The Snitch

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

In Coral Springs, the Mamones were as anonymous and inconspicuous as anyone, living in a bland subdivision surrounded by six-foot concrete walls and protected by an unarmed security guard. Karen Kirsner, whose home is next door to the family, admitted that, though she never suspected her neighbor was a mobster, she never became close to the Mamones. "To be honest, I've lived here 13 years, and I think they've lived here 11 years," she said. "But I don't know. I really don't know much about them at all."

Those who knew the family, though, unabashedly praises them. Of course, given the Mob ties, some wanted to remain anonymous. "They were really nice, really nice people," recalled one neighbor who asked not to be named. "We were all shocked to hear about John. Nobody expected that."

"We knew him from the area," recalled another neighbor, Johnny Diaz. "He was a man of great character. I didn't know anybody that didn't like John. I found him to be an extremely intelligent person."

Charles Clay: A cop who was acquitted of  tipping off Mamone to the FBI investigation
Charles Clay: A cop who was acquitted of tipping off Mamone to the FBI investigation
Robert Lewandowski: The alleged muscle for a South Florida marijuana smuggling operation
Robert Lewandowski: The alleged muscle for a South Florida marijuana smuggling operation

By most accounts, Mamone was a devoted family man who never let on to neighbors about his criminal dealings. His priorities were his children. "You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat kids," Diaz said. "My interactions, my dealings with John, do not exemplify the stereotype of people involved in organized crime."

Mamone's local court records seem to back up that assessment. No criminal charges, no major civil disputes. His legal run-ins in Broward were garden variety: a quarrel with an insurance company in which Mamone was plaintiff and an outstanding debt from New Jersey that Mamone settled.

But his reality is better reflected in FBI reports and federal indictments. After leaving the New Jersey Genoveses, Mamone began work for Trafficante capo "Uncle Steve" Raffa. Mamone was a star recruit. He had experience and could provide guidance to the Young Turks. With Raffa's help, Mamone was able to accomplish a goal that had eluded him as a Genovese associate. In the mid-'90s, he became amico nostra, a made man.

Mamone soon became Raffa's lieutenant and by the late '90s controlled much of the South Florida outfit's day-to-day operations, ensuring that bookmakers were working and that loan installments were being paid on time. According to an FBI report, he ran the crime enterprise from his check-cashing business, which was located near City Hall and police headquarters in Margate. Mamone laundered millions of dollars in Mafia proceeds, registering money as legitimate income or skimming it off the top. According to federal court documents, Mamone would regularly provide high-interest loans that referred to interest rates as "points." A $40,000 loan would receive one to one and a half points. That, according to an FBI report, meant that Mamone would charge one percent interest per week, or a 52 percent annual rate.

By the summer of 1999, the FBI was eager to collar Raffa and Mamone. According to a report, federal agents successfully lured three witnesses who had high-interest loans with Mamone to cooperate. They were all hoping to avoid prosecution -- and save their chins from Mafia knuckles. Of the three witnesses, only one is named in court documents: Al Polito, the snitch who tried to obtain Ricky Martin tickets for Mamone.

The FBI operation marked the first time authorities had infiltrated the Florida crime family without arousing suspicion. In 1994, the bureau had attempted to introduce two undercover agents into the Trafficante family's South Florida branch. Raffa, however, quickly sniffed them out.

Federal agents soon learned that among the bookmakers who worked for the Trafficantes' gambling operation was Frederick "Freddy" Scarola, then an olive-skinned 57-year-old with gray hair and bushy eyebrows. Like many Mob associates in South Florida, Scarola worked with multiple clans, doing business with both Mamone and the Bonanno clan. "Once you get down to South Florida, you can move from family to family," Deitche explained. "It's not like New York. The market is wide open down there."

Authorities soon determined that Scarola was an unreliable earner for Mamone, owing the Trafficante soldier at least $10,000. During Polito's July 26, 1999, visit to Gold Coast Check Cashing, after the discussion about concert tickets, Mamone turned the conversation to Scarola, who had recently renegged on a promise to make loan payments. "Where's this little motherfucking Freddy?" Mamone said. "That's what I want to know. Where's this little cocksucker?"

"Let me tell you what happened," said Polito, who also owed money to Mamone.

"I'm more fucking irritated at him than you," Mamone continued. "'Cause he lied to me. He was gonna meet me on Sunday before he left, and he never met with me, this motherfucker." Mamone then mentioned that he talked to Scarola on the phone. "Freddy wants to argue with me on the phone," he explained. "Freddy, I told Freddy to go buy a fucking plane ticket for Arizona, motherfucker, 'cause when I came back, you've, you've had it."

"You, you, you know what," Polito interrupted. "You -- "

"I can't find this little cocksucker right now."

"People tell you it's like -- "

"He'll show up when he has the money, I know," Mamone said, coughing. "He avoids everything, this small cocksucker."

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