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June 12, 1996

U.S. Indicts 19 in Genovese Mob Case

By DON VAN NATTA Jr.

NEW YORK -- Saying they had broken the leadership of the most powerful mob family in the United States, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday that 19 members of the Genovese crime family had been indicted for crimes that ranged from murder to snatching dollar bills from the statue of San Gennaro at the annual Little Italy street festival.

Officials said the 60-count racketeering indictment could virtually eliminate the New York City power base of the family, considered the most sophisticated and elusive Mafia clan in the country. Three of those arrested early Tuesday were described as leaders of the family.

Since 1980, the indictment said, the family had earned more than $20 million from "traditional mob activities," including extortion, labor racketeering, gambling, loan sharking, money laundering and tax evasion.

But the family also profited, prosecutors said, from an unorthodox but well-attended racket: the Feast of San Gennaro, one of the city's most popular street festivals, held on Mulberry Street every September.

Officials said the crime family's leaders pocketed most of the exorbitant rental fees paid by several hundred street vendors, totaling $1.5 million in 1993 and 1994 combined. They also took the thousands of dollars in cash contributed every year by festivalgoers; very little money, if any, was turned over to the Roman Catholic church or local charities that were supposed to get the proceeds, officials said.

Even the dollar bills that festivalgoers pinned to the Statue of San Gennaro, which was paraded down Mulberry Street at the conclusion of the fair, were plucked off by mobsters who stuffed the bills into their pockets, the officials said.

"The Genovese crime family even used the facade of a religious festival to mask the object of their true devotion, which is the almighty dollar," said James K. Kallstrom, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York City field office.

Federal authorities said that the 18 people arrested late Monday and early Tuesday included the three most prominent members of the Genovese family: the acting boss, Liborio Bellomo, 39; the acting underboss, Michele Generoso, 78; and the family's consigliere, or counselor, James Ida, 56.

"Today's indictment has hit its mark: the hierarchy of the Genovese crime family and many of the illegal operations in its far-flung criminal enterprise," said Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. "Although this investigation continues, today's charges and arrests have dealt a crippling blow to the Genovese crime family and its leadership."

At a hearing Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Sharon E. Grubin ordered Bellomo and Ida held without bond. For Thomas Cestaro, who is charged with loan sharking and gambling activities in Little Italy, the magistrate set bond at $750,000, with an unusual addition: He is prohibited from walking along Mulberry Street, between Houston and Canal Streets.

Law enforcement officials also said Tuesday's indictment had further eroded the family's central leadership, which they said was first weakened by the arrest and indictment in 1990 of the man they call the Genovese boss, 67-year-old Vincent Gigante. He has been behind bars since then, awaiting a murder and racketeering trial in federal court in Brooklyn.

Gigante, known for walking Greenwich Village's streets in a bathrobe and slippers, has asked a Federal judge to declare that he is mentally incompetent to stand trial. The judge, Eugene H. Nickerson, has yet to announce his ruling, but he said last month that he suspected Gigante was putting on a "crazy act" to avoid prosecution.

Law enforcement officials declined to say on the record why Gigante was not named in Tuesday's indictment. However, one law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that they preferred to wait for the outcome of the current case against Gigante in Brooklyn before proceeding with further charges.

Only one man listed in the indictment was not arrested: Thomas Barrett, 52, who is also wanted on charges that he committed a string of four bank robberies in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Highland, N.Y. Kallstrom said the authorities believe he may be out of the country.

The 115-page indictment describes in detail the inner workings of the Genovese crime family, which had emerged after the conviction of the Gambino boss John Gotti as New York City's pre-eminent crime family. When the Gambino family fell into disarray, law enforcement officials said, Genovese mobsters took over some of their lucrative construction and gambling rackets.

Law enforcement officials acknowledged that the family leaders were extremely careful and often went to great lengths to elude even the most sophisticated surveillance techniques. For example, members met late at night at diners in Manhattan -- usually on Monday evenings and Tuesday mornings -- and spoke with each other in hushed tones or mumbles.

From their headquarters at Ida's Little Italy Social Club, at 171 Mulberry Street, the family leaders frequently intimidated fellow members who stepped out of line, threatening them with harm or death. Twice, according to the indictment, the top leaders of the family made good on their murder promises.

Ida, Generoso, Bellomo and others are accused of ordering the murders of two former Genovese soldiers: Antonio DiLorenzo, who was murdered on Nov. 25, 1988, in West New York, N.J., and Ralph Desimone, who was killed June 12, 1991, in Englewood, N.J.

The indictment also accuses members of the family of running an illegal gambling house inside a tent at 175 Mulberry Street. And it charges several top members of the Genovese family with defrauding New York City by significantly understating the number of vendors and the amount of rent collected from them at the Feast of San Gennaro.

Last summer, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to shut down the festival in part because of federal allegations that the mob was extorting money from street vendors. In January, John C. Sabetta, a former federal prosecutor, issued a report to the mayor recommending that the feast's ostensible organizer, the Society of San Gennaro Naples and Suburbs, be banned from operating it.

His report concluded that the annual event was mismanaged and was operated to benefit a small coterie of Little Italy insiders, and that the nonprofit society was "not a genuine not-for-profit charitable organization."


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