The Miniacis and the Mafiosi
Depictions of the next monument to beach redevelopment are filed away in the city's planning and zoning department, but the towering resort, which resembles a giant staircase, doesn't actually exist yet.
The city commission recently took it a step closer to reality when they approved it, by a four to one vote, as the next addition to the skyline of the Fort Lauderdale Strip.
It is a ritzy, 26-story tourist destination combining one of the biggest names in the world of hotels -- Hilton -- with the family that for decades has been named among the city's landed gentry: the Miniacis.
The Miniaci-Grand Hilton Hotel project will be the next big move in remaking the Fort Lauderdale beach area. Albert Miniaci, the millionaire sultan of the Strip and leading beach redevelopment guru, deems it the beach's first "world-class resort." But the 252-foot-high mammoth hotel is only phase one. The family has another plot of ground a bit further north where Albert Miniaci's famous Candy Store bar used to be.
On that vacant lot is expected to stand yet another major project, a 15-story, BeachPlace-style hotel. Despite their plans for the Grand Hilton, the Miniacis have no ambition to build on this lot. Instead they're expected to sell their land to a developer. Right now the name Marriott is attached to the plan.
The Miniacis are old hands on the Strip, but they are new to the megamillion-dollar realm of towering beacons for upper-class tourists.
Under the leadership of Albert Miniaci, the family has owned landmark bars and arcades on the Strip for nearly three decades. During the spring break heyday of the early '80s, the Miniacis thrived on the influx of reveling college boys and girls. When the city cracked down on spring break partying, Miniaci complained that "the biggest sin the kids are committing is having a good time, and they're punishing them for it."
He soon opted to seize the future rather than mourn the past. Miniaci joined beach advisory boards and helped form partnerships with other beach property owners in order to lure developers. He was instrumental in pushing the city's hand in redevelopment, and the commission pumped $26 million into improvements. It worked. With widened sidewalks and a new sea wall, beach revitalization was more than just a political catch phrase. It was a reality.
Miniaci did his part by opening Evangeline and Mistral restaurants just north of Las Olas Boulevard. The classy establishments with sidewalk dining drew upscale patrons, and the Miniacis were justly credited with leading the beach renaissance.
It has all led up to the Miniaci family's dream -- the Grand Hilton project, which is slated to be erected where the restaurants now stand.
Fort Lauderdale development attorney Ron Mastriana, who represents both the Grand Hilton and Marriott projects, says, "If you had to say that one person helped to spur on the kind of beach we have right now, it's probably Albert."
But Albert Miniaci does more than plan the future of the beach. He's a community booster who hobnobs with business titans like Wayne Huizenga and sports celebrities like Don Shula. A pillar of the Broward County Boys and Girls Club, he serves on its corporate board. The Special Olympics counts him as a valued volunteer. He sits on the board of the Ann Storck Center, a group home for the disabled. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice recently named him Volunteer of the Year.
Shoulder to shoulder with him in community building is his partner in business and development, younger brother Dominick Miniaci, who is also a well-established immigration lawyer and corporate secretary.
Attorney Dominick Miniaci has also distinguished himself with charitable acts. He was once named Humanitarian of the Year by an organization in California for raising $75,000 for AIDS research. He's also served as a director of the Broward County Crime Commission, which works with and advises law enforcement agencies to help make the streets safer.
But on May 20, 1997, Dominick Miniaci wasn't helping to fight crime. Instead, he was helping a convicted criminal named John Cerrella, who goes by the underworld nickname of "Sideburns."
Cerrella is a "soldier" or "made-member" of the Genovese crime family, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Metropolitan Organized Crime Intelligence Unit (MIU), a South Florida task force made up of several local law enforcement agencies.
The New York Times reported in April that the Genovese faction of the Mob is now the most powerful of all five New York City-based Mafia families. It is believed to have more than 200 made-members and more than 1000 associates -- people who help the Mafia in its operations.
Cerrella has a notorious history in Broward County. Back in 1975 he owned a valet business with another suspected Genovese associate. Cerrella approached a Fort Lauderdale parking lot owner and demanded that the man hand over a third of his business or be killed. The parking lot owner was wearing a wire, and Cerrella was convicted on federal extortion charges. In 1977 he was featured in a Miami Herald series on organized crime in South Florida. Judge Norman Roettger sentenced Cerrella to 16 years in prison. Cerrella was paroled in 1983 but was forced back to prison, Roettger says, for breaking parole by associating with known criminals.
After Roettger sentenced Cerrella, the mobster was rumored to have put out a $300,000 contract on the judge's life. Roettger said he was informed by the FBI that Cerrella allegedly put out a hit on him. The judge was never hurt, but the taxpayers got touched for an estimated $4 million, the tab for three years of around-the-clock protection for him.
"It was constant, nonstop," Roettger now says of the security he received. "But I don't think about [Cerrella] very much any more."
The seriousness with which the federal government took the rumored murder conspiracy was proof that when Cerrella talked, people listened, even federal judges.
The MIU was listening on May 20 of last year.
Agents armed with the court's approval for a wiretap listened to Cerrella, the reputed mobster, talk on the phone to Dominick Miniaci, the respected man of the community.
The agents were investigating a recent Genovese crime-family push into Broward County, a racketeering enterprise they say included a slew of serious crimes ranging from bookmaking to battery. MIU Director Kenneth Staab says the massive investigation, which has enlisted some 60 police officers and is still going on after three years, proved that the Genovese family has become the dominant Mafia family in Fort Lauderdale and shows "the scope and influence locally of the Genovese crime family and their associates, as well as their association with other racketeers and criminals."
Leading the Genovese charge in South Florida, Staab says, was Cerrella and fellow Genovese soldier Vinnie Romano, a convicted felon who happens to live in Tamarac.
Cerrella, Romano, and their many associates were earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a week in their bookmaking enterprise, investigators say. They were also suspected to have secretly had their hands in several nightclubs, in illegal gambling machines, in extortion of various kinds, and in at least one beating.
Dominick Miniaci, for his part, was handling licensing matters for a nightclub called Fever at 1421 Oakland Park Blvd., which used to be Studio 51. Investigators were convinced that the club was secretly being run by the mobsters Cerrella and Romano.
"How are you buddy?" Cerrella asked Miniaci.
"I'm OK," Miniaci answered.
Cerrella then told Miniaci about a phone call his daughter, Felicia Cerrella Schefer, had received. Schefer, who was officially listed as an owner of Fever, had been called by a state alcoholic-beverage agent who asked if her father was running the club.
Neither Dominick Miniaci nor John Cerrella knew they were on tape when Miniaci told Cerrella: "You don't want to say nothing, OK? Nothing at all."
"I won't speak to nobody, but I want to speak to that lawyer," Cerrella replied. "Because he's a fucking wuss anyway."
"Yeah," said Miniaci.
The lawyer to whom Cerrella was referring was never identified on the tape. Miniaci ended his conversation by calling the mobster "my friend."
That conversation is now part of the criminal case against Cerrella, Romano, Schefer, and two other partners in Fever who are accused of filing false reports with the state to hide Cerrella's and Romano's interests in the club. Dominick Miniaci hasn't been charged but is still a subject of the ongoing investigation, according to Cindy Imperato, a prosecutor assigned to the case.
One issue that prosecutors have investigated regarding the taped phone conversation: Was Dominick Miniaci simply telling a client to use his constitutional right to remain silent, or was he contributing to a criminal conspiracy to hide Cerrella's alleged ownership of Fever?
Imperato said the answer to that question hasn't yet been determined.
Miniaci's involvement with Cerrella didn't end with the phone calls. Miniaci Enterprises -- the officers of which include Dominick Miniaci, Albert Miniaci, and their mother Rose Miniaci -- loaned $20,000 to Cerrella's daughter to help buy the club, according to MIU reports.
Miniaci Enterprises also loaned John Cerrella $25,000 personally, according to court documents. Exactly what the $25,000 was for hasn't been determined by investigators. Dominick Miniaci's law firm had promissory notes drawn up for the loans, which would be paid back at 12 percent interest.
The charge against the Fever owners -- which is part of a 49-count racketeering indictment filed by the MIU after their Genovese crime-family investigation -- is that they filed false documents to hide the ownership of Cerrella and Romano.
In an affidavit filed with the court months before the indictment was handed down this past January, detectives listed this objective:
"To reveal the true details... regarding Fever, including the involvement of attorney Dominick Miniaci, who prepares documents for the individuals involved in concealing the interests of John Joseph Cerrella and Vincent Romano."
The Fever owners were also charged with theft of sales tax and illegal purchase of alcohol. Cerrella and Romano and a total of 15 codefendants were named in the indictment, which, in addition to the Fever-related charges, includes allegations of bookmaking, aggravated battery, and tampering with a witness.
Cerrella, Romano, and Schefer would not talk to New Times for this article.
The Miniaci family's involvement with Cerrella wasn't limited to Dominick Miniaci and the family's company, Miniaci Enterprises -- Albert Miniaci was doing business with the reputed mobsters as well.
While Albert Miniaci wasn't suspected of any crime in relation to the Genovese family, he supplied the reputed gangsters with ATMs and pay phones from Miniaci's Pompano Beach company Paramount Vending, according to the MIU.
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."
Both Albert and Dominick Miniaci, who were contacted repeatedly by New Times to answer questions about the investigation, refused to comment. Instead their attorney, Ira Marcus, warned of a lawsuit.
When asked if he felt that the Miniacis had made a mistake by doing business with a reputed mobster like Cerrella, Marcus answered: "I'm sure they regret that some reporter is doing an unflattering article on them."
When asked why the Miniacis wouldn't comment, he said that any "good lawyer" would tell them not to talk about the case as Dominick Miniaci is allegedly still under investigation. "The Miniacis are a legitimate family, and they only deal with legitimate family enterprises and that's what their comment would be," he said.
Marcus questioned the veracity of the MIU findings and pointed out that Cerrella was never charged with putting out a contract on Roettger's life. As for the millions of dollars spent protecting the judge, Marcus commented that the government is famous for wasting money.
"I think that police can be the most unreliable sources," Marcus said, "because they can say anything they want. None of these police officers have been cross-examined."
Marcus also implied that Cerrella was being treated unfairly.
"If a man is convicted of a crime ten to fifteen years ago," Marcus said, "then why can't he be involved with a legitimate businessman?"
Vinnie Romano, Cerrella's partner who allegedly helped him in everything from bookmaking to running the club Fever, is a sitter.
He'd sit in his favorite Pompano Beach restaurant, Due Amici, and eat pasta and have drinks. He'd sit and people would come and meet him and they'd kiss his cheek. Sometimes investigators watched as visitors came to him and handed him envelopes and bags. He didn't know that the MIU had secretly installed video cameras in the restaurant.
One of the reasons Romano sits so much is that he suffers from poor circulation in his legs, and sometimes he has a hard time getting out of bed. In one transcribed phone conversation with Cerrella, Romano worried that the pain in his leg might be the "the beginning of the end." His brother, Peter Romano, died last year. He sometimes spoke on the phone of friends dying or going to prison. La Cosa Nostra has aged. In one conversation with Sam Salerno, a 77-year-old Broward County friend, they talked about how bad things were getting. Salerno lamented: "You ain't gonna hear no good news no more. Everybody's old." Salerno, according to court documents, is a former Genovese capo.
Dominick Miniaci, incidentally, has handled business deals for Sam Salerno and was named as a codefendant with the alleged capo in a couple of lawsuits involving unpaid debts. Marcus, once served as the registered agent for a company called Broward Business Brokers that listed Salerno as an officer.
"I know the gentleman," Marcus said of Salerno. "Has he broken the law? Has he ever done anything other than jaywalk?"
Investigators say Salerno has dealt with mobsters in both New York and Florida, but has indeed never been charged with any crime and has never met with notoriety -- unlike his associate, Romano.
Romano, despite his poor health and advancing age, was still wielding power in Broward County. MIU detectives overheard him saying things like: "When a guy does that, he goes to the morgue or at least gets a beating." Underlings, like Tommy DeMarco of Miami Beach, would come to him, according to the MIU, with cash gained from the bookmaking ring. Romano, who stands about six and a half feet tall and weighs nearly 300 pounds, once told him: "You got a bad attitude, Tommy. You got a bad fucking attitude. You better change it. You missed a week."
Romano and partner Cerrella were themselves answering to reputed Genovese capo Alphonse Malangone, according to the MIU. Malangone was convicted last year of extortion in a huge New York case involving private garbage companies. With Malangone in trouble, a reputed soldier named Alan Longo took over as their acting capo, according to the New York County District Attorney's Office. Longo made many trips down to Boca Raton to meet with Cerrella and Romano, according to MIU surveillance reports.
But the power Romano now has pales in comparison to what he once had in New York City. DeMarco isn't the first man to feel the intimidating powers of Romano. Many a fishmonger and truck driver has too, according to federal prosecutors. Especially when Romano was serving as the Genovese family's chief enforcer in the Fulton Fish Market, which does hundreds of millions of dollars of business in a year.
His brothers, Carmine and the late Peter Romano, ran the market for the Mob from the early '70s to the early '80s, controlling the delivery of fish and orchestrating all kinds of kickbacks and shakedowns, prosecutors alleged. Their reign ended with fish market-related racketeering convictions. Vinnie Romano was convicted in the same investigation, for filing false information on a loan application. He served six months behind bars. His brothers were sent away for 12 years. When Vinnie Romano got out of jail, he took up where his brothers left off at the fish market, according to prosecutors.
Romano's muscle-flexing at the fish market led then-prosecutor and current New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to name Romano in a groundbreaking civil racketeering suit as the top Genovese soldier at the fish market. The case led to the appearance of Vinnie Romano's name in newspapers from London to Los Angeles, in magazines from Time to Forbes. He was even mentioned in Mafia associate Henry Hill's biography -- which would become the basis for Martin Scorsese's film Goodfellas.
The racketeering case ended with Romano signing legal papers saying he would never work in the fish market again, paving the way for his eventual migration south to Broward County.
Though Romano didn't have a lot of energy to move about, he was on the prowl on February 4 of last year. MIU investigators learned that Romano, who was driving a new cream-colored Lincoln Continental, would be meeting someone identified only as "Peter Sabatino" in a Bobby Rubino's restaurant in Pompano Beach. Metro-Dade detectives Andy Benjamin and Dwayne Winn followed Romano to the restaurant. There Romano began talking with an obese white male in his fifties, who, the detectives reported, "is possibly the manager of the restaurant."
The two detectives walked in and sat down, overhearing Romano and the unknown man talk about horse betting and "what sounded like other gambling topics." Benjamin and Winn also reported that the "maitre d' appeared to act as a lookout and seemed concerned about anyone he would seat near them."
No charge stemmed from this meeting, which seems insignificant within the scope of the Genovese investigation. Its importance lies in its symbolic value.
Two years ago a Bobby Rubino's restaurant played a role in the fall of a reputed Gambino crime-family capo. So the meeting was, in a sense, a coming together of the old and the new, the falling Gambino family and the rising Genovese family.
Bobby Rubino's is owned primarily by the sons of the former Godfather, Paul and Joe Castellano, and a man named Frank J. Galgano, who is the grandson of a Gambino capo.
Dominick Miniaci handles licensing issues for the restaurants, is a business partner of Frank Galgano in a company called M & G (standing for "Miniaci" and "Galgano") Restaurant Corp., and also, in 1994 divorce records, listed himself as a part owner of the Bobby Rubino's restaurant in Boca Raton. Miniaci also served as the registered agent for at least one company owned by Frank Galgano's brother and onetime Bobby Rubino's executive, Anthony M. Galgano, who is currently serving time in federal prison. The registered agent generally sees to it that the company files information and documents with the state.
In addition Miniaci is listed as the registered agent for a corporation called Oakland Pasta Co., which is owned by the Castellano sons, who were set up in business by their father -- the Godfather -- and now run a myriad of companies in South Florida and New York.
The Castellano sons were propped up in business by Big Paul in Brooklyn back in 1970 with a company called Dial Poultry, according to FBI agents Joseph O'Brien and Andris Kurins, who wrote an acclaimed book about the Godfather titled Boss of Bosses.
"Dial Poultry, it seemed, stopped just short of extortion in persuading its business partners to play along," O'Brien and Kurins wrote. "It was all but impossible to establish the existence of kickbacks. Most discouraging of all, it was very difficult to get business people to testify about their own dealings with the Mob."
The agents wrote that while mother Nina Castellano might have wanted her sons to be good citizens, "criminality couldn't be so easily sloughed off in a single generation; you couldn't slip out of guilt as if were a suit of clothes. More often than not, mobsters' kids found ways of screwing up." The Castellano sons "underscored the difficulty of truly flying free of a Mob nest," the authors wrote. If it sounds like the two agents had strong opinions about the Castellanos, consider that they spent five years investigating Big Paul and got unparalleled access to the family by bugging the living room of Castellano's multimillion-dollar New York home.
Castellano Sr. used to boast that he'd not only made himself a millionaire but also made each of his children one as well. Though the Godfather was riddled with bullets by Gotti's thugs and left dead in a Manhattan street in December 1985, the Castellano family is alive and well in Fort Lauderdale, operating out of their Sunrise Boulevard offices in a Castellano-owned building.
Big Paul had often preached about pushing the Mafia into legitimate business, and in his own family, at least, it has worked remarkably well. The Castellano children, who are now middle-aged, own several restaurants -- Bobby Rubino's and Big Louie's pizza chains among them -- and a number of other active corporations, including several pasta companies. They also have had considerable property holdings in South Florida.
There is no evidence that Paul or Joe Castellano has ever broken any law. But an admitted Mafia bagman named Pasquale Nigro tied the Bobby Rubino's restaurant chain to Gambino crime-family skimming two years ago, according to federal prosecutors.
Bobby Rubino -- another former Dominick Miniaci business associate -- himself is long gone from the restaurant chain bearing his name. The endeavor began in Broward County in the late '70s and now includes 12 restaurants, most in South Florida, but also with franchises in California, New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Singapore, and Jakarta. According to Nigro, Rubino's first general manager, Rubino was never really in charge anyway --he was only a front man for the Mob.
Nigro told federal prosecutors in 1996 that it was a man named Ettore Zappi, Frank and Anthony Galgano's grandfather, whom he called "boss" at the first Bobby Rubino's restaurant, located in Margate. Nigro eventually went on to manage the Bobby Rubino's restaurant in West Palm Beach.
Zappi was a colorful old man who liked to dance it up at ritzy nightclubs. He was also identified by the FBI, the MIU, and Mafia turncoat Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano as a capo in the Gambino crime family. His onetime attorney: Ira Marcus.
Nigro testified that Rubino introduced him to Zappi. Soon Nigro was driving Zappi around and having coffee with him at Hidden Harbor Marina in Pompano Beach. It was Zappi who told him what to do with the cash in the register at Bobby Rubino's, Nigro told prosecutors.
Zappi's instructions: "After lunch, close down the register and take all that money and put it in a different envelope. Guest checks also."
Nigro said he would put the cash and guest checks, which amounted to up to $500 a day, aside until the end of the week. Then he'd hand-deliver it all to Zappi. After Zappi's death in 1986 at the age of 83, Nigro starting giving the money to Natale Richichi, another geriatric gangster, who federal prosecutors allege took over Gambino family interests in South Florida.
Nigro's testimony was used against Richichi in a federal racketeering conviction in 1996. Richichi is now in prison. Nigro also testified that he picked up cash for the Gambino family from one of strip-club king Michael Peter's establishments, which helped lead to Peter's pleading guilty to lesser charges of mail fraud. The dual convictions make Pasquale Nigro, who gained immunity from prosecution with his testimony, one of the most important witnesses against the Mob in Broward County history.
Dominick Miniaci was also a registered agent for a business listing Nigro -- the Mob bagman turned informant -- as an officer.
But the original power behind Bobby Rubino's, Nigro testified, was Zappi, who liked to have coffee at Hidden Harbor. From 1985 to 1993, the marina was owned by his grandson, Frank Galgano. Galgano's partner, Dominick Miniaci, was the marina's registered agent.
While Frank Galgano, age 43, has never been charged with anything, Anthony M. Galgano has. The brother, who was named in a restaurant trade magazine back in 1985 as the "director of operations" for the Bobby Rubino's chain, was arrested by Fort Lauderdale police in 1995. On the booking sheet, his occupation was listed as manager at Bobby Rubino's. He was charged with pulling a nickel-plated .380 semiautomatic handgun on a man after a squabble in the street. He was caught by police on the Strip -- in the parking lot of the Albert Miniaci-owned Mistral restaurant, according to arrest reports, the very site where the Grand Hilton is slated to be built. The ironic setting of his arrest is, as far as is known, only a coincidence.
The case was handed over to the state attorney's office organized-crime division. Galgano's attorney, Fred Haddad, who once represented Michael Peter and currently represents John Cerrella in the MIU case, wrote in court papers that Galgano was "being made to suffer due to his family heritage... not for any history of crime... but solely due to who his grandfather was and certain asserted business relationships."
Anthony Galgano would eventually be sentenced to a year in jail for a crime, but it would be spent in a federal pen. While facing the assault charge, the FBI arrested Galgano in connection to a boat theft ring that stretched from Broward County to Canada. Anthony Galgano is named in federal court documents as a Gambino crime-family associate.
According to published reports, some of the boats were stolen from the Hidden Harbor Marina, which his brother owned at the time and where his grandfather, Ettore Zappi, liked to drink coffee.
While neither the Castellanos nor Frank Galgano returned repeated messages from New Times, Marcus, acting on the Miniacis' behalf, went to bat for them.
"Is there a problem being a blood relative with someone?" he asked, adding later: "Can't someone repent?"
He said he'd read Boss of Bosses and was "unimpressed with any factual evidence [O'Brien and Kurins] used."
Marcus also attacked the credibility of Nigro.
"Anybody can give testimony about anything," he said.
The lawyer Haddad said that "Frank Galgano, particularly, is an upstanding citizen and a man who works very, very, very hard." Haddad, incidentally, also wrote a letter of support last year for the Miniaci family in its pursuit of approval to build the Grand Hilton Hotel.
On January 25, 1997, John Cerrella was talking on the telephone to Vinnie Romano about the anticipated opening of Fever. He talked about the fact that businesses handling the cleaning and parking at the club would have to put up money upfront to get the contract with Fever.
"Then the Miniacis got to come up with $2500, $3000 between the the phone and the cigarette machine," Cerella told Romano.
"Uh-huh," Romano uttered.
"All this here, it, it, it works," Cerrella said.
Fever was one of several clubs in which John Cerrella and Vinnie Romano were suspected to have hidden interests. Another was a strip club in Pompano Beach called the Crazy Horse Too. Cerrella, according to the MIU, had one of the Miniaci-owned ATMs placed in that club.
While the MIU reports indicate Cerrella had his hands in all kinds of enterprises and spoke of beatings and shakedowns on several occasions, his involvement with the Crazy Horse Too (which was sold and is now under new ownership), gives a colorful illustration of his business methods.
The Crazy Horse had a champagne room that, according to MIU reports and witnesses, pulled in thousands of dollars on many nights as wealthy patrons spent $300 and more on single bottles of champagne. Cerrella's nephew, Anthony Cerrella, also worked in the Crazy Horse champagne room. He appears in wiretap transcripts talking about "kickbacks" and thefts from patrons in the room. But John Cerrella complained that his nephew didn't show Vinnie Romano enough respect. Anthony had told John Cerrella that Romano wouldn't surrender his credit card -- which the club supposedly used as a form of collateral -- before walking into the champagne room.
The uncle warned his nephew in one tape-recorded conversation that if he didn't start respecting "friends from New York," they would "stick ya, they'll put you on a fuckin' hook in the bathroom and leave you there."
Later, according to more taped conversations, Cerella began to suspect his nephew was an informant for MIU lead investigator Tom Anderson. Cerrella eventually had him fired from his job at the Crazy Horse Too. While talking to his girlfriend on May 28, 1997, Cerrella said this about Anthony:
"If he goes back to work at the Crazy Horse, it's only a matter a' time you're gonna find him in front a' his house with a bullet in his head in the car. It's only a matter a' time."
Maureen Mulqueen, the woman identified as John Cerrella's girlfriend by the MIU, was often tape-recorded in conversations with the man called Sideburns. She always seemed eager to hear about Cerrella's thuggish exploits and, in the case of the nephew, she urged Cerrella to "give him a beating... just slap the shit out of him."
John Cerrella declined Mulqueen's suggestion, saying, "Why? So Tom Anderson comes and pinches me?"
While Anthony Cerrella, who couldn't be reached by New Times, escaped physical harm, another Crazy Horse employee wasn't so lucky, according to the MIU and prosecutors.
On May 12, 1997, a man named Richard Kenyon was beaten in front of the Theater nightclub in Oakland Park. Kenyon, who worked at the Crazy Horse, was bloodied up but refused medical treatment.
The day after the beating, Cerrella received a phone call from Robert Getchell, who owned a company called G & B Construction and often frequented the Crazy Horse.
"I got ridda' the rodent problem last night," said Getchell, according to MIU reports. Then he went on to discuss the injuries inflicted during the beating. Cerrella ended the conversation by telling Getchell not to talk about it any more.
A witness to the beating took down the license tag number of a vehicle fleeing the Theater that night. The tag number matched a rental Mercury Mountaineer leased to Getchell.
The beating became part of the racketeering indictment as Getchell and Cerrella were charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. It is the only violent crime listed in the indictment.
The beating, according to MIU accounts, was ordered because it was found out that Kenyon was about to tell the owner of the Crazy Horse that a woman associated with Cerrella was bringing her own champagne into the Crazy Horse and selling it for a profit.
Whether or not Dominick and Albert Miniaci saw this dark side of Cerrella's nature isn't known. They won't talk about it.
But when it came time for detectives to figure out exactly what the Miniaci family was doing with Cerrella, the MIU began with a subpoena sent to Miniaci's law firm asking for records involving the sale of Fever to Cerrella's daughter and Charles Morretto, her first partner.
On October 23, 1997, Dominick Miniaci, after he was subpoenaed to do so, hand-delivered copies of the $20,000 Miniaci Enterprises check, which was used as up-front money for the purchase of Fever, to the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. He also gave agents copies of the promissory notes for both that loan and the $25,000 the Miniaci company loaned to Cerrella personally.
In a bid to get more information, Miniaci's secretary, Donna Hughes, was subpoenaed to talk about her boss' involvement with Cerrella. Two statewide prosecutors in the organized-crime division and an MIU agent interviewed Hughes, who was flanked by her own lawyer. Questions pertaining to Miniaci Enterprises, Paramount Vending, and John Cerrella "were not answered because of attorney-client privilege," the MIU agent reported.
Marcus said he "believes" that Miniaci was indeed representing Cerrella as his attorney in "certain instances," but didn't say which ones.
Imperato said that if the case involved a criminal conspiracy, all of Miniaci's privileges as a lawyer don't mean a thing, but she added that he does fall "into a gray area."
Because of the large number of defendants (17) in the racketeering indictment that includes Cerrella and because of the complexity of the case itself, two or three years will likely pass before the MIU's Genovese Mob cases are resolved, says Imperato, one of three prosecutors on the case.
Despite Dominick Miniaci's help and the Miniaci Enterprises loans, Fever was a flop, a financial disaster. Cerrella, in a recorded conversation on May 30, 1997, told Mulqueen that he doesn't even like to go to Fever any more, that it's "getting depressing."
"I just hope that everything picks up or, or I don't know what the fuck we're going to do here," he said. "I'm into so much money in this joint, and the rent's due this week.... I got nothin' else comin' to pay my bills. I can't do it."
"Wow," Mulqueen says.
It was proof that even reputed mobsters fall flat in some business attempts -- even if they have the help and cash of one of the most respected families in Fort Lauderdale.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.