The Snitch

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

"Yeah, he does," Polito agreed.

"You can call your fucking cousin, your uncles, your brother," Mamone said, recalling his conversation with Scarola. "Call anybody you fucking want. Buy a fucking plane ticket. Don't be there when I get back."

Yet the $10,000 Scarola owed Mamone was a small amount in the context of the operation. Not only was there the local business but federal authorities learned that the South Florida Trafficantes were using the check-cashing firm to launder money from a Ponzi scheme based in South Carolina. According to the FBI investigation, more than $30 million from scammed investors flowed through Gold Coast Check Cashing in 1999.

Joe Russo Jr.: Accused of leading an $80 million South Florida drug ring
Joe Russo Jr.: Accused of leading an $80 million South Florida drug ring
David Tobin: Charged with packaging marijuana from stash houses. His brother Jeffrey, who was also indicted, is on the run.
David Tobin: Charged with packaging marijuana from stash houses. His brother Jeffrey, who was also indicted, is on the run.

By the winter of that year, federal agents were steadily building a case against Raffa, Mamone, and the rest of the Trafficantes. Wiretaps had established solid evidence on the principals; next, the agents were working undercover, scoping out the storefront from parked cars and nearby businesses to collar others involved in the enterprise.

That's when Charles Clay, a 24-year veteran of the Margate Police Department, entered the picture. In December 1999, he noticed that a car near Gold Coast Check Cashing had a New Jersey plate but not the required windshield sticker. After Clay approached the vehicle, the driver identified himself as an FBI agent. Clay left, and surveillance continued. The next month, on January 7, 2000, the FBI executed a search warrant at Gold Coast.

In February, according to court records, Clay was drinking at Bobby Rubino's Place for Ribs, a restaurant in North Lauderdale owned by the sons of former Gambino crime boss Paul Castellano. He told the bartender about stopping the undercover FBI agent, and the bartender reportedly retold the story to Scarola (see "Charlie Numbers," New Times, March 3, 2004).

On February 4, 2000, at 8:27 p.m., Scarola, eager to please due to the $10,000 debt over his head, called Mamone on his cell phone. An FBI wiretap intercepted the call. "Um, I just, ah, found out something you got to know," he told Mamone. "Um, you know your, your place over there? On [U.S.] 441? You know it's still being watched?"

"Yeah," Mamone responded. "I figured it would be."

Mamone would soon be swept up in a 70-count indictment that threatened to put him behind bars for the next 50 years.

The FBI closed the investigation in spring 2000. In October of that year, federal prosecutors indicted Raffa, Mamone, and 17 others, including Scarola and Clay, on racketeering charges. It was the fiercest blow the federal government had dealt to the Trafficantes, threatening to decapitate the crime family's entire South Florida operation.

Mamone found himself facing prison for the first time since New Jersey prosecutors tried to nail him. Yet Mamone's life had a mysterious way of following patterns. One month after the indictment, on November 16, 2000, Raffa hanged himself in his Pembroke Pines home. His suicide was the second -- after Weingartner's -- closely linked to Mamone. No evidence suggested foul play.

This time, the death did not prevent prosecutors from coming down hard on the Coral Springs mobster.

Granted bond, Mamone was placed under house arrest, with agents monitoring his two phone lines. His check-cashing business was shut down; his legal bills mounted.

Then once again, the contradictions of Mamone's life surfaced. When Mamone wasn't pinching Mob associates for money, he spent his time coaching his sons' championship football team. As it happened, Mamone's indictment and subsequent house arrest came at a bad time for the Rams. The team was about to enter the playoffs.

On November 5, 2000, Mamone gathered the players and their parents in his Augusta Drive home and tearfully explained that he could no longer lead them. A torrent of support followed. The players' parents petitioned U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz to allow Mamone to coach the playoff games. A letter, written by Assistant Coach Michael Noshay and signed by 85 parents, read in part:

"I do not wish to minimize the importance of the legal situation involved, but these children and their parents should not be punished for a scenario they could do nothing about. I can only respectfully implore Your Honor to think about the innocent young boys and girls involved, their months of hard work at practice and in games, and the unfair consequences of not having John Mamone as coach for these last few games.

"John loves these kids and they love him," the letter continued. "Coaching these children is something John does from his heart; you can see it in his face, his smile, and his full dedication to the team. You could see it last night through the tears as he brought everyone together to explain the situation and apologize for the circumstances."

Noshay didn't respond to interview requests. Neither would another of Mamone's friends in Coral Springs, Joseph Attenasio, return calls from New Times. But Attenasio wrote a letter in Mamone's defense. "I have known Mr. John Mamone for the past six years," he wrote. "We have gone to many social occasions together, including affairs with our children... In my opinion, John Mamone is the proverbial real family man."

Seitz chose to continue Mamone's house arrest, and one year later, in December 2001, Mamone violated the omertà, the Mafia's secret code. He flipped, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and provide information about the Mafia in exchange for a reduced sentence. He received nine and a half years.

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