Carime Tramunti – Financier of The French Connection

            Carmine “Mr. Gribbs” Tramunti was born on October 1, 1910 in Manhattan, New York. He lived most of his early years in a tenement building in Harlem. In 1930 at 20 years old, Tramunti accosted a rent collector in his neighborhood robbing him for his collections. He was arrested but later released due to “lack of evidence”, a norm for that time when someone was reluctant to take the witness stand against someone with ties to the mob.

            In July 1931, Tramunti was tried and convicted of assault, a felony. He was sentenced to 6-15 years in prison at the notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. After a brief release and subsequent incarceration for a parole violation, Tramunti was eventually released in 1938.

            After being released from prison, Tramunti went back to his old ways eventually taking over one of the most lucrative craps games in New York called the “Harlem Game”. He headquartered out of The Stage Delicatessen in Manhattan, married and had two children. This is thought to be the time period that he became imbedded with the Lucchese crime family in Brooklyn.

Gambino crime family namesake, Carlo Gambino

Tramunti was tight with future boss of the Gambino crime family, Carlo Gambino and used his friendship and Gambino’s power to climb the ladder within the Lucchese’s. In 1967 with the death of crime family namesake Thomas Lucchese, Gambino pushed the commission to have Tramunti succeed him due to his business leadership and general intelligence. The commission agreed and put Tramunti on the top of the Lucchese family. Although it’s thought the commission only agreed because they were biding their time until the true successor Anthony Corallo was released from prison, they were secure enough in their decision knowing Gambino was there to keep things together for the Lucchese’s.            November 19, 1970 Tramunti was indicted on 14 counts of stock fraud for allegedly taking over an investment firm in Florida. He went to trial and was convicted, however almost a year later he was indicted again for lying to a grand jury about his contact with Lucchese capo Paul Vario. He was sentenced to three years in prison on August 6, 1972.

            Later that year and while serving time for lying to the grand jury, Tramunti and 42 others were indicted on drug charges after law enforcement cracked a major heroin route coming in from France through Canada. The trial was dubbed “The French Connection” and received national headlines. Ultimately Tramunti was convicted of financing the operation after a barista overheard him speaking with a drug dealer. Tramunti nodded his head in agreement during the conversation and that’s virtually all the prosecution needed to put him away.

            The verdict reached across the globe with several prominent journalists voicing their disapproval

Modern day Sing Sing prison cell

based on the evidence to convict. On May 7, 1973 Tramunti was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. On hearing of his sentence he said, “I may be a mobster and may have done bad things but I am not a drug dealer”.

With his incarceration, Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo who was then out of prison was place in the top spot. On October 15, 1978 Carmine Tramunti died of natural causes while still serving his sentence.

Goodfella, Tommy DeSimone

 

Thomas Anthony DeSimone was born on May 24, 1950. He was an Italian_American mobster that worked as an associate of the Lucchese crime family of New York. He had several nicknames, but a couple stood out and fit Tommy nicely; “Two-Gun Tommy” because he always had two guns, and “Tommy D”.

Tommy had three siblings, a sister named Dolares and two brothers, Robert (imprisoned for life)  and Anthony DeSimone. Both Robert and Anthony were associates for the Gambino crime family. His brother Anthony was murdered in 1979 and Robert died in . His grandfather was Los Angeles mob boss Rosario DeSimone in 1922, and his uncle Frank DeSimone was the Los Angeles crime family mob boss in 1956.

Tommy became involved with a Lucchese crime family crew headed by capo Paul Vairo in 1965. He was fifteen years old, skinny and naïve. Jimmy Burke was a family friend of the DeSimone’s and knew Tommy as he grew up. When he was ready, Jimmy took him in handing him a few rackets to get his feet wet so-to-speak.

DeSimone quickly became known for having a quick temper and a huge appetite. He would drink almost an entire gallon of whole milk each day. Friend and fellow Lucchese associate Henry Hill described Tommy as a “pure psychopath”. He committed his first murder at the age of 18 when he shot Howard Goldstein in cold blood as he walked down the street. Henry Hill was with him and said, “That was cold-blooded, Tommy!” DeSimone replied, “Well, I’m a mean cat.”

DeSimone would kill several more times in his short life. In 1970 he killed a made man with the Gambino crime family named “Billy Batts” Devino. As portrayed in the movie Goodfella’s Devino made fun of DeSimone for once being a shoe shine boy. Devino was a feared gunmen and had killed several people, but Tommy had earned respect as well and didn’t take verbal punishment from anyone. A couple of weeks later Devino was drinking at Hill’s bar when he instructed Jimmy Burke and Henry Hill to keep Devino occupied until he returned. DeSimone returned just after closing where DeSimone, Burke, and Hill killed Devino. They buried his body upstate.

Goodfella’s Joe Pesci acting out the scene of Spider’s death.

DeSimone’s third murder was also portrayed in the movie Goodfella’s. According to Henry Hill, this reenactment is very accurate to what actually happened when DeSimone shot and killed Michael “Spider” Gianco. Spider and insulted DeSimone a week before and DeSimone retaliated by shooting him in the foot. When Spider returned to his job as a bartender, he and DeSimone exchanged more words. When Burke jokingly gave Spider money for having the guts to stand up for himself, Tommy pulled out his .38 caliber revolver and shot Spider three times in the chest. Hill checked his pulse and announced he was dead. Burke, who was in charge of the crew told Tommy he would have to dig the hole to hide the body himself. Tommy agreed, and Spider was never seen again. Since the making of the movie there has been speculation that Hill made up Michael “Spider” Gianco as law enforcement looked for the body where Hill stated it would be and found nothing. Furthermore there are no records or birth certificate related to Michael Gianco, and in the neighborhood where he purportedly lived and worked, no one had ever heard of him. Unless a body is found, that death will remained unsolved as Hill, who died on June 25, 2012 was the last person alive who could prove a murder took place.

DeSimone killed several other people after Spider; a warehouse foreman named Stanley Diamond who DeSimone was just supposed to rough up, and Gotti protégé Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe on December 18, 1974. To Jerothe’s disapproval, DeSimone had dated Jerothe’s sister. When Jerothe found out about it, word got back to Tommy that Jerothe had said he was going to kill him. Acting on the threat, DeSimone went to Jerothe’s apartment, knocked on his door, and when Jerothe opened the door, DeSimone stuck a .38 caliber pistol in his face and shot Jerothe between the eyes killing him instantly. DeSimone’s fifth murder occurred when Burke ordered the murder of hisbest friend Dominick “Remo” Cersani. Burke had learned Remo was working with the NYPD and planned to set up Burke in a sting. When Burke found out about the set-up he and DeSimone traveled to Remo’s place, asked him to “go for a ride”, and was subsequently killed by DeSimone by choking him with a piano wire. They buried Remo next to Burke’s bar and a bocce ball court next door. It’s been said, everytime DeSimone and Burke would play someone on that bocce ball court they would say “hey Romo how ya doing?”

DeSimone was alleged to have taken part in the December 1978 Lufthansa heist from JFK International Airport where $6,000,000 dollars was taken from a warehouse. After the heist DeSimone was ordered to kill Parnell “Stacks” Edwards for failing to hide the delivery truck. DeSimone was told he would become a “made” man when he completed the hit. He found out where Stacks was hiding and shot him several times in the head and chest.

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On January 14, 1979 DeSimone’s wife, Angela reported him missing. She said she last saw Tommy “a few weeks earlier” when he borrowed money from her. It been said he was killed on January 6, 1979 when Martin Krugman, the person responsible for telling Henry Hill about the Lufthansa money went missing. Several scenarios have come to light describing why Tommy was murdered.

Some say it was because he killed “Billy Batts” Devino and Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe, both members of the

Tommy DeSimone shortly before he went missing.

Gambnio’s without proper permission as mandated by the commission. The penalty for the perpetrator is death. Another scenario is DeSimone was killed by Burke as DeSimone had killed or ordered to be killed almost everyone involved in the Lufthansa heist. A final scenario is given by Henry Hill when he said Tommy was killed by the Gambino family for the two killings. The Gambino’s only found out about the killings after DeSimone had tried to rape Hill’s wife, who was having an affair with Paul Vario while Hill was in prison. Vario told the Gambino’s that DeSimone was responsible and sanctioned his hit. Henry claimed that in “the week after Christmas” that he and Jimmy Burke had gone down to Florida to straighten out a drug deal gone bad. Tommy had remained behind in New York because he was going to be made. When Jimmy called to see if the ceremony had occurred (the code phrase was to ask if Tommy had seen his godmother yet), Burke was told that it had been called off due to a heavy snowfall. The next day, Burke listened in and found out that DeSimone had been murdered; he slammed the receiver down and began crying, as depicted in the film Goodfella’s.

Gaetano “Tommy” Lucchese – Lucchese Family Namesake, Part I

 Gaetano Lucchese was born on December 1, 1899 in Palermo Sicily and immigrated with his parents Giuseppe and Maria in 1911. They settled in East Harlem, an Italian neighborhood of Manhattan where Lucchese’s father worked as a laborer hauling cement. Lucchese worked in a machine shop to help this family earn money until an accident amputated his right thumb and forefinger in 1915.

When Lucchese turned 18 years old he started a window cleaning company which dubbed as an extortion racket for the 107th St. gang to which he was a member. Any business that refused to use his service had their windows broken. His closest friends Charlie Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky were also a part of the gang and specialized in burglarizing stores, stealing wallets, and smalltime gambling. Though they form the gang themselves they operated under the protection of Bronx-East Harlem boss Gaetano “Tom” Reina, a well-established gangster.

In 1920 Lucchese was arrested for auto theft. The arresting police officer compared Lucchese’s deformed hand with that of professional baseball pitcher Mordecai “Three- Finger” Brown. The police officer nicknamed Lucchese “Three-Finger Brown” and cited the name as a Lucchese alias. Despite his disdain for the nickname, it stuck for the rest of his life, however most of his associates called him, “Brown” for short.

In January 1921 Lucchese was convicted of the auto theft and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. He served 13 months at Sing Sing Correctional Facility before being paroled. It was Lucchese’s first and only conviction of his life. After his release from prison in 1923 he returned to his old friends Charlie Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky, who had become friends with another Jewish gangster named Arnold Rothstein.
In late 1927 Lucchese was arrested under the alias of “Thomas Arra,” and charged with receiving stolen goods. Law enforcement released him pending trial but he never returned. On July 18, 1928 he was arrested along with his brother-in-law Joseph Rosato for the murder of Louise Cerasulo a smalltime hood. The charges were dropped six days later.

The beginning of the 1930s brought about the Castellammarese war between two rival crime bosses in New York, Giuseppe “Joe the boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. The Reina gang aligned themselves with Masseria, however Reina secretly changed his allegiance to Maranzano because Masseria demanded large tributes of Reina’s rackets. Reina’s second in command, Tommaso “Tommy” Gagliano found out about the change in allegiance and told Masseria about Reina’s betrayal. On February 26, 1930 a Masseria gunman named Vito Genovese shot and killed Reina outside his girlfriend’s apartment. Masseria then made his ally Joseph Pinzolo boss of the Reina gang, ignoring Gagliano’s good deed.

Gagliano, furious about not being promoted boss of the Reina family and formed a splinter group within the gang. Luciano, Stefano Rondelli, Domincik Petrilli, and Joseph Valachi joined Gagliano in their hatred for Pinzolo.

Valachi testimony

Valachi testimony

Seven months after Reina’s murder, Pinzolo was lured to a Manhattan office he shared with Lucchese at 1457 Broadway. (The two men were partners in a “wind break” business known as California Dried Fruit Importers, which skirted the prohibition law. Wind breaks were blocks of crushed grapes that could be reconstituted by setting them in water. Fermentation would then yield wine.) Upon entering his office Pinzolo was shot and killed by Girolamo Santucci or Dominck Petrilli. Masseria then appointed Gagliano as the new gang boss.Law enforcement suspected Lucchese as being involved in the murder and issued a warrant for his arrest. On September 8, 1930 he turned himself into the police but grand jury failed to indict him on the murder charge citing lack of evidence. (Joe Valachi later testified that “Bobby Doyle” Santucci killed Pinzolo.)
By this time Charles Luciano had grown in strength and secretly plan to end the Castellammarese war. He began negotiating with Maranzano to end the war with Masseria and persuaded Gagliano and Lucchese to secretly switch sides to Maranzano.

Before Maranzano and Luciano could eliminate Masseria, they needed to get rid of powerful Masseria-allied, “Manfredi family” (later called the Gambino family) boss Alfred “Al Mineo” Manfredi. On November 5, 1930 Manfredi and his underboss Steve Ferrigno were murdered in the Bronx by Gagliano and Maranzano gunmen.

Maranzano then declared himself as “Capo di tutti capi” or boss of bosses. He placed Luciano as his second-in-command and divided the gangs into five separate families. The former Reina gang became one of the five crime families in New York City, with Gagliano as its boss and Lucchese as the underboss.

In September 1931 Luciano completed his mission in ending the Castellammarese war and sent a hit squad comprised of Jewish hitmen dressed as policemen and Federal Internal Revenue Service agents to Maranzano’s office where he was murdered. After Maranzano’s death, Luciano created the national Mafia Commission hosting leaders of all the crime families in the United States. Their primary objective was to settle family disputes and prevent organized crime wars.

On January 25, 1943 Lucchese was naturalized an American citizen. It took an additional seven years to secure a certificate of good conduct from the New York State parole Board. A few years later he would attend the mob Havana Conference in Cuba as Gagliano’s representative.

Gagliano Tomb Inscription

Gagliano Tomb Inscription

By the early 1950s Lucchese appeared to be a successful vice president of garment factory on E. 9th St., but behind-the-scenes he controlled established Garment workers unions, Longshoremen unions, and Truckers unions. He also influenced several New York City government officials and the local entertainment industry. As part owner of Casino de Paris, Music Hall he could be seen dining with Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin.

Lucchese had established himself as a powerful businessman, entrepreneur, controller of unions, and friend of the entertainment industry. He was one of the most powerful mafioso in the country and soon would become even more powerful.

 During a July 1958 Senate hearing Lucchese stated that Gagliano died on February 16, 1951 however historians believe Gagliano actually died on February 16, 1953. It’s been speculated that Gagliano retired in 1951 and turned leadership over to Lucchese, but the family kept it secret to prevent law enforcement or media scrutiny. Whether it was 1951 or 1953 Lucchese was now boss of the Gagliano’s and with approval of the commission the family was renamed the Lucchese crime family.

Louis Eppolito: Working for the Mob

 In the 1980’s and 90’s two NYPD Police detectives were involved in murder for hire and various other illegal activities on behalf of the Lucchese crime family in New York. After their reign was over, several men were dead, and Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Louis Eppolito was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 22, 1948. His mother Tessie, was a registered nurse, and his father was a Gambino crime family bookie named Ralph “Fats the Gangster” Eppolito. Eppolito had other mafia influences growing up as well. James Eppolito and James Eppolito Jr., his paternal uncle and cousin were made members of the Gambino family. Unfortunately, both were eventually rubbed out by Gambino soldier Roy DeMeo and their capo Nino Gaggi.

In 1969 at the age of twenty Eppolito began his career as a NYPD police officer. Upon his application, he was asked if he had any relation to the organized crime figures who shared the same name. He lied, indicating he had no relation and was accepted into the NYPD where he showed promise early in his career. He quickly rose to police detective and received several accommodations for bravery and was inducted into the very prestigious Honor Society.

Although the 1970’s were good for Eppolito, the 1980’s proved to be the beginning of his downfall. In 1984 he was suspended without pay for six months when he was accused of passing sensitive information to members of organized crime. The NYPD gave him the option to step down as an officer and go quietly, or to fight it out in court where they were determined to drag his name through the mud. Louis chose to fight and in 1985 a court ruled he was not guilty on all charges. He was immediately reinstated as detective and a short time later promoted.

As an Italian American Eppolito looked the part of the American gangster. One day he accompanied a friend to a casting call for an upcoming gangster movie and at the urging of the casting director he tried out for a small role. Upon completing his audition he was immediately cast as Fat Andy in the 1990 hit movie Goodfella’s. A short time later in 1992 he authored a book titled Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop Whose family Was the Mob. From there his career in movies and as a writer began to take off. He played small roles in several movies over the next couple of years and in an effort to get closer to Hollywood settled his family in Las Vegas in 1994. 

Later that year a news story broke in the Daily news that Eppolitoand his former partner Stephen

Eppolito as ‘Fat Andy’ in the 1990 hit movie Goodfella’s, starring Joe Pesci, Robert Deniro, and Ray Liotta.

Caracappa were involved in the murder of Gambino family capo, Eddie Lino who was shot nine times as he sat in his 1990 Mercedes S-Class near Brighton Beach on November 6, 1990. Louis immediately returned to New York and made himself available to law enforcement for questioning, however no charges were ever brought so he returned to Las Vegas.

His downfall began in late 1994 when defacto boss of the Lucchese family Anthony Casso turned informant instead of facing life in prison without parole. Casso revealed he’d been paying Eppolito $4000 per month for years in exchange for law enforcement information about the Lucchese’s and other families. Once he was arrested, he told the FBI about Eppolito’s involvement in several robberies, murders and extortion. Over the next 10 years the FBI and local law enforcement built their case against Eppolito and his partner. On March 9, 2005 Louis Eppolito and his former partner Stephen Caracappa were arrested on RICO charges and dubbed the Mafia Cops by the news media, a twist from Louis’s book in the early 1990’s.

During the trail the prosecution laid out in graphic detail their case against the two former detectives. In one such situation the prosecutors, who relied largely on Casso’s testimony, described how in 1986 the two detectives used their computer database to locate a Gambino associate named Nicholas Guido. Guido had once tried to kill Casso in a failed murder attempt. After locating Guido, assassins killed him December 25, 1986. Unfortunately the man they killed was the wrong Nicholas Guido. This Nicholas was a 26 year old man who was on his way to his uncles house for Christmas. He was excited to show him his new car. He never made it.

 The prosecution continued to lay out their case detailing several more murders at the hands of Eppolito and Caracappa including the murder of Eddie Lino in November 1986. Eppolito admitted to Casso the two detectives often used an unmarked police car to pull over their victims. In Lino’s case, they both shot him on the spot; in others they tortured and mutilated the men before eventually killing them.  For each hit the men received $65,000. The prosecutions case was open and closed, and both men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2009. Eppolito received an additional 100 years to ensure he would not see daylight again. Both were also fined over 4 million dollars.

Jimmy Burke – A Goodfella with a Mean Streak

James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke was one of the most notorious Irish-American gangsters of all time, a violent, ruthless criminal responsible for countless murders and one of the largest cash robberies in American history.

Burke was never a member of the Mafia. His Irish blood excluded him from its Italian-only ranks. But he spent his bloody career working closely with the made men and associates of two New York City crime families.

Robert Deniro

Robert Deniro as Jimmy the Gent Burke, in Goodfellas (1990)

He had a son who joined him in organized crime and a daughter who married a gangster. And Burke himself was the inspiration for the character Jimmy “The Gent” Conway, played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorcese’s 1990 movie GoodFellas.

 

If any gangster came from a troubled childhood, it was Burke. Born James Conway on July 5, 1931, in New York, he never knew who his father was. His Irish mother, Jane Conway, placed him in a foster home when he was two, and he spent his earliest years in a Catholic orphanage.

Much of Burke’s young life was marked by severe abuse, as he was passed from one foster home to another. Some foster parents treated him kindly, while others abused him physically and sexually.

In 1944, when Burke was 13, his foster father lost control of his car when he turned to hit Burke in the back seat. The man was killed, and his widow, who survived, blamed Burke and beat him regularly.

Eventually the Burke family of Rockaway, Queens, adopted him. His life with them was pleasant and calm, and even years after he had established himself as a criminal player, he visited them several times each year and sent them money.

 

As a young man Burke worked briefly as a bricklayer. It made him strong, but it didn’t last. He was soon scheming and pulling off odd crimes.

Burke may have been a master criminal later in his career, but early on he was better at getting caught than anything else. Between the ages of 16 and 22, he was behind bars for all but 86 days.

During one of those stints, he was sentenced to five years in prison in 1949, when he was 18, for passing bad checks. The fact that he kept his mouth shut about his partners earned him points with the Mafia.

Inside prison, he had a reputation as a tough guy. He solidified his connections with the Italian mob, performing murders inside prison at the behest of made men. In an unusual accomplishment for any associate, let alone an Irish one, he managed to find good work under both the Lucchese and Colombo crime families.

 

Once he was out, Burke made a name for himself in profitable crimes: cigarette smuggling, hijacking, loan-sharking, extortion, drug-dealing and armed robbery. To keep his victims and fellow criminals in line, he routinely resorted to murder of the most violent sort.

Indeed, he seemed to relish the job. When he was about to marry in 1962, he discovered his fiancée’s ex-boyfriend was stalking her – calling her, shouting at her on the sidewalk, driving by the house repeatedly. The day of the wedding, cops found the boyfriend’s body in his car, chopped up into a dozen pieces.

Burke was happy to murder almost anyone, whether by himself or by order. He routinely killed off witnesses and informants after crooked cops tipped him off to their whereabouts. And he didn’t hesitate to murder his fellow gangsters in order to get a bigger cut of a scam.

Nonetheless, he had a reputation as a charming, gregarious gentleman. He was known to tip the drivers of the trucks he hijacked and to help out strangers. When an old woman complained her criminal son wouldn’t pay back a $5,000 loan, Burke paid it himself and then killed the son.

Burke, though he wasn’t a made man, ran an informal mob crew whose members included Henry Hill, the famous Mafia rat whose story inspired GoodFellas. They worked out of Brooklyn and Queens, where Burke owned a bar called Robert’s Lounge.

Robert’s was supposedly the burial site of more than a dozen mob victims. It was also the place where Burke and his crew dreamed up their most audacious plans, including the most audacious of them all.

 

Burke and Hill were sent to prison for 10 years for beating up a Florida man who owed money to their friend. Both men got out about six

New York Post

New York Post front page after Lufthansa Heist

years later and went straight back to organized crime, where they became involved in drug trafficking despite the prohibition of their Mafia bosses.

But it was the Lufthansa heist that made Jimmy Burke. Under his planning and recruitment, a team of mob associates robbed the Lufthansa cargo hold at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens. They got away with almost $6 million in cash and jewelry, the largest robbery of its kind at the time.

The job made Burke and his bosses rich, but it made him paranoid. Burke was surprised by the size of the take, and he worried the resulting publicity made it more likely someone would talk. Not only did the actual robbers get very little money out of the deal, most of them wound up dead. At least one was killed because Burke simply didn’t want to pay him his share.

 

In 1980, the drug trafficking that Burke and Hill had done behind their bosses’ backs finally caught up with them. Hill, a trafficker who had become addicted to the product, was arrested and faced decades in prison – not to mention a Mafia hierarchy that probably wanted him dead for dealing drugs.

So he flipped in what arguably ranks as the most famous example of a Mafioso ratting out his friends and associates. He sang about his bosses, his mentors, his friends, and he sang about Burke.

James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke

James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke arrested and taken to federal court. – NY Daily News

Hill’s testimony in federal court led to 50 convictions, including those of Burke and their boss, Paul Vario. In 1982 Burke was sentenced to 20 years for his role in fixing Boston College basketball games in 1978. In 1985 Burke received an additional life sentence for murdering con artist Richard Eaton, who had swindled him out of $250,000 in drug money.

Jimmy “The Gent” Burke, age 64, died of lung cancer on April 13, 1996, at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. He was still serving his sentence and would have been eligible for parole in 2004.


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