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Organized Crime in Connecticut: The Rob'n Hood of Danbury

The Rob'n Hood of Danbury

by
John William Tuohy


 “A Danbury trash hauler suspected of mob ties right out of ‘The Sopranos. 
                                                                                                The New York Times


In Danbury, people took two sides on Jimmy Galante. For some, he was an unrelenting Genovese Crime Family mobster or, for others, an unjustly persecuted business executive.  Whatever the truth was, it was actually someplace in the middle, there was nothing, absolutely nothing in Galante’s otherwise mundane background to suggest he could fall into a life of crime, least of all organized crime. Although born in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx in 1953, his childhood was spent in South Salem, New York, a pleasant community an hour outside of Manhattan and only several minutes away from the Connecticut line.

After high school, he served an uneventful stint in the US Air Force and then returned home to New York State where he took a job driving a garbage truck. He married,  moved to New Fairfield, and had two children.

In his mid-twenties, with no assets to speak of Galante started Automated Waste Disposal. By 2004, Galante had built Automated Waste into a $100 million firm that handled 80% of garbage hauling in southern and western Connecticut, and Westchester and Putnam counties in New York.

Galante kept an office in Danbury where he is still considered a generous and carrying Philanthropist, in fact, a grateful citizenry named a pediatric suite in the emergency department of Danbury Hospital for his family. His other donations to the area included a new football stadium at New Fairfield High School. (Federal officials say he gave the school district $2 million.)

And that’s where the otherwise docile and admirable image ended, and the unrelenting gangster saga began.  

According to the government, for almost two decades, Galante ruled over large parts of the garbage industry in north-central Connecticut thought fear, violence, threats of violence and economic sanctions.
In one instance, Galante and associates burned a competitor’s truck after first binding the driver, the intended message was for the truck owner to stay out of the Connecticut market. They did it again in 2006, when, the FBI claimed,  the Galante operation damaged the tires of a competitor’s truck after the owner refused to back down on a contract worth only $50 a month.

In that case, the feds said that Eric  Romandi, who was described as “Galante's go-to and a  "vital and loyal cog" in Galante's gang, was the thug who harassed the competitor’s truck driver.

Romandi was a ball of contradictions. He was reportedly well-liked in the industry and by the employees. By most accounts, he was a devoted father two his three children, one with special needs, and a loyal husband to his wife, unusual for people in that world. A former US  Marine, he served four years in Vietnam as a crew chief for a medivac helicopter, running as many as two to three rescue missions per day, taking wounded soldiers from combat areas.  

On the other hand, Romandi previous record included a 39-month prison term for his involvement in a ring that smuggled heroin into the U.S. from Bangkok he worked at an American Airlines terminal at LaGuardia Airport in Queens.
And then there is the Connecticut incident.

On May 28, 1992, at 6 in the morning,  Romandi waited in the parking lot of the Berkshire Shopping Center on Newtown Road in Danbury. Wearing a ski mask and green overalls, he pulled a gun on a garbage truck driver, and told him "Don't cause any trouble and you won't get hurt."

Romandi, and an unidentified accomplice, then taped the driver's hands, legs and eyes, they put him in a swamp behind the shopping center, Then doused his truck with gasoline and set it on fire.

When they were finished, Romandi and his partner drove off in one of Galante's cars -- a Ford Thunderbird, -- and had it cleaned. Later, when a worker at an auto shop wrote a receipt for the cleaning that mentioned the smell of gasoline, Galante called him and ordered a rewrite. The FBI later got hold of that report in the original form.
Then there was the business of witness tampering.

Aside from everything else Galante had going on, he spent lavishly on Lisa Henry, a female friend who lived on a horse farm he owns in Southbury. In addition to providing Henry with a no-show job at one of his companies, Galante covered her household expenses (landscaping, pool service, insurance, repairs, window cleaning, tree service, laundry services, utilities and a $24,745 home entertainment system)

Galante also wrote double paychecks for some employees and had them return one of them to him in cash, claiming items he purchased for his girlfriend's horse farm including hay and a wide-screen television as business expenses, and skimming cash from the register at the Danbury garbage transfer station.

Those things would come back to cause him a problem because he was deducting the cost as business expenses which they weren’t and as a result,  he would later be indicted tax and conspiracy offenses.

Then the Justice department, compelled….meaning forced….. a former Galante employee to testify in front of the grand jury investigating the trash industry. Galante found out about and sent Romandi to speak with the women “to instruct her how to answer questions." Romandi met with the witness and, basically, told her to lie to the grand jury.

A while later, Romandi saw the woman's father at a Trashers hockey game. "While there, Romandi asked how his daughter was doing," the prosecutors said. Romandi offered some unsolicited legal advice, telling the father that his daughter wasn't obligated to talk to the FBI unless they served her with a subpoena. Romandi then gave the father a written list of questions the grand jury might asking. "Later, when the father showed his daughter the list of questions, she became distraught and destroyed the document,"

Romandi was later sentenced to 37 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. Not bad considering that he actually faced  up to 25 years for the crimes he committed under Galante’s direction. However, Romandi was able to work out a deal with prosecutors that had him plead guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Romandi's attorney.
In 2004, Galante purchased a minor-league-hockey franchise in the United Hockey League, the equivalent of Double A baseball and brought the team to the Danbury Ice Arena, a much needed punch in the arm for the economically depressed town.  Galante spent $3 million of his own money, without being asked, to refurbish the 3,000 seat Danbury Ice Arena.

Galante renamed the Trashers, the Danbury Trashers,  with its team mascot being Scrappy, a garbage can with the lid raised just enough to reveal two eyes peering from the darkness which was probably a bit more foreboding then intended. Galante appointed his son AJ, although still in high school,  as the general manager of team.

When negotiating a player’s contract, Galante, according to the government, paid some of the players (and/or their spouse) through no-show jobs at his various corporations, allowing him to pay more to star players without breaking the leagues pay cap of $275,000 a year per team. This way, according to the Justice Department, the Trashers’ reported budget came in under the mandatory cap for the 2004–05 season although the teams actual payroll was approximately $750,000, or about $450,000 over the cap.

At that same time, in 2005, the FBI’s office in New Haven was taking in complaints that Galante’s near-monopoly on regional garbage collection was killing off competition. That complaint was added to an ongoing investigation into  illegal practices in the states trash hauling industry. Galante was already on the Organized Crime tasks Force radar. In fact, in 1999, he was sentenced to 12 months and a day in federal prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion.

In early 2006, the FBI sent in an undercover agent posing as a salesman who quickly befriend Galante’s friends and soon, Galante himself. From conversations that the reported on, the U.S. Attorney’s office, which would later describe Galante as “a manipulating, controlling, hands-on bully”, had enough to get wiretaps and search warrants. The wiretaps caught Galante’s associates talking about a trip to Mount Kisco, New York, where they intended to hire a leg-breaker known as the Carpenter. The tapes also captured Galante telling an associate to deliver a message to a suspected snitch  “Long Island says hello,” was the message referring to Genoese boss Matty the Horse Ianniello.

In the summer of 2005, federal agents raided Galante’s offices, and took away over $500,000 in cash and more than 5,000 boxes of documents. Looking through the boxes, agents eventually found evidence of no-show jobs, which resulted in charges against Galante. Further digging found evidence that Galante was making $30,000 in quarterly payments to Genovese crime family Matty “the Horse” Ianniello.

Ianniello, low-key and soft spoken, boring in fact, was a top earner for the Genovese Crime Family. He was mastermind of one of the most lucrative of all the mobs scams, the topless bar scene and pornography shops that once dotted virtually all of Manhattan. Matty the horse either owned the bars and shops outright or took protection money from the owners. In exchange, the stores were protected police raids, union demands or from Matty’s goons simply not  busting the place up. In the 1970s, he controlled discos and gay bars in Midtown New York.

At the height of his power, Ianniello either owned or controlled 80 restaurants and bars all of which were dubbed “Manny’s smut cartel” but state and federal agency that tried to close him down. For a fee, Manny offered his bars money lending, money laundering,  interior decorating, garbage collection and vending-machine leasing. He also owned the talent agency that provided the city with its stripper. Almost all of his ill gained fortune was funneled through his web of service providers.

Ianniello was born in Little Italy in Manhattan, one of eight children of Italian immigrant parents. He worked as a waiter, and then as a longshoreman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, before joining the Army in 1943. He received a medal for valor in combat in the South Pacific. After the war, he and an uncle became partners in a restaurant. He joined up with Genovese operation in or around the late 1940s.  His first pinch came in 1951 for heroin trafficking but the charges were mysteriously dropped before the case went to court. With time he became a major player in the Genovese rackets of construction bid-rigging, labor-union corruption and waste-carting extortion. He was also a hidden owner in Umberto’s Clam House, in Little Italy, and was there the night Joey Gallo murdered. When Genovese boss Vincent Gigante finally went to prison in 1997, Ianniello stepped up to be the acting boss and that was how he came into contact with Jimmy Galante.

The day that Galante’s office was raided was the same day that federal agents raided 60 other garbage industry-related businesses in New York and Connecticut aligned to the hauling business, the raids arising out of an 18-month investigation of the trash business.

Federal agents monitoring wiretaps intercepted at least 100,000 telephone calls between August 2004 and July 2005 that involved a total of 29 individuals and 10 businesses accused of racketeering, extortion, mail and wire fraud, witness-tampering, interfering with search warrants and a variety of tax evasion charges.

 In Connecticut, as a result of those raids and a wider investigation, on July 27, 2005, Matty the Horse Ianniello was indicted on racketeering charges in New York involving extortion and loansharking. Agents arresting Ianniello at his home while he was ported watching the film The Godfather Part III.

A year later, on June 10, 2006, Ianniello was indicted in federal court in New Haven on charges of racketeering involving trash hauling in Southwestern Connecticut. Ianniello pleaded guilty to the New York racketeering charges and received an 18-month prison sentence and also pleaded guilty to the Connecticut racketeering charges and was sentenced to two years in federal prison to run concurrent with the 18 month New York sentence. It was one of only two significant prison terms during his life. The first was a  nine-year term for racketeering and tax evasion involving Midtown topless bars that he owned, which he served from 1986 to 1995. Ianniello died in his sleep in his bed at home, at age 92.

Galante was later arrested following the indictment that charged him with 72 counts, (The entire indictment included a total of 98 counts) including extortion, witness tampering, and racketeering.

In those charges was one count of taking part in the salary-cap fraud for his hockey team. The indictment went on to describe Galante as the chief source power behind a series of  illegal operations who controlled virtually every aspect of the garbage business in western Connecticut and Putnam County and using mob muscle to strong-arm any competitors who might get in his way.

Among those also indicted as a result of the investigation were former Division Manager for Diversified Waste and alleged Bonanno Crime Family enforcer Robert Taggett.  New Jersey based federal Drug Enforcement Agent Louis Angioletti, Connecticut State Trooper Paul Galietti of Southbury who were paid to use police computers to track information on Galante and his associates. Galietti was a cousin Richard Galietti.

The feds had a tape recording of Galietti talking to his cousin, Richard Galietti, who at the time was sales manager for Galante-controlled Automated Waste Disposal. During the call, Miller said, Richard Galietti asked his cousin, Trooper Paul Galiette, to run a check on a Connecticut license plate. Minutes later federal agents heard Paul Galietti giving Richard Galietti the name of the person the car was registered to. The car owner  was affiliated with a small trash hauling company in Danbury.

After he gave his cousin the information, agents overheard Paul Galietti warning of the risks of other people finding out about the check, Miller said. "Never tell anybody I did that for you, because you'll get me fired," Galietti said  "It's a serious thing now, OK?"

Richard Galietti then told his cousin that his brother, a sheriff in Florida, had gotten in trouble for the same reason, Paul Galietti said: "Yeah, no really, the federal government pinches you now. That's a real fucking serious thing."

Trooper Galiette gave the request to Louis Angioletti who was with the US Drug Enforcement Agency and was placed at the high-security El Paso Intelligence Center in Texas. Richie Galiette’s name did not appear on the search.

Trooper Galiette and DEA agent Angioletti had attended a Lee County, Fla., police academy in 1995 and the two men remained friends after Angioletti went to work for the sheriff's department in Florida, then joined the DEA four years later.

FBI agents learned about the request during in a wiretapped telephone conversation with Galante. In another wiretapped conversation, Trooper Galietti told Galante his "friend in El Paso" had run the suspected informant's name, also with no result. An audit of DEA files indicated Angioletti had run the check. In the end, it wasn’t that serious , not punishment wise anyway. 

Galietti walked away with only a $1,000 fine. Galietti lost his job and is barred from working in law enforcement again. Angioletti pled guilty to a single count of improperly accessing a government computer. He was fined $2,500 and forced to resign from the agency.  "There is no question that I am absolutely guilty of misguided loyalty to a fellow police academy cadet," Angioletti said  "Not a day goes by without my regretting that unwise decision."

Also indicted was former Waterbury Mayor Joseph Santopietro. In 1985, Santopietro became Connecticut’s youngest mayor ever when he was elected at age 26. But in 1992, he was convicted of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from developers trying to cash in on what was then a hot city real estate market. He served just over six years in prison and was released in 1999.

Santopietro meet Galante in prison when Galante was there for tax violations and later hired Santopietro as a consultant to his companies. But he also participated in the Galante take-over of the trash haulers routes by using his influence to dissuade a competing trash hauler from honoring a contract with a new customer who had previously used one of the companies involved in the case.

Santopietro pled guilty to racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced to five years-probation for his role in the Galante mess and was fined $30,000 and ordered o spend his first six months of probation confined to his home.

The court some mercy on him due to the condition of his wife, Julie, a divorce lawyer who was badly injured when a client's estranged husband shot her outside the Middletown courthouse two years ago before taking his own life. Her client in the case was killed. Julie suffered debilitating injuries and needed Santopietro help in even the simplest chores. There were also his two small children involved in considering his sentencing.  Agents recalled that when they came to arrest Santopietro at his home he became so panicked the agents thought he might be having a heart attack.

James Galante's business partner, albeit silent partner, was Thomas Milo, a 72 year old man from Mamaroneck, N.Y. who largely managed to stay in the background largely because he had been targeted as an associate of the Genovese mob and was barred from holding a Refuse License in New York because Milo had been indicted on similar trash industry racketeering charges in New York in the late 1990s. In that scam, members of the Genovese and Gambino crime family  were charged with illegally controlling Westchester County's private garbage carting business through mob-backed threats, extortion and bribery. 
Arrested with Milo was Mario "The Shadow" Gigante, 73,  brother of Genovese crime family head Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, Salvatore Gigante (Mario’s son) Nicholas Milo, (Tommy Milo’s brother) Frank Celli, Louis Corso and  Benny Villani. The arrests  brought to an abrupt end the government's 10-year investigation against a total of seven men and 14 companies named in a 61-count indictment handed up in June 1996. The Connecticut indictment against Milo, Galante and others was the second half of that investigation.

Milo acknowledged he paid a mob tax of approximately $120,000 per year to 'Matty the Horse' Ianniello. Milo was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $40,000 in fines. He and his wife have also agreed to forfeit their ownership in Automated Waste Disposal and related companies.

Kitellen Milo, Milo wife, demanded millions of dollars for what she said were losses she suffered after buying into the garbage business at the heart of the conspiracy. She further accused Galante of, among other things, squandering profits on no-show jobs for his "personal criminal cohorts." As she put it. However, virtually everyone in the case, on both sides, believed that Kitellen Milo's ownership interest in Galante's garbage business was simply a front for her husband.

Further, of the reported no show jobs she complained about more than $200,000 of that money went to her relatives including  her daughter, her son-in-law and her brother-in-law, Joseph Milo. Joey Milo at least served some purpose for taking the cash. He admitted in court that he was bagman for Galante’s operation who delivered quarterly $30,000 payments from the galante operation down to Matty the Horse Ianniello in New York. Weakening her case even more was the fact that Kitellen had been living separately from her husband long before the feds moved into the case.

When it appeared that Galante’s lawyers had arranged for him to return home until his trial began,  federal prosecutors played excerpts of eight wiretap conversations for the hearing Judge.  The profanity-laced snippets played in court all centered on Galante’s anger with a Danbury-area trash hauler named Joseph LoStocco,  who had placed a dumpster at the Marriott Hotel, a location that Galante felt was his, if only because it was in Connecticut.

Galante could be heard telling his operations manager, Ciro Viento, to tell the rival hauler to give up the Marriott contract. Minutes later, Viento called LoStocco, to relay the message. “Joey, I just got a call from the maniac. Do everybody a favor and go up to the hotel and get that dumpster out of there or else you are going to be in a world of hurt.”

As LoStocco starts to argue, Richard Galietti, Galante’s sales manager, took the phone from Viento and threatened LoStocco. "Do not fuck with Jimmy. At the end of the day, I am going to tear your eyes out. I will destroy you if you want to play this game.”

In another recording, Galante and Galietti discussed vandalizing one of LoStocco’s trucks. “LoStocco’s truck just pulled out. I think I should tattoo this thing,” Galietti said.
Galante replied, “Yeah, the headlights sound good to me.”

 The next day Galante discussed his growing frustrations about LoStocco with another employee, Ricky Caccavale. “You tell him Mr. Galante said I always done the right thing for you. This is a personal thing with me now. He’s been warned before. What I’m going to have to do is hurt you.”

A few minutes later, Caccavale called LoStocco and said,  “Jimmy has a lot deeper pockets than you and you don’t want to start a war with him that you can’t win,” You don’t want to go to war with Jimmy Galante who has brought Allied and Service Management to their knees.” (Allied Carting and Service Management were national competitors that eventually were forced out of the market by Galante.)
Caccavale ended the conversation with LoStocco by saying: “Joe, you’ll never sleep well again.”

Galante also pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, tax fraud, and wire fraud. The government seized most of his assets, including 25 trash companies and a string of race cars. Galante later agreed to forfeit thee farm, along with six racing cars, a racing trailer and $448,000 in cash that federal agents seized and to pay $1.6 million in back taxes.
(Galante reached a plea agreement with the federal government  in June 2007 in which he would receive $10.7 million from the government sale of his carting companies but had to bring suit to force payment on the remaining $3.1 million)

Galante, in a plea for leniency, introduced several letters he previously had received from politicians, including former Vice Presidential candidate and US Senator Joseph Lieberman, praising Galante’s generosity.  In Lieberman’s case, he collected more than $14,000 from Galante and friends in contributions.

Liberman’s letter wasn’t a surprise since Galante had also used a political action committee which laundered money to several politicians who may have used their influence too award contracts to Galante's trash hauling business.

In 2007,  Connecticut State Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in connection with Galante because DeLuca had Galante intervene on behalf of the husband of DeLuca's granddaughter, whom DeLuca believed was being abused. DeLuca also accepted large donations from Galante and his associates and allegedly promised to look out for Galante's interests.
Due to the public outrage that followed, DeLuca eventually stepped down as leader of the Senate Republicans and a special senate committee was convened to determine if DeLuca should be officially sanctioned.  DeLuca testified in front of the committee and acknowledged that he asked Galante to threaten his grandson-in-law and that he also knowingly had lied to FBI when they questioned him about his relationship with DeLuca. He resigned from office later that year. In an interesting twist on the case,  the husband of DeLuca's granddaughter, Mark Colella, said publicly that he never struck DeLuca granddaughter, but as for DeLuca, he said "I'd like to smack his teeth down his throat"

Jimmy Galante spent six years in Allenwood federal penitentiary in central Pennsylvania. He was  also forced to forfeit his controlling interest in twenty-five different garbage related businesses. Matty the Horse was released after 18 months dying in August 2012.  Galante got out of prison in 2014.

Organized Crime in Connecticut: Butch D'Aquila, the Middletown Mobster

Butch D'Aquila, the Middletown Mobster

by

John William Tuohy



Salvatore “Butch” D’Aquila, called “Fat Butch,” on the streets, was born and raised on College Street in Middletown. His father, Salvatore Sr. was a widely known and respected semi-professional athlete and considered a good family man. His wife, the Ruth Cochran hailed from Vermont and worked most of her life as a hospital nurse.

Butch D'Aquila had paid his dues.

At one point he had acted as Billy Grasso’s driver for at least a decade although later, in court, he played down his relationship with Grasso denying that the gambling revenues he created financed other Patriarca family Connecticut operations while it was under Grasso and the most he gave Grasso was a $5,000 or $10,000 "package" every Christmas as a tribute.
D'Aquila was locked up for his role in a 1975 Las Vegas Night gambling operations in Old Saybrook, that happened right after he sold Sweet William's Cafe in Middletown. The bust came while D'Aquila was allegedly working in the kitchen Terra Mar Yacht and Tennis Club in Old Saybrook owned in part by Mafiosi Skyball Scibelli.

The Club also held a massive and very illegal casino. D'Aquila and Frank Rulli of Branford rented the restaurant concession for $6,000 but failed, according to the state, to serve three meals a day.

The Rulli’s were a crime wave unto themselves since at least 1926. In 1947, several members were arrested for failure purchase a federal gambling stamp, conspiracy and keeping a gaming house.

In1952, state police raided a massive pig and turkey farm the family operated Morgan Lane in West Haven because it was a cover for a massive still that manufactured thousands of gallons of grain alcohol.

In 1957, they were part of a massive burglary ring that operated from Middlebury to Milford. They were arrested again in 1960 for running a gambling joint in West Haven.

In 1961 Frank Rulli Sr. was arrested by state police for paying a state fine with a fraudulent check. Later that year, state police planned a raid on Frank Rulli’s lavish hilltop on Morgan lane in West Haven which they suspect was doubling as a casino.

Since the farm was accessible only from a single winding, narrow road which can be easily surveyed from Rulli's farm home, the state cops decided to use a helicopter to land at the same time another group of cops approached the house in an old panel truck.

At the last minute, the truck broke down forcing the cops to switch to a nearby unmarked State Police cruiser. As the cruiser raced up the hilly road, the helicopter swooped in on Rulli's home and hovered a few feet off the ground in of a swimming pool in the yard.

Agents and troopers leaped out of the copter, sprinted for the house and pounded on the doors demanding entry. When no one answered their shouts of "federal agents with search warrants," the raiders forced their way in by smashing the door glass. It was all for naught, no one was home.

Frank Rulli was called into a 1972 statewide investigation into organized crime in the state and then ended up at the Terra Mar Yacht and Tennis Club in Saybrook. According to state law, winners at Las Vegas nights were supposed to be paid off in gift certificates, not cash, and the operators of the games are supposed to be members of the organization not employees of the firm which leases the gambling equipment. However, the winners at the club were paid in cash.

The cops also said that the Las Vegas operators were keeping the bulk of the money they generated. In one case, the reason the complaint was filed against the club, the non-profit organization sponsoring the game made $500 from gross receipts of some $90,000. Eventually, the Liquor Control Commission revoked the Clubs liquor license and D'Aquila pleaded no contest and were fined $3,100 for the five counts of professional gambling and maintaining a gambling premise, and one count of violating the Las Vegas Night laws.

In 1976, Butch D'Aquila, Frederick Vitale of Southington and Richard Domenic Toce of Glastonbury were held in Antilles while on a gambling junket in Aruba on charges of fraud and falsifying checks in the amount of about $3,000. The three were arrested by police at the Princess Beaprix Airport in Aruba as they were about to board a jet for Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.

D'Aquila had been running gambling junkets to Aruba, where casino gambling was legal, from Middletown for at least a year and, at the time was a subject of a federal grand jury investigating organized crime.

The three men were given seven-month sentences although the local prosecutor recommended one-year terms. The three were also given credit for time spent in jail since their arrests, meaning the entire sentence came to five months. The charges boiled down to forgery and one count each of swindling by use of false identification.

Vitale and D'Aquila would be arrested together again in a 1983 round-up of New Haven county gamblers. Vitale’s named popped up again in 1996 in connection with a Patriarca hood named Francis Gratta (He was nicknamed Curley because he had his hair permed weekly) whom Connecticut State Police believed to be D’Aquila’s top roaming Lieutenant who managed gambling operating in Middletown, New London, Meriden, Hartford and areas in between. He was good at what he did. During a six-day period in December 1987, the Meriden office took in more than $455,000 in bets.

In 1986 Vitale, Gratta and D’Aquila bought a $200,000 house on Gates Road in Old Saybrook and in 1987, Vitale, Gratta and D’Aquila bought a property together on Gates Road in Old Saybrook for $270,000 from Frank Wirth, a businessman who owned several Dunkin Donut’s franchises.

Gratta and Vitale owned the Corner Lunch Diner in Meriden where Gratta had installed several electronic video poker machines that brought him in about $2,000 a month in cash. Gratta had only recently been released from prison on a 1992 conviction for helping to run the Patriarca crime family's multi-million dollar Connecticut sports-betting operation. In that operation, a team of runners collected betting slips and wagers from residential milk boxes and returned the gamblers' winnings, if any, to the same milk boxes. Arrested on a parole violation because of the video poker machines, he was sent to jail for a year.

Wiretaps would eventually show that Butch D'Aquila ran a string of bookmaking offices with Gratta and another hood named Charles Ceretta of Meriden. They ran the business almost as a corporate franchise operation. Low-level bookmaking offices reported to a higher tier of offices that reported to a still higher tier.

At various times of the week, lower tier bookies would report the sums their offices had won and lost. At the highest levels of the network were offices run by Gratta and Ceretta. During the period of the wiretaps, Ceretta and Gratta were each receiving reports from 10 lower-level bookmaking offices.

During the six null Gratta's phone was tapped in December 1987, he received 397 gambling-related telephone calls reflecting a value of more than $455,000 in bets. The operations bookmaking offices commonly bet with one another to "balance" the amount of wages they were taking on sports events a process called laying off bets. The bookies wanted to have approximately equal sums wagered on opposing teams in a sports contest, to avoid losses.
There was no way they could lose.

The vig, the money charged on losing bets was about 50 cent vig on a losing $5 bet. If the gambler bets $5 and wins, he collects an additional $5. If he lost, the better paid the bookie $5.50. In some cases the vig was as much as $1 on a losing $5 bet. The cops estimated D'Aquila numbers operation run out of his Main Street front was grossing a half-million-dollar-a-week. That front was Central News was a Middletown institution.
Generations of townsfolk had stopped there for their coffee and cigarettes before starting their day at the nearby mills. Near the wall filled with magazines and null lunch counter, there was also a door with a two-way mirror and behind the door was D'Aquila gambling operation.
Yet when newly appointed Police Chief George R. Aylward arrived in town in 1982, he noticed that D' Aquila went about his gambling business unmolested "I used to think that Butch was a Klingon "Star Trek" villain with that cloaking device," Aylward said. "That we were the only people who could see the 300-pound organized crime figure in Middletown."

But it was Middletown where the ancestors of most of the citizens of Italian descent came from the same town in Sicily. "They know that Butch D' Aquila is on trial," Mayor Paul Gionfriddo said at the time. "They know the accusations. But it's very separate from the Butch D' Aquila they know."

The South End Mutual Benefit Association, the Oxy it was called, was a direct outgrowth of the small world of Italian-Americans in the area. The Oxy had been organized in the 1920s to serve an immigrant and ethnic Hartford population that was usually unable to obtain credit from commercial banks. It is now long closed by banking regulators. But while it lasted in the 1980s and 1990s, it acted as a sort of piggy bank for bad guys who used it to underwrite a multimillion-dollar, illegal gambling business.

The way it worked was simple, casino games at social clubs in Meriden, New Britain and Hartford had access to stacks of pre-approved credit union loan applications and used them to extend instant money to tapped out players. The Oxy, the mob credit union, was the subject of grand jury subpoenas, first in 1984, and more significantly in 1990 during a federal criminal investigation that led to a landmark Hartford mafia trial in 1991.

When FBI agents raided a mob game at the Meriden Independent Club, set up for Southern New England gamblers and allegedly owned by Butch D'Aquila, in June 1988, they seized $42,000 in cash, gambling records, gambling paraphernalia and, according to an FBI affidavit, "numerous loan applications for the Oxy.

Although most of the fake loan applications seized were blank, there was several in which the agents found the loan guarantor sections had been pre-signed with the name Salvatore D'Aquila. The agents also noticed that one of the application was made out in the name of Hartford thug John F. "Sonny" Castagna, a degenerate gambler who was constantly in hock to someone in the organization. The Feds put a wiretap on his phone and learned, among other things that he was ripping across the state looking for stolen diamonds that he thought had been hidden by another hood named William "The Hot Dog" Grant who disappeared one day and has never been heard of since.

The Meriden raid and the information taken from the Castagna tap made the Oxy a target of the FBI, the State Police and State Organized Crime Task Force, Hartford Police Intelligence Unit and the state Department of Banking. However, a larger organized crime investigation taking in the Patriarca family's Connecticut and western Massachusetts leadership and included a secretly made recording of a mafia initiation ceremony placed the law’s attention elsewhere and the Oxy case slide out of the spotlight but the connection between D’Aquila, Castagna and the Oxy had been made.

In March 1990, federal prosecutors announced indictments against 21New England mobsters as part of a large-scale crackdown. The charges against the 22 men ranged from murder to conspiracy to commit murder to extortion. Among those arrested was Raymond "Junior" Patriarca. Oddly enough the FBI somehow missed Butch" D'Aquila in their massive New England wide round up because D'Aquila was visiting relatives in Florida so D'Aquila turned himself in when he returned to Connecticut.
Butch D'Aquila was also accused of helping to bury and/or act as the lookout while other buried a character named Theodore Berns, a Boston-area hotel executive. The feds were positive that Berns was murdered and then buried under a garage in Hamden in August of 1986.

That information came from a Hartford hood and Patriarca crime family associate named Jack Johns of Hartford who became a cooperating federal witness. According to Johns, he, Robert J. Beedle, Billy Grasso, Salvatore M. Caruana and Butch D'Aquila buried the body.

Salvatore Michael Caruana, a member of the Boston mob was one of the nation’s most prolific marijuana smugglers. Caruana’s first bust came in 1954 for armed robbery and possession of firearms. A while later, he moved to narcotics and was Made into the Boston Mafia sometime in the 1970s.

Joseph Keefe was a Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency said that Caruana was a hands-on manager “In these marijuana operations that Caruana was involved, he was the supervisor. Caruana would show up on the scene himself at the stash house before the marijuana was sent out and talk to his people, make sure it was weighed correctly, make sure the quality was good. He would then tell his distributor that I want X amount of dollars for each pound of marijuana that’s here. He’d carry guns… He would threaten to kill you. There’s no question. If you messed up, he’d threaten to kill you.”

Between 1984 and 1987, Caruana, lived comfortably in Meriden and East Hampton under an assumed name while he was wanted by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, having successfully made the agency’s list of its 10 most wanted fugitives. According to the cops, the obnoxious and loud Caruana was able to live on the lamb in Connecticut with Butch D'Aquila permission and protection.

Caruana was feared in the underworld. He was violent, enjoyed being intimidating and was known across the mafia for his fierce temper. Other hoods avoided him. Unlike most hoods, Caruana was capable with computers and used one for most of his personal work including writing a letter to his wife, Sandra in 1986. He had not seen her the Spring of 1984 when he suddenly disappeared from their mansion in leafy Peabody Mass. to avoid an indictment for smuggling $40 million dollars’ worth of marijuana into New England from South American on behalf of the Patriarca family. (However, the smuggling was only a facade for a much larger operation of money laundering.)

Caruana paid his own $500,000 bail and vanished on April 2, 1984, two days before his trial was set to begin. “Two of his close associates signed agreements with the government to cooperate and testify,” an FBI, agent said, “I think he felt that our case was much stronger with these two witnesses coming into the case to testify against him. And I believe he just didn’t want to come in and face that because I think he felt that he would face some serious time in jail.”

While he was on the run, Caruana became convinced that Sandra was having an affair with Theodore Berns, a married Boston hotel executive. The letter Caruana sent to his wife was an insane mixture anguish and anger and remorse and included graphic accounts of what Caruana believed were the sexual acts she engaged in with Berns. Near the end of the letter, he wrote, "What happens to us? Well, the first thing is that you have to come completely clean with me. If you don't then you will have to take a lie detector test"


The police believe that Caruana had already murdered Theodore Berns, his wife’s alleged lover, some two months before the letter was sent. According to the government's informant, Jack Johns, Berns had been strangled in a garage in Hamden.

An interesting side note was that Earl Bleser a former New York State Police investigator said he had seen Theodore Berns at a bar off Bourbon Street in New Orleans in November 1990, four years after Berns was supposedly murdered up in Connecticut. Bleser said that after he left the police he took a job in hotel safety and security and got to know Berns but that he hadn’t seen him since 1983. He added that in November of 1990, he stopped at a New Orleans bar for about an hour, beginning about 2:30 p.m. Looking across the room, he said, he saw a man he believed was Berns looking at him. The man Bleser thought was Berns walked past him and the two exchanged greetings. Shortly after returning to his New York state home from New Orleans, Bleser said, he read a newspaper article reporting that a man believed to be Berns had been slain and buried in Hamden. However, Bleser told a U.S. District Court in Hartford. "I obviously feel in my mind that I made a mistake."

On February 6, 1987, federal agents raided Caruana Peabody home and aside from finding dozens of hidden passages and several weapons they were able to use his computer address to trace him to a condo in East Hampton, Connecticut, but when the FBI arrived, he again vanished.

Again, using his computer address, agents were able to track him to a motel in Groton on May 23, 1987,but once again, Arthur Roderick Jr., was an Inspector for the U.S. Marshal’s Service said, “He’s a very smart guy, he’s probably one of the most cunning and sly fugitives that we’ve come across in a very long time. When we first got into the room, it appeared like he had just got up to get a newspaper, that he could be coming back any minute. But once we started looking at specific items in the room such as the newspaper and spoiled food, it looked like he hadn’t been there for a couple of weeks. In the briefcase was a semi-automatic .22 and cash. From what we found at the motor inn, you could assume that he had been killed by organized crime people who thought that if he was caught he might talk. But we don’t have the body. And if it was an organized crime hit, I would think that they would want to leave the body behind so that we wouldn’t keep poking our noses into his business, which eventually would lead back to them.”

A month later, the van he had been using was found at a police impound lot. It had been wiped clean.

While hiding in Middletown, Caruana muscled his way into the Dollhouse Cafe in Meriden. He approached James Steffman, who owned two-thirds of the saloon and convinced him that the people managing the bar were stealing profits. Caruana said he could solve the problem for one-third of the business, a car and $5,000. Caruana, , then confronted the owner of the other third owner, John DeMatteo of Meriden.

DeMatteo said he was not consulted in advance about Caruana's involvement in the cafe and began getting frantic telephone calls from the bar manager who reported Caruana was rifling the cash register and picking fights with the staff. At one point, arrived at the cafe with Butch D'Aquila and several men dressed in denim and bandannas who leaned against a wall and watched quietly as Caruana delivered instructions to the staff about how the business would be run and who would be fired. He then announced he was turning the cafe into a strip joint. DeMatteo got out of the business.

Then, in October 1990, the remains of three men were found buried underneath a garage in Hamden, Connecticut. One body was positively identified as Theodore Berns, while the other two were never identified.

Johns said Caruana delivered Berns body to the garage in the trunk of a white Cadillac with Florida license plates. After the body was buried, Johns told the FBI, Grasso noticed Caruana's Cadillac was missing a tail-light. The observation moved Grasso to remark on the intelligence of someone who would drive a body around in a car with a defective light, Johns told the FBI.

The garage, at 15 Jean Street, was owned by Richard J. Beedle, a locksmith and former remember of New Haven’s Irish gangs. According to Johns, when they buried Berns, Beedle complained he always had dirt left over after burying someone in the floor of his garage. Beedle said he rented his garage to Grasso for $30 a month but Grasso never paid him and added that Grasso had originally told him that he wanted to rent the garage to store some cars and that once he found out that Grasso has put bodies under the garage he begged him to stop using the area as a graveyard.

Federal and state detectives spent days poring over evidence in the garage. They found tiny pieces of human remains small bones from the feet, hands and throat indicating that at least three bodies originally had been buried in the garage. Only that of Berns was ever positively identified. It was determined that someone had dug up the grave and tried to destroy the evidence before investigators showed up.

Using the 78 bones left behind when bodies were moved, the police were able to determine that one victim was about 5-foot-5, another was between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-9 (Berns was 5 feet 8 inches tall and had type A blood. ) and the third was between 5-foot-10 and 5-foot-11. Other tests showed two had type A blood and one had type AB. Attempts to use genetic, or DNA, information to match the bones with people who are missing were inconclusive.
As for Caruana, Billy Grasso made some remarks to Johns that suggest that Caruana was killed and was buried alongside Berns in the Hamden garage. His body type generally matched the remains that were measured at 5 foot 11 inches tall.

The four-month trial was a catastrophe for D'Aquila. Prosecutors drew an accurate picture of professional and well-run gambling operation with dozens of employees and bookmaking officers scattered across central and southeastern Connecticut. A small army of former, mostly low-level employees testified about picking up packages, big packages of betting slips in parked pickup trucks or milk boxes and distributing them to others at work and then later in the week depositing the winnings back in the trucks or milk boxes. Other witnesses described being threatened and harassed by D'Aquila or men when they were couldn’t make good on their gambling debts.

Among other things, during the trial, it was learned that D'Aquila allegedly said he would “plant” a gambler named Anthony Rotundi in the parking lot of Jackson Chevrolet in Middletown and plant Peter Welch next to him if Rotondi did not come up with the money they owed in gambling losses.

D'Aquila sat in prison for almost two years, held without bond although he was allowed to attend his son's graduation from Xavier High School but in the company of two federal marshals.

At his sentencing, D'Aquila admitted he was gambler but denied all of the other charges against him, but the hearing judge didn’t by it "It's like the guy on the way to the electric chair who suddenly gets religion," the judge said. "My concern is it comes kind of late. It's not even the 11th hour. It's the 11th hour and 59th minute…..Billy Grasso was not the kind of man that, knowing what he knew about the extent of your operation, would settle for five or ten thousand dollars at Christmas time"

In as far as the character reference letters that D'Aquila provided to the court the judge said "Would those people have written those letters had they sat through the trial and heard who he associated with, like Grasso? Billy Grasso was an evil man. He was an evil, evil man. He had no consideration for anyone. Human life meant nothing to him. And this was his friend? This was the man he drove around? People are judged by the company they keep. Your mother probably told you that . . . The friends that you kept, the company you kept, were the scum of the earth. Terrible, terrible people."
D'Aquila was convicted of running, specifically, the family's lucrative sports gambling operation out of Middletown. His other dozen convictions were for gambling, extortion and accessory after the fact to murder. He was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

D'Aquila, was released from the Schuylkill Federal Correction Institution in Minersville, Pa., on Dec. 17, 1997, and went into seclusion at his home in Old Saybrook. He had served about one-third of his 15-year prison sentence. Central News closed in 2017 after 67 years in business



16 Fun Facts About Noah Webster, the Dictionary Writer Who Was Slightly Nuts




 Noah Webster was an odd duck, a famously fussy lexicographer who not only Americanized the English language but created the idea of American patriotism.
He wrote the first real American dictionary, called, appropriately, An American Dictionary of the English Language, which took him 28 years to finish. His goal: to standardize American speech.
He couldn’t afford law school after he graduated from Yale in 1778, so he taught schoolchildren.  His students used books published in England, sometimes pledging allegiance to King George III. They didn’t learn American geography or American history. Noah Webster decided to change all that.
Noah Webster did way more than publish a dictionary. He advised Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, co-founded Amherst College, started America’s first daily newspaper and pushed Congress to pass copyright laws.
He was quirky and odd, thought highly of himself and didn’t always get along with people. But the qualities that made him annoying also made Noah Webster a Founding



NOAH WEBSTER IN 16 TAKES
1.         He personally counted all the houses in every town he visited. Traveling across America in 1785 and 1786, he tallied 20,380 houses in 22 cities. He exchanged that information with other people who counted houses.
2.         He had the cheek to chastise George Washington over dinner at Mount Vernon in 1785. Washington mentioned he wanted a Scottish tutor for his step-grandchildren. Webster, then all of 26, told the 53-year-old hero of the Revolution that he should find an American for the job. Washington actually considered Webster, who didn’t want to do it.
3.         A lot of people didn’t like him because of his vanity. When he met Dr. Benjamin Rush at a dinner party in Philadelphia, Rush congratulated Webster on his safe arrival in the city. Webster replied, "Sir, you may congratulate Philadelphia on the occasion." (Eventually, Rush and Webster became friends.)
4.         He was dumped twice, the first time by a woman who found him too boring, the second time by a woman whose minister told her to marry someone else. Rebecca Greenleaf finally said ‘yes’ to his marriage proposal. "I suspect I am not formed for society," he wrote to her before their marriage.
5.         He probably had obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (see No. 1), often mentioning in his diary his ‘depression,’ ‘anxiety’ and ‘nervous affectations.’ He wrote his famous Blue-Backed Speller and later his dictionaries as a form of therapy.
6.         Webster hated Shakespeare, complaining his language was ‘full of errors.’
7.         He was often broke and in debt, though his wife was rich, his speller sold nearly 100 million copies and he landed America’s first blockbuster book deal, $42,000 over 14 years. He borrowed $1,500 from Alexander Hamilton so he could move to New York and start the country’s first daily newspaper, American Minerva.
8.         He wrote the first American dictionary in 1806, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. Critics complained it had too many vulgar words. Noah Webster replied he took out two-thirds of the vulgar words in Dr. Samuel Johnson's dictionary, leaving out arse, bum, fart and turd. He did keep piss, boghouse, buggery, sodomy and catamite.
9.         Noah Webster got a good deal on a mansion in New Haven because Benedict Arnold had lived in it. (It cost him only $2,666.66.)
10.       Like his friend Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster wanted to reform American spelling. Unlike Franklin, he succeeded, at least in part. He took out excess letters, like the ‘u’ in colour and honour, the extra ‘l’ in traveler, the ‘e’ on ax and the ‘ough’ in plow. He also reversed the ‘re’ in theater and center. Some of his changes didn’t make it, like bred for bread, wimmen for women, tung for tongue and dawter for daughter.
11.        When he turned 20, his father gave him a nearly worthless $8 bill, and told him he was on his own.
12.       It took him 28 years to complete his magnum opus, An American Dictionary of the English Language. It included 70,000 words, and one in every six words had never been listed in a dictionary before. They included emerging Americanisms like squash, applesauce, hickory, chowder and skunk, as well as words of his own invention: afterwise (wise afterwards or too late); vernate (become young again); zuffalo (a little flute... especially that which is used to teach birds.)
To write his dictionary, he learned 26 languages, including Old English, German, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit.
13.       He founded Amherst College with Emily Dickinson’s grandfather, and Emily went to school with Noah Webster’s grandfather. She later wrote that her lexicon (Webster’s dictionary) was her only companion.
14.       He was an 18th century sock puppet who anonymously praised his own work and trashed his critics. The phrase 'sock puppet,' meaning ‘false online identity,’ didn’t make it into Merriam-Webster until 2009.
15.       Though his blue-backed speller had no religious content, Noah Webster had a religious experience at age 40 and became a pious blowhard. As he was about to turn eighty, he declared that he would rather be a bear and hibernate in winter than “be under the tyranny of our degenerate rulers,” describing Americans as “a degenerate and wicked people.”