By The Other Guy | June 19, 2020
The quiet city of Schenectady, located in the northeastern part of New York State, is only 11 square miles in size. Yet it still has a current population of approximately 66,000 residents. (It’s 1930s population zenith topped 95,000)
Situated in Schenectady County, it is part of what is referred to as the Capital District. It is in the same greater metropolitan area as the state Capitol of Albany, which is only about 14 miles away.
Other well-known cities close by include Troy (14 miles), Cohoes (12 miles), Syracuse (112 miles), all in NYS, North Bennington, VT. (36 miles), and Bridgeport, CT (119 miles).
Schenectady and it’s surrounding areas have always had a very large Italian population.
In fact, the area was a Little Italy of sorts for many decades, starting around the early 1920s. The area was known as “Goose Hill”, one of several heavily populated Italian districts in the city.
Many Italian immigrants migrated up thereafter initially arriving by ship from Italy, sailing through Ellis Island and settling into the teeming, ghetto tenements of New York City.
Amid the cramped existence of big city living, many soon opted to join family and “amici”, who were fast establishing themselves in this Upstate New York area.
Besides familial contacts, often another big drawing card were better employment opportunities.
The General Electric Company (GE) and American Locomotive Company (ALCO), which were nationally influential companies, developed in Schenectady starting back in the early 20th century. It was this fact that gave Schenectady the nickname of “The Electric City.”
These two corporate giants, among several others, became major drawing cards to convince Italian immigrants to settle into the area for the steady work they offered.
With its largely rural, wide-open spaces that reminded them of the homeland they longed for back in Southern Italy and Sicily, it was an easy choice for many.
Schenectady is surrounded by the towns of Scotia, Amsterdam, Niskayuna, Ballston Spa, Glenville, Saratoga Springs, and Rotterdam, nearly all of whom were also very Italianate in flavor. The overall area is a thriving, yet sedate and bucolic landscape.
Schenectady has a small-town feel, where everybody seems to know everybody else, and generation after generation, often reside in the same houses their parents, and their parent’s parents did before them.
Neighboring Counties include Rensselaer, Montgomery, Saratoga, Troy, and Albany.
One of the first professional gamblers to ever live and operate in Schenectady was Antonio (Tony) Bernardi. He resided for years at 462 Twelfth Street, in the heart of town.
He was arguably the most prominent “sporting gentleman”, as illegal gamblers and racketeers were so genteelly referred to in the old days by the tabloids, to control the Schenectady area.
He was a well-known, and very well-liked, local gambler and bookmaker. A hometown boy done good as it were.
Although Tony may have been in a business that was “technically” illegal at the time, Bernardi was nonetheless viewed as a very generous and benevolent neighborhood guy, who was quick to reach into his pocket to help his friends, and his fellow townspeople in their time of need.
Whether that meant paying for coal deliveries to help warm their homes in the dead of winter, or Tony buying a bag of groceries to feed those neighbors in need.
It endeared Tony Bernardi to the people of Schenectady, and the surrounding communities.
Side Note: Tony was assisted by his brother Joseph Bernardi and other top, established area gamblers like Paul Gay.
Bernardi can also be viewed as a mentor of sorts to many young, future bookmakers, policy operators, and gamblers, some of whom later became notorious, local characters in their own right.
Police said that the Bernardi crew handled heavy numbers action, and ran an interstate “lay-off” ring for out of area bookies who needed to “edge off” action, so they could balance their books in case of a hit.
The Bernardi brothers and Gay also operated horse and sport bet action for the neighborhood.
Schenectady was also a bit of a different animal when it came to the area’s rackets and “racketeers”, if they could even be called that.
Because despite the city and it’s outer environs being rife with gamblers and street guys, who offered all the prevalent gambling-type activities as so many other cities around the country did, Schenectady and the greater Albany area had very little violence throughout its history, if any at all.
Bookmakers and other varied gamblers thrived for many decades with illegal activities such as policy bets, lotteries, horse and sports betting, dice games and the like.
Yet, I think the number of violent incidents or murders could be counted on one hand.
What’s even funnier, and a phenomenon of sorts, is that although several key, area gamblers and racket guys were tied to the Magaddino, Bufalino, and Genovese Families of the Mafia, among other borgatas, everyone seemed to get along quite nicely.
They all seemed to play well in the underworld sandbox together…an oddity to say the least!
Side Note: I make this observation in contrast to the State of Connecticut which I just recently did another expose on. The Nutmeg State also hosted a variety of Cosa Nostra operatives over the years.
Yet, they were a medley of mayhem. Constant mob conflict, and gangland killings through the years between the varied factions.
Schenectady, and for that matter, all the other cities and territories that surrounded it, never had that problem. The result was that they operated mostly undetected. And even when there were police raids and arrests, things seemed to calm down quickly and it was business back to usual.
On July 15, 1950, Tony Bernardi died suddenly of a heart attack while at his home on Twelfth Street. He was only 50 years of age.
His estate was publicly declared at no more than $5,000 in cash…”Live Fast And Die Young” could have been his mantra.
But considering all the good things said about him, especially Tony’s generosity and good will toward others, a more appropriate epitaph could have been “You Can’t Take It With You!”
Funny Side Story: It was reported by the local newspapers at the time, that there were 26 pallbearers named for Bernardi’s funeral. That is a huge number to begin with, but the funny part is that literally every single pallbearer was either a bookmaker, policy racketeer, or gambler in one form or another. Di Cocco, Gay, Verra, DeBraccio, Iovenelli, Mangino, etc. The list went on and on.
To a man, every single name would hit the local tabloids in years to come with arrests for gambling and related charges.
As I stated above, he associated with, and “broke in” many a future young bookmaker and gambler in his time. But of all his young associates and confederates, none was to become more well known in the City of Schenectady than Paolo Di Cocco.
Paolo Di Cocco, better known as Paul Di Cocco aka “Legs” Di Cocco, was born in 1924, at 1673 Van Vranken Avenue in Schenectady, the town where he was raised, and would live in his entire life.
As a young adult, he married in 1946. The Di Cocco’s would have five children, moving around the neighborhood as their family grew, to various homes including 505 South Avenue, 1452 Wendell Avenue, and later 556 Florence Street, where they would reside for many years. But he always resided in his home town.
By the early-1970s, the Di Cocco’s later relocated down to Hollywood, Florida, where they bought a home, but still traveled back and forth up to Schenectady regularly.
His arrest record started in 1948:
1948 – disorderly conduct
1950 – keeping a betting and gambling establishment (dice)
1951 – driving with a revoked license
1951 – operating a dice game
1951 – bribery of a policeman
1963 – vagrancy
1974 – held as a material witness
1977 – criminal contempt of court
1985 – felony coercion (5 years probation)
He had a brother named Duilio Di Cocco, aka “Jake” or “Jakie”. He was also born, raised, and operated from Schenectady his entire life. He later moved his wife and family to nearby Rotterdam.
Partnered with his brother Legs in nearly all they did, Jake had an arrest record starting in 1947 for:
1947 – operating a horseroom
1950 – operating a crap game
1957 – common gambler
1960 – bookmaking
1960 – maintaining a gambling establishment
1963 – no federal gambling tax stamp
1984 – felony possession of gambling records (5 years probation)
Along with his brother Jake, the brothers Di Cocco would later rise to become the most prominent bookmakers and policy racketeers in the City.
Over the years Paul Di Cocco held interests in the Rex Paving Corp., and the Midtown Parking Company. The firms were in his wife Mary Ellen’s name, a move Leg’s made to protect against possible government seizure.
They operated for years from a little eatery in town they named Di Cocco’s Luncheonette. Located at 1505 South Avenue, it was a family run operation that served very good food. But it offered a little something extra on the side as well.
From that neighborhood locale, the New York State Police and the FBI claimed they ran a major gambling network, operating on both a local and interstate level.
Over the years starting in the 1940s, both Legs and Jakey were arrested numerous times for everything from accepting horse and sports bets, policy and lottery numbers, to running steady high stakes dice games.
In addition, on several occasions both Legs Di Cocco and Jake figured into highly-publicized police corruption scandals.
Intense probes investigated allegations that several criminal cases were fixed on Di Cocco’s behalf over the years.
The results of which were that several policemen and officials in the Schenectady Police Department lost their posts, and were later indicted for bribe-taking.
In one case, a local policeman was singled out as having been on Di Cocco’s steady payroll for $150 a week, to warn the gambler of any impending investigations or subsequent police raids.
In a related incident, local police were directed by higher-ups in the department to quash traffic tickets given to Di Cocco, and purge any record of them from the police files.
Both Tony Bernardi, and the Di Cocco’s worked hand in glove with a host of fellow area bookmakers and gamblers over the years.
They operated out of luncheonettes, newspaper stands, candy stores, and barbershops which they used to take bets.
Among this legion of “Nathan Detroit’s” were mostly Italian based gamblers. Boys who they’d known all their lives, from grade school on up.
One of Legs Di Cocco’s closest associates through the years was Patrick (Buckshot) Bianchi. He was also known as “Buck” or “Whitey”.
Bianchi operated as a bookie and numbers operator. He also helped oversee their floating crap games.
Once, when both he and Leg’s were subpoenaed before a state grand jury probing police corruption, he slugged a news photographer who tried taking Di Cocco’s picture for the newspapers.
Buck was immediately arrested for assault and destruction of the newsman’s camera, but he later pled out to reduced charges. Two other close aides were Alfred Iovinella, and Stephen (Ponzi) Pontillo.
Among other close associates and daily visitors to Di Cocco’s Luncheonette were (KG’s) or known gamblers: Arthur Verra and his brother Freddy Verra, Frank Di Sarro, Julie Glick, Sam (Gaga) Feldman, Durando (Danny Durando) Peragnole, Joseph Vetor, Joseph Macri, and Armand Izzo.
Another allied bookie was Evaristo (Joe Mace) Macerola who operated out of a storefront called John’s Newsroom, where he accepted bets.
There were many others. A lot of these gamblers worked directly under the Di Cocco’s within their gambling network as numbers runners, and sub-bookies who worked on “half sheets”. Others helped run the occasional crap games, working as stick men, luggers, doormen and lookouts.
Some others were bookmakers and gamblers who “banked” their own action, and were “independents” so to speak. But they still chose to affiliate with the Di Cocco’s for everyone’s common good.
Among the more prominent of these fellow gamblers and/or subordinates reads like a laundry list:
• George (Garf) Gardina
• Frank Parisi
• Alfred Cornetta
• Joseph Ferraro
• Charles Rohan
• Frank Reger
• John (Scotty) Campbell
• Frank Cassidei
• John De Braccio
• Raymond Iafrate
• Charles Trifilo
• Edward Como
• Adam Kozel
• Angelo Giardino
• Abe Miller
• Frank Diana
• James Maiorano
• William (Wild Bill) Anderson
• Salvatore Giardino
• Joseph Pasinello
• Chester Kotarski
• Frank DeLorenzo
• Albert DeCaprio
• John De Caprio
• Eugene D’Attillio
• Albert Mancini
• Arthur Viscusi
• Alexander DeFelice
• Frank Coca
• Augustus (Augie) Di Matteo
• Alfred Puglio
• Amelio Cristello
• Michael Russo
• Anthony Mauro
• Anthony Famiano
• Frank J. Leva
• Charles Ostrander
• Mario (Murph) Battaglia
• Louis Daniels
• William Mehigan
• James (Deitz) DiDonato
…and this was just scratching the surface.
The list of active gamblers in this small city went on and on, and of the area’s knockaround guys. But most of them didn’t necessarily have mob connections, although I’m sure there were a couple that did.
Most of these fellows are what are called “independents”, in that even though they may have been bookies, number guys, and street guys working outside the law, they were not “racket guys” per se.
Three names that did catch my attention were Louis Cordi, Angelo Conte, and Anthony Falange. They were each arrested with the Di Cocco’s, or their men at a large crap game and casino operated in Vermont, or in various local police gambling raids through the years.
There have also been other arrests tied to the above names.
Lou Cordi was a Schenectady native, and all three were closely tied to traditional Cosa Nostra Families that operated in Upper New York State.
And both Conte and Falange were at least top ranked, “on record” associates, but most probably formal “soldiers” in the regime headed by Joseph Falcone of Utica. Falcone was a top capo and boss of that city, for the Buffalo Family headed by Stefano Magaddino.
And that would make sense, because Schenectady was right smack dab within the bailiwick of each of these crews.
Another Bufalino Family soldier who came from Schenectady was Louis Marconi. He also served in the Binghamton regime of the Family under capo Anthony Guarnieri, and operated gambling, a large garment trucking firm, and other rackets out of their Schenectady area.
With both the Utica-Syracuse crew, and the Binghamton-Endicott crew operating within the state, it only makes sense that they would have some influence up that way.
The Di Cocco’s certainly were connected to “nice people”. That’s been well documented over the years. Paul (Legs) Di Cocco in particular has been tied to some very close relationships with many mafia members.
It’s debatable whether or not Di Cocco himself was an actual formal “made” member of any particular Mafia Family.
It seems more likely he was a highly-placed and very respected “associate” who worked in tandem with several Families over the years.
Regardless of his formal status, he was nonetheless “The Man”, and the “go to” guy in the Schenectady area, and more than able to hold his own with the best of them.
The FBI, the Intelligence Unit of the IRS, the NYS Police, and the Police Departments of Schenectady and Saratoga, have all contributed to form a profile on Legs.
By at least 1955, it was documented that Paul Di Cocco was closely affiliated with:
• Harry (Harry Ship) Shapiro – A top Jewish bookmaker based in Montreal, Canada, who was an affiliate of Bonanno underboss Carmine Galante at the time. Ship served under the auspices of their resident Montreal capo di decina, Vic Cotroni.
• Salvatore Falcone – The Mafia capo of Utica, NY, and a close confidante of Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino
• Rosario (Russ) Mancuso – A Mafia soldier in the regime of Falcone.
• Rocco Marrone – Another top associate of the Falcone regime of Utica. Marrone was a thrice convicted gambler.
• Elmer J. Smith – A top bookmaker in their Upstate area
• Salvatore (Little Solly) Giglio – A documented soldier in the Bonanno Family, and a twice convicted narcotics peddler. Close associate of Lilo Galante. Giglio was suspected of overseeing rackets in Canada for Galante.
There was speculation by authorities at the time, that Di Cocco had stepped in to watch over certain rackets after Giglio was deported from Canada.
Di Cocco was surveilled on numerous occasions by Canadian authorities, meeting with Mancuso and Giglio in Montreal at illegal gambling clubs.
• Carl Giardana – A mob-connected gambler with six gaming convictions from Plattsburgh, NY, tied to the Bonanno’s as well.
As they operated in and around the Schenectady area over the years, the local Schenectady Police Department in coordination with the New York State Police made occasional gambling raids and arrests.
Among the more noted of these arrests were:
During a 1940s arrest for disorderly conduct at the Saratoga Racetrack, police charged Di Cocco and some confederates, as known gamblers congregating by the track for nefarious purposes.
Among those arrested were the following close associates and their prior records:
Patrick (Buckshot) Bianchi
1936 – assault
1945 – disorderly conduct
1946 – common gambler
1951 – assault
1951 – operating a dice game
1951 – conspiracy
1951 – speeding
Frederick (Bobo) Ciccarelli
1929 – juvenile delinquent
1934 – petty larceny
1935 – vagrancy
1936 – disorderly conduct
1936 – vagrancy
1953 – perjury
1934 – policy
1951 – policy
Paul (Cardy) Carderopoli
Between 1929 to 1962 he had over 25 prior arrests for larceny, assault and battery (3 times), policy, promoting a lottery (twice) etc.
John (Shamey) Attanasio
1932 – possessing burglary tools and burglary (6 months)
1933 – assault
1933 – grand larceny
1934 – internal revenue laws (2 years – suspended)
1936 – grand larceny (30 days)
At the age of 25 years old in 1950, Legs was nabbed for running a dice game. Police raided an empty house, surprising 23 crap shooters and seizing a crap table and dice. They arrested Di Cocco for “maintenance” of the game. He was later fined $300.
In 1951, Legs and Buckshot Bianchi were again arrested for operating a steady, weekly crap game above a storefront.
Di Cocco was later also indicted for bribery after it was alleged that he had patrolman Leo J. Foy on a weekly “pad” of $150 to protect Leg’s gambling operations.
The bribery charge was later dismissed for a lack of corroborating evidence. But both Legs and Buckshot pled guilty to the dice count, and were fined and put on probation.
In September of 1963, the IRS conducted a series of highly publicized, nationwide raids against professional gambling networks. At least 130 arrests were made across the country, with over $35,000 cash seized along with gambling records.
Back in Schenectady, four bookmakers were nabbed. And in Albany, two more gamblers were grabbed in the sweep.
Taken into custody by federal tax agents as they raided the two Schenectady gambling centers:
John’s Newsroom, 155 Clinton Street, and Di Cocco’s Luncheonette, at 511 South Avenue were bookmakers Evaristo (Joe Mace) Macerola, John DeBraccio, Duilio (Jake) Di Cocco, and his aide Stephen Ponzillo. $5,000 in cash was also seized in the raids.
The four were charged with failing to buy the $50 gambling tax stamps required, and failing to register as gamblers with the district director of the Internal Revenue.
The raiders noted that at the luncheonette they discovered a two-way mirror separating the front room from a locked back room, that had a sign reading “members only”, an elaborate buzzer and signal light system to warn of impending police raids, and several unregistered telephones with “jump lines”, which allowed for accepting horse bets on these “phantom” telephones without detection.
The suspects all later pled out to reduced counts of promoting gambling and bookmaking. They were fined and received suspended sentences. Nobody went to jail.
In 1964, Legs lost a liquor license for a popular Italian restaurant he ran at 2035 State Street, because of his unsavory reputation. State liquor investigators cited his past criminal record in issuing the revocation.
It was a legitimate Italian eatery named Anthony’s Restaurant, that was said to serve some of the very best Italian cuisine in town.
He subsequently repeatedly refiled applications under various corporate names. Both his wife (who had no criminal record), and several legitimate business associates listed as the principals, were likewise denied.
They finally got approved under a new corporation. But in 1969, again citing Di Cocco’s deep criminal connections and ties to organized crime, the restaurant’s license was pulled for hidden ownership.
He had his wife reapply under a new corporation named Ramars Restaurant Inc., dba “Rosina’s Restaurant, to operate an eatery and licensed premises at the same above address…she was denied by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) on the same grounds because she was his wife.
He was not on the incorporation papers, but the fact that he would occasionally be on the premises, and had been listed as a manager was enough for the SLA.
Then Ralph DeMeo, and later a Frank De Martino and his wife, and others all applied, and were subsequently denied…
The bottom line was that by this stage of the game, Legs was way too well known and notorious for his own good.
By the 1970s Legs was vacationing to Florida on a regular basis. As he aged and started having health problems, the Florida sunshine and warmer weather became more and more attractive to him.
By at least 1973, he and his wife were semi-residing down in the Sunshine State. Those harsh Schenectady winters were starting to get to him.
And after all the hoopla and public exposure of being dragged through the courts in the 1970s, Florida started looking better and better every day.
The Di Cocco’s had previously purchased a home down south in Broward County that they soon started utilizing more.
In fact, authorities say his catalyst to register himself as a permanent Florida resident came in 1974, almost simultaneously with the Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) seeking his appearance before a special rackets grand jury investigating his involvement in a labor rackets and official corruption probe of Schenectady County.
Around 1977, it was alleged by authorities that Di Cocco had had several face-to-face meetings with Bonanno boss Carmine Galante.
He previously was connected to Eugenio (Gene) Campo, a reputed Genovese soldier and major gambling figure in his own right, who happened to originally come from Schenectady. Campo was supposedly a regular patron of the Di Cocco brothers luncheonette.
Paul Di Cocco also figured into a labor racketeering probe with Nicholas Robilotto, a mob-tied labor leader based in Albany. Robilotto was president of Teamsters Union – Local # 294 at the time.
It was a probe into price-fixing and bid-rigging to win construction jobs by the men. But nothing would come of this federal investigation.
Some years later, another serious contender for the Schenectady area rackets was the Springfield, Massachusetts regime headed by Frank (Frankie Skyball) Scibelli and his men.
In fact, during the mid-1980s, Scibelli soldier/acting capo Adolfo (Big Al) Bruno made a play to takeover, and dominate the area.
In a concerted effort with Di Cocco, Bruno and his crew of fellow soldiers and associates attempted to move into the Schenectady and Albany area by strong-arming all the independent operators: policy runners, bookmakers, card and dice game operators, etc.
They soon demanded a piece of every illegal gambling business for the right to operate in what they considered to be their territory.
Legs Di Cocco was thought to have helped ease the Scibelli crew’s way by pointing them in the right direction and identifying all the independent bookies and gamblers in the city, and the adjoining towns in the area that was ripe for the shakedown.
Legs was said to have used coercion and extortion tactics to further the Springfield crew’s objectives.
In any event, the entire mob scheme became a major headache. Because it eventually came to the attention of the FBI, and a federal probe was started.
It later led to the indictments of Al Bruno, and thirteen of his closest associates in December of 1984.
Those named besides Bruno included: Anthony Liquori, Amedeo Santaniello, Frank Marchese, Joseph London, Michael Agresta, John Renna, Paul Di Cocco, Duilio Di Cocco, Paul Di Cocco Jr., and Peter Di Cocco.
All defendants later took pleas to dispose of the case. Big Al Bruno and his Springfield crew ended up copping to usury, attempted extortion, gambling and conspiracy. Each received five-year terms of probation and fines.
Paul Di Cocco copped out to a 1st degree felony coercion charge, and also received five years probation and a $500 fine.
His brother Duilio, sons Paul (Fat Paulie) Di Cocco Jr., and Peter Di Cocco all pled to gambling offenses.
They each copped out to one count of possession of gambling records – a 1st-degree felony, and each received five years probation and a fine…it was a sweet plea deal all around. And all involved were happy nobody went to jail.
Paul (Legs) Di Cocco died on July 30, 1989. He had suffered from a weak heart for years, and died shortly after receiving a heart transplant…Legs was 65 years old.
When Legs died in 1989, Federal investigators watched incredulously as nearly the entire City of Schenectady came out to pay their last respects to their resident racketeer.
The FBI noted that the entire political elite of the city also turned out for the funeral. Di Cocco’s funeral was noted as being “the nearest Schenectady has come in recent years to a real community event,” with thousands visiting the funeral home and traffic snarled when his body was transported to the cemetery.
At least one observer was amazed that although “everyone in Schenectady knew that Legs Di Cocco was a mobster, the politicians who joined in the mourning acted like they didn’t know anything about it.”
He also compared the funeral to “the great Chicago gangster funerals of the 1920s and 1930s,” when mob leaders were buried with style.
Observers noted that Di Cocco’s sendoff eclipsed that of even the area’s politicians and community leaders.
In this regard, it’s worth recalling the words of the great Mark Twain who quoted “In order to know a community, one must observe the style of its funerals and know what manner of men they bury with the most ceremony.”…Touché!
Until the next time – The Other Guy!
This article was originally posted “here“