By The Other Guy | June 21, 2020
Gaetano C. (Tommy) Ocera – aka “T.O.”, “Beansie”, “Thomas Nocera” – was born on June 18, 1931 in South Brooklyn to Francesco (Frank) and Angelina (Angie) Ocera, and grew up at 2832 W. 15th Street.
He had two legitimate brothers, Charlie and Robert, who would later join him in several businesses he operated. And as a good older brother should, Tommy always watched out for them in life.
Ocera stood about 5-feet 8-inches tall and weighed a lean and muscular 150 lbs. He had dark brown eyes and wavy hair. He also had a quiet and pleasant demeanor and was a good looking man who was widely liked by all who met him.
He married young to a childhood sweetheart named Theresa (Terrie), and together they raised a family of five beautiful baby girls. Tommy kept on making babies hoping for a boy, but alas it was not to be. Still, he was a fabulous father and loved his girls devoutly.
By the early-1960s he had relocated with his wife and young family out to Nassau County on Long Island. They bought a beautiful waterfront splanch-style home at 3294 Hewlett Avenue in tony Merrick that backed the canals of the Great South Bay leading to the Atlantic Ocean. It is where he would reside for the remainder of his life.
He also later purchased a sprawling horse farm up at New Paltz, in Upstate New York, that he would visit quite often as a getaway.
In his youth, Ocera grew up with many future members of the Profaci/Colombo Family, as well as future mob guys of other Families.
He ran with several 1950s street gangs of that era and was very close to such future notorious mafiosi as Ferdinand (Freddy Red) DeLucia, Salvatore (Sally Dee) D’Ambrosio and his twin brother Alphonse (Funzi Dee), and Dominick (Mimi) Scialo among many others.
Side Note: As a 19-year old teenager in 1950, Ocera was arrested one evening along with sixteen other young gang members as they were on their way to a major “rubble” with an opposing street gang. It was the stuff of “West Side Story and was reported on in the local newspapers at the time.
As a kid Tommy was athletically inclined and took to boxing. He trained in local gyms and fought in the Golden Gloves. During a stint in the U.S. Marines as a young man, he became one of the Marine Corps top fighters on their boxing team.
Fighting as a welterweight, Ocera compiled an envious record in the ring. He was widely listed as one of the toughest boxers in the Corp. It was a skill that would serve him well in later life, and the “profession” he would chose for himself.
Side Note: It was said that although Tommy could be devastating with his hands, he was not an inherently vicious or violent person. In fact, Ocera enjoyed the widely held reputation as that of a warm, engaging and friendly guy. And although he could be characterized as a mafioso, that he was indeed a friend to many, and had a heart of gold…a rarity in the underworld.
Back home in Brooklyn after his time in the Marines, Ocera worked a series of odd jobs but eventually gravitated to the food industry for which he found he had a knack.
Side Note: Probably Ocera’s first exposure to the food industry was as a teenager. He was one of many neighborhood boys who worked part-time after school for Family boss Giuseppe (Joe) Profaci at his Mamma-Mia Tomato Packing Company plant in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The kids either worked in Profaci’s warehouse, on a packing assembly, or on delivery trucks.
He first started as a supplier of Italian-style food products to restaurants, delis and pizzerias throughout Kings County, and later expanded into Queens and Long Island. He and his younger brother Charlie operated under several names; Ocera Cheese Corp., Pizza Boy, and others.
It brought him into contact with several men whom he would later associate within a fledgling wholesale cheese and mozzarella manufacturing business named Falcone Dairies, and still later in the partnership of an Alburg cheese manufacturing plant up in Alburg, New York.
This would end up being a major swindle against a dairy farmers cooperative that was bilked of over $1,000,000 in mozzarella products over a years time in a complex scheme they operated.
Side Note: Ocera would actually testify under oath in court for the defense, on behalf of his partners, the brothers Salvatore and Vincent Falcone and Joe Curreri, after they were federally indicted for bankruptcy fraud and conspiracy charges in relation to the Alburg Creamery swindle.
Tommy Ocera was considered a very sharp and astute businessman, as well as a hoodlum.
Over the years he either started, bought, or developed a number of very successful businesses, not the least of which was a major catering hall in Massapequa he named The Manor East, located at the corner of Broadway and Jersusalem Avenue. It was situated on a large plot of land that he later purchased as well.
Side Story: There is a little known, but true story bantered around among Colombo guys through the years about the time in the early 1970s that FBI Agent Bernard Welsh had gone to The Manor East in Massapequa, Long Island and was at the bar drinking and started to harass the owner, future Colombo soldier Tommy Ocera, manager Joe Black and several other mob guys.Known as a big boozer, Welsh was getting drunk and very nasty toward them, calling them dumb guineas, greaseballs, and cheap hoodlums.
He commented that he didn’t think Ocera was as tough as everybody made him out to be (Tommy was a former professional boxer). Pretty soon Ocera had had enough. He told Bernie in no uncertain terms that if Welsh didn’t have that FBI badge on, he’d show him just how tough he was. Welsh agreed to take the badge off and then proceeded to challenge Ocera to go a round or two, out in the catering hall parking lot…lol.
Well, they went outside, with everybody else tagging along behind… As gentlemen, they both agreed that no matter who won, there would be no repercussions. That this would stay “off the record” so to speak. [FBI agent Welsh, who stood about 6’-3” tall and weighed in at a solid 260lbs., vs. Colombo soldier Ocera, who weighed no more than 150lbs soaked and wet, and was a modest 5’-8” at best]…hardly a contest right?
Welsh took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves, ready to show this Brooklyn hoodlum just who was the boss. He threw a left hook, and swung a heavy right hand…Ocera ducked, blocked, and hit Bernie right on the button…it was over in a matter of seconds.
The FBI agent collapsed like an accordion right to the ground. Out like a light, unconscious!… “and that was that” as they say in the vernacular! Needless to say, the hulking Irishman had a lot more respect for Brooklyn’s Italian hoodlums after that one.
…and now, back to the main story.
Previous to that venture, Ocera had owned another large restaurant-bar and club called the Merrick Manor in Bellmore. It was a bustling eatery that served over 500 to 700 diners on a busy evening. By 1966, he went ahead and also purchased the building and property that the business sat on.
He also held ownership, or a partnership interest in several other pizzerias, restaurants, delis, as well as real estate and income properties in Freeport, Merrick, Bellmore, and Massapequa. A natural gas company, stocks and securities deals, and breeding racehorses over the years.
T.O. was nobody’s fool. And in time he became known as a “money maker”, and a very sharp business guy.
He was widely known and accepted by the general Long Island business community and local politicians and became somewhat of a public figure in successfully promoting his various business ventures over the years.
But the flip side of Ocera was a bit darker.
He held longtime friendships since boyhood and was partnered with some of the most notorious of Brooklyn’s hoodlums through his lifetime.
During his early years on the Island, he also befriended the likes of boss Carlo Gambino himself, who often attended affairs at Ocera’s catering hall with several of his key aides such as Ettore (Terry) Zappi and his son Anthony Zappi, Frank (Frankie Dap) Dapolito and others.
But it was Ocera’s old Brooklyn friends, many of whom had become top members of the Colombo Family, that brought Tommy into the “fold” so to speak, of Cosa Nostra.
Side Note: As a young hood, his closest ally, and the man who would groom Tommy for the future was Profaci soldier Salvatore D’Ambrosio. It was this friendship above all others that Ocera reveled in. He loved Sally like a brother.
Tommy was officially “with” D’Ambrosio, and in later years after D’Ambrosio’s death Ocera would gravitate to Sally’s twin brother Funzi, who was also a soldier in that borgata.
As time went on, Tommy would serve as a top “associate member” under several soldiers and captains of the Family until his day finally came to also take the “oath” of membership and become a “soldato”, or soldier within their group. That day came in the early-1980s. It was thought that approximately 1982-83 was the date of his “baptism” into the Colombo borgata.
Among his friendships of top mafiosi and racketeers besides the D’Ambrosio brothers were: Joseph Colombo Sr; John (Sonny) Franzese; Alphonse (Allie Lamont) Giannatasio; the Persico brothers – Carmine (Junior), Alphonse (Allie Boy), and Theodore (Teddy); Vito (Little Vic) Orena Sr and his sons; Benedetto (Benny) Aloi; Pasquale (Big Patty) Amato; and Thomas Petrizzo…among others not listed.
In 1969, soldiers Salvatore D’Ambrosio and Ferdinand DeLucia disappeared off the face of the earth one afternoon.
Only hours after their double murder, an unsuspecting Ocera was lured to a hotel room, where he barely survived a vicious beating with blackjacks and fists, at the hands of a half-dozen Colombo soldiers under orders by the boss himself, who had suspected Ocera of plotting a coup in cahoots with DeLucia and D’Ambrosio to overthrow Joe Colombo and seize the Family throne.
Only Tommy’s tremendous skills as a former boxer helped him survive the attack which left him gravely injured, unconscious, and requiring extensive reconstructive surgery to his face (it wasn’t intended that he survive).
After several months in the hospital recuperating, Joe Colombo invited Tommy to his home on a Sunday afternoon. Italian readers will know that Sunday is a sacred day to the Italian people and typically spent home with the immediate family.
Scared to death to go, but also scared to death not to show up, Ocera nonetheless made the fateful decision and proceeded to the boss’ Brooklyn home.
Upon walking through the front door, Tommy immediately saw one of Joe’s small grandchildren scurry through the foyer bouncing a ball.
He breathed a deep sigh of relief, instantly realizing that Joe would never allow a mob murder to take place in the presence of his precious grandchildren.
After having a candid heart-to-heart talk over espresso, with Tommy swearing his ignorance to whatever might have been plotted by the deceased Family soldiers, Boss Joe Colombo gave Ocera a pass, swearing on his grandchildren’s eyes that no further retribution would be forthcoming against Ocera.
…and now, back to our main story.
Ocera’s restaurants and lounges became a magnet for wiseguys, and in time nearly everybody who was anybody in the mob ended up frequenting his establishments. It was a very good thing…And it was a very bad thing.
His watering holes and eateries did a booming business, but it eventually brought him to the attention of both local and federal law enforcement. Especially after his close associate and sometime partner Little Vic Orena was tapped to become the “acting boss” over the entire Colombo borgata.
Orena soon made his buddy Tommy’s newest venture, The Manor Restaurant & Lounge along Sunrise Highway in Merrick, his favorite new daily hangout. Opened in 1988, The Manor served some of the very best Italian cuisine Long Island had to offer. He put his brother Robert as the executive chef in the kitchen.
Side Note: Tommy himself was an accomplished chef, who knew his way around the kitchen almost as well as he knew his way around the inside of a boxing ring.
Over the next year, nearly every member and important associate of their borgata would repeatedly visit that restaurant. In addition, many mafiosi of the other four New York crews also came to either dine, or hold “sitdowns” with the Colombo hierarchy over various deals, “beefs”, or discrepancies between the Families.
It put a bullseye like never before directly on Tommy Ocera’s back as it were, and it would also spell the beginning of the end for the quiet, now middle-aged mafioso.
By mid-1989, agents from both the Nassau and Suffolk County Rackets Squad and the FBI were surveilling The Manor daily. They would sit in unmarked cars in the parking lot of the Long Island Railroad, located directly across the street on Sunrise Highway with cameras.
The Manor Restaurant had become the hottest show in town to see wiseguys. The FBI didn’t even have to scour New York City or the Island anymore, visiting the various mob social clubs and watering holes to track their mob subjects.
They’d gather up the traditional tools of their trade: cameras, pens and pad, thermoses of coffee, donuts, and sandwiches, and just sit tight out front Ocera’s joint to see what amounted to a “who’s who” of Cosa Nostra figures on parade, coming and going daily.
Although he was now a “wiseguy”, Tommy would continue to operate in the low-key manner that was always his style. It served him well in that he made plenty of money, but avoided the dreaded scrutiny of law enforcement that usually came along with the title.
But his continued success did indeed come along with a heavy price. Many in his own Family, as well as others, became jealous over time, of Ocera’s growing wealth and seemingly unending success.
Tommy seemed to have the “goldentouch”, in that everything he involved himself with, soon turned to gold…and it broke some hoodlums balls. Especially guys who had no street savvy or business talent, and were “brokesters” as we call them in the business.
In years to come, this “jealousy” and envy would come home to hurt Ocera in ways he couldn’t have foreseen.
By mid-1989, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office had enough evidence to get a court-authorized wiretap on The Manor.
In a blackbag job late one evening, detectives installed several strategically placed “bugs” in, and around the inside of the restaurant including Tommy’s personal office, the bar, several back dining tables that Little Vic and his disciples were known to eat at, and a hallway leading to the men’s room…they then waited and listened.
Whatever they heard or didn’t hear, within a month or two after the listening devices were installed, Rackets Squad detectives ended up raiding the eatery.
They seized various checkbooks, record and ledger books, handwritten papers, and an address book that police would later claim held semi-coded notations in reference to a large shylock racket that Ocera allegedly headed for the Family.
Authorities claimed that Ocera was the “banker” of a far-flung loan shark operation with an estimated $750,000 “on the streets” in outstanding usurious loans.
Unbeknownst to Ocera, Vic Orena, and the rest of their membership, it was the start of a multi-pronged law enforcement effort to break the back of the Colombo Family’s growing influence and racket operations on the Island, and their Queens and Brooklyn factions as well.
Additionally, police and their federal partners started looking into a variety of schemes and rackets run by the Long Island contingent of the Family.
Soon the investigation expanded. Ocera was now being probed as the “boss” of the loansharking ring, and for the continuing extortion of a major Suffolk County garbage-carting firm run by the Garofalo brothers.
The Garofalo’s were the son and nephew of two Colombo associated brothers from back in the 1960s and 70s who ran garbage rackets under the auspices of captain Carmine Persico at the time. They later both turned rat against several soldiers in the borgata, testifying in trials that convicted those members of hijacking trucks.
Their kids were now still locked into the Colombo’s, only now were treated like the pariahs and rats they’d become. They paid a monthly shakedown stipend, or “tribute” for the right to even exist.
Authorities also became aware of Tommy overseeing several Nassau County-based gambling clubs run by associates in his personal crew that offered high-stakes card games, video slot machines, and the occasional dice game to both Italian and Greek nationals.
Another part of the probe focused on a crew of mob associates Ocera personally headed, including one or two of whom he had “put up”, or “proposed” for membership into the borgata. All of them became targets of intense law enforcement scrutiny.
As summer turned to fall in 1989, all seemed quiet with the probe. Nothing much was happening, and Ocera’s daily life went on as usual.
Then on November 13, 1989, Tommy failed to show up at his place of business, and also missed an important appointment later that day, he previously had scheduled with his lawyer.
As day turned into night Ocera was still a no-show. He typically would spend his early day, and later evenings glad-handing and greeting guests at his popular eatery.
By nighttime his immediate family, as well as his close friends started to worry. It was very uncharacteristic of Ocera not to stay in touch with his daughters, brothers, and close associates daily.
He never came home that night, or any other night…In fact, he was never seen again.
Side Note: Months later, in May of 1990, Ocera and eight of his crew members were named in an indictment on loansharking, forgery, credit card fraud, and obstruction of justice charges by the Suffolk District Attorney’s office. They were accused of charging from 104%, up to 208% annual interest on multiple loans totaling over $750,000. Ocera was named as the head of the operation. But for Tommy it didn’t matter anyway.
It would take several years for the story to unfold of what actually had happened to Tommy that day. But as these type things sometimes do, the truth would come out after several longtime informants were arrested on other charges, and made a deal for their freedom with the FBI.
It seems that early on that fateful chilly November morning, Tommy had driven to the nearby Merrick home of his “capo”, Pasquale (Big Patty) Amato, for a prearranged meeting.
As Ocera entered through the front door and proceeded down the hallway into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a discussion with Amato, he was jumped by several fellow Colombo hoods who were lurking, hidden behind a wall.
And despite his abilities as a former professional boxer, able to defend himself against the best of them, the 155-pound Ocera was sucker punched and knocked to the kitchen floor by the hulking six foot-230 pound Amato, and quickly held down by several others, while soldier Gioacchino (Jackie) Leale and Amato pulled at opposite ends of a piano wire, tugging until the killers drained the life out of their former buddy and current victim.
Ocera’s body was then rolled up in a small carpet and placed into the trunk of a car that Leale had borrowed from his brother-in-law Harry Bonfiglio, a half-assed, loose associate of Leale (and unbeknownst at the time, also an active police informant).
Under Leale’s orders, Bonfiglio drove the car back to Queens, where Ocera’s body was later removed and buried in a shallow, makeshift grave by Leale and his bungling band of ne’er-do-well associates.
And that was that…or so his killers hoped and thought.
The FBI immediately started a deep probe into Ocera’s disappearance, as well as that of acting consigliere Vincent (Jimmy) Angellino, who had vanished only a year or so before Ocera in 1988.
Additionally, within months of the Ocera killing, the seeds of further discontentment and betrayal started churning within the belly of the beast itself.
The “acting powers” that be within the temporary Family hierarchy, boss Vic Orena and underboss Benny Aloi, as well as a few of their key caporegimes, liked the view from the top of the Colombo castle a bit too much.
They decided that they didn’t wanna be “acting”, or seat warmers for imprisoned formal boss Carmine Persico’s son Alphonse (Little Allie Boy), who was due to be paroled within a few short years, and would assume the formal leadership role of new “boss” of the borgata…and they started plotting against the Persico faction to “seize” the throne out from underneath them.
The result was the brewing of a bloody gangland war, the likes of which New York City, and the rest of the country for that matter, hadn’t seen since at least the early 1960s.
Many killings and shootings between the Orena and Persico factions would turn the Big Apple’s streets into a daily shooting gallery.
The FBI ended up making a full-court press against the Colombo’s to stop the bloodshed. The results were the wholesale arrests, convictions, and jailings of dozens upon dozens of Colombo hoods and mafiosi.
During this intense law enforcement offensive is when enough evidence was finally gathered by the FBI to indict Vic Orena and his current underboss Patty Amato for the Thomas Ocera homicide, as well as Colombo “war” crimes such as conspiracy to murder members of the opposition, possession of dangerous weapons, loansharking, extortion, and obstruction of justice charges.
Gioacchino Leale would have been indicted as well. But sensing that the authorities were closing in, its alleged that Little Vic gave the order to have Leale, who was always considered an idiot and a scurvy character to begin with, killed.
Side Note: In October, 1991, after learning of his pending indictment, Leale went “on the lam”, both from authorities seeking his arrest for the Ocera murder, and from his own “friends”, who he was now leery of because of their dissatisfaction over his bungling of the Ocera homicide.
Weeks later in November of 1991, he came out of hiding to meet someone he “trusted” in the parking lot of a Plainview, Long Island hotel. His trusted friend shot him repeatedly in the face and chest killing him instantly…leaving Leale massacred on the pavement…”poetic justice” as they say!
The federal chickens “came home to roost” nonetheless shortly thereafter. Orena and Amato were grabbed off the streets within a year of Leale’s murder, during the height and heat of the gangland battle for supremacy.
They were both held without bail as dangers to the community.
After a lengthy, highly publicized, and sometimes contentious federal murder trial, they were found guilty on all counts. Both received a mandatory life in prison sentence.
Amato died a few years back in March of 2015, while serving out his term. He was 80 years old and had served 23 years behind bars.
As of 2020, Orena is still alive and behind bars at 86 years old. He has served almost three decades in jail. Vic has had a lot of time to ponder his bad decision making, three decades in fact.
Vic had been a very well-liked guy, and ostensibly did the right thing by many. But he got blinded somewhere along the line, and should have known better.
He had a responsibility to those who he led and should have considered the possible fallout of his wanton actions. He betrayed his capo Carmine (who by the way was said to have been related to Orena as distant cousins), by attempting to dethrone him after Persico had entrusted him with the mantle of power.
He also betrayed his close friend Ocera, whom he’d known for decades, and was his buddy and business partner. Tommy had trusted Vic, and had been a loyal man to their Family.
Orena also did a major disservice to his own sons by involving them in what turned out to be one of the bloodiest underworld battles for power ever seen in America.
The sons each went to jail for their own part in the conflict. After having fought several court cases, they were extremely lucky to have served only years, and not decades behind bars themselves.
And many other families were ruined besides Orena’s own personal wife and kids. Patty Amato, the Persico’s, Russo’s, Scopo’s, and so many other former friends who were forced to choose up sides in the conflict. Most were either killed in the war, or jailed for long periods…. and for what?
To what end did they all fight one other? As it turned out, it was all for nothing! It was a fool’s errand in futility at best!
As for Tommy Ocera, who was betrayed by his blood brothers and dearest of “friends”, it seems that he was able to get his revenge from the grave.
After a lifetime of being a loyal associate, who ultimately rose to become a multimillionaire and a good “soldier” in the organization, Tommy seems to have been slaughtered over the flimsiest of reasons.
Law enforcement theories have run the gamut from accusations of him having “skimmed” racket profits off the top of the carting company shakedown without his superiors knowledge; talking back to superiors; having unwittingly allowed a “shylock record book” to fall into the hands of the Suffolk police; to something as simple as age-old jealousy and envy, for what Ocera had, and others did not. Which was intelligence, some class, extensive wealth, several highly successful multimillion-dollar businesses, a loving family, and a position in life that he was envied for.
Side Note: It is common underworld practice to denigrate the murder victim after he’s dead. It’s often done to “justify” the killing in the eyes of other mafiosi, and to placate and explain away the killing of a “brother”…He was a rat! He stole money from his friends! He was fooling around with another mafioso’s wife or daughter! Etc. Etc.
But many times, the excuse is a fallacy and ruse, to deflect from the true reason for the hit. More often than not the guy was killed in order to steal his money, or assume his position. Or over envy and petty jealousies.
Many so-called wiseguys are nothing more than “wash women”, who act like jealous schoolgirls. Sometimes deadly schoolgirls, but schoolgirls nonetheless. And that’s a fact!
Whatever the true reasons for his demise are of little consequence. He died at the age of 58, leaving behind a very sickly, crippled wife who suffered from MS, who Tommy personally took care of for over 20 years. Five beautiful, loving daughters and their husbands. A gaggle of grandchildren, two brothers, his elderly mother and father, and other extended family who all looked toward Tommy as the head of their overall family unit. They were lost and struggled after his death.
…May he Rest In Peace.
It is said that those who ignore history, especially mob history, are doomed to repeat it…No truer words have ever been spoken!
This is just another mob tale of the Big Apple!
Until next time… “The Other Guy”
This article was originally posted “here“