Last Of The Greek Crime Dons Of The US Passes Away

By Nick Christophers
On May 4, 2024, Spyredon “Spiro, Sagafias” Velentzas passed away in the FCI Allenwood prison. He was the alleged boss of the Greek mob in New York. He may have been the most powerful within the Greek ethnic crime element ever. There were others that were close to his level like Harry Peetros / Steve Bouras from Philly, and Mike Katranis / Pete Katranis in Detroit. The only one that was considered even higher than Spiro, was head of the “connection guys” in Chicago, Gus “Slim” Alex.

Spiro was originally from Boston where he settled with his parents after arriving from Greece. His father opened a café, but Spiro was not too keen on the food business and yearned for more financially. Gambling was something he was always interested in and wanted to capitalize on it. In time, his family decided to move to New York and settled in Queens. There he became connected to the then, boss of the Greeks, Peter Kourakos.

Kourakos operated gambling dens in the predominantly Greek urban center of Astoria, Queens. Spiro was his driver and protégé and learned the business quickly. Now, Kourakos operated under the Luchese Crime Family flag answering to capo, Chris “Christy Tick” Furnari. Kourakos was born in 1923, and he lived in Manhattan and then Astoria until he moved to 85 Mellow Lane in Jericho, Long Island. He was involved in heroin, policy, and dice games, and he was arrested for all three. Kourakos was subpoenaed a few times for his connection to the mob in the late 60s.

The diner in Manhattan was his source of legit income. His arrests came during the 1950s for running dice games and selling heroin. He served a two- and half-year term. Unfortunately, his son, Van, developed a heroin addiction and died in the 80’s. Kourakos also passed around the same time which was when Spiro took over. Spiro solidified his ties with the Luchese’s and branched out to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn which was another well populated Greek town.

He owned a home in Bayside, Queens with his wife and three children. Being in this type of business you would think he was a bully or violent. But that was not the case with him. Even though there were times that certain players at his gambling dens owed money and had to be dealt with he was not the one to do it. He had members that would convince individuals who thought they could cheat him to pay up in a reasonable time frame.

Violence was not his way, he believed, being diplomatic but in a stern way making it clear that if one did not do the right thing it can be dealt with in a more violent fashion. His brother, Jimmy, was another story who resorted to violence once too often. He once shot up a social club in 1977 called Café Tinagria, which was run by Gus Zarkas, Joe Lombardo, and Little Dominick. This did not sit well with the owners, and a settlement was made to spare Jimmy’s life. That same year, he was convicted of weapons possession. Jimmy lived in Little Neck with his wife and three kids. He was accused of the murder of one Ed Gull in the Bronx, but there was not sufficient evidence to convict him. He was listed as an employee of East Coast Painting Company as a job appraiser.

After Spiro was shipped off to serve a life-term for a crime he did not commit, his home turf was vulnerable, yet the Greeks still tried to flex a bit of muscle. In one scary moment, a Spiro underling threatened a soldier in the Luchese family who had visited the Greeks for their tribute. The Luchese member was Joseph “Little Joe” Defede. The Greek held a pistol to Joe and humiliated him in front of others at a gambling den which did not sit well with Joe or the Luchese family. This was around 1993, a year after Spiro was taken off the streets. The Greeks felt insulted that one of the Luchese capos’ testimony ended their boss’s reign. Defede was installed to make the monthly pick-ups that Fat Pete was doing earlier, but was not aware of the insult.

At this time, Spiro and underboss Vittorio Amuso were in the same prison, and the message was sent to them. Amuso and Spiro discussed the issue and reached a deal. The Luchese’s wanted the Greek dead for the affront, but Spiro worked out a quick solution. A sit-down was arranged where the Greek would apologize and hand over a cash tribute. It was also set up that Jimmy Velentzas would accompany him to show good faith. The meeting was set up at the All Nations Social Club in Gravesend, Brooklyn. It was a tense moment for sure as Jimmy and the offender had a staring contest with the Luchese representatives and Defede. Not far off were Frank Gioia Jr. and George Conte, who were packing handguns with silencers, just in case. Also, not far off was hitman Angelo “The Boxer” Defendis and an associate, who were there just in case they had to remove any left-over corpses. The Greeks ended up working out a deal. They apologized for the affront and paid a handsome amount to walk out with their lives. The ex-boxer, Defendis, was thrilled that they did not have to whack the Greeks, since the club was his, and he preferred it not be used for any murders.

The game that Spiro and the Greeks ran was called Barbut, a Middle Eastern game popular among Greeks and Arabs. How this game is played is a bit complicated, and the Italians could never take it over themselves. As one Italian mobster put it over a wiretap, “We could never run this game—the Greeks would rob us blind.” It would bring in at least $250,000 for a good week. Spiro kicked up $10,000 a month to Furnari to operate. Everyone has heard the famous quote by John Gotti; “Tell him me, I John Gotti, will severe his motherfucking head off if he doesn’t move that game.”

That was John talking to Sammy Gravano when he asked Sammy about a rival game that was near a Gambino den that was hurting its profits. Sammy explained to Gotti that it was run by Spiro, the boss of the Greeks. Sammy had to relay that message to Spiro. Prior to that happening one evening Spiro was and two of his men were ambushed, by who was later learned to be Dominick Lofaro. Spiro was injured and got the message and the game was moved.

It was interesting to note that Spiro and Gotti were seen many times at the track betting on the ponies. But when it comes to earning money friendships went out the window. Spiro would serve time for fraud involving a construction company and for falsifying immigration papers and serve 5 years. After he was released, he went right back in business. He had underlings like Mike “the Italian’ Grillo, Pete “Mousey” Drakoulis, Teddy “The General” Politsiadis and others to run the ship.

The end was near for him when one, Sammy “the Arab” Nalo was released from prison in the late 80’s. He was close to Spiro prior to him being incarcerated but when he hit the streets he acted erratically. Nalo began flexing his muscle on Spiro’s territory and this alarmed Spiro. In mob protocol if someone is under a families flag they are protected and if they need assistance they can call for it. At this time the pickup man for the kick-back to the Luchese’s was Pete “Fat Pete” Chiodo when before it was Bobby Amuso.

Spiro had no love for Fat Pete and hated to deal with him. At first, he went with his complaint to Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso then boss of the Luchese’s who passed it on to Vic Amuso. Vic asked Spiro if Nalo was with anyone, and Spiro said no. At that point, Amuso and Casso said then deal with him yourself. But Spiro protested that he was under their protection, and they should step in. Fat Pete offered to take care of the issue.

Fat Pete did just that, he hired Richie Pagliarulo and Mike Spinelli to kill Nalo. A meeting was set up for Spiro to meet Nalo at a travel agency he owned. Nalo arrived and waited and was on the phone with Spiro when Mike and Richie entered the agency and began blasting away. They took off satisfied that they did their job. Authorities arrived and, in his dying breathe Nalo fingered Spiro for the hit. He was murdered on October 25th, 1988.

Fast forward to 1992 and Spiro is on trial for gambling and the murder of Nalo. The star witness being, Pete Chiodo. Chiodo flipped after being shot twelve times while pumping gas. He was shot because Casso assumed he was a rat. Well, Casso created one after that hit. Chiodo testified that Spiro put out the hit which was never corroborated. There was no proof that Spiro even ordered the hit or requested it. He was given a life sentence.

After he went away the Greek crew began to lose power. This was evident after Albanian mob boss Alex Rudaj moved into Astoria and demanded that he was taking over. Which he did until his organization was smashed by the FBI. Spiro served his time and kept his mouth shut. I had the pleasure of meeting him in and outside of prison and he was nothing more than a gambling boss and a shrewd businessman. RIP