The Snitch

Meet John Mamone -- devoted father, Mafia soldier, government witness

But in the Sunshine State, the five families must contend with another unit of the Mafia: the Trafficantes. Founded by Santo Trafficante Sr., a Sicilian immigrant who lived in Tampa, this organization gained influence by operating casinos in Cuba during the 1950s. After the Communist revolution in 1959, the Trafficantes were sent back to Tampa.

Yet Florida was always too large a market for the Trafficantes to operate in in isolation. In June 1980, a Bonanno capo met with Santo Trafficante's son to ask permission to operate in South Florida. The conversation was documented by the FBI in its famous Donnie Brasco investigation.

The Gambino and Philadelphia crime families quickly followed the Bonannos. Sunny Florida became a Mob destination. "Guys from all over the country, especially the Northeast, winter there," said Steve Lenehan, a former Mob associate from New Jersey. "They leave their families behind and fly solo. With them comes their attitudes and identity, which is always criminal. You can say it's a working vacation for most."

Steven "Uncle Steve" Bruno Raffa: Recruited Mamone into the Trafficante crime family
Steven "Uncle Steve" Bruno Raffa: Recruited Mamone into the Trafficante crime family
Frederick "Freddy" Scarola: Worked as a bookmaker in Mamone's South Florida gambling operation
Frederick "Freddy" Scarola: Worked as a bookmaker in Mamone's South Florida gambling operation

Lenehan, who spent 30 years as an associate to Mob families in New York and New Jersey, has become known as one of the most cooperative government witnesses in Mafia history. In August 1994, federal prosecutors popped him on racketeering charges. Faced with 20 to 50 years in the can, Lenehan flipped. Wearing an FBI wire for two years, he collected evidence that led to the conviction of 26 mobsters from the Bonanno, Bruno-Scarfo, Gambino, Genovese, and Luchese crime families.

He first met John Mamone in October 1989. Lenehan was then a driver for a Bonanno capo, while Mamone worked as an associate with the Genovese family. "We had mutual friends doing time at Danbury Federal Correctional Institute," Lenehan said. At the time, Mamone was in the construction business, and Lenehan was drumming up Mob action in New Jersey. "The idea was for Mamone and I to hook up and do some things together, a piece of which would go to [my friend] Marco [Minicchio]'s wife and kids," Lenehan explained. "I liked John right off, but nothing ever panned out. Later, when Paul 'Doc' Gaccione was released from prison, he and Mamone began to control much of the construction trade unions in Hudson County, New Jersey."

Gaccione was a large Italian-American with tanned skin and thinning brown hair streaked with gray. Indeed, Mamone and Gaccione -- whom Mafia members termed the Blues Brothers because they were inseparable -- lorded over the construction trade. In March 1990, according to an indictment that would not be filed for eight years, Gaccione and Mamone visited an Asbury Park, New Jersey, contractor to collect on kickbacks related to condo construction. Mamone punched out the business owner while Gaccione prevented the man's secretary from calling police. The pair later admitted to the crime.

The allegation came as part of a 56-count indictment in 1998 that claimed Mamone, purportedly working for a former police officer turned mobster named George Weingartner, was involved in the 1988 murder of a Genovese skipper.

Weingartner surprised prosecutors by committing suicide early in the trial; he ran a hose from the tailpipe of his car to the driver's-side window after making a videotaped statement in which he said he was happy to "screw up [the government's] case that's cost them millions and millions of dollars."

It worked. As a result of the suicide, Mamone was allowed to plead guilty to commercial bribery and Gaccione to attempted witness tampering. They cut deals for four and three years' probation, respectively.

Weingartner's would prove to be the first of two suicides closely related to Mamone.

The problems with the law had come at an awkward time for Big John. He'd started a new life in Florida, having moved to Broward County in 1992 after it became clear that he was not in line for a promotion with the New Jersey Genoveses. "Florida," Lenehan said, "seemed like a good place to start over."

Florida has long been the Mafia's backyard. Since Al Capone first came to Miami Beach in 1928, gangsters have mixed fun and sun with business opportunities, ranging from beachside casinos to investment scams based in inconspicuous office spaces along Federal Highway. Until recently, the Mafiosi have generally lived on the stretch of sand between Miami Beach and Hollywood.

But South Florida's population gradually migrated north to the sprawling suburbs of western Broward County, and the Mafia followed. Indictments over the past decade illustrate that -- like the fictional Sopranos of New Jersey -- today's Mob is a suburban one, with members and associates living amid the subdivisions and strip malls that extend from Coral Springs to Margate to North Lauderdale.

"They're going where the money is," Deitche said. "There's a lot to be made in Palm Beach and Broward counties. It's just the natural progression. You don't see the Italians in Miami Beach any longer."

Big John, whose family on both sides is from Italy, and Grace chose Coral Springs to raise Francesco and Joseph, who were then babies. In April 1993, the couple purchased a house at 1960 Augusta Dr. for $375,000, paying $175,000 in cash and financing the balance. They settled into the family lifestyle, raising their two boys in a gated neighborhood with manicured lawns and good schools. Soon, they had a daughter to round out their family.

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