RIP Angelo Prisco Underling Michael Visconti (Who Talked To A Former Federal Prosecutor In A Podcast Before He Died)

"John Gotti (went around in) a suit telling everybody he’s the boss. Our guys (in the Genovese family) had mothball holes in their sweaters, but they had $50 million in cash in their apartment."
—Michael Visconti, ex-Genovese family associate

"Angelo Prisco's mentor was Mario Gigante. (Prisco) was a very strong guy. He ran the Purple Gang along with Danny Leo in Harlem, and they came up through the ranks together."

Angelo Prisco called Visconti his son for decades
Michael Visconti enters court in 2006. Credit: RecordOnline.

The violent East Harlem-based Purple Gang reportedly boasted more than 100 members in the 1970s and was known for committing crimes ranging from narcotics and firearms trafficking to whacking and dismembering people, many of them informants for law enforcement. Members of the organization, who reportedly spent their youths running errands for local drug dealers, were linked to the Bonanno, Luchese, and Genovese families. 

By the 1980s, the Purple Gang started to fade as members were increasingly pinched in drug busts. 

But not Prisco. Even though he was among the Purple Gang's drug dealers, as were his buddies Danny Leo and Vinny Gorgeous (aka former acting Bonanno boss Vinny Basciano)--Prisco in fact was partners with Basciano in the drug business--Prisco and his pals were among the Purple Gang members who got out while the going was good. The reason was they had a guardian angel on their shoulders: the aforementioned Mario Gigante, Chin's brother. 

"There came a time in about ’77 when Mario Gigante told them to back off (from the drugs), because, 'the books are opening up. You’re going to get straightened out,'" and they did.

"Listen, two of the cardinal rules is you don’t deal drugs, you don’t screw around with anybody’s girl or wife. I can tell you this. I know for a fact that Angelo was guilty of both. He was that jerk.... And let me tell you something. Our forefathers were drug dealers. Charlie Luciano was a pimp. ... Vito Genovese was one of the biggest heroin dealers in the world."

Prisco and Leo ended up as made members, as well as powerhouses, in the Genovese family, the Ivy League of the Mafia and also the most powerful borgata in the United States.

"The West Side" was different from, say, the Gambinos. "The Genovese crime family had a lot of smoke and mirrors.... John Gotti (went around in) a suit telling everybody he’s the boss. Our guys (meaning guys in the Genovese family) had mothball holes in their sweaters, but they had $50 million in cash in their apartment."

The preceding quotes were offered by Michael Visconti, onetime Genovese associate under Angelo Prisco, in former Federal prosecutor Elie Honig's podcast Up Against the Mob, which we highly recommend. (We also recommend his recent book Hatchet Man.)

Visconti died last August at age 54 succumbing to natural causes, according to Honig.

"I originally feared he had been killed," Honig said of Visconti, who was "living fairly openly, and I worried that some wannabe tough guy might have sought retribution."

Honig was chief of the organized crime unit for the Federal prosecutor in Manhattan's Southern District. He has laid claim to taking down over 100 wiseguys and wannabes, among other underworld creatures.

A wealth of detail can be found listening to Up Against the Mob. (Some of the following also nicely supplements one of our previous stories, which is one of our top reads, on a wiretap worn on Prisco by his driver.)

Elie Honig worked as an SDNY prosecutor
Elie Honig took down over 100 mobsters in his SDNY days.

Honig interviewed Visconti as his first guest on his podcast. In another post, Honig discussed why he chose Visconti for the debut:

"Visconti was a former cooperating witness of mine, from my days as a prosecutor at the SDNY and from his as an ass-kicking, money-making criminal prodigy in the Genovese organized crime family. ... the arc of his life was so compelling. He was raised in a loving, solidly middle-class family in the suburbs north of New York City. But in his late teens and early twenties, Michael started hanging around with some mob-adjacent tough guys. At one point, he got into a beef with the son of a powerful New York City boss; Michael threatened to slap the shit out of the entitled little mob prince. Worried that he’d come to seriously regret what he’d done, Michael reached out to Angelo Prisco, a powerhouse Genovese captain based in the Bronx. Prisco liked what he saw: Michael’s charisma, his size, his smarts, his guts. Don’t worry about it, Prisco told Michael. You’re with me now and nobody will touch you.

"Over the next couple decades, Michael lived a gangster’s life. He became Prisco’s right hand, and he proved to be the ideal mafia double-threat: he was an earner and a burner, as they’d put it. Michael could make money: robberies, loansharking, stolen property, shakedowns, you name it. And he could take care of business with his hands when necessary. (He never killed anybody, but he told me on the podcast that, if he’d been instructed to do so by Prisco, he would have done it).”

The Feds indicted Visconti in New Jersey in the early 2000s.  To get out from under his legal troubles, he eventually chose to flip. 

But, as Honig explained, "there was one problem. The prosecutor on the case in Jersey didn’t want to do the work. (The truth is, some prosecutors – not many, but a few – just want to get the case wrapped up and move along.) So the FBI agent who had worked with Michael and convinced him to flip picked up the phone and essentially cold-called me in New York, having read in the newspaper about my work on other Genovese cases. I told the FBI agent, yeah, I’m interested. The three of us – the FBI agent, Michael, and I – met the very next day at Tops Diner in East Newark."

Visconti went on to testify at two trials, including the one that ended Prisco’s life on the street by convicting him of murder, racketeering, and other crimes. Prisco got a life sentence and died in Federal prison. Michael’s information also helped the Feds convict Prisco’s crew of around 15 guys. 

Honig offers some behind-the-scenes regarding Visconti's sentencing:
"When it came time for sentencing, I wrote the traditional cooperator sentencing letter to the judge (called the “5k letter” in the lingo). I laid out all Michael had done: the bad he did as a criminal with the Genovese Family, and the good he did as a cooperator. Consistent with common practice, I did not recommend any particular sentence. Just before the sentencing started, the judge’s clerk motioned for me to come to a small chamber, adjacent to the courtroom. Now, this was in New Jersey, so I didn’t know the judge. But the judge said to me, point blank: So what do you want me to do with this guy? I gave the standard response, at first: Well, Your Honor, it’s your sentencing, and I laid out my position in the 5k letter. The judge scoffed and said: Yeah fine, but talk to me. You want me to walk this guy or what? I thought about it for a second and said: If you’re asking, then yes, I do want to walk him. A few minutes later, the judge did just that. Michael was free, and his case was over. (I had never told Michael this story until the podcast; he was audibly moved by it.)"

"Michael enabled himself to live what turned out to be his last 15 years or so in freedom, as a family man and a thoroughly decent person."

Other quotes from Visconti courtesy of Up Against the Mob:

"Angelo, he was my captain. On a personal level, he was like a family member to me, actually. That’s what he was. He was a very, very respected person in the Genovese crime family."

Prisco, he said, was "in charge of an area for them, starting in the Bronx and then northern New Jersey. ... A lot of power always sat in Jersey. I’m talking about from not the beginning, but the ’50s. A lot of the power players were in Jersey, and that’s where they were."

"(Prisco) was a very funny guy, very charismatic, obviously a tough man. It happens in life. You really hit it off with somebody to the point where, if Angelo introduced me to somebody that wasn’t in the family, he would say, “This is my son.” He always introduced me as his kid or his boy or his guy, but it was always, “My son. You’re the son I never had.” All that sort of stuff."

How many guys were in Prisco's New Jersey-based crew?

"Probably 15 or so guys that were really his core guys. He had some people in Brooklyn and in the Bronx. Yeah, at least 15 strong guys."

Where did Prisco and his crew regularly meet?

"(The) Glen Rock. We all became bowlers. We joined the bowling league. That was really good. We used to bowl. I don’t know what night of the week it was. It was very close shot for guys to come from New York to the bowling alley. As you know, a lot of that audio that you guys taped wasn’t too clear at the bowling alley."

Did Prisco pick a bowling alley on purpose in case someone was wired? The ambient noise could render recorded audio useless, or at least difficult to listen to. Colombo powerhouse Thomas (Tommy Shots) Gioeli had his murderous crew meet in a bowling alley on Long Island for this express reason. As we previously noted, Tommy Shots used the County Line Bowling Center near his Farmingdale residence as his headquarters. "The noisy place, replete with the explosive crack of bowling balls smacking into pins, blended with screaming children and laughing adults, was perfect, Tommy Shots thought. What better natural buffers were there for his conversations with his crew."

But Visconti believed the bowling alley choice wasn't deliberate, saying "No, he wasn’t that smart, Angelo, I don’t think. He liked to bowl. What was funny about this is I’m a very competitive guy, and I ended up bowling a 298 or 299 or something. I actually got very good at this sport. It was funny, because they all sucked. I got a lot of stories for that one, too. One time, we were bowling against a team, and Angelo had some underlying problems medically. He was a diabetic, and he didn’t take care of himself. He ate the wrong stuff, he was overweight. He would bowl. He was a left-handed bowler. Not that it means anything. But he always sat on a chair backwards. He always leaned his torso and elbows on the back of the chair. He was doing that, and we were bowling against another team. The guy was trying to get around him and told Angelo, “Hey, bro, sit right or move.”

"We all reacted pretty quickly, and the guy shit his pants. They didn’t know. They had no idea. Obviously, they knew afterwards. They probably can’t believe they escaped that one. It was funny stories like that."

Angelo Prisco rose from low level gangbanger to capo of the Genovese crime family.
From drug dealer to boss of the NJ waterfront: Genovese capo Angelo Prisco.

"A lot of people that worked at the bowling alley knew because of the people that would come there. We had everybody coming there, from Pepe LaScala, Robert Milano, Fat Charlie Salzano. Everybody came there. You know what I mean? They all knew. Even Mike the Nose (aka Michael Mancuso), Vinny Gorgeous, they were all there.

Vinny B and others would drive into New Jersey.

"Yeah, to see me. I was this conduit, because when we were taking care of the San Gennaro Feast, I was the bagman for the Genovese crime family. I was helping lay out the garbage with Vinny and even Mike the Nose. Mike’s the acting boss now. But these are the guys that we were with every day."

Mikey Nose is actually the Bonanno family's reputed official boss today. Mancuso was released from prison in 2019 on three years of supervised release after serving a 15-year bid for the 2004 gangland murder of associate Randolph (Randy) Pizzolo.Last year, Mancuso was charged with parole violations after he was spotted meeting with several defendants in the ongoing case against the Colombos.

For lots more on Visconti, including the chance to hear his voice, check out Elie Honig's excellent Up Against the Mob.