Now aged 86, soon to be 87 in July of this year, Alphonse D’Arco also known as “The Professor” was the acting boss of the Lucchese Crime Family during the early 1990’s. But, Al wasn’t your stereotypical mobster. He didn’t drink (apart from the occasional glass of wine), he didn’t smoke, and he remained loyal to one woman, Dolores, who he married and had 5 children with. The first being Joe who was born in the last 1950’s and who would follow his fathers footsteps into the Underworld.
In his younger years Al was referred to as ‘Sonny’ a name that was given to him by a friend of the family, taken from the Al Jolson song of the same name. He grew up in Brooklyn and at the age of 19 decided that life sitting behind the counter of a candy shop wasn’t for him, so decided to enroll in the army in the hopes of serving in Korea. During his time in the army, he was responsible for guarding the Atomic Bomb but after two years he was honorably discharged.
All the tough guys are in the graveyard ~ Jimmy Alto
After his return to Brooklyn Al dropped the name Sonny, and was taken under the wing of made Genovese mobster Jimmy Alto (Vincenzo Altomari). Jimmy would turn out to be a key part of Al’s early years, and offer advice and help. One piece of advice that Al would take on-board was to not stand out and to keep a low profile.
Early Brushes With The Law
Al’s first major arrests came when he took possession of some coats that were stolen from a local discounted store, police were tipped off about the job and he was taken down to the station for questioning. Upon questioning Al refused to talk or sign any statements, so the police officers proceeded to beat him for the next 24 hours till he was bailed.
5 months later he would find himself in hot water again, this time due to a stocks and bonds scam that was potentially worth $500,000, unfortunately for Al the buyer was an undercover agent. The deal was to be made at a hotel lobby where Al and others who were part of the deal were to meet.
Not long after arriving detectives raided the lobby, guns drawn, firing off shots at the mobsters. The newspaper story the following day reported that officers fired warning shots into the air, but Al stated that the shots were aimed at the mobsters as if they were trying to kill them.
Luckily no one was hurt, but Al did find himself in jail for 2 weeks and once again had to be bailed out thanks to Jimmy Alto’s help. In the end though, he paid the price when in 1962 when he was sent up the river to Sing Sing for several years. In this time he would also bump into Vic Amuso who was serving time in B block, although, Vic at the time wasn’t that well known and Al had met him outside of prison once on a previous job. Al would eventually be released in 1966, and spent another 9 months on house arrest. Jimmy Alto, his mentor died of lung cancer in 1964 while he was serving time.
When Al stepped out of prison into the free world, he rented himself a warehouse down the road from where he lived. Here he would set up a legitimate furniture sales business, but don’t be fooled, going straight wasn’t something that Al D’Arco was about to do, he had already learnt too much in the prison system that would help him get along in the Life. This was just a way of helping cover some of his tracks.
During this era of his life he would be introduced to Davey Petillo, Petillo was already 58 years old at the time having just spent 30 years prison been convicted in 1936 along with Lucky Luciano on the prostitution vice racket. Davey Petillo of course was one half of the infamous drag queen killers along with mobster Charles Gagliodotto (who Petillo would go on to murder)
During the late 1960’s Al gained control of a restaurant/diner called The Greenhouse which came about when a loan shark customer couldn’t repay his loan. As repayment he handed the keys of the diner over to Al, which he renamed it At Joey’s. Which became a place that would be frequented by high ranking Genovese mobsters, including Tommy Eboli who at the time was acting underboss, but who would go on to become the acting boss of the family later in 1970. Eboli borrowed $4 million from the commission to fund a new drug operation, but Carlo Gambino allegedly ordered Eboli’s murder due to lack of payment. However, many people believed that Gambino actually wanted to replace Eboli with Gambino ally Frank “Funzi” Tieri. Some even believe that Gambino used the drug trafficking operation to set up Eboli. Either way, Eboli was shot 5 times while he sat in a parked car on 16th July 1972.
At Joey’s didn’t last long though, the Diner fell victim to a police raid due to the illegal sale of alcohol without a licence, this resulted in the place being shut down and at the same time it also prompted Al D’Arco to up sticks and move out of the neighborhood, which he did in 1971, in favor of the city.
Moving To The City
The apartment that they moved to in the city had a lot of history, Paul Vario captain of the Canarsie Crew within the Lucchese Crime Family, who Al worked for, grew up there. So did his Father-in-Law.
The early 70s also saw the death crazy Joe Gallo a mobster that Al had met on a few occasions partly due to the fact that Al was very close friends with Albert ‘The Blast’ Gallo. Al would find himself having drinks with Joe Gallo just a short time before the shooting that would see Crazy Joey die during birthday celebrations. During the shootout, Al was just a few blocks away but he decided to steer clear of the site after one mobster jokingly said that Al D’Arco resembled one of the shooters that took part in the assassination after police released photo fits.
After the closure of Joey’s, Al found himself back in the food business after taking on a burger shack that was coming to the end of its lease, at this time Al was still not a made man so he was looking for money making opportunities everyday. He priced his burgers at 75 cents and sold copious amounts of coffee and rolls first thing in the morning to those on their way to work. The coffee, which was made fresh throughout the course of the day was the biggest seller, making the shack a hit.
The Airline Tickets & Jewelry Scam
Airline tickets were another scam that Al participated in during the 1970s, it was a multi-million dollar fraud ring where the tickets were stolen and then reproduced in their thousands using high-tech printers. Al D’Arco would then sell the tickets for 25% of the cover price.
Believe it or not the biggest custom came from travel agents who were happy to take these at a discounted price, and so to were independent store owners and shopkeepers who would make profits by selling them onto customers as an additional service.
Not only did Little Al D’Arco use these to sell, but he would also end up using them for himself. With an airline ticket in one hand and some American Express Travelers checks in another he would begin investing into other scams.
The first trip, was down to Mexico City to see the sights without having to dig into his own pocket, and then soon after he would be jetting off again to Hong Kong where he took part in a Jewelry scam. The scam was to buy jewelry on the cheap, and bring it back to the US to sell for profit.
The third trip on the agenda was to Japan but this time instead of buying jewelry to bring back into the United States they would take Diamonds out of the United States to sell for a big profit in Japan where buyers were in the market for this precious material. The scam was to prove to be quite lucrative and the first package of diamonds Al took to Japan (sewn into his coat to get through customs) were valued at $150,000, they sold in Japan for more than $300,000!
Keep in mind that Al was still using the free airline tickets to get in and out of the country. However, the airline tickets scam soon dried up and that was that.
Back to the legitimate business scene and Al’s next venture was printing boxes for the food industry (these printers were the ones originally used in the printing of the airline tickets). This business would be one that Al would actually enjoying doing, and through his mob connections orders were coming in by the hundreds, so much so that they were backed up on production.
However it wasn’t long until another scam was put in place, this time the printing of money, but again like so many other scams there wasn’t much mileage before law enforcement cottoned onto what was going on. By this point Al was down about $100,000 after paying out for equipment and materials to print the counterfeit money, so the last resort was to do an insurance job but unfortunately the job had back fired due to some gas canisters being present on the premises that the insurance company found out about.
This left Al D’Arco facing a $300,000 in debt, and in need of making some money.
Enter Vic Amuso and Gaspipe Casso. Al’s first deal with the duo came in the 1970’s, Al was looking for ways to make money and the pair offered to sell him a kilo of heroin for $150,000. Al and his partner Ralph Masucci bought the Heroine of them, but ended up taking it back as after testing they found out the product was laced with caffeine.
Getting His Button
Al was first proposed to get membership into the Lucchese family back in 1974, but Frank Monzo a made member of the family and disliking at Al and viewed him as nothing more than an ice cream salesman. However, in the early 1980’s, and with help from his influential cousin Joe Schiavo, a campaign was started to try and get Al D’Arco his button. Schiavo approached various factions of the family, as well as the boss at the time which was Tony ‘Ducks’ Corallo.
Al D’Arco would finally get his button, and be made into the family during August 1982, at the age of 50. During Al D’Arco’s initiation ceremony Tony ‘Ducks’ Corallo was heading up the family, Salvatore “Tom Mix” Santoro was the underboss, both were given 100 year sentences in the Commission Case of 1986. Both men also passed away in the same year, 2000, Santoro in January and Corallo in August.
Along with Al, fellow mobster and future Acting Boss of the family, Louis “Louie Bagels” Daidone was also invited to take the oath into the family. Louis Daidone had a nickname, ‘Louis Bagels’ which was given to him because he owned a bagel bakery company called ‘Bagels By The Bay’.
At the time of being made, Al had yet to use his trigger finger, but this would come in the late 80’s.
Just a year after getting his button and becoming a made man he was convicted in 1983 on possession of heroin and was served with 10 year sentence of which he would serve 4 before being paroled. His first stay was at Allenwood, before being moved after an altercation with a prison inmate, it was here that he met up with Jimmy Burke who had beaten The Lufthansa Heist and was serving time for a basketball point shaving scandal.
He was also moved to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, during a time when the Castellano hit took place in late 1985 outside Sparks Steakhouse, word went around the MCC that John Gotti was the one that orchestrated the assassination.
By the time Alan came out it was the end of 1986 and at that time he met with Vic Amuso, who told Alan he was now the De Facto boss of the Lucchese Crime Family.
Casso also worked his way up quickly through the ranks to become the underboss, he also had a source in law enforcement that would feed back to him with important and key information that would help the pair during the years to come. Casso would refer to his source as the crystal ball (which we will touch upon later on).
Becoming A Captain/La Donna Rosa
Al soon became a captain within the crime family in 1988, along with the formidable looking Pete Chiodo. The previous captain was Al’s good friend Paul Vario who died in prison early on in that year. The mafia rule was that the current captain takes 100% of what the previous captain had left, which included loan sharking operations, property, businesses and everything in between. Al didn’t do this though, he left the houses to Paul Vario’s kids and just took the loan sharking operations. He also try to find out where the money from the Lufthansa Heist have been kept, word had it that Paul Vario kept 5% to 10% of the total, but where the money was kept was a mystery. Al couldn’t find it, the money had disappeared.
Upon being a Captain the money would finally start rolling in for Al, and he would now find himself in a position of wealth (at long last).
It was with this money that Al D’Arco opened up his beloved restaurant La Donna Rosa, which would act as both a restaurant and a mob hangout. The restaurant was put in the name of his son ‘John D’Arco’ and a neighborhood landlord by the name of ‘Joe Zaza’. La Donna Rosa was located at 19 Cleveland Place and ran with the slogan
‘Authentic Sicilian Cooking by Authentic Sicilian Chefs’
Thanks to Alan’s contacts in the food and drink markets, he was also able to get his hands on the finest ingredients for the restaurant. One of his son’s John (who was on the license) was a keen chef and would often help out in the kitchen and so she did Al when time allowed – he would don his chefs hat and head to the kitchen to help prepare some of the dishes.
Some celebrities attended the restaurant over time, after its popularity soared, one being Robert De Niro who came in and sign a poster of Raging Bull, another was John Kennedy Jr who was the son of President John F Kennedy, assassinated back in 1963.
Making His Bones
Al D’Arco’s first hit came in the early Summer of 1989, the target was Michael Pappadio – The Garment Kingpin. Whilst Al didn’t necessarily kill Pappadio he did participate in the murder of him, along with two other mobsters at Sal Avellino’s bakery. Casso believed that he was both an informant, but also that he was keeping money from businesses for himself. There was never any proof that he was an informant leading up to his death, and the police had little interest in his death, something that wouldn’t happen if he was an informant. The police would have expressed a lot more interest and increased investigations into the murder.
Contrary to popular belief a mobster never had to ‘Make His Bones’ to become Made. You’ll notice from here that Al was inducted before the Pappadio incident. As long as a mobster could make money for the family and we’re smart, then killing for the family was just a bonus point. The media pushed information that mobsters had to make their bones to be initiated into a family, which is incorrect.
Everybody’s A Rat!
In late 1989 is when bloodletting really started, a mix of paranoia and power took control and put the Amuso-Casso leadership onto a dangerous, and downwards spiraling path of destruction.
One of the assignments in late 1989, was to take out Anthony DiLapi who worked with Thomas Gambino and was a instrumental part of the Lucchese Family under Corollas leadership, most notably helping take control of the New York City garment district. He was from the Bronx wing, and at the time Amuso and Casso distrusted anyone from that faction. Fearing for his life DiLapi Fled to LA.
The contract fell to Al’s son, Joseph, who would first need to find out where DiLapi had taken off to. By 1990 Joseph had found him living in Hollywod. Joseph D’Arco would pull the trigger twice killing DiLapi as he entered the underground garage to get into his car.
The name Anthony DiLapi probably rings a bell with many as the death scene photo pictures him flat out on his back on the concrete floor, surrounded by blood, with his t-shirt riding up. It is one of the most popular and the most shared mob hit photos on the internet.
Joseph, like his father, had now killed for the family.
Bruno Facciolo was next on the hit list and another mobster labelled as a rat that needed to be exterminated. Bruno was a close friend of Al’s, in fact he saved Al’s life on one occasion when the pair came to the aid of a taxi driver who was being beaten up by a group of kids. Bruno stepped in to pull the kids away when one of them brandished a knife ready to stab Al. Bruno had spotted the knife and shouted to Al who managed to wrestle the knife out of the kids hand.
Casso ordered Al D’Arco to give the contract to Louis Daidone and Frank Lastorino. They were to stuff a canary in his mouth to show everyone that he was singing.
The plan was to lure Facciolo to a garage using Daidone (who was a life long friend) to persuade him. At the time Bruno was recovering from cancer so his strength was low, and when he realised what was going to happen to him he bolted just before they got inside the garage. Daidone chased him out onto the street and tackled him, dragging him back to the garage where he was pleading for his life asking to see his daughter for one last time.
In the garage, Lastorino was also waiting. They first stabbed Bruno, and then shot him six times.
Bruno Facciolo would be the 8th person to have disappeared within the last of 18 months under the Amuso-Casso leadership. He was also proven not to be an informant, like many of the slain mobsters that the Lucchese leaders had killed.
Al D’Arco Becomes Acting Boss
When the windows indictments came down all of the New York families, Amuso and Casso disappeared, thanks once again to ‘The Crystal Ball’ who offered intelligence on law enforcement next move.
The Windows Case was a cartel of window replacement companies which were create by 4 of the 5 New York families in the last 1970’s, they would replace windows across housing projects throughout the city over the years and reportedly controlled over $150 million contracts and charged a tax of between $1.00 to $2.00 for almost every window replacement.
This was a break-down of the family involvement:
Lucchese crime family – Vic Amuso, Anthony Casso and Peter Chiodo
Genovese crime family – Venero Mangano, Gerard Pappa and Pete Savino
Gambino crime family – Peter Gotti
Colombo crime family – Benny Aloi
One of the star Witnesses on the case was Pete Savino, a close ally to Vincent Gigante, and despite others around The Chin commenting on Savino being a liability, and possible informant, Gigante kept him in the picture. This would prove to be a big mistake, as Savino would testify against mob bosses and high ranking members of the New York families.
With the Amuso and Casso now on the lam, it opened the door to D’Arco becoming acting boss, which he was officially announced as during 1991 after proving that he could look after the families interests while the leaders were in hiding. Al would be acting boss for about 6 months, until the leaders stripped him and others in the family of their ‘acting’ positions.
The Crystal Ball – Eppolito and Caracappa
The Cystal Ball that Casso referred to, that helped identify when arrests were going to be made, and who was turning to the government to cooperate, came to light in 2005. They were Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, two former New York City Police Department (NYPD) police detectives who worked on behalf of the Mafia. Not only would they help give advice to the Lucchese leaders, but they would also kill for them.
These included the murders of James Hydell, Nicholas Guido, John Heidel, John Doe, Anthony DiLapi, Bruno Facciolo, Edward Lino, and Bartholomew Boriello — and their involvements in the conspiracy to murder Sammy Gravano.
Louis Eppolito was the son of Ralph Eppolito, a member of the Gambino crime family.
On June 5, 2006, Eppolito and Caracappa were sentenced to life imprisonment and hefty fines of over $4 million handed down to them. Caracappa however died in 2017.
The Pete Chiodo Shooting
Pete Chiodo lost favor with the bosses while they were on the lam, it was mainly over real estate claims but also because Chiodo pleaded guilty to a couple of cases without consulting the bosses. This move would be the final nail in the coffin for Pete.
Joseph D’Arco first made his bones in the Hollywood killing of Anthony DiLapi which we touched upon earlier, and he was called on again to form part of a three man hit team, to take out big Pete Chiodo.
Pete’s phone was tapped so the hit team managed to find out his movements, and where he was planning to go next. The hit attempt went down at a gas station, but as one of the hitmen exited the car they tripped and accidentally set the gun off which fired a round at the floor. This alerted Chiodo, who new exactly what was happening. Chiodo managed to pull his pistol firing back at the shooters car. Incredibly, despite getting shot at over 10 times Pete Chiodo survived. It was purely down to the fact that he weighed 400lbs that stopped any bullets from passing through to any vital organs.
That bosses hired another hit team to try and finish the job while Chiodo was lying in hospital, but security was too tight for them to get to Chiodo. Instead, Casso had them threaten his family, and it was this point where Pete decided to become an informant, not just himself, but for his family.
Chiodo passed away at the age of 65 in 2016, while in the Witness Protection Program.
Al D’Arco Escapes An Assassination Attempt
Al was called to The Kimberly Hotel for a meeting with several Lucchese members on the afternoon of 18th September, 1991. Present were Frank Lastorino (one of the hitmen in the Bruno Facciolo murder). He had Mike DeSantis come half way through the meeting and plant a gun in the bathroom. Frank was looking nervous throughout the meeting and everyone there was on edge. Alarm bells were ringing constantly for Al D’Arco. Everything from the way the other mobsters were acting, how everything seemed rehearsed, to the smallest of tell tale signs.
In the meeting was also Sal Avellino, another mobster who was on the cards to get whacked.
As time went by the men in the room tried to keep Al there, Frank was getting more edgy and kept making quick looks towards the bathroom to make a rush for the gun. Al knew that whoever entered the bathroom next would pick up the gun and come out shooting. Al managed to get out of the meeting room, down the elevator and out of the hotel.
He knew he was a mere seconds from being executed in that room. He knew it was only a matter of time until his luck ran out though. The Amuso-Casso regime had now started to kill innocent civilians, so killing someone in the Life wouldn’t have been given a second thought. Al D’Arco had been labelled a rat even though he wasn’t, and not only was his own life in danger but now his family was also in the crosshairs.
Sal Avellino who was also in the hotel room with Al, was left up there as Al left. Al thinking the worst paged Sal, he rang right back so Al knew that he hadn’t been killed, but Avellino knew exactly what was happening room.
The time had now come to make a decision, and the only cards left on the table was to go to the FBI. The mob had turned on him, the rules had been broken by the leaders. On the other end of the phone waiting for a call was FBI Agent Bob Marston, and a friendship that would grow between Al and Bob over the coming years.
Below was the photo of Al D’Arco, taken with Bob Marston’s FBI credentials. Al can be seen wearing the same clothes that he was picked up in, by the FBI a few days earlier.
The purpose of the photo was to help inform fellow mobsters that a contract had been placed on their head. The photo would be used by the FBI to help persuade the mobsters that this had come from a credible source.
FBI Agent Bob Marston who we mentioned earlier, who grew close to Al even recalled his own story of how D’Arco had potentially saved his life. While Al was testifying he would stay in safe locations across the country and on one particular night Bob and Al took a walk, the streets were deserted and a group of six men appeared before them, heading directly towards them.
One of the men put his hand into his pocket to pull a gun. Al stepped up, bear in mind that at this point Al was an older man than the group confronting him, and he was a lot shorter.
You ok buddy?
Asked Al D’Arco
We’re out taking a walk here, how about we continue going this way, and you go that way? You ok with that?
To Bob Marston surprise, the man nodded and carried on. Retelling the story years later Bob Marston said it was all to do with Al’s body language and the way he carried himself. He was calm, he wasn’t aggressive, but he was confident. Those three elements showed that Al wasn’t your average guy on the street.
The End of The Amuso-Casso Reign
In 1991 Vic Amuso was caught and was given life imprisonment in 1992. Casso remained a fugitive for a few more years, being caught in 1993.
Vic Amuso removed Anthony Casso as underboss as he had thought that his arrest came from a tip off that Casso had given to the police. A possible power-move for Casso to take over the family. Amuso instructed all Lucchese members to essentially distance themselves from Casso.
Casso responded by turning informer himself.
Al D’Arco’s first courtroom appearance came in the trial of Vic Amuso – he would give evidence against his former friend and Lucchese boss, delivering strong evidence but more importantly facing him and saying:
You would seem text and against Vic and Musa and deliver against the lucchese boss
A guy that calls a guy a rat and the guy is not a rat he is worse than a rat
The Amuso trial lasted a month and the jury took just 7 hours to find him guilty on all counts. He was handed life and convicted of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, and racketeering.
Sammy Gravano had been testifying at the same time in the John Gotti trial, and when asked to take the stand against Gaspipe Casso, Gravano simply replied with ‘nothing doing’. Even a hardened hitman like Gravano didn’t want to testify against Casso. He knew Casso had been detained but he also knew that he had men on the streets that were still loyal to the underboss. For Al, however, he would revel in the chance just like did for the Vic Amuso case. It wouldn’t come to that though.
In 1994 Casso knew that everything was against him, and solid testimony from both Al and Pete Chiodo would be the nail in the coffin. So he decided to flip. It would be this move that would uncover the ‘Crystal Ball’. In 1997 he was thrown out of Wit Sec and ended up getting handed 455 years in prison.
In a 2006 letter Casso said the following of turning informant:
I am truly regretful for my decision to cooperate with the Government. It was against all my beliefs and upbringing. I know for certain, had my father been alive, I would never have done so. I have disgraced my family heritage, lost the respect of my children and close friends, and most probably added to the sudden death of my wife and confidant for more than 35 years. I wish the clock could be turned back only to bring her back. I have never in my life informed on anyone. I have always hated rats and as strange as it may sound I still do. I surely hate myself, day after day. It would have definitely been different if the Government had honest witnesses from inception. I would have had a second chance to start a new life, and my wife Lillian would still be alive. It seems that the only people the Government awards freedom to are the ones who give prejudiced testimony to win convictions. “The Truth Will Set You Free,” means nothing in the Federal courts. Even at this point in my life, I consider myself to be a better man than most of the people on the streets these days.
One thing that can be said about Al D’Arco was that he was a straight-up guy, he followed the rules of Cosa Nostra even when he didn’t agree with some of the decisions. Some of those decisions included the murders of close friends or associates who were labeled as rats, when they clearly weren’t. Yes, he ended up turning government witness, but when you had Casso and Amuso leading the family, killing off members and even extending that to family members over unsupported claims, wouldn’t you? – The rules that Al stuck to without question or hesitation through his younger and adult life were being altered and broken all the time by the bosses.
In the end, Casso himself turned informant, but not due to his life being in danger, but to get a better deal.
The question is, when the rules of the mob are broken, where does that leave you when you life is in danger?
Its one thing to live and die by the codes of the Mafia, but when those codes are broken and abused by family leaders – the rules surely go out of the window.
As for Al D’Arco, at the time of writing the former mobster is a few months away from celebrating his 88th Birthday in July 2019. Since entering Wit Sec he has given up the life and settled down with his family.