Nine members and associates of Gambino crime family indicted
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ Less than a month after Nicholas ``Little Nick″ Corozzo was said to have emerged as boss of the Gambino crime family, federal agents spoiled his day in the sun.
Corozzo was climbing out of the surf at a Key Biscayne resort Wednesday when federal agents came over and slapped handcuffs on him. FBI agents covered up the cuffs with towels as Corozzo and close associate Ralph Davino Jr. were led off to jail in swimsuits.
``They were just enjoying the south Florida sunshine,″ Assistant U.S. Attorney Lothar Genge said.
Davino and Corozzo, who was later seen outside the jail in designer sunglasses and a Fila tennis cap, were indicted along with seven other members and associates of the Gambino crime family, said to be novelist Mario Puzo’s inspiration for ``The Godfather.″
They were charged in a wide-ranging case of attempted murder, loan sharking and arson as the government tries to shut down the Gambino family’s south Florida operation.
Seven of the defendants were in custody and face initial court appearances today in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and New York. Federal magistrates will be asked to deny bond for most of the defendants, Genge said.
The racketeering indictment represents the first charges against Corozzo since he was reputed to have emerged last month as heir to imprisoned Gambino boss John Gotti, who is serving a life sentence for the 1985 murder of rival boss Paul Castellano.
Gotti, who has been imprisoned in Illinois since 1992, reportedly gave up control of the 200-member family to Corozzo last month under orders from leaders of New York’s four other crime clans. The Genovese, Lucchese, Colombo and Bonanno families wanted to avoid a bloody battle over their dislike of the acting Gambino boss, 31-year-old John Gotti Jr.
One of Corozzo’s top lieutenants, Leonard DiMaria, was arrested in New York on Wednesday. Both men were acquitted with Gotti on racketeering charges in 1987 in New York.
South Florida is more than a vacation spot for the Gambinos, authorities said. Corozzo, 56, also known as ``the Little Guy,″ directly supervised the family’s loan-sharking operation there, federal agents said.
According to the indictment, the Gambinos ran the operation out of EZ Check Cashing in Deerfield Beach, where loans were extended with credit rates of 2 to 5 percent a week _ or up to 260 percent a year.
``South Florida historically was always viewed as an open area where all of the families could operate,″ Genge said. The Gambino family was ``certainly attempting to get a stronger foothold in Florida. That’s what this indictment is all about.″
Other crimes associated with EZ Check Cashing, according to the indictment, include:
_The attempted murder of Louis Maione, a federal informant suspected of skimming some of the loan-sharking interest payments from the Gambino family.
_Setting fire to a Boynton Beach copying business in retaliation for the owner’s testimony against one of the defendants in a criminal case.
_Threatening to murder a witness and concealing incriminating evidence.
_Transportation of stolen designer sunglasses for sale in southern Florida.
Also indicted and arrested Wednesday was David Furman, 30, at his home in Deerfield Beach. Sydney Alwais, 60, and his son David, 30, of Boca Raton, surrendered at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fort Lauderdale.
Anthony Ruggiano Jr., accused with Davino, 53, and DiMaria, 55, of relaying Corozzo’s orders to the family’s south Florida crew, was already in prison in New York on an unrelated charge.
Salvatore Pecchio, 42, of Sunrise surrendered late Wednesday or early today. Agents were still looking for Robert Engel, 42, of New York.
In addition to other charges, all nine face a racketeering count, which carries a possible 20-year sentence, and fines could run as high as $4 million each.
Messages left with several New York lawyers who have represented Gambino figures in the past were not immediately returned.
The Gambino family enterprise Corozzo inherited is still reputed to be a major crime organization, but not nearly as powerful as when John Gotti was at the helm, organized crime experts say.
Once the largest and most influential criminal family with operations from New York to Las Vegas, the Gambinos have lost 11 of their 21 crews, which run regional operations.
``This takes care of their south Florida crew,″ Genge said.