15 Deaths, 1 Disappearance Linked To Mob Since 1974, Arrests Were Made In Only 1 Case

 

Buffalo News By DAN HERBECK and MICHAEL BEEBE

May 7, 1989

 

Since the murder of John Cammilleri 15 years ago, 15 more deaths and one disappearance are believed linked to organized crime, the FBI has revealed for the first time.

 

Ten men were shot to death, one of them in broad daylight on a crowded Metro Rail construction site.

 

Three were bound and left to slowly strangle themselves. One was apparently clubbed over the head and then left in a burning building to look like a fire victim. One man disappeared in 1977.

 

In perhaps the most chilling case, federal agents believe one victim may have been taken to a warehouse and forced to hang himself under the threat that his entire family would be murdered.

 

Violent death is part of life in the Buffalo Mafia, said Special Agent J. Ron Webb, who heads organized crime investigations for the Buffalo FBI office.

 

Only a handful of the slayings were believed to be sanctioned by organized crime leaders, but all the cases involved mob-connected figures -- either as victims or perpetrators, Webb said.

 

"You hear a lot about big murder-for-hire contracts, but most of the killings are done gratis by people who want to increase their standing with the mob," Webb said.

 

Although two men await trial on murder charges in one of the homicides, the others remain unsolved. Webb said the FBI may use DNA testing to match dried bloodstains or other body fluid stains with samples from possible suspects.

 

"You never close the books on a homicide case," Webb said. "There is a hope that one or more of these cases could be solved because of this new type of testing."

 

According to the FBI, these are the cases with apparent links to organized crime:

 


Albert J. Billiteri Jr., 23. A reputed Buffalo drug dealer and the son of a convicted loan shark, Billiteri was shot six times and left to die in Cheektowaga on Sept. 19, 1974.

 

Police believe the murder was a revenge killing stemming from Billiteri's robbery of a mob associate's mother.


Frank D'Angelo, 37. The Town of Tonawanda burglar and gambler was ambushed and shot to death as he walked out of the old Mulligan's nightclub on Hertel Avenue the night of Oct. 5, 1974.

 

D'Angelo had angered mob members by failing to give them their split of the profits from a large jewelry heist.


William Esposito, 29. The North Tonawanda burglar on parole from Attica Correctional Facility was hog-tied and left to strangle himself behind a West Seneca apartment building, where he was found Feb. 17, 1976.

 

The killing is suspected to have been revenge for an earlier barroom dispute between Esposito and a mob associate.


Robert H. Reingold, 41. The suspected rapist and convicted counterfeiter from Buffalo was found hog-tied in an abandoned car in Buffalo May 31, 1976.

 

FBI said Reingold may have been killed in revenge for the shooting of a mob member's relative


Sam Rizzo A 64-year-old "made man" in Buffalo Mafia, was found hanged in Depew warehouse on Oct. 5, 1977. 

 

The death was listed as suicide, but Webb said later information turned up by the FBI indicates the victim was involved in a mob dispute in Florida and may have been forced to hang himself under the threat that his family would be murdered if he did not.


Joseph C. Vara, 40. A popular Buffalo bartender, he has been missing and presumed dead since Nov. 3, 1977.

 

His family and police believe he was murdered because he had become involved in a romance with the estranged wife of a mob member.


John C. Certo, no age available. The body of the Niagara County resident was found Nov. 14, 1977, in burned-out shed at the Lewiston town dump.

 

The FBI believes he was hit over the head and left in the burning building as revenge for a dispute he had had with the daughter of a mob member.


Peter A. Piccolo, 32. The Buffalo hairstylist and operator of a hair design school was found shot to death in his Allentown salon April 19, 1979.

 

FBI agents said Piccolo was a reputed cocaine dealer who apparently angered mob leaders by cheating associates in a major drug deal.


Raymond Townsend, 37. The Lockport resident was a reputed mob muscle man. 

 

He was shot to death in his car outside a Town of Wheatfield tavern on Sept. 29, 1979. The slaying may have involved a soured drug deal.


William J. "Billy the Kid" Sciolino, 40. The Town of Tonawanda man was a reputed mob "hit man". 

 

He was shot to death on a Metro Rail construction site on March 7, 1980.

 

His daylight murder by a team of masked executioners.

 

Mob leaders also suspected Sciolino was a secret FBI informant, a fact that has been neither confirmed nor denied by the FBI.


Carl J. Rizzo, 64. The Buffalo man worked as consultant to a mob-connected dental clinic. 

 

His body, hog-tied and partially decomposed, was found in the trunk of a car on April 10, 1980.

 

The killing followed Rizzo's failure to follow mob orders.


Albert J. "Big Al" Monaco, 41. The Buffalo man was found shot to death in an isolated field in the Town of Evans on April 3, 1984.

 

Monaco was suspected by mob members of skimming profits from a local loan sharking operation.


Joseph San Fratello, 45. A suspected Buffalo cocaine dealer with a long criminal record, San Fratello was shot to death after leaving an Allen Street bar on Feb. 2, 1985.

 

Buffalo police voiced concerns at the time that the death signaled the start of a drug war, but FBI agents now believe the murder may have been a message from one warring mob faction to another.


Robert DiGiulio, 32. The former bodyguard to celebrities like boxer Ernie Holmes, singer Frank Sinatra and actor Sylvester Stallone was fatally shot in ambush outside his Amherst home on April 17, 1985.

 

FBI agents said DiGiulio was involved with the ex-girlfriend of a mob member.


Alan R. Levine, 33. The Town of Tonawanda resident was a motel manager and convicted drug dealer.

 

On Sept. 19, 1986, he was found shot to death on East Ferry Street with $500 cash left in his pocket. Authorities believe the murder was drug-related.


John Pinelli, 24. The Buffalo man, suspected of involvement in an armed robbery, was shot execution-style in the back of the head and found on Sept. 29, 1986, in a ditch in the Town of Eden.

 

Two men await trial in the slaying -- reputed local drug dealer Luciano "Dilly" Spataro and William Koopman, a laborer for the City of Buffalo.

 

The murder is believed to have resulted from a dispute with Spataro, Pinelli's father-in-law, who was under investigation by several police agencies.



DA Says Killers Known In Dozen Gang Slayings

 
Buffalo Courier Express By Greg Faherty  Staff Reporter
June 9, 1977
 
Dist. Atty. Edward C. Cosgrove Disclosed late Wednesday that his office knows who the killers were in a dozen unsolved gangland style slayings, some dating back nearly 20 years.

 

"We are now seeking legally admissible evidence to present to a grand jury to obtain indictments and convictions," said the district attorney in a bombshell announcement to the press.

 

The slayings include the murder of the brother Fred and Frank Aquino in 1958, the shooting deaths of John Cammilleri and Frank D'Angelo in 1974 and the 1974 death of Robert Reingold.

 

"We know who killed every single one" said the DA, "and why."

 

"Hopefully," he said, "our joint investigation efforts will continue and we will find the necessary evidence to bring these cases into a courtroom and ultimately obtain convictions."

 

 

DA Edward C. Cosgrove

Witness Protection Called Key Factor In Breakthrough


 
Witness Protection Praised
 
Cosgrove credited much of the information he received to results of the Federal Witness Program which offers advantages to criminals who turn state's evidence.

 

The DA made his startling disclosure concerning the unsolved slayings shortly after a State Supreme Court jury convicted Joseph LaMonte of murder in a 1972 slaying.

 

Two of the prosecution's witnesses in the LaMonte trial were convicted murders, Robert Brocato and Carmen LaBruna.

 

Brocato was found guilty in 1975 of the 1071 slaying of West Side laundryman Ing "Sam" Wing while LaBruna was convicted last year for the 1970 murder of a Cheektowaga girl whose skeletal remains were found in a sewer nearly a year later.

 

A Difficult Decision

 

Cosgrove said allowing those two defendants to enter the Federal Witness Program, with its attendant advantages was "one of the most difficult decisions in my 3 1/2 years as DA."

 

"But the conviction of LaMonte certainly underscores the rectitude of my decision," said Cosgrove.

"It resulted in the conviction of a cold-blooded, professional executioner of federal witness Steven Hasselbeck."

 

The DA said information gained from former mobsters now enrolled the Federal Witness Protection Program not only resulted in the LaMonte's conviction but aided in solution of other crimes as well. Additional information was gained in others.

 

District Attorney Edward C. Cosgrove.

...witness program pays off 

 

These include robberies and burglaries of the late 60's and early 70's which are now under close scrutiny by the DA's Office, the FBI, State and Buffalo Police.

 

Agreement annoys DA 

 

What the DA had to agree to in exchange for the cooperation of LaBruna and Brocato, however, was annoying to the prosecutor.

 

In return for their testimony, Cosgrove and other law enforcement officials will write to Governor Hugh L. Carey recommending commutation of their sentences.

 

But as a result of the information gleaned from former mobsters, Cosgrove has convictions against six men in organized crime murders.

 

They include LaMonte and James Brocato for the murder of Hasselbeck; LaBruna for the slaying of Elayne Stec, and Dominick "Dim" Tascarella, Robert Brocato in the Ing Wing Slaying.

 

Played Roll in indictments 

 

In addition, the information from turncoat mobsters is believed to have played to have played a major part in the April 28 return of indictments against five men charged with four murders between 1968 and 1971.


Fred Aquino was found slain in a City of Tonawanda field on September 17, 1958, his face scared with acid, about eight hours after the funeral of his brother,

 

Frank Aquino was found shot to death in his convertible in Lackawanna that September 13.

 

Cosgrove says he knows the identity of their slayer or slayers as well as those who committed the following gangland style killings.


Arthur DeLuca, 23, unemployed bricklayer from Niagara Falls. On Oct., 15, 1958, police discovered his body stuffed in the trunk-of his expensive automobile which was parked In a lot in nearby North Tonawanda.

(NOTE - This entry not part of original article)


Richard P. Battaglia, 30, of Loretta St., Town of Tonawanda, found shot to death in a (Buffalo) West Side ally on May 23, 1959


Nicholas Charles Tirone, 22, was shot to death on July 24, 1961 while walking with a companion on Niagara Street at Prospect Park. Has appearance of a gangland style, police said.

 

The companion said he did not see the person who fired the shot. Police said powder marks on Tirone's shirt indicated the slayer stood a few feet from the victim. 

 

Detectives said Vincent Santangelo had been questioned in the murder.

(NOTE - This entry not part of original article)


Anthony Palestine, 21, of Niagara St.,

and

Vincent Santangelo, 22, of Efner St., both murdered on Aug. 12, 1961. The two men were found strangled, bound hand and foot in a field off William St.

 

Detectives said Santangelo had been questioned in the murder July 24, 1961 of Nicholas Tirone,


Charles S. Gerass, 36, of the Town of Tonawanda, Sept. 24, 1965, clothesline bound body was found  late Wednesday night in the trunk of a 1964 Cadillac convertible parked in the Sheridan Plaza shopping center.

 

Gerass's cousin, Richard R. Battaglia, 30, was killed here in similar fashion six years ago. That case remains unsolved.

(NOTE - This entry not part of original article)


Richard J. Falise, 23, of Ferguson Ave., found tied and strangled at the rear of a vacant gas station at 15th and Vermont on Nov. 11, 1970.


Lester E. Speaker, 24, of Kenmore Ave., a former convict whose body, shot 4 times, was dumped along rail road tracks off Tonawanda St., near Farmer St., on May 12, 1971.

John Cammilleri, 63, of Cornwall Ave., Town of Tonawanda, shot to death outside the Roseland Restaurant on Rhode Island St., the night of May 8, 1974.

 

He was described as a high ranking member of the local mob dealing with labor organizations.


Albert M. Billiteri Jr., 23, of Commonwealth Ave., slain Sept. 16, 1974. The son of a reputed mob figure, he died after being shot and pistol whipped. He was evidently thrown from an auto along a deserted road in Cheektowaga.

Frank D'Angelo, 31, shot 4 times and fatally wounded after he left a Hertel Ave. tavern on October 4, 1974.

William Esposito, 30, of Ward Rd. North Tonawanda, whose strangled body was dumped behind an apartment complex off S. Fisher Rd., West Seneca, on Feb. 17, 1976

Robert Reingold, 42, of Hertel Ave., Found slain in gangland style in the trunk of his auto on Joslyn Pl., on May 29, 1976.

Other Agencies Credited

 

Cosgrove credited not only the Federal Witness Protection Program but the close cooperation between his office, the FBI, State and Buffalo Police for the convictions in some cases and the indictments in others.

 

"Those unsolved crimes have been dormant for years without much chance for prosecution," said Cosgrove. "Now we at least have a reasonable indication of who was reasonable indication of who was responsible for the killings and why those persons were killed."


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