Innocenzio (Johnny the Bug) Stopelli – aka “John Stoppelli” was born on April 10, 1907 at 143 Thompson Street, in Greenwich Village. He lived for years at 153 Madison Street in the “4th Ward” section, down near the docks.
There was a period during the 1940s when he had relocated up to the Bronx, residing at 926 East 216th Street, but primarily he was a Downtown Manhattan guy all his life. Although, at one point by his mid-60s, he moved a bit further uptown to the more prestigious address of 200 East 36th Street by the late-1970s, and 35 East 38th Street by 1983, where he lived the rest of his life.
Side Note: Stopelli lived but a few doors down from his lifelong associate and capo Antonio Strollo, who grew up at 177 Thompson Street.
Stopelli stood at 5-feet 7-inches and weighed a trim 160lbs. He had black-grey thinning hair, combed straight back, dark brown eyes and a dark olive complexion.
He was married to the former Marilyn (nee’ Groger), but he and his wife never had any children.
FBI # 67649, NYCPD # B-67307, FBN # NYS4111
John Stopelli was a notorious member in the downtown regime of Vito Genovese, under the auspices of caporegime, and later underboss, Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo. He was first officially documented as an (inducted) “soldier” when informant Joe Valachi identified him during the famed Valachi hearings in 1963. He was also subsequently named in both the 1983 and 1988 U.S. Senate Hearings on organized crime.
“Johnny the Bug” headed his own drug crew that distributed kilo lots of heroin the Genovese Family smuggled in from Europe, operating for decades. He was considered to be one of the most active wholesale traffickers in the United States by the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics), who had pegged him as a top drug trafficker by the 1930s.
Beyond handling narcotics per se, Stopelli was also considered to be one of the overall bosses of their regime. A highly trusted inner-circle member in league with Strollo. He was said to have been the “sponsor” of Vincent Mauro for membership into the borgata, with Mauro said to have been groomed under Stopelli.
“Johnny the Bug’s” operating territory, stomping grounds and hangouts were always in the Greenwich Village section of the Lower Westside, along Prince, Sullivan, Bleecker and Third Streets.Favorite haunts included Milady’s Tavern at 167 Bleecker Street, and Tony Pastor’s Club at 130 West 3rd Street.
He was alleged to be a hidden partner with Tommy Annichiario in the ownership Tommy’s Bar, located at 171 Bleecker Street, which Stopelli used as a base for various racket operations.
Stopelli’s long criminal record of at least 19 arrests started in 1924, being picked up for:
• 1924 – Harrison drug act (fine)
• 1924 – possession of a gun
• 1925 – drugs (1 year and a day in Atlanta FCI)
• 1926 – vagrancy
• 1926 – robbery
• 1927 – possessing a gun (2.5-5 years in Sing Sing)
• 1930 – assault and robbery
• 1935 – safe burglary
• 1936 – vagrancy
• 1940 – narcotics law violations
• 1940 – bribing a government officer (6 months in FCI Danbury)
• 1941 – vagrancy
• 1942 – Harrison Act (narcotics)
• 1943 – held for questioning
• 1944 – sale of heroin, conspiracy
• 1945 – federal mail theft
• 1945 – homicide
• 1946 – sale of opium (3 years in Milan, Michigan)
• 1948 – federal narcotics laws (6 years in San Francisco, CA)
…and he served at least five jail terms in both state and federal prison.
He numbered among his associates:
• Vito Genovese – Family Boss who counted Stopelli and his Greenwich Village regime as his personal crew, allowing them to handle various narcotics shipments and other sensitive assignments.
• Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo – top Caporegime under Genovese who later rose to “acting boss” before he disappeared. Stopelli’s primary capo for years.
• Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli – a soldier in his crew who later rose up to an acting boss position.
• Pasquale (Patsy Ryan) Eboli – Tommy’s brother who Stopelli may have later served under after Strollo’s disappearance and presumed murder.
• Alfred (Butch) Faicco – a fellow Greenwich Village regime member and neighborhood friend.
• Joseph Marone – a partner in narcotics with Stopelli and others.
• Vincent (Bruno) Mauro – a younger associate who Stopelli was said to have brought around and later groomed. Mauro was said to have been a vicious killer.
• Ottilio (Frank the Bug) Caruso – a soldier in the 4th-Ward regime who also dealt in heroin. Arrested in 1945 with Stopelli for narcotics, he was also later arrested in Europe for narcotics smuggling.
• Joseph (Joe Beck) Lapi – another soldier of the 4th-Ward who would later rise to head that faction. Convicted trafficker and waterfront racketeer.
• Charles (Charlie Bullets) Albero – a notorious narcotics dealer who headed an extensive heroin ring based in East Harlem.
• Joseph (Joe Cago) Valachi – East Harlem based soldier and fellow regime member, who was later arrested with Stopelli for narcotics.
• Dominick (Iggy) D’Ercole – a top narcotics dealer who headed a huge NYC to Washington, D.C. drug operation in 1945, charged in the same case.
• Philip (Philly Katz) Albanese – another key soldier in the downtown regime convicted of narcotics. Helped run waterfront rackets.
• Enrico (Blackie) Tantillo – Harlem based narcotics trafficker and close regime associate. They were arrested in the same narcotics case in 1945.
• Eugene Uricola – another Mulberry Street alumni and co-defendant of Stopelli in a huge 1945 narcotics indictment.
• Peter (Petey Muggins) Mione; fellow soldier and Strollo regime member who he was indicted with in a vast martinis smuggling ring.
• Girolamo (Bobby Doyle) Santuccio; notorious gunman, soldier and crew member from Greenwich Village who later relocated up to CT
…… among most others of the downtown regimes.
As a teenager, he was arrested by Queens police after he stole a flock of homing pigeons from a pigeon-coop in the Long Island City section.
In 1926, he was arrested for having formed a “stickup and robbery crew”. When questioned by detectives, he admitted being its teen leader, and “living off the proceeds of the holdups”.
In March of that same year in 1926, nineteen-year-old Stopelli was arrested for the murder of another young local hoodlum named Louis Bernardo months earlier in October of 1925 inside a pool hall at 108 Thompson Street, in the heavily Italian populated Greenwich Village area. This neighborhood would turn out to be his lifelong mob stomping grounds. His partner in the arrest, Peter Cinnamo, would later plead guilty to the killing, and was sent away for life. Stopelli was charged with burglary.
In 1938, he was questioned about the death of a beautiful showgirl he was dating named Thelma Giroux, who either jumped or was thrown out of the 5th-story window of a Times Square honky-tonk residence named the Lincoln Hotel, located at 44th Street off 8th Avenue. Homicide detectives questioned Stopelli, who said that he was not present in her hotel room when she jumped naked from an open window after having just returned from a big night out on the town with him.
Stopelli claimed that she made the statement out of nowhere that “she was sick and tired of it all, and didn’t wanna live any longer. Goodbye. So long, that it was all over”. Stopelli was never charged with her death, as it could not be proven by police that he had anything to do with it. Giroux’s death was eventually ruled a suicide.
In March of 1945, Stopelli was one of 137 members in a huge narcotics ring operating in New York and Washington, D.C. They handled marijuana, morphine, opium as well as heroin. Frank Caruso, Dominick D’Ercole, Joseph Dentico and Harry Tantillo were among his codefendents. Authorities alleged they moved $4,000,000 in drugs over a four year span.
Then in November 1945, he was among a gaggle of mob guys arrested for a California to New York City heroin smuggling network. The FBN accused the Genovese Family led conspirators of having brought the narcotics in from Mexico from 1941 until their indictment in 1945, for ultimate distribution around San Francisco, California and on the East Coast, specifically the New York-tristate area.
They were all convicted after trial of operating an international narcotics smuggling ring, with Stopelli receiving a 6-year federal prison term in a federal courthouse in San Francisco. He’d been convicted of the sale and concealment of heroin.
Side Note: In 1950, the Ninth-circuit court of appeals in California denied Stopelli’s motion for a reversal or dismissal of the conviction. Stopelli had claimed the sole fingerprint on a package of heroin was not his, and that he had been “set up” by narcotics agents.
The testimony by their “Star Witness”, a fingerprint “expert” who swore on a bible that the fingerprints were a perfect match with Stopelli – which was the sole evidence that won the conviction – WAS ALL A LIE.
After serving almost three years in jail, President Harry Truman himself interceded and commuted Stopelli’s sentence, (without ever implicating or accusing the FBN and FBI agents with wrongdoing). President Truman had been made aware of the case by several influential defense lawyers and friendly, sympathetic politicians…. Johnny the Bug got very lucky, despite having already served almost half his sentence.
The year 1945 had been a bad year for The Bug. He was also arrested with Vinny Mauro for the November 1945 killing of an ex-convict named Rocco LoScalzo, who was shot to death in the street as he was entering a Greenwich Village apartment building.
Shortly after getting released from prison in the San Francisco drug case in late 1950, Stopelli almost bought the farm himself when he was accosted by a hoodlum named Sam Urchoili in the wee hours of the morning on Prince Street inside The Milady Tavern.
The story goes that Urchioli, well-known in the neighborhood as a nasty and violent hood, just swaggered into this notorious mob hangout and starting threatening everybody in the bar. He was well acquainted with Stopelli, and The Bug was alleged to have to told him to “get lost”, chasing him out.
Urchioli was said to have left but returned shortly thereafter with a .32 caliber revolver and promptly shot Stopelli in the back when he wasn’t looking, then immediately ran out of the bar with other patrons chasing him. A half a dozen buddies of Stopelli caught up to him a few doors down Prince Street, and beat him with steel garbage pails, cracking his skull. But they quickly rushed back to the tavern, driving Stopelli to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he was listed in grave condition. A police ambulance also rushed the assailant Sam Urchioli to St. Vincent’s in critical condition with his skull badly fractured.
Side Note: During the debriefing of a New Jersey based mob informant Harold (Kayo) Konigsberg in 1965, FBI agents recorded transcripts where Konigsberg stated that a vote and subsequent plan for the 1958 murder of John Scanlon by top Genovese hierarchy members including Tommy Ryan, Chin Gigante, and Tony the Sheik, took place at Stopelli’s King Street apartment in Greenwich Village.
With the killing of Anthony Strollo in 1962, and the death of Vito Genovese seven years later in 1969, Stopelli slowed faded into the mob’s version of retirement. He was already in his mid-60s and retired from heavy racket activities of earlier years. But he was still somewhat active, albeit in a much more admittedly mundane and docile racket.
In 1977, he was among a large group of Genovese-oriented gamblers picked up for operating a combination multimillion dollar numbers and sports-bookmaking ring in the New York/New Jersey areas. It was allegedly headed by Genovese captain Vincent (Jimmy Nap) Napoli.
Stopelli was charged with promoting gambling and gambling conspiracy,with authorities alleging that Stopelli and Napoli had been partners in the betting operation. Although it was a major gambling bust at the time, I do not believe that Johnny the Bug was convicted, or served any jail time if he was. Napoli was sentenced to a 5-year jail term on his conviction after trial.
I believe it was Stopelli’s swan song. He was already pushing 70-years-old. No more was publicly heard from him until his death on January 10, 1993. Innocenzio Stopelli or more aptly known as “Johnny the Bug” as he was commonly called, was one of the early Italian underworld’s top “workers”.
A diehard, dangerous mafioso, who although little known to the general public, was a pivotal and important figure in New York City gangland. He was 86 years old!
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