For decades, the Five Families ruled over all of New York City.
Formed in 1931 after the end of the Castellammarese War, the Italian-American Mafia La Cosa Nostra began operating through the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese organised crime families.
They rival mobsters were all headquartered in the Big Apple, with murders and turf wars rife across the city.
Yet they were all collectively overseen by “The Commission”, formal meetings of the bosses of each of the five families who would seek to resolve issues under some sort of honour code.
In a Senate hearing that was broadcast to the nation, the secret structure and hierarchy of the mob families from the boss to consigliere to capo and soldiers was out in the open.
And, after that, the Mafia no longer operated in the shadows – nor did its members appear to want to.
They ruled the city through murder, extortion, union control, drug trafficking illegal gambling – and of course fear.
But they also became modern-day celebrities.
In the 1980s, former Gambino boss John Gotti – also known as the Dapper Don or Teflon Don – mingled with the stars and was a regular fixture in magazines and tabloid newspapers.
He wore expensive designer suits, loved the limelight and revelled in giving interviews to the press.
Time magazine even famously commissioned Andy Warhol to create a cover image of Gotti for its “Mafia on Trial” 1986 September issue.
Ultimately, he was hailed as a star.
It didn’t seem to matter that he was the leader of the most powerful organised crime family in New York – or that it was no secret he had orchestrated a blatant and bloody hit of his predecessor outside a steak restaurant in the middle of a Manhattan street.
But, the mob’s rise to power would be followed by a fall.
After the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was introduced in 1970, federal and state authorities and politicians began a major crackdown on organised crime.
Many saw “taking on the mob” as a personal legacy of their careers.
Several major convictions followed including – after multiple unsuccessful attempts – of the Teflon Don himself.
By the late 1990s, the bullish power the Five Families once wielded had dwindled and the Mafia appeared to retreat back into the shadows of New York’s underbelly.
Long gone were the Time magazine covers, the swanky suits, the A-list friends.
But it’s a myth to say that the mob is long gone.
Fast forward to 2023, federal prosecutors in New York on 8 November announced the arrest of 16 members and associates of the Gambino crime family following an international operation alongside Italian authorities. A 17th defendant is also said to be at large.
Ten of the defendants were arrested and hit with charges in Brooklyn federal court under a sprawling RICO Act indictment which included racketeering conspiracy, extortion, witness retaliation, fraud and embezzlement, and union-related crimes.
According to the indictment, the made men and mob associates spent years trying to take over New York’s garbage hauling and demolition industries, extorting victims using violent means and deadly threats.
Hammer attacks, homes set on fire and threats to ax a victim in two are among the more chilling details alleged.
“As alleged, for years, the defendants committed violent extortions, assaults, arson, witness retaliation and other crimes in an attempt to dominate the New York carting and demolition industries,” said United States Attorney Breon Peace in a statement.
“Today’s arrests reflect the commitment of this Office and our law enforcement partners, both here and abroad, to keep our communities safe by the complete dismantling of organized crime.”
It marks one of the most significant Mafia busts in recent times – but, unlike the fame and notoriety enjoyed by Gotti, the alleged mobsters are little-known figures in the Big Apple.
So who are these so-called Gambino family-made men and associates? And what does the alleged mob of 2023 look like?
The 21-page indictment, unsealed by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, names the defendants as:
Joseph “Joe Brooklyn” Lanni, 52, of Staten Island
Diego “Danny” Tantillo, 48, of Freehold, New Jersey
Robert Brooke, 55, of New York, New York
Salvatore DiLorenzo, 66, of Oceanside, New York
Angelo “Fifi” Gradilone, 57, of Staten Island
Kyle “Twin” Johnson, 46, of the Bronx
James “Jimmy” LaForte, 46, of New York
Vincent “Vinny Slick” Minsquero, 36, of Staten Island
Vito “Vi” Rappa, 46, of East Brunswick, New Jersey
Franceso “Uncle Ciccio” Vicari, 46, of Elmont, New York
According to the indictment, Mr Lanni, also known as “Joe Brooklyn” and “Mommino,” is an alleged captain in the Gambino organised crime family.
Mr Tantillo, Mr LaForte and Mr Gradilone are allegedly “soldiers” with the former two becoming “made” men in October 2019.
Due to his rank as a made man and capo, the three soldiers allegedly “kicked up” hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr Lanni.
Financial records cited in the indictment outline that the soldiers provided more than $1.5m in purported “loans” to companies owned by Mr Lanni. Yet, these loans were actually allegedly proceeds earned through criminal activities.
Meanwhile, prosecutors say Mr Brooke, Mr DiLorenzo, Mr Johnson, and Mr Minsquero are Gambino associates, Mr Rappa is a member of the Sicilian Mafia and a Gambino associate, and Mr Vicari is both an associate of the Sicilian Mafia and the Gambino family.
Together, since at least 2017, the mobsters allegedly ran a racketeering enterprise trying to rule over the carting and demolition industry in New York.
Specifically, the mob allegedly extorted money from an unidentified garbage business and unidentified demolition company.
This was carried out through “actual and threatened violence, stealing and embezzling from union employee benefit plans and conspiring to rig bids for lucrative demolition jobs”, prosecutors allege.
Court documents, seen by The Independent, reveal a number of chilling and violent encounters where the mobsters allegedly attacked – or threatened violence – against those they were extorting.
One of these victims was the owner of a garbage company.
Named only as John Doe 1, the indictment alleges that the suspects extorted money from him between at least 2017 and March 2021.
During this period, Mr Tantillo, Mr Johnson, Mr Rappa and Mr Vicari allegedly threatened John Doe 1 with violence to ensure he complied with the monthly payments.
This included one instance where – while John Doe 1 was making a $1,000 payment to him – Mr Tantillo allegedly threatened the garbage haulage company owner with a metal baseball bat, telling him the bat “was for him”.
The bat was later seized in a search of Mr Tantille’s vehicle, prosecutors said.
In another violent incident in September 2020 – when John Doe 1 tried to stop the payments – the mobsters allegedly lit the steps of John Doe 1’s home on fire.
His wife and children were inside the home at the time.
One month later, the accused mobsters then allegedly broke into his business and let out the tyres on his hauling trucks.
Two weeks after that, prosecutors allege that a close business associate of John Doe 1 was violently attacked with a hammer.
This victim, who also happened to be an employee of the demolition company being extorted by the mob, ended up in hospital with his injuries.
Minutes after the attack, Mr Johnson texted Mr Tantillo three thumbs-up emojis, the court documents state.
In a tapped phone call, Mr Rappa was heard allegedly boasting to Mr Tantillo that Mr Vicari had “acted like the ‘Last of the Samurai’”, picking up a knife and telling John Doe 1’s associate to threaten to cut John Doe 1 in half to force him to keep up with his payments.
“Get this axe and you make him – two,” he allegedly said.
After these incidents, the payments, unsurprisingly, came pouring back in.
Mr Vicari celebrated with a photo toasting a small bottle of champagne, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, Mr Tantillo, Mr Johnson and Mr Brooke were meanwhile also extorting three individuals – known as John Does 2, 3 and 4 – who owned the demolition company dubbed “Demolition Company 1”.
When the owners failed to pay the alleged mobsters a $40,000 payment, Mr Brooke allegedly violently attacked one of the men on a street corner in midtown Manhattan.
The victim was punched repeatedly in the face, leaving him bloody and with a black eye.
Throughout the investigation, prosecutors said it emerged that Mr Tantillo had been fired from the company back in 2019 due to his ties to organized crime.
In another violent incident in February 2021, prosecutors allege that Mr LaForte and Mr Minsquero confronted a man known only as “John Doe 6” at Sei Less restaurant in Manhattan and accused him of being a “rat” and giving information to law enforcement.
The accused mobsters then allegedly smashed a bottle in John Doe 6’s face and flipped over the table.
And, in September 2023, “captain” Mr Lanni together with Mr Minsquero allegedly threatened to burn down a restaurant in Toms River, New Jersey.
Surveillance footage captured Mr Lanni buying a gas can and trying to fill it at a gas station just minutes later.
Other allegations laid out in the indictment include a scheme to steal and embezzle from unions and employee benefit plans and a bid-rigging conspiracy for lucrative demolition jobs.
Finally, after a multi-year investigation by federal prosecutors in East New York, the FBI and Italian authorities – which included multiple wiretaps, search warrants, witness statements and police surveillance – a grand jury returned a sixteen-count indictment against the 10 men in Brooklyn on 2 November 2023.
The accused Gambino family members were then arrested and charged under the RICO Act.
Now, the 10 defendants are facing between 20 and 180 years in federal prison on the charges – in what marks one of the biggest takedowns in recent history of the Five Families of New York.
“Today’s arrests should serve as a warning to others who believe they can operate in plain sight with apparent impunity – the NYPD and our law enforcement partners exist to shatter that notion,” stated NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban in a statement.
“And we will continue to take down members of traditional organised crime wherever they may operate.”