The Snitch

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

Mamone showed that his wife and children were more important to him than the Trafficante family, Deitche explained. "Not everybody can flip," Deitche said. "You have to have something to give up. I'm sure there are guys that want to flip but don't have anything to give. That leads me to believe, and this is speculation, that Mamone is up on the current goings-on."

But Mamone's decision to cooperate with law enforcement proved temporarily disastrous for his family. Once Mamone's plea became public, Grace and their three children fled to his attorney's office, fearful for their lives. Their panic was well-founded. The FBI had notified them that the Mafia had issued a contract on Mamone's life. "What may happen to a Mob informer is not in general dispute," Mamone's attorney, David Rothman, told the court.

With the exception of the imprisoned patriarch, the family eventually returned home and continues to live in Coral Springs. Going after wives and children is not something the Mafia is likely to do. "They're not going to touch the family," Deitche said.

Scott M. Deitche: Wrote Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld, which chronicles the Trafficante crime family
Scott M. Deitche: Wrote Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld, which chronicles the Trafficante crime family
Former New Jersey Genovese associate John Mamone was the Trafficante family's second in command in South Florida.
Former New Jersey Genovese associate John Mamone was the Trafficante family's second in command in South Florida.

Now imprisoned in Marianna, Florida, near the Alabama border, Mamone is known simply as JAM #07803-0062. For his protection, the federal Bureau of Prisons keeps Mamone in solitary confinement. Rothman has argued that it's slowly pushing his client toward insanity. "Mamone suffered extraordinary psychological damage," Rothman told the court. "He paced his jail cell in prison-issued shoes without soles, scarring and callusing the bottom of his feet while he paced in his tiny cell in claustrophobic terror."

But insane or not, Mamone's information has led to additional charges against the Mafia, including a January indictment that alleges a group of South Floridians ran a multimillion-dollar marijuana smuggling operation that stretched from Mexico to the Northeastern United States.

As noon approaches on February 19, Robert Lewandowski, a 37-year-old with a square head, wide jaw, and a small bald spot on the apex of his scalp, sits in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. Lewandowski, a thickly built man wearing a green V-neck shirt and faded jeans, is in the beginning stages of a trial that could put him behind bars for the next 30 years.

A young knee-breaker who appeared to have had a successful crime career ahead of him before he was popped, Lewandowski is learning a hard lesson about today's Mafia: Only fools live by omertà.

Earlier this year, federal prosecutors indicted Lewandowski and five others for their involvement in a South Florida-based marijuana smuggling ring. The group was led by Joe Russo Jr., whose Mafia-associate father was indicted with Mamone in 2000. According to the indictment, Russo Jr.'s drug enterprise worked with the Trafficante crime family. Russo allegedly contracted with one of Mamone's dozen front companies, an interstate trucking concern called Gateway Transportation, to move freight loads of cannabis. In all, the federal government alleges, the organization raked in $80 million from the sale of 66,000 pounds of marijuana.

Russo's smuggling operation began modestly, the government claims, using U.S. Mail, Federal Express, personal vehicles, and motor homes to move drugs from stash houses in California and Arizona to the Northeast and Florida. But it would resort to any means, including murder and kidnapping, to ensure the safe delivery of drugs, prosecutors allege. The government had been pursuing the group since 1993, arresting some grunts and drivers through the years, but could never establish enough evidence to indict the principals and decapitate the organization.

Then the government found an apparent solution in Mamone and one of his indicted associates, David Bell. According to court records, the two men have provided information about the South Florida drug enterprise. Although officials will not discuss what the men have said, it's clear that they are at least partially responsible for the six-count indictment. At a hearing on January 16 for alleged drug-ring associate David Tobin, whose indicted older brother is still on the run, defense attorney Samuel I. Burstyn grilled FBI Special Agent Christopher Derrickson about who was providing the government with information on his client.

"Mr. Bell didn't ever tell you he saw David Tobin do anything wrong, did he?" Burstyn asked Derrickson. "Mr. Mamone never told you that he saw David Tobin do anything wrong, did he?"

"That information," Derrickson responded, "I am not going to answer..."

"Indeed, Mr. Mamone doesn't even know David Tobin, does he, sir?"

"... We have information... that individuals that you have named do, in fact, know who David Tobin is."

Prosecutors may be strong-arming Mamone to stick to the story. That could explain why the indictment not only charges Big John with facilitating large shipments of marijuana but also alleges that Grace tampered with a witness, though it does not specify how or whom. If convicted, she could receive ten years in prison. Her attorney would say only, "We have no comment for you people."

Steve Lenehan understands why Mamone flipped. He wore an FBI wire for two years. Lenehan says he knew that if he didn't become a government witness, someone else would have brought him down anyway. Big John Mamone, he says, was no fool. He has a wife, three kids, a real family. In 2012, Mamone will be a free man -- a 61-year-old, still young enough to coach his grandchildren's football team.

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