By The Other Guy | June 6, 2020
Nestled between The states of New York and Rhode Island is Connecticut, affectionately known as “The Nutmeg State”.
It has a total population of just over 3,500,000 residents and is the southernmost state in the New England region of the northeastern United States.
With the highest per-capita income and medium household income of the entire nation, the Nutmeg State has always been a vibrant hub for families and commerce since its creation by European settlers back in the early 1600s.
In fact, Connecticut was one of the first 13 colonies and had written and established documents that are considered to be the first constitutions in America…it is rich with our American history!
Running the gamut from cozy, quaint New England-style cottages to breathtaking and expansive mansions that sit on sprawling estates, Connecticut offers some of the most desirable housing, amenities, and living conditions in the nation.
Along with Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, Connecticut rounds out the five states that comprise what is widely known as the New England area of the Northeastern United States.
Overall, Connecticut is considered a wealthy and highly desireable place to live, work, and raise a family.
But although it can boast one of the top economies in the nation, and many have flocked to its soil to settle down, raise a family, and call it their own, the Nutmeg State has the dubious honor of never having had a resident, homegrown Mafia Family of their own.
I say a “dubious” honor because one would think it an attribute and a good thing to not to have a Mafia Godfather, his fellow mafiosi and mob associates to dominate and rule the territory. But it was not!
Its neighbors to the east and south each have sitting Mafia organizations. The huge “Empire State” of New York to the south, has seven active Families operating and proliferating its borders. And even the tiny little “Ocean State” of Rhode Island to its east, the smallest state in the Union, could boast one as well.
But poor li’l ole Connecticut had never been able to make that claim. As stated above, the reader would think it would have been a positive revelation, but upon further review, it turns out the total opposite has been true.
Because the fact is that the Nutmeg State has been inundated with splintered factions from many different Mafia Families, all competing to operate there over the years. It brought tremendous strife and conflict as a result.
It is precisely because they do not have one clear cut, formally structured and dominate Family to plant their Cosa Nostra flag in it’s soil, declaring Connecticut as their private bailiwick, that many highly organized, as well as independent and very unorganized hoodlums, attempted to stake a claim to its various territories.
More often than not, the result has been complete chaos and murderous bedlam.
Various mafiosi and mob associates representing the interests of at least five different mob Families: the Patriarca, Genovese, Gambino, Colombo, and DeCavalcante’s have all staked claims over the years in various towns and cities within the state. And at times, the competition has been fierce.
They have often overlapped interests and clashed, bumping heads so to speak, while vying and competing for the same limited racket spoils.
The result has been many wanton and senseless “off the record” gangland killings, as well as “sanctioned hits” ordered by the hierarchies of these Families spanning many decades, dating back to at least the early 1950s era.
What follows is a loose chronology and recitation of both the early history for several of these various crews or official “regimes”, and in some cases, independent gangs who tried their hand (and lady luck) at grabbing hold of the brass ring that was, and is, Connecticut’s vibrant underworld.
I also give a bit of an in-depth profile on a few guys that I’ve either met and became friendly with through mutual “friends” or just found their biographies interesting.
One last word…as an “open territory”, although the entire state was of course ripe for the picking, just like any other city or state in the nation where the mafia operates, there are always key cities or towns that draw more mafiosi and racketeers than others.
I’ve noticed the most popular areas for underworld infiltration and activity to be Bridgeport, Stamford, New Haven, Fairfield, Stratford, Trumbull, New Britain, and Hartford. Many different mob guys operated in these areas. Both made guys and associates alike.
The one exception I’ve noticed by and large, was the city of Waterbury, which seems to have been recognized as under the exclusive dominion of New Jersey’s Simone DeCavalcante Family, which we’ll discuss a bit later.
NOW, LETS GET ON TO THE STORY!
The Genovese Family…
This sprawling Cosa Nostra network has held many out of state interests through the years.
Good examples of their far-flung interests include the Cufari/Scibelli Regime of Springfield, Massachusetts, as well as the small Iacone/Mastrototaro Regime of Worcester, which was also based in that State. They’ve also had crews and several individual soldiers over the years active in Upstate New York.
So this Family has a long history in this upper New England area.
Among several affiliated hoodlums and racketeers who have flown the Genovese flag over the years was Salvatore (Midget Renault) Annunziato aka “Midge”, a pint-sized, loose cannon of a hoodlum who became associated with them and was eventually made a “good fellow”.
Midge was a bit whacky (make that a lot whacky). He operated for years as a Family soldier through terror and violence with moderate success. His checkered underworld career was pockmarked by nasty incidents, drunken bar brawls, and a general disrespect to all whom he dealt with, other wiseguys and the public alike.
By the mid 1970s, he was drinking daily and becoming more and more unstable. Annunziato was finally put to sleep in 1979 by his former associates…and that was that!
It was thought that his own people clipped him. By that time Midge was way out of control and had long ago lost whatever value he had been to the Family.
A more stable, and certainly more level-headed mafioso came in the form of veteran soldier Vincenzo (Vinny) Pollina, who lived in Derby.
He had several loyal associates who operated within his sphere of influence: Francis (Fat Franny) Curcio and his brother Gustave (Gus), among several others. They were well-known gamblers and loan sharks who ran rackets in Stratford, Bridgeport, and other local areas.
Pollina was a very well-liked, and well-respected old-time soldier who served in capo John (Buster) Ardito’s crew, which was based down in the Bronx and Westchester Counties.
I met Vinny years back in New York City, and later rekindled our acquaintance in Danbury where Pollina was serving out a 9-year sentence…he was a class act all the way!
Buster Ardito was sent away for 10-years, and both Curcio brothers received seven years in federal prison for related racketeering and extortion convictions on the same case as Pollina.
Another Genovese soldier was Salvatore C. (Sabby) Basso. Born in 1916, for many years he was a virtual unknown to law enforcement. He primarily operated as a bookmaker and shylock. He was another quiet, low-key type guy. A nice man who was very loyal to his borgata and friends.
On February 12, 1985, he was indicted on RICO charges after a two-year FBI probe resulted in 18 arrests for a major gambling operation he headed. He received 8 years in federal prison. Back in 1969, he had also received a 3-year suspended term for a tax evasion conviction.
Basso violated his probation after agents witnessed him holding court at the Pin-Up Restaurant on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport. He chaired a meeting with several subordinates including Ilario (Lefty) Regina, Billy Dorman, Vincent Esposito, Thomas Romano, and Arnold Russo.
During their investigation, the FBI documented that Sabby also operated a solid shylock “book” up that way…A bit of trivia, it was while he was serving the 8-year bid on the above case that I had the pleasure to meet him several times at Danbury Penitentiary…as I said earlier, I found Sabby to be a nice guy!
Early on, a notorious Genovese-affiliated, independent-styled hoodlum named Ralph Mele operated up that way. Midge Renault started his mob career working under Mele. But in time, it was suspected that they fell out with each other. Mele was later found shot to death on the side of a lonely dirt road in 1951…Midge of course became a prime suspect.
Another important mafioso was Girolamo Santuccio, better known as “Bobby Doyle” from his days as a prize fighter down in New York City. Santuccio was an old-time veteran soldier of the Vito Genovese Family.
Bobby Doyle actually dated back before the days of Cosa Nostra to the Giuseppe Masseria Family. He was a key gunman during the infamous Castellammarese War of 1929-31.
He had a record dating to 1916, with arrests that included felonious assault and homicide by shotgun.
A former sidekick of Joe Valachi, by early 1962 Valachi had publicly named Bobby in multiple gangland murders during the Prohibition era. To avoid all the adverse publicity, Bobby Doyle then migrated back up to Hartford where he’d spent time as a kid, to keep a low profile.
Once there he quietly reestablished himself under the Springfield, MA., regime of Big Nose Sam Cufari. He started operating gambling and shylock rackets in his Hartford area, very low-key.
But boys will be boys, and hoodlums will be hoodlums as they say, and by April of 1976, Bobby found himself under indictment with a gaggle of 24 others for operating a huge gambling and extortion racket in the towns of Vernon, South Windsor, and his base of Hartford.
At 76 years old, he faced perjury charges for lying before a federal grand jury probing the Connecticut mob operation.
Among those charged included Providence soldier John (Sonny) Castagna, and fellow Genovese soldier Anthony (Tony) Volpe.
Also indicted were mob associates: Michael Chiarizio, Michael O’Brien, John Sullivan, Lawrence DiBenedetto, Francis Campanelle, Ralph Irace, George Speciale, John Della Ferra, Richard Bovino, Charles Boomazian, Eugene Poulin, William Jacomini, Robert Morris, Andrew Mascola, John Lepito, Dennis Byrne, Francis Lisella, James Smuckler, John Barone, and Anne Stefanou.
Charges for the 25 defendants included racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, loansharking, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to hijack a truck in interstate commerce, varied gambling counts, and perjury.
Vito (Billy West) Sabia of Stamford was also a Genovese soldier. The low key Sabia was a longtime gambling power who was suspected of also dabbling in the narcotics trade over the years.
Another New York City transplant, this one affiliated with the Anastasia/Gambino Family, was Nunzio Squillante. The brother of the notorious, murdered mafioso Vincent (Jimmy Jerome) Squillante, Nunzio was allied with his brother and nephews, Gennaro (Jerry) and Aniello (Wahoo) Mancuso, in the garbage carting rackets out in Nassau County on Long Island during the 1950s-early 1960s until his brother’s killing.
After Jimmy’s murder, Nunzio relocated his wife and kids up to Connecticut from their home base in the Bronx where he continued to do what he knew best – operate private sanitation-carting companies. He was either a soldier or mob associate of that Family. And although he had a few minor scrapes with the law in later years, he managed to avoid any major mafia involvement.
A hoodlum who’s formal affiliation I’m unsure of was Thomas (Pinocchio) Rispoli. He was an early New Haven-based mob associate who was found beaten and shot dead some years later than Mele in the fall of 1962…Ralph Tropiano was a prime suspect in Rispoli’s murder.
Now on to both the Colombo and Patriarca Families…
Ralph (Whitey) Tropiano was said to have originally been from Connecticut, but at some point as a child or young man, Tropiano’s blood Family moved down to Brooklyn. He spent a good number of years down in New York City where he met and became affiliated with members of the old Joe Profaci Family.
Always a vicious guy, Tropiano operated for years as an independent heist guy and gunsel for the Brooklyn mob. In the 1950s, he became a “made man” after betraying, and singlehandedly killing his fellow gang members who had the temerity to go and rob mob-backed crap games.
After living many years in Brooklyn, he relocated back up to Connecticut. He became a mob power in the Nutmeg State but still remained a soldier under the Profaci/Colombo Family.
Tropiano had the reputation as a vicious killer who’d done plenty of “work” in his time. A no-nonsense guy to be taken seriously. He was also a very domineering and nasty guy, who didn’t make a lot of friends in the mob.
In his later years, Tropiano was repeatedly jailed, and Whitey soon became bitter and disillusioned with mob life. He started to inform on both his mafia associates and his rivals alike, in both Connecticut and New York.
The Colombos soon found out about his informant status. They lured Tropiano back to New York for a meeting and shot him dead on a Brooklyn street corner in 1980.
William (Wild Billy, The Wild Man) Grasso – As a young hood on his way up, he allied with Ralph Tropiano and the Profaci/Colombo mob. He ran dice games and shylocked under Whitey, but they eventually fell out with each other, and after meeting New England boss Raymond Patriarca in prison, Grasso affiliated under Patriarca.
He would thrive within that Family, and was eventually entrusted to oversee all Connecticut operations for that crew by Patriarca.
Although Grasso was based in Connecticut, he was named the official Patriarca Family underboss. This was in a Family that typically had seen its leaders hailing from Providence, Rhode Island or Boston, Massachusetts.
But Grasso was another hood with a personality problem. He had a very nasty and arrogant style, and was disliked by many. Even his own men.
Grasso was known to have a hair-trigger temper and a vicious streak. He was another stone-cold killer who had little remorse for anyone, especially those who he felt had crossed or insulted him in some manner…and his associates knew it.
The chickens finally came home to roost in 1989. Grasso was said to have been lured into a van by fellow Patriarca soldiers and shot to death. His body was dumped on the side of a lonely New England road like a discarded bag of trash.
Allied with Grasso was Patriarca soldier John (Sonny) Castagna, who hailed from Hartford. He was a sort of de facto driver and aide. He was later convicted and jailed of manslaughter and turned federal informant against his mob associates. Castagna was later relocated under the WITSEC program.
The DeCavalcante Family…
As I stated above earlier, this group seems to have held exclusive control over the city of Waterbury. They operated in several other cities and jurisdictions in the state as well, like in New Britain and the city of Hartford.
Their resident Connecticut underboss Joseph (Joe Buff) La Selva, and his crew of men ran that Waterbury territory exclusively, without any interference from outside mobs.
They also controlled certain parts of other towns where they operated their fair share of rackets. Capo Michael Puglia aka “Mickey Poole” oversaw a small regime of soldiers that included Joseph (Pippy) Guerriero, Frank Carbone, and Louis (Lu-Lu) Di Giovanni.
Pippy Guerriero in particular was an interesting mob figure in that although only a soldier within the hierarchy, Pippy seems to have governed the town of New Britain’s extensive lottery and other gambling rackets as its resident czar.
He went “on the lam” in 1981 after being indicted for heading a bribery ring that corrupted a large portion of that city’s police force to protect his gaming operations.
They were all governed and protected by their underboss La Selva, who’s two brothers Thomas and Anthony aka “Tommy and Tony Buff” were also soldiers serving in this regime.
They were augmented by a crew that numbered no more than maybe 10 to 15 associates.
Collectively, they operated a wide variety of rackets which included numbers, sports and horse bookmaking, dice and card games, shylocking, and the like.
And throughout their tenure for the most part, they were low key and non violent. The La Selva Regime was one of the few mobs in the state who never succumbed to violence or bloodshed…and on review, it seems to have served them well.
But of all the various regimes and mob factions active in the state, the Gambino Family arguably had the most representation, and subsequently garnered the most notoriety, of any borgata active in the Nutmeg State…
Over the years, there were many Gambino-affiliated capos, soldiers, and top associates operating there. Familiar surnames include Iacovetti, Piccolo, and DeBrizzi to name but a few.
David Robert (Davey Crockett) Iacovetti – A very respected old-timer who was a highly independent operator within the Gambino Family. Originally born in Altoona, PA., as a young man Iacovetti relocated to Connecticut where he became a top mob figure in their Nutmeg regime. By the mid-1960s, he was residing in the town of Trumbull.
Iacovetti was said to operate several fast-food drive-in type restaurants in Connecticut and was also active in New York City where he held a hidden ownership of a nightclub.
Dave was active in South Florida rackets as well, where he resided for years on and off.
He was primarily involved in both illegal and legal gambling and was known to deal in stolen stocks and securities. He frequently traveled to Haiti, in the Dominican Republic in relation to these gaming interests.
And although he didn’t live 24/7 in Connecticut, he operated there enough to be deemed one of that state’s top resident mafioso.
Other old-time original Nutmegs included:
Nicola (Nick) Melia – An old school, Gambino-affiliated immigrant hoodlum. He operated as a large scale loan shark.
Melia was a mob schemer who also dealt in stolen goods and artworks as well.
Nicola (Nick) Patti – An early recognized “capo di decina” for the Family who oversaw their Connecticut operations during the 1940s thru 1960s era.
A respected and low key old-timer. He was a close associate of known hoodlums Paul Agresta, Benny Marchese, and Cosmo Sandalo.
Ippolito (Paul) Agresta – aka “The Zip” “The Greaseball”. He was born 1906 in Calabria. He was naturalized in Bridgeport in 1945, where he lived the rest of his life. FBI # 4882273.
He had an arrest for extortion (8 months in jail) and was a suspected international narcotics trafficker.
He was another old time “zip” who was influential in Connecticut mob politics until his mysterious disappearance in July of 1974 at the age of 68 years old.
It’s debatable whether he was a capo or just an influential soldier, but either way Agresta was a major player in the Nutmeg underworld until his Houdini Act.
John (Slew) Palmieri – He was another Gambino soldier who ran gambling and other rackets up in Connecticut. Jealously over position and money always seemed to rule the day in their Connecticut faction.
Shortly after being released from jail, he returned to New Haven to reestablish himself into the rackets. Palmieri was blown to bits in a car bomb shortly thereafter in the fall of 1974.
Cosmo Sandalo, born on June 12, 1914. stood 5-foot 6-inches, weighed 140 pounds, and had brown eyes and hair.FBI # 248791C. New Haven Division of FBI. 20 Anderson Street, Stamford.
He was the uncle of future Gambino underboss Anthony Megale. He was an N’dranghetista born in Calabria. Allied with Italian racketeers in Canada, Italy, Florida, and Connecticut. A close associate and aide was hoodlum Harry Riccio.
A second-tier hoodlum allied with both Ippolito Agresta and the N’dranghetista Cosmo Sandalo was Celestino (Chester) Falzetti – born 1930. FBI # 174976A. He resided at 19 Dubois Street, Stamford.
Falzetti was active in the fencing of $230,000 in stolen treasury bills, and gambling in Stamford. He was especially closely allied with Sandalo.
One of the most notorious Gambino mafia capos to ever operate in Bridgeport was Frank Piccolo aka “The Cigar.”
Born in 1921 and a resident of Stratford, he was a well-known mob figure who came up under Agresta, Patti, and their regime. FBI # 428348A Bridgeport PD # 7637. He had arrests since 1947 for gambling, assault, and income tax evasion.
After becoming a made guy, Piccolo vastly expanded and consolidated his influence and power. Ostensibly he owned Columbia Motors, a used car lot in Bridgeport.
But in truth, he was extremely active in strong-arm extortion, gambling rackets, and was highly suspected of handling narcotics in partnership with capo Rocco Mazzie, Lucchese capo Tony Castaldi from Harlem, and his brother-in-law Guido Penosi who was a resident of Los Angeles, California.
Penosi also was a known Gambino member and narcotics dealer. Penosi operated in both Connecticut and California, where he was suspected of smuggling heroin from and to.
He is best known for the failed, and highly-publicized attempted extortion of singer Wayne Newton years ago.
Piccolo eventually became the capo of their crew until his very public murder while in a phone booth in 1981.
Thomas (Tommy the Enforcer) DeBrizzi – A gambler and strong-arm utilized by Frank Piccolo, who Tommy came up under and was later sponsored by. DeBrizzi was the prime suspect in his mentor’s 1981 murder.
After operating a few short years in the capo seat, he fell on federal charges and was jailed at Danbury. Shortly after making parole, DeBrizzi himself was found shot to death, stuffed in a car truck in 1988.
Side Note: DeBrizzi was another fellow I met while he was in Danbury. I found him to be extremely friendly and courteous, but I do know that he had several nasty arguments with knockaround guys up there. In one beef that got very heated, he seriously insulted a kid that wasn’t yet straightened out, but who had family members that were back in New York. I suspect that didn’t help Tommy’s cause any.
It later came out in trial testimony that Tommy had been killed on the orders of John Gotti for no other reason but failing to show up for a meeting with the boss when requested to, down at the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street.
Anthony (Tony) Megale was Sandalo’s nephew and protege. He would affiliate and in the late 1980s later rise to become the Gambino Family’s Connecticut-based underboss. He died young of heart disease shortly after his release from federal prison.
A few of the other early mafiosi who operated in tandem with the above racketeers were:
Ignazio (Okay Benny) Marchese – aka “Benny Marchese”. Born 1903 in the Palma (Naples) section of Italy. He was naturalized in 1944. FBI # 4612703, ConnPD # 49778. Since 1930, he’s been arrested for carrying a gun, armed robbery, violation of the federal narcotics laws.
A resident of Andonsia, Conn., Marchese was a convicted interstate narcotics trafficker who obtained his supply from top mafia traffickers in NYC, typically East Harlem and Downtown Manhattan.
Marchese was known to make frequent trips into NYC where he would purchase loads of cheap merchandise for resale back home. He also trafficked in pornographic films and books that he bought from mob contacts in Times Square’s red light district for distribution in New Haven.
A close associate of Agresta, Piccolo, Lucchese capo Anthony (Tony Higgins) Castaldi of East Harlem, and Gambino member Vincent (Jimmy the Blond) Corrao on Mulberry Street.
As a young hoodlum back in New York, he was reportedly a member of the “Iodine Gang”, a notorious team of truck hijackers.
Thomas (Tommy the Blond) Vastano – He was a suspected Genovese soldier or at least a top-ranked associate. Long affiliated with Midge Annunziato, Vastano was thought to have been active as an enforcer and in gambling operations, and was suspected in several homicides over the years including that of his former friend Annunziato.
In January of 1980, the 71-year-old Vastano was shot to death by his “friends” in the backyard of his own Stratford home…”another dead soldier” as the saying goes.
William (Willie the Creep) Conforte – Born 1908 in New Haven, he resided in the West Haven area where he also operated from. FBI # 686025, New Haven PD # 4220. Since 1933 he had arrests for counterfeiting, armed robbery, and maintaining a gambling den.
Conforte was closely associated with his brother Jimmy Conforte, Agresta, Piccolo, hoodlum Raymond Maresca, and soldier Paul (Paulie Legs) Zerbo of NYC.
The Conforte brothers were well known local heroin dealers with interstate sources of supply in NYC.
Raymond (Lemons) Maresca – aka “Thomas Del Monto”. He was also born in New Haven back in 1903. FBI # 26808, New Haven PD # 2696. He had arrests since 1913 for burglary, armed robbery, and narcotics. He had ownership interests in a parking lot and New Haven supermarket.
He was active as a loanshark, and was another known narcotics distributor in the New Haven area with sources of supply in East Harlem. On occasion, Marchese also supplied Maresca locally.
He was tied to Lucchese capo Carmine (Willy the Wop) Locascio, and Gambino soldier Vincent (Jimmy Jerome) Squillante.
Ippolito (Paulie Legs) Zerbo – Born 1912 in East Harlem. A soldier in the Lucchese Family. Although Zerbo lived in NYC, he operated regularly in Connecticut and the overall New England area.
Zerbo’s criminal identification numbers were; FBI # 2447703, NYPD # B-12338, Stamford PD # 3288.
He was a multi-kilo supplier of heroin and trafficked into the Connecticut area.
A close ally of the notorious Lucchese kingpin Big John Ormento. Zerbo was suspected of also obtaining his supply from seamen smugglers.
Salvatore (Mickey) Caruana – A large-scale marijuana smuggler who was on trial at the time of his disappearance and presumed murder in the Spring of 1987.
“On the lam” from an indictment accusing Caruana of moving thousands of pounds of pot across state lines, it was thought that Billy Grasso killed his Patriarca associate to sever any possible ties to his drug trade. Caruana’s car was later found abandoned in a Connecticut parking lot.
Other murders of various lesser mob associates through the years included William Shamansky, William (Billy Hot Dogs) Grant, Richard Biondi, and Eric Miller…they were among many others who were dealt a losing hand in the Connecticut rackets over the years, right on up to the present day.
But despite a multitude of racket guys and crews active there, it always seemed to be an mostly unorganized, hodge-podge of mob strife and violence.
And as discussed earlier in this article, the violence constantly associated with the Connecticut underworld I view as the collateral damage of not having one single, recognized Mafia Family to call The Nutmeg State all its own.
It could be argued that one resident, universally recognized crime Family would have served them well in that regard.
Until next time… “The Other Guy!”
This article was originally posted “here“