Tag Archive for organized crime

Bare Bones Conviction

Robert Marra, FBI informant and murderer.

When police started looking into Thomas Marra, Jr.’s multinational car-theft operation, the one-time FBI informant decided it was time to tie up a few loose ends. The result was murder.
 
One of the loose ends was 15-year-old Alex Palmieri — a young man whose plans to become an opera singer were subsumed by the excitement of stealing cars. Alex was nabbed by police and Marra suspected he had become an informant. Marra directed two associates, Nicky Byers and Frank Spetrino, to bring Alex to his home on February 6, 1984 for a talk.
 
They did so, and Alex was never seen alive again. The only hard evidence to his fate was a tennis shoe and foot bones that washed up on a Bridgeport, Connecticut beach. Based on that slim forensic evidence and the testimony of Byers and Spetrino, Marra was convicted of the teen’s killing and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
 
“Marra was like Fagin and Alex was his Oliver Twist,” prosecutor Robert A. Lacobelle told a Connecticut newspaper. “Alex looked up to Marra, and Marra took advantage of that, making Alex commit crimes for him.”
 
Marra had previously worked for the FBI as an undercover informant in a messed-up sting operation designed to nab Bridgeport officials who were suspected of taking bribes. The sting blew up in the FBI’s face when Bridgeport police arrested Marra for attempting to bribe the head of the city’s police department. The local cops donated the feds’ money used to solicit the bribe to charity and the red-faced agents were forced to ask that the charges against their de facto agent be dropped. However, the sting-gone-bad drew the local authorities to Marra’s stolen-car operation like flies to garbage and put him in a very precarious position.
 
While Alex’s girlfriend waited in the car, Byers, Spetrino and Alex went into Marra’s garage to discuss Alex’s future with the car-theft ring.
 
Marra told Alex he wanted the teen to disappear for a while and offerred to send him to Italy. Alex refused and the discussion got heated. Marra gave Spetrino an aluminum bat and whispered to him not to let Alex leave the garage. As Alex tried to leave, Spetrino swung the bat, hitting the boy in the head. He dealt two or three more blows.
 
“Let’s get him in the refrigerator,” Spetrino recalled that Marra ordered.
 
They dragged the semi-conscious victim toward the cooler and Alex began mumbling “Boss! Boss!” Spetrino testified at Marra’s trial.
 
“Shut up, Alex,” Marra said. “You didn’t go to Italy.”
 
Marra proceeded to beat Alex with the bat until he quieted down — the 15 to 20 blows reportedly split open his skull, exposing his brain. They put his body in the refrigerator and padlocked the door.
 
Byers testified against Marra, telling the jury that after they dumped the refrigerator, Marra told him that if he talked, “there was a barrel big enough for him.” He also testified that Alex was still semi-conscious after they padlocked the refrigerator and that the men could hear him talking.
 
Later, in a rented van, the men drove to where the Pequonnock River empties into the Bridgeport harbor and after chopping a few holes in the refrigerator to make it sink, dumped the cooler into the water. Spetrino testified that he watched the refrigerator for a “short time” and he noticed that it did not sink, but floated.
 
Alex’s family filed a missing person report and by October 1985, the police investigation concluded that Marra had probably killed the young man.
 
Authorities executed a search warrant of Marra’s home on October 7, 1985. They took 16 wood and soil samples that passed presumptive tests for blood. However, more in-depth tests were never conducted because sometime between 1985 and 1990, the samples were lost.
 
During Marra’s trial, the state was allowed to introduce the reports about the lost evidence, but the jury was also given a lengthy instruction that “if the state did not produce the evidence that it would ordinarily be expected to produce, the jury could infer that the evidence was unfavorable to the state.”
 
The only physical evidence in this case was discovered by a woman and her son who were walking along the shore about two miles from where Spetrino helped Marra dump the refrigerator. The mother and son came across a Pro Champs sneaker and a sock containing what appeared to be a human foot.
 
A forensic anthropologist testified at Marra’s trial that the bones were consistent with a Caucasian male between the ages of 14 and 50. The appearance of barnacles on the sneaker indicated that it had been in the water for some time. Alex’s girlfriend, his mother and Spetrino all identified the tennis shoe as the same type that Alex was wearing the day he disappeared.
 
Marra’s defense consisted of arguing that the state had not proved Alex was dead. Instead, he tried to establish that Alex had fled to Argentina, where he had relatives. The defense introduced evidence that Alex had been present at a travel agency five days after Marra was alleged to have killed him.
 
Marra also had a witness who purchased Marra’s home afer the disappearance and who testified that a refrigerator similar to the one described by Spetrino was still in the house.
 
Finally, Marra’s attorney asked why police divers searched for five months for the refrigerator in a relatively small area but were unable to find it.
 
In the end, with just a tiny amount of physical evidence linking him to the crime, Marra was convicted of Alex’s murder.

Stolen Dreams

John DiGilio

Arthur P. Moccia of Philadelphia, PA, learned that dealing with mob loansharks is always a losing proposition. The lesson was terribly expensive — in the end Moccia, a man who only dreamed of owning his own restaurant, lost nearly everything including his sanity.
 
Moccia was another casualty of the mobster parasites who infiltrated the Route 9 Holiday Inn in Lakewood, NJ. An earlier entry in the Malefactor’s Register highlighted how Ocean County mobsters shook down the hotel’s owners and muscled their way into controlling almost all of the hotel’s suppliers. What was supposed to be a decent investment for businessmen Carmen Marino and Richard Vogedes soon turned into a cash cow for mobsters John (Johnny D) DiGilio and Vincent (Jimmy Sinatra) Craparotta and their associate Herbert Gross.
 
fter a relative of the Moccias died, the family came into a substantial inheritance made up of some stocks and bonds, and several houses and garages in Philadelphia. The bequest allowed the Moccias to fulfill a dream of opening a restaurant. The Moccia family moved east from Pennsylvania to Ocean County, the gateway from North Jersey to the beautiful Jersey Shore. At first Moccia considered a fast food franchise, preferrably Burger Chef, but could not find a suitable location. He wisely decided to take his time during the summer of 1966 to find the right opportunity. Meanwhile, Moccia indulged his interest in the ponies, placing bets with a bookmaker at Mack’s Bar in Lakewood.
 
Moccia was a good customer for the bookie, a man he knew only as Andy. However, when Moccia hit a $90 Daily Double and Andy failed to pay off, Moccia got angry.
 
“I said, ‘No more until I see the top man who has the book,’” Moccia said years later. “‘I will deal with him. No in-betweens.’”
 
Moccia was probably giving Andy a lot of action each week (a $90 payout in 1966 is worth about $588 in 2010), so Andy arranged for Moccia to meet his boss, Vincent (Jimmy Sinatra) Craparotta.
 
Craparotta was the top bookmaker in the Toms River area and worked under the protection/permission of Anthony “Tumac” Acceturo a Jersey-based soldier in the Gambino family. At the time Jimmy Sinatra was grossing $6,000 each week (about $40 grand today) and employing about 13 runners who took bets, collected losses and paid winners. He was also living a very complicated life: He reported to Johnny D, who was slowly switching his own loyalty from the Bonanno family to the more powerful Genovese family. So not only was Jimmy Sinatra paying the Gambino family for permission to operate, he also had to keep the Genovese and Bonannos happy as well.
 
Throughout the summer of 1966 Moccia continued to place bets directly with Jimmy Sinatra. They saw each other often, but Moccia was quite aware that Jimmy Sinatra was not his friend.
 
“There was no social relationship,” he said. “It was just that when I hit…he would come to my house and pay me, or if I did not hit for the week, then if I had a balance with him I would pay him.”
 
The two men did talk, however, and late in the summer the bookie asked his customer just what he was doing in Ocean County. Moccia explained his plan to open a restaurant, but complained that no appropriate opportunities were on the horizon and that he was considering looking elsewhere.
 
Craparotta was beginning his extortion of the Holiday Inn owners Marino and Vogedes, who were preparing to open their hotel in Lakewood, and the mobster thought Moccia might be interested in the hotel’s food concession. Sometime after Labor Day 1966 Craparotta introduced Moccia to Herbert Gross, Gross’s partner in the nearby Claridge Hotel, Frankie Newman, Marino and Vogedes.
 
The discussion quickly became serious.
 
“They asked me what my qualifications were and I related to them my background in bar and food, and they asked me if I had any money and I assured them that I did,” he said. “They showed me some figures of what the expectancy of business volume at the Holiday would be.”
 
Eventually Marino, Vogedes and Moccia came to an agreement that Moccia would take over the food concessions at the hotel. There was just one problem — Craparotta told Moccia that Gross had a $5,000 option for the concession that had to be bought.
 
In fact there was no “option.” Gross said later that he thought up the idea to get some money for himself and Craparotta. Marino and Vogedes knew there was no option, but they were already under the thumb of the racketeers and said nothing.
 
Moccia said later that he felt pressured by the 30-day “expiration” of the option to move quickly on the opportunity, but unfortunately he lacked the liquid assets to come up with the $5,000 option payment plus the $20,000 earnest money which the hotel owners legitimately sought. The inheritance he received was mostly in real estate. Moccia was afraid that he would not be able to raise the capital in time.
 
Not a problem, Craparotta told him. The mobster just happened to have an uncle, Michael Leon, who operated a car dealership in Newark. Leon also happened to be a mobbed-up loanshark.
 
Craparotta introduced the two men and Moccia learned what dealing with a loanshark is all about. First, Leon explained that Moccia had to pay “vigorish” or “vig.” Vigorish has multiple meanings in the underworld. Generally, the word which comes from Yiddish refers to the take the lender or bookie gets for his services. In some cases vigorish is comparable to a loan application fee, while at other times it means the interest one pays on the loan.
 
For Moccia’s $17,000 request the vig was $5,000. In addition Moccia would pay $1,080 in interest (a little over 6 percent). Leon also charged 6 percent on the vigorish. For the privilege of borrowing $17,000 Moccia was expected to pay back about $23,000 in one year. In effect Moccia’s Annual Percentage Rate was more than 73 percent.
 
The agreement called for monthly payments of $400 for 12 months with a balloon payment at the end. Normally mobsters consider the borrower’s body as collateral, but in Moccia’s case, the properties he inherited in Philadelphia were put up as a guarantee. Moccia said he expected to have sold the homes before the note came due.
 
Moccia took over the Holiday Inn restaurant in January 1967 and very soon he realized that the volume of business was far under what he expected. Lakewood is primarily a vacation community and traffic at the Holiday Inn after the summer crowd heads home was understandably light. Loansharks, however, do not care about business cycles.
 
“I was not aware of the fact that you really needed quite a sum of money to hold out for the year (until) the Holiday Inn expectancy figures come through,” he said.
 
Moccia soon fell into the loanshark trap and began borrowing smaller amounts to make payroll and pay bills. He said he typically borrow $1,200 at a rate of $60 per week per thousand. That’s an APR of more than 300 percent. He never seemed to make any headway, however.
 
“There was always some coming and some going,” he said. “I would get money to pay him his vigorish on the $60 a week and on a portion of what I borrowed, and then there was another crisis or emergency.
 
Moccia managed to hold out for six months before the stress of his situation became too much. He had only managed to make three of the $400 payments to Leon before the mobster foreclosed on his property in Philadelphia.
 
“My sanity ran out in about three months,” he said. “My money ran out before that, but I held on for about six months. I didn’t have the money to meet my payroll any more, and it was Jimmy Craparotta was too far into me. I couldn’t go to him for any more. It was endless. It was a dead end right there.”
 
Moccia, who lost everything to the mob, told his story before the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation in 1972. At the end of his testimony he was asked why he was not afraid of mob reprisals.
 
“I’m a terminal cancer patient, sir,” he replied.
 
He managed to live on for a few more years after testifying, dying in 1978.