The History of the Mafia in Connecticut
(page 4 of 4)
The Wild Guy
With both Annunziato and Tropiano out of circulation, a new force appeared on the scene. William “Billy” Grasso had been Tropiano’s protégé for years. So unpredictable and mean, Grasso was nicknamed “The Wild Guy.” When the pair went to prison for garbage racketeering, Grasso met New England crime boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca.
Patriarca was a legend in organized-crime circles, an especially ruthless and vicious leader. He took Grasso under his wing. When Grasso returned to New Haven, he was ready to make a move.
In 1974, a year after he came back, his biggest rival, Gambino family member John “Slew” Palmieri, was killed by a car bomb in a case that was never solved.
The Mob was about to enter an especially bloody phase.
The Final Act
When Annunziato got out of prison in 1978, he was soon out of control once again. He was indicted for racketeering and arrested for shooting a man on a New Haven street. On June 19, 1979, his old friend Bridgeport mobster Thomas “The Blond” Vastano arrived at Annunziato’s East Haven home to pick him up for a ride.
Annunziato was never seen or heard from again. His son Frank died in 1984 at age 40 from liver failure caused by drug addiction.
Less than a year later, Vastano was dead, shot to death in the driveway of his Stratford home. Neither killing has ever been solved.
Tropiano, meanwhile, had not done well in prison. In 1972, he decided to talk to the FBI, identifying 21 living and dead Mafia members, including the bosses of the Naugatuck Valley and Waterbury factions. He blamed Grasso for his incarceration and expressed disillusionment with the Mob, even while denying membership.
When the FBI tried to talk to him again in later years, he refused.
Finally out of prison in the late 1970s, Tropiano settled on a comeback that brought him into conflict with Grasso. In June 1980, the 68-year-old was walking on a Brooklyn street with a relative when two men got out of a car and shot him dead. The case, like so many Mob-related deaths, remains unsolved.
A year later, Bridgeport saw its most dramatic Mob murder in a generation. Gambino family member Frank Piccolo, a power in the group’s Connecticut wing, was shot to death in a phone booth on a Bridgeport Street.
Another top Fairfield County mobster, Gambino family member Thomas “The Enforcer” DeBrizzi , was found frozen solid and shot to death in the trunk of a car in 1988.
Grasso, meanwhile, kept rising. Raymond Patriarca died in 1984, but left Grasso a power in the family. By the late 1980s, he was underboss, or second in command, of the Patriarca family.
An especially violent, capricious mobster, Grasso was universally hated by his men. “When Billy talked, guys vibrated,” recalled one former FBI agent.
In 1989, the Patriarca family went to war with itself. Sick of Grasso’s greed and ruthlessness, members of his crew lured him into a van, shot him in the back of a head and dumped his body in a Wethersfield meadow.
“It’s over,” said his killer Gaetano Milano of East Longmeadow, Mass. (who remains incarcerated for the murder), to his fellow conspirators. His words proved truer than he realized.
About a year later, federal prosecutors indicted numerous Patriarca members and associates, including Milano. All the exposure and a 1991 trial badly damaged the Mafia in the state, sapping much of its remaining power and influence.
While the Mob’s influence and power are much reduced, it is far from dead in Connecticut. Recent prosecutions show the crime families’ continued involvement in trash racketeering and gambling.
In the biggest Mob-connected case of recent years, Danbury garbage mogul James Galante pleaded guilty in 2008 to multiple racketeering charges in a wide-ranging, price-fixing scheme tied to the Genovese crime family. He was sentenced to 87 months in prison.
Law-enforcement authorities, meanwhile, periodically break up Mob gambling rings. Last summer, for example, a North Haven man pleaded guilty to helping run a Gambino crime family sports-betting and card-game operation that stretched from Stamford to New Haven. He was one of 19 reputed Mob associates indicted in the case.
Almost a century after it took root, the Mob endures largely under radar in the Nutmeg State. The days when a swaggering gangster like Salvatore Annunziato could openly run a union, get let out of prison at night or have a sitting congressman defend him in court are long gone.