By The Other Guy | July 18, 2020
With a current population just shy of 130,000 residents, the City of Elizabeth, New Jersey, located in Union County, is the fourth largest city in the entire state of Jersey.
Originally called Elizabethtown, it was founded back in 1664.
It is a geographically small city less than 14 square miles in size and has as its neighbors the towns of Linden to its southwest, Roselle and Roselle Park to the west, Union and Hillside to its northwest, and the bustling City of Newark to the north.
The Elizabeth River separates it from the adjoining City of Bayonne, and the County of Staten Island, one of New York City’s five boroughs.
The sections of Elizabeth and Linden have a very diverse populous, but Italians are, and have always been, a dominant ethnicity in the areas population. So much so, that the Italian City of Ribera, Sicily, is named a “sister city”.
Elizabeth is a highly industrialized area, that hosts important shipping operations, including the huge Port Newark/Elizabeth Marine Terminal, with its sprawling acreage and large facilities for containerized shipping.
The area also supports many major manufacturing and distribution facilities, for both local and nationwide companies, in many varied industries.
It is a vibrant and important gateway to industry and commerce for both the States of New Jersey, its New York neighbor, and for that matter the entire nation.-It is also a very important area for the Mafia!
In fact, the Northern New Jersey area has played a pivotal role in Cosa Nostra since its very inception in this country.
In particular, the city of Elizabeth, and the semi-suburban bedroom community of nearby Linden, have played host to the only homegrown mafia borgata in the entire state, the DeCavalcante Family of LCN.
Founded by Sicilian boss Stefano Badami, and later passed into the capable hands of Filippo Amari, by the late 1940s what later became known as the Sam DeCavalcante Family eventually came to be dominated by Nicola Delmore, better known as “Nicky Dell”, an important early Garden State bootlegger during the Prohibition times around the late 1940s.
Delmore would run a small and successful, but little known borgata.
The borgata boasted seven crews: four regimes operating in North Jersey, two in New York City (Astoria and Brooklyn), and one based out in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Side Note: By the early 1970s they had a crew operating in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area of South Florida as well.
The DeCavalcante’s maintained an ironclad grip over Laborers Union Local # 394, and it’s sister Local, Asbestos Workers Local # 1030, both of the International Brotherhood of Laborers & Hod Carriers of America.
These labor unions gave the borgata a strong base from which to operate their labor racketeering and extortion schemes for almost seven decades.
Spreading their tentacles out from their headquarters in Elizabeth, the DeCavalcante’s oversaw operations in over four eastern states.
In addition to the rackets named above, the Family was active in:
• Waterfront ILA rackets operated off the Brooklyn and Northern New Jersey docks. Several key members were tied to the International Longshoreman’s Union such as capo Vincent (Jimmy) Rotondo, and soldiers Angelo and Umberto Gallo.
• The smuggling of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana up from South Florida and Florida Keys.
• Various robbery and heist gangs over the years including heist teams headed by New York-based capo Frank Cocchiaro, soldier Louie Telese, and others.
• Stock and securities frauds, which were perpetrated by the Family’s resident stock fraud specialist, Philip Abramo, and several of his minions who ran stock brokerage houses in Manhattan that defrauded the public of untold millions during their operation.
• An extensive numbers-lottery, or “policy” gambling ring that coursed through several counties in Northern New Jersey and Upstate New York. Sam DeCavalcante was himself the “banker” who funded any “hits”, or winning policy numbers that had to be paid out to bettors. He oversaw a $20,000,000 a year betting operation the Family had controlled for many years.
• They organized several floating dice games, and Italian Ziganette card games that various members ran in both New Jersey and New York City.
The borgata was also known to “shakedown” and extort a “Mob Tax” from any independent game operators in their territory that they stumbled onto. In 1968, DeCavalcante, Vastola and fellow soldier Daniel Annunziata were arrested for demanding and extorting $20,000 from a group of gamblers who were running an illegal dice game in Trevose, Pennsylvania.
The mob figures were all later convicted on extortion charges, but won the case on appeal.
• Another occasional endeavor was operating so-called “bust outs”, or fraudulent bankruptcies of businesses. Over the years this type of racket was perpetrated against various manufacturers and suppliers in the music record industry, wholesale food suppliers, major household appliance factories, and several other industries.
Several key members of the borgata were involved in these type schemes over the years.
• In the early 1960s, mob associate and future member Gaetano Vastola was also arrested for “trademark infringements”, after he was nabbed in Brooklyn with over $500,000 in “bootlegged”, or counterfeit record labels of popular singing stars. He later pled out and received a one year suspended jail sentence and fine. But it was a lucrative racket while it lasted.
Likewise, Corky Vastola also became hooked into Roulette Records, a major Manhattan-based record label. For years, he listed his occupation as that of “talent agent” for Mecca Records. He also listed employment as a talent “scout”, concert promoter, and songwriter.
He successfully infiltrated the music industry and became a major player for decades, even being credited with co-writing the lyrics for several major pop recordings of the 1950s-1960s era including The Valentines song “Lily Maebelle”, The Cleftones hit song “You Baby You”, and The Wrens “Hey Girl.”
Vastola operated a popular New York City-based talent business called Queens Booking Agency, which booked many top headline entertainers such as comedian Red Foxx, and singers Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and the iconic Sammy Davis Jr., into top venues over the years like Atlantic City Casinos, The Nassau Coliseum, and The Garden in Midtown Manhattan.
• Carpenters Union – Another mob scheme the Brooklyn faction of the borgata operated on more than one occasion was a carpenters union shakedown racket. Soldier
Corky Vastola utilized a Long Island based member of his personal crew to influence the New York-New Jersey carpet installation business.
Mob associate Jesse Smith was Assistant to the President of Brooklyn based Local # 2241, of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, Joiners, and Floor Coverers of America (AFL-CIO). This “hook” often put them in a position to extort payments from various “carpet laying firms” looking to avoid labor disruption of their work crews.
In 1968, both Smith and Vastola were indicted by the FBI for the $500,000 “shakedown” of a Georgia carpet manufacturing company. They threatened the president and executive vice-president of Barwick Mills Inc., of Chamblee, Georgia, a firm that did an annual business of over $150,000,000. in textiles and carpets.
They were told that unless they paid the $500,000 to the mobsters, their two southern plants would be organized, and union carpet layers would refuse to handle company goods in the Tristate area.
The hoodlums were charged with conspiracy to violate the anti-extortion laws, and violation of the Taft-Hartley Act, which makes it a crime for a union official to demand money from an employer.
Later Delmore’s ill health would force his semi-retirement and by the early 1960s he had appointed and installed his devoted nephew Simone DeCavalcante to act in his stead as the “acting boss”.
By 1964, with the death of Delmore, his nephew Simone (Sam the Plumber) DeCavalcante would be selected as the new boss of this Family. He would quickly utilize his position and popularity to help expand the influence and geographic reach of this borgata.
Although a small membership, they had a reach into metropolitan New York City where they ran several regimes, Waterbury, Connecticut, where co-underboss Joseph (Joe Buff) LaSelva operated a crew, and South Florida where additional members lived and operated.
The Family was active in many of the traditional rackets such as gambling, shylocking, labor union racketeering and corruption, extortion, and narcotics.
Important members over the years have included underboss Francesco (Big Frank) Majuri, capo di decina Luciano (Big Louie) Larasso, Frank (Frankie Coch) Cocchiaro, Vincent (Jimmy) Rotondo, and soldiers Robert (Bobby Basile) Occhipinti and the notorious Gaetano (Corky) Vastola.
As his key aide Robert Occhipinti, who although not an inducted member at that time, was Sam’s blood cousin, trusted associate and appointment secretary of sorts. Anyone who needed to see DeCavalcante was required to go through Bobby Basile to set up a meeting.
He also forged closer relations to other bosses, especially New York’s Carlo Gambino and Joe Colombo, who headed the former Mangano/Anastasia and Profaci Families respectively.
One of the larger mafia organizations in the country, the Gambino Family boasted a roster of almost 300 mafiosi. Like wise, the Colombo outfit had upwards of 150 men. It was a wise move, which augmented Sam’s influence with the national Commission.
Because although his Family didn’t have a seat on the Commission itself, his close friendship with Carlo as a senior member enabled Sam’s otherwise small voice and mafia footprint to be recognized. It likewise gave him much more respect and influence.
No better example of this was during the mid-1960’s “Banana War” that raged between opposing factions of New York’s Bonanno Family.
The Commission bosses themselves chose Sam DeCavalcante to act as a mediator in order to encourage Boss Joe Bonanno to appear before the Commission body. This was requested of him to answer questions and defend himself from accusations that he plotted the murders of fellows commissioners Carl Gambino and Tommy Lucchese.
Bonanno, for his part, resisted all efforts by Sam and several others to come in. But it also showed the higher profile that Sam started to play within Cosa Nostra, that he of all people should be picked for this assignment so to speak. I’m sure Gambino’s influence played into this selection.
But his growing influence was a double-edged sword that cut both ways. With his growing status came much more law enforcement scrutiny.
Soon, Sam would face tremendous public exposure after a hidden microphone or “bug” installed by the FBI back in the early-1960s which was placed inside Sam’s office at the plumbing wholesale contracting firm he was partnered in. This microphone would spell his doom.
In 1969, after Sam had been indicted for extortion, his lawyers petitioned prosecutors to provide all “discovery material” related to the case, including any electronic surveillance they had on his client. The federal government surprisingly complied, releasing 12 volumes containing some 2000 pages of DeCavalcante’s “bugged” conversations to the general public.
It was a media disaster for the mob boss. Almost immediately, every major newspaper across the country was carrying daily frontpage transcripts of sensitive underworld conversations DeCavalcante had had with various mafia subordinates and other mob bosses…it was a major embarrassment!
Then on January 2, 1970, the other shoe dropped. Sam DeCavalcante was indicted along with 54 of his minions on interstate gambling charges for operating a multimillion-dollar illegal lottery network. He would eventually plead guilty to a federal gambling conspiracy and received a 5-year prison term and $10,000 fine.
When it was released to the general public under the “Freedom of Information Act” by court order, major newspapers across the country carried front pages stories and printed the exact FBI transcripts for reading.
A book aptly named “The Mafia Talks” was released by 1969. It was a recreation of DeCavalcante’s banter with his mob disciples and other top mob figures of the New York-New Jersey underworld.
Many of the Family’s previously unknown rank and file members were exposed and became targets of FBI probes. Central among these mafiosi were:
• Frank (Frankie Coch) Cocchiaro – Originally from Astoria in Queens, Frankie and his brother Carmelo (Melio), a crew soldier, were very active in the Queens/Brooklyn regime that Frankie eventually came to lead.
Although a well-known Queens hoodlum, Cocchiaro took on more importance in the eyes of the FBI after being named on the tapes as one of Sam’s “capo di decina”.
• Vincent (Jimmy) Rotondo – Based in Brooklyn and became a top official in a Brooklyn local of the Longshoreman’s Union, Rotondo was exposed as a Family soldier.
• Pietro (Pete) Galletta – He was a previously unknown “sleeper” who resided out in Suffolk County, Long Island. He and his brother Giuseppe, also a soldier, were outed on those FBI transcripts.
• Another key hoodlum who was only an associate at the time the “bug” was in place was Gaetano (Corky) Vastola. He would become a notorious mafioso in years to come after exposure on those transcripts.
Vastola was even later indicted with his brother-in-law, Family soldier Danny Annunziata and DeCavalcante for extortion after it came out on the tapes that the trio had shaken-down operators of an illegal dice game.
This FBI probe also uncovered the Family’s influence in the State of Connecticut where they actually ran another small regime headed by Michael (Mickey Poole) Puglia.
In fact, the entire Nutmeg State was overseen for their Family by a rare second “underboss” who resided there. Joseph (Joe Buff) LaSelva and his brothers operated from their base in the Waterbury section. They too would soon come under the scrutiny of the federal government.
There were many other members and mob associates alike who’s hair turned white after being “outed” as members of the underworld…and they were not alone. Many police officials on the take, corrupt politicians, and government officials were also drawn into future investigations because of the “Sam the Plumber Tapes”.
Sam surrendered to prison and ended up serving approximately 3-years of the 5-year sentence. DeCavalcante kept Riggi as his acting boss even after Sam was released on parole.
He left Riggi in charge of things up north. This arrangement worked very well, with Sam allegedly receiving 10% off the top of all Family racket operations…and although DeCavalcante maintained his lofty position as “Representante”, Sam the Plumber was now semi-retired from active duty.
With that said, John Riggi’s power would increase with every year that passed. He was a well-respected, capable and no-nonsense mafioso cut from the “old cloth”.
Riggi’s main activity and function had always been to oversee his borgata’s control over labor unions and labor rackets in the construction industry of Northern NJ and metropolitan NY.
He also became the “go-to” guy related to any union activity for the Family regardless of what industry was involved.
New Jersey’s Restaurant and Bartenders Union (AFL-CIO), and the International Longshoreman’s Union (ILA) on the North Jersey docks as well as Local # 1814 in Brooklyn and on the Staten Island waterfront were two more industries affected by this mafia network.
Assisting Riggi in these endeavors were a small cadre of men he had appointed to serve as his “cabinet”. Among his closest aides and associates were: Salvatore (Little Sal) Timpani, Paul Farina, Joseph (Jojo) Ferrara, Jimmy Palermo, and (Big Frankie) Cocchiaro.
There were others whom he rotated around through the years as needs various arose.
By the late-1970s early 1980s, Riggi had become the official recognized head of the Family.
Unfortunately his accession correlated perfectly to the renewed vigor of the FBI and its local law enforcement partners in targeting the American Cosa Nostra.
John M. Riggi Sr. would soon have a large bullseye drawn on his back.
Through the 1970s and early 1980s this criminal network continued to thrive. Riggi was widely recognized and respected at “sitdowns” and mutually partnered in criminal endeavors with the NYC Families.
In December of 1985 Gambino boss Paul Castellano and his freshly appointed underboss Tommy Bilotti were assassinated in midtown Manhattan. Once the smoke cleared, John Gotti emerged as the boss of that borgata. It would also spell a problem for the New Jersey Family.
Gotti heavy-handedly soon started throwing around his weight and newfound power as boss of the largest mafia group in the nation.
What it meant for the DeCavalcante crew was that the new Gambino boss targeted them to eventually be absorbed as a “weak sister” to serve under the Gambino’s. A “satellite” so to speak instead of having independence as one of the twenty-some-odd such entities in the nation.
It did not sit well with Riggi, his hierarchy, or their rank and file membership. It was considered a major slap in the face, and very disrespectful to put it mildly.
But with a total formal membership smaller than even 1 single large crew of the Gambino Family’s 22 such regimes, there wasn’t much Riggi could do about it unless he wanted to start a bloody conflict they would surely lose!
So with his tail between his legs “Boss” John Riggi aka “John the Eagle”, embarrassingly acquiesced and was soon reporting to Gotti the way a lowly crew captain would report to his boss…he seemingly became “John the Parakeet” overnight.
Gotti gained no friends with the DeCavalcante crew I can assure you that.
Not that it would matter anyway, because within a few short years a series of very serious Rico indictments would decimate their ranks both in New York and New Jersey.
In the ensuing years, federal prosecutors continued to pummel the DeCavalcante’s with arrests and indictments as they did with the other NYC area Families. The difference being was that Jersey didn’t have the “deep” talent bench some of the other borgata’s had.
The result was a near-fatal death kneel for them, forcing Jersey to install incapable leader after incapable leader from the thin ranks they had left. They ended up in total disarray.
Today, they are but a wisp of their former selves and hang by the proverbial thread. At last glance Charles Majuri, son of former underboss Frank Majuri, was said to be heading what’s left of their troops.
As for John Riggi? Originally such a careful mafioso, John Riggi would end up falling hard on conspiracy and murder charges. In fact, several massive indictments were filed against him and scores of their key associates with a laundry list of typical mafia-type rackets.
He ended up serving several decades behind bars, finally gaining parole in 2012 when he was already a frail old man.
Many in Riggi’s top “cabinet” who assisted him in the hierarchy watching over the troops such as longtime consigliere Stefano (Steve the Truck Driver) Vitabile and their captains fared no better.
Dozens of their soldiers and associates were also jailed. Many served decades-long prison terms themselves.
I’m sure that others such as onetime underbosses and acting bosses Jimmy “The Gent” Rotondo, “Johnny Boy” D’Amato and “Fat Louie” Larasso wished they’d been imprisoned.
Each was slaughtered by their supposed “blood brothers” in various Macchiavellian self-serving plots in order to seize or hold on to power, or to satisfy Riggi and the powers that be at the time.
Boss John Riggi Sr. died in 2015 at age 90, almost three years after his release from jail.
The borgata he left behind is in sorry shape…but such is the plight of today’s mafiosi. It is a bad career choice at best for today’s young Italian men.
The Simone DeCavalcante Family
R = connotes Rat/Informant
K = connotes Killed
+ = elevated to hierarchy
John M. Riggi Sr.
John M. Riggi Sr. (acting)
Joseph LaSelva (CT)
Vincent Rotondo K
Giacomo Amari (acting)
Capo di decina
Francesco Guarraci +
John D’Amato + K
Anthony Capo R
Francesco DeCavalcante +
Joseph La Sala
Charles Majuri +
Joseph Merlo Sr. +
Joseph Merlo Jr.
Joseph Miranda +
Vincent Palermo R +
Emanuele Riggi Sr.
John Riggi Jr.
Anthony Rotondo R
This article was originally posted “here“