All this month we're reporting on Rochester's old mob. By the early 1970's organized crime power shifted from former godfather Frank Valenti...to a new group looking to control Rochester's rackets. They would eventually take part in a mob war...the likes of which nobody around here had ever seen.
When authorities found Jimmy "The Hammer" Massaro's body in the trunk of this car...they had few leads. Like most suspected mob hits, no one was talking. It looked as though the case would go unsolved. But by 1975, the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, under former Police Chief William Lombard, had built a case.
Chief of Detectives Bill Mahoney was the catalyst. In 1976, with the aid of mobster-turned-informant Ange Monachino, Rochester's reigning crime family was sent to prison for the killing. Boss Red Russotti. Advisor Rene Piccarreto. Underboss Sam Gingello. Capo Tom Marotta. And soldier Eugene Defrancesco.
But 18 months later, it all unraveled, turning into one of the biggest law enforcement scandals in the war on organized crime.
"The circumstances have now been explained to me by Chief Mahoney, who will be served with departmental charges and suspended from duty, effective this date."
Sheriff Lombard had to hold back tears...as allegations of fabricating evidence in the case, came to light.
Five deputies would be indicted... Mahoney would spend four months behind bars...and the mobsters...went free.
"He is now released, he is out, the end of an ordeal is over," said James Merbey, Gingello's lawyer.
Sam Gingello's lawyer reveled in the media parade that
surrounded one of the most amazing stories in Rochester's history.
"There was embarrassment because people don't separate the sheriff's department, from the state police, from Brockport police, from Rochester... it's 'the police.'" said Lou Campanozzi who worked in the Rochester Police Department from1966 to 1988.
By 1977 Rochester Police Lieutenant Lou Camponozzi was working in the homicide unit. He had little experience dealing with mob violence, but that would change in hurry.
When Rochester's ruling mob faction went to prison, they left business in the hands of associates, who were told to take care of the prisoner's families. By all accounts, that didn't happen, and when the leaders got out of jail, the group left in charge, didn't want to leave.
The two factions became known as the A-team... Lead by Russotti and Gingello, and the B-team, headed by insurgent Tom Didio. The labels were established by police intelligence detectives who had a hard time figuring out who was on each side.
"You tried to... well, who's he with?... let's do it this way. This is the A-team, this is the B-team, so after that it got to be the A-team, B-team," said Camponozzi.
The first strikes in the "alphabet wars" came from the B-team, who repeatedly tried to kill Gingello.
"He was well-liked by his associates and was, I would say, the glue that held a lot of the group together."
In one attempt, B-team assassins placed a bomb in a snow bank outside the Blue Gardenia restaurant in Irondequoit. The blast knocked "Sammy G" off his feet but that was it.
Several more attempts were made with no success...until
the morning of April 23, 1978.
"It was the type of scene where you just stood back and said, "now what?"
"Gingello was driving. Another person in the front seat by the name of Thomas Taylor, he's at an area hospital being treated, broken foot. And another person, Thomas Torpey, was in the back seat."
Gingello died at the hospital and in a final act gave the middle finger to an officer questioning him about the car bomb.
"The question that remains is: whether this murder triggered the end of the beginning of gang warfare in Rochester."
Mob violence would continue for five years. B-team members set off bombs all over the city, hitting A-team gambling joints.
The A-team struck back...killing B-team leader Tom Didio at the Exit 45 motel in Victor in July, 1978.
B-team members Ross Chirico and Rodney Starkweather were next, narrowly escaping death in two separate shootings in Greece. The real hit to the B-team came in court though. In January 1980, 7 members were convicted on racketeering charges...with Starkweather testifying against his fellow B-teamers.
"Just before the jury came in, 53-year-old defendant Rosario Chirico suffered what appeared to be a heart attack, blacking out on the floor."
With the B-team in jail, things quieted down for awhile, but roared back to life in 1981.
"Police immediately began to treat the shooting as an organized crime hit."
Teamsters official and A-team backer John Fiorino was shot in the back of the head outside the Blue Gardenia. The suspected assassin got away...but not for long.
"You know, they grabbed the guy, they threw him up against the wall, they yelled Freeze, ya know freeze buddy, spread 'em"
The guy turned out to be mob enforcer John "Mad
Dog" Sullivan who was wanted in several murders stretching from Rochester
to New York City. He was convicted of the Fiorino hit in 1982.
Investigators would later learn the killing was ordered by a new-comer to the alphabet wars: the C-team, lead by former Gingello allies Tom Taylor and Tom Torpey.
The A-team, feeling there were too many teams, ordered hits on the faction, which were carried out in Rochester and Gates in 1982 and 1983.
But the end was near. With help from yet another informant, Tony Olivari, prosecutors put the A-team away for good in 1984. C-team leaders Torpey and Taylor went down in 1985, effectively ending a war triggered by the Massaro hit 12 years prior.
"To me, it was one of the most effective investigations of the mafia in the country.
There was a dedication to a common cause. I can't attribute it to any specific situation, other than the right group of people with the right attitude is what made the difference," said Richard Foley.
Another racketeering trial would send the remaining Rochester mob figures to jail a few years later.
Does Rochester's mob still exist? And if so, what affect
does it have on crime in our city? We'll look at that next week.
(First aired May 7, 2002)