When Luchese Underboss Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso Testified Before Senate Subcommittee

UPDATED
"To be honest with you, we just barely let the Gambino family in...."
Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso, referring to the stunningly profitable gasoline tax scam in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee


In May 1996, for the first and only time, Luchese underboss Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso testified—before the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which was examining the emergence of Russian immigrant crime groups and their ties to New York's Five Families, among other crime groups.

Sammy the Bull Gravano and Gaspipe Casso
Underboss to underboss: Sammy the Bull and Gaspipe Casso walk-talk.


He spoke during the brief period that was the length of his cooperation. Gaspipe, who flipped in March 1994, was booted from the program in July 1998, when Judge Frederic Block of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn found that he had breached his cooperation deal with prosecutors. Block authorized the Government to rescind the plea agreement on the grounds that Casso had bribed prison guards to smuggle contraband to him while he was in custody and lied about other Government witnesses, specifically, Gambino underboss Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano and former Luchese acting boss Alphonse (Little Al) D’Arco.

Casso—the Machiavellian manipulator responsible for a reign of terror that included a years-long string of deadly violence, whose deceit and treachery helped decimate what had been the wealthiest crime family in the country—was sentenced to 455 years in prison after he was dropped from the program.

Gaspipe, who carried the distinction of being the first major Mafia defector booted out of the Federal witness protection program, died in December 2020 at age 78 at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson of complications from COVID-19.

At the time Gaspipe testified, the Russian Mafia in the US was viewed as a major emerging threat that was becoming increasingly violent and murderous. At the same hearings in which Casso testified, Jim E. Moody, Deputy Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigations Division of the FBI, noted that law enforcement's chief difficulty in fighting Russian mobsters included finding agents who could speak the Russian language to help the FBI translate wiretaps. He also testified that the FBI found infiltration of these groups all but impossible.

Gaspipe's testimony addressed how the crime families worked together to organize the racket, creating a sort-of Gasoline Club (though no one ever used that term). The gasoline tax scam offered the next-generation Mafia leaders their own version of the onetime enormously profitable Concrete Club that had filled the prodigious pockets of their predecessors. Casso's piquant comment about "just barely let(ting) the Gambino family in" likely reflected the inter-family animosity going on at the time regarding a certain hit on a certain boss in front of a certain steakhouse. (The Luchese and Genovese family bosses had together ordered the murder of John Gotti and some of his confidants for whacking Paul Castellano.)

Luchese hierarchy chart


Cosa Nostra And Russian Crime Rings
In 1986, the sweeping verdicts at the end of the Mafia Commission Case dethroned the bosses of three Cosa Nostra families (two bosses and one front boss, if you insist on getting technical): Genovese front boss Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, Luchese boss  Antonio (Tony Ducks) Corallo, and Colombo boss Carmine (Junior) Persico were slammed with extensive prison sentences that each of them died serving. Also brought down were a bevy of top wiseguys, especially in the Colombo and Luchese families. Death spared Gambino leaders, and legal technicalities and a paucity of evidence removed the Bonanno boss from the case. 

The Commission Case ultimately eliminated a key Mafia profit center in that organized crime had once controlled 75% of the construction industry in New York City through its control over the concrete industry and construction unions. Perhaps even more critically, the Commission Case dissipated the collective brain trust of the Five Families.

Law enforcement and prosecutors rightly viewed the convictions as a major victory, though they would later realize that a) the Five Families never relinquished their hold on the New York construction industry, b) the infrastructures of each of the crime families remained fundamentally intact, c) a new breed of mobsters who were mostly unknown to investigators quickly filled the leadership void, and d) the Mafia found major new revenue generators, including a scam that involved the theft of gasoline excise taxes.

The gasoline tax racket was pioneered by Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union who arrived in New York in the early 1980s. Many of them settled in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. These “Russian mobsters” invented the inconceivably profitable scheme, which manipulated a new law implemented in New York State to simplify the payment of gasoline taxes. The law put the responsibility for collecting and forwarding Government taxes on the wholesaler who delivered the fuel. The law also allowed wholesalers to resell gasoline among themselves, and therein was the flaw the Russians spotted: only the last company that sold the gasoline to the retailer collected the taxes paid by the individual gasoline stations. The wholesaler was then required to pass that revenue along to the Government. The scheme involved using dummy wholesalers and "daisy chains" to basically steal the taxes. When law enforcement showed up seeking the overdue taxes, they would learn that the suspected wholesaler existed on paper only.

In 1980 three Russian gangsters needed some strong-arm assistance to collect a $70,000 debt stemming from one of their gasoline-tax swindles, and they solicited the help of Colombo capo Michael Franzese. Franzese, noticing the immense profits, moved right in, offering to help collect debts from gasoline stations for a substantial piece of the action. The Colombos also expanded into the racket by using their connections to obtain the licenses needed to create the daisy chains used for the tax thefts. As per their agreement with Franzese, the Russians continued handling the paper work and other parts of the racket (taking most of the risks) and kicked up to the Colombos the lion's share of the loot: 75 percent of the profits. (For our summary of the gasoline tax scam, we consulted Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires by Selwyn Raab, as well as FBI sources.)

Franzese later said he received as much as $9 million in cash per week in paper bags. He noted that in a good month, the gasoline tax swindle brought him and his Colombo cohorts around $15 million.

By the time of the start of the Commission trial, the Gambino, Genovese, and Luchese families all wanted their piece of the action. Following the Colombos, the other borgatas struck similar alliances with Russian hoodlums across New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the New York mob and their Russian collaborators stole from the Government $80 million to $100 million a year in excise and sales taxes, as per Government estimates.

When Casso appeared before the Subcommittee, he sat behind a screen that shielded his identity. The precaution followed from "last-minute concerns raised by the Department of Justice." The media was banned from photographing him as well.

From behind the screen, Gaspipe detailed for the first time the Luchese family's ties to Russian gangsters, including his personal association, which started in the mid-1980s when three New York-based gas station operators approached him for protection from other crime families in exchange for a percent of their profits from the gasoline scam. 

Another centerpiece of Casso's testimony was the June 1986 murder of Vladimir Reznikov, a Russian gangster who was shot to death in Brighten Beach while sitting in his car. Only 44 years old when he died, Reznikov had threatened the life of the Luchese family's main link to the pipeline of gasoline tax money, actually giving the man a heart attack, Gaspipe claimed. Reznikov, who had a notorious reputation among the Russians on the street, had been questioned by Federal investigators four months prior to his murder regarding a machine-gun shootout that wounded two Russians and ended the life of a third at a Sheepshead Bay gasoline distributorship.

The Reznikov murder, Casso said, was the work of Luchese soldier Joey Testa. Testa and longtime pal Anthony Senter, formerly known as the Gemini twins, both moved to the Luchese family after a stint with the Gambinos in Gambino capo Roy DeMeo's "Murder Machine" crew. Both also were chief suspects in the DeMeo murder.

Casso's replies to some of the Senators' questions were not always entirely candid. When asked how he acquired his infamous nickname, he replied, "They have been calling me that since a very early age, when I was a teenager. It was like a family name, and being that I was the youngest out of three children, it stuck with me." Even Senator William S. Cohen, a Republican of Maine who asked the nickname question, seemed to pick up on the fact that Casso wasn't offering the most forthright answer. (Casso allegedly hated the nickname, which he said was passed down from his father, who beat people with a gas pipe. Other sources alleged the nickname stemmed from Casso's father hooking up illegal gas connections. Still others claim its origins arose from Casso's enjoyment of beating people with a pipe.)

Asked if the Russian gangs had the same or a similar hierarchical structure as the Italian-American crime families—meaning did they have the equivalent of capos, underbosses, etc.—Casso said that they did not, noting that the Russians "have gangs or their own crews... and mostly they are violent among themselves." 

The rest of his reply was an attempt to implicate the Russians, and not their wiseguy partners, in the excessive violence that had grown to accompany the gasoline tax scams. "This is why we handled (the messier problems). We would never want Marat (Balagula) to go and ... hurt someone else.... maybe there is no need to hurt someone else. Maybe this is a situation where you can talk to someone and resolve the problem. But the Russians are not that way; they are a little hot-headed, and they are a little violent sometimes."

Marat Balagula was "one of the early leaders of Russian organized crime in Brooklyn" and "the main Russian guy working with our family," Casso testified. 

As for the violence, Casso was saying that it was preferable for Mafiosi like himself to handle the violent stuff because the Italians naturally minimized violence on the street, while the Russians did not. While that could be true of most Mafiosi—that they generally seek to minimize tertiary damage—it was not so true of the wrathful Gaspipe himself, ironically, who was responsible for a lengthy body count and was among that rare breed of wiseguy who condoned torture (and even bragged about it on national television—with a smile).

Former Colombo capo Michael Franzese testified before Casso at the same hearing. We've previously covered his testimony, which can be viewed here.


Anthony Casso mugshot
Mugshot of Luchese underboss after Feds nailed him while on the lam in New Jersey.




HEARING BEFORE THE PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS, UNITED STATES SENATE, ONE HUNDRED FOURTH CONGRESS, SECOND SESSION, MAY 15, 1996

Testimony of Anthony Casso, Former Luchese Underboss

Senator William V. Roth: Our next witness is Anthony Casso, who is a former underboss of the Lucchese organized crime family. Mr. Casso is currently in Federal custody and cooperating with the Government while awaiting sentencing. Given the sensitive nature of Mr. Casso's position as a cooperating witness, we have agreed to limit his testimony to matters relating to Russian organized crime, and we would appreciate the cooperation of all Subcommittee members in abiding by this understanding.

Mr. Casso was scheduled to testify openly; however, as a result of last-minute concerns raised by the Department of Justice, Mr. Casso will testify from behind a screen. It is my understanding that members of the media have already been advised as to those locations in the hearing room where cameras will and will not be permitted during the course of the testimony in order to maintain security.

Prior to the entrance of this witness, I direct that all cameras be turned to face either to the ceiling or to the window side of the hearing room. I will ask the Capitol Police whether all cameras have been redirected. And I would then ask the Capitol Police to secure the hearing room, and when that is done, the witness will be brought in.

We will proceed in just a minute.

Mr. Casso, we swear all witnesses before the Subcommittee, but I would ask that you remain seated while I administer the oath.

Mr. Casso, please raise your right hand. Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you will give before this Subcommittee is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you, God?

Casso:
I do.

...

Senator Roth: Mr. Casso, would you please proceed with your testimony

Casso: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. My name is Anthony Casso. Early in my life, I was given the nickname "Gaspipe."

I have been in jail since 1993, when I was arrested after being a fugitive for almost three years. At that time, I was the underboss of the Lucchese organized crime family. Ultimately, I decided to cooperate rather than go to trial. As part of my deal with the Government, I pleaded guilty to a 72 count indictment, including murder, racketeering and extortion. I have not yet been sentenced, and no promises have been made to me for my testimony here today.

As part of my cooperation agreement, I told the Government about my life of crime. I gave a deposition for use in an Israeli trial, but I have not yet testified at a trial in the United States. I will testify, if requested by the Government, at upcoming organized crime trials.

I have been involved with organized crime for more than 35 years, since I was a kid working on the docks in Brooklyn, New York. When I was 21, I became associated with a guy named Chris Furnari of the Lucchese organized crime family. Everybody knows him as "Christy Tick."

Before I was arrested this time, I had only been in jail once. That was in 1962 for five days when 1 was convicted of running a bookmaking operation on the docks and fined $50. After that, I was arrested several times for different Federal and state charges, including assault with a gun, selling stolen property, dealing heroin, burglarizing a bank, and bribing state parole officers. In every case, I was either acquitted or the charges were dropped.

In the early 1970s, I met Vic Amuso. Then, in 1974, I became a "made" member of the Lucchese family. Vic was made in around 1977. At that time, "Tony Ducks" Corallo was the boss of our family. But, in 1986, Tony Ducks went to jail so he had to name a new boss. I became a "capo" in 1986. After discussions within the family, Tony Ducks made Vic Amuso the boss at the end of 1986. At the end of 1987, Vic told me I was the new consiglieri. Then, in 1989, Vic named me the underboss of the family. After Vic was arrested in July 1991, I ran the Lucchese family as underboss while I was a fugitive.

In my position as a member of the Lucchese Family, I came to know individuals associated with Russian organized crime, which is the subject I have been asked to testify about today.

In the mid-1980s, our family got involved with Russian organized crime in the gasoline business in Brooklyn. Italian and Russian organized crime made large amounts of money by working scams to avoid paying taxes on gasoline. The Russians owned hundreds of gas stations and controlled the supply and distribution of gasoline. We provided them with protection they needed to maintain a cartel. We also helped them set up corporations to work the scam.

The main Russian guy working with our family was Marat Balagula. Marat was one of the early leaders of Russian organized crime in Brooklyn. He made millions off the gas tax business and our family made a lot of money with him.

In around late 1986, another Russian named Vladimir, whose last name I did not know at the time, came up to Marat in a Russian restaurant in Brighton Beach. Vladimir had recently arrived in Brighton Beach from Russia.

According to the Russians, the word on the street was that he was a tough guy with his own crew. Marat told me Vladimir pulled a gun, put it next to Marat's head, told Marat that he was his new partner, and demanded Marat pay him $600,000 or Marat would be dead.

Marat reached out to us and told us what happened. We agreed to meet the next day. When we went to Marat's house, we found out that he was so scared that he had a heart attack but did not want to go to the hospital. I remember seeing Marat in bed hooked up to all kinds of machines, refusing his doctor's orders to go to the hospital. Marat's guy wanted us to kill Vladimir.

Since Marat was with our family and especially since he was such a money-maker for us, this was not just a threat against Marat. This was a threat against the Lucchese family as well. We knew what we had to do. Vic and I agreed that Vladimir had to be killed. We took this situation to Christy Tick, who agreed we could have Vladimir killed. Vic gave the hit to Joey Testa. We asked Marat and one of his guys to get us some information to identify Vladimir. One of Marat's guys got us his picture and license plate number. We had Marat call Vladimir and arrange to have lunch with him at the same Russian restaurant in Brighton Beach where Marat was threatened. After leaving the restaurant, Vladimir was shot and killed.

I heard about the murder on the radio. Marat was very thankful that we had gotten rid of his problem. We couldn't let somebody try to put the squeeze on one of our family's big money makers. After that, Marat did not have any more problems from any other Russians.

I found the Russian organized crime groups to be very clever. We knew the Russians were involved in heroin trafficking, as well as complicated scams involving forgery, and tax evasion in the oil and gas business. The Russians were also willing to use violence to achieve their goals.

I will be happy to answer any questions you have about my knowledge of Russian organized crime.


Senator Roth. Mr. Casso, at this time, do you know the man you identified in your statement as "Vladimir" to be Vladimir Reznikov?

Mr. Casso. Yes, I do.

Senator Roth. And in addition to the murder you just described in previous testimony, we have also been told of another murder in Brooklyn of a Russian organized crime figure who worked with La Cosa Nostra in the gas tax scam, that is, the killing of Michael Markowitz who worked with the Colombo family. What were the facts surrounding this murder, and describe any discussions you had with anyone in the Colombo family regarding the Markowitz murder?

Mr. Casso. I had discussions with the Colombo boss, Vic Orena, and a Colombo soldier Frankie "The Bug" Sciortino.

Senator Roth. Would you please speak into the microphone?

Mr. Casso. And I knew the Markowitz murder was going to take place sooner or later, that they were working on planning on killing Markowitz.

Senator Roth. Now, you testified that the Lucchese family provided protection to Russian organized crime in the gas tax scheme. Specifically, what protection service did your family provide for the Russians? 

Casso. We provided that no one would go into their territory and sell gas, and made sure people paid them the moneys they had coming to them. And we would make it known that they belonged with us, our group, and no one would bother them at all.

Senator Roth. Now, you testified that Marat Balagula was a leading figure among Russian organized crime in Brooklyn. Why would he contact you after he was threatened by another Russian?

Casso. Because Marat was with our family, so the proper thing to do was just what he did, to contact us to handle it.

Senator Roth. Where is Balagula today?

Casso. He is in Federal prison, I believe.

Senator Roth. Did Balagula actually ask you to have Reznikov killed, or simply to make him back off?

Casso. No; he wanted him killed. He was deathly afraid of him.

Senator Roth. Did you receive any payment for killing Reznikov?

Casso. None whatsoever.

Senator Roth. Was Joey Testa given any payment for killing Reznikov?

Casso. None.

Senator Roth. Now, you testified about pleading guilty to a 72- count indictment, including murder, racketeering and extortion. How many murders? [Pause.]

Casso. I believe 16. Senator

Senator Roth. Was Joey Testa ever charged with killing Reznikov, and where is he today?

Casso. He was never charged with that murder, and he is at a Federal prison also.

Senator Roth. Now, you stated that you are a "made" member of the Lucchese family. Would you please explain what that means and describe the initiation ceremony by which you became a "made" member? 

Casso. To become a "made" member, you have to be sponsored by a captain of the family, who would bring you to the boss of the family and sponsor you to become a "made" member. They have a ceremony with the boss, the consiglieri, and the underbosses present at that time, and the captain who brings you in. They prick your trigger finger and make it bleed, and then they put it on a little piece of paper; they set it on fire, and you burn it in your hand, and you repeat after them that you will never betray La Cosa Nostra, or you will burn like the paper is burning in your hand. And your life does not belong to you anymore; your life belongs to them.

Senator Roth. Now, we know that the Lucheses were not the only organized crime family involved with the Russians in the gas tax business. What role did you play in getting other La Cosa Nostra families involved in this gas tax scam?

Surveillance photo of Gambino boss John Gotti and Sammy the Bull meeting Luchese leaders Gaspipe and Vic in 1988.



Casso: Well, what we did was—the Colombo boss came to see me, and we put it together—the Russians wanted to put it together so there was no more problem, the Russians would get paid, and everyone would not steal each other's stops, and put everything above board. So the Genovese family had a branch in the gasoline business also with their own group of Russians. 

What I did was I reached out for the Genovese family; I met with them, I met with their underboss. I told them we wanted to have a meeting with the Colombo family, the Lucchese family, and the Genovese family, and that the people we have running the gasoline business for us who go up front and handle this every day with the Russians have a meeting, and let us all make this one; we will put it together, and everyone earns an equal share. And this is what we did. We had this meeting. They agreed. We put it together. Being that everyone agreed, we turned around, and we told the Russians that they would have to pay a tax of a penny a gallon to us, to our three families, which totaled maybe $500,000 a month. And they agreed upon this; they were very happy because they could run their business without having a problem from anyone. 

So now we had three families involved. We had the Genovese family, the Lucheses, and the Colombo family. And we ran like that until about 1988. In 1988, the Gambino family wanted to get involved. They also had a Russian group that they were working with, but in a little smaller way, and that group was interfering with what we put together. So we took it upon ourselves—we had another meeting about the Gambino family and if we were going to invite them into the cartel that we put together, which we did; we made it a 4-way split. And we had four groups—the Gambinos had a Russian group, the Lucheses had their own Russian group, the Colombos had Markowitz and his Russian group, and the Genovese family had their own. We just combined it like that, and it was running smooth.

Senator Roth. Do you know if these kinds of agreements are still in effect?

Casso. In the present, as far as I know, yes.

Senator Roth. As far as you know, yes?

Casso. Yes.

Senator Roth. Are you aware of any other murders committed by the La Cosa Nostra families on behalf of Russian organized crime in connection with gas tax schemes?

Casso. I know there were a couple of murders with Russians with the Gambino group, but I do not really know their names. But I know a couple of murders took place with them, with their group.

Senator Roth. How would you characterize the Russians as business partners?

Casso. They are good businessmen. They are good businessmen, and as far as money-wise, whatever you have coming to you, they always made much more money than they gave organized crime, than we got. But we always knew that.

Senator Roth. Senator Cohen? 

Senator Cohen. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. How did you get the name "Gaspipe"?

Casso. They have been calling me that since a very early age when I was a teenager. It was like a family name, and being that I was the youngest out of three children, it stuck with me.

Senator Cohen. No association with your activities, the nickname?

Casso. None whatsoever.

Senator Cohen. You mentioned going to the hierarchy of authority when Senator Roth asked you why Marat came to you as such. You said he was just simply proceeding on his own authority, basically, that it was the proper thing to do. So you had your own organizational structure, since you were the enforcers, basically, or the protectors of Marat, I assume.

Casso. Yes, right.

Senator Cohen. OK. Do the Russian criminal gangs have the same sort of hierarchical structure as any one of the Italian families as such—the Gambinos, the Colombos, the Lucheses? Do they have capos, consiglieris, underbosses, boss—do they have anything like that?

Casso. Not really.

Senator Cohen. So they are not structured?

Casso. Not in this country.

Senator Cohen. Not in this country.

Casso. No. They have gangs, or their own crews, the Russians, and mostly they are violent among themselves. This is why we handled it. We would never want Marat to go and get someone else, hurt someone else. We would rather him come, because maybe there is no need to hurt someone else. Maybe this is a situation where you can talk to someone and resolve the problem. But the Russians are not that way; they are a little hot-headed, and they are a little violent sometimes. 

Senator Cohen. You indicated in your statement that they are not afraid to use violence. Do you mean they are not afraid to use violence against one another?

Casso. Right.

Senator Cohen. But they would not use violence against the Lucchese family members?

Casso. No.

Senator Cohen. Why do you think they had to come to you to get protection—they do not have enough muscle as such of their own that they would simply say, "We don't need to pay you a penny a gallon for our protection"?

Casso. It is not only protection; it is putting it together be- cause, like Marat, he owned a couple of hundred gas stations. So when we put the cartel together, now no one else was going to go into his stations to sell gas a little cheaper, just to sell the gas, and they start fighting amongst themselves again. So we held peace, and, you know, protection goes more than one way. Senator Cohen. And you indicated, finally, that the Gambino family came in toward the tail-end of this arrangement because they had a Russian connection as well. If another family comes along with a Russian connection, will they keep expanding the business?

Casso. No. To be honest with you, we just barely let the Gambino family in.

Senator Cohen. OK. That is all I have, Mr. Chairman. 

Senator Roth. Thank you, Senator Cohen. That is all that we require of you, Mr. Casso. I would ask that all spectators remain seated until the witness leaves the hearing room, and I would now direct the Capitol Police and the Marshals to accompany Mr. Casso from the hearing room....






Comments

Popular This Week

Prelude To The Galante Murders

Hoodwinked: Restaurateur on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares Was a Mobster

Bath Avenue Crew Rose High, Fell Hard

Skeletal Remains Found Along Receding Lake Near Las Vegas Apparently Belong To Victim of A Gangland Hit

The End: Carmine Galante, Godfather Of Heroin Trafficking, Conclusion

Feds Bust Genovese Wiseguys For Scheming, Including In Florida