an underworld agreement struck between crime bosses in Connecticut and New York, anonymous underworld sources claimed.

"The crime figures set up a kind of underground railroad to support and hide colleagues facing certain prison sentences. Part of Allie Boy’s participation in this agreement required William to act as his protector per the underworld source. In the summer of 1987 the agreement became strained over who was financially responsible for protecting Allie Boy. Allie Boy had no known source of income while he was in hiding. William was paying for the majority of, if not all of, Allie Boy’s expenses. The underworld source claimed Allie Boy was asking William for more money at the time. Various underworld sources stated that William was so upset about this, he complained to William Grasso. The same underworld sources said William Grasso did not try to help William Grant with the situation in any way. Shortly after William Grant complained, the U.S. Marshals apprehended Allie Boy at his West Hartford apartment in October of 1987, and he was sentenced to 25 years for extortion.....

"William went missing on May 18, 1988. He was last seen between 7 and 9 pm at his new business, the South End Seaport. He was last seen by his family on Wednesday. His wife reported him missing three days later on Saturday to East Hartford police. ...

"The Grant family had a party planned at the home for the Sunday after he went missing to celebrate their son’s college graduation. The party had to be cancelled. William’s absence from the party really concerned his relatives because he was so dedicated to his family. ...

"The FBI, state police, and East Hartford police were involved in the search for the missing man. ... Law enforcement believed he was the victim of foul play. They had little hope of locating him.

"But Lt. Bruce W. Haines stated that the investigation would continue, although they felt they would not be able to locate the man.

"Law enforcement believe that organized crime associates suspected that there was a connection between William Grant’s complaints about financially supporting Allie Boy, and Allie Boy quickly being arrested afterwards. The organized crime associates felt William had become an informant, and was responsible for the apprehension of Allie Boy. These suspicions worsened after Allie Boy was apprehended. The organized crime associates expected William Grant to be arrested for harboring a fugitive, but he was never officially charged. The crime associates also suspected William Grant of becoming an informant after Skyball was sentenced in 1988. The sources say there were other instances Grant was suspected of being an informant. In 1984, Skyball had defended William to Anthony Salerno, who was a powerful chairman of a commission of mobsters who regulated dealings between rival crime families. This conversation was one of many the FBI secretly tape-recorded between Salerno and Sciabelli during their investigations of organized crime. 

(The source here is referring, in the most played-down manner imaginable, to wiretap recordings of Skyball speaking confidentially [or so they thought] to Fat Tony, Genovese family front boss for Vincent (Chin) Gigante, that were later used in the historic Mafia Commission Case.)

"Law enforcement will not confirm that William Grant was an informant - or that an informant provided information leading to Allie Boy’s or Skyball’s capture in the first place.

"When Allie Boy was arrested, one of the first things he said was, “Somebody must have dropped a dime.”

"Law enforcement believes William was lured to a meeting in the parking lot of Westfarms Mall in Farmington, and was killed. (This one spooks me out a lot. I have gone to that mall several times without realizing someone may have been lured to his death there.)...

"A federal grand jury began investigating William’s disappearance. Persico was asked to testify during the investigation. Persico was serving a 25-year sentence for extortion at a federal prison in Lompoc, California at the time. He was transported to New Haven to testify.

"This is the information I have available about William Grant. He isn’t listed on the Charley Project, but you can read about him on his NamUs profile here."

There the reddit report concludes.

As a footnote to this story, Allie Boy's longtime paramour Mary Bari was killed in 1984, about four years after Persico skipped the sentencing hearing. According to a Gang Land News report based on FBI documents, Carmine Sessa, who was in Greg Scarpa's crew, lured Bari to a Bensonhurst social club where she was shot to death by Scarpa, his son Gregory Jr., and four others.

"When she arrived, Scarpa Jr. grabbed her, and forced her to the floor, where Scarpa Sr. shot (her three times in the head) and killed her," Sessa told FBI agents when he began cooperating in 1993. 

She was then wrapped in canvas and put in the trunk of a car. With Sessa and another guy following in a second car, Scarpa Senior drove Bari about two miles away and dumped her body in the street. She was found later that night.

Mary Bari
Mary Bari was murdered by Greg Scarpa.

While Sessa said she "was murdered because she knew where Persico was hiding and could disclose it to law enforcement," Brooklyn prosecutors and investigators believed she had been killed for another reason: her role as an FBI informer.

Victor Oboyski, a former deputy U.S. marshal who ran the seven-year investigation that resulted in Allie Boy Persico's capture in 1987, three years after Bari's execution, said he thought Scarpa Senior had created the ruse of a cover story to hide the real motive for killing her.

"Somehow Greg found out that she was a snitch and told his guys a cover story about her going to the Feds about Allie," Oboyski told Gang Land.

"She didn't know where he was. She hadn't seen him in years. Not even his family knew where he was. His wife and daughter would drive towards Connecticut, but a meeting would be set up at a neutral site, usually a diner," said Oboyski, adding that he learned about Bari's informer status about six months before her death.

"They [the FBI] came to us. They wanted pictures of the Saugerties farm [which the Persico family owned] and they wanted info that we had developed about the farm during our investigation. At some point, I said to the agent, 'We're very interested in talking to Mary Bari.' He said, 'We'd appreciate it if you didn't. We have a special relationship with her.' So we just dropped it," Mr. Oboyski said.

"It was troubling when she was killed, and even more troubling when I learned that she was killed by Scarpa, another informant," said Mr. Oboyski. "The case has always bothered me."

Sessa was arrested in 1993. Because he had been deeply involved in the third Colombo war, he was open to severe criminal charges. About nine, maybe 10, minutes after he was pinched, he began cooperating when he realized that he faced a life sentence. Within months, he was debriefed by FBI agents Jeffrey Thomlinson and Howard Leadbetter and started testifying at several major mob trials. Sessa ended up serving only 6.5 years. In 2006, Sessa signed himself out of the federal witness program and disappeared, according to Gang Land, though in October 2007, Sessa showed up to testify in Brooklyn Supreme Court as one of the chief prosecution witnesses in the government's case against former FBI supervisor Lindley DeVecchio, who was accused of helping Scarpa Senior commit four murders—of which the Bari murder was one—in the 1980s and 1990s. 

In November 2007, a judge in Brooklyn granted a request to drop the murder charges against DeVecchio. The request by prosecutors came one day after a key government witness's testimony was undermined by a taped interview she gave to reporters a decade earlier.