Mary Altaffer/AP
Michael Vecchione

Mobster’s Offer to Help Recalls Lucchese Crime Family History

February 23, 2009 12:21 PM
by Josh Katz
Ex-mob underboss Anthony Casso could reveal information about the French Connection drug case. The episode sheds light on Casso’s dark past and the history of the Lucchese crime family.

Casso Seeks Release to Leak Drug Bust Information

Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso—the 66-year-old former underboss of the Lucchese mafia family who is serving multiple life sentences in prison—says he will help authorities learn more about the 1962 “French Connection” drug case if he is released for at least one day. Casso says he knows the locations of the murder weapons and how 400 pounds of heroin and cocaine, valued at $73 million in 1972, were stolen from New York police property and put back on the street, according to United Press International.

Casso had written to Brooklyn rackets chief Michael Vecchione detailing his proposal. The two “are acquaintances from the days when Vecchione was investigating two ex-New York City detectives—Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa—who secretly worked for the mob. Eppolito and Caracappa were convicted and will be sentenced next month,” according to the New York Daily News. Vecchione also wrote a book about his experience with Casso, which is scheduled to come out in May. The potential prison release is unrelated to the book, however. Vecchione plans to meet with Casso on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of release at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., where Casso is being treated for cancer.

But Jerry Schmetterer, Brooklyn district attorney’s office spokesman, says the chances are slim that they will take Casso up on his offer. Schmetterer did say, however, that such information “could prove useful in solving some of the 22 additional murders Casso is suspected of committing,” the Daily News writes.

Casso’s life sentences for murder add up to 455 years, which he is serving in a Colorado federal “supermax” prison, The New York Times reports. The prison also holds such infamous criminals as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, and mob bosses Gregory Scarpa Jr. and Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano.

The French Connection theft wasn’t uncovered until December 1972, when authorities found that the cocaine and heroin being held as evidence was replaced with flour and cornstarch. The details of the theft and the men responsible remain unclear. But Casso told former detective Pat Intrieri in October that “there were four narcotics detectives” involved, the Times reports.
Casso says some of the details still escape him and that is why he needs at least a day outside of prison to freshen his memory. According to the Times, he also is trying to “at least win some leniency along the lines of a plea deal he says the government reneged on: six and a half years in prison.”

Casso is known as one of the most feared mobsters in history. Besides the French Connection affair, “he has also been accused of plotting to kill a federal judge and prosecutors, and violating the terms of his agreement to turn informant as one of the highest-level mobsters ever to flip—becoming the only major Mafia defector to be thrown out of the federal witness protection program,” according to the Times.

“The French Connection,” a 1969 book and an Academy Award-winning movie that came two years later, popularized the crime. The drugs were first stored in a 1960 Buick that was transported on an ocean liner sailing from France to New York. The Lucchese family then obtained the car and the drugs, but a record-breaking 1962 drug bust put them both in the hands of the New York Police Department.

But between March 1969 and January 1972, “someone signing the register as Detective Joseph Nunziata, a member of the narcotics bureau’s widely corrupt special investigations unit, and using fictitious badge numbers, removed the French Connection drugs along with another 300 pounds of heroin and cocaine from the police property vault at 400 Broome Street,” according to the Times. Detective Nunziata was found dead in his car from an apparent suicide eight months before the robbery was discovered.

Background: The Lucchese Family

Gaetano “Tom” Reina was one of the “Mustache Petes” who came to the United States from Sicily and ruled like “medieval barons” in the early 20th century. He was the head of a major New York City criminal organization based in the Bronx, and, on Feb. 26, 1930, was shot and killed by Vito Genovese. Genovese worked for Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who was the head lieutenant of Giuseppe Masseria. Masseria was also Reina’s boss, and he “was the Mafia boss of all of New York.”

Luciano, however, who aspired to rise to the top of the mafia chain, wanted Masseria out of the picture. Luciano intended to usher in a new era of crime: his “master plan was to set up a national crime commission that would be bigger than the Mafia and include gangsters of all stripes, not just Sicilians,” according to the Crime Library. As a result, he would have to eliminate the Mustache Petes. He also wanted to take down Salvatore Maranzano, a new mafia boss whose strength was quickly rising. Reina was thinking about switching sides and leaving Masseria for Maranzano, but Luciano could now allow that to happen because a team of Maranzano and Reina would become too powerful.

As a result, Luciano had Reina, Masseria and Maranzano killed. One of Reina’s right-hand men, Tommy Lucchese, sided with Luciano. Lucchese was apparently known as Luciano’s “favorite killer.” Once Luciano eliminated his competition, he took the reigns of Masseria’s group and Tommy Gagliano became the boss of Reina’s organization; Tommy Lucchese would serve as his underboss. Lucchese took over when Gagliano died of natural causes in 1953.

Carmine Trumunti followed Lucchese as boss “but his term was relatively short and undistinguished,” according to the Crime Library. He earned life in prison for narcotics trafficking. Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo succeeded Trumanti, and under his leadership the Lucchese family became more powerful, although still not as strong as the Genovese and Gambino families.

Corallo chose Vittorio “Vic” Amuso as his successor. The duo of Amuso and his underboss Anthony Casso were renowned for their brutal taste for murder. Mob expert Jerry Capeci described their strategy: “Their main idea of management was to kill anyone who displeased them in any way. Their secondary plank was to kill anyone whom they thought might displease them.” They also did not abide by traditional mob code, which forbid the killing of women, for example.

Amuso and Casso would ultimately go into hiding in 1990 because of the “windows case.” A number of crime families were charged with bribery and extortion for obtaining exclusive contracts to sell and install windows for the New York City Housing Authority without having to worry about competitors. While in hiding, Casso and Amuso even called for the killing of the entire New Jersey branch of the Lucchese Family, consisting of 30 members. Casso was caught in 1993 in New Jersey and chose to testify against the mafia.

But he was not given leniency in his sentencing. Prosecutors thought he would be a “loose cannon” on the stand and chose not to use his testimony. An angry Casso wrote a letter to federal prosecutors criticizing the testimony of the other mafia witnesses used in his place. The prosecutors, incensed that his letter would damage their case, requested that Casso be sentenced to life in prison. He was given multiple life sentences.

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