By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Cerrella and another alleged Mafia soldier named Anthony "Mr. Fish" Rabito spoke of doing business with Paramount Vending, which also lists Dominick Miniaci as an officer.
Mr. Fish, so named because he once owned seafood restaurants, is a "fat wiseguy with a fleshy face." That's the way FBI agent Joe Pistone described him in his book. Pistone also went by another name -- Donnie Brasco. During Pistone's undercover investigation, he learned that Rabito is aligned with the Bonanno crime family, specifically the crew of which Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero was a part. His character was played by Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco, the movie based on Pistone's book.
Pistone's undercover investigation led to murder charges against Rabito. Pistone wrote that Rabito's apartment was used in a murder conspiracy to kill three rival Bonanno mobsters. A Bonanno capo or "captain" -- a rank above soldier -- told Pistone "that Rabito was a good guy to contact and stay with when you have to work the streets during, say, a war." Rabito was acquitted of the murders but was convicted of drug charges and sentenced to eight years.
It's not surprising that Cerrella and Rabito would wind up talking business in Fort Lauderdale, a place crawling with so many mobsters that one Mafia investigator with the D.A.'s office in New York calls it "the sixth borough." Broward County has been frequented by some of the biggest names in gangsterism, from Lucky Luciano to John Gotti, along with numerous others in between. It is "open" territory, according to investigators, a place where mobsters from different families often unite to do business.
Cerrella called Rabito, who was in Dania at his brother's apartment, to tell him that Albert Miniaci hadn't made it to the office yet. The meeting at which they had planned to discuss with Miniaci the possibility of placing pay phones in New York would have to wait.
Cerrella: "Yeah, he's still not in the office yet... but she said as soon as he gets in, she'll have him beep me.
Cerrella: "But sometimes it takes this guy a couple a' days to get back to me, because he knows us. What could it be? We're gonna be askin' him for somethin' right?"
Cerrella was doing regular business with Albert Miniaci, according to the MIU. Cerrella and Rabito would later be watched by undercover agents going inside Paramount Vending on numerous occasions last year.
That Albert Miniaci does business with reputed mobsters is almost understandable, as the vending machine business has long been a Mafia favorite. Although Albert Miniaci isn't suspected of committing any crime, the vending business has traditionally been a great way for criminals to get their hands inside -- and squeeze cash from -- nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. That Albert Miniaci was apparently stalling the meeting with Sideburns and Mr. Fish bodes well for him -- at least he didn't seem eager to talk business with suspected members of the Mafia.
But investigators are still wondering why the Miniaci brothers got themselves involved in business activity with known Mafiosi.
"There are still some unanswered questions" as to the Miniacis' involvement with Cerrella in both the vending business and Fever, says MIU's Staab. Because the case is still under investigation, Staab is vague in his responses to questions and sometimes answers a question with a rhetorical one of his own, to wit:
"Why do people do things with the Mob?"
If nothing else, the MIU investigation shows that legitimate businessmen do sometimes engage in business with mobsters, especially in "the sixth borough."
Chroniclers of Mob activity know that members of La Cosa Nostra historically need legitimate people to assist in its underworld operations. The Mafia has always sought legitimacy through its connections. It needs lawyers and businessmen to open doors and facilitate business for its members.
It needs friends in high places.
One thing Cerrella said about Albert Miniaci in the phone conversation with Rabito stands out. He said, according to MIU transcripts, that Albert Miniaci "knows us."
It's a statement that seems to imply a history with, or at least a knowledge of, the reputed mobsters. A trail of corporate and court papers shows there is indeed a history of dealings between reputed Mafia members and the Miniaci family -- through Dominick Miniaci -- that goes beyond their foray with the Genovese crime syndicate.
The names that come up are well-known not only in South Florida organized crime history but also across the country. Included in the list are the sons of Paul "Big Paul" Castellano, who, before he was gunned down in the street by John Gotti's soldiers, also went by another name: the Godfather, the top boss of the Gambino crime family.
The history also includes a popular restaurant chain called Bobby Rubino's, which has a mobster-ridden past, according to federal prosecutors.
"This is so unbelievable," said attorney Mastriana, when told of the MIU investigation and the Miniacis' involvement. "I have never seen guys who are so unselfish. And in their business dealings, what I've seen has been nothing but forthright. I hope they can do something to dispel this."