Two of New York’s Oldest Mafia Clans Charged in Money Laundering Scheme


For nearly a decade, families visited a small coffee shop in suburban Long Island for pastries and gelato. Many were unaware of the longstanding operation playing out just feet away from them: Mafia members were running a secret underground gambling den in the store.

The business was one of several across the island and in Queens that served as a front for two of New York’s oldest crime families and their illegal moneymaking schemes, according to two federal indictments unsealed Tuesday. When other gambling clubs threatened their fortunes, a Nassau County detective offered to conduct police raids on the rival clubs in exchange for payments, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, nine reputed members and associates of the Genovese and Bonanno clans — including the detective were charged in a racketeering case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn that centered on the illegal parlors and the money laundering and extortion schemes.

Seven of the men, who appeared in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, pleaded not guilty to the charges. They were expected to be released on differing bail packages.

Federal prosecutors said that for 10 years, the gambling activities brought in “substantial revenue” for the two families as they hid under the cover of businesses like a soccer club and a shoe repair store. The Long Island coffee shop alone typically earned them more than $10,000 per week, funds that were laundered up to the crime families’ leaders.

Breon S. Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement Tuesday that the arrests “demonstrate that the Mafia continues to pollute our communities with illegal gambling, extortion and violence while using our financial system in service to their criminal schemes.”

He added: “Even more disturbing is the shameful conduct of a detective who betrayed his oath of office.”

Patrick Ryder, the Nassau County police commissioner, said in a statement that the detective, Hector Rosario, 49, of Mineola, N.Y., had been working on a restricted assignment and did not interact with the public while the investigation was continuing. Mr. Rosario has now been suspended without pay until his administrative hearing in the department.

He has worked for the Nassau County Police Department for more than 15 years, according to his LinkedIn page.

“The Nassau County Police Department continues to have a zero-tolerance approach toward any member of the department who is involved in criminal activity,” Commissioner Ryder said.

The power of the city’s five fabled Mafia clans began to decline in the 1980s and 1990s, as aggressive prosecutions disrupted their leadership and the authorities targeted their grip on unions. The Bonanno family in particular saw a string of damaging convictions and defections through the 2000s. Even the family’s longtime boss began cooperating with the authorities after a 2004 conviction for a series of murders.

The families still exist, but with far less widespread control.

In recent years, they have faced charges for similar types of organized crime — extortion, illegal gambling, fraud — in smaller cases with a few defendants as well as large-scale conspiracy cases. In 2016, for example, 46 members of a crime network that featured four of the city’s Mafia families — including the Genoveses and Bonannos — were charged in a racketeering scheme that extended from Massachusetts to South Florida and involved extortion, health care fraud and arson.

In the Brooklyn case, the Genovese and Bonanno crime families began to run the Long Island coffee shop — the Gran Caffe in the Lynbrook area — around May 2012, according to the indictments.

Members of the two clans agreed on a profit split for the gambling facility, and each helped maintain the operation: High-ranking members of both families “relied on their underlings” to collect the profits and hand off money in “clandestine meetings,” prosecutors said.

The pattern was similar at the other businesses, which included Sal’s Shoe Repair in Merrick, N.Y., and La Nazionale Soccer Club in the Glendale section of Queens. Prosecutors said the evidence in the case includes recordings of telephone calls made through wiretaps, accounts from several witnesses and a host of other evidence.

In a memo to the judge, prosecutors argued that the “seriousness of the danger posed by the defendants’ release should not be underestimated” and that the men represented a significant flight risk.

Eight of the men charged were recently arrested in New York and Florida, while the whereabouts of one remained unknown. U.S. Magistrate Judge James R. Cho approved bail packages for the seven who appeared in court in Brooklyn, which included bonds ranging from $150,000 to $2 million, travel restrictions and other monitoring.

Mr. Rosario, the Nassau County police detective, was set to be released on a $500,000 secured bond. The indictment did not specify how much money he had received for arranging police raids on rival gambling locations. But prosecutors said that in a 2020 interview with F.B.I. special agents, he lied about his knowledge of the operations.

His lawyer, Lou Freeman, and the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, the county’s largest police union, did not immediately return a request for comment.

One of the defendants, Carmelo Polito, 63, of Whitestone in Queens was also accused of operating an illegal online gambling website. Prosecutors said that Mr. Polito — who is suspected of being a captain in the Genovese family — threatened and extorted money from a man who lost several thousand dollars in bets, saying he would “break” the man’s “face” in an October 2019 call. Mr. Polito later directed a message to be sent to the patron, warning that he would “put him under” a bridge, using an expletive.

Prosecutors depicted Mr. Polito as a threatening captain in the family who had been convicted of murder 19 years ago and was unable to stray from his violent life afterward.

But Gerald McMahon, a lawyer for Mr. Polito, said in court that the portrayal was misguided, emphasizing that the conviction was later overturned and that Mr. Polito was at work when the authorities arrived at his home to arrest him — and that he returned to be taken into custody.

“The story they’ve given you, it’s just complete hogwash,” Mr. McMahon said to the judge. “The case is a gambling case. It’s a gambling case.”

The case was prompted by a multiyear joint investigation by several agencies, including federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, the F.B.I. and the Nassau County district attorney’s office.



Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/16/nyregion/new-york-mob-families-racketeering-charges.html