By The Other Guy | September 5, 2020
One of the most iconic and feared mafioso to ever operate out of New Jersey was the Genovese Family’s Ruggiero Boiardo.
An almost mythical figure in the underworld, “Richie the Boot”, as he was widely known, got his start during the early years of Prohibition in the 1920s. He was a wild man and not somebody to be trifled with.
Remember that this was before the formation of the nationally governed Cosa Nostra. It was a time when the Sicilian Mafia was but one small piece of the overall underworld mosaic in this country.
Those early years in northern New Jersey saw gang wars between many varied groups, among them Jewish gangsters such as Abner (Longy) Zwillman, a contingent of Arthur Flegenheimer who was better known as “Dutch Schultz”, many other independent Irish gangs, as well as splintered Italian gangs and hoodlums that would later join together and become part of Cosa Nostra such as Gerardo (Jerry) Catena, Quarico (Willie Moore) Moretti, Nicolo (Nicky Dell) Delmore, and Angelo (Gyp the Blood) DeCarlo.
But of all the notorious early hoodlums and rough and tumble gangsters who would operate on the streets of Newark and other northern New Jersey towns and areas, arguably none would become more notorious or dangerous than Richie the Boot Bioardo, or “Diamond Richie” as he was sometimes also called because of the flashy jewelry and huge diamond encrusted belt buckle he sported around town.
Born on December 8, 1890 back in Naples, Italy, he was raised in the little town of Marigliano in the Campania province. Legend has it that he was an orphan raised in an Italian Catholic orphanage until he later immigrated to the United States as a young adult in 1910.
He was immediately drawn to the streets of New York and New Jersey, a place that he felt quite comfortable in since all his life he had been banged around and truly knew no home life or loving parents of his own.
By the mid 1910s, he was already a fledgling hoodlum and street criminal active in burglaries, armed robberies, and other such mayhem.
By the beginning of alcohol Prohibition in 1920, Boiardo was well poised to capitalize on The Volstead Act, a largely failed nationwide law enacted to deny a desiring populous of one of the most enjoyable pastimes they ever had, the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
This ridiculous law would make millionaires out of many a previously impoverished hoodlum and help give rise to the greatest criminal organization this country has ever known, Cosa Nostra. It would now make “racketeers” and “gangsters” out of previously categorized street “hoodlums”.
One of the fledgling New Jersey-based hoodlums to gain the most traction and wealth out of this decade of alcohol bootlegging was indeed Boiardo. He was said to have been deeply enmeshed in both the operation of alcohol “stills” which actually manufactured ally, and partnered in the smuggling of legitimate whiskey shipments brought down from Canada by truck or small boats to the shorelines of South Jersey.
Another main endeavor of his was the hijacking of competitors liquor trucks.
It took Boiardo and company nothing but a few revolvers and big sets of balls to rob other gangsters and bootleggers of their “product”. But this activity (of which Boiardo was very active in) also brought plenty of blood to the streets of Newark as gang-wars and shootings became commonplace and almost daily occurrences.
Diamond Richie Boiardo became a very hated hoodlum in certain gangster circles and on more than one occasion his rivals tried to “exterminate” their problem.
Rivals of Boiardo actually set him up for the kill in the 1930s. He was shot-gunned and seriously wounded on at least one occasion. But he would survive to rise up and dominate all those around him. So much so that by the late 1930s-early 1940s, he became one of the top recognized powers in the Northern New Jersey area of the Garden State.
Because of his power and ferocity, he was soon approached and offered a membership in what had now become an amalgamation of all the Italian racketeers across the nation.
Cosa Nostra had been formed with the express purpose to end the fighting amongst Italian hoodlums who just happened to hail from the different regions of Italy and Sicily. It was thought that Boiardo became a formally inducted Cosa Nostra member by the mid-1930s.
Now once and for all, whether you were a Napolitano, Calabrese, Siciliano, or hailed from any other province or town in the country shaped as “The Boot” as it were, you were now one in solidarity with your “brothers”….this formation and cooperative effort was the single smartest decision the Mafia ever made in this country.
The Sicilian Mafia, who was the top recognized power operating among the varied Italian groups in this country such as the Camorra and the “Societa’ Honore” (the Calabrian mafia), decided to open their ranks to other Italian regional ethnicities to end the foolish bloodshed and wanton killings, which in hindsight had stifled all their careers and took away from their primary objective, which was to make money and establish themselves deeper into the fabric of America.
Cosa Nostra or “Our Thing” became the new name of this nameless organization which the general public and law enforcement commonly referred to the world over as “The Mafia”.
With this new formal structure came the various borgatas formally established throughout the United States. The heads or “Representante” of each group were named by the overall governing body called the “Commission”, and in turn, those Family heads named their “cabinets” of sub-leaders to govern the other racketeers who operated within their respective territories.
The closer and more trusted of these racketeers would in time also be offered membership within the larger context of the underworld. They would be brought into the fold through the ancient Sicilian ritual known as a “making ceremony”, where an age old oath was recited by the recruit to hold dear the values and dictates of this Cosa Nostra and swear “Omertà” upon pain of death. This fire and blood recital would then enter the prospect into this “brotherhood” of men for life.
Boiardo was now an “Amico Nostra” or “Friend of Ours”, or more formally known as a “soldato” or soldier of all the mafia.
Because of his prominence in the underworld, as well as his wealth and vicious nature, Richie the Boot was almost immediately elevated to the status of “capo di decina” over his own faction.
In truth, the Luciano/Genovese Family to which he had joined up had no choice. Boiardo already ran his own crew with a huge following of hoodlums and street people. They were a force to be reckoned with and almost a “family” unto themselves. Either absorb him into the Family, or fight him! It was that simple a choice. What’s that old adage? “If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em”… no truer words were ever spoken in Boiardo’s case.
Boiardo got his opportunity to join the Sicilian brotherhood about the same time as other top Neapolitan and Calabrian hoodlums.
Willie Moretti was Calabrian, as stated earlier, Boiardo was a Neapolitan. Gyp DeCarlo and even the Family’s underboss Vito Genovese were of Neapolitan heritage. These previous New Jersey-based Camorra oriented racket guys would all get their “buttons” into the Mafia at this time largely through the influence of Genovese and Frank Costello (another Calabrian).
Based in Newark, over the years the “Boiardo Regime” was thought to have upwards of 40 formally inducted “soldiers” and dozens and dozens more “associates” affiliated with it.
Among the men thought to be serving in his crew at one time or another were notorious names such as Richie’s own son Anthony (Tony Boy) Boiardo, John (Big Pussy) Russo and his brother Anthony (Little Pussy) Russo, Andrew (Andy Gerard) Gerardo, Emilio (The Count) Delio, Thomas (Pee-Wee) DePhillips, John (Johnny Coca-Cola) Lardiere, Anthony (Nana) and Thomas (Pipi) Campisi and their brothers and sons, James Vito Montemorano, Anthony DeVingo, Joseph (Joe Z) Zarro, Tino Fiumara, Angelo (Chippo) Chieppa, Nicholas (Nicky Allen) Alderelli, Louis (Louie Coca-Cola) DeBenedetto, Charles (Charlie the Blade) Tourine, his son Charles (Chuckie) Delmonico, Eugene (Gino) Farina, Peter LaPlaca, Ralph (Spud) Vicaro, Paul Bonadio, James (Joe Casey) Juliano, Paul Lombardino, Salvatore Chiri, Anthony (Tony Cheese) Marchitto, Ernest Lazzara, Tobias Boyd, Anthony (Tony Ambrose) D’Ambrosio, Peter Cavanna, Ralph Belvedere, Nicholas (Joe Bones) Bufania, Carmine Toto, Peter (Andy Gump) Costello, Michael (McGee) Graziano, Carmine (Little C) Battaglia, Victor Pisauro, Alberto Barrasso, John (Padre) DeNoia, John (Duke) DeNoia Jr., and Julius (Banjo) Celentano among many others.
Remember that the Genovese Family had a huge New Jersey rank and file serving under a variety of capos over the years, not the least of whom were powerhouse capos: Willy Moretti, Gerardo Catena, Eugene (Gene) Catena who inherited his brother’s crews after Jerry moved up into the hierarchy, Angelo (Gyp the Blood) DeCarlo, and later Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, Giuseppe (Pepe) Sabato, and Louis (Streaky) Gatto among other crew leaders through the years.
After Moretti’s murder in The Elbow Room in 1951, his crew was broken up and divided among the existing capos active in Jersey.
Moretti had a huge crew said to have been likened to a small army. I know that Boiardo “inherited” some of his men. So, it augmented a regime that was large to begin with. Arguably, Boiardo would eventually become the most dominant Genovese “capo di decina” in the State.
The Boiardo crew was deeply engaged in the grittier street rackets such as numbers-lottery, bookmaking, floating dice and card games, loansharking, strong-arm extortion, labor racketeering, narcotics trafficking, armed robberies and heists, as well as the more sophisticated schemes of business infiltration and frauds, police bribery, and the official corruption of local and state governments on a grand scale which led to the awarding of no-bid government contracts for major construction projects and other services, and numerous other racket operations as came about daily…they were a very powerful entity!
Among the many businesses and entities that Boiardo and his men were said to own or control over the years was a restaurant he used as a meeting place that became his pride and joy.
He was the hidden owner of Vittoria’s Castle, a popular restaurant that attracted the bent-nose set, as well as local politicians and celebrities alike. The Yankee Clipper himself Joe DiMaggio was said to have been a patron of the place, among other illuminati.
And all of it was unwritten by bloodletting and other fear tactics as required to keep the underworld gears churning smoothly for both Boiardo and to meet the larger goals of the Genovese Family to which he paid homage through his many decades in action…and by all accounts, he was a very cruel and vicious mafia leader. Maybe one of the most vicious ever to operate in New Jersey or anywhere else for that matter!
In the mid to late 1960s, a major federal probe was started about the well-known, almost comical level of corruption of public officials in the State of New Jersey. A keystone cops type corruption that had gone on for decades at a crescendo level unseen anywhere else in the United States.
The pervasive and systematic bribery of street cops, detectives, sergeants, lieutenants, and top police brass on up to police commissioners in many New Jersey towns and counties were exposed. The acquiescence and “partnership” of local and New Jersey State officials to protect the interests of Garden State racketeers and its most important mafia members.
Local councilmen, mayors, county attorney’s, fire commissioners, housing officials, public works officials, sanitation department bigwigs, etc. Soon, local and state daily newspapers started reporting on this cesspool of corruption, which only led to other red-faced state officials and the federal government to probe deeper.
County, State, and Federal grand juries were soon empaneled to uncover just how deep this cancer went. They embarrassingly soon discovered that it went to the very core, the very heart, of New Jersey’s politics.
They also discovered that of the plethora of mafiosi who had their diamond pinky-ringed hands in the till, Ruggiero Boiardo aka “Richie the Boot”, that most notorious of the Garden State’s mafia leaders was the puppet master behind much of this corruption.
There was a systematic corrupting of various law enforcement that weaved through many town and jurisdictions. The monthly “pad” of envelopes to police officials to allow “protected” bookmaking operations and numbers games to operate freely was unnerving.
When one of Boiardo’s men wanted to open up a card or dice game in partnership with other hoodlums, after getting the okay from Boiardo, had to wait for Richie, in turn, to send word to the local police precinct to get the added okay from them before starting up the game. Negotiations would then commence about how big the game would be, how many days a week they wanted to operate, and what street or building they wanted the game located at.
Once a money agreement was worked out, then the game could start with little fear of police raids or arrests. Essentially, the police brass were in partners with the mafiosi in the gambling rackets.
One of the most well-publicized and pervasive examples of the deep corruption of Jersey’s government was the 1969 scandal involving former Mayor Hugh Addonizio.
He literally “gave the shop away” to the likes of Richie the Boot, his son Tony Boy, and Little Pussy Russo.
The FBI caught them repeatedly on tape discussing their control of Addonizio and his entire administration. The mayor worked hand in glove with them and other top mafiosi for many years to make millions between them by awarding “no-bid” contracts for electrical work, cement, general contracting, roadwork, etc., for the refurbishment of several districts under his control.
He also used his political power to protect mafia operations and help indemnify racket guys from arrest and prosecution.
It came out during multiple subsequent investigations that the corruption even went as high up as the prosecutors office.
More than one fledgling police probe or arrest was either squashed before it could take flight, or later dismissed on “technical” grounds. Other arrestees were allowed to plead out to lesser “no jail” misdemeanor counts.
This went on for many years. And each year the New Jersey Mafia became more and more emboldened in their activities because of this growing feeling of invincibility.
Digressing a bit to Richie Boiardo’s fearsome reputation for violence and cruelty, it was a well-known fact in law enforcement and among mafiosi alike that Boiardo was a vicious and depraved individual. That he not only killed with little provocation but actually enjoyed the act of murder.
More than even that was the well-known propensity he had for torturing his victims before killing them. He was said to have enjoyed abusing and destroying other human beings for “sport”.
His macabre reputation kept many of the toughest and meanest mafiosi in check and shaking in their boots during “The Boots” time on this earth.
With the massive wealth he accumulated through his early years of bootlegging and the gambling rackets, Boiardo had built a huge wrought-iron gated estate up on a desolate hill in the Livingston section of New Jersey, and erected to what amounted to a “shrine” to himself and his entire immediate blood family unit.
Behind his stone-walled property he erected numerous ceramic and stone statues of all his immediate and extended family members. They were each memorialized in multi-colored painted “busts” depicting the likeness of their faces with name plates fixed below each “head bust”.
Richie the Boot had the stone masons create a replica of himself as a full-sized figure atop a regal horse in the center of all the other family head busts overlooking his fiefdom.
It was a breathtaking collection, to say the least and very telling of his image of himself. Before the dozens of stone-faced eyes on those busts staring visitors down, and the “Transylvanian-styled castle” before them, the Boiardo Estate was a very macabre place to visit indeed!
Side Note: In the September 1, 1967 issue of Life Magazine they wrote an extensive pictorial expose’ about Boiardo, his criminal activities, and his estate. The magazine provided rare photographs of the grounds, and all the stone busts as well as Richie the Boot atop his stallion.
It was one of the most explicit displays of a mafioso’s wealth that had ever been provided to the public. This was shortly before the release of the first Godfather film from Hollywood. It was an eye-opener of truly what the public perceived the mafia to be.
Toward the back of this massive compound supposedly was a deep pit set in the woods where he would lure his murder victims.
Once there, it was said that he and his underworld minions would do their dirty business and go about murdering his victims by various methods, sometimes cutting up their bodies, both before and after killing them. It was a torture that spooked even the most hardened of gangsters.
The bodies of these unfortunates were then said to have been thrown into the pit and doused with gasoline, lit on fire and their bodies and any subsequent evidence thereby destroyed.
Many a mobster or unsuspecting “friend” or associate invited up to the Boiardo mansion were never seen again. It was a little spoken about fact of life in the New Jersey underworld. And more than one mafioso was warned not to visit Richie up there. And that if you were called by him to either make the “meet” someplace else, make an excuse and not go, or at least not to go without having several other men accompany you…The Boiardo compound was that scary!
In the late-1960s, the FBI caught fellow capo Gyp DeCarlo on a hidden tape chastising soldier Little Pussy Russo for having been so stupid as to have gone to visit Richie the Boot up at his home by himself.
In other surreptitious FBI recordings off another hidden “bug” placed around key locations in New Jersey that were known mob hangouts, one tape recording picked up the banter of Gyp DeCarlo and associates describing one particularly nasty murder of a former associate.
The mobsters glowed while they reminisced about the time they killed the “little Jew”. Tony Boy reminded the crowd “How about the time we hit the little Jew”? One of the others caught on tape recounted: “As little as they are, they struggle”.
Then Tony Boy described the scene: “The Boot hit him with a hammer. The guy goes down and he comes up. So I got a crowbar this big…Eight shots to the head. What do you think he finally did to me? He spit at me!”
In a second tape, the mafiosi recall with laughter the time they locked another victim in an automobile trunk and then set it ablaze: “He must have burned like a bastard,” they surmised. This New Jersey crew were serious guys, indeed.
Boiardo’s power was such and his reach so extensive that it was later documented he owned “points” in several legal casino operations in the Bahamas, Haiti, and Las Vegas.
One of his top soldiers who oversaw some of these hidden casino ownership interests for him was Angelo Chieppa aka “Chippo”, a longtime soldier of the Genovese Family who served under Boiardo in his regime.
A later federal indictment for their infiltration and control of the Jolly Trolley Casino implicated Chieppa as well as his boss, the aging Ruggiero Boiardo, in this operation.
It was thought by law enforcement that this may have led to Chieppa being found murdered soon after indictments fell in 1972. So much for “Family” loyalty and friendship by Boiardo and company.
Richie’s beloved son Tony Boy Boiardo ostensibly owned the Valentine Electric Company that was later implicated in the huge corruption scandal with Democratic Mayor Addonizio and others.
It was charged that Valentine had been awarded millions of dollars in government contracts through bribery, kickbacks, and other illegal acts.
Addonizio, a two-term mayor from 1962 to 1970, and a former U.S. Congressman for 13 years starting in 1949 before that, became the poster boy for New Jersey’s pervasive corruption.
In 1969, he was indicted along with nine other top city officials. Soon, another five city officials joined them being charged with receiving kickbacks from mob-connected contractors and mafiosi.
In 1970, he and four others were found guilty on 64 counts of conspiracy, grand larceny, and extortion.
In September of that year, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by a federal judge who chastised him for crimes that tore at the very fabric of civilized society and our form of representative government. Boiardo was at the very center, though hidden, behind it all.
He was, by and large, the “puppeteer” in control of much of Northern New Jersey’s organized crime and resultant corruption.
It was said that Boiardo had become so powerful that, in his time, he held dozens of politicians of varying worth in his side pocket like so many nickels, dimes, and quarters. Boiardo was said to have been instrumental in first helping Addonizio win the 1962 Mayoral race, which in turn obligated Hughie to comply with his “Capo’s” every request. It essentially turned Jersey’s largest city into the mob’s private fiefdom.
The year 1969 would prove to be a very bad one for the Mafia. At about this same time, Boiardo himself would finally start to be exposed for the power broker he truly was.
In April, he was convicted of conspiracy to violate the state’s gambling laws. The 78-year old mob boss was sentenced by a judge to serve a 2.5 to 3 year term in state prison and fined.
During this same period of time, the federal grand jury that probed Addonizio led to indictments against 14 other hoodlums and associates including Boiardo’s own son Tony Boy, who was thought to be holding the fort while his dad was in prison.
Tony Boy Boiardo suffered a heart attack soon after his indictment that largely nullified the criminal case proceedings against him, but also largely “aced” Tony out of the daily operation of their regime.
In his later years, Boiardo fast-tracked a young hoodlum by the name of Andrew (Andy Gerard) Gerardo as his “aide de camp” more and more as the days passed.
After Boiardo’s semi-retirement and subsequent death, Gerardo would become one of the top powers of the Genovese Family in New Jersey.
Holding to that old adage “That Only The Good Die Young”, Ruggiero (Richie the Boot) Boiardo died at the ripe old age of 93 years old on October 29, 1984.
I’m sure it was at least three to four decades later than many of his fellow mafiosi would have hoped for or preferred.
Boiardo was a vicious individual who was missed by few. He was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, New Jersey.
Until next time, “The Other Guy”
This article was originally posted “here“